In July I wrote up and ranked 45 Royals prospects. My plan for this winter was to expand that. As I get more familiar with players each year, I feel more comfortable going deeper on my lists. Three years ago when I started my lists I was split on guys. Most of them I knew about and were in AA or higher already. I didn't really get to follow these guys and they were well known. A few of them were still in the low minors and I could watch them age and progress, noting changes in them (if applicable). Also with the draft each year meant a new group of guys I am starting a fresh slate with.
So after three years I feel comfortable ranking 60 prospects. My plan is perhaps to expand that to 75 by my mid-season list, but that may wait until 2017. Of course with the Royals not having a pick until the second round of the 2016 draft that means a smaller infusion of talent and fresh slate guys. Ultimately I want to rank 100 players. That might be redundant or unnecessary. Prospects 75-100 are basically interchangeable in their spots, but it is something I think would be interested to do. Ultimately it would help me fulfill my duty to you all - informing you on the Royals minor leaguers. Maybe it's the millennial in me or my American culture that makes me want to rank everything, but I feel like I can rank 100 guys.
So that's my plan for 2017 or maybe 2018. For 2016 though I've gathered 60 players, and to be honest once you get past 40 or so you have to play fast and loose with the term "prospect."
Here's a bit of insight into my process and what I judge/value in rankings (something I hope to evolve constantly with):
I am not a tools-hound for the most part. Yes, you have to have tools, and yes, I value them. But I also value production. You can not just have tools with no production and walk your way into the top five generally. However you can not just have raw production either without factoring in the next few things.
Age matters, until it doesn't
Raul Mondesi has been the top Royals prospect in many publications despite a lack of production due to his very young age and tools. Age definitely matters in the context of his results, but you also need some results. The opposite is true for guys like Brett Eibner, Balbino Fuenmayor, or Jose Martinez. The production is nice, but when you're 26+ years old (which is older than me) and beating up on 22-year olds in your third time through the Pacific Coast League, I'm not impressed. If there are tools there (and with Eibner there is!) then the age hurts you but does not necessarily make you a complete non-prospect. I would rather a player be 21 years old and struggling in AAA with tools than 27 years old and mashing in AAA with no tools.
Chris St. John at our sister site Beyond the Box Score two years back wrote about success rates based on age and level.
As you can imagine, the older you are for your level compared to the average age for the level, the lower your success rate becomes. The opposite is true as well- the younger you are for the level, the greater chance of MLB success. Almost universally players at the older end of the spectrum fail at a 100% rate.
I always try to balance productions and tools, but also being conscious of the level of play. Hitting a 120 wRC+ in Low-A isn't necessarily as good as hitting 110 wRC+ in AA. The general rule of course is the lower the level, the lower the correlation is to translating that production to MLB success. Yes, I of course want each prospect to shove it at every level, but hitting .300/.350/.450 in 25 games at Burlington does not really get my prospect juices flowing.
What is most important - tools, age, or production? I could not really rank them in order of importance from an evaluation standpoint. If I see a guy with a monster stat line I want to know his age and tools. If I see a guy struggling I want to know his age. If I see a guy ranked highly or often spoken about, I want to know his tools and production. In the end I weigh most heavily on production. You have to show me something at least to be considered unless you are just ridiculously young for your level (like Mondesi) or have extenuating circumstances (like an injury). However again it's always a mix of the three, and the interlocking context dependency of them is crucial.
State of the farm
Winning cures all and flags fly forever
So I know that the popular opinion is "flags fly forever" and that any moves made in a championship season are worth it since they won the title. I've never found that to be the case. All assets - whether MLB or MiLB players - have value. Sure, you can pay a bit of a premium on an asset to move your win curve more to the right, but how much? Is that automatically a justification? If the Royals didn't win the World Series and only made it to the ALCS, would those moves still be fine? ALDS? Wild Card game?
I was very critical of the Ben Zobrist trade to Oakland for Sean Manaea and Aaron Brooks. That was largely predicated on the fact that I thought that Manaea was the best prospect in the system and was probably the best Royals pitching prospect since Zack Greinke. Manaea was ranked in the 40-60 range on most top 100 lists that have come out this offseason. He is not a slam dunk elite prospect. but I think he is better than Mondesi and though he doesn't have the same arsenal, he is healthier than Zimmer. If he were still in the organization he would be the Royals top prospect.
But back to my original point, not all moves are validated if a team wins the World Series. I think the Royals traded some significant 2016 and beyond value for a few months of 2015 value. Would the Royals have won the World Series without Zobrist? Maybe, or maybe not. He was good in the playoffs (133 wRC+) no doubt.
Risk over certainty
I think one thing you're going to be seeing a lot when you look at the Royals system is guys who are more tools than production at this point. Also you find a lot of faith being placed in arms that bring different values. The Royals have pitchers in any and all varieties you could ask for - left-handed prep guys, right-handed college guys, high ceiling low floor guys, etc... However I think the latter is maybe what you see the most. There isn't a lot of surety in this system regardless of position, but I also don't think there's a lot of reward there either. There's no Joey Gallo like player in the system. The sort of "yeah he could bust and be out of baseball before getting to AAA, but if he clicks..."
Arms, arms, and arms
As you'll see below there are a lot of pitchers in the system, especially in the top half. Pitchers of course carry more risk than position players and many pitchers in this system have had Tommy John (but perhaps not more than the average team). This makes sense given the Royals draft choices the past few years:
1st round: Pitcher
2nd round: Pitcher
3rd round: Pitcher
1st round: Third baseman
1st round: Pitcher
2nd round: Pitcher
3rd round: Pitcher
1st round: Pitcher
1st round: Pitcher
2nd round: Catcher
3rd round: Pitcher
4th round: Pitcher
1st round: Pitcher
1st round: Pitcher
2nd round: Pitcher
3rd round: Outfielder
One concern here is that the Royals do not have a long track record of developing arms. Many (most?) of their top picks who have been pitchers have failed, yet almost all of the above picks have been arms.
So let's get to the rankings already!
The Top 60
1. RHP Kyle Zimmer - Age 24
2.39 ERA 10.1 K/9 2.3 BB/9 in 64 IP between A/AA ball
Zimmer was easily my number one choice here. I had him ranked fourth last year behind Brandon Finnegan, Raul Mondesi, and Sean Manaea, but the health concerns are the only thing that weighed him down. He is not suddenly less of a health risk now, but at the time of my mid-season rankings he had pitched just 20 innings all season , though with impressive results. The Royals slowly moved him into getting more innings and from July 9th on he doubled the innings, pitching 44. Once August arrived Zimmer was starting games though he of course was not as effective as he was in relief.
Zimmer's best game last year came in the penultimate one against the "rival" Memphis Redbirds where he struck out 35% of the batters he faced, allowing two hits over six innings and no runs. There seemed to be times when Zimmer was rolling through hitters but he could not keep that consistency going past the first few innings. It seemed like he would rack up the gaudy numbers in the first ten batters but then struggle afterwards. Once a runner got on base Zimmer would get flustered and lose his command a bit while also losing his killer edge that got him there prior in the game.
Zimmer is really good and he knows it too, though he can perhaps get too cute at times. There were times it felt like he was getting a bit lazy and would throw fastballs for the first two strikes then always follow it up with a curveball in the dirt. Sometimes the hitter would whiff at it, but some took it for ball one. Then he would either go curve in the dirt again or fastball up high which would lead to ball two. Zimmer has good command but it is not elite or anything, and that is when he would try to throw a fastball in the zone to see if he can blow it past the hitter but it would end up outside and suddenly he went from 0-2 to 3-2.
Zimmer also didn't really have to throw his changeup much as his fastball and curve were too overpowering for A+/AA hitters. I would take Zimmer's arsenal over almost any pitcher in the minors save for Lucas Giolito. Zimmer has arguably four average-or-better pitches depending on how you grade his changeup, but the fastball and curveball are undeniably plus-pitches and his slider flashes that too. The changeup is come-and-go but his fastball is so good that it plays up the changeup slightly.
I have no doubt a healthy Zimmer could be a top 20 pitcher in baseball, but I have a doubt we will ever see him healthy. Still, even a Kyle Zimmer coming out of the bullpen could be excellent.
2. SS Raul Mondesi - Age 20
.243/.279/.372 6 HR 33 RBI in 338 PA in AA ball
I have never ranked Mondesi as the top Royals prospect as long as I have been doing my lists and for the foreseeable future that is not likely to change until Zimmer loses eligibility. I think it is partially a testament to the weakness of this current system that a shortstop with a 71 wRC+ in A+/AA is a the best prospect in the system by some rankings. Mondesi has all the makings of an above-average shortstop, which is a 3-4 win player annually. He has tremendous speed, a great glove, a terrific arm, and some emerging power potentially as he grows. I also love his bat control and bat speed.
I think the strikeout rates are deceiving. His problem is not a matter of not being able to make contact or a mechanical issue. Mondesi has a great swing that fits his game perfectly where he can use his speed to leg out triples on balls in the gap and beat out grounders. It is his ultra-aggressive approach that produces the strikeouts and suppresses walks.
This past summer I compared Mondesi to Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, a terrific player.
Mondesi has hit for more power but Andrus has been the better overall hitter. The Rangers and Royals both have affiliates in the Carolina League and Texas League (where Mondesi/Andrus played A+/AA). Both struggled upon promotion to A+ compared to A ball, but Andrus was a much better hitter. Both were very young for their levels.
Mondesi became famous by being the first player to make his major league debut in a World Series, but don't expect him to be a major league fixture any time soon. The tools are still ahead of production and he is well below the league average age for AA/AAA (whichever he debuts at). The Royals would do well to let him see AA again. He needs to hit at some level that suitable enough to be worth the rankings he has been placed at.
3. C Chase Vallot - Age 19
.219/.331/.427 13 HR 40 RBI in 333 PA in A ball
I had to restrain myself from ranking Vallot ahead of Mondesi. First, prep catchers are a terrible investment and will break your heart every time. Second, Mondesi has at least made it to AA and has the tools to fall back enough on that you could see a 1-2 win player based on defense and baserunning.
Vallot doesn't offer the same type of safety as Mondesi perhaps, but I think his ceiling is near that level. I loved Vallot in the 2014 draft, I had him ranked 25th overall ahead of Brandon Finnegan, Monte Harrison, Luis Ortiz, and several other guys who went earlier in the draft that Vallot. In the 2014 draft, Vallot was just days away from being the youngest player who was drafted and signed (59th overall pick Ti'Quan Forbes was born five days earlier). He was also the youngest US-born player in all of A-ball in 2015.
His calling card is his power. He won the Perfect Game Home Run Derby, beating out first rounders Braxton Davidson and Michael Chavis. He finished second place at the Under Armor All-American Home Run Derby to Jacob Gatewood, while finishing ahead of names like Alex Jackson (#6 draft pick overall), Michael Gettys (51st overall), and Daz Cameron (31st overall but was a top five candidate). Given his young age the ability to use the power has been impressive.
Here is a list of 18 year olds with 10+ home runs in A Ball the past decade:
Let's just ignore Stanton there because he isn't an actual human being but something out of a Tolkien novel. Other than Franmil Reyes and Tommy Joseph, everyone there has been a top prospect. The list includes the second-best player in baseball (Harper), and two former #1 overall prospects in Jurickson Profar and Jason Heyward.
Now let's just calm down a moment - Vallot is not as good as those hitters. But it just goes to show that displaying power at such a young age is rare and can set you apart as a prospect. What is even more fun is that most of those guys on that list are either first basemen or outfielders, not a premium defensive position like catcher.
Vallot is not a slam dunk to stay at the catcher position, but at this point it is reasonable to expect him to remain behind the dish. He has an excellent arm and despite his bigger size is athletic enough to make plays. He has surprised evaluators this seasons with the progress he has made.
The major drawback to Vallot's power is how much he's going to continue to access it in the upper levels given his current below-average hit tool that at this point grades out potentially peaking at a 40-45. Vallot had some issues in high school with hitting upper tier velocity, but from my perspective, that was not much of an in issue in 2015 at hte pro level. His bat speed isn't great, but his main issue is chasing pitches from time to time. Despite his weak hit tool, Vallot has a good approach at the plate and has posted strong walk rates in the two levels he's seen.
Vallot was known on the prep circuit as having some of the best power in his class and he displayed that power hitting bombs in Wrigley Field on his way to runner-up in the Under Armour Home Run Derby. He will need to watch his weight but his athleticism has not limited him so far in his career and he is well regarded for his work ethic.
4. RHP Nolan Watson - Age 19
4.91 ERA 4.9 K/9 3.4 BB/9 in 29 1/3 IP in Low Rookie Ball
The 2015 supplementary round pick did not light Burlington on fire in his pro debut, but to me he has a very solid base of current tools to work with. He will get compared to fellow Royals first-round pick Ashe Russell given they were both Indiana HS prep pitchers, but I would rather stake my claim to Watson over Russell even with his lower ceiling.
Watson is going to be a starter. That is less certain about Russell. Watson does not have the arm speed and raw stuff as Russell but the delivery is much smoother and repeatable. Speaking of Watson's tools, he has a two average pitches already - his fastball (which is near plus) and slider. The fastball touches 96 MPH and has some sink on it. I would like to see him control the slider a bit more but that should come with time and repetition. He will continually work on his changeup and given projection you could see that as an average offering too in time.
60 FB, 50-55 SL, 50 CH, with 50-55 command? That's not super sexy, but given his size, mechanics, and arsenal it has the making of #3 starter if it comes together.
5. LHP Matt Strahm - Age 24
2.59 ERA 11.6 K/9 3.0 BB/9 in 94 IP in Low A/High A ball
I was admittedly late to the Matt Strahm party as I left him off my top 45 in July but he did warrant strong consideration back then. I was uncertain where to rank a guy who missed a ton of time due to Tommy John srugery and had command issues while spending time in relief.
Then Strahm forced his way into the Wilmington rotation and took off from there. He made some changes in his mechanics by being a bit more consistent in his delivery that lead to a step forward in command. Strahm struck out 30% of the batters he faced and cut his walks in half. His arsenal is not sexy but it has solid potential with three average pitches (fastball/curveball/changeup) with average command if he continues to make strides there. There s a lot of deception from the lefty given his arm slot. He is going to be death to lefties, and even righties struggled this year against him with a line of .197/.287/.360. The arm slot is not so low that righties are going to have little trouble, but I would like to see his changeup continue to be worked often.
Strahm is a local product from Neosho County Community College in Chanute, Kansas. He was just a 21st round pick, but the Royals liked him enough to give him the maximum $100,000 draft bonus. At this point, I am definitely ahead of the pack here with Strahm. By this time next winter I could look silly if his command jumps back to where it was prior to last year and he ends up as a reliever But if the 2015 Strahm was not just a product of a pitcher-friendly environment in Wilmington and a hallucination, I'll be happy with this ranking.
6. OF Bubba Starling - Age 23
.269/.337/.448 12 HR 44 RBI in 418 PA in High A/AA ball
I was tempted to rank Starling a few slots higher, but I think I have always been able to temper my expectations in light of the Bubba Starling we have seen prior. I think we all have in our heads that Starling had a breakout season this year in AA (and a 105 wRC+ in AA is better than a 105 wRC+ in A ball) but I think people forget that Starling was actually a decent hitter save for his terrible 2014.
2012 (Rookie): 135 wRC+
2013 (A): 111 wRC+
2014 (A+): 84 wRC+
2015 (AA): 105 wRC+
The triple slash line looked better, but the overall game when adjusted for the league was similar to 2013. So artificially Starling saw a big boost in his stock despite being slightly worse than he a few years back. A few publications left him off their Royals Top Ten Prospect lists altogether last year, and this year he is squarely back in the middle of those lists.
You can be encouraged by his 105 wRC+ in AA. It is not domination but it is not bad either. How will it translate to the major leagues is the question. It also is worth remembering that Starling is not particularly young for his level. Looking beyond his results for AA Northwest Arkansas, the biggest takeaway from Starling since last October was the change in his mechanics and approach. He's become a bit more passive at the plate and made significant changes in his swing. This picture is a bit more than a year old but a recap of them:
The increased toe tap has helped his timing and kept him from falling over on offspeed stuff.
Starling looked much better this October in the Fall League compared to his 2014 stint there and the production matched (84 wRC+ vs 110 wRC+). His overall season had some setbacks as he missed some time with a hamstring injury and battled illness. He did hit for the cycle though at the end of July (the first ever Naturals player to do so) and homered in three straight games.
It is not just about the bat with Starling, but his other tools have been shining since his high school days. He is a plus-runner on the bases due to his plus-speed and instinct. He is going to be able to stay at center as he has excellent range and reads while his plus-arm (one of the best in the minors) is stellar there.
There is a good chance Starling strikes out 25-30% of the time in the majors and if the power does not develop well then he is nothing more than a fourth outfielder or AAAA player. There is a chance that he continues to work on pitch recognition and is able to make better contact, access his power, and play strong center defense, which would put his ceiling as a solid starting centerfielder on a contending team.
However Starling's future probably lies somewhere in between.
7. 1B Ryan O'Hearn - Age 22
.263/.339/.478 27 HR 77 RBI in 537 PA in Low A/High A
There seems to be some love going around in the prospect circles for O'Hearn, and Dan Farnsworth at FanGraphs ranked O'Hearn fifth overall in the system after he only made Fangraph's "honorable mention" list (by Kiley McDaniel) the prior season. I wrote about O'Hearn last May asserting that he could potentially be the future cold corner hitter for the Royals once Eric Hosmer leaves for other pastures. I also ranked O'Hearn the Royals 13th-best Royals prospect last February before many others were really high on him.
I feel like I have been the conductor of the "Ryan O'Hearn train" ever since seeing him destroy the Pioneer League in 2014. He was an All-American in High School and his lack of power numbers at Sam Houston State University did not reflect his true swing and abilities.
O'Hearn reminds me of Paul Goldschmidt. Of courses he is not going to be as good as Paul Goldschmidt, but there are some similarities - both are native Texan first basemen drafted in the eighth round out of a Southland Conference college who dominated the Pioneer League. Those are probably more fun coincedences than anything. Goldschmidt was a better hitter in the upper minors than O'Hearn and a little more athletic too despite weighing more than O'Hearn. Both O'Hearn and Goldschmidt hit for power at each level and neither was allergic to strikeouts, typical of home run sluggers. Both hitters had nice walk rates and use their power to all fields.
O'Hearn has a bit more of a pull approach than Goldschmidt in his home run distribution but neither are shy about hitting the ball to center- and left-field. O'Hearn also goes up the middle a lot too.
Don't expect O'Hearn to start putting up MVP-type seasons like Goldschmidt though. As a first baseman who is not that great defensively, O'Hearn will need to hit, hit, and hit to make the big leagues. His strikeouts went up as he advanced levels but the power and walks remained which is encouraging. If his power plays at the majors then he profiles something along the lines of Brandon Moss, Richie Sexson, Lucas Duda, or Tony Clark, a player that walks a bit, strikes out a bit, won't kill you at first base, and hits for a .200+ ISO.
I don't think he will ever hit 30 home runs a year at Kauffman Stadiun, but he can hit, even with the strikeouts, and he is the most likely replacement for Hosmer's spot if/when the time comes. It must mean something that an anagram for Ryan O'Hearn is "Henry Aaron". Right?
8. RHP Ashe Russell - Age 19
4.21 ERA 5.9 K/9 3.2 BB/9 in 36 1/3 IP in Low Rookie ball
Russell was the 21st player taken overall in the 2015 draft out of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. Some evaluators had Russell as the best prep pitcher in hisdraft class while others had him much further back in the pack as a back-end of the first round kind of guy. I had him 31st overall on my 2015 board with Mike Nikorak and Jacob Nix 5-10 spots in front of him. I saw Russell most likely as a reliever. I don't necessarily think he's going to be a reliever, just that that outcome is most likely.
Ashe works with a plus-fastball that works consistently in the mid-90's, touching 98 MPH at times. His second best pitch is his slider that can flash plus but more often it is average to slightly above-average. The two pair well together even with his fringy command, but he lacks a solid third pitch right now. His changeup is below average and will take continual work to come around. It would be a dynamic pitch paired with his plus-fastball, but it is not nearly there yet.
My biggest concern with Russell is the arm drag and timing issues. He has superb arm speed and he is able to whip his arm forward, but that causes inconsistencies in his mechanics with his upper/lower halves getting out of sync. At peak it seems like he will only have average command, which for me profiles him as a two-pitch pitcher who can let it rip in short relief stints.
You can see the crux of the timing problem in the below image (ignore the "pitching face"):
Russell even has a bit of an "inverted W" going on too.
The Royals will likely work with Russell on his mechanics to get his timing down and work on the effort in his delivery. I am certain you will hear some talk about the upside in Russell but I do not really see his upside as anything more than a #3 starter. To get higher than that you would really need to iron out his mechanics, develop his changeup, and get his command to be above-average.
9. RHP Scott Blewett - RHP
5.20 ERA 6.6 K/9 2.7 BB/9 in 81 1/3 IP in Low A ball
Blewett is one of the first New York-born righty prep pitchers to go early in the draft in a very long time. Since 2010 there are only 25 New York-born pitchers who pitched in the MLB. Blewett did not dominate Lexington but he is still a little raw coming from a cold weather state. He pitched well the first two months of the season, compiling a 2.53 FIP with a 8.89 K/9 and 1.65 BB/9 through the end of June. However, Blewett labored into the summer months, struggling to continue those numbers.
Yeah that's not fun.
Blewett are Russell are close I think, and I'm probably the only one who has that opinion. I see Blewett as a solid-sized durable pitcher with a low-90's fastball that will gain speed as he gets a bit older and turns from raw prep pitcher to a matured one. The fastball is still a plus-pitch at the current time given his downhill plane off a 6'6" profile. The curveball isn not as good as Ashe Russell's slider but with more use it is going to be a plus pitch. Like Russell, the changeup is a work in progress and will be the deciding factor as to whether he has a starter's arsenal. Blewett's command is at least average at this point, unlike Russell, and the delivery is a lot better. If you like dreaming then Russell is your guy, but if you like more stability and a stronger base to work from, Blewett is it.
10. LHP Foster Griffin - age 20
5.44 ERA 6.2 K/9 3.1 BB/9 in 102 2/3 IP in Low A ball
The opinions are going to vary widely on Foster Griffin. Dan Farnsworth at FanGraphs ranked him third best in the system while Baseball America had him at 13th. Your outlook on him probably depends on what you are focusing on.
If you are focusing on results, Griffin was not good in his full season debut at Lexington. He didn't strike many people out (15% strikeout rate) and he was not impervious to walks (7.6% walk rate). His 5.44 ERA and 4.22 FIP were underwhelming for a first round pick, even as a prep pitcher. Griffin was highly scouted and from a fairly talented area in Orlando, where he was able to play year round.
If you are focusing on the tools, you are going to rank him higher. He has a nice, smooth delivery from the left side and Griffin has good size and has stayed healthy. If there is any pitcher in this range of prospects that you could most expect to have three average-or-better pitches it is Griffin. He has a low-90's fastball that is already average-or-better, a curveball that is close to that level, and a changeup that is not too far off. If Griffin matures as a pitcher he'll undoubtedly rank higher next year as the results should move in line with the tools.
11. RHP Josh Staumont - Age 22
2.48 ERA 13.0 K/9 7.2 BB/9 in 40 IP in Arizona/Advanced Rookie ball
If I was throwing caution into the wind I would have ranked Staumont fifth overall. I love Staumont for what he is and he may be my favorite prospect in the system profile-wise. He has a lightning-quick arm that can heat the radar gun up to 100 mph like he was just throwing the ball to his dad in the back yard. The heat just comes so easily and while he will probably keep tweaking his delivery to rein in his command a bit, there aren't overarching changes needed to be made. He arguably has the best velocity in the minors along with Ray Black of the Giants.
Staumont is not just about heat either, as he has a veritable curveball that when he's staying on top of it and generating good spin, plays as a plus-pitch that at times shows double-plus grades. He has a third pitch, a changeup, that could play when he pairs it with hitters looking for a 100 MPH pitch, but unless he's a starter (something the Royals are at least toying with) he could scrap that and have a potentially lethal fastball/curveball combo.
Staumont struck out almost 40% of the batters he faced in Idaho Falls, leading the Pioneer League, however he also walked 18% of the batters he faced too, also "leading" the Pioneer League. Even with the god awful walk rate, he still finished among the leaders in strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Former Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol was able to put up a 3 WAR season as a reliever in 2010 despite walking 15% of the batters he faced since he struck out 41% of them, but the walks have to come down for Staumont. He has very little command right now but has still been able to destroy hitters in college and the low minors.
I would like someone to argue against just giving up on him as a starter, scraping the changeup, sending him to AA and letting him attack batters. He's healthy, he likely has the best fastball in the minors, and he has a decent second pitch. He is not going to be Craig Kimbrel or Wade Davis, but if he can shave a couple percentage points off his walk rate and get it down to ~12-13%, we are talking about a potentially elite reliever along the lines of Aroldis Chapman.
Is that likely to happen? No, probably not, but man...
12. RHP Miguel Almonte - Age 22
4.51 ERA8.3 K/9 3.6 BB/9 in 103 2/3 IP in AA/AAA ball
I have ranked Almnote fifth, seventh, fourteenth, and twelfth over the years. I can not speak how other publications have graded the Dominican over the past few years but as Almonte has climbed the organizational ladder he has impressed me less and less. He has a plus fastball and a changeup that is average-to-plus, but those two pitches are almost never in sync on the same night. His curveball has remained just as inconsistent and fringy. He also does not offer very good command with his active delivery. He is a reliever for me, and he could do just fine there but I don't see him as an elite reliever or anything. His most likely outcome is a setup man that you probably don't want to bring in with runners on or the bases loaded.
13. RHP Alec Mills - Age 24
3.02 ERA 8.8 K/9 1.1 BB/9 in 113 1/3 IP in High A all
Mills is in the big league camp right now since he was added to the 40-man this past winter to be protected from the Rule 5 draft. He put together his best season and was named Royals Minor League Pitcher of the Year after his sesason in Wilmington. Mills does not have a stellar arsenal, but he throws strikes as well as anyone in the system. It is not hard to see three average pitches with him - a fastball (which is already average or better), curveball, and a changeup. Mills was not particularly old for the Carolina League, and is a Tommy John surgery survivor.
14. LHP Garrett Davila - Age 19
Did not play in 2015.
I have two words to describe Garrett Davila's delivery: old-timey.
Tell me Hall of Fame pitcher Candy Cummings didn't have that exact same delivery...
The Royals held Davila out last season after drafting him so he could put some meat on his bones. He reportedly gained 25 pounds this winter. His size increase in his senior year of high school coupled with a velocity bump is what took him from late round prospect to early-second day prospect. Despite the kooky delivery, he has great control for his age but we haven't see him pitch with the added weight yet. He may not even debut in full season ball this year so we have to maintain our expectations with him, but it's not crazy to see three average pitches and plus command. If he has a strong pro debut, he will move up many slots.
15. LHP Erik Skoglund - Age 23
3.52 ERA 7.0 K/9 1.2 BB/9 in 84 1/3 IP in High A ball
Skoglund is similar to Alec Mills in that he has good command with fringy stuff. He is tall and lanky (6'7" 180 lbs) and will just have to continue to outproduce his tools. His most likely outcome is as a swing man/middle relief pitcher.
16. 2B/SS Ramon Torres - Age 23
.264/.308/.354 5 HR 31 RBI in 522 PA in High A/AA
Torres has been a treat to watch, but I haven't really bought into him. A few years back I ranked him fourtheenth overall in the system and since then my opinion on him changes every day. In reality he probably deserves to be several slots lower but the little dude can hit a bit. He is good enough defensively to play all over the infield, he has good speed, and he consistently puts the ball in play.
Torres is not an older guy beating up on young arms. As a 22 year old he had a 108 wRC+ in AA with a .127 ISO (league average) while splitting time between second and shortstop evenly. I hate using this word but the dude is a grinder. He is already on the 40-man roster and I think I would take him above Cheslor Cuthbert or Christian Colon for my utility guy within the next year or two. He is quicker, plays better defense, can play shorstop, and while he doesn't have Cuthbert's power he's not going to be relegated to the corners like Cuthbert.
17. 3B Hunter Dozier - Age 24
.213/.281/.349 12 HR 53 4BI in 523 PA in AA ball
Okay let's just start with the good stuff here. He has a great arm, above-average power, will stick at third base, and won't kill you on the bases for a guy his size.
Now take a deep, collective sigh.
Dozier's swing got all out of whack late last fall upon moving to AA by trying to exchange power for contact. He has enough power in the body and original swing anyways to hit 20 home runs but he started trying to add loft. What's worse was he became more aggressive at the plate (despite a lack of results) and his once-superb walk rates tanked too The half season of 2014 AA numbers seemed like a bad fluke, but then 2015 AA happened too and now we're just hoping for a do-over.
Dozier needs to get back to the 136 wRC+ hitter he was in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League who let his size and swing dictate his power/results. Baseball America dropped Dozier all the way down to 30th overall on the Royals prospect list, which is just crazy. I think Dozier is, at worst, a backup third baseman/bench bat given his arm/defense and intrinsic power. At this point he may not have super upside but his floor seems much higher.
18. RHP Glenn Sparkman - Age 23
3.60 ERA 9.4 K/9 4.0 BB/9 in 20 IP in AA ball
Sparkman was a pop-up prospect for the Royals as they liked him after seeing him pitch at Kauffman after an invitational. He had good results in 2014 that were helped out slightly by pitching in Wilmington. He was doing just fine last season before an elbow injury leading to Tommy John surgery ended his season. There is a possibility of four average pitches with Sparkman with average command but unfortunately now we will have to wait 14+ months to see it again. He had surgery in late-June/early-July so it is likely he won't pitch at all in 2016. If Glenn pitched a full season of AA with the pre-injury results and stuff he would be much higher. I would take that version of Sparkman over Miguel Almonte.
19. RHP Luke Farrell - Age 24
3.07 ERA 7.8 K/9 2.6 BB/9 in 123 IP in High A/AA
I wrote a few hundred words about Farrell in late-august that you can read here if you want a more detailed background. Long story short:
He's the son of Red Sox manager and pitching guru John Farrell.
He "grew up" around Red Sox pitchers.
He had several setbacks in his career due to tumors.
Farrell has put up decent results between A+/AA in 2015 showing good command of not that great stuff. He is probably a middle reliever but if he keeps outperforming his tools you could squint and see a #4-5 starter.
20. OF Brandon Downes - Age 23
.250/.312/.446 14 HR 59 RBI in 438 PA in Low A
Downes showed up on Royals prospect lists this year with a decent showing in Lexington. The tools are not necessarily loud, but his arm, speed, and fielding in center are near-plus, and his power is average or better. He is aggressive at the plate which hurts his power (he struck out 26% of the time). There's 20-20 potential if it all came together one day. Brett Eibner gets love from a lot of Royals fans, but I would take Downes over him.
21. SS Martin Gasparini - Age 18
.259/.341/.411 2 HR 25 RBI in 233 PA in Advanced Rookie ball
Others are higher on the young Italian than me, but I want to see some full season results before I buy into him. There isn't any power there and his value is mostly speed and defense from shortstop. That is something I can wait on before ranking an 18 year old higher.
22. OF Reymond Fuentes - Age 25
.308/.360/.422 9 HR 46 RBI in 445 PA in AAA ball
Fuentes has the makings of Lorenzo Cain in the sense that
- He's a plus runner
- He's a plus defender in center
- He's always got some sort of nagging injury
23. RHP Jake Junis - Age 23
3.78 ERA 7.1 K/9 1.7 BB/9 in 159 2/3 IP in High A/AA ball
I could see moving Junis up into the Farrell/Sparkman slots. He was a two-sport athlete who getting better at baseball and wouldn't surprise me if in the next year or two he is ten spots higher.
24. OF Jorge Bonifacio - Age 22
.240/.305/.416 17 HR 64 RBI in 536 PA in AA ball
Aren't we getting some prospect fatigue at this point? Bonifacio has been in the Royals organization for SEVEN YEARS NOW and his best season came two years ago at A+/AA. He has since repeated AA twice and has been underwhelming. There was power this past year but the rest was just weak contact. If he is not hitting, I'm not sure what the upside is.
25. OF Ben Johnson - Age 21
.282/.360/.479 6 HR 28 RBI in 214 PA in Low Rookie ball
I really like Johnson. He was not heralded coming out of Texas but he destroyed the Big 12 and was an eleventh round pick. The guy can absolutely run with near double-plus speed and as an ex-QB he has a strong arm. He does not have a lot of power but he puts the ball in play and gets on base. Don't be fooled by the 11th round pick. The Royals gave Johnson a $170K bonus.
26. OF Elier Hernandez - Age 21
.268/.312/.379 6 HR 54 RBI in 510 PA in Low A/High A ball
We are still waiting on tools to match production for the player the Royals once gave $3 million to as an international free agent. He has been overmatched at the plate but is still quite young. He hit well in Lexington this year as a 20-year old, but he does not have defense or speed to fall back on if he is not hitting.
27. OF Alfredo Escalera-Maldonado - Age 21
.267/.325/.397 10 HR 47 RBI in 507 PA in Low A/High A ball
Cue the anecdote of him being the youngest player ever drafted. Escalera has been fun to watch get older and put on size. He was scrawny at one point but looks like a baseball player now. He hit very well in Lexington this year as a 20-year old and it would not be a surprise to see him break out.
28. OF Anderson Miller - Age 21
.276/.326/.395 4 HR 29 RBI in 227 PA in Arizona/Low Rookie/Low A
Miller is similar to Ben Johnson in that he's quick (though not as fast as Johnson), can field, and has a good arm (though again not as good as Johnson's). I think Johnson is the better hitter but Anderson has more power and I love watching him play. He is shorter than his listed height (6'3") probably and has a good approach from the left side. He is an very god athlete and if something clicks you could be looking at a starting center fielder. Look for him to use his speed more and tap into his power.
I love watching this homerun.
29. SS/3B Travis Maezes SS/3B
Did not play in 2015.
Maezes was a shortstop at Michigan but is probably moving to third base, although there is talk he could move to catcher. He has a nice swing, tooled for many line drives but there is some loft that could give him 10-15 home run power. Travis suffered a knee injury that kept him from making his pro debut last year. Maezes tore up the Cape Cod League the summer back in 2014, hitting .329/.363/.411 from the left side, spraying the ball to all fields and going the other way almost as much as pull side.
Maezes was a Baseball America Preseason Second Team All-American and Freshman-All American. The injury to his knee dropped him to the thirteenth round but the Royals inked him for $200K, one of the higher bonuses after the 10th+ round. It may be bold of me to put Maezes here, but I am optimistic on him. I have seen comparisons to Oakland prospect Matt Chapman, who was a first round pick.
30. 1B/3B Cheslor Cuthbert - Age 23
.277/.339/.421 11 HR 51 RBI in 438 PA in AAA ball
I just don't see it with Cuthbert. I never have. There is some power but he is not good enough to play third base and the arm is wasted at first base, and his power is not good enough at that position. I'm happy to be wrong.
31. LHP Colin Rodgers - Age 22
5.02 ERA 5.4 K/9 4.1 BB/9 in 95 IP in Low A ball.
The former third-round pick is making his way back from Tommy John surgery. Rodgers has some intriguing tools in possibly two plus pitches (fastball/curveball) with a changeup that flashes average or better at times. Despite being drafted in 2012, Rodgers is only 22. The gloves should be off for 2016 and with good results he could be much higher.
32. RHP Bryan Brickhouse - Age 23
2.93 ERA 7.6 K/9 6.5 BB/9 in 15 1/3 IP in Arizona/Advanced Rookie ball.
Brickhouse is like Rodgers, another former third round pick who suffered Tommy John surgery. He has a really interesting pitch-mix in a high-90's fastball and a plus-curveball. However I don't think the changeup is very close and his command is poor.
33. LHP Jonathan Dziedzic - Age 25
3.56 ERA 6.2 K/9 2.4 BB/9 in 141 2/3 IP in AA/AAA ball
Dziedzic is like Christian Binford on steroids in a way. He doesn't have the ridiculous command Binford has but he has similar underwhelming stuff. He strikes out batters at a better rate however he is older than Binford. Dziedzic should start in AAA this year and it would not be a surprise to see him in line for an injury spot start for the Royals.
34. RHP Pedro Fernandez - Age 21
4.80 ERA 9.3 K/9 2.8 BB/9 in 110 2/3 IP in Low A/High A ball
I think others are much higher on Fernandez than myself but I don't really see it. His only average-or-better pitch is his fastball and it is slightly above-average for me. His changeup flashes average-to-above at times but he doesn't have great control over it and there is no third pitch. He started working on a cutter this past fall so we'll see.
35. OF Seuly Matias - Age 17
Did not play in 2015.
I would not be surprised if in three years from now Matias is the Royals number one prospect, but I also wouldn't be surprised if he's struggling in Lexington as a 19-20 year old too. The Royals handed him a $2.9 million bonus out of the Dominican Republican, and while he is a true five-tool potential player, he has played exactly zero professional innings. You could make the case for getting in early on a prospect of his caliber but I'm happy to wait.
36. C Meibrys Viloria - Age 19
.260/.335/.260 0 HR 16 RBI in 172 PA in Low Rookie ball
I was a bit strong on Viloria a year ago but he had just come off 136 wRC+ as a 17-year old catcher in Burlington. Fangraphs only has minor league data dating back to 2006 and that hasn't happened before. There are very few 17-year old players in domestic ball, never mind ones that are catchers hitting 36% above league average. Viloria went back to Burlington, North Carolina this year and didn't quite hit as well (75 wRC+) but he missed a short time with a knee injury from a collision at home plate. He is still the age of a college freshman and should see some full season ball. I really like this kid but we shouldn't get our hopes up about 17-year old kids in the Appalachian League.
37. C Zane Evans - Age 24
.258/.291/.409 10 HR 56 RBI in 365 PA in High A/AA
I liked Evans a year or so ago out of Georgia Tech where he was a power hitting catcher with a strong arm. However he is not very good behind the plate and upper level pitching has overwhelmed him. There is power in the bat and it is not impossible to see him as a backup catcher.
38. RHP Christian Binford - Age 23
5.22 ERA 5.2 K/9 2.9 BB/9 in 119 IP in AA/AAA ball
Binford put up ridiculous numbers which I covered here in 2013 and again here in 2014 but the tight rope act ended for him in 2015. His bonkers command only got him so far and as most expected once he reached upper level bats he just didn't have the stuff to compete. He's only 23 and very close to the big leagues so we can't completely write him off, but at some point we need to see him have even ten good innings in AAA.
39. 1B Balbino Fuenmayor - Age 26
.358/.384/.589 17 HR 66 RBI in 378 PA in AA/AAA ball
I will not belabor the point I have made a hundred times about Fuenmayor necessarily but he's 26 years old, was out of affiliated baseball for two years, and is a power-first guy who is very aggressive at the plate. Add on the fact that he can't run the bases even at all and does not play good enough defense to stick at first base, with a knee injury to boot, what do you have?
He's the same AAAA cannon fodder you see get 50 at bats in September for a 20 games under .500 team because why the heck not? Happy to be wrong here as well, but let's not think the Royals found gold in the independent leagues of Canada.
40. LHP Sam Selman - Age 25
5.27 ERA 11.0 K/9 6.7 BB/9 in 56 1/3 IP in AA ball
Selman seems like he has been around forever as well. The raw stuff is impressive with a plus-fastball and curve but when it leaves his hand it could wind up anywhere from the first base dugout to the third base dugout. They need to install expanded netting behind the plate wherever Selman pitches. His command is that bad. Maybe something clicks for the 25-year old and he puts up a season or two of good relief in the majors now that that's his full time role. But it would not surprise me if he's also out of baseball in a few years.
41. OF Dominique Taylor - Age 23
.215/.275/.289 1 HR 26 RBI in 389 PA for High A ball
Taylor got by on his not-stellar tools by hitting in Rookie ball and for Low A Lexington, but he fell apart in 2015. He puts the ball in play a lot and has a bit of power. He is a decent runner and can stick in center. He profiles as a fourth outfield but was a young college guy who got a decent bonus. Also, he was born in Germany...if that matters.
42. RHP Matt Ditman - Age 23
1.26 ERA 8.5 K/9 2.5 BB/9 in 28 2/3 IP in Low Rookie/Advanced Rookie ball
Dittman was the closer at Rice and features the best curveball in the system after Kyle Zimmer and a fastball that is average. He is 23 years old but has good command and racked up strikeouts at Rice. He is probably ready to pitch in AA in 2016 and could move fast.
43. 1B Samir Duenez - Age 19
.266/.314/.332 1 HR 37 RBI in 396 PA in Low A ball
Duenez is still very young but hasn't hit well in his three seasons despite a sizeable bonus of $425,000 out of Venezuela. He is only going to be a first baseman but I am not sure he has the power to be productive there.
44. SS Orlando Calixte - Age 24
.229/.287/.339 8 HR 27 RBI in 394 PA in AAA ball
I am not sure I've ever seen Calixte hit a changeup. He has good defense at shortstop and even better power but you have to make contact for the ball to go out of the park.
45. C Chad Johnson - Age 21
.284/.401/.402 3 HR 32 RBI in 319 PA in Low A ball
He probably has the ceiling of a backup catcher. He seems like he is good enough to stay behind the plate but not much power mixed with the strikeouts.
46. C Nick Dini - Age 22
.316/.383/.465 4 HR 29 RBI in 177 PA in Advanced Rookie ball
I like Dini enough that he could be a dozen or more spots higher. He is going to be a catcher, has good plate coverage, surprising power for his size, and hit well in his pro debut.
47. RHP Julio Pinto - Age 20
4.47 ERA 7.0 K/9 4.1 BB/9 in 46 1/3 IP in Low Rookie/Advanced Rookie ball
Good fastball/curveball combo, but little command of it. He's a young 20 and the body will continue to grow so give him time.
48. OF Roman Collins - AGe 21
.293/.375/.434 4 HR 45 RBI in 307 PA in Advanced Rookie ball
Collins was NJCAA Division II Player of the Year before transferring to Florida Atlantic where he hit well his junior year. The Royals popped him in the fifth round and paid him $275K to sign. Reporting to Idaho Falls, Collins put the ball in play a ton but also walked more than he struck out. I'm not sure about the bat speed but he has good raw power with just as good speed. Waiting to see how he does in Lexington/Wilmington at least.
49. OF Cristhian Vasquez - Age 19
.182/.288/.253 1 HR 10 RBI in 181 PA in Arizona Summer League ball
Vasquez is as far away from the majors as anyone in the system. He received a good bonus ($750K) out of Venezuela, but a shoulder injury stunted his 2014 season. Vasquez didn't hit well in 2015 either but there's some tools there for a power left fielder who can hit a bit but won't be anything more than average defensively.
50. Brett Eibner - Age 27
.303/.364/.514 19 HR 81 RBI in 431 PA in AAA ball
Much like Fabio, flowing hair, good looks, and a muscular body can only take you so far. Eibner has great tools with plus-power, plus-arm, and solid defense in centerfield. However there doesn't seem to be any inclination that he can make enough contact in the majors to put the bat to use. He just had his career best season in AAA, but he did so as a 26-year old with a career high BABIP. His strikeout rate dropped 10-15% while his walks hit a career low. Remember that not every player who has a good season in his mid-to-late 20's is going to be Lorenzo Cain.
51. OF Jose Martinez - Age 27
.384/.461/.563 10 HR 60 RBI in 396 PA in AAA ball
Martinez and Fuenmayor are in similar boats. Both are old for AAA and struggled in the low minors for years. Fuenmayor was just bad at baseball, but Martinez was injured. For a guy who's 6'6" Martinez doesn't have much power but instead his lanky body makes good contact. I would put the odds of him producing in the majors higher than Eibner, but Eibner has the better tools.
52. RHP Yunior Marte - Age 21
6.44 ERA 8.2 K/9 5.2 BB/9 in 65 2/3 IP in Low A ball
Marte has a plus fastball in the mid-90s and a changeup that is getting there but the command is pretty shaky right now and the curveball isn't close. He just turned 21 years old so give him some time but decent bullpen option could be here. Marte won the Fortuna Award for his off-the-field efforts, but here's hoping his on-field efforts go better.
53. OF Cody Jones - AGe 22
.291/.374/.361 0 HR 19 RBI in 259 PA in Arizona/Advanced Rookie ball
Jones is a centerfielder who got a minimum level signing bonus ($50K) out of TCU in the fifth round in 2015. He's a small dude with not much power and in college he bunted/slapped his way on base. He had the same approach in Idaho Falls this year and that's likely to be his strength. He played CF for the Chukars and can stay there.
54. 3B Gabriel Cancel - Age 19
.209/.279/.351 2 HR 14 RBI in 150 PA in Arizona Summer League ball
Cancel gets billed as a shortstop but he is going to be a third baseman. He is only 19 and has a long way ahead of him, but he is athletically built (impressively so) and has a "tall butt" which bodes for more future size. He should have above average power eventually but needs to make contact.
55. 2B DJ Burt - Age 20
.290/.392/.391 1 HR 28 RBI in 303 PA in Advanced Rookie ball
Burt had one of the most impressive offensive seasons off all time for a Royals minor leaguer. You wouldn't know it by the pedestrian 110 wRC+ but Burt got on base in 60 straight games, breaking a Pioneer League record. The season ended before the streak could be ended so who knows how long it could have gone on. Burt is a second baseman with a decent glove and speed. The power is fringy but he'll make contact and draw his walks (near .400 OBP).
56. RHP Carter Hope - Age 21
6.04 ERA 4.4 K/9 1.7 BB /9 in 67 IP in Arizona/Advanced Rookie ball
Hope came from a well known high school in Texas called The Woodlands where Brett Eibner, Kyle Drabek, Jameson Taillon, and Paul Goldschmidt attended. H is more tools than results at this point but his age, profile, and great command should hold steady while he refines his stuff.
57. OF Amalani Fukofuka - Age 20
.339/.401/.500 3 HR 38 RBI in 313 PA in Advanced Rookie ball
I am lower on Fukofuka than everyone else. He looks like a football player (because he played football and was a star receiver) and has at least average power helped out by his impressive bat speed. He profiles as a right fielder with a below average arm but good speed/defense. He is just too raw at the plate still for me even after his encouraging 131 wRC+ last year.
His name is fun to say though at least.
58. C Xavier Fernandez - Age 20
.327/.401/.491 4 HR 30 RBI in 182 PA in Low Rookie/Advanced Rookie ball
Fernandez looks good enough behind the plate and has hit at every stop he has been to. He puts the ball in play, has good plate discipline and average power in his thick lower half. He is likely to grow a bit too and I wouldn't be surprised if he was a shorter Sal Perez, body-wise.
59. LHP Joey Markus - Age 19
9.87 ERA 8.7 K/9 8.4 BB/9 in 31 IP in Low Rookie ball
Markus is one of the tallest dudes in the minors at 6'7" (along with fellow Royals prospect Cole Way who is 6'11"!) He just looks weird on the mound as his upper body looks too big.
He is going to be a reliever all the way but he gets really good downhill plane on his fastball. However the command is all over the place
60. LHP Brian Flynn - Age 25
Did not pitch in 2015
Flynn came over to the Royals in the Aaron Crow trade from Miami last year. He got the briefest cup of coffee for the Marlins in 2013 and 2014, but a back injury last year put him on the disabled list, wiping out his entire season. He is one of the more currently polished pitchers in the Royals system, but his upside is somewhat limited.
At his peak the fastball can get into the 93-94 MPH range, but usually it's more 89-91. There an average or better slider, and his effectiveness will rely upon whether he can control his changeup that can flash average. Flynn is a big guy with a lot of parts, that leaves questions with his mechanics and he may ultimately end up as a long starter/reliever. At his peak Flynn could be a left-handed starter with three average pitches. It is not a high upside necessarily and it's not likely, but it's there.
So there you go. There's 10,000 words on the Royals Top 60 prospects for 2016 with an eye to go deeper this summer or next year.
One other thing I'm going to do is link you to a spreadsheet that should read like a player capsule providing you:
- Quick scouting report
- Pronunciation guide for tough names