Kansas City Royals Top 20 Prospects for 2014

Yordano Ventura - John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the condition of the Kansas City Royals farm system for 2014.

Kansas City Royals Top 20 Prospects for 2014

The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!

All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.

QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:

Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.

Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.

Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.

Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.

Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.

1) Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Grade A-: Borderline B+. Dominant when everything is working, although late-season shoulder problem is a bit worrisome. Some sources view him as a future ace, others as more of a workhorse type. He looks like a number two to me if his arm is OK.

2) Yordano Ventura, RHP, Grade B+: Borderline A-. In the end I may flip Zimmer and Ventura with both placement and grade. Ventura has a few remaining command issues I think but like Zimmer he has number two upside, and Ventura will be ready sooner.

3) Raul Mondesi, SS, Grade B+:
Borderline B. .261/.311/.361 line in Low-A wasn't great, but he was extremely young for the level at age 17 and observers praise his tools on both offense and defense. Glove ahead of bat at this point but could develop into a high batting average/moderate power guy, very valuable from shortstop. It will be interesting to see how quickly they push him.

4) Miguel Almonte, RHP, Grade B+: Borderline B: Impressive fastball/change-up combo and good command resulted in fine performance in Low-A, 3.10 ERA with a 132/36 K/BB. Needs to tighten breaking ball but have to like entire package. Future number three starter with the standard caveats about staying healthy.

5) Hunter Dozier, 3B, Grade B: Borderline B+: College guys should do well in the Pioneer League but he was certainly the class of the circuit with advanced plate discipline and at least moderate power potential. If Mike Moustakas doesn't get his bat going, Dozier should be a suitable replacement.

6) Jorge Bonifacio, OF, Grade B:
Hit combined .298/.372/.429 at three levels with a good finish in Double-A. Hasn't developed his power yet but hits for average, makes decent contact, has a good arm, and is just 20 years old. I think he's a year away.

7) Sean Manaea, LHP, Grade B-: Borderline B. Conservative grade until we see how he recovers from hip surgery and last spring's associated velocity decline. If healthy, has rotation anchor upside as three-pitch power lefty.

8) Bubba Starling, OF, Grade B-: Grade A tools, has made incremental skill improvements but still quite raw as a hitter. Defense and baserunning are already good and he'll take a walk, but strikeout rate is high and he did almost all of his damage in a friendly home park, .837 OPS at Lexington, .609 on the road. That's scary. High bust potential but physicality upside remains just as high.

9) Elier Hernandez, OF, Grade B-: Return engagement in Pioneer League resulted in .301/.350/.439 line at age 18. Another toolsy outfielder type to go with Bonifacio and Starling, and in the end he may be better than either of them. At least three years away though.

10) Sam Selman, LHP, Grade B-:
3.38 ERA with 128/85 K/BB in 126 innings in High-A. Absolutely has to get the walks down at higher levels but excels at keeping the ball in the park with sinker and slider. Needs a third pitch to thrive as a starter and better command to avoid turning into Chris Dwyer.

11) Jason Adam, RHP, Grade B-:
Borderline C+. Easy to diss with 5.19 ERA in Double-A and doesn't have the stuff of Ventura or Zimmer, but he eats innings and his FIP was considerably lower at 3.97. Not an ace but still has a shot to be a fourth starter.

12) Orlando Calixte, SS, Grade C+:
Good gloveman at shortstop and will show some pop at times, but substandard plate discipline holds him back, resulting in .250/.312/368 line in Double-A. Young enough to improve considerably at age 21 and scouts still like his tools.

13) Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B, Grade C+:
Enigma from Nicaragua was decent in High-A (.280/.354/.418) but slumped after being promoted to Double-A (.215/.279/.359). Still young at age 21, but defense has deteriorated and age-relative-to-league only goes so far.

14) Brett Eibner, OF, Grade C+:
Borderline C. I still respect his tools enough to give him a "+" but it is a close call. Fine athlete, good defender, strong arm, has power, made progress in the second half in Double-A (.262/.353/.498), hit .341/.442/.635 against lefties. But strikeout rate remains very high and he'll fight the Mendoza Line against advanced pitching without further adjustment.

15) Christian Binford, RHP, Grade C+
:Excellent fastball command resulted in 2.67 ERA and 130/25 K/BB in 135 innings at age 20 in Low-A, which is very good. Doesn't burn radar and secondary pitches are inconsistent, but he's dominated the low levels well enough to get on the map.

16) Zane Evans, C, Grade C+:
Fourth round pick from Georgia Tech hit .354 in the Pioneer League and has a strong throwing arm, although defense needs more polish after being a two-way player in college. Has the tools to make it though.

The slots after this are interchangeable with most players in the "others" section.

17) Alexis Rivera, OF, Grade C:
I thought he was a huge sleeper entering '13 but he hit just .269/.349/.363 in Pioneer League. Still young at 19, still controls strike zone well, still mentioned as a sleeper by those who know the organization well. Too soon to give up.

18) Samir Duenez, 1B, Grade C:
Age 17, from Venezuela, hit .294/.337/.380 in Arizona Rookie Ball but with positive scouting reports about power potential and overall approach. Long-term project but interesting, high ceiling offensive player.

19) Bryan Brickhouse, RHP, Grade C:
Had Tommy John in June so don't expect him to do much before the second half. Features nasty power sinker resulting in 2.32 GO/AO and a 2.25 ERA in 60 Low-A innings before getting hurt. Age 21, could be ground ball-oriented workhorse or perhaps dominate out of bullpen, health and command allowing.

20) Christian Colon, 2B, Grade C:
I am going to post the full 2014 Baseball Prospect Book comment for him later today.

OTHERS OF NOTE: Lane Adams, OF; Humberto Arteaga, SS: Angel Baez, RHP; Chris Dwyer, LHP; Brian Fletcher, OF; Cameron Gallagher, C; Marten Gasparini, SS; John Lamb, LHP; Michael Mariot, RHP; Justin Marks, LHP; Spencer Patton, RHP; Cody Reed, LHP; Daniel Rockett, OF; Crawford Simmons, LHP; Daniel Stumpf, LHP; Dominique Taylor, OF; Andrew Triggs, RHP; Robinson Yambati, RHP.

COMMENTARY: With their winter free agent signings, the Royals are making a big push to win in 2014. I don't think this is a bad plan as long as the front office has the requisite financial flexibility from the Glass Family to avoid gutting the payroll in 2016-2017 and tearing down what has been built.

Although I think the farm system is in decent shape overall, to win in '14 the veteran investments seem necessary. There is talent here, but aside from Ventura and (maybe) Zimmer in the second half, nobody seems likely to make an impact in '14. There's a lot of potential middle relief fodder and some young arms of promise for the future rotation with Almonte and Manaea standing out in particular.

Hitting seems thinner. There are a lot of tools here, many of them products of the Latin American scouting operation, but refinement of those tools is necessary. Guys like Mondesi, Starling, Hernandez and Bonifacio could all develop into impact players, perhaps stars, but all have some serious questions to answer and considerable failure risk. Mondesi looks like the best of the group but he's also the youngest and will need time to iron his game out.

I like Dozier a lot and the Royals deserve kudos for managing the 2013 draft bonus situation quite well, getting the advanced bat they wanted along with an arm like Manaea, who was seen as a possible Number One overall pick until his hip issues.

Overall this seems currently like a middle rank system, although I have an exact placement until I write the other teams up and take a broader view.

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