As I type this, the Kansas City Royals, who haven’t exactly been the beneficiaries of good fortune over the last 25 years, have the top farm system in baseball. While that certainly doesn’t come as a shock to those who follow the minor leagues, the severity of the claim can’t be overstated. For as good as the Royals are now—and believe me, they have the best set of prospects I have ever seen—the farm has a chance to avoid the systemic regressions associated with major-league promotion, general prospect stagnation, attrition, and any other words that might feature the suffix –ion.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I spend a lot of time waxing hyperbolic about Eric Hosmer and his heroic (see?) potential as a player. I’ve been so drunk on his present and future that I’ve even dared to opine that he might be the best all-around offensive prospect in baseball. He’s a special talent. The same hyperbole can be applied to Mike Moustakas, although I’m not convinced he belongs in the same conversation with Hosmer. Then you have the line of projectable southpaws that seem to multiply like wet mogwais: Montgomery, Lamb, Dwyer, and Duffy. Throw Wil Myers into the mix and you have seven prospects worthy of top-100 consideration, and at least five that could be in the top 30 in all of baseball. That’s a gross display of upper-level talent.
Where is all of this headed? The Royals aren’t just stacked at the more advanced levels of the minors; they have a new wave of talent about to hit full-season ball and jump in the queue as keepers of the throne. Let’s take a look at a few of the under-the-radar prospects in the Royals system and celebrate the obscene wealth of talent now on display down on the Kansas City farm.
RHP Jason Adam
Who: A fifth-round pick in the 2010 draft out of Overland Parks, Kansas, Adam signed for a well above-slot bonus of $800,000, but has yet to make his professional debut. He has the stuff to start the year in full-season ball.
Why He’s Next in Line: He has a combination of stuff, size, and youth. Adam’s fastball can already sit in the low-to-mid-90s and touch 98. The pitch has good late arm-side run, which allows the ball to creep in on the hands of right-handers and run away from lefties. He flashes a plus curveball at 80 mph with excellent depth that generates plenty of swings and misses. He showed a changeup at one time, but it was a little too firm and lacked movement. As a feel pitch, the changeup will take time develop, but based on the arm speed and the repeatable mechanics, the pitch should have promise and grade out to at least average.
The arm itself is crazy fast and the delivery is relatively smooth, although he opens a bit, which causes him to throw across his body and spin off to first base in the follow-through. Despite the lower slot (3/4), Adam is able to generate good angle on the fastball (he uses his height very well) and stays on top of the curve. He can repeat his mechanics and throws strikes; with more repetition and refinement, above-average command projection is possible. It’s a little to early to offer something definitive, but based on what I’ve seen so far from Adam, it’s very possible that he will develop two plus pitches (with one of them already showing 70 velocity), a solid-average third pitch, at least 50 command, and size that can’t be taught. Add to the equation a natural feel for the mound and youth (he will pitch most of the ’11 season at 19 years old), and you start to see why Adam could become a household name before the season is over. I expect him to start in extended spring training before heading to full-season ball after the Midwest chill releases her icy grip. (Releases her icy grip? This is a low moment. Apologies.)
3B Cheslor Cuthbert
Who: The 18-year-old Nicaraguan signed for $1.35 million in 2009. In limited game action (32 games), Cuthbert hit a combined .250/.314/.422 over two rookie-league levels, but he showed off his present polish and his tools.
Why He’s Next in Line: He has excellent offensive promise and a good glove. Cuthbert lacks elite-level tools and therefore an elite-level ceiling, but the young third baseman has really turned heads so far in camp, particularly with the bat. At the plate, Cuthbert is balanced, with a quiet load and smooth weight transfer. He hands and hips work very well, and his bat speed is impressive. He is able to keep his hands inside and fire through the ball with good hip rotation and secondary extension. From the look of the swing and the strength of the body, Cuthbert projects to have plus power down the line. With a present line-drive stroke (natural loft and ability to barrel) and a comfortable approach, the hit tool should allow the power to live beyond batting practice. Cuthbert lacks straight-line speed, with clocks in the 4.4-4.5 range to first base. Thanks to his stocky lower half, Cuthbert is only going to slow as he continues to physically mature, so the legs won’t assist much in the hit department.
On defense, Cuthbert was better than I was lead to believe, with quick reflexes (despite having fringy speed) and good clean actions, especially the backhand pickup. The hands are soft and he is fundamentally sound, but although his throws were accurate, the arm didn’t wow me with its strength. Depending on how well he acclimates to full-season ball, the 18-year-old native of Big Corn Island (sounds like the DeKalb, IL of Nicaragua) could launch himself onto a higher prospect tier, especially if the present polish he is showing in Arizona finds its way to Kane County.
SS Orlando Calixte
Who: (It is apropos considering Calixte has been known by at least two other names): A 19-year-old Dominican shortstop who signed for $1 million over the summer, Calixte has some projection at the plate and solid-average skills on defense.
Why He’s Next in Line: This is more of a deep sleeper than a prospect that is going to jump into the top 10 in the system, but Calixte is a player worth keeping an eye on in 2011. The man now officially known as Orlando Calixte is a slender shortstop with good athleticism, offensive potential, and solid-average glove. At the plate, the 6-foot-2 Dominican stays a little tall and doesn’t use his body enough (upper-body swing), However, he has shown a knack for contact, although his current swing is squelching the power potential. The approach looks sound [read: he’s not a hacker and he seems to have the ability to recognize and avoid bad balls], but the aforementioned swing has some length to it, so he has some vulnerability inside. Because of the current contact approach, the power is difficult to project; Calixte has pop in the bat and can barrel balls, but the plane and the torque necessary for power isn’t showcased in the present swing. Calixte is a 50 runner at present, and he might slow as his body fills out.
With the glove, Calixte is average, but shows the necessary actions to remain at the position. He has good hands, and despite having a body that looks awkward and uncoordinated, he displays more grace than anticipated; the pivot and footwork around the bag are clean and his range isn’t hampered by his average straight-line speed. His arm looks like a legit 60 and his throwing mechanics appear sound. Calixte isn’t a special talent; at least, I didn’t recognize any special tools or attributes. He appears to have solid-average potential, which is difficult to recognize in a low-level infielder, especially one that hasn’t played stateside ball yet. He’s probably not a player that will reach the full-season level in 2011, but Calixte has logged substantial playing time so far this spring, and given his seven-figure sticker price, a player that the Royals are obviously high on.
This system is so deep that I might need to produce a sequel to this article to highlight more of the lower-level talents ready to step up and grab some of the prospect love. I don’t want to get too Royals heavy, but if the appetite for the system proves to be insatiable, I’d be more than willing to champion the skills of Brett Eibner, Yordano Ventura, Robinson Yambati, and Humberto Arteaga in Part 2. In fact, I should probably just become a full-time Royals blogger and get it over with.