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November 21, 2011

Future Shock

Royals Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Previous Rankings: 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System in 30 Words Or Less: Despite graduating five players from last year's Top 11 to create one of the most exciting young teams in the majors, this system remains among the best.

Five-Star Prospects
1. Wil Myers, OF
2. Bubba Starling, OF
Four-Star Prospects
3. Jake Odorizzi, RHP
4. Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B
5. John Lamb, LHP
Three-Star Prospects
6. Mike Montgomery, LHP
7. Yordano Ventura, RHP
8. Jorge Bonifacio, OF
9. Kelvin Herrera, RHP
10. Jason Adam, RHP
11. Chris Dwyer, RHP

Nine More
12. Elier Hernandez, OF: This big-money signee ($3-plus million) from the Dominican has the potential to be a special bat in an outfield corner.
13. Christian Colon, SS/2B: His Double-A season was a big disappointment, especially for a player with a limited ceiling.
14. Bryan Brickhouse, RHP: This third-round pick has velocity and a curveball, but it's not pretty.
15. Yamaico Navarro, INF: He’s ready to produce as a Wilson Betemit type with more positional flexibility.
16. David Lough, OF: Some still believe in him as a second-division starter, but most see a future fourth outfielder.
17. Noel Arguelles, LHP: This Cuban lefty has moxie and command, but will he miss bats at the upper levels?
18. Brett Eibner, OF: Injuries affected his full-season debut, but questions about his hitting remain.
19. Kevin Chapman, LHP: Chapman is a power lefty with mid-90s heat, but it can get straight.
20. Humberto Arteaga, SS: He’s a potential defensive wizard who will need to make great strides with the bat.

1. Wil Myers, OF
DOB
: 12/10/90
Height/Weight: 6-3/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Third round, 2009, Wesleyan Academy (NC)
2011 Stats: .254/.353/.393 at Double-A (99 G)
Tools Profile: It's all about the bat.

Year in Review: Myers was slowed by a serious knee laceration that led to an infection. The 20-year-old never got going in Double-A, but his Arizona Fall League performance left scouts drooling.
The Good: Myers can flat-out hit. He has bat speed, fantastic hands, and the ability to make in-pitch adjustments. His hitting ability is improved by a big league-level approach. While he's yet to put up big power numbers, scouts believe it will come as he learns how to drive balls. He made great strides in his first year in the outfield; he projects as an average right fielder with an above-average arm.
The Bad: There are times when Myers’ approach walks the fragile line between disciplined and passive; he lets plenty of hittable pitches go by. He's a 40-45 runner who will never have much range in the outfield. Scouts believe he'll hit and get on base, but they vary greatly on his power potential, with responses on his home-run ceiling ranging from 15-25-plus.
Ephemera: Among players selected 91st overall in the draft, the all-time leader in major-league home runs is noted power hitter Adam Everett, with 40.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a star-level corner outfielder.
Fantasy Impact: As long as you don't expect speed, you'll be happy to have him.
Path to the Big Leagues: Myers hopes a healthy year at Triple-A Omaha will be his last in the minors.
ETA: Late 2012

2. Bubba Starling, OF
DOB
: 8/3/92
Height/Weight: 6-4-180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2011, Gardner Edgerton HS (KS)
2011 Stats: DNP
Tools Profile: He has arguably the most impressive all-around tools in the minors.

Year in Review: The Royals couldn't pass up on the draft's top athlete, who played just 30 miles from Kansas City. They paid Starling $7.5 million to pass up a college football career.
The Good: Starling is a monster athlete. He's big and muscular, with plus-plus raw power; he’s also a quick-twitch athlete with outstanding speed, which should give him the ability to develop into a valuable defensive player in center with an outstanding arm. He earns high grades for his intensity and work ethic.
The Bad: Starling is as raw as he is promising. Some scouts worry about his pure hitting ability, and he has a hitch in his swing that will leave him behind professional velocity if he doesn’t make adjustments. Starling never concentrated on baseball in high school, so his game instincts, outfield routes, and baserunning all need work.
Ephemera: There have been eight Bubbas in big-league history. The first was Bubba Floyd, a shortstop who played three games for the 1944 Detroit Tigers.
Perfect World Projection: In a perfect world, every tool actualizes and Starling becomes the best player in baseball. That's highly unlikely to happen.
Fantasy Impact: He’s a potential power/speed monster.
Path to the Big Leagues: Despite his inexperience, Starling will try to prove this spring that he's ready for a full-season assignment to Low-A Kane County.
ETA: 2015

3. Jake Odorizzi, RHP
DOB
: 3/27/90
Height/Weight: 6-2/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2008, Highland HS (IL)
2011 Stats: 2.87 ERA (78.1-68-22-103) at High-A (15 G); 4.72 ERA (68.2-66-22-54) at Double-A (12 G)
Tools Profile: He has plus stuff, and he knows how to use it.

Year in Review: Odorizzi, the best prospect received in the Zack Greinke deal, dominated the Carolina League but struggled toward the end of the year.
The Good: Odorizzi has two well above-average pitches, beginning with a fastball that sits in the low-90s and can touch 96. His curveball is a plus power breaker, and both pitches play up due to his ability to work both sides of the plate while keeping his pitches in the zone. His changeup continues to improve; it projects as a solid-average offering. He's a tremendously athletic pitcher whose arm works very well.
The Bad: Odorizzi has more control than command, as he's a fly-ball pitcher who lives in the upper part of the zone. His fastball can get a bit straight. While useable, it’s unlikely his changeup will ever be a weapon.
Ephemera: Odorizzi struck out more than one-third (65 of 190) of the batters he faced in the first three innings of Carolina League games.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a good third starter, with a shot at a second-starter ceiling.
Fantasy Impact: It could be good all around with strikeouts, few walks, and a good ERA.
Path to the Big Leagues: Odorizzi will return to Double-A to begin the 2012 season, but he could be knocking on the big-league door by September.
ETA: 2013

4. Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B
DOB
: 11/16/92
Height/Weight: 6-1/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2010, Nicaragua
2011 Stats: .267/.345/.397 at Low-A (81 G)
Tools Profile: He has a classic third-base profile.

Year in Review: This 18-year-old big-money signee out of Nicaragua impressed in his full-season debut, but collapsed in the second half.
The Good: Cuthbert's game is highly advanced for his age. He works the count like a veteran, and makes consistent hard contact to all fields with above-average raw power. His polish carries over to the hot corner, where he has good hands, impressive fundamentals, and a very good arm.
The Bad: Cuthbert was flat-out awful during the final weeks of the season, leaving some to question both his conditioning and his effort. Some see his emotionless style of play as mature, while others see it as lifeless. He's still learning how to recognize and lay off (or attack when necessary) breaking balls.
Ephemera: Cuthbert picked up 18 of his 51 runs batted in in the first inning of games, when he hit .326/.367/.565. He had no more than eight in any other inning.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a star-level third baseman.
Fantasy Impact: He should hit for average and power, and also have value to leagues that count on-base skills.
Path to the Big Leagues: Cuthbert will still be a teenager when he begins the 2012 season at High-A Wilmington.
ETA: 2014

5. John Lamb, LHP
DOB
: 7/10/90
Height/Weight: 6-4/200
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Fifth round, 2008, Laguna Hills HS (CA)
2011 Stats: 3.09 ERA (35-33-13-22) at Double-A (8 G)
Tools Profile: He has classic lefty finesse, but with power stuff.

Year in Review: Lamb, the top pitching prospect in the system heading into the season, never looked right when he pitched, and had Tommy John surgery in June.
The Good: While he didn't show plus velocity in his brief time in 2011, Lamb has sat at 92-94 mph in the past. He already possesses well above-average command and control. His curveball will flash plus, and his changeup is well above average, and should be a bat-missing pitch in the big leagues. One scout compared him to American League Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, “only left-handed and more physical.”
The Bad: Lamb's fastball doesn't have much movement, so his location needs to be pinpoint. He can get around on his curve, which causes it to flatten. Despite being 21, he has just 251 1/3 innings of minor-league experience. His surgery and rehab haven’t surprised yet, but nobody will know how much of his stuff is still there until he returns to the mound.
Ephemera: Lamb is one of seven players drafted out of Laguna High School since 1986. None have reached the majors.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a number-two left-handed starter, but let's make sure he's 100 percent healthy first.
Fantasy Impact: It’s excellent, but the same caveats above apply.
Path to the Big Leagues: Lamb should be ready for some midseason rehab work, then return to Double-A.
ETA: 2013

6. Mike Montgomery, LHP
DOB
: 7/1/89
Height/Weight: 6-4/185
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2008, Hart HS (CA)
2011 Stats: 5.32 ERA (150.2-157-69-129) at Triple-A (28 G)
Tools Profile: He’s a left-handed starter with size and stuff.

Year in Review: Many thought Montgomery would be the first pitcher from the system to reach the big leagues in 2011, but he instead got stuck at Triple-A trying to find his command.
The Good: While his performance went backward, Montgomery did not slip an inch in terms of stuff or ceiling. He sits in the low 90s with his fastball, can touch 96, and has plenty of late life on the pitch. His curveball is an easy plus, and his changeup is average.
The Bad: Montgomery’s long levers had him battling with his release point throughout the year; he had trouble throwing his breaking ball for strikes and couldn't command his fastball. This made him a highly inefficient pitcher; he averaged nearly 103 pitches per six innings. It was a startling development for a pitcher with average to plus command in the past, but scouts did note positive signs during the final part of the season.
Ephemera: Montgomery did not walk fewer than two batters in any of his first 14 starts, but surrendered one or zero free passes in eight of his last 14.
Perfect World Projection: Montgomery still has star potential, but 2011's backward steps give him less of a chance of reaching them.
Fantasy Impact: There are no guarantees, but the ability to produce is there.
Path to the Big Leagues: Montgomery will need to get back on track in a return to Triple-A Omaha before getting a big-league look.
ETA: Late 2012

7. Yordano Ventura, RHP
DOB: 6/3/91
Height/Weight: 5-11/140
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2010, Dominican Republic
2011 Stats: 4.27 ERA (84.1-82-24-88) at Low-A (19 G)
Tools Profile: He sure does throw hard.

Year in Review: This small right-hander showed some of the best velocity in the minors, but left scouts with more questions than answers.
The Good: Ventura generates almost shocking velocity for his size; he sits at 95-97 mph and touches 99-100 nearly every time out. While highly inconsistent, he'll flash a good breaking ball and impressive changeup.
The Bad: Triple-digit fastballs coming out of a small, thick frame can't happen without effort, and Ventura's delivery borders on violent, leaving most to project him as a reliever. For every impressive secondary pitch he throws, he'll leave people waiting multiple innings for another, as he overthrows both pitches and loses movement.
Ephemera: In 19 first innings, Ventura surrendered 18 runs on 29 hits. In 19 second innings, he allowed just two runs on 11 hits.
Perfect World Projection: He has an outside shot at remaining a starter, but late-inning relief is a more realistic expectation.
Fantasy Impact: He’ll bring strikeouts as a starter, saves as a closer.
Path to the Big Leagues: Ventura needs innings, so he'll remain a starter for now, and begin the 2012 season at High-A Wilmington.
ETA: 2014

8. Jorge Bonifacio, OF
DOB
: 6/4/93
Height/Weight: 6-1/192
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: NDFA, 2009, Dominican Republic
2011 Stats: .284/.333/.492 at Rookie (62 G)
Tools Profile: He has prototypical corner-outfield tools.

Year in Review: This teenage Dominican blew away Appy League scouts with his offensive ability.
The Good: Bonifacio is an advanced hitter with a quick and quiet swing that generates loud contact; he has the potential for above-average power. He's a good outfielder with decent speed and a plus arm that generated seven assists in 43 games from right field in 2011.
The Bad: Bonifacio's approach needs work; he's highly aggressive and can get exposed by good breaking stuff, which he'll begin to see more of as he moves up the ladder. He's still filling out, and will likely end up below average in the speed department.
Ephemera: Bonifacio went just 7-for-48 (.146) when leading off an inning in the Appy League, but hit .319 in all other at-bats.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a star-level corner outfielder, but there is still work to be done.
Fantasy Impact: He'll take care of you in the average and power categories.
Path to the Big Leagues: Like Starling, Bonifacio will try to earn a full-season assignment this spring.
ETA: 2015

9. Kelvin Herrera, RHP
DOB
: 12/31/89
Height/Weight: 5-10/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: NDFA, 2006, Dominican Republic
2011 Stats: 1.75 ERA (36-22-6-40) at Double-A; 2.12 ERA (17-12-7-18) at Triple-A; 13.50 ERA (2-2-0-0) at MLB
Tools Profile: He’s a small righty with a monster arm.

Year in Review: This oft-injured righty finally stayed healthy and pitched his way to the big leagues.
The Good: Herrera's fastball is a nasty pitch that earns praise for both its mid- to upper-90s velocity and Herrera's ability to command the pitch. He'll throw a curveball, but when ahead in the count, his out pitch is a plus changeup with late drop and fade.
The Bad: Herrera's history of elbow problems is still a red flag; he pitched in just 23 games over the three-year stretch from 2008-2010. His curveball is below average, and he needs to refine it to change the hitter’s eye level.
Ephemera: Texas League batters facing Herrera with runners on base went 5-for-51 (.098)
Perfect World Projection: He could be a late-inning reliever; some scouts believe he’s a future closer candidate.
Fantasy Impact: It all depends on if he gets to pitch in the ninth.
Path to the Big Leagues: Herrera will compete for a spot in a crowded big-league bullpen this spring.
ETA: 2012

10. Jason Adam, RHP
DOB
: 8/4/91
Height/Weight: 6-4/225
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Fifth round, 2010, Blue Valley Northwest HS (KS)
2011 Stats: 4.23 ERA (104.1-94-25-76) at Low-A (21 G)
Tools Profile: He’s a power pitcher whose stuff varies by day.

Year in Review: Adam received glowing reports out of fall instructs and spring training, but Midwest League observers were wondering where the stuff went.
The Good: While Adam was showing plus-plus velocity and touching 98 in Arizona, it never showed in Kane County. There, Adam showed good control of an average to plus heater that topped out at 92-93. He gets good spin on his curveball. He was forced to work on his changeup in games, and improvement came throughout the year.
The Bad: There are theories as to what happened to Adam, from him getting tired to the weather, but no theory answers all the questions. His changeup remains below average, but at least it has some projection now.
Ephemera: While only 11 of the 47 players taken with the 149th overall pick in the draft have reached the majors, three in a row from 2004-2006 did: Brandon Allen, Drew Butera, and Jeff Samardzija.
Perfect World Projection: There is a high ceiling here, but scouts wish they saw it more often.
Fantasy Impact: His career could go in several directions.
Path to the Big Leagues: Adams is expected to begin 2012 in the Low-A Wilmington rotation.
ETA: 2014

11. Chris Dwyer, RHP
DOB
: 4/10/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/210
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Signed: Fourth round, 2009, Clemson
2011 Stats: 5.60 ERA (141.1-124-78-126) at Double-A (27 G)
Tools Profile: This power southpaw is in need of considerable refinement.

Year in Review: One of the four impressive power left-handers entering the season, Dwyer was the Double-A version of Montgomery, but he had even more control issues.
The Good: Also like Montgomery, Dwyer's stuff did not go backward in 2011. He still sat at 92-94 mph with a fastball that scraped 95. His curveball remains a plus weapon that often leaves hitters flailing. He mixes in an average changeup, and is a big-bodied pitcher who retains his stuff deep into games.
The Bad: Dwyer is just downright messy in his delivery, and had extreme control problems in 2011. Sometimes he overthrows, sometimes he loses his release point, sometimes he pushes the ball, and sometimes he does all of those things on the same night. Unlike last year, some scouts have begun to wonder if he'd work better in shorter stints, where he could just let it go easier without worrying about efficiency.
Ephemera: Dwyer was a four-time all-conference quarterback at the Salisbury School in Connecticut, and won the Boston Globe Player of the Year honors as a senior.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a third starter.
Fantasy Impact: The strikeouts will be there, but walks will hurt his WHIP.
Path to the Big Leagues: The numbers game and Dwyer's own performance this spring will determine if he opens the year in Triple-A or back in the Texas League.
ETA: 2013

The Sleeper: A 14th-round pick last June, outfielder D'Andre Toney is small but toolsy, with average power potential and plus speed.

Top 10 Talents 25 and Under (born 4/1/86 or later)
1. Eric Hosmer, 1B

2. Mike Moustakas, 3B
3. Billy Butler, DH
4. Wil Myers, OF
5. Bubba Starling, OF
6. Alcides Escobar, SS
7. Salvador Perez, C
8. Danny Duffy, LHP
9. Jake Odorizzi, RHP
10. Aaron Crow, RHP

It’s just remarkable. I ended up with 12 legitimate players to consider adding to this list; they would make any other team’s list. Lorenzo Cain would rank seventh on this Top 11 if he qualified, but he can't sniff the Top 10 25 and Under. Quality relievers Louis Coleman and Tim Collins fall short, as does enigmatic power arm Jeremy Jeffress. Also of note is second baseman Johnny Giavotella, who remains solid but unspectacular.

As for the players on the list, Hosmer leads off after looking like a potential MVP in his rookie year. Moustakas was more interesting to watch; fans saw him make adjustments and figure out how to hit big-league pitching on the fly. It all came together toward the end of the year, and he still projects as an All-Star. Will Billy Butler ever put it all together? Bet on a career high in home runs in 2012; he's made some adjustments in his approach to take advantage of balls he can drive. Escobar will probably never hit at the top of a lineup, but he's a plus-plus defender who is going to improve offensively. Perez is nothing close to a .331 hitter, but outstanding defense and the ability to be average to above average for the position with the bat has incredible value. Duffy was thrown to the wolves and was inconsistent, but nearly every outing he'd have at least one inning where you understood the potential. Crow is a potential closer should Joakim Soria get dealt, and 10th place is hardly an insult on this list.

 Summary: The Royals have the best collection of young talent at the big-league level, and their minor-league system somehow remains among the best in baseball as well. If you're not excited, Royals fans, get excited.  

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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