Heading into the 2011 season the Royals were seen as having one of the best minor league systems the game had ever seen. After graduating stud prospects like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to the big leagues, and several high profile prospects not meeting expectation last year, the Royals system doesn’t draw the acclaim it did twelve months ago. That shouldn’t be the case as Kansas City still owns a wealth of talent that can impact the big league club in 2012 as well as plenty of raw, high ceiling talent that could take a step forward.
1. Will Myers (OF)
Myers is one of the best offensive prospects in the game today. He has tremendous hands, a very good approach, plus bat speed and an uncanny ability to adjust to the movement of a pitch. He can lace line drives from pole to pole and projects as a batting average and on-base machine. Though he has plenty of raw strength he doesn’t have much loft in his swing and scouts I spoke with ranged from average to plus home run power for him long term. He is improving in the outfield and should be average there. Myers should team with Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer to form a formidable middle of the order, possibly as soon as late this year.
2. Mike Montgomery (LHP)
Though the performance certainly went backwards in 2011, Montgomery still has arguably the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the system. He has a plus fastball that works consistently at 92-94 mph and will touch 96 throughout his starts. His curveball is a second legitimate plus pitch and his change-up shows signs of being an average offering. Montgomery battled every part of his mechanics in 2011 and that led to a major slip in his ability to locate the ball. If he can right the ship in 2012 he could reach the Major Leagues and still has the raw ceiling of a number two starter that could anchor the Royals’ rotation for years to come.
3. Bubba Starling (OF)
This guy is the Royals lottery ticket. He gives them a chance to develop a bona fide superstar at an up the middle position. His athleticism is off the charts and had he not signed he would be heading to Nebraska to play quarterback. If only a fraction of his raw athleticism translates to baseball skills, he could well be an above-average Major Leaguer. If a significant portion of his athleticism translates you’re looking at one of the best players in the game. That said, the odds are slim that he develops into that type of player. In the abstract sense, Starling shows the potential for 70-grade raw power, speed, defense and arm strength with his hitting ability being the only true question among scouts.
4. Cheslor Cuthbert (3B)
Cuthbert was one of the Royals international bonus babies, signing for a huge contract out of Nicaragua. He owns a truly classic third base profile that includes power and defensive chops. He has plenty of strength in his well-built frame; enough that some scouts see plus raw power. He has a very advanced approach for his age and he uses good hands and bat speed to sting the ball to all fields. His defense is also solid with the hands, reactions and arm strength to be a positive defensive presence. Though the Royals will send Cuthbert to High-A in 2012, he is still several years from knocking on the big league door, and when he does he will still be quite young.
5. Jake Odorizzi (RHP)
Odorizzi was the center piece of the trade that sent Zach Greinke to Milwaukee. He is another pitcher that projects to help anchor the Royals rotation down the line. His arsenal is built on the foundation of two potential plus pitches in his 92-93 mph fastball that can touch 95 and his hard breaking curveball. He locates well and projects for plus command with both pitches. He has continued to add a change-up to his arsenal but it is a distant, below-average offering. Odorizzi has mid-rotation potential and the athletic body and clean arm action to eat up innings in that role.
6. John Lamb (LHP)
Lamb was right there with number two prospect Mike Montgomery heading into 2011 but he struggled early in the year before succumbing to Tommy John surgery. When healthy, Lamb offers a solid-average fastball that plays up because he locates it well. His curveball and change-up are both reliable secondary pitches with plus potential. His change-up could be a difference maker for him as some scouts believe it can be a swing-and-miss offering to both left- and right-handed hitters. Like Odorizzi above him, Lamb has a chance to be a mid-rotation starter.
7. Jason Adam (RHP)
Adam’s ranking at this level involves a ton of projection. He has a great frame for a right-handed power pitcher and he can be projected for plus-plus velocity. Reports last fall suggested some of that velocity had already been realized but he sat more 90-92 mph in his first full-season of professional baseball. He has feel for both a curveball and a change-up but both will require work to be reliable pitches against more advanced and disciplined hitters. Again, Adam offers mid-rotation potential but there is a huge gap between the present and that ceiling.
8. Elier Hernandez (OF)
The Royals gave Hernandez $3 million to sign out of the Dominican Republic. He is a bat-first prospect with the potential to be a number three or four hitter in a big league lineup. He offers a sound stroke with good bat speed and hands that naturally work very well. He already has a Major League body at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds and despite that size at such a young age he is very athletic and coordinated. Scouts that like Hernandez believe he can develop both above-average hitting ability and power. He is an average runner now and will likely slow as his body continues to mature. His athleticism should allow him to handle right field as a below-average runner.
9. Yordano Ventura (RHP)
A smallish right-hander (5-11, 145), Ventura stuns scouts with his velocity. His has exceptional arm speed that helps run his fastball up to 95-96 mph routinely. Several scouts I spoke with indicated he hit 99 mph for them this summer. His absolutely max-effort delivery leaves him destined for the bullpen where he should be able to air it out for an inning at a time and he could project as a closer if one of his breaking ball or change-up becomes a consistently average or better pitch. Ventura’s velocity gives him a chance to move quickly, despite likely starting this year in High-A.
10. Kelvin Hererra (RHP)
Herrera is another smallish right-hander with a big fastball and a relief profile. Injuries are a significant concern for Herrera and the 2011 season was really his first healthy one since 2007. He backs his plus-plus heater up with a change-up that has become an above-average pitch. He will also throw a curveball that generally earns no better than 40-grades from scouts. Though he’s a little lighter, some scouts believe Herrera could be a Fernando Rodney type of late inning reliever that relies on the power fastball and change-up to get outs.
11. Brett Eibner (OF)
The injury bug bit Eibner hard in 2011 and it really hampered his ability to show progress with his impressive tools. A two-way player in college, Eibner has focused on hitting since signing and some scouts believe he could show plus-plus power down the line. He lacks a natural feel for hitting and could always be a bit of a free swinger with strikeout issues, though his power potential could overcome that problem. Though he’s a good enough runner and athlete for center field, most scouts prefer him on a corner, and his power arm would profile nicely in right. Eibner needs a healthy season in 2012 to make up ground in the developmental process.
12. Bryan Brickhouse (RHP)
Brickhouse isn’t the classic projectable power pitcher but he does offer some intriguing weapons on the mound. With a high-effort delivery he gets his fastball up to 91-93 mph consistently and will show 96 on occasion. At times his breaking ball will resemble a hard 11-5 curveball with swing-and-miss potential. He does not command his stuff well and his change-up is well below-average. Though a couple of area scouts believed he could stick as a starter, most felt he would be a high leverage reliever.
13. Christian Colon (2B)
Colon still stands as the Royals second baseman of the future despite a disappointing debut in Double-A. He does a lot of things well though his only plus tool is his hitting ability. He has a knack for contact and can use the whole field with ease. He may only show fringe-average power at the big league level and he doesn’t work counts that well, leaving him without secondary skills to support his contact ability. He should be an average defender at second base after moving over from shortstop, and he could be a solid everyday player that hits in the bottom third of a good lineup.
14. Jorge Bonifacio (OF)
A bit unheralded in a system that has been loaded with prospects the last two years, Bonifacio has a chance to be an impact corner outfielder. He has good feel for hitting and the ball explodes off his bat. He uses the whole field well and could have 20+ home run power down the line. He is an aggressive swinger early in the count and he struggles with even modes breaking balls. If his approach improves he could be an impact number five hitter with power and good defense on an outfield corner.
15. Adalberto Mondesi (SS)
In most years Mondesi would have been the club’s big Latin American signing having inked for $2 million, but that title went to number eight prospect Elier Hernandez. The son of former big leaguer Raul Mondesi, Adalberto has a good feel for the game and advanced defensive abilities for his age. He moves well at shortstop with good range to both sides and an average arm. Most scouts believe he can stay at the position long term. Due to his size (5-11, 160) there are concerns about how much offensive projection Mondesi has. Power will never be part of his game but he must develop the ability to drive the ball to be able to hit for average and provide offensive value to go with his solid defense.