If this year’s roster is any indication, the Royals intend on using Burlington for their international player short-season destination. Of all the position players, only 6 of 13 hail from the U.S.A (and, interestingly, most of them have Latin names). This team also looks like it will be younger than its Pioneer League counterpart. Here are the guys pursuing Appalachian League glory and a spot in the other Burlington next year:
Miguel Moctezuma, 21 years old, R/R, 5' 10" 190
Oklahoma born-and-bread, Moctezuma was drafted in the 19th round this year from the University of Central Oklahoma (home of the Bronchos—it’s Broncos with an “h” in it). The junior hit.434 with 10 HR and a .667 SLG this year on his way to First Team All-Lone Star Conference and NCAA Div. II All-South Central Region Honors; OPS could not be calculated as neither the team site or conference site posted OBP or PA’s, but did have 31 walks to 24 Ks. Won the starting job freshman year, but missed almost all of his sophomore year with an injury. As for his grit factor, the Bronchos team site says it all: “Junior catcher and arguably one of the best receivers in NCAA Division II baseball . . . Steady and reliable defender who exhibits a powerful arm capable to thwarting any potential base stealing threats . . . Owns tremendous blocking instincts behind the plate and rarely allows a ball past him . . . Prime offensive threat who will hit for power and average . . . Expected to be a key run-producer in the middle of the lineup.” Showing he’s really got the grit, he has already established himself as the team’s “vocal leader.” He’ll likely be the primary starter out of the three catchers.
Salvador Perez, just turned 18, R/R, 6' 3" 175
Here’s what “The Royal Tower” had to say this past Valentine’s Day about Perez: “Salvador Perez was signed by the Royals in 2006 out of Venezuela. He supposedly grew significantly after he signed, and is considered a much better prospect because of it. The 175 listing is probably on the low side -- he's closer to 190 or 200. At present, he's got strong contact and line drive skills at the plate, but with his size, should develop good power as he matures.” Played last year in the Arizona Rookie League, where he went .244/.320/.279/.599 in 86 ABs. Played well defensively compared to the league: he led the league in chances and assists and was second in percentage of base stealers thrown out (48.1%). Quite a small sample size L/R split—hit .368 against lefties, only .209 against righties.
Yenssi Reyes, 20, R/R, 5' 10" 182
Signed in March 2006 from the Dominican Republic, Reyes played in the Dominican Summer League most of last year, with a brief stint in the ASL. 17 BBs/13 Ks in the DSL and 3 BB/5 Ks in his limited ASL time may show a tendency for patience. No HR or triples in either league, his OPS gets an OPB-inspired bump (a la John Buck): .245/.384/.309/.693. Middle name “Bolivar,” which seems cool.
Diego Cruz, 1B, 20, L/L, 6' 0" 175
Signed in July 2005 from the Dominican Republic, Diego Cruz was the DSL Royals 2006 Player of the Year, hitting .330 with 29 runs and 14 doubles and a 20/20 K/BB ratio. Played in Arizona last year, where he was second on the team in hits, runs, and RBI: .276/.348/.377/.725. His K/BB rate was less stellar at over 2 to 1, 35/14. The official season preview says he’ll likely get all of the playing time at 1B.
Fernando Cruz, 3B/SS, turned 18 this year, S/R, 6' 2" 184
2007’s 6th round draft pick, Fernando Cruz is the highest drafted player in Burlington, NC. He was taken out of the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy, where his age was apparently so close to the cutoff that he applied for and got permission to enter the draft a year earlier than expected. The official team preview says he’s the most naturally talented player on the team. His very young age hopefully lent to his stats in the Arizona League last summer: .210/.254/.265/.519 with 43 Ks to only 8 walks. His base “speed” apparently is not the draw, as he attempted no stolen bases. Essentially, he has the benefit of one year against older competition, as he’s now the same age as other guys who are playing in their first professional seasons. He’ll be the starting 3B.
Angel Franco, 2B/SS, also just turned 18, S/R ,5' 10" 152
Franco was the 2007 Royals DSL player of the year, signed from the DR in September 2006. Against DSL competition, he led the team with a .282 average and was second in among regulars with a .719 OPS (.355 OBP/.364 SLG—only 1 HR) . He had a 34/23 K/BB ratio and stole 14 bases in 21 attempts. He’s the starting 2B and is expected to be one half (along with starting SS Lifete Perez) of the Appy League’s best double play tandem (official site hyperbole)—he supposedly has “exceptional” range and an above-average arm.
Jorge Gutierrez, SS, 22, R/R, 5' 10" 185
A 2008 undrafted rookie free agent from Atlantic Sun Conference champion Lipscomb University, where he transferred to from UAB for his senior season just so he could establish a friendly rivalry of now-teammate Carlo Testa of conference foe Belmont University, Gutierrez batted .286/.336/.385/.721 with 21 extra base hits as the leadoff hitter for the Bisons (which according to Merriam-Webster is not the proper plural of “bison”—“bison” is; that Lipscomb education sure will come in handy!). He led his alma mater in errors this year with 14, but made up with his blazing speed, stealing 18 out of 25. The only position player not specifically mentioned in the official team preview (what does that tell you about his future?), it looks like he’s the backup infielder.
Lifete Jose, SS, 19, S/R, 6' 0" 168
Easily crushing “Yenssi” for least-pronounceable first name on the team, Jose is the other half of the Jose/Franco double play combo discussed above. He also is said to possess exception range and an above-average arm. Jose was signed out of the Dominican in 2006 and was the primary SS for the ASL Royals last year. He hit .235/.330/.273/.603 last year, hitting much better in August than in June and July. His 23 walks led the ASL Royals last summer, and he K’ed a respectable 36 times. He had a team-leading 21 errors, was part of 25 double plays, and had a 3.62 range factor (best among the left side of the infield for the ASL Royals).
Jason Morales, 3B, 22, R/R, 6' 0" 210
The 2008 24th round pick out of UNC-Pembroke, he owns the Braves’ career records for hits, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, intentional walks, slugging percentage, runs scored and total bases and set single season records this year for hits (85), HR (15), RBI (78) and total bases as he went .370/.427/.652/1.079 with 23 walks to only 22 Ks. Describing his being a member of the Royals as “awesome” and a “dream come true” (I’m guessing he meant pro baseball as a whole), he’ll be the primary DH and play some 3B—BR manager Tony Tijerina is “really impressed” with the pop in Morales’ bat.
Julio Aparicio, 18, R/R, 6' 2" 175
Signed out of Panama in 2007, played last year in the DSL. Underwhelming stats last year: .216/.279/.324/.604, 40/15 K/BB, went 2-of-8 in SB. He’s young, turning 18 in January, so there’s that. Plus, he’s from Panama, and he was playing a bunch of Domincan kids, so I’m guessing that was a step up in competition. The official preview says he’s a speedster who can swing the bat with power. We’ll see.
Allen Caldwell, 20, L/L, 5' 11" 170
The 2008 12th round pick decided to go pro out of juco Spartanburg Methodist College instead of going to Clemson for his final two collegiate years (he got a $65,000 signing bonus). It shouldn’t have taken much: he was “pretty sure” he was going to sign once selected due to his passion for baseball and his “general dislike for school.” Caldwell was the National Junior College Athletic Association (or whatever NJCAA stands for) Region X Player of Year after hitting .345 with 13 HR, 13 doubles, and 64 RBI. His college coach called him the “the best pure hitter we’ve ever had here in my 17 years” as SMC coach. He’s apparently a RF with a pretty strong arm, which he showed off at the NJCAA Region X tournament (held at his new home stadium in Burlington!) by gunning down a runner headed for 3B (the story called it “eye-popping”).
Hilton Richardson, 19, L/L, 6' 3" 200
Still a sentimental favorite since his high school coach posted on the draft open thread last year , last year’s 7th rounder out of Lake Washington H.S. (Kirkland, WA) had some struggles for the ASL Royals last year, leading the team with 66 Ks and hitting only .199/.295/.304/.599. He’s got a bunch of tools (speed, power, and glove) and a ton of upside. Hopefully extended spring training helped him harness them a little. He’ll start in CF. If he comes around, he has a chance to be the best actual offensive prospect on the team.
Carlo Testa, 21, L/L, 6' 3" 218
Identified as “the fourth outfielder” in the official preview, the 2008 18th round pick hit .387/.479/.585/1.054 for Belmont University this year. More good eye and speed than raw power—his SLG comes from 12 doubles and a whopping 8 triples vs. just 3 HR—he walked 37 times to just 33 Ks and stole 26 bases out of 33 attempts. He’s obviously a “ballplayer”—he was first team All-Conference as an outfielder AND as a starting pitcher.
Little Burlington gets their season under way tomorrow night against the Danville Braves.