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November 18, 2007

Future Shock

Royals Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Five-Star Prospects
1. Mike Moustakas, SS
Four-Star Prospects
2. Luke Hochevar, RHP
Three-Star Prospects
3. Daniel Cortes, RHP
4. Billy Buckner, RHP
5. Danny Duffy, LHP
Two-Star Prospects
6. Blake Wood, RHP
7. Carlos Rosa, RHP
8. Julio Pimentel, RHP
9. Sam Runion, RHP
One-Star Prospects
10. Mitch Maier, OF
11. Chris Lubanski, OF

Just Missing: Blake Johnson, RHP; Mario Lisson, 2B; Adrian Ortiz, OF

1. Mike Moustakas, SS
DOB: 9/11/88
Height/Weight: 6-0/195
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Chatsworth HS (CA)
2007 Stats: .293/.383/.439 at Rookie-level (11 G)

Year In Review: Already one of the top high school hitters in the country, Moustakas assaulted the California record book in his senior year, setting a state record for career home runs before being selected by the Royals with the second overall pick.
The Good: Moustakas' hitting skills are nearly flawless. He has plus-plus power thanks to a lightning-quick bat and an ability to consistently get the meat of the bat on the ball. He projects to hit for both average and power, as he focuses solely on contact and lets his strength just work for him, as opposed to focusing on pulling or muscling up on pitches. He's a solid athlete with plus-plus arm strength who reached 97 mph throwing from the mound as his high school team's closer.
The Bad: Nearly all questions about Moustakas revolve around his defense. While he played shortstop in his pro debut, he lacks the first-step quickness or instincts to play there at the highest level. He has the athleticism to play second base, which would waste his arm, though he might profile better there than third base, which is more of a 'read and react' position. He also caught during much of his high school career, and while his arm is a major asset behind the plate, he's a poor receiver; returning there is an unlikely scenario.
Fun Fact: As well as being an athletic powerhouse that produced another 2007 first-round pick (Matt Dominguez) and former Red Sox great Dwight Evans, Chatsworth has an even more impressive list of Hollywood alumni, including Val Kilmer and Kevin Spacey.
Perfect World Projection: A middle infielder who hits 30-40 home runs annually with an average hovering around the .300 mark.
Timetable: Moustakas will begin the year in Burlington, where a hitter with his upside has rarely been seen.

2. Luke Hochevar<, RHP
DOB: 9/15/83
Height/Weight: 6-5/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, University of Tennessee
2007 Stats: 4.69 ERA at Double-A (94-110-26-94); 5.12 ERA at Triple-A (58-53-21-44); 2.13 ERA at MLB (12.2-11-4-5)

Year In Review: The top pick in the 2006 draft reached the majors during his full-season debut, but he was far from dominant, getting hit fairly hard at both Double- and Triple-A.
The Good: Hochevar still has the size, stuff, and command to be a frontline starter. His fastball sits in the low 90s, touches 95 mph, and features good movement. His curveball is his best pitch--a power breaker that often freezes batters; both his slider and changeup are at least average. His command and control are both excellent, and he's a plus athlete who carries his stuff deep into ballgames and while maintaining a low pitch count.
The Bad: While nobody has an excuse for Hochevar's struggles, few have a good explanation for it, either. He's a very cerebral player, some feel too much for his own good, suggesting that he tries too hard to make every pitch perfect, often nibbling at the corners and trying too much to fool batters, leaving him behind in the count and subsequently forced to throw strikes down the middle. He needs to trust his stuff more, trust his defense, and understand that his pitches are good enough to retire hitters, even when they know what's coming.
Fun Fact: During his brief major league debut, 23 batters hit .421/.522/.684 against Hochever with the bases empty, yet 31 batters with runners on hit just .111/.200/.148.
Perfect World Projection: Few saw Hochevar as a true number one starter, even when he was drafted last year. Most scouts who saw him this year didn't lower the projection on him too much, though, still seeing him as a number two or three in the end.
Timetable: There isn't an immediate opening in the Royals rotation, so Hochevar will begin the season at Triple-A Omaha, hoping to force his way in.

3. Daniel Cortes, RHP
DOB: 3/4/87
Height/Weight: 6-5/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: White Sox 7th round, 2005, Garey HS (CA)
2007 Stats: 3.07 ERA at High-A (123-102-45-120)

Year In Review: Considered more of a throw-in in the deal that sent Mike MacDougal to the White Sox for Tyler Lumsden, Cortes took every part of his game a major step forward in 2007, finishing the year with impressive statistics and equally impressive scouting reports.
The Good: Big and aggressive, Cortes lives off his 91-94 mph fastball which features some cutting action that makes him especially effective against left-handed hitters. He throws a hard breaking ball that features good downward action, and shows some feel for a change. He finished the year on a roll, allowing just three earned runs over 41 innings in his final seven starts.
The Bad: Cortes can struggles with his command at times, but like everything else, he improved throughout the season. His secondary pitches, especially his changeup, need to be improved, and he'll need to mix them in more at the upper levels, as opposed to relying primarily on his fastball. He sometimes gets into trouble be working too high in the strike zone.
Fun Fact: While Cortes had an 8-8 record in 2007 over 24 starts, he did not record a win in his first 11, or get tagged for a loss in his last eight.
Perfect World Projection: An innings-eating number three starter.
Timetable: While a number of starters had big years at Wilmington, scouts were universal in their belief that Cortes was preepared to succeed at Double-A, where he'll begin 2008.

4. Billy Buckner, RHP
DOB: 8/27/83
Height/Weight: 6-2/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2004, University of South Carolina
2007 Stats: 4.66 ERA at Double-A (19.1-20-6-13); 3.78 ERA at Triple-A (104.2-108-26-83); 5.29 ERA at MLB (34-37-16-17)

Year In Review: Solid but unspectaculr righty continued steady climb up the ladder, pitching well enough at Triple-A to get a major league look.
The Good: Buckner gets strikeouts with his plus curveball, a big looper that he can throw for strikes or into the dirt. His 88-91 sinking fastball is also an effective pitch that he commands well to generate plenty of groundballs. His changeup is good enough to keep hitters honest. Squarely built and broad shouldered, Buckner has good stamina and has clean mechanics.
The Bad: Buckner needs to works more on his pitch sequences, as smart opposing hitters simply sit on his curveball when he stops setting it up with his heater. He's a finished product who isn't expected to get much better.
Fun Fact: Buckner will join Hochevar in the Triple-A rotation, where the pair will compete for the right to be the first one called upon when the need for a starter arises.
Perfect World Projection: A solid fourth starter.
Timetable: Year In Review: Buckner has a shot at earning a big league job during spring training, but will most likely join Hochevar in the Triple-A rotation, where the pair will compete for the position of first to be called upon when the need for a starter arises.

5. Danny Duffy, LHP
DOB: 12/21/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/185
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 3rd round, 2007, Cabrillo HS (CA)
2007 Stats: 1.45 ERA at Rookie-level (37.1-24-17-63)

Year In Review: Drafted in the third round after establishing himself as the best high school lefty in California, Duffy put up the best statistical campaign in the Arizona complex league.
The Good: Duffy's polish is well beyond his years, and while his stuff isn't overpowering, it's certainly not sub-par. His fastball features average southpaw velocity at 88-91, but he projects for more, and the pitch already features good command and movement. His slow curveball features late, heavy break, and he already shows excellent feel for his changeup. He already shows a knack for mixing his pitches effectively, and has a lot of poise.
The Bad: As great as Duffy's numbers are, he lacks that true plus-plus offering to allow him to project as a star. His command comes and goes at times, mostly in relation to an inconsistent release point, although his mechanics are relatively smooth.
Fun Fact: Lefties facing Duffy in the Arizona Summer League went 3-for-29 with 19 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: A number three or four starting pitcher.
Timetable: Duffy is likely ready for the Low-A rotation, but the Royals will limit his innings to around 120-130 if he begins the year there.

6. Blake Wood, RHP
DOB: 8/8/85
Height/Weight: 6-4/225
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 3rd round, 2006, Georgia Tech
2007 Stats: 0.00 ERA at Rookie-Level (9.2-9-0-15); 3.03 ERA at Low-A (35.2-32-14-26); 4.66 ERA at High-A (9.2-9-3-11)

Year In Review: The polished college right-hander was sidelined early on by back troubles, but pitched well in his return.
The Good: Wood has one of the better fastballs in the system, a true plus pitch with 92-94 mph velocity that touches 95-96 on occasion. He also has excellent arm action and fade on his changeup. He has a power pitcher's frame and attitude, showing no fear on the mound.
The Bad: Wood's curveball is below-average and often flat. His mechanics are a bit violent, and any pitcher with a history of back troubles has a red flag over his head for a while. That combination has many already projecting him as a reliever.
Fun Fact: While Georgia Tech has produced a number of star players of late when it comes to hitters, including Nomar Garciaparra, Mark Teixeira, and Jason Varitek, it hasn't had the same luck with pitchers. In fact, by going in the 3rd round in 2006, Wood is the highest-drafted pitcher from the school since 1994, when Oakland selected Brad Rigby in the first round.
Perfect World Projection: For now he's a starter, and if he can stay in the role and stay healthy, he could be much higher on this list a year from now.
Timetable: Wood has been making up for lost time with an assignment to the Hawaii Winter League, where he has been dominant, with 57 strikeouts in 33 innings. As a result, he might be ready for Double-A in 2008.

7. Carlos Rosa, RHP
DOB: 9/21/84
Height/Weight: 6-1/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2001, Dominican Republic
2007 Stats: 0.39 ERA at High-A (23-18-3-15); 4.36 ERA at Double-A (97-101-43-70)

Year In Review: One of the few notable names from the Royals' relatively small Latin American program, Rosa started the year with four outstanding starts at High-A, but struggled at times after getting pushed to Double-A.
The Good: Rosa best pitch is his 89-93 mph fastball that he throws for strikes; it features a little bit of natural sinking action. His slider features solid two-plane break, and can also be a plus pitch at times. His changeup is at least average. He was trying to pitch through a slightly strained oblique at Double-A, but finished strong, allowing six earned runs over 29 2/3 innings in his last six starts.
The Bad: Rosa's velocity jumps around quite a bit, as he'll sit at 89-91 in one start, then 90-93 the next. He can get around on his slider at times and lose the downward break on the pitch. Physically, he's a little bit smallish, and needs to pitch more efficiently while also improving his stamina and conditioning.
Fun Fact: Rosa coaxed just one double-play ball out of a batter in his first 20 games of the year, but got seven twin killings in his last five.
Perfect World Projection: If he can prove that he can consistently pitch into the sixth and seventh innings, Rosa has the stuff to be an effective back-end starter.
Timetable: Rosa is currently penciled in for a Triple-A rotation at Omaha, and is lining himself up to be someone to watch.

8. Julio Pimentel, RHP
DOB: 12/14/85
Height/Weight: 6-1/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2003, Dominican Republic (Dodgers)
2007 Stats: 2.65 ERA at High-A (155.2-145-43-73)

Year In Review: Acquired from the Dodgers back in mid-2006 in a trade for Elmer Dessens, Pimentel put together an impressive year at High-A.
The Good: Pimentel is a bit unique as a propect, as his best pitches are a sinker and a changeup. The fastball comes in hard at 90-93 mph and drops heavily, while his changeup also falls of the table and generates numerous ground balls.
The Bad: Pimentel's breaking ball, a sweepy slider, is below average in terms of both command and break. He's a little on the smallish side. His arsenal doesn't lend itself well to missing bats, and many doubt his ability to maintain such a level of success without the ability to strike hitters out.
Fun Fact: While Pimentel made just two starts during day games in 2007, he didn't allow an earned run over 13 innings in the pair of games, allowing just eight hits.
Perfect World Projection: A back of the rotation starter or middle reliever who gets ground balls.
Timetable: Entering his sixth year as a pro, Pimentel is finally ready for the big challenge of a jump to Double-A.

9. Sam Runion, RHP
DOB: 11/9/88
Height/Weight: 6-4/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2007, Reynolds HS (NC)
2007 Stats: 5.82 ERA at Rookie-Level (51-61-17-51)

Year In Review: One of the top high school righties in the Mid-Atlantic area, Runion signed quickly as a second-round pick, but struggled in his pro debut.
The Good: There's a lot to like about Runion from a scouting perspective. He's big and physical and has excellent command for such a raw product, consistently pounding the zone with a low-90s fastball that can touch 95 mph. He's shown some ability to spin a slider, which has the potential to be a plus pitch.
The Bad: While Runion has all of the ingredients to be a fine pitching prospect, he simply isn't one yet, and has rarely dominated, even in high school. His fastball is too straight, and he usually works too high in the strikezone with it. His slider is sloppy, and his changeup is rudimentary.
Fun Fact: Runion struck out nine over five shutout innings in his first two pro appearances, but had a 6.46 ERA after that.
Perfect World Projection: Runion is such an unfinished product that it's hard to project his future role, other than big leaguer.
Timetable: Because he's so unrefined, Runion likely won't be ready for a full-season as assignment until 2009, instead starting next year in extended spring training, followed by a second short-season stint.

10. Mitch Maier, OF
DOB: 6/30/82
Height/Weight: 6-2/210
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2003, University of Toledo
2007 Stats: .279/.320/.428 at Triple-A (140 G)

Year In Review: The former first-round pick had a solid-but-unspectacular year at Triple-A.
The Good: Maier has solid all-around tools. He has a quick, quiet swing from the left side, gap power, and the ability to turn on mistakes and pull them over the fence. He's a good athlete who can play all three outfield positions, and as a former catcher, his arm is solid. He plays and practices with equally high energy.
The Bad: Maier is a bit stuck as a tweener. His range is a little short to play every day in center, and his offensive package just isn't enough to profile in a corner. He can get overly aggressive at the plate, often putting himself behind in the count.
Fun Fact: Maier was born in Poteskey, Michigan, a small town in the very north of the state that is also the setting for several short stories by Ernest Hemingway.
Perfect World Projection: Maier could fashion a decent, lengthy career as a valuable fourth outfielder.
Timetable: The Royals outfield picture is currently too crowded for Maier to have an opportunity to stick with the big league team, so he'll return to Triple-A to begin the year.

11. Chris Lubanski, OF
DOB: 3/24/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/206
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2003, Kennedy-Kenrick HS (PA)
2007 Stats: .295/.361/.490 at Double-A (64 G); .208/.273/.363 at Triple-A (49 G)

Year In Review: The former top prospect put together solid numbers at Double-A, but broke his streak of big second halves by bombing at Triple-A.
The Good: Lubanski's secondary skills still give scouts some hope. He's strong and possesses plus bat speed, giving him above-average power, while he also has shown a patient approach over the last two years. Despite his struggles, he has a good attitude, and has shown leadership abilities on the field.
The Bad: Lubanski still flails at breaking balls at times, has holes in his swing, and will likely never hit for a high average. An above-average runner when drafted, he's now a tick below, and has become a very poor outfielder who gets poor jumps while also sporting a weak arm.
Fun Fact: In the second and third inning of games for Triple-A Omaha, Lubanski went 6-for-48 (.125) with 21 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: Lubanski could still develop into a starter, but the weaknesses in his game could preclude him from a bench career.
Timetable: Lubanski will begin 2008 at Triple-A, in what could be a make-or-break season for his standing with the organization.

The Sleeper: A big star in college at Florida State, right-hander Tyler Chambliss in undersized and low on stuff, but he has command of an effective three-pitch mix that could get him into the middle of the big league bullpen in short order.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies Under 25 (As Of Opening Day 2008)

1. Alex Gordon, 3B
2. Billy Butler, 1B
3. Mike Moustakas, ss
4. Luke Hochevar, RHP
5. Zack Greinke, RHP
6. Joakim Soria, RHP
7. Kyle Davies, RHP
8. Daniel Cortes, RHP
9. Billy Buckner, RHP
10. Leo Nunez, RHP

Here we have our first team to load their young rankings list with big league talent. Gordon over Butler might surprise some based on his disappointing rookie campaign, but he was a consensus choice among baseball insiders when polled about the pair. Greinke's talent is still hard to ignore, and his late-season surge provided more optimism than there has been in the past, while Rule Five pick Soria established himself quickly as a very good late-innings reliever. Davies has gone from a once-highly regarded Braves prospect to maybe a bit of a sleeper, as scouts still like his stuff.

While the Royals have plenty of young talent, their minor league system is currently lacking, thanks mostly to some disappointing performances in 2007 from formerly ranked prospects like Jeff Bianchi, Brent Fisher, and Tyler Lumsden. The 2007 draft class has a chance to bring the system up, but it will be some time for those dividends to pay off.

Next: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, or whatever they're being called these days.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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