I received my Baseball America prospect handbook in the mail the other day and like many people who expressed excitement over social media, it is a little like Christmas morning.
I like to look through the book to see where players I have seen over the last year or so rank among their respective organizations. I of course start by heading right to the KC Royals portion of the book.
In their magazine and online, BA released their top ten prospect lists for each team. Let’s recap the Royals top ten, followed by 11-30:
- Raul Mondesi, ss
- Kyle Zimmer, rhp
- Bubba Starling, of
- Miguel Almonte, rhp
- Nolan Watson, rhp
- Ashe Russell, rhp
- Marten Gasparini, ss
- Matt Strahm, lhp
- Scott Blewett, rhp
- Cheslor Cuthbert, 3b/1b
- Jorge Bonifacio, of
- Alec Mills, rhp
- Foster Griffin, lhp
- Ryan O’Hearn, 1b
- Jose Staumont, rhp
- Chase Vallot, c
- Brett Eibner, of
- Pedro Fernandez, rhp
- Gerson Garabito, rhp
- Ramon Torres, utility
- Amalani Fukofuka
- Cam Gallagher, c
- Brian Flynn, lhp
- Jose Martinez, of
- Alfredo Escalera, of
- Elier Hernandez, of
- Ricky Aracena, ss
- Seuly Matias, of
- Jeison Guzman, ss
- Hunter Dozier, 3b
- Yunior Marte, rhp
Here is what the top ten (and the rest) looked like in 2015:
- Brandon Finnegan, lhp (traded to Cincinnati for Johnny Cueto)
- Sean Manaea, lhp (traded to Oakland for Ben Zobrist)
- Christian Colon, utility (graduated to the Majors)
- Orlando Calixte, utility
- Eric Skoglund, lhp
- Lane Adams, of (DFA)
- Christian Binford, rhp
- Glenn Sparkman, rhp
- Nik Stephenson, rhp
- Brandon Downes, of
- Wander Franco, 3b
- Francisco Pena, c (traded to Baltimore)
- Paulo Orlando, of (graduated to Majors)
- Jandal Gustave, rhp (Rule 5 pick sent back to Houston)
I won’t delve into the top ten differences and this year’s group, mainly because I’ve already written about them. I will however delve into 11-30.
While many of the other publications are still high on Jorge Bonifacio, BA dropped him to 11th (though they only ranked him 9th in 2015). Bonifacio has struggled in two full seasons with Double-A NW Arkansas, though he did hit 17 home runs in 2015. BA expects the Royals to push him to Triple-A Omaha this season and he will start the season at just 22 years old.
Right-hander Alec Mills jumps into the top prospects list after showing no ill effects from Tommy John surgery he had in 2013. He was an All-Star with High-A Wilmington in 2015, but did miss a month with a finger issue and has started wearing glasses to pitch. BA projects the control specialist (just 14 walks compared to 111 strikeouts in 113 innings in 2015) to be “a fast-moving back-of-the-rotation starter” who could reach the big leagues by the end of this season as an emergency starter. Not bad for a former walk on at Tennessee-Martin and a 22nd round pick in 2012.
Left-hander Foster Griffin dropped out of the top ten to 13th in 2016. He was terrible until August with Low-A Lexington, when he improved his curveball. BA states that “Griffin’s success is based more on angle and location than plus stuff”.
First baseman Ryan O’Hearn made a big jump to 14th after his 2015 season (ranked 25th in 2015). He led the South Atlantic League in home runs with 19 with Lexington, despite a promotion to Wilmington in the middle of July. The former singles hitter in college now needs his hit tool to catch up with his power (he only hit .236 with 54 strikeouts in 46 games with the Blue Rocks).
2015 second round pick Josh Staumont easily tops 100 mph with his fastball, but unfortunately (much like former Royals prospect Mike MacDougal) he has no idea where the ball is going. He walked about a batter an inning after signing (32 walks compared to 58 strikeouts in 40 professional innings) and missed his spots by about a foot at times. BA stated that the only thing keeping Staumont from a quick move to KC is consistency.
Catcher Chase Vallot comes in at number 16, but BA is worried: “His body is already large for a catcher (5’11, 221). He’s struggled to hit for average and has plenty of work to do as a receiver because he struggles to catch the ball cleanly.” However, he has SO much power (13 home runs in 80 games with Lexington in 2015), though he has struggled with fastballs. Unfortunately, he has yet to hit his weight in two minor league seasons (.215 and .219). Age is definitely on his side, as he is still just 19 years old.
Outfielder Brett Eibner was one of the last cuts last spring and jumps into the top prospects list at number 17, but never was called up. He stayed fairly healthy and had his best season as a pro: .303 average with 23 doubles, 19 home runs, and 81 RBIs. He’s always been a plus defender with a plus arm at all three outfield positions (I envision him in right with Starling in center sometime soon at Kauffman Stadium to continue the stellar defense tradition).
Right-hander Pedro Fernandez stayed about the same in the prospect list from last year (up to 18 from 19). It was a tale of two cities with him, as he pitched very well with Lexington (6-2 with a 3.12 ERA in 18 games, 13 starts) and was terrible in Wilmington (0-8 with a 8.82 ERA in seven starts). The one thing that bothered me about BA’s blurb on Fernandez was that they never mentioned his time in Wilmington, only that he’s ready for that level in 2016 (he sure did not prove that last year).
Fellow right-hander Gerson Garabito comes in at number 19 and I will be honest, I know NOTHING about him. He also does not show up on any other prospect lists that I have looked at. The Dominican was signed in 2012, but spent two seasons in the Dominican Summer League and last season in the AZL (so he has not gotten out of rookie ball). In 2015, he walked 19 compared to 42 strikeouts in 57 innings. BA thinks Garabito has a chance at a spot in Lexington because of his ability to throw strikes. They also believe he has the stuff to be a future number 4 starter (and even more if he picks up a few mph on his fastball).
Utility man Ramon Torres jumped into the prospect list at number 20 and was added to the Royals 40 man roster this winter. He is a natural shortstop, but has spent a lot of time at second and third base due to playing with Mondesi. The switch-hitter puts the ball in play and has a knack for coming up with the big hit late in games. BA thinks that Mondesi will be headed to Omaha, so they believe Torres will return to NWA to play shortstop every day.
Outfielder Amalani Fukofuka has jumped into many prospect lists after his 2015 season and BA ranks him at number 21. In his third season of rookie ball, Fukofuka put it all together, hitting .339 with Idaho Falls. He has added strength, which has resulted in doubles power right now (18 in 280 at-bats).
Catcher Cam Gallagher jumped up to number 22 after only coming in at 28 in 2015. The move also comes with another subpar season in Wilmington, where his defense also suffered (though he is still REALLY good at pitch framing). He puts the ball in play and hits it hard, but because of his lack of speed, he usually hits into a double plays. According to BA, the Royals would like Gallagher to “get more aggressive on taking a bigger swing to drive the ball when the situation warrants”. BA believes the Royals will move Gallagher up to Double-A to get away from Wilmington’s pitcher’s park (even though Arvest Park was rated the top pitcher’s park in the Texas League).
Lefty Brian Flynn came to the Royals last offseason in a trade with Miami (for Aaron Crowe) and was one of the final cuts in spring training. Then he lasted just 2/3 of an inning with Omaha and fell victim to a torn oblique that cost him the entire season. Flynn has an average sinker and above-average changeup, which makes him equally effective against right-handed and left-handed hitters.
Outfielder Jose Martinez came to the Royals as a free agent last offseason and had one of the best seasons in the minors (yet did not receive a big league callup). He hit a record .384 to win the Pacific Coast League batting title and continued that into the winter ball season, winning the Caribbean Series MVP. He was added to the Royals 40-man roster this offseason.
Fellow outfielder Alfredo Escalera comes in at number 25. He returned to Lexington in 2015 after struggling as a Legend in 2014. He hit .313 with 13 doubles and eight home runs in 61 games. However, a promotion to Wilmington proved to be too much (.209 with 60 strikeouts in 56 games). According to BA, he “seemed to forget what he learned, aggressively swinging and hoping he ran into a fastball.” He was once a plus runner, but has slowed down to average speed. “His lower half is getting thicker which is a concern as he’s a fringy defender in center right now who needs to have better reads and routes.” I saw this first hand, as he was not impressive on defense with the Blue Rocks.
Number 26 continues the trend of outfielders, as Elier Hernandez dropped to this spot from 22 last year. He showed improvement with a return to Lexington (much like Escalera), as he hit .290 with 19 doubles in 74 games. However, like Escalera, he was too aggressive after his promotion to Wilmington (just .232 in 50 games with 47 strikeouts). When he is too aggressive, his swing is all arms.
The next three on BA’s list were not on other publications’ lists and are three guys I know NOTHING about.
Shortstop Ricky Aracena comes in at number 27, as he signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2014. He spent last season in the AZL. At just 5’8, he models his game after former Royal Rafael Furcal and according to BA, has a strong arm and good range. In 26 games (he had a groin injury), Aracena hit .294.
Outfielder Seulys Matias comes in at number 28. The Dominican just signed and did not play last season. The Royals signed him for $2.25 million because he has bat speed, power potential, a plus arm, and could stick in center field. He missed instructional league with a broken hamate bone, but should start his professional career in the DSL. BA talks about his youth, but lists his birth year as 1988 (I’m assuming it’s supposed to be 1998).
Shortstop Jeison Guzman also just signed out of the Dominican Republic and did not play in 2015. He signed for $1.5 million for his athleticism and baseball skills. BA believes he will stick at shortstop. The switch-hitter’s left handed swing is ahead of the right.
While many other publications still were fairly high on third baseman Hunter Dozier, those at BA are not. He comes in at number 30. It has been a struggle for Dozier since starting his career on fire, the year he signed and then when his first professional season started in 2014 with Wilmington. Then he completely changed his approach and swing to become a home run hitter and nothing has worked out.
The BA blurb on Dozier wasn’t good, not only complaining about his swing and approach at the plate, but about his declining defense at third base, saying “He has become more mechanical with his hands. His arm has average strength but below-average accuracy.” It went on to say that he has “taken two steps back in the past year and a half.”
Maybe a big league spring training invite will help Dozier. It definitely helped Starling last season.
Now to those prospects who dropped off the list…
The middle of the pack dropped out from a year ago. It started with Orlando Calixte at number 13. Despite an All-Star first half in Wilmington, lefty Eric Skoglund was ranked 14th but dropped out of this year’s list. Skoglund went on the DL in the first week of July, was only supposed to maybe miss two weeks, and never returned. Outfielder Lane Adams obviously dropped out, since he was designated for assignment to make room for the re-signing of Alex Gordon. Adams was claimed by the NY Yankees, only to be designated again on February 1st.
Right-hander Christian Binford seemed to be on the fast track to the big leagues following his 2014 season and he added velocity to his fastball heading into 2015. However, Binford was terrible to start the season in Triple-A and never recovered back with NW Arkansas. It was like the control specialist had no idea how to pitch with a fastball in the 90s. He then got hurt in August and never returned. Fellow right-hander Glenn Sparkman was the surprise of the 2014 season, only to succumb to Tommy John surgery after just four starts in the 2015 season with NWA (though I believe he did not have surgery until July).
Further down on the list, right-hander Nik Stephenson dropped out (he was ranked 23rd). With Lexington in 2015, he was 4-9 with a 5.73 ERA in 29 games (ten starts). Opponents hit .272 against him, he walked 51, and only struck out 61 in 103.2 innings. He pitched decent in the first half as a starter, but moved to the bullpen in July and had an ERA well over eight and walked more than he struck out.
Outfielder Brandon Downes (previously 24th) dropped out. The 2014 seventh round draft pick hit .251 with Lexington with 29 doubles, three triples, and 14 home runs in 391 at-bats. He also stole 19 bases (compared to seven caught stealings). He did strike out 115 times. He has shown great defense. Downes was then promoted to Wilmington for the postseason.
Third baseman Wander Franco dropped out after being ranked 26th last season. He hit a solid .268 with 30 doubles, ten home runs, 62 runs scored, and 74 RBIs in Lexington.
The other three that dropped out from last year’s ranking were catcher Francisco Pena (who was traded to Baltimore this offseason), outfielder Paulo Orlando (who graduated to the Majors), and reliever Jandal Gustave (who was a Rule 5 pick last year and was sent back to Houston at the end of spring training).
What do you think of Baseball America’s rankings? Many feel this is the thinnest the Royals farm system has been in awhile, due to last July’s trades and some of the so-called prospects not living up to the hype.