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Mid-Season Royals Top 45 Prospects

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We're past the All-Star Break for all the full season minor league teams, and the first-half winners have been announced (way to go Naturals!), so there's no better time to write up the mid-season top list. At first I wanted it to just be 20, then I increased it to 30 to match my preseason list. Then guys on the pre-season 30 weren't on the mid-season 30, but I wanted to look at where they were now so I finally settled at 45. There are some new guys (including Eric Skoglund, who I somehow completely missed in the pre-season 30) through some better performance, more reports, and being drafted. I believe everyone on the pre-season 30 is on the mid-season 45 in some capacity.

First, my pre-season top 30

Rank Name Position Highest Level OFP
1 Sean Manaea SP A+ 55
2 Raul Mondesi SS A+ 55
3 Brandon Finnegan RP/SP MLB 50/55
4 Kyle Zimmer SP AA/AAA 50/55
5 Hunter Dozier 3B AA 50
6 Foster Griffin SP Rookie 50
7 Miguel Almonte SP A+ 50
8 Chase Vallot C/RF Rookie 50
9 Christian Binford RP/SP AA/AAA 45/50
10 Jorge Bonifacio RF AA 45
11 Scott Blewett SP Rookie 45
12 Bubba Starling CF A+ 45
13 Ryan O'Hearn 1B/DH Rookie 45
14 Cheslor Cuthbert 1B/2B/3B AAA 45
15 Glenn Sparkman RP/SP A+ 45
16 Elier Hernandez OF A 45
17 Dominique Taylor OF A 40
18 Samir Duenez 1B/OF A 40
19 Sam Selman RP/SP AAA 40/45
20 Ramon Torres SS/2B A+ 40
21 Marten Gasparini SS Rookie 40
22 Pedro Fernandez SP A 40
23 Orlando Calixte SS AA 40
24 John Lamb SP AAA 40
25 Zane Evans C/DH A+ 40
26 Cody Stubbs 1B/OF A+ 40
27 Whit Merrifield OF AAA 40
28 Daniel Stumpf RP/SP A+ 40
29 Cody Reed SP A 40
30 Luke Farrell SP AA 40

Where are we now?

With so many moving parts, it's hard to gauge the movement of an org's outlook over the span of just three months, but I don't think the farm system has gotten strong per se through player development, but the addition of the draftees helps some (though I am admittedly wishing we chose other players in June), but maybe not enough to cover some of the declines.

The Royals added a ton of pitching prospects of different variations this past June with some college guys who are maybe better than 40 OFP's.

1. Sean Manaea - AA 0.82 ERA 0.98 FIP 10.64 K/9 0.00 B/9

Manaea is finally on the mound and the results have been about as good as you could ask for. Manaea's lengthy extremities, size, and delivery cause some concerns in his command, but Manaea has walked just one batter in his first 16 innings so far.

I had him as my #1 this offseason and he stays here. I think if it all comes together we're looking at a #2 starter that could be worth 3-4 wins at peak, but is will likely be worth 2-3 wins most years...which is nice.

2. Raul Mondesi - AA 87 wRC+ 3.0 BB% 23.0 K%

Well, it's still not a pretty line, but it's an improvement over last year's 69 wRC+ in Wilmington. Mondesi is still not walking, but he's hitting for average power which combined with his plus defense at short and speed makes for a nice combo. Not to mention he's 19 years old too.

Continuing to look at the previously mentioned Elvis Andrus parallel:

Both players struggled from their transition to A+ (Mondesi more so) but rebounded in AA at a really young age level. There is a big divergence in power as Mondesi started hitting for more power as he climbed up the org chart, but his walk rate has declined steadily while Andrus' remained near the same from A vs AA. Both players saw a small spike in their strikeout rate when moving to A+ but then regressed back in AA.

I'm not saying Mondesi is going to be Andrus, who's been a very successful major league player for his career, but they share a lot of similarities both in profile/tools, and results.

There was some talk I saw of Mondesi being called up perhaps as soon as next year, but I think that's premature. It would be nice for him to have a 3-win age-20 season, but we shouldn't be expecting that and should be giving him all the development time he can get/needs.

3. Kyle Zimmer - A 16 IP 1.13 ERA 2.78 FIP 11.81 K/9 3.38 BB/9

The majority of innings so far for Zimmer have come in A-ball Lexington, but going forward the rest will be in AA where he currently has a -0.72 FIP (yes...negative). Like Manaea, Zimmer is back though in a limited capacity for the rest of the season. Vance Wilson (NWA's manager) said that as long as he's a Natural, he'll come out of the bullpen.

In May, Zimmer was clocked at 97 MPH which is right near his all time peak (had some 98-99 multi-pitch outings in 2013) but usually he's more 92-95, and everything I've seen (watching him pitch) and heard has him back near there.

Results-wise, Zimmer has been exceptional despite the pitch/inning restriction he's been limited to, sometime striking out 50-80% of the total batters he's faced.

That one blip on the radar there June 18th was when Zimmer was removed for shoulder soreness early, but as you can see he bounced back pretty well 3 days later.

He certainly not joining the Royals rotation this year, but there's talk he could be in the big league pen in September after expansion. He of course would need to be added to the 40-man roster and there is always a crunch in December for players needed to be protected from the Rule 5 (Bubba Starling being one of them I think).

If he continues the year with no setbacks injury-wise, he should return to the rotation next year in Spring Training perhaps with an eye for a spot in the rotation, although a trip to the Omaha rotation would make the most sense.

Honestly it's impressive and just fun to watch Kyle Zimmer carve up hitters with little effort. It would be most excellent to see him do it consistently for 7 innings at a time, 25 times a year.

These GIFs are all from the 2 inning, 5 strikeout outing July 2nd.

92 MPH

94 MPH

94 MPH

4. Brandon Finnegan - AA/AAA/MLB 2.77/9.00/2.21 ERA 5.06/3.58/4.55 FIP

I don't know what to write here. Is he a reliever for the rest of his career, or is he a starter? Right now it seems like he's a reliever to me (knowing the way the org handled Aaron Crow) despite Finnegan having the stuff to start in my opinion. If it were up to me, I would have stuck Finnegan in A+/AA and said prove to me you can stay in the rotation. Instead he started in the rotation for a few starts in AA, then got called up to the big league bullpen, then demoted to AA bullpen, then promoted to the AAA bullpen, then moved to the AAA rotation, then back to the bullpen, then called up to the major league pen where he's been since late June to mediocre results.

There's also some concerns with Finnegan's size. He's certainly put on some weight this offseason and that comes with two flags. First there's the concern with what added weight can do to his athleticism. In tandem with that is his shorter frame means extra pounds can cause concerns in his delivery and possibly lose some velocity

Total pitch sample-wise we don't have a lot to work with so anything references individual pitches should be taken with some caution.

Maybe I'm taking the pessimistic view, but it seems like the Royals intend on him being a reliever. Is it too late to "convert" him back to the rotation? No, not necessarily, but as Gopherballs pointed out a few days back, Finnegan has never faced the same batter 3 times in a game. Meanwhile he's never exceeded 4 innings in any one professional outing.

5. Chase Vallot - A 111 wRC+ 14.5 BB% 33.3 K%

Vallot is younger than some prep players taken in this year's draft and is also the youngest drafted player in all of A ball (those younger than him are all international signs). If the Royals moved him to Wilmington, he'd be the youngest player in all of A+ by about a year. Despite his young age, Vallot has hit at both levels he's seen, including this year at a tough full season assignment to Lexington.

For instance, here are the catchers in A Ball around him (by wRC+):

Name Age wRC+
Garrett Boulware 22 114
Jordan Procyshen 22 112
Arturo Rodriguez 23 112
Chase Vallot 18 111
Mac James 22 112
Aramis Garcia 22 109
Gioskar Amaya 22 108
Jose Trevino 22 100

Vallot is basically 4 years younger than everybody there and is the youngest catcher in A Ball. Now, it's no guarantee obviously that Vallot will continue to hit for the rest of the year (and he wore down down the stretch pre-draft) but if he were to, here's the list of 18 year old catchers in A Ball and their wRC+ (min. 150 PA):

Name Year Age wRC+
Jesus Montero 2008 18 143
Gary Sanchez 2011 18 122
Chase Vallot 2015 18 111
Tommy Joseph 2010 18 94
Francisco Pena 2008 18 92
Sebastian Valle 2009 18 89
Allan De San Miguel 2006 18 72
Christian Bethancourt 2010 18 70

Montero and Sanchez were coincidentally both Yankee prospects, though Montero was kind of a catcher in title only and Vallot has a better chance of sticking behind the plate than Montero did. Montero was arguably the best prospect in baseball not too long ago, but of course that story didn't have a happy ending.

Vallot dropped some pounds last year, but he looks the same size now as he did last season, so hopefully he'll continue to maintain his current weight, though it's always going to be something to watch in regards to staying behind the plate.

His calling card is his bat that projects for 20-25 home runs as a catcher with a fringe to average hit tool. .260/20 from a catcher is swell. That walk rate is pretty swell too.

Like most fringe catchers, the Royals could move him to a corner outfield position and just say "focus on your bat," but they have him exclusively catching right now when he's in the field (he's DH'd too).

He's not Wil Myers, but he could be an average or better catcher if everything pans out. Prep catchers are supremely volatile, but Vallot has gotten off to a good start at a young age and has the tools.

And in case you want to gauge Vallot's size, here's a quick GIF of him (he's still a big boy).

6. Scott Blewett - A 3.24 ERA 2.56 FIP 7.83 K/9 1.35 BB/9

Originally I had Foster Griffin ahead of Blewett last winter, but Scott has had the better results and has taken the statistical step we want to see out of him. He's not a lefty like Griffin, but his changeup is almost on par from what I've seen. There isn't much to dream on velocity wise, low-90's, but he's got pretty good pitchability and his tall frame helps create downhill plane.

He'll never surpass Manaea unless if/when Manaea is ineligible for a list, but the 6'6'' righty could move steadily up the lists every single year.

7. Foster Griffin - A 6.12 ERA 4.25 FIP 6.96 K/9 2.95 BB/9

Griffin and Vallot are benefactors slightly of the performance of the players ahead of them from the offseason list. Griffin has been slightly better (by FIP) with the move from Burlington to Lexington as his command has taken a small step forward, but the K-rate remains lackluster. A 7 K/9 - 3 BB/9 in the majors is okay, but you want better from a top 10 prospect in the minors, especially in the low minors.

Right now Griffin's ranking is more a product of his tools than results, but left-handed prep pitchers with good changeups don't have their own tree. It's not a sexy arsenal or OFP, but a lefty with possible 3 average pitches (one being a changeup) could slot into any rotation.

I haven't seen any velo reports on Griffin this year and last year his velo popped up during the entire spring but faded in pro ball.

8. Ryan O'Hearn - A 131 wRC+ 8.8 BB% 25.5 K%

I bought into O'Hearn last year after his explosion in the Pioneer League on his way to MVP and then gushed more about him back in May. O'Hearn has tacked on 10 home runs since and continues to lead the Sally League and A ball in home runs. Alongside the slugging, O'Hearn has 7 steals and could put up a 20/10 season since I don't know when which Royals prospect has done.

To add to his lore, O'Hearn just won the Sally League HR Derby as well.

Obviously to play first in the MLB you need to hit, and O'Hearn is just okay at the bag so he'll be all bat. There's concerns about an increase in his strikeout rate too.

I haven't heard any opinions on his outfield defense, but the Royals are at least toying/open to the idea of moving him to right field as he's played 9 games there so far when not at 1B/DH. The steals are encouraging for his speed, but he also is facing much more raw catchers defensively that could add noise to the signal.

He's not gonna be Paul Goldschmidt (fellow under the radar, 8th round pick, Texas college, 1B, mashed the Pioneer League) but there's a chance that if he continues to hit he could be an every day player for the Royals, especially if they are comfortable with moving him to the outfield.

9. Nolan Watson - Low Rookie Lg 0.00 ERA 3.96 FIP 4.76 K/9 4.76 BB/9

Some evaluators liked Watson more than his fellow prep Indiana 2015 draftee Ashe Russell, some had them right next to each other, and some like Russell a lot more (even saying he was the best prep pitcher in the draft class). This all depends on your evaluation of Russell long term, which for me I'll get into later, but there are a lot of similarities stuff wise between the two.

Nolan was a solid second rounder last spring/summer before a velocity uptick vaulted him into the first round conversation. Watson sits low-90's with two present average pitches in his fastball and slider. Right now he has fringy command and changeup, but good mechanics and size which projects well for his future command as well as maintaining his velocity.

Watson was a Vandy commit, so you can normally be encouraged by that.

10. Eric Skoglund - A+ 3.52 ERA 2.62 FIP 7.04 K/9 1.17 BB/9

For some stupid reason I completely missed adding Skoglund to my preseason list. Had I not ignorantly forgot him, I would have had him roughly a few spots lower, but no higher than 10 or 11. He's helped out on the midseason list with attrition from some guys above him, but also good results.

Skoglund doesn't intimidate you on the mound as he's tall and lanky while his stuff won't blow you away either. He's put on some weight to fill out but is still a stiff breeze away from flying into center field.

Skoglund's non-fastball pitches are his card. The slider is a true weapon for him and the changeup isn't far behind. He's got feel for both pitches and for a guy his size he has nice mechanics that help him command both pitches. There's not a lot of velocity there, but he's interesting as a crafty lefty with good secondaries who's tall.

I'm not even finding a good comp for him as there aren't many 6'6" 210 lefties out there...

11. Ashe Russell - Low Rookie Lg 0.00 ERA 5.03 FIP 3.60 K/9 7.20 BB/9

As mentioned above, some evaluators felt Russell was the best prep pitcher in the '15 draft class and were surprised he lasted until 21. I didn't have him that high on my draft board (I had him at 31st overall) but I think he was the 2nd or 3rd best prep pitcher I listed.

I had Russell pegged as an eventual reliever, but of course the Royals see him as a starter and are going to give him years' worth of chances.

His command is worse than Watson, but the ceiling is higher and profiles as a potential #2 with a nice fastball/slider combination. The change is still behind and the command is further back, but he's a long-term project that could pay off big.

Russell has a live arm and uses his great arm speed (the best in his draft class perhaps) to generate velocity, but there's a clear snap to it as it lags behind his body and creates that whip motion. This is part of the concern with Russell alongside some of the other cogs of his motion that question future command.

12. Hunter Dozier - AA 76 wRC+ 8.3 BB% 27.4 K%

Sigh.

Dozier opened up the season in AA, where he spent half a year last year, and has continued his struggles. Just a year ago Dozier was riding high of hitting in a tough Carolina League and ranking as the 39th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America. Now after his struggles he's not probably even in consideration for the top 120.

Some evaluators mention concerns with upper level velocity and others that he can be too passive at the plate.

Another concern has been a tweak in his mechanics. In an effort to hit for more power, Dozier has tried adding some loft to his swing and while he's hitting for more power, the drawbacks of the change have reared their head (longer swing, issues with velo).

He looks more rigid at the plate and is standing more upright with a seemingly added hitch in his load.

13. Bubba Starling - A+/AA 211/103 wRC+ 13.7/10.1 BB% 33.3/20.7 K%

Although Starling technically moved a slot down my list (due to the additions of Russell/Watson/Skoglund), he's been nice to see this year and a case could be made for him to be in the top 10 at this point.

For me, as much as I dream about Starling's tools, he still need more than 200 plate appearances to convince us. He absolutely crushed A+ for those 50 plate appearances, and I figured he'd be there for much longer than he was. Then challenged at AA, he continued to hit before his hamstring injury put him on the sidelines for several weeks. Starling hasn't been as sharp since his return as he's managed only an 85 wRC+.

What's most encouraging though is the decline in strikeout rate by some measure. Starling is making noticeably more contact at the dish and has only had 12 multi-strikeout games this year, and 4 in his last 30 games/100 plate appearances.

Like I said, it'll take more than 200 plate appearances to put Starling back on the map and wipe away what he did in the other 1200, but Dayton Moore said this would be his year in 2012, he's kind of putting some things together and the outrageous tools still exists... just don't expect to see him in a Royals uniform (outside of spring training) for at least another year or two.

14. Miguel Almonte - AA 4.06 ERA 4.19 FIP 7.26 K/9 3.92 BB/9

I've never been a fan of Almonte necessarily (I've felt for a while that he's probably going to be a reliever though a decent one) but he's always ranked okay for me (and better for others) due to his possible ceiling, arsenal, and age. At times Almonte will look like an easy mid-rotation candidate, throwing his fastball in the mid-90's with a plus changeup, but those outings are inconsistent and the command has taken a step back this year.

There's a lot to like about 90th percentile outcome Almonte, but the median outcome Almonte is a reliever to me. I do think he'll be a good one as he has the fastball velocity, curve, and changeup to give him a potent 3-pitch mix.

15. Christian Binford - AA 4.97 ERA 2.98 FIP 7.11 K/9 1.95 BB/9

Binford is kind of the pitching equivalent of someone like Johnny Giavotella. He doesn't have a ton of extreme tools, but he does some things well and there's some possible upside here, though it's lackluster. For someone like Binford to project for some impact, he will need to succeed at every level and so far that's something he has done really.

He got the bump to AAA this year where it seemed like he was overwhelmed and perhaps trying to change his approach as his command slipped. He suffered a bit of a similar problem in 2014 when he was moved to Omaha late in the year.

It's a small sample, but so far in both his trips to AAA the results have taken a step back. He's 22 years old so there's plenty of development time left and it won't hurt for him to spend the rest of the year at AA, but maybe the organization will try him again in Omaha.

16. Cody Reed - A+/AA 2.14/2.25 ERA 2.85/3.19 FIP 8.69 K/9 2.41 BB/9

Reed slowly made improvements on his command in '14 and now it's taken another step forward as he's been impressive in A+ and so far in AA. Reed has cut his walk rate in half due to some better feel for pitching now that he has some experience under his belt.

17. Glenn Sparkman - AA 3.60 ERA 3.32 FIP 9.45 K/9 4.05 BB/9

Sparkman went from no name, to who is this guy over the course of two years and is now a "guy" but I haven't seen enough of him in AA yet to move him up or down the list much (though he has dropped 2 spots from the offseason list).

Sparkman was put on the 7-day DL May 4th, but hasn't returned yet two months later and no news had popped up on what the injury is (that I can find). Consider this more of a holder grade until/if he pitches more than 20 innings this year.

18. Jorge Bonifacio - AA 111 wRC+ 8.4 BB% 24.5 K%

I've admittedly never been a big Bonifacio fan. We've always heard about the possible power, but he's never shown it consistently in games. This year he has been hitting for power though in his repeat of AA. However the overall results aren't too impressive and he doesn't have the other tools to back him up. I'm probably lowest on Bonifacio than anyone you'll find, but he just doesn't check the boxes for me. He's at roughly 1,000 AA plate appearances and he just hasn't been impressive like he was in the lower levels.

19. Elier Hernandez - A 115 wRC+ 4.5 BB% 23.2 K%

Hernandez has consistently used his tools this year and rivals almost anyone in the org tool wise, but Dominican hasn't hit for power at any level really. I would have no problem slotting him 5 spots higher, but consider this more of a hold grade as he's finally out of Lexington but is now facing the daunting task of the Carolina League.

20. Zane Evans - A+/AA 123/121 wRC+

Evans has always had a good plate approach with some raw power who was still learning to catch a bit. Last year he struggled in Wilmington (where so many other players do) but he rebounded there this year and has continued his contact/power approach in his promotion to AA so far.

21. Luke Farrell - A+/AA 3.03/4.18 ERA 1.50/3.30 FIP

Farrell is a bit old for AA at 24, but if you believe in "development age" he's younger than that as he's missed significant time due to a neck tumor.

22. Meibrys Viloria - Low Rookie Lg 66 wRC+

Viloria has made some improvements defensively behind the plate. He's younger than some prep guys drafted this year and hit impressively in Burlington/DSL last year, though not as well to start the year in Burlington so far.

23. Cheslor Cuthbert - AAA 89 wrC+

It's been a couple years since Cuthbert has been a hitter in any league. While he has been young at each level really, he doesn't have the raw tools to prop him up necessarily (like say Mondesi). I've always been underwhelmed by him and this year he's continued to not hit and has no defensive position.

He would be interesting certainly if he were to play 2B like the org said he might, but he's been a third baseman (where he's brutal) and a first baseman so far (where he doesn't have the bat for).

24. John Lamb - AAA 2.62 ERA 3.95 FIP

Lamb has been better this year but it's also his 3rd year with time in Omaha. I could see an argument for Lamb being higher given his results and that he may be farther back from Tommy John years ago, but unless he's returned to 2010 Lamb, I'm going to keep him where he was this winter.

25. Balbino Fuenmayor - AA 170 wRC+

It's fun to talk about Fuenmayor and he's got a near 80 grade name, but he was never a big prospect for Toronto before being released and he's now a 25 year old in AA/AAA. He's still not walking, but the power is real as it has ever been.

26. Marten Gasparini - Low Rookie Lg 62 wRC+

27. Pedro Fernandez - A 3.46 ERA 3.00 FIP

28. Alfredo Escalera-Maldonado - A 138 wRC+

29. Chad Johnson - A 192 wRC+

30. Josh Staumont - Low Rookie Lg 0.00 ERA 5.32 FIP

31. Cody Stubbs - A+ 119 wRC+

32. Sam Selman - AA 3.41 ERA 3.83 FIP

33. Dominique Taylor - A+ 53 wRC+

34. Samier Duenez - A 81 wRC+

35. Orlando Calixte - AAA 71 wRC+

36. Daniel Stumpf - AA 4.33 ERA 3.91 FIP

37. Ramon Torres - A+ 76 wRC+

38. Bryan Brickhouse - Yet to play

39. Colin Rodgers - A 4.12 ERA 3.68 FIP

40. Julio Pinto - Low Rookie Lg 2.84 ERA 5.03 FIP

41. Brandon Downes - A 103 wRC+

42. Jonathan Dziedzic - AA 4.07 ERA 3.09 FIP

43. Jake Junis - A+ 3.34 ERA 3.47 FIP

44. Alec Mills - A+ 2.20 ERA 2.30 FIP

45. Cristhian Vasquez - Low Rookie Lg 45 wRC+

Rank Name Position Previous Rank
1 Sean Manaea SP 1
2 Raul Mondesi SS 2
3 Kyle Zimmer SP 4
4 Brandon Finnegan RP 3
5 Chase Vallot C 8
7 Scott Blewett SP 11
6 Foster Griffin SP 6
8 Ryan O'Hearn 1B 13
9 Nolan Watson SP N/A
10 Eric Skoglund SP Missed
11 Ashe Russell SP N/A
12 Hunter Dozier 3B 5
13 Bubba Starling OF 12
14 Miguel Almonte SP 7
15 Christian Binford SP 9
16 Cody Reed SP 29
17 Glenn Sparkman SP 15
18 Jorge Bonifacio OF 10
19 Elier Hernandez OF 16
20 Zane Evans C 25
21 Luke Farrell SP 30
22 Meibrys Viloria C Unranked
23 Cheslor Cuthbert 3B/1B 14
24 John Lamb SP 24
25 Balbino Fuenmayor 1B N/A
26 Marten Gasparini SS 21
27 Pedro Fernandez SP 22
28 Alfredo Escalera OF Unranked
29 Chad Johnson C Unranked
30 Josh Staumont SP N/A
31 Cody Stubbs 1B 26
32 Sam Selman RP 19
33 Dominique Taylor OF 17
34 Samir Duenez 1B 18
35 Orlando Calixte SS 23
36 Daniel Stumpf RP 28
37 Ramon Torres 2B 20
38 Bryan Brickhouse SP Unranked
39 Colin Rodgers SP Unranked
40 Julio Pinto SP Unranked
41 Brandon Downes OF Unranked
42 Jonathan Dziedzic SP Unranked
43 Jake Junis SP Unranked
44 Alec Mills SP Unranked
45 Cristhian Vasquez OF Unranked