The State of the System: It’s the five through 14 of a pretty good system. Unfortunately it is missing the top four.
The Top Ten
- 3B/OF Hunter Dozier
- RHP Josh Staumont
- LHP Matt Strahm
- â€‹RHP A.J. Puckett
- â€‹OF Jorge Bonifacio
- OF Khalil Lee
- RHP Scott Blewett
- C Meibrys Viloria
- OF Seuly Matias
- RHP Miguel Almonte
The Big Question: How do you keep a core?
Teams go through cycles. They can’t compete for eternity, and father time is undefeated in this game—although I am suspicious of Bartolo Colon. As we examine the Royals now, the core that won them a championship will soon be a shell of themselves. Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas will be free agents after this season. James Shields, Johnny Cueto, and Edinson Volquez were all too expensive to stay in Kansas City. Wade Davis was traded for Jorge Soler. The two biggest contracts on the payroll belong to players both over 30 years old. The sudden passing of the team’s most visibly passionate star, Yordano Ventura, leaves Danny Duffy as the top arm, and one of the few young players who will be sticking around long-term.
The under 25 players isn’t awe-inspiring, and neither is this farm system.
So where does all of this leave us? Due to their championship runs, the once hyped Royals farm system is now very weak. The trades of Sean Manaea, Wil Myers, Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and John Lamb all could have been contributors to the current core, but Flags Fly Forever. The organization has also had to pick much lower than in years past, lowering their draft pool value and the amount of talent available to them. So how does one keep maintain a core? We’ve witnessed how Kansas City built it, and added to it for the pennant races. But after a disappointing 81-81 season what do you do now? They have already made two trades, and some low-cost free agent signings in Jason Hammel and Brandon Moss. They seem poised to give this core one more opportunity, and given the state of the division, they have a realistic chance. The White Sox have been stripped down, the Twins took a step back, and the Tigers have an older core, and could be looking to strip payroll. Which leaves the Royals against the Indians, the new kids on the block, the defending American League champions. But there are wild cards! The Royals have good luck in those!
The four free-agents-to-be mentioned at the top of this essay are likely to depart. The payroll restrictions on the team means they can’t possibly bring them all back at market rate. What does one do? If they find themselves competing and need to look to trades to improve the roster what do they have to sell? Do they have another core ready to take over from this current one? Let’s look at this from our perspective.
â— Hunter Dozier and Raul Mondesi, both have warts and problems that suggest they might not be capable of everyday status.
â— Josh Staumont looks like a reliever, not a starter.
â— Whit Merrifield looks poised to come back to earth after his hot start and is more a useful bench player than everyday contributor.
â— Kyle Zimmer will miss another year of development after his Thoracic Outlet surgery in June.
â— A.J. Puckett, Scott Blewett, Ashe Russell, Eric Skoglund are more back of the rotation starters than mid-to-front rotation starters.
â— Ryan O’Hearn and Jorge Bonifacio are platoon/bench options in all likelihood.
â— Bubba Starling! Still hasn’t hit. More fifth outfielder/reserve than starter.
Cores can be cobbled together, but you only have a certain amount of time with them before things go awry. When presented with the option to maintain and give it another go versus selling off, there is no wrong answer. Most times, teams will take the option of giving it another go because Flags Fly Forever and winning and competing is better for business.
The Royals made amends to the fans after almost 30 years between World Series Championships. The Royals might have earned forgiveness for spending nearly three decades out of the playoffs with their back-to-back World Series runs, culminating in a championship in 2015. They’ll have to hope it suffices for at least the next few years too, because it could get bleak. —Steve Givarz
1. Hunter Dozier, 3B/OF
Height/Weight: 6’4” 220 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted eighth overall in the 2013 MLB Draft, Stephen F. Austin State University (TX); signed for $2,200,000
Previous Ranking(s): #10 (Org)
2016 Stats: .211/.286/.263, 0 HR, 0 SB in 8 games at the major league level, .294/.357/.506, 15 HR, 3 SB in 103 games at Triple-A Omaha, .305/.400/.642, 8 HR, 4 SB in 26 games at Double-A Northwest Arkansas
The Good: It might feel like we’ve been all over the place on Hunter Dozier—he’s ranked sixth, fifth, tenth, and now first in the system rankings—but his stock is basically right where it was in our 2014 and 2015 rankings, just in a much weaker system. Once again right on the fringes of 101 discussion (more on that next week), Dozier rediscovered how to hit in 2016, finally conquering Double-A and continuing on in the PCL and a cup of coffee in the bigs. The profile is the same as it ever was: potential for an average hit tool, above-average raw power that finally turned into some game power this year, a plus arm, and a fine glove at third despite being a big fellow. All sounds pretty good, right?
The Bad: Dozier completely forgot how to hit in the second half of 2014 and more or less all of 2015, getting stuck playing footsie with the Mendoza Line in the Texas League. The hit tool and approach have always been the question marks here, and he’s been known to look bad when he looks bad. We didn’t give up on him and he certainly put it back together, but there’s definitely some questions about what kind of contact he’ll make in the majors. For the defensive-conscious Royals, he’s currently stuck behind Mike Moustakas and Cheslor Cuthbert at third; Dozier’s best path to immediate playing time early in 2017 was probably in right, where he’s been blocked by the acquisition of Jorge Soler.
The Irrelevant: Dozier is already the all-time leader in at-bats for players drafted out of Stephen F. Austin, with his 19 overtaking former Cardinal Steven Hill’s 13.
OFP 55—A cromulent starting third baseman
Likely 50—Second-division starter or good four corners utility player
The Risks: The risk is more in the profile than the player. At the very least Dozier should be good enough for a long career as a utility player, but shortened benches have made the corner utility/platoon player a fading institution in baseball. As a college pick who has moved slowly, he’s old for a hitting prospect yet to establish himself.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016 —Jarrett Seidler
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Dozier has ETA in his favor, but I’d like to see the power and hit tool play up more consistently before going too crazy. If it all clicks, we’re looking at a 20-homer third baseman whose average won’t kill you. But there are so many versions of Dozier that are worse than that that it’s tough to give him a wholehearted endorsement. He’s right on the cusp of the dynasty 101, just as he’s on the cusp of the IRL 101, but look for him to have a very hot-and-cold fantasy career.
2. Josh Staumont, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’3” 200 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 64th overall in the 2015 MLB draft, Azusa Pacific (Azusa, CA); signed for $964,600.
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: 3.04 ERA, 4.25 DRA, 50.1 IP, 42 H, 37 BB, 73 K at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, 5.05 ERA, 6.84 DRA, 73 IP, 62 H, 67 BB, 94 K at High-A Wilmington
The Good: This is our 29th team list, and I can count the number of pitchers we’ve covered with two potential 70-grade offerings without needing any help from Antonio Alfonseca. Staumont’s stuff is nastay, and that extra ‘a’ is not a typo. The fastball sits in the mid-90s and can approach triple digits. He can run it or cut it down in the zone, and the sucker moves. His curveball is a hard downer with big depth and late run. It’s a true swing-and-miss offering. His delivery suggests he should be able to throw more strikes than he does…at some point…maybe.
The Bad: We don’t have the data, but I imagine Staumont’s release point plot on Brooks Baseball would resemble a late period Mondrian. He has an incredibly fast arm, but rarely gets the ball out of his hand in the same spot. He can miss with a fastball in any direction and throw a curve behind a batter or spike it. When he has to get one over, the fastball can be more 93-94 and arrow-straight. The curve is inconsistent and will ride high with less depth. The change is firm though improving. It’s really hard to project enough command/control here for him to start in the majors.
The Irrelevant: For an NAIA school, Azusa Pacific is quite the baseball hotbed. Current major league alums include Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Stephen Vogt.
OFP 55—Good 8th-inning guy
Likely 45—8th-inning guy that makes you really, really nervous
The Risks: No matter what level you play at, you only get four balls to work with. Also, he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: 2018, maybe faster as a reliever, but maybe not
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: The strikeout potential here makes Staumont of more interest to use than is the average reliever prospect, but at the end of the day, he’s a reliever prospect, even if he’s still masquerading as a starter. It … it doesn’t get much better from here.
3. Matt Strahm, LHP
Height/Weight: 6’3” 185 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted in the 21st round of the 2012 MLB entry draft, Neosho County Community College (Chanute, KS); signed for $100,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: 1.23 ERA, 2.91 DRA, 22 IP, 13 H, 11 BB, 30 K at the major league level, 3.43 ERA, 2.35 DRA, 102.1 IP, 102 H, 23 BB, 107 K at Double-A Northwest Arkansas
The Good: Strahm is a 91-to-95-and-a-slider guy, which maybe isn’t great if he is your third best prospect, but he is better than the standard version of this type. He’s left-handed for one, and he can run the pitch arm-side or get it to bore in on righties. He can throw it to all four quadrants of the zone, and it can be a swing and miss pitch when he elevates it. In addition to the slider—which he threw more as a starter in the minors than he did in his major league cup of coffee—he’ll show a curve and a change, both of which are within a shout of average.
The Bad: 2016 was Strahm’s first pro season as a full-time starter, and while the performance in Double-A was quite good, he’s likely a reliever in the end. The delivery has some crossfire and some effort to it and the secondaries aren’t good enough to turn over a major-league lineup multiple times. The curve can get a little loopy or a little slurvy, although it is a good weapon against lefties out of the pen. The change is good enough for him to crossover as a reliever, due to his arm speed, velocity separation, and the overall deception in his delivery, but it is more of a straight change, only occasionally showing a little late armside fade.
The Irrelevant: Strahm was the fifth Royals 21st round pick to make the majors, joining Irving Falu, Jason Simontacchi, Lance Carter, and the immortal Larry Sutton.
OFP 55—Good 8th-inning guy
Likely 45—8th-inning guy with merely plus nervousness
The Risks: He’s unlikely to be quite as good a reliever going forward as he was in 2016, but he should be a pretty good reliever. There was a bout of bicep tendinitis towards the end of the season, and he’s already got Tommy John on his resume. And at the end of the day, he is still a pitcher.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Maybe I didn’t make myself clear above. Let’s try again. The year is 2019. Strahm has established himself as a solid back-of-the-bullpen asset. You’re browsing for sleeper closer options, and his name pops up. “Why not,” you think to yourself. “He’s a lefty and he’s got good stuff.” So you’re glad you picked up Strahm in 2017, and you’re glad to stash him on your bench. Saves were overvalued in your draft and you refused to pay up. You need to make gambles like this. So there Strahm sits, missing some bats and allowing some runs, but earning holds instead of saves. Ned Yost thinks The Seventh Inning Belongs to Strahm, you see, and you’re starting to get nervous. Should you drop Strahm for another set-up man? For a back-of-the-top-150 prospect? For a swing starter? But you’ve waited so long … You don’t know. You can’t decide. The anxiety is crippling. And so there Strahm sits, collecting Ks and allowing some runs, occupying a roster spot you don’t really need but could sort of use. This is the future that awaits you if you draft Strahm. Or Staumont. Or any other reliever prospect. But you’re too smart for that. You won’t draft reliever prospects. Because reliever prospects aren’t here to help. They’re here to hurt you, now and in the future, in the past and the present. (I think we may have lost Ben- j.p.)
4. A.J. Puckett, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’4” 200 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 67th overall in the 2016 MLB draft, Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA); signed for $1,200,000.
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: 3.66 ERA, 4.28 DRA, 51.2 IP, 42 H, 15 BB, 37 K at Low-A Lexington, 3.86 ERA, 2.93 DRA, 7 IP, 8 H, 0 BB, 8 K at complex-level AZL
The Good: Puckett has the frame and delivery of a man purpose-built to munch innings. The fastball is potentially solid-average. He can dial it up to 95 and holds his velocity deep into starts. He can do a few different things with his curve, manipulating its shape within its mid-to-upper-70s velo band. He has a changeup. He’ll throw his changeup. It’s not bad for a guy coming out of college.
The Bad: I have run through all the even-barely-clever ways to describe average-stuff righties at this point. Puckett is another one, which maybe isn’t great if he is the fourth-best prosp…well, you know. The fastball doesn’t wiggle much. Both the secondaries are inconsistent and lack much in the way of projection. There’s enough curve and change here to start, but neither looks to be a bat-misser
The Irrelevant: Pepperdine was founded by George Pepperdine, who made his money with the Western Auto Supply Company.
OFP 50—Average major-league starter
Likely 40—5th starter/swingman
The Risks: Without an out pitch or a ton of fastball, he might get knocked around in the upper minors. Yawn, he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: Late 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Puckett might be worth something as a streaming starter once he’s actually in the majors, but he’s not worth rostering now. Please rely on A.J. Puk to fulfill all of your A.J. Puk/Puckett dynasty needs.
5. Jorge Bonifacio, OF
Height/Weight: 6’1” 195 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Signed December 2009 out of the Dominican Republic for $135,000.
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .277/.351/.461, 19 HR, 6 SB in 134 games at Triple-A Omaha
The Good: After 1200 decidedly mediocre Double-A plate appearances, Bonifacio regained a little prospect sheen in 2016. The favorable hitting environments of the Pacific Coast League didn’t hurt, but Bonifacio’s above-raw power continued to show up more in games, and he looked more like a potential major-league-quality Three True Outcomes right fielder, where his plus arm will also be an asset.
The Bad: None of the above might matter if he doesn’t hit and, well, he might not hit. The swing can get long with some wrap, and is grooved at the best of times. He doesn’t offer much else in terms of athletic tools. The power will have to play.
The Irrelevant: Bonifacio was actually on a KG-era prospect list, the last person who thought coming up with 300 of these was a productive use of time, so I will just borrow his from 2011: In 2011, Bonifacio went just 7-for-48 (.146) when leading off an inning in the Appy League, but hit .319 in all other at-bats.
OFP 50—Average corner outfielder
Likely 40—Platoon/bench outfielder
The Risks: He may not hit enough to carry a corner outfield profile. There isn’t a ton of bench utility since he is right-handed and defensively limited.
Major league ETA: 2017
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Bonifacio is close enough to the majors that he’s of some use to us, and the combination of his power and proximity make him a borderline top-150 prospect. But, as mentioned above, he’s probably just a short-side platoon bat, and if he does settle into that role he’ll only be of use in AL-only formats. You could do worse when it comes to short-term speculative buys, though.
6. Khalil Lee, OF
Height/Weight: 5’10” 170 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted in the 3rd round (103rd overall) in the 2016 MLB draft, Flint Hill HS (Oakton, VA); signed for $750,000.
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .269/.396/.484, 6 HR, 8 SB in 49 games at complex-level AZL
The Good: Lee has the kind of athleticism you expect from a player who was considered a two-way draft prospect. He also has the kind of arm. He has a shot to stick in center field despite not being as burner. There’s at least average power in the profile.
The Bad: Lee’s already starting to get a little thick in his lower half, and he may have to slide over to right field in his twenties. The profile is very, very raw at the plate, and there are questions about the ultimate hit tool here because of the potential for future swing-and-miss issues. He has present swing-and-miss issues as he will sell out for that pop.
The Irrelevant: Khalil translates to “friend” in Arabic.
OFP 50—Average center fielder with some pop
Likely 40—Bench outfielder
The Risks: He’s only played in the complex and some teams liked him better as a pitcher. At least he’s not a pitcher (anymore).
Major league ETA: 2021
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Lee sure is far away from the majors. I hate to repeat myself, but check back in 2018 or so.
7. Scott Blewett, LHP
Height/Weight: 6’6” 210 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 56th overall in the 2014 MLB Draft, Baker HS (Baldwinsville, NY); signed for $1.8 million
Previous Ranking(s): #9 (Org)
2016 Stats: 4.31 ERA, 3.52 DRA, 129.1 IP, 138 H, 51 BB, 121 K at Low-A Lexington
The Good: Blewett has the makings of two plus pitches in his fastball and curve. The fastball bumps 95 and can show good life down in the zone and is a weapon when he elevates it out of his high release point. The curve at it’s best is a 12-6 downer that has hard, late break. He can play with the shape and velocity to spot it as well.
The Bad: How do you feel about Josh Staumont with better command but worse stuff? Blewett’s long frame and near over-the-top release point means he can struggle to stay on top of his offerings and locate below batter’s necklines. Better hitters won’t chase those as often as A-ball hitters have. He’ll miss armside and up and then yank one, the kind of stuff you often see with young pitchers in the low minors. The curveball can vacillate between 12-6 and 11-5 and he can snap it off at times. It will also lose depth and ride high when he is struggling with his release point. The change is a work in progress with a below-average projection.
The Irrelevant: Blewett could potentially be the second major league pitcher from Baldwinsville, NY, joining Jason Grilli.
OFP 50—No. 4 starter or setup
Likely 40—Solid middle reliever
The Risks: He’s a tall pitcher in A-ball with command and third pitch issues. There’s a long development horizon here and plenty that could go wrong.
Major league ETA: 2020
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If I revisit Reliever Name Foreshadowing in a few years, I expect Blewett to earn at least 8/10 Riskes.
8. Meibrys Viloria, C
Height/Weight: 5’11” 175 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Signed July 2013 out of Colombia for $460,000.
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .376/.436/.606, 6 HR, 1 SB in 58 games at rookie-level Idaho Falls
The Good: Viloria is potentially a plus hitter that can stick behind the plate and bop some doubles. He’s miles away from that right now, but you don’t have to do much more than that to be an everyday backstop.
The Bad: When Kiley McDaniel was at FanGraphs he wrote a piece purporting that minor league shortstops fall into one of three buckets “definitely a shortstop,” “not a shortstop,” and “maybe a shortstop,” with that last bucket being by far the largest. I think that applies to catchers as well and Viloria sits nicely in the mushy middle here. The arm is fine, the other stuff is still a bit rough at present, and there probably isn’t a plus glove in here regardless.
The Irrelevant: I’m not a particular proponent of European football chants moving into the ballpark, but “My Viloria, my Viloria, even I’ll adore you my Viloria” would be a winner.
OFP 50—Average major-league catcher
Likely 40—Backup backstop
The Risks: A scout quote we got during this whole process was “Low-A catchers are impossible.” Viloria is a rookie ball catcher.
Major league ETA: 2021
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Viloria is one of my favorite dynasty sleepers. He’s way too far away to even flirt with top-100 status, but if you’re in really deep leagues and you’re looking for a flier, you can pop him. Just be itchy with the trigger finger if another better prospect comes along, because Viloria’s lead time and position make him a high-risk asset.
9. Seuly Matias, OF
Height/Weight: 6’3” 200 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Signed July 2015 out of the Dominican Republic for $2,250,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .250/.348/.477, 8 HR, 2 SB in 46 games at complex-level AZL, .125/.222/.167, 0 HR, 0 SB in 7 games at rookie ball in the DSL
The Good: Matias has two standout tools: serious pop and a hose for an arm. He’s athletic but not remarkably fast, which allows him to play a sufficient center field for the time being. Odds are he’ll be a right fielder before too long, where has the potential to be an above-average defender. He has a vicious swing which generates excellent bat speed and a distinct sound off the barrel. Despite finishing the season with an alarmingly high strikeout rate, he limited his punchouts to under 26 percent over the final month of play, showing major strides in his first year in the States. Matias has shown patience at the plate, taking walks at a rate that lends stability to his otherwise risky profile.
The Bad: The aforementioned strikeout rate—like most toolsy teenage prospects, Matias’ career will be defined by the development of his bat-to-ball ability. The whiffs are primarily caused by him swinging with reckless abandon, as opposed to an inability to lay off pitches out of the zone. There’s also a very real chance his frame doesn’t allow for much more muscle growth, which would limit his otherwise impressive raw power.
The Irrelevant: Matias shares a birthday with Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, Doyle Alexander, Mike Piazza, Sun-woo Kim, Pat Neshek, and Beyoncé.
OFP 50—Exciting second-division regular right fielder
Likely 40—Power bench bat
The Risks: It’s easier to list the things about Matias that aren’t risky: 1) he can throw baseballs really hard and really far. The risk is tremendous with any 18 year old, but particularly so for a corner outfielder with a 37-percent strikeout rate in complex-level ball.
Major league ETA: 2020 —Matt Pullman
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Again, check back in 2019. But don’t hold your breath.
10. Miguel Almonte, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’2” 180 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Signed November 2010 by Kansas City out of the Dominican Republic for $25,000
Previous Ranking(s): #6 (Org)
2016 Stats: 5.55 ERA, 8.72 DRA, 60 IP, 62 H, 42 BB, 57 SO at Triple-A Omaha, 7.31 ERA, 4.60 DRA, 16 IP, 24 H, 4 BB, 15 K at Double-A Northwest Arkansas
The Good: A move to the pen late in the season kept the embers of Almonte’s prospect status faintly glowing—a poor Royals system doesn’t hurt either. The velocity was back into the mid-to-upper 90s late in the season and in winter ball. His change rebounded some, showing hard, late sink again.
The Bad: Hey it’s another Royals pitching prospect that might not throw enough strikes. The curve is below average, but that’s less of an issue now that he’s a pen arm I guess, as is the high-effort delivery. The fastball command is still well-below-average.
The Irrelevant: Your author keeps referring to him Yohan Almonte—who was briefly a marginal Mets prospect in the early 10s off a good Brooklyn season—in his head. Only one more list to go!
OFP 45—7th-inning guy
Likely 40—Middle reliever
The Risks: The risk is he’s still an Omaha shuttle arm this time next year. Or he gets hurt because he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2015
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I believe I’ve made my feelings on reliever prospects known.
Others of note:
Kyle Zimmer, RHP
Zimmer is easily the best talent on this list, but he’s had three straight lost seasons due to recurring shoulder problems. Like Matt Harvey and Phil Hughes, his shoulder issues got a new underlying diagnosis in 2016: thoracic outlet syndrome. Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star reported last week that Zimmer should be “good to go” for spring training, but it’s completely impossible to know what’s left. At his best, he looked like a developing number two; a four-pitch starter with command, an explosive fastball sitting in the mid-90s and touching higher, and a wipeout curve. He could look like anything from that to a Double-A reliever now (and all the points in between), and it wouldn’t be surprising. —Jarrett Seidler
Eric Skoglund, LHP
Skoglund is both healthy and throws strikes, making him a bit of a sui generis pitching prospect in the Royals system. Unfortunately the stuff isn’t much to write home about. He’s a long, lean lefty with some deception from his herky jerky delivery. There’s three average pitches he slings from a lowish armslot. The control is ahead of the command, and the stuff can be far too hittable when he catches the fat part of the place. Still, he is (6-foot-6) tall and left-handed, and you can’t teach that (Venditte is only 6-foot-1). Skoglund will likely settle in somewhere along the fifth starter/swingman/LOOGy continuum.
Alec Mills, RHP
When we write that Skoglund throws strikes, we don’t mean to imply that he throws nearly as many strikes as Alec Mills. Mills looks rather unassuming on the mound, a bit of an Anthony Edwards in sports goggles, but he has an above-average sinker and changeup that work well off each other. He offers a couple of breaking balls as well, but both are below-average. He’s in the same range as Skoglund, but has already pitched in the majors. So there’s that.
Jeison Guzman, SS
A glove-first shortstop with instincts and range, Guzman’s bat will have to evolve for him to develop into a big-league regular. His hands are quick, both in the field and at the plate, and he has a clean arm action delivering the ball from shortstop. While “glove-first” might apply, that doesn’t mean he’s a lock to stick at the six. His body could easily push him off the position down the line, as good as his glove and hands might be. All things considered, he profiles as a utility infielder, though his glove could carry him long enough to see the bat come around. While he does a good job employing his lower-half in his swing, the contact ability may prove insufficient to ever reach the show. —Matt Pullman
Chase Vallot, C
Prep catchers can go in a lot of different directions, but Vallot has gone in a fairly predictable one. A 2015 full-season ball assignment for the 18-year-old went poorly, although he flashed plus power and a strong arm. A repeat assignment to Lexington to round out his teenage years resulted in more of the same. The swing here is a little stiff and very long, so the Ks aren’t likely to be more manageable at higher levels. But he’s got a decent shot to catch, just turned 20, and has hit a bunch of bombs off older college arms. The situation warrants continued monitoring.
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/91 or later)
- Jorge Soler
- â€‹Raul Mondesi
- â€‹Hunter Dozier
- â€‹Josh Staumont
- Matt Strahm
- â€‹Cheslor Cuthbert
- A.J. Puckett
- Jorge Bonifacio
- Khalil Lee
- Scott Blewett
Rings rest upon the fingers of players who littered the Royals Top 25 and under list in the past in exchange for players like Sean Manaea, Brandon Finnegan and Cody Reed who undoubtedly would have topped this list. In addition the recent accidental death of Yordano Ventura took the Royals top talent in the system off the list, leaving one of the weakest farm systems we’ve seen in the Dayton Moore era to fill out the backend of a less inspiring list.
The true talent in this list and in the organization lies in players like Jorge Soler, Raul Mondesi, Josh Staumont and a player not on the list, Kyle Zimmer. Those four players represent large ceilings that if the Royals are lucky enough to catch in three or all could help propel them to a few more playoff runs.
The Jorge Soler for one season of Wade Davis wasn’t the return that some Royals fans had hoped for but in Soler Kansas City is acquiring four years of team control and a large ceiling for a closer that was somewhat risky to return anything if arm problems had reappeared. The Cuban has flashed signs of his immense talent in the second half last season with Chicago and in a small sample in 2014 and a tremendous September and playoff run for the Cubs in 2015. It will be Royals outfield coach Rusty Kuntz’s job to iron out the defensive kinks in the outfielder’s game, no easy task while playing in one of the largest outfield’s in the league but one the front office is betting improves with regular playing time and focus once penciled into a starting spot everyday during the season. If you’re buying Soler’s improved plate discipline last season combined with his power then he undoubtedly will be one of the keys to the middle of the Royals lineup this season and going forward.
Last year’s top prospect, Raul Mondesi, struggled mightily in his major-league debut thanks to his Royals-esque plate discipline that saw him offer at 43 percent of balls outside of the zone in his 149 plate appearances. This was after an abbreviated minor league season due to a 50 game PED suspension. The tools are still there for Mondesi with elite speed, athleticism, his father’s arm and surprising power from the left side. The lack of plate recognition and discipline was exposed while Mondesi’s defensive gifts aren’t allowed to shine from the right side of the diamond while Alcides Escobar mans the shortstop spot. Will the front office continue to push Mondesi this season into a starting spot at the major league level or will they decide to finally slow things down with a Triple-A slot and let him work on the weakness in his game?
While Mondesi’s struggles came at the major-league level Dozier’s came in 2014 and 2015 in the minors, but an adjustment in his hip movement and a cut down swing allowed Hunter to unlock his natural strength to connect on 68 extra base hits in 129 minor-league games. With Mike Moustakas possibly on his way towards free agency, Dozier will likely compete with Cuthbert for the possible third base job or move over to first base where his plus power could still play in the additional possible absence of Eric Hosmer.
While the four players mentioned above feature large ceilings the Royals have a couple higher floor players in Strahm and Cuthbert. At worst with Strahm it appears the Royals have a power lefty from the pen who was spectacular in his major league debut flashing his plus fastball and solid curveball. It appears that Strahm felt more and more comfortable with his changeup as his debut wore on, using it more in September than his curve to excellent results. If that pitch comes forward then the Royals have a possibility of a no. 3 starter developed from within to combine with Danny Duffy. While Cuthbert and Dozier have taken slow burn paths to the majors they appear to be second tier regulars while young and affordable.
While currently in the lower third of farm systems in the league the Royals could see a bounceback coming with the drafts of Puckett, Lee and additional prospects coming from their 2015 international signing class that landed stateside this past year and an additional prospect or two landing this next year. With those additions combined with a larger draft pool (14th in ‘17) and trade additions should the Royals flip other core stars at the deadline readers could see a major overhaul in this list come 2018. —Clint Scoles
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However I will disagree that Hosmer and O'Hearn are similar. Hosmer doesn't have nearly the same swing plane as O'Hearn, who I've seen launch balls far beyond where Hosmer has. Also O'Hearn is going to strike out a good deal more than him.
I get what you mean in regards to the "real life Eric Hosmer" comment, but there are some crucial difference. For example, O'Hearn slugged close to .470 this year, at Double-A, as a 22-year-old. Not only was Hosmer in the majors at 22, but he was at Double-A at 20, and slugged .617.
As you say though -- that's what Hosmer was, not what he's been. He's been a 10-win player (per WARP) over six years so far. That's less than 2 wins a year, as a first baseman. It's just not a particularly valuable profile. If that's what we *expect* O'Hearn to be, we still have to consider the percentiles below what we expect. If that's the case he's basically not a major leaguer.
All of this to say, does he fit in that 45/40 range with Almonte? You bet. The profile is just a tough one. And if you expect better than we do, it'd be reasonable to place him higher on your own mental/personal list.
The issue for the weak farm system has been drafting the past four or five years. Take a look at the top 10 again and you'll see only one first rounder in Dozier (who was taken early so they could pop Manaea later).
Their past few first round picks:
Russell - brief mention in the intro
Watson - No mention
Finnegan - traded
Griffin - No mention
Vallot - Outside top 10 (which I personally disagree with)
Dozier - #1
Manaea - Traded
Zimmer - Outside top 10
Starling - Brief mention
Colon - MLB Utility player
Crow - Basically out of baseball (signed MiLB deal)
Other than Terrance Gore's 37 games as a pinch runner/fielder, KC hasn't had a drafted position player make the major leagues since 2010 (Colon/Eibner/Merrifield).
"Kyle Zimmer will miss another year of development after his Thoracic Outlet surgery in June."
While we're talking about Kyle Zimmer for whom entering the out-of-doors is begging for a trip to the 60-day DL, there's no reason to believe that he "will miss another year of development" as he's supposed to be ready for Spring Training. The tense shift makes it seem like he's to be sidelined this year in addition to last year.