January 26, 2016
Kansas City Royals Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: The quantity of impact prospects is as low as it has been for quite some time, but that could be because they’ve spent the last two seasons at the apex of the competitive cycle.
The Top Ten
1. Raul Mondesi, SS
Mondesi became the first-ever player to debut in the World Series, which tells you little about what kind of prospect he is. His main value comes from what he can do with the leather, but there is some offensive upside here, too. He possesses above-average bat speed and a clean, line-drive stroke from both sides of the plate, which would make the hit tool above average if he had a semblance of patience. His aggressiveness leads to poor walk totals and more swing-and-miss than you’d want from a hitter with only 40 pop. His double-plus speed does make him a threat to steal 50 bags per year if he’s on base enough, and also allows him to take extra bases Jon Q. Averagerunner cannot.
The reason Mondesi is an upper-echelon prospect is his potential value with the glove. The aforementioned speed gives him elite range, and his ability to get the ball out quickly helps his cannon arm play up, making him a potential star at the position. He has cut down on his errors—both mental and physical—but there are times when he’s moving too fast, which leads to some silly throws and/or flubs with the glove.
As one executive put it, Mondesi just “needs to learn to calm the hell down.” If he can, he’s a potential All-Star, but if not, he’s more of a bottom-of-the-order hitter who still provides value with his legs and glove.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Sometimes it’s lazy to just compare a prospect to the player directly ahead of him on the depth chart in his organization. On the other hand, there are an awful lot of similarities between Mondesi and Alcides Escobar in the fantasy sense. Both are better in AVG leagues than OBP ones. Both rack up their value with their 40-steal speed. And both will likely disappoint in every other category.
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2015 (kinda)
2. Kyle Zimmer, RHP
When healthy, Zimmer will show as complete an arsenal as any prospect in the game, led by a four-seam fastball that will sit 92-95 mph with movement and touch higher. His bread and butter is a hammer curveball that he can locate for strikes, take out of the zone to generate swings-and-misses, or use to coax ground balls. Those two pitches alone would make him a quality prospect, but he also features an above-average slider that flashes plus with hard tilt, along with a solid-average change for good measure. He repeats his delivery, and he throws all four pitches for strikes to all parts of the plate.
So why isn’t a pitcher with this kind of stuff and above-average command on top of this list? Because Zimmer can’t stay healthy, and there are serious doubts about whether he ever will for long. He’s missed time now with elbow, lat, and shoulder issues—the lat-ter (I’m not sorry) being the most concerning— and he has yet to throw more than 109 innings in any of his three-plus seasons as a professional (only 217 in his career). If he can keep the arm intact, he’s a top-of-the-rotation guy, but no one would blame the Royals for moving him to the bullpen and seeing just how dominant that stuff could be in a high-leverage role.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It’s hard to know what to do with Zimmer in dynasty leagues at this point. The talent has been clear at times during his minor league career, but injuries have depressed his value far below its peak. There’s still more here than your run-of-the-mill mid-rotation starter because what was in his arm might still be there, but he’s barely hanging on as a top-100 fantasy prospect at this point.
Major League ETA: 2017
3. Ashe Russell, RHP
Russell drew a smorgasbord of opinions coming into the draft, with one scouting director (not Kansas City’s) calling him his favorite prep prospect in the class, but more than one scout/executive calling him a reliever. He attacks hitters with a 92-95 mph four-seam fastball, and his three-quarters arm slot gives the pitch plenty of movement. His slider will flash plus but is more consistently an above-average offering at present, as it darts away from right-handed hitters with enough bite to make it a quality offering. He can also locate it for a strike. The change is the weakest of his three offerings, a fringe-average pitch that lacks deception or movement—though it should be good enough for him to start.
Russell is a strike-thrower who projects to have at least average command, but the reason so many believe he’ll end up in the bullpen is his delivery. He has a tendency to throw across his body, making it easy for left-handed hitters to pick up the baseball, and there’s some effort to his delivery that could cause problems down the road. The Royals will give him every chance to start, but no one should be surprised if he ultimately makes his living pitching in short bursts.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It doesn’t take long to notice that this isn’t the strongest system in terms the fantasy sense. Russell is a reasonable gamble at the end of dynasty drafts this winter, but with the depth in this class, he did not crack my Top 50 list from earlier this month. A plus fastball and a bat-missing secondary pitch is a good place to start for a short-season flier, but Russell is a wait-and-see for non-deep leaguers.
Major League ETA: 2019
4. Nolan Watson, RHP
Watson was the other prep pitcher taken by the Royals from Indiana in 2015, and although he doesn’t offer near the upside of Russell, he might be the more likely of the two to start. The right-hander has a plus fastball that will sit 92-94 and touch 96 mph. When he stays on top of his slider it’s an above-average to plus offering, though like many teenagers he doesn’t always finish it and it gets slurvy. He’s still gaining feel for his changeup, but he has good arm speed, and there’s enough tumble to project it as an average offering.
Although Watson doesn’t have the swing-and-miss stuff that Russell does, his delivery is substantially better. It’s clean, easily repeated, and it should allow him to have at least average command, with a chance for more as his feel for pitching improves. The upside is a mid-rotation arm, with back-end starter/swingman a very solid if unspectacular floor.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A short-season pitcher without much chance of achieving more than a mid-rotation future does not a strong fantasy prospect make. Watson is not worth a draft pick in anything but deep leagues this preseason, but a strong start in 2016 could put him on the map as a name to watch (and to subsequently trade).
Major League ETA: 2019
5. Bubba Starling, OF
The difference between the version of Starling on display in the Arizona Fall League in 2015 and 2014 was night and day, and multiple scouts said the same thing about his regular season. There’s still a lot of moving parts in his swing, but he shortened the path and added a slight leg kick as a timing mechanism, which led to more hard contact in 2015. His bat speed and natural strength give him above-average raw power, yet it plays down to solid-average—maybe a tick below—because of the moving parts and a lack of loft. The approach and pitch recognition appear to have jumped as well, though he remains too prone to whiffs for comfort.
Starling’s defense didn’t take a step forward in 2015, but it didn’t have to. He still has the plus arm that you see from plenty of ex-quarterbacks, and he’s an above-average runner who takes good routes in center field.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, but there’s no denying that 2015 was a massive step in the right direction. If he can take another one, he could be a top-of-the-order hitter who provides great value with the glove and enough value with the bat. If he doesn’t, he’s a fourth outfielder or platoon bat.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Yep, that guy. Compared to a bunch of the other names on this list, Starling stands out as someone it may be worth a second look. The high-end five-tool profile isn’t quite there anymore, but there’s still 20-homer and 20-steal potential in there somewhere; and betting on upside is never a bad thing.
Major League ETA: 2017
6. Miguel Almonte, RHP
While Starling took a massive step forward, Almonte took a sizable one backward in 2014. There’s still elite arm strength that allows him to get his fastball into the high 90s, but when the fastball ticks up, the pitch flattens out. When he’s working 92-95, there’s run and occasional sink, and he’s more effective in this range. He has feel for a plus changeup that has plenty of sink, and he sells it with plus deception from his quick arm. Unfortunately, it plays down at times, as he'll go to the well too often, and will get cute with it instead of challenging hitters. The curveball is an average offering with so-so depth. It’s good enough to keep him in the rotation, even if it is rarely in the strike zone. In fact, none of these pitches was a strike very often in 2015, as his delivery regressed and showed more effort than in previous seasons.
Almonte has the arsenal to be a key part of a pitching staff—be it the bullpen or the rotation—but he’s going to have to show more consistency if it’s going to be in 2016, and much better command if it’s going to be in a multiple-inning role.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The excitement around Almonte in dynasty leagues has dwindled, and for good reason. With a bullpen future looking more likely than ever, he’s barely hanging on as a top-200 fantasy prospect. Even if he does make it through the gauntlet and into a starting role, the WHIP will be a constant issue and prevent him from being a reliable mixed league starter.
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2015
7. Foster Griffin, LHP
Griffin was considered one of the more “advanced” prep pitchers taken in the 2014 draft, but he was lit up in Lexington, so, shrug. There were enough flashes of brilliance—along with this system not being very good—to keep him in the top 10. His velocity isn’t elite, generally sitting in the around 90, touching 92 at times, yet the pitch is plus because it boasts a great deal of life. He has excellent feel for his change, and there's some late tumble to the above-average pitch. His curveball is a problem at this point, as it flattens up in the zone too often and doesn't have the depth you'd want from a competent breaking ball. Despite his ability to command the changeup, he'll struggle with his overall control because of his long arm action and the movement on the fastball. Griffin is a good reminder that feel for pitching doesn't necessarily portend good command, or results.
There's plenty of time for Griffin to develop into a solid mid-rotation arm, but he'll have to show marked improvement to justify this ranking in 2016. Based on the stuff and command profile he showed as a prep, it’s hard to fathom that 2015 was anything but a bump in the road, but the margin of error here is pretty thin.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Really not much to see here with Griffin in dynasty leagues—these are the types of arms you can grab once they pass the Double-A test, rather than rostering them through their formative years.
Major League ETA: 2018
8. Chase Vallot, C
Vallot’s stats may not be aesthetically pleasing, but they don't tell the complete story of his 2015 season. The calling card here is power, as he generates plus pop to all fields thanks to the loft, leverage, and extension, granted by his wrist strength and long arms. The downside to those long arms is a long swing, which combines with merely average bat speed to result in a below-average hit tool. He does compensate by showing a solid approach at the plate, and he'll draw his fair share of walks.
Vallot is very much a work in progress behind the plate, but he should be able to stay there. The arm strength is plus, and his footwork and hands made significant strides this summer, despite well-below-average athleticism.
His hit tool may not allow him to play every day, but a backup catcher with 20-homer power potential and a passable glove has value.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Any catcher who could one day hit 25 homers is someone worth monitoring, but there are enough flaws in the rest of his game to prevent him from being that interesting of a fantasy prospect. If you’re in an OBP league, Vallot is more interesting, but investing in catching at all on your farm team has its own risks.
Major League ETA: 2018
9. Scott Blewett, RHP
Like Griffin, Blewett struggled in his first professional season, and like Griffin, reasons for optimism remain. He’s able to get downhill with a fastball that will touch 96, and there might be more to come as he fills out his frame. His curveball is woefully inconsistent, but when he stays on top of his delivery and finds a consistent slot, it’s an above-average offering with good snap and depth. His change is light-years away from being a competent third pitch, as he doesn’t appear to have great feel for it, and there’s a pretty noticeable difference in arm speed when he throws it. His mechanics are clean and his command improved considerably as the year went on.
Blewett is a long-term investment; one who is still more thrower than pitcher at this point. That being said, the ceiling is higher than any pitcher outside of Russell, and if he can show those two out pitches on a more consistent basis, he'll place significantly higher in the 2017 edition.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: If it seems like there’s a long list of pitchers on this list who don’t make for great fantasy investments, you’re noticing the pattern. Blewett does not need to be on your radar, unless your league rosters more than 250 prospects.
Major League ETA: 2018
10. Hunter Dozier, 3B
It’s been a steep decline for Dozier, who was once one of the better third base prospects in baseball. More than one scout I spoke with believed it was time to give up on the profile— with one executive calling him a “lost cause.” His approach has gotten worse each year, and his long, unorthodox swing with only solid-average bat speed gives him serious contact issues. There is some raw pop in his bat and his swing has natural loft, but raw power only does so much when you can’t make consistent contact.
Fortunately for Dozier, he’s still a good defensive third baseman. He has excellent range (he was a shortstop in college), and his strong arm makes him an asset—to the extent that he could probably fill in anywhere in the infield.
If he can hone his swing there’s still a chance he becomes a regular. Without major changes to the approach, those chances are pretty slim, and they’ll decrease even further with another poor season.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Compared to the pitchers around him here, Dozier seems like a perfectly fine dynasty league player. It’s been quite a struggle at Double-A for him, but his defense will get him to the majors and the bat once-upon-a-time profiled as average for the position. Given how down the position is in fantasy, he’s a gamble still worth taking.
Major League ETA: 2017
Balbino Fuenmayor, 1B – It really doesn’t get more interesting than this. Fuenmayor originally signed nine years ago with the Blue Jays for a large bonus, struggled to get above Low-A before getting released, played two years of independent ball before the Royals signed him, and hit so well that he earned a trip to the Futures Game as a 25-year-old. Neat, huh? There’s plus power in his bat and he squares everything up, but it’s very much a DH profile, providing almost zero value with the glove and speed. I hope I’m wrong, because seeing someone like Fuenmayor come up and become a regular in a lineup would be a lot of fun, but the odds are stacked against him.
Alfredo Escalera-Maldonado, OF – In 2012 Escalara-Maldonado was the youngest player ever drafted (17 years and just under four months), and while progress has been slow, he showed a great deal of promise in 2015. Always a quality athlete, he shortened his swing, and that allowed him to make more quality contact to all parts of the field. He’s still filling out his frame, but there’s a chance for a tick-above-average power thanks to his strong wrists and ability to transfer his weight. He’ll have to vastly improve his approach at the plate, but if he can, there’s a chance he ends up a regular in the outfield.
Josh Staumont, RHP – Staumont was the Royals’ second-round pick this June, and there were flashes of dominance in the summer as he struck out 58 in 40 innings. He misses bats with a borderline 80 fastball that will touch triple-digits and sits 94-98. Neither of his secondary offerings is plus, but an average curve and fringe-average change play up when a hitter is looking for 100 mph heat. Unfortunately, far too often Staumont has absolutely no idea where these pitches are going, as his command is closer to 30 than it is 50, and he causes a ton of self-inflicted damage. If he can throw strikes more consistently, you could be looking at the next great Royals reliever. If he can’t, well, you know what happens.
Alec Mills, RHP – If Mills and Staumont could somehow form into one pitcher, (t)he(y)’d basically be Pedro Martinez. Mills pounds the strike zone with three pitches (14 walks in just over 114 innings) from an easy-to-repeat delivery. He also has an above-average fastball, but neither of his secondary pitches is more than average, with his curveball and change both checking in as a tick below average. Should either of those pitches bump up, he’s a mid-rotation guy; otherwise, his good command makes him a plausible back-end starter/swingman.
Brandon Downes, OF – Downes frustrated scouts as an outfielder at Virginia, and he continues to do so as a professional. (That might be the only consistent thing about him—besides his name, anyway.) There’s above-average power in his right-handed bat, which paired with his plus speed give him a chance to be a 20-20 player. Like so many players on this list, however, the approach leaves a lot to be desired, and the length of his swing and aggressiveness make the hit tool below average at best. He’s a competent center fielder with an above-average arm, so there’s a fourth outfielder floor here, but he could be an everyday guy if he can show a smidgen of consistency.
Sometimes, things are just easy. That isn’t often the case in major-league baseball, but it is the case with respect to this 25-and-Under list. Eric Hosmer, who I have no reason to suspect is anything other than a gentleman and a scholar, is nonetheless sadly ineligible for this year’s list by virtue of his advanced age. Kelvin Herrera, likewise, departs the list an aged veteran of 26 years and marches ever-closer to Eternity. That leaves Yordano Ventura, no. 2 on last year’s list, to take the first spot easily. Ventura had a second consecutive solid season in 2015, with no warning signs in his peripherals and modest improvements in the things that matter (mostly, strikeout to walk ratio). He should be Good next year, and for many years thereafter, assuming he stops fighting people larger than he is, which is most people.
Perez is a more interesting case, because so much of his perceived value is tied up in his receiving, which comes in for general acclaim despite strong evidence in BP’s new catching stats that he is, in fact, a fairly bad defensive catcher (career FRAA: -30.5). Still, he put up a second consecutive .251 TAv season in 2015, also slugging 21 home runs over 553 plate appearances. He could stand to get on base a little bit more, and all those games at catcher will start to wear down his value eventually, but for now PECOTA likes his chances to produce about 10 wins over the next five years. I do too, and that puts him a fair bit behind Ventura, and a little bit ahead of Mondesi. For now.
And that’s it for the 25U talent, I swear. That’s not to say there’s nothing good happening in Kansas City, of course; there manifestly is. Just, most of it is old enough to rent a car without paying an extra fee. — Rian Watt
Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations: Dayton Moore
Remember when everyone made jokes about Dayton Moore? I do, because I used to make a lot of jokes about Dayton Moore. There have been some high-profile disappointments (Christian Colon, Mike Montgomery, etc.), but Piccolo, Arbuckle, and the rest of the player development system has done an outstanding job of taking fringe prospects and/or players with a glaring weakness and turning them into regulars or valuable members of the pitching staff.
Goldberg is as respected a scouting director as there is in the American League, routinely finding diamonds in the rough and without many busts when the Royals were picking early outside of Colon. Despite being as small market as small market clubs can get, they have done a great job of finding assets in the international ranks, and have done it by spending big (Mondesi) or small (Almonte). and much of that credit goes to Rene Francisco, the international operations director/assistant General Manager. The system isn’t great on paper, but it’d be so much worse if not for the talent of the names listed above.