I'm kind of on a prospect kick at the moment, for some reason. I was randomly looking through some information online and decided to do a 5 player look into the Royals' organization. These are all players that (I believe) I have not covered before and are all having fantastic starts to the 2014 season.
The first player I want to look at is a 25-year old at AA Northwest Arkansas in the Texas League. Whit Merrifield has a great name and is a utility man in his 3rd partial season at AA. While that may not scream exciting prospect, this will: He has played 2B, SS, and LF this year, with previous time in center field and right field. In just 39 games and 167 plate appearances this year, Merrifield's hitting .280/.366/.462/.827. The best part is that he's got this while having only a .299 BABIP. He has 9 doubles, 1 triple, and 5 homers as well. He's walking a ridiculous 11.4% of the time and striking out just 13.2% of the time. He has 79 career stolen bases (but 34 CS) in just over 430 games and 1,800 PAs in his career in the minors and has driven his career OPS to .720 with his hot start to this campaign. He's been incredibly consistent in his 5 seasons in the minors since he was a 9th round draft choice out of the University of South Carolina.
In a completely different direction, Andy Ferguson was an 18th round pick out of Arkansas State University as a starting pitcher. He threw relief in his first partial year in the minors after getting drafted, but has since started the majority of his games. At AA last season and to start this season, he is sitting slightly under 8 K's per 9 innings, but has lowered his walk rate in 41 2/3 innings this year from last year's 3.47 BB/9 mark to 2.38. The only bad thing about him this year is giving up a lot of hits. He needs to work on that quickly, too. Last year he was 24, a half year younger than the average pitcher in the Texas League - however, this year at 25, he's a half year older than everyone there.
Another pitcher, a lefty this time, is 23 year old Jonathan Dziedzic - one of the hardest names to spell...gah! While only 23, he's in High A ball this year, so 0.2 years older than the average player there. He was drafted in the 13th round last year out of Lamar University in Texas. He started 11 out of the 12 games he pitched last season after being drafted and has continued to start this year in all 9 games. Jonathan is closing in on 100 minor league innings, has a K:BB close to 3.5, a K/9 just under 9.0, and is giving up less hits this year than last. His FIP has dropped 65 points from last year and his ERA is down 41 points to 2.27! The kid is on fire. I could see him moving quickly to AA Northwest Arkansas as well.
Dominique Taylor was also drafted in 2013, from the University of California-Irvine in the 15th round. Like Dziedzic, he went to rookie ball last year but is now at A ball. He is an outfielder that has played all 3 positions over the course of the last year or so. Through 98 games, he has 398 plate appearances and has an .883 OPS - last year at just over a half year younger than his competition, this year at just under a half year younger. He's ripping it, so far. The kid has 22 doubles, 6 triples, and 12 homers, with 73 runs, 56 RBI, and 20 SB (to 6 CS) in just under 400 PA. Over 1/3 of his hits are going for extra bases at the moment. The one thing that dampers my enthusiasm about Taylor is that he had a low walk rate last year at 5.7% and it's dropped to 2.2% this year. Of course, why would you want to leave your bat on your shoulder when you're hitting as well as he has. It's a skill he needs to learn to be a better hitter, though. I hope they're working on this. Then again, the Royals aren't fond of walks at the ML level either.
Mark Christian Binford (Mark on fangraphs and Christian on b-r if you look him up) is maybe the most intriguing prospect of the day, so I left him for last. He has been 1.5 years younger than his competition or more in each of his 3 stops over 3 seasons. He played a year at rookie ball, then a year at A ball, then this year he's at High A. He is the third pitcher on my list today, a 30th round right-hander drafted out of a Pennsylvania High School. Binford has started every game of his minor league career, and he's up to 39 of them now, throwing over 220 innings total. Remember, he's younger than his competition and is moving up levels each season, yet his H/9 has gone from 9.0 to 8.6 to 7.4 this year. While his walks have risen from 0.9 to 1.7 to 2.0 per 9, he's striking out a ton more people as well - going from 7.0 to 8.7 to 11.0 (!) this year - which keeps his K:BB above 5.50 this year and for his career thus far. The thing that makes me so impressed is that he's striking out 30% of his batters faced this year, and he's just 21. His FIP is 2.04 - and hasn't been above 3.00 in a single season of his minor league career.
Thanks for reading!