Inspired by a post over at Over the Monster, I figured we could dive into the low minors and try to identify the potential next wave of Royals prospects. We're talking about guys that are hopefully going to be supporting Zimmer, Ventura, and the other current top guys who are likely to land in Kauffman within the next couple years. For a small market team like the Royals it's important to have a farm system to rely upon.
Say what you will about Dayton's major league success, but the guy knows how to find major league prospects or at least hire a staff who knows how to. Only a few have worked out in the MLB, but there's likely no other organization who's had more Top 100 prospects the last few years combined. That means nothing if the players don't succeed in the MLB, but it's a stat I guess.
In this article we'll look at guys who could project to reach the majors in 3-4 years if they follow a normal projection path. What's a normal projection path? We'll define it is a level or two a year. That seems natural doesn't it? AZL to Rookie level(s). Low-A to High-A. AA to AAA. AAA to the MLB. I think that's a modest timetable for some of these guys. Not all prospects follow that same path, but it seems much more realistic to ask that of them.
I wanted to have some hard rules in place like you can't be above X level or you can't be older than Y, but the age limit was too strict, it essentially ruled out all the college guys, and the league level is too obvious.
Elier Hernandez (OF):
(seems like Pine Tar Press has every other photo of Hernandez ever taken)
We'll start off with my sleeper pick for this upcoming season. Sleeper is the wrong word for a guy like Hernandez for the most part though. He was a big time international signee and at the time of his contract he was tied for the 5th largest July 2nd bonus of all time at $3,000,000.
Elier repeated the Pioneer League this year with much better results. After hitting .208/.256/.280 in his stateside debut as a 17 year old, the young Dominican hit .301/.350./409 as an 18 year old.
Great bat speed, a good arm that profiles him to a corner outfield spot, scouts described him as being more relaxed this year. He's generally projected to grow a lot more and hopefully that will bring more power to his game.
He'll be a slow riser given his age and need for reps, but Hernandez will likely rank in the Top 10, if not Top 5, next year depending upon attrition of the others if he continues to be successful in his Low-A debut.
Marten Gasparini (SS):
While we're talking bonus babies, let's talk about another all time high July 2 signee. That would be 16 year old Italian shortstop prospect Gasparini. He'll get his overall comparisons to Max Kepler given his signing age and background, but many believe he's better than Kepler or any other European prospect ever.
Venezuela, the DR, Cuba... this is where you'll find international scouts most days. Looking for the next Jorge Soler, Miguel Sano, or Yordano Ventura. But many major league organizations have been adding places like Brazil, Curacao, and overseas in Germany and Italy.
Gasparini has very limited non-Italy exposure. While he was very good against Mexico in the 15U World Championship hitting .419/.514/.710, he struggled against players 3 years to his senior in the 18U world championship in Korea as the second-youngest player in the competition.
Gasparini likely won't amount to much power due to his current and future size, but he's got the bat speed and some strength to be a good line drive hitter with tons of doubles. Many question whether he'll stay at SS and most see him moving to CF which would play well with his speed.
Gasparini is going to be slow to progress. SLOW. I'd consider it amazing if we see him in the majors in anything less than five or six years. For instance, Max Kepler played low Rookie for THREE years at ages 17-19 before moving up to high rookie and then Low-A at age 20. Gasparini might even be part of the next next wave.
Marten is fluent in English so that will make his transition easier. He's also of course fluent in Italian so if he does ever reach AAA in 2019 he'll be able to converse with fellow Italian Johnny Giavotella.
Samir Duenez (OF/1B):
The Venezuelan 17 year old hit .294/.337/.380 in the AZL while playing primarily 1B with a few games in the OF. While playing for Venezuelan minor leagues he played primarily OF but given his size and lack of defensive skills Duenez is more of a 1B than an outfielder. Described as hit-first power-second hitter, Duenez is a big framed left handed hitter who's got good bat speed and plate discipline. He showed his eye and contact ability by striking out just 27 times in 199 plate appearances in his non-instructional league debut. He seems like a Jorge Bonifacio Pt II to me as hes got a similar frame and like Bonifacio, many project for him to grow and tap into more of his raw power. Duenez has received a Pablo Sandoval comp if that's worth anything to you.
Cristhian Vasquez (OF):
The Royals signed the #22 ranked July 2nd prospect this year in Vasquez and he spent his time in instructionals. He was one of the older international prospects in the 2013 class but he is also the most polished. He's a contact hitter with an advanced approach. Scouts wonder if his contact oriented approach and low power output will put him out of place in a normal power position like left field.
He'll likely debut in Advanced Rookie league next year, but if the Royals think he's developed enough he could also start in Low-A as he played in Arizona well into October with Royals prospects Hunter Dozier and Jake Junis.
Zane Evans (C):
A Johnny Bench finalist in college, Evans has similarities to fellow Georgia Tech Bench Award finalist Matt Wieters (Evans would lose the award to Twins third rounder Stuart Turner and Wieters lost to Diamondbacks first rounder Ed Easley). Like Wieters, Evans is a larger built catcher with good hitting ability, power, and a strong arm behind the plate. Wieters easily has more power than Evans and was more polished at his signing, but Evans did well in his Rookie League debut hitting .352/.394/.537. Evans still has facets behind the plate he needs to work out because despite his strong arm he only threw out 21% of baserunners due to poor footwork. Questions about him actually staying behind the dish are already popping up. Evans was also a pitcher at Georgia Tech so that could be his ultimate fallback.
Cody Reed (SP):
After coming into bloom after his sophomore year Reed was drafted in the second round by the Royals. His fastball sits mid-90's early on but seems to fade later into games. He's got an above average power slider and he's an 80 grade face painter. Reed struggles with command and it was very clear in Idaho Falls as his pitches missed the strike zone almost as much as they did bats this year as he struck out just 7 K/9 while sporting a 6 B/9. Reed absolutely needs to handle his command and likely add a third pitch unless he'll be fated to come out of the pen for the rest of his career.
Alfredo Escalera-Maldonado (OF):
The reportedly youngest player ever drafted, Escalera is a personality already. He's got a Wikipedia page longer than 90% of all MLB players, (possibly longer than some countries on Earth's page) donated $25,000 of his contract to UNICEF, and received the Presidents Volunteer Service Award. Alfredo hit .277/.333/.380 in Burlington this year as one of the youngest players. He still hit for little to no power and the speed wasn't there as it was thought to be pre-draft. He's young, he's very toolsy, and he's miles away from the majors.
Julio Pinto (SP):
(credit to fourseamimages.com)
Working with fellow trainer, Pinto was thought to be a "package deal" with Samir Duenez. New to the mound Pinto was impressive in the Dom Summer League as a 17 year old. There's a lot of projection to Pinto given his size, but he'll absolutely need innings and innings and innings of work.
Wander Franco (SS):
(credit to fourseamsimages.com)
A tall SS who signed in the same class as Raul Mondesi, Franco is a switch hitting SS who's hit .297/.393/.419 in his ages 17-18 over two short season levels. He's not likely to stay at SS for his career, however long that may be, and reports say he's better off hitting from the right side.
Colin Rodgers (SP):
Rodgers has back-end starter written all over him. The Royals went well over slot to lure Rodgers away from Auburn. Rodgers features a plus-curveball and sits high-80's/low-90's with his fastball. You don't have to necessarily squint your eyes to see him as a starter, but he doesn't miss many bats and without much more projection he'll likely see the bullpen. He's still a polished pitcher overall and was one of the youngest players in Burlington when he was 18.
Carter Hope (SP):
Hope ditched the Royals pre-draft workout to got to prom, but the Royals showed no hard feelings and still took him with their 3rd round pick and lured him away from Oklahoma State. Hope is new to pitching and didn't start on the mound until his senior season where he threw a no-hitter in his first game. The Royals opted to send him to the AZL where they were cautious with him. Hope was never allowed to throw more than three innings and his rawness showed as he was very hittable. Hope still has a lot of projection in his tools and body size.
Amalani Fukofuka (1B):
(credit to fourseamimages.com)
Maybe one of the funnest names to say in the minors, Fukofuka is extremely raw and turned 18 in September. He had a rough go his first year round struggling to make contact at times, but still was able to draw walks at a good clip. He's got good raw power, but the question will likely always be on his hit tool as his defense is good.
Luke Farrell (SP):
Son of Red Sox manager John Farrell, Luke went through many surgeries (none on his arm) before putting up a solid season at Northwestern his senior year. Touted as learning his cutter from Clay Bucholz and Jon Lester, his curveball from Josh Beckett, and changeup from Curt Schilling, Farrell showed good peripherals in his Pioneer league debut by striking out 9 K/9 and walking 3 B/9, but was way too hittable when he wasn't striking out or walking guys. Farrell is a big and strong pitcher but is more finesse than power as his fastball sits 88-92 MPH.
Cody Stubbs (1B):
Stubbs, an 8th round pick, played alongside Colin Moran at powerhouse baseball college UNC. Stubbs showed polish with his power and decent hit tool in Idaho Falls. Stubbs is a strong first baseman and could be at his peak a .260 hitter with 20 homeruns.
Daniel Stumpf (SP):
Stumpf was a Sally League All-Star and was a star pitcher on his JC team. He works consistently in the low-90's with his fastball and maintains his velocity late into games. Stumpf has good control and projects as a ceiling of a back end rotation piece who can eat innings.
Terrance Gore (OF):
One of the fastest players in the minors, Gore has stolen 121 bases in 224 games. Once Billy Hamilton resides full time in Cincinnati, Gore will overtake the title as fastest player in the minors or at least share it with Phillies Roman Quinn. Gore is all speed though as he has little to no arm strength in the OF and practically zero power. He'll have to rely upon singles and walks to ever be anything at the plate but his speed and range could make him a fourth outfielder. You may also know him by his name Jarod Dyson.
Alexis Rivera (OF):
A potential sign-ability issue when he was drafted caused him to fall to the 10th round where the Royals were able to select him and eventually sign him. His biggest asset is his power and but that isn't something he's fully displayed just yet. Rivera seemed to gain some weight this year and some questioned if that slowed his bat speed down. Rivera will enter his age 20 season in likely Low-A and displays average arm strength and speed in the outfield. Former teammate of Francisco Lindor.
Daniel Rockett (OF):
Rockett had a very good debut in Idaho Falls as a 22 year old hitting .310/.351/.531 with 11 home runs and tying the league for 5th in bombs. Rockett was snagged for just $5,000 as he dropped in the draft due to legal issues stemming from burglary and assault charges that were later dropped. He's touted as a good fielder in center but could possibly move to a corner position due to his bat.
Dominique Taylor (OF):
Taylor doesn't have any single standout tool but is solid across the board. He makes good contact, has some power, and is good defensively with average speed. He flashed all his tools hitting .322/.380/.502 with 8 home runs and stealing 15 bases as a 20 year old in Idaho Falls.Taylor will likely see Low-A at some point next year.
Jake Junis (SP):
Junis was a late round pick who was lured away from NC State with $675,000. Junis is very athletic with an easy delivery and good command, but was too hit-table in Idaho Falls. His size and frame form a good foundation for projection but he has work to do and needs to improve his fastball and change to match his good curveball.