At the roster deadline two weeks ago, the KC Royals added six minor leaguers to their roster, thus keeping them safe from the Rule 5 Draft (which happens tomorrow morning at the end of the winter meetings). The Royals protected outfielders Brett Eibner and Bubba Starling, infielder Ramon Torres, and pitchers Kyle Zimmer, Alec Mills, and Matt Strahm. If not, any one of them could have been selected by another team.
However, they left a few unprotected that could be selected in the Rule 5 Draft. Baseball America listed the usual suspects of players who are selected: catchers, toolsy outfielders, utility infielders, sluggers, hard throwing relievers with control problems, solid pitchers with unspectacular stuff, and inexperienced pitchers with great arms.
BA also listed a few Royals they feel could be picked up by other teams.
Do I think catcher Cam Gallagher is ready for the big leagues? No, but his defense and pitch-framing could make him a backup option (though the defense took a step back in 2015, but injuries played a part). Offensively (though he hits the ball hard), he leaves a lot to be desired. A few years ago, the Chicago White Sox selected Adrian Nieto from Washington and he spent the previous season (2013) with High-A Potomac (the same level that Gallagher has played at).
Elier Hernandez is a toolsy outfielder who received a HUGE signing bonus when coming out of the Dominican Republic. However, as he’s gained experience, the strikeouts have mounted. He struck out a combined 120 times in 2015 between two A-ball levels. Hernandez has never walked (just 72 times in four seasons). The power hasn’t developed (just 18 home runs in 361 games) and he hasn’t done a good job as a base stealer (26 stolen bases and was caught 14 times). Hernandez is a raw talent, but could be intriguing to another team.
While the Royals protected one utility fielder (Torres), they have three options for the 29 other teams. Two played at the Triple-A level last season.
I know Whit Merrifield wasn’t selected last year despite a career year at the plate (he did injure his wrist last year in winter ball right before the draft), but he expanded his versatility in 2015 (playing all positions but pitcher and catcher). Merrifield hit a respectable .265, while lowering his strikeout total (66, down from 79) and keeping his walk total the same (39). He also ran more: 32 stolen bases to just one caught stealing (compared to 16 stolen bases and 11 caught stealings in 2014).
The Royals non-tendered Orlando Calixte, but then re-signed him the very next day to a minor league contract. However, he is now Rule 5 eligible. Normally a shortstop, who has also played second and third base, Calixte added some outfield in 2015. He got better defensively, dropping his error total to 12 at shortstop in 55 games (five at third base and two at second base). That is a career-low. However, Calixte only hit .229 at Triple-A Omaha in 107 games, though he lowered his strikeouts to 84 (down from 92 in 2014 and 131 in 2013).
Carlos Garcia re-signed with the Royals at the start of the offseason and has taken awhile to develop (2009 was his first season). He reached High-A in 2015. I was most impressed with the adjustments he made at the plate from at-bat to at-bat (more than anyone else in Wilmington). He had a .346 combined on-base percentage. However, Garcia was the Blue Rocks DH in 34 games, while playing second base in 44 games (six errors). Garcia is currently playing winter ball in his hometown of Margarita, Venezuela and has played all over (even the outfield).
The one slugger the Royals could lose is Balbino Fuenmayor, who burst onto the scene in 2014 (as BA’s Independent League Player of the Year), his winter ball season in Mexico, and then his first half of the 2015 season in the Royals farm system. That earned him a Futures Game selection at the age of 26. However, an ACL tear ended his season in July. Teams could be turned off by the injury and maybe thinking his sudden offense is a fluke. Plus he is a first baseman/DH. It is hard to argue with his combined numbers from last season though: .358 with 28 doubles, two triples, 17 home runs, 62 runs scored, 66 RBIs, and a .384 OBP in 89 games.
The Royals have two hard throwers with control problems who could be selected. One is lefty Sam Selman, who had command issues while at Vanderbilt and he has unfortunately not solved them while in the Royals organization (205 walks and 27 hit batters in four seasons). However, when he commands his pitches, Selman is virtually unhittable (just a .222 opponents batting average) and has struck out 380 in 339 career innings.
The other is right-hander Yunior Marte, who throws 95+ with a changeup. However, he walked 38 in 65.2 innings with Low-A Lexington in 2015. Plus, opponents hit .302 against him.
Finally to the solid pitchers who could be a fifth starter option or a long/middle reliever option.
Right-hander Andy Ferguson has been about as solid as they come the last two seasons at the upper levels in the Royals minor league system. The workhorse went 11-10 with a 2.93 ERA in 147.2 innings with Double-A NW Arkansas in 2014, only to be sent back there to start the 2015 season as a reliever. After going 4-0 with a miniscule 0.85 ERA in six games, Ferguson was promoted to Omaha. There, he went 7-3 with a 3.21 ERA in 73 innings (he also battled an injury). Opponents hit just .237 against him and he struck out 71.
Fellow right-hander Brooks Pounders has put himself back on the map after returning fully healthy at the middle of the 2015 season after missing about a year and a half due to injuries (Tommy John surgery and a spring lat injury). He was solid in Double-A, dominated in three starts in the Arizona Fall League, and was great with Team USA in the Premier 12 Tournament (until the gold medal game). I’ll have more on Pounders in a later post.
Lefty Daniel Stumpf is intriguing because 1. he’s a lefty and 2. he’s a ground ball pitcher. He struggled as a starter in 2014, but a move to the bullpen has helped. In August of his 2015 season with NWA, Stumpf had just a 1.32 ERA in nine games. He struck out 16 in 13.2 innings and opponents hit just .182 against him. Then he threw three scoreless innings to end the regular season in September before getting hit in his final game of the postseason. Stumpf then took his talents to Puerto Rico, where he has a 1.00 ERA in 13 games. Over 18 innings, opponents have hit just .175 against him, he has walked five, and struck out ten. He’s also induced three double plays.
Christian Binford is also intriguing, as he seemed to be on the fast track to the big leagues following his 2014 season when he barely touched 90 mph on the radar gun. Binford increased his fastball velocity in the spring of 2015 and earned to start the season in Triple-A, but he took a HUGE step back during the season: 5-11 with a 5.22 ERA in 22 starts. In 119.2 innings, he allowed 149 hits (.311 average), ten home runs, walked 38, and struck out just 69. He also got hurt and didn’t pitch after August 15th (and he was back in Double-A). Maybe another team will take a chance to get him back on track?
Right-hander Matt Murray has moved quickly the last two seasons, going from High-A to Triple-A and pitching well at each level. He has both started and relieved. He is a perfect middle relief option for teams looking for a cheap option.
Right-hander Jake Junis is a guy who has moved slowly through the Royals system. However, he has also been a workhorse. Junis was the Blue Rocks Opening Day starter and threw 155.2 innings with a respectable 3.64 ERA. Often overlooked, he walked just 29 and struck out 123 and led the team from Day 1 into the playoffs.
The Royals could lose a few players in tomorrow’s Rule 5 Draft. However, I thought the same thing last year. We will see.