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Kansas City Royals Top 20 PRE-SEASON 2015 prospects in review

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Paulo Orlando
Paulo Orlando
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Today we continue our summer reviews of the pre-season Top 20 Prospects lists with the Kansas City Royals.

THIS IS A REVIEW OF THE PRE-SEASON LIST.
IT IS NOT A NEW LIST.
THESE ARE PRE-SEASON GRADES.

This list was originally published November 18, 2014

1) Brandon Finnegan, LHP, Grade A-/B+: 2014 first-rounder out of TCU has split season starting and relieving in Double-A/Triple-A (combined 5.00 ERA, 32/19 K/BB in 27 innings) and relieving in the majors (2.96 ERA, 21/13 K/BB in 24 innings). Traded to Cincinnati in Johnny Cueto deal, I think he has the stuff to start but needs consistent innings to refine his command.

2) Sean Manaea, LHP, Grade B+: Big lefty with late start due to physical issues, has 3.69 ERA in 32 innings this year with 39/11 K/BB at three levels, though command has wobbled in first two Double-A outings (six walks in seven innings). Remains a high-ceiling arm with number two starter potential, health and command allowing.

3) Raul Mondesi, SS, Grade B: 20 year old continues to flash excellent tools and marginal skills, hitting .241/.274/.385 in Double-A. Fielding still ahead of hitting, has some pop but still held back by shaky, over-aggressive approach. Remains high risk, high reward type.

4) Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Grade B
: Pitching relief due to continued durability concerns and has performed well, 17/5 K/BB, 0.68 ERA in 13 innings in Double-A, nine hits, three saves. There’s no real question about his ability but although the Royals say he remains a starter long-term, relief may have to be his role given injury history. Bullpen ceiling could be along Wade Davis lines.

5) Miguel Almonte, RHP, Grade B/B-: Just promoted to Triple-A Omaha, solid year overall with combined 3.86 ERA, 65/29 K/BB in 77 innings between AA and AAA, 69 hits. Still looking like a number four starter and there’s nothing wrong with that.

6) Hunter Dozier, 3B, Grade B-/B:
2013 first-round pick continues to struggle in Double-A, hitting .214/.283/.351 with 105 strikeouts in 345 at-bats. Report indicate that his previously-solid swing has deteriorated resulting in serious contact problems. Defense has improved but he’s got to hit.

7) Foster Griffin, LHP, Grade B-:
2014 first-rounder having a terrible time in Low-A, 7.14 ERA in 58 innings, 44/24 K/BB but 75 hits allowed. He’s been healthy but flat-out ineffective. Still just 20.

8) Christian Colon, 2B, Grade C+:
Season split between Omaha (.280/.314/.329) and Kansas City (.244/.306/.295). Career big league line of .276/.331/.366 combined this year and last year is a fair representation of his ability.

9) Jorge Bonifacio, OF, Grade C+:
Hitting .237/.304/.443 with 15 homers, 32 walks, 97 strikeouts in 350 at-bats in Double-A. Tapping his power more often this year but batting average, OBP remain problematic. Age 22, stock stagnant.


10) Bubba Starling, OF, Grade C+:
Hitting .269/.335/.418 with five homers, 19 walks, 54 strikeouts in 208 at-bats in Double-A. Continues to impress with defense and raw fast-twitch athleticism, has made some progress with the bat but not enough to project him as a regular yet.

11) Scott Blewett, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 19, second round pick from 2014 with 4.33 ERA, 40/12 K/BB in 52 innings in Low-A. Holding his own, usually throws strikes, low-90s heater and a good curve, still working on change, mid-rotation potential.

12) Elier Hernandez, OF, Grade C+:
High upside tools player, hit well in Low-A (.290/.331/.421) but not so well after moving up to High-A (.191/.227/.250) but young for level at 20. As is common with these cases, has issues with plate discipline/pitch recognition. Star-caliber physical talent but not enough refinement yet.

13) Christian Binford, RHP, Grade C+:
Command expert scuffling in high minors,4.76 ERA with 56/16 K/BB in 76 innings, 96 hits between AA and AAA. Dominated A-ball levels but scouts worried his stuff would not hold up at higher levels. Still has a chance to adjust at age 22.

14) Orlando Calixte, INF, Grade C+:
Another tools guy with spotty results, hitting .225/.288/.353 for Omaha, 13 steals, six homers, 20 walks, 58 strikeouts in 249 at-bats. Athletic, can swipe a base, versatile glove, but only a career .241/.298/.369 hitter.

15) Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B, Grade C+:
Hitting .272/.335/.402 at Omaha, 6-for-18 so far in the majors with a double and triple. Approach looks good and has a pretty swing, production remains middling for context but has made some progress over the last two years.

16) Sam Selman, LHP, Grade C+
: 5.40 ERA with 51/32 K/BB in 38 innings in Double-A. High strikeout rate confirms quality stuff but command issues hold him back from a larger role.

17) Chase Vallot, C, Grade C/C+:
Hitting .205/.337/.374 with five homers, 29 walks, 70 strikeouts in 171 at-bats in Low-A. Drafted for his power in supplemental first round last year but contact issues are serious at this point, defense remains rough as well. Still just 18.

18) Glenn Sparkman, RHP, Grade C/C+
SLEEPER ALERT pick went on disabled list after four starts in Double-A (3.60 ERA, 21/9 K/BB in 20 innings). Status unclear at this point.

19) Ryan O’Hearn, 1B, Grade C:
Good start at Low-A (.277/.351/.494, 19 homers) but hasn’t hit much in first 10 games in High-A (.194/.310/.250). Need larger sample at the higher level of course, but he did hit for the expected power before his promotion.

20) Lane Adams, OF, Grade C:
Older prospect at age 25, hitting .264/.329/.417 with 11 homers, 19 steals between Double-A and Triple-A. Wants to be Paulo Orlando when he grows up.

The first place Kansas City Royals are in the news of course, leading the American League in victories and now making noise in the trade market, shipping three of their prospects off to Cincinnati for Johnny Cueto and now acquiring Ben Zobrist (though the prospect names in that trade haven’t been revealed yet as I write this).

Directly speaking the main rookie contributors this year have been reserve outfielder Paulo Orlando, a 29-year-old minor league vet who does a little of everything, plus the now-traded Brandon Finnegan. If there was any doubt that Dayton Moore's long-term "process" has now shifted from farm-building to win-nowing, the big trades should clear that up.

Key Points:

***John Lamb finally came back from three years of injury struggles to post a 2.67 ERA, 96/29 K/BB in 94 innings in Triple-A, reviving his stock with scouts and earning a shot with the Reds. Lamb with his stuff intact is a solid Grade B- prospect with a chance to be a number three starter if everything pans out.

***The third component of the Cueto trade, lefty Cody Reed, was terrible in 2014 but much more effective in 2015,posting a 2.53 ERA with an 84/26 K/BB in 96 innings between High-A and Double-A. He has two plus pitches in his fastball and slider and was destined to leap up this list if he’d stayed with Kansas City. All three lefties going to Cincinnati, Finnegan, Reed, and Lamb, could slot into the rotation.

***Keep an eye on Alfredo Escalera-Maldonado, 20 year old outfielder hitting .313/.356/.477 in Low-A. He slumped after moving up to High-A (.216/.289/.250) but there’s potential here.

***Hunter Dozier’s inability to adapt to Double-A is disturbing and Chase Vallot has been poor so far. In addition, the Royals system features several high-ceiling tools players with questionable bats and system depth on the hitting side looks down to me.

***In contrast, there remain several interesting pitching arms beyond the top names, including Eric Skoglund, Alec Mills, Jake Junis, and Luis Rico all having solid seasons in the admittedly pitching-friendly environment of High-A Wilmington.

***The 2015 draft class looks quite good on paper if you like pitching prospects, with the addition of prep right-handers Ashe Russell and Nolan Watson plus hard-throwing Josh Staumont.

***Overall, this system is trending downward in minor league depth thanks to trades and disappointments but the results of The Process are showing at the major league level and ultimately that's what matters.