RC Prospect Report: Beyond the Top 50

To kick off the new year, RC is back with a look at some of the players who fell just short of inclusion on our Top 50 prospect list. It's a diverse group of players, each of whom has a shot at next year's list if he progresses this season.

The players below are listed in alphabetical order

Juan Abreu, RHP
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  HT: 6-0  WT: 170

An unknown to most Royals fans and baseball publications, Abreu arguably has the best arm in the entire Royals organization. The 6'-0" righty pitched in 20 games, all in relief, for the Idaho Falls Chukars in 2006, going 4-2 with a 5.76 ERA. In 50.0 innings pitched, Abreu struck out 57 batters while walking 35 and allowing 39 hits. He held Pioneer League opponents to a .223 batting average.

Why he's a prospect: Abreu's stuff is absolutely electric. His fastball regularly clocks at 98 MPH, and his curveball drops off the table. In fact, some scouts believe his raw stuff is the best in the organization.

Why he missed the Top 50: Control. Abreu hasn't yet harnessed it, and some wonder if he has the work ethic to cash in on his God-given talent. When he's on, he can be unhittable, but thus far his professional numbers have been disappointing.

Matt Campbell, LHP
Age: 24  B-T: L-L  HT: 6-2   WT: 170

After an outstanding amateur career at the University of South Carolina, Campbell was selected by the Royals in the first round of the 2004 draft with the 29th overall pick. Unfortunately, his professional career hasn't gone quite as planned. After a lackluster stint with Burlington in 2005, Campbell was shut down with a torn labrum, and he missed the entire 2006 season.

Why he's a prospect: When healthy, Campbell shows the stuff that made him an All-American-caliber pitcher with the Gamecocks, including a plus curveball. As a former first round pick, the Royals clearly thought a lot about Campbell 's upside, and his prognosis for a full recovery from shoulder surgery is good. He should be ready to go in spring training.

Why he missed the Top 50: Campbell just turned 24, and he's yet to put in a full season in the minor leagues. He relied heavily on his curveball in college, and the Royals want him to work more off of his fastball, which tops out in the high-80's.

Gilbert de la Vara, LHP
Age: 22  B-T: L-L  HT: 5-11  WT: 160

De la Vara was selected by the Royals in the 15th round of the 2004 draft out of Pima Community College (AZ). He burst onto the map in 2005, when he went 4-1 with a 2.33 ERA for the Arizona Royals. After a 2006 season with mixed results, De la Vara sports a career ERA of 3.66, and he's struck out 143 batters in 123.0 IP.

Why he's a prospect: De la vara followed up his outstanding 2005 debut with the Arizona Royals with an equally impressive performance in Burlington in 2006. In 50.2 IP with the Bees, De la Vara struck out 64 batters while walking just 12. Along with his assortment of breaking balls, he throws a heavy, moving fastball.

Why he missed the Top 50: De la Vara narrowly missed the Top 50, and one could make a solid case that he belongs. We were held back by his disappointing second half performance in High Desert , where he registered a 5.61 ERA while allowing opponents to hit .316. Furthermore, his size doesn't figure to offer much projectability, and De la Vara has gotten by thus far in his career by throwing a lot of junk.

Brady Everett, C/1B/DH
Age: 23  B-T: R-R  HT: 6-0  WT: 205

Everett turned down the Royals in favor of college when the club drafted him in the 44th round of the 2001 draft, but the Royals selected him again in 2005, this time in the 15th round. He played the entire season in Burlington after joining the club in late May out of extended spring training.

Why he's a prospect: Everett 's professional career got off to an excellent start in 2005, as he hit .361/.457/.593 in 108 at bats with Idaho Falls . He was very solid for Washington State during his final year in college, and his offensive numbers in Burlington last season were respectable, even though a little streaky.

Why he missed the Top 50: As a catcher, Everett 's offense could project to be adequate at higher levels. However, he's not a great receiver, and he caught only 13 percent of attempted basestealers in 2006. The Royals actually began playing Everett at first base in 2005 to get him into the lineup more often, and that continued last season, when he played most of his games at DH and first base. Although he's athletic enough to handle first base defensively, he doesn't figure to hit enough to stay at the position as he moves forward.

Irving Falu, SS
Age: 23  B-T: S-R  HT: 6-0  WT: 173

The Royals selected Falu in the 21st round of the 2003 draft out of Indian Hills Community College (IA). The 23-year old shortstop spent two seasons with the Arizona Royals before moving to Burlington in 2005, where he hit .254 while stealing 34 bases.

Why he's a prospect: Falu is a defensive wizard, and he just might be the best defensive shortstop in the system – one observer called him "Angel Sanchez and then some." At the plate, Falu put up very respectable numbers for High Desert in 2006, hitting .299/.351/.386 in 531 at bats, easily his best offensive season yet. He has also stolen 30 or more bases in each of the last two seasons.

Why he missed the Top 50: Like De la Vara, Falu narrowly missed our Top 50 list, and he could easily be interchanged with any of the prospects at the bottom or our list. However, his swing still has some major holes, and his size (generously listed at 6'-0", 173 lbs.) raises doubts about his upside. Additionally, Falu's road splits -- .256/.318/.320 – suggests he may have been a beneficiary of High Desert 's altitude.

O.D. (Oscar) Gonzalez, OF
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  HT: 6-0  WT: 185

Gonzalez was drafted by the Royals in the 23rd round of the 2004 draft out of Broward Community College (FL). The 22-year old outfielder has been the model of consistency thus far in his two-year professional career, following up a .284/.364/.421 campaign in his debut in Arizona with a solid .282/.381/.403 line last season in Idaho Falls .

Why he's a prospect: Gonzalez hits the ball harder than several of his Idaho Falls teammates who found their way onto the Top 50 list, and he's put up solid numbers in his first two seasons in rookie ball. He has an intriguing combination of power, speed, and plate discipline, and he's young enough that he could develop into an interesting player in the next couple of seasons.

Why he missed the Top 50: It's tough for a 23rd round pick to distinguish himself, and thus far, Gonzalez has put up only slightly above average numbers in his professional career. At this point, we couldn't justify placing him on our Top 50 list, but he's someone who we will watch carefully next season. Don't be surprised if he's one of the best hitters in Burlington in 2007.

Rowdy Hardy, LHP
Age: 24  B-T: L-L  HT: 6-4  WT: 170

Despite spending his freshman season at a community college, Hardy set the Ohio Valley Conference record for career victories, winning 32 games for Austin Peay. The tall lefty signed a pre-draft deal with the Royals as a fifth-year senior, and he proceeded to show the same outstanding control in his first professional season that he displayed in college.

Why he's a prospect: His numbers. Hardy won the Idaho Falls "Pitcher of the Year" award after going 5-3 with a 2.80 ERA in his professional debut, and he walked just five batters while striking out 52 in 80.1 innings pitched. Hardy was an excellent collegiate pitcher, and it's encouraging that he didn't seem to lose a step at all in the transition to the professional ranks.

Why he missed the Top 50: It's the same reason he went undrafted after winning the Ohio Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year award in 2005: he doesn't throw very hard. Hardy's fastball tops out in the low-80's, and there simply aren't many pitchers who have ever succeeded with such a limitation. Furthermore, his sidearm delivery and rail-thin frame don't offer much hope for an increase in velocity in the future, even if he fills out a little. Nevertheless, if he keeps throwing strikes and zeros, he could force the club to pay attention.

Jeff Howell, C
Age: 23  B-T: R-R  HT: 6-0  WT: 200

Howell was drafted by the Royals in the 10th round of the 2005 draft out of Florida Southern College, and he had an outstanding debut for the Chukars, hitting .346/.455/.449. He jumped to Burlington last season, where he handled the Bees' talented pitching staff as the club's primary catcher.

Why he's a prospect: Despite a rough season at the plate for Burlington in 2006, Howell has good raw power and plate discipline, and he made solid strides with his defense. In fact, Howell erased an impressive 38 percent of potential basestealers, and he was promoted to High Desert for the California League playoffs in September.

Why he missed the Top 50: He struggled at the plate in 2006, and he was a very streaky hitter. Howell hit his fifth home run of the year on July 6, and he didn't homer again for the rest of the season. He'll be 24-years old by opening day, which will be a little old for the Carolina League.

Alvi Morel, OF
Age: 22  B-T: L-L  HT: 5-11  WT: 160

Morel was signed by the Royals out of the Dominican Republic in 2002, and he made his debut in the States in 2005 with the Arizona Royals, where he hit an impressive .313/.385/.496. Morel moved on to Idaho Falls last season, where he did an excellent job as the Chukars' leadoff hitter, hitting .301/.371/.386 with 19 stolen bases.

Why he's a prospect: Through two seasons of rookie ball, Morel sports a solid career line of .306/.377/.433. Additionally, he has stolen 34 bases (including 19 last season in Idaho Falls ) while being caught just seven times. Morel has a small, wiry frame, but a smooth and balanced swing, and he seems to have good knowledge of the strike zone.

Why he missed the Top 50: Morel actually came close to making our list, but his limited upside kept him off – for now. He has a similar frame to Jose Duarte, but none of his tools grade quite as well, and we wonder if his skills will translate to success at higher levels. He should get a shot in Burlington 's outfield this season, and if he does well, it will be clear that he's a legitimate prospect.

Michael Penn, RHP
Age: 24  B-T: R-R  HT: 6-4  WT: 205

Penn was selected by the Royals in the 11th round of the 2005 draft after pitching for the Michigan Wolverines for four years. His senior season, Penn went 7-2 with a 2.79 ERA as a weekend starter. His 2005 debut season in Idaho Falls wasn't memorable, but Penn was considerably better last year, going 6-2 with a 2.62 ERA for the Burlington Bees.

Why he's a prospect: A combination of factors makes Penn an interesting player to watch. First, his numbers in Burlington last season were very good, and the Bees went 10-3 in his starts. Penn has a good pitcher's frame and is said to be a gutsy pitcher, and the Royals felt his experience pitching for a good team in a major conference justified taking a chance on the senior on the first day of the 2005 draft.

Why he missed the Top 50: Penn's stuff isn't that great, and he doesn't strike out many batters. At 24-years old, he was also old for the Midwest League, so it's difficult to get proper perspective on his numbers. Additionally, Penn experienced bouts with triceps tightness in 2006, which limited him to just nine appearances and 29 IP in the season's second half. Two separate MRI exams showed no damage, but it's a problem that will have to be monitored closely.

Everett Teaford, LHP
Age: 22  B-T: L-L  HT: 6-0  WT: 155

After going 19-7 during his final two seasons at Georgia Southern, Teaford was selected by the Royals with the club's 12th round pick in the 2006 draft. He debuted in Idaho Falls last summer, where he was one of the Chukars' most reliable starting pitchers.

Why he's a prospect: Teaford had an excellent career at Georgia Southern, where he was one of the Southern Conference's best pitchers in both his sophomore and junior seasons. Prior to the 2006 collegiate season, Teaford was selected by Southern Conference coaches as having both the best breaking ball and best control in the entire conference. The 22-year old southpaw also had a quality professional debut for the Chukars in 2006, where he went 5-1 with a 3.71 ERA.

Why he missed the Top 50: Projectability. At 6'-0", 155 lbs, Teaford was Idaho Falls ' smallest pitcher, and his size doesn't suggest a great deal of upside. Nevertheless, if he fills out a little and continues locating his pitches well, he can climb in our rankings with another solid season.

Kiel Thibault, C
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  HT: 6-0  WT: 200

Thibault, a 9th round pick, was the second of five catchers the Royals selected in rounds 8-19 of the 2005 draft. After a sensational debut in Idaho Falls, Thibault spent 2006 bouncing around the Royals' minor league system. He began the year in Burlington, but he was called up to Wichita as an emergency replacement for then-injured Damaso Espino. When Espino returned, Thibault moved to High Desert, where he finished the season and hit very well.

Why he's a prospect: There's a lot to like about Thibault, who has good natural strength and raw power. We haven't heard many reports on his defense, but he did erase nearly 38 percent of attempted basestealers while with the Bees. He has good offensive potential, and it would be nice to see what he can do in a full, healthy season with one club.

Why he missed the Top 50: After hitting nine home runs for the Chukars in 2005, Thibault's power numbers vanished last season, as he hit just one home run all year. His numbers in High Desert -- .340/.398/.485 – were very good, but he struggled mightily at the plate with Burlington . Thibault will be 23-years old by opening day, and he needs to show that his offensive reemergence in High Desert wasn't a high altitude-induced fluke.

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