The Royals will lose Ventura and possibly Jason Adam, but the lower levels are stacked with talent on the developmental upswing
The Royals have some high upside talent in the low minors. A mix of 4-5 role guys, some 6 potential players, and a 7 grade or two. In 2013 a lot of that depth was scattered with player debuting, injuries, and just the natural level progression of prospects. In 2014 however, by far the best roster will be the Wilmington Blue Rocks team. That team could see 5 of the Royals BP Top 10 players open the season there and it wouldn't be out of the realm to see other non-ranked but still prospect worthy guys promoted there potentially.
The guys likely to start the season there:
Raul Mondesi SS (#2 overall)
Miguel Almonte SP (#4 overall)
Bubba Starling (#8 overall)
Christian Binford (Prospect on the Rise)
Greg Billo (unranked)
Daniel Stumpf (unranked)
Sam Selman (unranked)
That's two of the Royals Top 5 prospects and by this time next year they could be #1 and #2/3 if/when Ventura and Zimmer loses eligibility. Of course thrown in there is wild-card Bubba Starling who has the potential to be #1 overall but also could be off the list entirely next November.
The latter three are aren't highly ranked guys but they show some promise. Selman is a wild-card as well as he could start the year in Wilmington and repeat or he could move on to AA Northwest Arkansas.
This will be an interesting environment for Starling and Mondesi. Neither guys have lit the world on fire with their respective bats and Wilmington is notoriously tough to hit in. Neither one are ready for AA ball and Northwest Arkansas is perhaps the best hitters park in all of AA, but neither one really needs to repeat Lexington having spent 100+ games there last year with middling results.
Guys who will likely see Wilmington by the All-Star break
Sean Manaea (#5)
Hunter Dozier (#6)
Humberto Arteaga (unranked)
Colin Rodgers (unranked)
Cam Gallagher (unranked)
Manaea has a couple options for him. He's supposedly looked good so far on the back fields of Arizona this spring as reported by the author of the BP Top 10 Jason Parks so he could jump straight to High-A as he has the talent to play there right now. He would join fellow 2013 draftee Mark Appel, 2012 draftees Kevin Gausman and Andrew Heaney, 2011 draftees Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer and 2010 draftees Matt Harvey and Drew Pomeranz as college pitchers who debuted at A-Ball (2013 Jon Gray premiered in Advanced Rookie for a few starts then when straight to A+). Manaea doesn't necessarily have the college pedigree as some of those guys (I'm thinking of Appel and Cole specifically) as he was somewhat of a helium prospect pre-draft, but he's got the same front line ability as the others.
The player that most matches Manaea might be Matt Harvey in terms of pre-debut. Like Manaea, Harvey shot up the draft boards before the draft. Harvey was a big time prep pitcher, possibly the best in the country, but fell to the third round due to signability issues (guess who his agent was...). He decided to go to UNC and despite a woeful sophomore year leaving many to think he should have signed with the Angels, he bounced back very strong his junior year. Harvey also improved his draft stock with a solid summer in the Cape Cod League in his first year, but despite reporting back to Chatham the following summer as looking "more professional" Harvey's second year struggles continued.
The Mets were perhaps the only team high enough on Harvey in the 2010 draft to take him at #7 overall (they were also interested in Zack Cox heavily too) and some Mets front office guys said they were "praying" that no one would take Harvey before them. Obviously no one did and the Mets snagged Harvey. The Royals were likely praying no one would select Manaea while they waited the next 26 picks after selecting Dozier at #8.
Like Manaea, Harvey was a wild card in the draft. His signability issues were likely behind him despite employing Boras, but had questions marks. Some saw him as a front line talent, most saw him as a first rounder guaranteed (BA had him #20 overall best talent) while others saw him as possibly a bullpen piece (I'm looking at you Keith Law).
Harvey debuted for the St Lucie Mets in the High-A Florida State league.There's talk that Manaea should debut in Wilmington (the Carolina League) as well.
Like Harvey, Manaea is a big framed pitcher with a 60-70 grade fastball but obviously throws from the left side rather than the right like Harvey.
Manaea could also start the season in Lexington, but Wilmington is a nice pitchers park and as an Indiana State alumni Manaea is used to the cold weather.
If this were directly after the draft I'd imagine Manaea would start in Rookie Ball but having him sit out of pro ball until June when short season ball starts isn't an option. The Royals are ready to see his stuff against pro hitters and Wilmington is probably the best pitchers park outside of San Jose in either of the three High-A leagues.
Dozier could return to Lexington after his short stint late last year that then saw him return to Idaho Falls for their playoff run. He had no problem conquering the Sally League in his 15 game stint hitting .327/.373/.436. If his success continues in Lexington he'll likely move to Wilmington or could possibly go straight to AA.
I think most people think he goes straight to A+ and I agree with that. My overstated perceptional love that some think I have for Dozier aside, he'll likely go to Wilmington and is ready for that league maturity/talent wise. After a short break in action following the conclusion of Idaho Falls playoff run Dozier reported to Advanced Instructionals in Arizona (with Lexington teammate Starling) and performed well reports said.
Guys who have a shot at see Wilmington at some point this year:
Elier Hernandez (Prospects on the Rise)
Daniel Rockett (Prospects on the Rise)
Cody Stubbs (unranked)
Zane Evans (unranked)
Alexis Rivera (unranked)
This is a mix of guys who are old enough to be higher along the ladder like Evans, Rockett,and Stubbs and then two guys who are good enough to debut in Lexington after a strong Idaho Falls campaign with Hernandez and Rivera.
Hernandez has the highest upside of them all, but the college trio could eventually be 4 or 5 role players.
I'm pretty high on Rockett and think he could break out this year. The Royals had gleaming opinions about him and outside reports on him have been good. He could be our minor league bad boy version of Josh Hamilton.
That's a pretty good collection of talent in one group possibly and the only roster that would beat them would be Double-A Tennessee if Baez, Almora, Soler, Vogelbach, Bryant and Edwards all reported there at one point. That team might be the best minor league team ever fielded that wasn't at an All-Star game. Heck, that IS an All-Star team.
In Lexington Brian Buchanon liked to bat a 2-3-4-5 of Mondesi-Threkeld-Starling-Dozier. Darryl Kennedy liked batting Justin Trapp leadoff but he might start the year in AA despite his less than stellar results in Wilmington as he's a little older. Terrance Gore is a prototypical speedster lead off hitter who Buchanon led off with the most and he's likely to move to A+ with Mondesi/Starling.
That sets up a possible 1-4 of:
1. R Gore LF
2. S Mondesi SS
3. R Starling CF
4. R Dozier 3B
With a possible rotation of
There's good news and bad news here though.
The good news: The Royals are one of the few teams with extensive MiLB TV coverage of their affiliates. They have live games from every team of Idaho Falls all the way up to Omaha.
The bad news: Wilmington might be the least covered team of all of them. Most Idaho Falls and Lexington games were available on MiLB TV last year (Lexington broadcasted every home game while IDF showed all homes game and a good amount of away) but Wilmington games were few and far between. MiLB TV is notoriously known for the television, or lack thereof, for A+ level games.
Wilmington will have on TV:
8 games in April
0 games in May
6 games June
3 games in July
3 games in August
That's 20 total games out of 70 available to watch.
The good news about the bad news though is that come June/July some of the guys listed above could be playing in Northwest Arkansas where MiLB TV shows every single game of the year. Thus is the life of following the minors.
The gluttony of low-
level class ball affiliate talent the Royals have in the minors is very concentrated to really Lexington and Wilmington. This almost allows us to watch the next wave of Royals prospects as the climb their way to Kauffman...if they were ever actually on a broadcast.