My last post focused completely on starters. I have seen several really good pieces on bullpen guys. We as a fanbase have spent hundreds of thousands of words on pitching this offseason. Today isn't about pitching.
Today is about four of the youngest players in the Royals entire system, maybe even the three youngest - Elier Hernandez (Nov. 24, 1994), Adalberto Mondesi (July 27, 1995), Alfredo Escalera-Maldonado (February 17, 1995) and Alexis Rivera (June 17, 1994).
Hernandez, Escalera-Maldonado and Rivera are outfielders. Mondesi plays shortstop. All were at rookie ball last year, Hernandez and Mondesi at Idaho Falls, Rivera and Escalera-Maldonado in Surprise. I can't really see any of them heading to full season this year to start the season (maybe Mondesi in May), but I could see Rivera, Hernandez and Escalera-Maldonado manning the OF in Burlington come July.
Elier Hernandez - OF BatsR/ Throws R 6-4, 200.
Bonus baby ($3M plus international signee) Elier Hernandez was not good at Idaho Falls last year. The numbers (.208/.256/.280) are ugly in every appreciable way. 14 of his 52 were for extra bases, but that's not even lipstick on this fugly season. He also made 11 errors, which is troubling in all of the ways you would expect it to be.
Now the good news. Elier was one of the youngest players in the entire Pioneer League. He is pretty well developed physically and he has all five tools, though they are in a very raw form. He has plus speed and power, and should be good with the glove. He's athletic. As a 17 year old, he didn't put that together against college players. In fact, he was probably overwhelmed a bit. But many say he's the best athlete in the system other than Bubba Starling, and Elier is three years younger than Bubba. Even if he repeats short season this year, he could be one of the younger players in A ball in 2014, not turning 20 until after the season is over. The Royals actually have the benefit of time with him in that there is no need to push him up the ladder quickly. I am hoping that he goes back to short season and has some success in either Idaho Falls or Burlington, then heads to Lexington next Spring for a full season assignment.
Yes, last season was brutal, but it will be at least three years before we can even start to write off Elier Hernandez.
Adalberto Mondesi - SS Bats S/ Throws R 5-11, 165 (growing)
Another international bonus baby, son of former ML Raul Mondesi, Adalberto had a season quite opposite that of fellow international signee Elier Hernandez. The triple slash of .290/.346/.386 looks decent, and when you factor in that he did that while still within shouting distance of his 17th birthday, it looks even better. He also kicked the ball around a bit with 23 errors in only 47 games in the field, but the reports are that his defense is a definite asset.
Many in baseball are already moving him into the Royals top 10 prospects and some are comparing his development pattern to Jurickson Profar of the Rangers. Profar started his career in the Northwest League at 17. He hit only .250 that year, but displayed enough talent to move to the Sally as an 18 year old. He was also the #74 prospect in all of baseball that year. He hit .286/.390/.493 in the Sally and that performance made him the #7 prospect in baseball before last season. He started the year at AA and ended the year in Arlington. I'm not saying that Mondesi will be a top 10 prospect in all of baseball in 2 years, or the Royals opening day shortstop in 2015. I am saying that his season last year suggests that he could get to Kansas City in three more years, and if he does, the Royals have the benefit of assets (Escobar, a team friendly contract and a young prospect) and time on their side because in three years Mondesi still won't be able to drink alcohol legally until after the all-star break. He could move fast, but he doesn't have to. I am hoping the Royals send him to short season again this year and start him out next year in Lexington with another year under his belt to shore up some of his fundamentals.
That said, I wouldn't be surprised if, once we get into mid May, Adalberto's name isn't showing up regularly in the lineup of the Lexington Legends.
Alexis Rivera - OF Bats L/ Throws L 6-2, 225
The 10th round pick out of HS last year, he was one of the youngest (if not the youngest) draft eligible players last season. He doesn't come with the acclaim that the previous two come with, being a 10th round pick. The Royals took it easy with him and sent him to Surprise for his first assignment and Alexis did work to the tune of .341/.413/.477. He had 14 XBH in just 48 games. He also stole 9 bases (did get caught 3 times). He committed five errors in just 44 games in the field.
He profiles as a power LH bat (he's built like a tight end, honestly), but he also runs well and has a very good arm. He profiles very well as a corner OF. I could see him also heading to Burlington this year for another turn at short season before he heads to the Sally next spring for his first taste of full season ball in 2014.
He's not a prospect yet, but the power potential is there and if he doesn't let his weight get out of control, he has the athleticism to be a very good outfielder as well. Rivera and Hernandez could spend a couple of minor league seasons together in an outfield if things progress well.
Alfredo Escalera-Maldonado - OF Bats R/ Throws R 6-1, 180
The youngest player ever drafted in the amateur draft, dating to 1965, Alfredo (last summer's 8th round pick) was sent to Surprise for his pro debut. His .303/.344/.361 was a solid first season. He doesn't draw the raves from most because he doesn't have the power of Rivera (though he does have some thump in his bat), the discipline of Mondesi or the body of Hernandez. What he does have is youth.
He's a gamble. He's easily the furthest away from the majors of any of these guys (though none of them look to even be on the ML radar until 2015 at the absolute earliest), but then, as I write this, he's exactly one month from his eighteenth birthday. He could struggle at rookie ball again this year, have it click next year at the rookie level and open up 2015 at Lexington as a 20 year old, and he still wouldn't be old for his level.
He played infield in high school, but will probably be a CF as he moves through the minors. He's easily the most volatile prospect of these four, but he's so young he could grow and develop power to go with his speed (6.59 60 yard dash).
These players represent what the Royals have done right at the minor league level in the midst of their numerous errors at the ML level. They found some young, athletic guys with tools. Even though those tools are somewhat raw (or even very raw), the youth of these guys gives them a chance to be not only successful, but incredibly so. None of them turn 20 until next summer, so even if they are all floundering in A ball in 2015, there's still no real reason to call them busts at that point. Will all of them make it? Probably not. But given their youth, tools, athleticism and performance so far, I think the chance that at least one of them makes it to the majors and has an impact is pretty good. If all four make it, well, that's hitting the lottery.