2011 Kane County Cougars preview

The Kane County Cougars on Monday released their 2011 opening day roster. This is the first season the club has been affiliated with the Royals, and several top prospects should make their way through Kane County this season. Inside, Royals Corner breaks down the roster and takes an in-depth look at the strengths and weaknesses of the team.

Kane County Cougars

Catchers
Ryan Jenkins
Travis Jones

Comment: Jones flashed good raw power as an amateur, prompting the Royals to lure the 2008 50th round selection away from a commitment to Arizona with a $100,000 signing bonus. Jones struggled mightily during his first two seasons in rookie ball, but the 21-year-old backstop had a bit of an offensive breakout at Idaho Falls last year, hitting .284/.340/.397 with three home runs in 141 at bats. Jenkins was the Royals' 17th round selection in last year's draft after playing collegiately at Auburn. The 24-year-old debuted with the Burlington Royals in 2010, where he hit .273/.333/.412 with three home runs and 14 doubles in 165 at bats.

Infielders
Fernando Cruz
Yowill Espinal
Angel Franco
Gerard Hall
Ryan Stovall
Murray Watts

Comment: The infield is highlighted by Murray Watts, who hit .279/.389/.506 with a club-best 14 home runs in 251 at bats for Idaho Falls last season. The 23-year-old slugger was the Royals' 28th round selection in the 2010 draft, and he should see time at both 1B and DH this season. Stovall batted just .179 in 17 Midwest League games last season, but the 2009 19th rounder hit .303/.359/.456 in 241 at bats for the Burlington Royals. Espinal is arguably the best infield prospect on the club. The young second baseman received a six-figure bonus as an undrafted free agent in 2007, and he just turned 20-years old a few days ago. Espinal spent the 2010 season in Idaho Falls, where he hit .252/.339/.312 in 218 at bats. Hall and Cruz are both repeating the level, coming off disappointing 2010 campaigns for the Burlington Bees.

Outfielders
Geulin Beltre
Brett Eibner
Brian Fletcher
Alex Llanos

Comment: Eibner, the club's top prospect, was the Royals' second round selection in the 2010 draft, and he signed for a $1.25 million bonus at the signing deadline. He should man center field for the Cougars and hit in the middle of the order. Fletcher, last year's 18th rounder, hit 49 home runs during his career at Auburn, tied with Frank Thomas for the third-most career round-trippers in school history. The 22-year-old outfielder played in four games for the Burlington Royals last season and hit two home runs in just 16 at bats. Llanos will make his full season debut after three seasons in rookie ball. The 20-year-old speedster was the Royals' 6th round selection in the 2008 draft, and he hit .259/.208/.362 with 17 stolen bases in 25 attempts last season for the Burlington Royals.

Pitchers
Greg Billo
Chase Boruff
Chas Byrne
Keaton Hayenga
Mitch Hodge
Jonathon Keck
Sugar Ray Marimon
Matt Mitchell
Dusty Odenbach
Leondy Perez
Leonel Santiago
Crawford Simmons
Nick Wooley

Comment: It will be interesting to see how the starting rotation shakes out. The Royals typically like to piggyback starting pitchers at the Low-A level, so the rotation will include more than five pitchers, and possibly as many as seven or eight. Indeed, nine pitchers on this year's roster – Billo, Hayenga, Marimon, Mitchell, Odenbach, Perez, Santiago, Simmons, and Wooley – all spent much of 2010 in a starting role. Simmons is the highest-ranking prospect on the staff. The 19-year-old southpaw was 6-2 with a 2.77 ERA last season for the Burlington Royals. Hayenga will look to rebound from a dreadful 2010 campaign with the Burlington Bees, in which he finished 3-12 with a 6.13 ERA. Santiago is coming off an excellent season in the Appalachian League, where he was 6-3 with a 2.78 ERA for the B-Royals. Mitchell and Billo are both crafty right-handers who often succeed despite possessing underwhelming stuff. Byrne (0.80 ERA, 38 K in 33.2 IP) and Boruff (1.80 ERA, 11 K in 10.0 IP) both put up excellent numbers out of the bullpen in rookie ball last season.

Final Analysis
At the very least, the 2011 Kane County Cougars should be better than the 2010 Burlington Bees, which was perhaps the worst Royals minor league club in recent memory. Watts, Eibner, and Fletcher will hit for some power in the middle of the order, while Llanos, Espinal, and Hall will provide the speed. Third base prospect Chelsor Cuthbert could join the club when the weather warms up, teaming up with Eibner to give the Cougars a pair of top-shelf offensive prospects. Defensively, the outfield should cover a lot of ground between Eibner and Llanos, and the infield is loaded with excellent athletes. If Hayenga rebounds this season, he'll join Santiago and Simmons as an intriguing trio of arms in the Kane Country rotation, which could be further bolstered if highly-regarded prospect Jason Adam joins the staff later this season. Also keep an eye out for Yordano Ventura and Robinson Yambati, two young Dominican pitchers who dominated the Arizona League last summer. Either one -- or both -- could feasibly join the Cougars at some point this summer.


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