First, before I start this list, I want to make it clear that this is not a top prospects list. This is a list of the prospects that I will be watching this year based on either their age, past production (or lack thereof), previous prospect or signing status, or sleeper potential.
1. OF Elier Hernandez - He is the prospect I am most interested in watching this year because he combines just about every element on the list. He's young, had a productive year last year, signed for a bunch as an international FA and is not ranked in the BA top 10 for the organization. I'm excited for his first trip to full season ball, as I think this could be a real break out year for Hernandez. The key for him this year is consistency.
2. RHP Christian Binford - He just barely sneaks into the BA top 10 for the organization. I'm curious to see if he can maintain his incredible control as he moves up to Wilmington. He's been moving one level per year, so I think he probably spends quite a bit of time in the pitcher friendly Carolina League, but I am curious to see how he does. I still don't consider him a "prospect", but I am very interested in how he does this season. The key for him this year is stuff.
3. RHP Aroni Nina - Nina is the opposite of Binford in that he has no control to speak of. This is probably a make or break season for him as a starter before he goes to the pen. He may end up in the pen this year, anyway, but if he can't throw strikes, it won't matter either way. The key for him this year is, obviously, control.
4. OF Brett Eibner - Contact has always been an issue for him. He's a solid defensive OF, but if he can't make contact (struck out in nearly a third of his PA) he will probably have to move to the pen. I think this is his last chance as an every day player before the Royals have to contemplate making him a full time reliever, which may be where he ultimately makes it to the majors. The key for him this year is contact.
5. SS Jack Lopez - He was supposed to be an advanced player coming out of high school. He's barely hit in two years at full season ball. I don't think this is necessarily a make or break season, but seeing what's in the system behind him (Mondesi, Torres) and beside him (Justin Trapp), there may not be room in the middle of the diamond for him if he doesn't start hitting soon. The key for him this year is hitting.
6. LHP Chris Dwyer - I pondered not including him here because there's a chance that he's not in the minors at all. He's a failed prospect that may have a chance to emerge in the Will Smith/Everett Teaford bullpen spot. This is especially true if the Royals move some of their more expensive bullpen pieces before the season starts. The key for him this year is performing in long relief.
7. LHP John Lamb - He's probably done as a prospect. He may in fact be out of baseball before the end of this calendar year. But there is a remote chance that he finds it again. Very remote. The key for him this year is velocity.
8. OF Terrance Gore - You can't teach speed. Unfortunately, you also can't steal first base. Gore struck out 120 times last year. He walked 62 times. The first number is not acceptable. The second one is. If he can hit for an okay average (.250 or so) and continue to walk at a decent rate, he could move up the chain. The key for him this year is keeping the ball on the ground.
9. 3B Cheslor Cuthbert - Once upon a time Cuthbert was a shiny 19 year old prospect. Now he's a 21 year old and being labeled a bust. He really hasn't hit for a full season at any level. He's at NWA in a hitter's league, so if he's going to do something, now is the time because the Royals won't hesitate to accelerate Hunter Dozier past him. The key for him this year is playing a full season.
10. OF Alfredo Escalera-Maldonado - One of my favorite prospects in the system because of his youth. I think he has a chance to take a David Dejesus/ David Lough type path. He doesn't have any standout skills, but he can do a bit of everything. He's not going to be a high ceiling guy. He probably won't ever rank in the top 10 for Royals prospects. May not even crack the top 15. The key for him this year is raising the floor.