On the same day that Baseball America released their top 10 prospect list for the KC Royals (though you need to be a subscriber to check it out), I received my paper copy of the edition in the mail.
The top prospect editions of BA are my favorite publications of the year.
The Royals top prospect is not surprising, as shortstop Raul Mondesi takes the top spot yet again. His defense is big league ready, but his offense…well, let’s just say it leaves you scratching your head. Some days he looks really good (like he has figured it out) and then he looks completely lost on other days.
Mondesi has a ton of speed, but he doesn’t always use it to his advantage. He also tends to flail at pitches out of the strikezone. Maybe this is a result of the Royals being overly aggressive with pushing him to a new level every year, despite not succeeding at any level yet.
He has also dealt with some health issues over the last two seasons. Many just shake it off, but he dealt with back issues the last two seasons that cost him about a month each time. Mondesi, at just 20, is really too young to be dealing with back tightness and back issues tend to linger. Then a groin injury shortened his time in winter ball with Licey in the Dominican Republic (he only played about three weeks).
Mondesi surprisingly made his big league debut during this past World Series and could reach the big leagues as a second baseman, before switching back to shortstop when Alcides Escobar becomes a free agent in two years. However, Mondesi strictly played shortstop in winter ball.
The next three in BA’s list are not surprising: right-hander Kyle Zimmer, outfielder Bubba Starling, and right-hander Miguel Almonte, as these three were considered “untouchable” in trade talks.
Zimmer has long been considered to have the best stuff in the Royals system, but he has yet to pitch a full season healthy. He was held back to start the 2015 season and then only pitched in relief to keep him healthy and watch his innings.
He has yet to throw 130 innings in a season and Zimmer will need to get there in 2016 if he is to be considered a viable option in the Royals rotation.
Starling may be a bit high after his 2015 season, especially after ranking just 18th heading into the 2015 season. He returned to Wilmington and made the right adjustments (and hit well) and earned a promotion to Double-A at the end of April.
He hit in May and July with the Naturals, but struggled in June and then the final two months of the season. The Royals sent Starling to the Arizona Fall League for the second straight season and he hit right out of the gate, but then cooled off.
Starling has always played a great centerfield and his arm is strong and accurate, ie he could play in the big leagues RIGHT now on defense. He also has plenty of speed, though he hasn’t shown much of it in terms of stealing bases. He sure is great running first to third though.
Whether or not he can put the offense completely together will determine if he is a big league starter or a fourth outfielder (or defensive replacement).
Almonte throws hard, has a great changeup, and an improving curveball. However, his command has never been great. That is the one glaring problem that has held him back and makes people consider him a big league reliever.
The rest of the Royals top ten is a little surprising.
Coming in at 5 and 6 are the first two picks for the Royals in the 2015 draft, though flipped in the prospect rankings.
Nolan Watson was considered the more polished of the two Indiana right-handers, though he struggled a bit in rookie ball, as he walked 11 and allowed a .320 batting average in 29.1 innings.
Ashe Russell was the higher ceiling, harder thrower of the two. He walked 13 in 36.1 innings and allowed eight home runs, but opponents only hit .235 against him at rookie level Burlington.
Next up is shortstop Marten Gasparini, a kid many have been waiting for since the Royals signed him for $1.3 million in the summer of 2013 out of Italy. However, he has yet to turn 19.
Gasparini has yet to play above rookie ball in two years, but showed off his speed with Idaho Falls in 2015 (ten triples and 26 stolen bases, compared to just nine caught stealings). However, he struck out 80 times in 197 at-bats.
Also, his defense has left a lot to be desired. He committed 35 errors in 52 games in 2015 at shortstop, making some wonder if the Royals will move him to another position (ie centerfield to utilize his speed).
Lefty Matt Strahm ranks eighth. I like Strahm, I really do and was glad to see the Royals add him to the 40-man roster. But I do think this is a little high.
Strahm just returned from Tommy John surgery, as 2015 was his first full season back. I really liked his stuff, as his delivery was a little deceptive, leading to the high strikeout totals (83 in 68 innings with the Blue Rocks).
I think the key is what the Royals are going to do with him. They don’t really have a lights out lefty in the bullpen either in the Majors or ahead of him in the minors. He could move VERY quickly if they use him in that role. Strahm had never relieved before being drafted by the Royals and was beginning to settle into the role when the Royals shifted him back to the rotation.
While I think BA ranked Strahm a little high, I think he is the one to keep an eye on. Reaching the big leagues in 2016 would not shock me at all.
Right-hander Scott Blewett stayed about the same in the BA rankings from a year ago (he was ranked eighth in 2015). The second round pick in 2014 was aggressively pushed to Low-A Lexington after staying in extended spring training (his first start with the Legends was on May 28th) and it showed.
After a respectable 3.47 ERA in five June starts, Blewett’s ERA ballooned to 6.00 in the second half. BA pointed out that he wore down, so better conditioning is in order. That may decide whether he starts the 2016 season back in Lexington or with a promotion to Wilmington.
Rounding out the top ten is Cheslor Cuthbert, who made his big league debut on July 7th. Though it feels like he has been around forever, he is just 23 years old.
Cuthbert hit a very respectable .277 with Triple-A Omaha in 2015 with 55 runs scored and 51 RBIs. He hit 22 doubles and 11 home runs. He cut down on his strikeouts yet again (down to 60 compared to 79 in 2014).
Supposedly, the Royals are thinking of Cuthbert as a utility player now, as he has worked out at second base (though not well) and they even talked about him playing some outfield (though he has not done that yet). He has worked on his defense, cutting his errors down to seven at third base in 2015 (compared to 21 in 2014) and just one error in the big leagues at third base.
Cuthbert played exclusively first base in winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
I will be interested to see what the rest of the top 30 looks like when I receive my BA Prospect Handbook in the mail.
Is there anyone you thought should be in the top ten that isn’t?