Kansas City Royals Top 20 Prospects for 2016

Photo Credit: Brad Mangin/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Brad Mangin/Getty Images
  1. Raul Mondesi – SS

Mondesi made history as he became the first player to ever make his MLB debut during the World Series. The 20-year old is the son of the former outfielder of the same name and grew up around the game. Unlike his father, Mondesi is a wiry middle infielder whose best tool right now is his plus speed. He has smooth actions up the middle and should have no problem sticking at shortstop. His bat needs some time to develop and the Royals have been exceptionally aggressive with him. If he gets a chance to let his bat catch up with the rest of his game, he has the chance to be an all-star caliber player. ETA: 2017

  1. Kyle Zimmer – RHP

Zimmer was a third baseman when he was initially recruited to the University of San Francisco, but the Dons converted him to the mound and he took off. Some teams considered him to be the best overall pitcher in the 2012 Draft, and the Royals selected him with the fifth overall pick. When healthy, Zimmer has four plus pitches and can throw them for strikes, but health has been his Achilles heel since he entered pro ball. Zimmer could easily be a part of the Royals’ rotation right now if he stayed healthy, but the team was just happy to see him get through a full season in 2015 without missing an extended period of time. The Royals were active at the deadline but were conscious to avoid parting with Zimmer, who some feel has the best arm in the organization. He has a brother who plays the outfield in the Indians’ system and it will be interesting to see the two battle it out in the big leagues in the near future. ETA: 2016

  1. Alec Mills – RHP

I am higher on Mills than most seem to be. One of the biggest risers in the Royals’ system, Mills bounced back from injury in a big way in 2015. A former walk-on at Tennessee-Martin and a 22nd round pick in 2012, Mills returned and had a strong 2015 campaign in the Carolina League with a mid-90s fastball and the same advanced command that he had prior to having surgery. He throws a ton of strikes, has a feel for three pitches and has clean mechanics. Expect to see a healthy Mills rapidly climb the Royals’ system. ETA: 2017

  1. Ashe Russell – RHP

The 21st selection of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft, Russell was widely considered to be the top high school arm in the class. The Indiana native has two current plus pitches in his fastball that reaches 97 and his low 80s slider that features sharp bite when he is on. He did not use his changeup much in high school as his fastball-slider combo was plenty enough to dominate the Indiana high school ranks. He will need to work on the third pitch in order to maximize his potential as a frontline starter. ETA: 2019

  1. Miguel Almonte – RHP

Almonte debuted in 2015 as he made nine appearances out of the bullpen, but he is viewed as a starter long-term. Kansas City signed him for $25,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2010 and he could follow Salvador Perez, Yordano Ventura and Kelvin Herrera as the next Latin American signed by Rene Francisco to make an impact in Kansas City. The 22-year old throws his fastball into the upper 90s and has an advanced feel for his changeup, which comes in in the low 80s and he tends to throw too often. He throws strikes with these two pitches, but needs to develop his curveball. Once he does that, he should be ready to help the Royals’ rotation. ETA: 2016

  1. Bubba Starling – OF

Starling’s story has been well documented. The fifth overall pick in 2011 turned down an offer to play baseball and football at the University of Nebraska to sign with the team he grew up rooting for. The Royals knew he was going to take time to develop and he began to show positive signs in 2015. He tore up the Carolina League in his brief return there and had a solid season in the Texas League. Starling played in the Arizona Fall League for the second straight year and he has seen major improvements the second time around. He fits the Royals as far as outfield defense is concerned, but not so much in terms in making contact and not striking out; something he improved on but will need to continue to do to reach his potential. ETA: 2016

  1. Matt Strahm – LHP

Perhaps the biggest riser among Royals prospects, Strahm, a former JUCO pitcher out of Kansas and 21st round pick in 2012, was not on the prospect radar entering 2015. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2013 and missed 2014 recovering, but returned to the mound with authority. Strahm’s fastball is sitting in the low to mid-90s more consistently now than it was prior to the surgery and his curveball has shown the potential to be an above average offering. The southpaw has always missed plenty of bats as shown by his career 11.9 K/9 rate. A reliever to begin his pro career, the Royals began to transition Strahm into the rotation after a promotion to the Carolina League, and the early results seem positive. This is a left-hander to keep an eye on moving forward. ETA: 2017

  1. Josh Staumont – RHP

The Royals selected Staumont in the second round of the 2015 Draft out of DII Azusa Pacific University. The right hander was the hardest thrower in the draft class, bringing triple digit heat consistently when used in shorter roles and sits in the upper 90s. He uses a free and easy arm action that one would not expect so much velocity to come from. He also throws a curveball that shows flashes of being a wipe-out pitch when he is throwing it well, but he does have command issues and is not consistent in throwing strikes. If he can figure out how to locate the ball with more consistently, he could become yet another power arm to come out of the Royals’ bullpen. ETA: 2018

  1. Scott Blewett – RHP

Blewett comes from the New York high school ranks and was considered a first round talent in the 2014 draft, but he slid after a shoulder strain during his senior year and Kansas City selected him in the second round. The Royals gave him the largest second round signing bonus at $1.8 million, which shows how highly they think of him. At 6’6” 210, Blewett certainly looks the part of a frontline starter and has plenty of potential, but is raw given his cold weather background. He has a clean delivery and generally sits in the mid-90s and has a good feel for a curveball but, like most young pitchers, he needs to refine his changeup. After trading Sean Manaea and Cody Reed at the deadline, the Royals are counting on their next wave of starters to develop. Blewett has as much upside as any of them. ETA: 2018

  1. Nolan Watson – RHP

Watson and Ashe Russell grew up in the same town in Indiana and attended rival high schools. Both happened to be drafted by the same organization in the first round of the 2015 draft. While Russell has more electric stuff, scouts feel that Watson has an advanced feel for pitching with the potential to have four average or better offerings. His mechanics are good and he throws strikes, making the 18-year old and former Vanderbilt commit one to watch as he enters full season ball in 2016. ETA: 2019

  1. Jorge Bonifacio – OF

The younger brother of Emilio, Jorge relies more on his bat rather than his speed and is not as versatile as his brother. Bonifacio always hit for a solid average throughout the minors until he hit .230 and .240 in Double-A over the past two seasons. He saw his power numbers increase this year as he slugged a career high 17 home runs but he sacrificed his average to do so. He fits the right field profile defensively as he has a strong arm but he needs to get his offense back on track. The Royals traded Wil Myers in 2012 knowing that they still had Bonifacio in their system. Still just 22, Bonifacio still has time to prove to the Royals that he can be the everyday right fielder. ETA: 2016

  1. Foster Griffin – LHP

Kansas City had two first round picks in 2014 and used both to select left-handed pitchers. Brandon Finnegan starred in the bullpen in the 2014 postseason and was subsequently traded to the Reds in the Johnny Cueto trade. Griffin hails from Orlando and entered the draft as a high school southpaw who had an advanced feel for a changeup to go with a good fastball. Griffin was a two-way player and scouts felt that he would begin to develop rapidly when he began to focus solely on pitching in pro ball. But he gave up more than a hit per inning in the South Atlantic League and posted a 5.44 ERA in his first go at full season ball. Age is still on his side though and he has the potential to become a mid-rotation starter if it all comes together. ETA: 2019

  1. Marten Gasparini – SS

The Royals love those athletic up-the-middle players and they signed Gasparini for $1.3 million in 2013 out if Italy, setting the record for the largest bonus for an amateur to come out of Europe (the Twins signed Max Kepler out of Germany for $800,000 in 2009). Still just 18, the Italian showed signs in the Pioneer League in in 2015. He hit .259/.341/.411 in 197 at bats and stole 26 bases, which was second in the league. But he also struck out 80 times, which was the third most. Gasparini is understandably very raw as a baseball player, but he has good speed and a strong arm. He is still learning the game and there is plenty of time for him to develop his bat and his glove. His ceiling is as high as anybody in the system. ETA: 2020

  1. Elier Hernandez – OF

While Mondesi has become the better prospect, it was Hernandez who was considered to be the top international talent for the July 2011 signing period. The Royals gave the Dominican outfielder $3.05 million. He hit .290 in 290 Low-A ball at bats but struggled in 50 High-A ball games. The 20-year old Hernandez stands at 6’3”, 193 and still has room to grow into his frame. The tools are there for him to develop into an everyday corner outfielder if, like most young hitters, he can cut back on his aggressiveness at the plate. ETA: 2018

  1. Chase Vallot – C

One of the youngest players in the 2014 draft, Vallot was drafted for his power. His first full season showed that power as he slugged 13 home runs in a pitcher friendly ballpark in Lexington and showed a good eye at the plate, but he also struck out 105 times in 279 at-bats. Vallot has a strong arm and has made progress defensively. With Salvador Perez not going anywhere anytime soon, the Royals can let him develop behind the plate at his own rate. ETA: 2019

  1. Alfredo Escalera-Maldonado – OF

Escalera became the youngest player ever selected in the First Year Player Draft when Kansas City made him their eighth round pick in 2012. He reached High-A ball and struggled there (.206/.285/.291 in 547 games) after performing well in a repeat of the South Atlantic League (.313/.356/.477 in 64 games). He draws raves for his makeup and he can handle any spot in the outfield. Still just 20 years old, Escalera still has time to develop his many raw tools. ETA: 2018

  1. Ryan O’Hearn – 1B

The prospect with the most power in this system, the Royals found O’Hearn in the eighth round of the 2014 Draft out of Sam Houston State, where he hit a total of 11 home runs in three seasons. The Royals told O’Hearn to just be himself, and the power came naturally once he entered pro ball. The first baseman was named MVP of the Pioneer League in 2014 when he hit 13 home runs in 64 games. He then combined to hit 27 home runs and drive in 77 runs between two levels of A ball in 2015. He has a good eye at the plate and will draw a good amount of walks, but he will also strike out more often as a result of focusing on driving the ball. O’Hearn’s bat is what will get him to the big leagues and there just may be a spot opening up for him at first base in 2018. ETA: 2017

  1. Pedro Fernandez – RHP

Following in the footsteps of Salvador Perez, Kelvin Herrera and Yordano Ventura, the Royals signed Fernandez for $45,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2011. Fernandez, 21, made strides in Low-A ball where he posted a 3.12 ERA in 78 innings but struggled when he was promoted to the Carolina League (0-6, 8.82 ERA). His fastball sits in the mid-90s and has touched 97 at times while his slider and changeup have shown improvement. If he is unable to remain a starter, the Royals would love to have another power arm coming out of their bullpen. ETA: 2018

  1. Cheslor Cuthbert – 3B

The Royals signed Cuthbert out of Nicaragua for $1.35 million in 2009 and has been up and down on the prospect radar ever since. He got to the big leagues in 2015 after hitting .277/.339/.421 with 11 home runs in Triple-A. His bat has been inconsistent throughout the minors and that has been what scouts felt would land him an everyday job at the big league level. He played some first base in the minors but he improved his defense at the hot corner this season. He has a strong arm and has the ability to drive the ball, but Cuthbert needs to cut down on his aggressiveness on pitches outside the strike zone and recognize pitches better in order to maximize his potential. ETA: 2016

  1. Anderson Miller – OF

The Royals were excited to land Miller in the third round of the 2015 draft. A Western Kentucky product, the 6’3” outfielder is very athletic and brings many tools to the table. He can run, play good defense and has a strong arm, which fits what the Royals look for in their outfielders. He has a chance to stick in center field but he is capable of playing the corners as well. He has solid power potential but does have some holes in his swing. He will strike out, but he will also draw his share of walks and get on base. Miller hit .276/.326/.395 in his pro debut with 14 walks and 35 strikeouts in 210 at-bats and reached the South Atlantic League in his pro debut. He is arguably one of the more advanced bats in the system already, and it will be interesting to see how he handles his first full season. ETA: 2018

There is no doubt that this system has thinned out from what was “the best minor league system ever” according to many publications in 2011. But that’s what happens when you win back-to-back pennants and a World Championship. This system would look nicer if Sean Manaea and Cody Reed were still around but as good as those two may become, nobody can take away the 2015 World Championship trophy away from the Royals. That is what you play the game for.

That being said, this is still an organization that needs to rely on player development in order to maintain this success over the long-term. There are plenty of tools and potential here, but not so much actual performance. With their recent success, it will be interesting to see how Dayton Moore and his staff will continue to add talent to the farm system while picking lower in the draft and not having the same resources to spend in the amateur market than they did not too long ago. But fans need to enjoy the success at the major league level right now because they know better than other any fan base not to take this for granted.

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