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Ten Royals prospects who could break out in 2016

Makes me wanna break out...

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Yesterday I wrote about 60 of the Royals top prospects and ranked them, and today I want to talk about potential breakout candidates for 2016.

So what's a breakout? I'm defining it as someone who is going to change their stock for the positive, generally unexpectedly. I think Chase Vallot is going to be good again next year, but he doesn't count as a breakout candidate. For this post we're going to look at guys beyond the first 20 or so on my list.

Ben Johnson OF

What I wrote in his writeup:

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.

The Royals grabbed the former HS QB and Longhorn centerfielder 339th overall (11th round). Johnson had a 131 wRC+ in Rookie Ball after coming out of Texas (University). He played in Burlington rather than Idaho Falls (the more advanced league) which is something to consider, but the results aren't the only thing I like about Johnson.

Ben was a First Team All Big XII member his junior year and made the Golden Spikes Award Watch List in the mid-season. Johnson used his speed and deceptive power to lead the Big XII in triples and finished seventh in the nation. He also finished in the conference:

2nd in multi-hit games (26)

3rd in total bases (120)

4th in hits (80)

7th in slugging (.498)

You wanna talk about his character? Well the Royals worked out Johnson before the draft, but he was pre-emptively selected in the fourth round by another club who made an offer to him. Johnson turned down that offer (which was likely for more money than what he got with KC) because he wanted to play for the Royals.

In a news conference Monday, Johnson said he got an offer in the fourth round but turned it down because it was not a good fit for him.

"In the end I wanted to be a Kansas City Royal the entire time, and, however I could get there, I wanted to make that happen," he said. "I feel like my strengths and my game really fit their system well, and, in the end, that's the team that I wanted to go to, and it worked out."

And Johnson wasn't just some senior sign either or a safety pick to save draft money. Baseball America ranked him the 121st draft prospect in the country before the draft. The players ranked around him:

Player Rank Drafted Team Rank
Taylor Clarke 118 76th 12th
Brett Lilek 119 50th 11th
Ben Johnson 121 339th N/A
Ryan Mouncastle 122 36th 8th
Andrew Moore 125 72nd 10th

All those guys are basically top 10 prospects for their teams.

"They're a great organization," Johnson said. "Their player development's awesome. That's the kind of team I wanted to go to all along. I feel like my strengths and my game really fit their system well. The speed aspect. They love to run, love to steal bases. ... My game here should translate, honestly, over to them."

You can watch Johnson talk about getting drafted via Longhorn Network:

Johnson will likely be assigned to either Lexington or Wilmington to begin his full season career.

Travis Maezes - SS/3B

I wrote a good bit about Maezes in my Top 60 article:

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.

I have spoken to some people about Maezes the past two days a bit more. There are concerns about the eventual power despite his size because his swing doesn't have much loft. Meanwhile one person expressed uncertainty about him sticking at third base, and that the Royals could look to move him to catcher - which seems a bit unusual.

The big thing I'm betting on with Maezes is him bouncing back from the junior year injury and returning to the player who drastically improved his stock in the Cape Cod League the summer before. Maezes won a bunch of awards while at Ann Arbor:

  • Louisville Slugger Freshman All American
  • All Big Ten Freshman Team
  • Two-time All Big Ten Selections
  • Baseball America Preseason All-American (second team)
  • Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American (third team)

For Maezes it's all about getting back to his pre-junior year value. There were many superlatives for the Michigan native (who was born in Ann Arbor).

In terms of a pure hit tool, few hitters on the Cape or in the entire nation top Travis Maezes. An advanced lefty hitter with easy bat speed and loft to his pull side, Maezes also has the arm strength and quickness to potentially stick at third base. He's not a burner on the base paths and grade out as about a fringe runner, but he's a good athlete that should have some position versatility. However, it's going to be his potential 20 home run, high average, high on-base percentage bat that carries him to the next level and makes him a probably two round draft selection

Dawon "DJ" Burt - 2B/SS

What I wrote:

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).

Yeah you read that right. The Royals 2014 fourth round pick got on base in 60 straight games and perhaps could have pushed that streak further if the damn season didn't end. The ranking of Burt is me throwing some spaghetti at the wall here since he isn't that polished. There is a lot of upside in his raw tools - excellent speed, ability to play middle infield positions (with center field as a fallback) and impressive contact and plate approach skills.

Royals scouting director Lonnie Goldberg really liked Burt and tried hiding him from the rest of the MLB scouts:

"To be quite honest, our scout almost hid him out from us," Royals director of scouting Lonnie Goldberg said. "He was kind of his guy, he loved him, he tried to tell us, 'Hey, don't come in and see him because then other teams will find out about him.'"

There are negatives though. Burt doesn't have a very strong arm so that makes the move off shortstop more likely. He has little to no power. I love the bat speed and he has the profile the Royals like, so I'm banking on him continuing to put the ball in play, get on base, and stick at shortstop.

Colin Rodgers - LHP

What I wrote:

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.

Covering the Royals makes you more focused on them than other organizations, and it seems like the Royals have had more Tommy John surgeries than other teams. That's probably not true, but I can name a bunch of them off the top of my head. Rodgers is one of them.

He was once one of the youngest guys in the Appalachian League way back in 2012 when he was drafted in the third round by KC. He was raw and inconsistent leading up to the draft. Baseball America ranked him 207th overall leading up to his selection.

Those inconsistencies continued into pro ball. Rodgers could never match his strikeouts with his walks. He would either walk a bunch of guys or strike them out.  In 2013 he kept experiencing pain in his elbow that ultimately led to Tommy John surgery that wiped out the rest of 2013 and basically all of 2014. Then he missed more time in 2015. There's a plus curveball and fastball, with a potentially average changeup from the left side. Rodgers should have better command than he has shown so far.

Brian Flynn - LHP

If there is one prospect/player in this organization I always forget exists, it is Brian Flynn. How can you miss him? He's built like an NBA power forward at 6'7" 250 pounds. He's also on the Royals 40-man roster. The Royals gave up an All-Star for him!

Despite my memory loss, Flynn is one of the most interesting guys in the entire system. He is a big lefty with good command and an arsenal of potentially four average pitches - fastball/sinker, slider, curveball and changeup. The fastball used to touch 94-95 MPH but in the past two years that velocity just hasn't been there.

Flynn entered 2015 with a shot to be a MLB player in some capacity but a torn lat muscle sidelined him to the 60-day DL where he never returned back to action. There are questions as to whether it was his size, mechanics, or just wear and tear that caused his injury. The good news for Flynn is that his velocity was back in the 94-95 MPH range in his first spring training outing.

He won't rack up a ton of strikeouts, but Flynn has good command for his size (something he'll need to always be mindful of) and an arsenal of average pitches. For a left-handed pitcher with the body to pitch 180 innings a year, you could do a lot worse.

Honorable mentions:

Jake Junis - RHP

What I wrote:

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.

Nice sized righty with a legit changeup and command. He would be my first name on this list but I ranked him 23rd overall and wanted to look a little deeper and expand on Ben Johnson a bit more. Look for him to start in the AA rotation and live up to his #4 starter profile.

Anderson Miller - OF

What I wrote:

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.

Miller should start his season off in A+ Wilmington. He won't likely blaze through the system, but AA could be a real possibility for 2016 which is impressive for a 2015 3rd round pick.

Meibrys Viloria - C

What I wrote:

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.

Look for the young, thick Colombian to get back to the impressive 2014 season he had as a 17-year old. He is now 19 and will likely serve in Lexington or possibly Wilmington, depending on where the Royals assign Chase Vallot.

Matt Ditman - RP

What I wrote:

Ditman 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.

As I mentioned, the Royals could tell Ditman to drop his changeup, go with just the fastball and curveball and book him a flight right to Springdale Municipal Airport. I love his curveball and polished approach and wouldn't rule him out being the Royals middle inning guy two years from now.

Nick Dini - C

What I wrote:

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.

Dini had a 119 wRC+ in Rookie Ball this past year and is going to catch. He has more of a line drive swing, but he has some power when he gets under one and the plate coverage tools are there. Wagner, his alma mater, isn't a baseball hotbed for college athletes, and he'll have to hit at each level to get remembered.