Entering the 2011 season the Royals were widely considered to have the absolute best minor league system in all of baseball, and arguably, one of the best in the recent history of the game. They have graduated several prospects to the big leagues, including Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez, but the pipeline remained stocked. With the recent trade for James Shields, and the subsequent departure of Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery, three more legit prospects departed the system. The Royals system remains strong, just not in the way it once was, as the lower levels of the system are now littered with high-ceiling players to keep an eye on over the next few years.
1. Kyle Zimmer – RHP (Last Year’s Rank: NR)
For stretches last spring, there were scouts in Northern California that would have been willing to dub Zimmer as the best college pitcher going, even ahead of Stanford right-hander Mark Appel. Zimmer has a very good arsenal to go along with a strong control/command profile, giving him the ceiling of a number two starter. He is polished enough to move quickly and simply has to prove he can maintain his stuff over the length of a professional season.
2. Adalberto Mondesi – SS (15)
Yes, I am being aggressive here, but the reports from scouts outside the Royals organization were that overwhelmingly positive. Mondesi has a chance to be a complete monster prospect and he could ascend to those heights by this time next year. A legitimate defensive shortstop, Mondesi should have a plus glove and plus arm over the long term. He shows good feel for hitting and his frame suggests additional strength is on the way, leading to at least quality gap power. Mondesi is a potential All-Star caliber shortstop.
3. Bubba Starling – OF (3)
My heart wants to rank Starling lower than this in large part because I have a difficult time visualizing him progressing to the point where his tools all play in game situations. On the other hand, my head says he should be at this level, and I could justify ranking him higher. Starlings tools are off the charts. He is an extreme athlete with superstar potential, albeit very raw potential. If it all comes together, Starling could consistently show five plus-level tools, with at least three earning higher grades than that. It’s going to be a long developmental road but the payoff could be beyond ridiculous.
4. Yordano Ventura – RHP (9)
It’s easy to fall in love with a fastball that sits 95-97 and touches 100 mph in just about every outing. It’s even easier to fall in love with the owner of that pitch when he backs it up with a plus curveball that can miss bats. Ventura is that guy, but he also has some warts that make you wonder if he can stick in a rotation. His change-up and ability to throw quality strikes lag behind and could ultimately limit him to a late inning role, albeit an impact late inning role.
5. Cheslor Cuthbert – 3B (4)
Cuthbert had a rough year in High-A. While he was far from good, his numbers may be artificially suppressed because of the tough offensive environment in Wilmington. Despite his struggles, he remains a very interesting player and maybe I’m being stubborn, but I think he still merits a high rating in this system. His prospect status will be driven by the evolution of his bat which could have middle-of-the-order power. How he looks in spring training will determine if he heads back to High-A or is promoted to Double-A.
6. Jorge Bonifacio – OF (14)
Bonifacio is a very interesting player with a stocky build, tremendous bat speed and a very raw game. He is an aggressive swing with the ability to make solid contact out of the strike zone. He can hit for power to all fields and has potential for 20+ home runs at his peak. He holds his own on defense despite being a below-average runner, and he has a plus arm. It is difficult to envision Bonifacio as a frontline player but he could be a solid everyday guy with some pop on an outfield corner.
7. Miguel Almonte – RHP (NR)
I have a feeling I could be writing about being “too light” on Almonte in my Royals Accountability Check next year. At just 19-years old he already shows a plus fastball and plus change-up, making him a dynamic prospect with big time upside. His curveball needs work and he has to grow into his 6-foot-2 frame, but he has the potential to develop into a number two starter if everything comes together.
8. Jason Adam – RHP (7)
Adam has the look of a guy that should bust out and take a leap as a prospect but the stuff just doesn’t tick forward enough to allow it. His fastball, change-up and curveball all work as average pitches consistently and he pounds the strike zone with ease. He is an intelligent pitcher and both the change-up and curveball have some room for modest improvement. Without a dominating pitch, he lacks significant upside at this point but he could settle in at the back of a big league rotation, eating innings and keeping his team in the ball game.
9. John Lamb – LHP (6)
Lamb missed most of the 2012 season recovering from Tommy John surgery and will look to get back to his previous form in 2013. He has the potential to become a mid-rotation guy with a plus fastball and two complimentary pitches – change-up and curveball – that have shown promise at times. It is easy to forget about players after significant injuries, but Lamb’s physical talents should keep him on the radar and he could be knocking on the big league door again by the end of this season.
10. Orlando Calixte – SS (NR)
Calixte split his 2012 season between the Royals Low- and High-A clubs, posting a composite line of .262/.315/.444 in 125 games. He’s not a flashy player but he has true shortstop tools along with some thump in his bat, giving him a chance to hit sixth or seventh in a big league lineup while playing a premium defensive position. Calixte remains raw at the plate, with a lot of swing and miss, but he should be ready for Double-A in 2013 and could reach the big leagues late the following year.
11. Sam Selman – LHP (NR)
The Royals popped Selman in the second round of last year’s draft and he immediately impressed with a 2.09 ERA over 60 innings in the Pioneer League. He has exceptional velocity for a lefty, reaching as high as 97 mph and sitting in the 92-94 range throughout his starts. While his slider has shown promise, his change-up lags behind and is a below-average pitch. If he makes strides with his change-up and command, Selman could be a number three or four starter. Without those positive strides, he still profiles as a late inning lefty reliever.
12. Kenny Diekroeger – 2B (NR)
Diekroeger seemingly fell from grace after not living up to lofty expectations coming out of high school, but he remains an interesting prospect capable of reaching the big leagues as a solid second baseman. He fits well at the keystone defensively and should be able to hit for average with a few doubles and some on-base ability mixed in. He’s not the start he was once considered as a teenager, but he’s a quality player with versatility.
13. Kyle Smith – RHP (NR)
Smith impressed scouts in his debut season, posting a 2.94 ERA across 13 starts in the Midwest League, allowing less than a hit per inning and striking out over eleven batters per nine. Slightly undersized by today’s terms, Smith sits at 90-92 mph with his fastball and can bump higher on occasion. His curveball has shown significant promise and could be the plus pitch he needs to enhance his profile further. He has an ultra-competitive attitude on the mound and wants the ball, all of which helps his raw stuff play up a bit and gives him a chance to be a quality number four.
14. Cameron Gallagher – C (NR)
A 2011 second round pick, Gallagher raised some eyebrows in the Appy League in 2012, showing surprising improvements behind the plate and definite promise with the bat. He is still raw as a catcher but showed improved tools for the position and could stick there defensively, enhancing his value even further. His bat has some pop in it and he could emerge as a plus power guy with the ability to hit .260-.270 at his best. His road to the big leagues will be long, but catchers with his profile are often given plenty of time to develop.
15. Angel Baez – RHP (NR)
After plodding through three seasons in rookie ball, Baez finally got a taste of full-season ball in 2012 and made the most of it with a 3.17 ERA in 76.2 innings with Kane County. He still has the same significant control problems that plagued him in his first three seasons, but when you can dial it up to 98 mph, you’re going to get noticed. His secondary pitches lack refinement and most scouts think he ends up in the bullpen, but Baez’s arm strength alone merits inclusion at the back of this list.