RC Mailbag: Royals minicamp

RC returns to answer readers' questions regarding the winter camp presently underway in Arizona. In addition, we take a look at how the Royals' minor league system ranks against the other Major League teams, and we ponder who might take over at second base once Mark Grudzielanek moves on.

Any news from Arizona? I heard there's a minicamp going on right now. – George, Lenexa, KS

There's not a whole lot of news to report, but approximately 25 players are currently participating in a month-long mini-camp at the Surprise facility. The original number we heard was 18 players invited, but several more have since arrived. The players are divided into small groups and rotate between stretching, weightlifting, conditioning, and on-field baseball activities, including side sessions for the pitchers and batting practice for the hitters.

It's an opportunity for players to get a jump on the season, and it's encouraging to see such a strong group participating this offseason. Alex Gordon is there, as are Chris Lubanski and Mitch Maier. Billy Butler is set to arrive any day, and Danny Christensen will also be there soon. We also hear that some of the younger guys, such as Chris McConnell, are in attendance.

Where does the Royals' minor league system rank among all ML teams? – Stanley, Kansas City, MO

It depends upon what criteria you are basing your rank. For instance, if the key factor is high-impact talent, the Royals rank very well. Indeed, it would difficult to find a system with a better top three prospects than the Royals, who boast Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Luke Hochevar at the top of their system. All three players have legitimate shots at becoming stars in the Majors, and that's something that has been missing from the Royals' system for a long time.

If the key factor is depth, however, the Royals move toward the middle of the pack. We still think the Royals' overall system is comfortably in the top half of teams, and maybe even in the top 10, but the talent level falls off a bit past the top 20 prospects or so. The top 10, however, is very strong, and it's easy to see that the Royals have made a lot of progress with their farm system over the last couple of seasons.

Do you think there is a second baseman from within the organization who will be ready when Grudz leaves? – Gary84, from the Message Board

As you know, Mark Grudzielanek signed a one-year contract extension with a player option for 2008 in August. Barring an incredible performance by Grudzielanek this season that drives up his value, he figures to be likely to return in 2008, since it's hard to envision him walking away from a guaranteed $4 million as a 38-year-old second baseman. Therefore, that likely gives the Royals two years to develop a second baseman to take his place.

The most obvious candidate right now is Esteban German, whose best position seems to be second base. The Royals will still control his rights after the 2008 season, and even though we're not sure how much faith the Royals have in his defense, he seems to be the second baseman of the future by default. Light-hitting Andres Blanco is also an option, particularly after his impressive defensive performance for the Royals in 2005, but his bat still hasn't shown much improvement.

As for the younger guys in the organization, there are three players who might be ready to take over at second base by 2009. The most intriguing is Jeff Bianchi, who's presently a shortstop. If he is as advanced as advertised and manages to stay healthy for the next two seasons, it's feasible that he could be ready for the Major Leagues by 2009. That would require very aggressive movement through the system, but Bianchi has the highest upside of any of the organization's middle infielders. Of course, envisioning Bianchi as the team's starting second baseman in 2009 requires not only the belief that he'll advance quickly through the system, but also that he won't be able to remain at shortstop. All indications are that the Royals will give Bianchi every opportunity to succeed at short, so it's certainly too early to pencil him in at second base.

Irving Falu and Josh Johnson are the other two young players who have a shot at being ready by 2009. Falu played shortstop for High Desert last season, but rumors are that a switch to second base might be in the cards this season as he moves to Wichita. Falu is a gifted athlete who should be an asset defensively, but the lingering questions about his bat need to be addressed in order for him to merit serious consideration for an eventual roster spot in Kansas City. Johnson was arguably the best second baseman in the Midwest League last season, and he offers an interesting package of speed, defense, and on-base skill. He's still a long way from Kansas City, however, and it would take a rapid improvement in both his power and batting average numbers for him to be ready for Major League action by 2009.

Royal Curve Top Stories