It's that time of year again, and RC is back with our annual Top 50 prospect rankings. The overall depth of talent in the system has improved significantly in the past year, particularly with regard to pitching, and the quality of some of the players who didn't quite make the cut is a testament to the improved level of talent. Dig in and see where everyone ranks inside.
Editor's notes: All player ages are listed as of December 31, 2007. Players who spent significant time in the Major Leagues, such as Neal Musser, or surpassed 50 innings pitched or 150 at bats were excluded from this year's list.
Also, please DO NOT reveal the rankings, either partially or full, on message boards, blogs, or other sites. This is copyrighted material intended solely for the use of subscribers to Scout.com and RoyalsCorner.com.
1. Luke Hochevar, SP
Age: 24 B-T: R-R HT: 6-5 WT: 205
Luke Hochevar had an interesting season, but he was impressive enough in 2007 to lay claim to the designation as the Royals' top prospect. Between Double-A and Triple-A, Hochevar went just 4-9 with a 4.86 ERA, but he struck out nearly a batter per inning. Even though his ERA was something of a disappointment, scouts still rave about his stuff, and he more than held his own during a 12.2 inning September cup-of-coffee. Hochevar became more consistent with his mechanics this season, and he worked hard on controlling the running game and making better pitches with runners on base. Hochevar's upside is significant, and he could be in the big leagues to stay at some point in 2008.
2. Mike Moustakas, SS
Age: 19 B-T: L-R HT: 6-0 WT: 195
When the Royals selected Mike Moustakas second overall in the first round of the 2007 draft, they got one of the best high school hitters in Calfornia history. Unfortunately, Moustakas waited until just minutes before the signing deadline passed to ink his name to a contract, so he got just 41 at bats in Idaho Falls before the season concluded. He did well in his brief debut, however, hitting .293/.383/.439 with four doubles and a triple. The Royals are going to give him a shot to stick at shortstop, and he could move through the system pretty quickly.
3. Daniel Cortes, SP
Age: 20 B-T: R-R HT: 6-5 WT: 205
There is nobody in the entire organization who elicits the same type of giddy enthusiasm from Royals scouts and front office personnel as Dan Cortes. The organization raves about Cortes, and multiple club officials told us that he probably has the highest ceiling among any player in the organization. Indeed, after an excellent breakout season with the Wilmington Blue Rocks, Cortes could very easily have been ranked as the Royals' top prospect, and he very well may be by this time next year, if he's not already pitching in Kansas City. He's got the best fastball and curveball in the system, and he's still just 20-years old. We'd call him a sleeper, but the secret seems to be out across baseball.
4. Billy Buckner, SP
Age: 24 B-T: R-R HT: 6-2 WT: 215
Billy Buckner began the season at Double-A Wichita, but soon he was pitching in Omaha, where he spent the majority of his season. He did well in his first exposure to Triple-A, going 9-7 with a 3.78 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 104.2 innings, and he was promoted to Kansas City in August, where he wound up making five starts and picking up his first Major League victory. Depending on who the Royals acquire this offseason, Buckner figures to have a good chance of filling some role on the Major League club in 2008.
5. Chris Lubanski, OF
Age: 22 B-T: L-L HT: 6-3 WT: 206
It was a tale of two halves for Chris Lubanski in 2007. He began the season repeating Double-A Wichita, and as expected, he did well, hitting .295/.361/.490 with nine home runs in 64 games. Lubankski earned a promotion to Omaha at midseason, but he never quite found his groove in Triple-A, and he finished the season with just a .208 average. His stuggles continued in the Arizona Fall League, but the organization certainly hasn't soured on him. Lubanski has maintained his legendary work ethic, and his tools are still excellent across the board. It always takes him some time to adjust to each new level, and if he can master Triple-A, look for him to make his Major League debut at some point in 2008.
6. Carlos Rosa, SP
Age: 23 B-T: R-R HT: 6-1 WT: 185
Rosa is another pitcher who vaulted in our rankings this year. Possessing the best slider in the organization, along with a plus fastball, Rosa dominated in four starts with Wilmington before being promoted to Wichita early in the season. He started slowly in Double-A, but he really started pitching well in August before being sidelined by an oblique strain. Rosa is healthy now, and the Royals are very high on him. He will likely head back to Double-A in 2008, but he could very easily factor into the Major League mix at some point during the season.
7. Justin Huber, 1B/OF
Age: 25 B-T: R-R HT: 6-2 WT: 205
One of the most frustrating things for Royals fans to witness over the past couple of seasons is the apparent stalling of Justin Huber, who appears on our top 10 list yet again this year. The Royals insist that Huber is still young and there is no rush, and the organization still seems quite high on him, but Buddy Bell only found 10 at bats for him during his September call-up. For his part, however, Huber played well when not hampered by a nagging hamstring injury, and he showed excellent power in 77 games with Omaha, where he slugged 18 home runs.
8. Julio Pimentel, SP
Age: 22 B-T: R-R HT: 6-1 WT: 190
Had Rowdy Hardy not set the Carolina League ablaze with his tremendous campaign, Julio Pimentel's season might very well have been the biggest story in Wilmington this year. Indeed, Pimentel moved back into a starting role in 2007 and flourished, going 12-4 with a 2.65 ERA in 152.2 innings pitched. Armed with a plus fastball with great movement and some very good secondary pitches, Pimentel kept Carolina League hitters off balance all year and became a truly outstanding prospect.
9. Blake Wood, SP
Age: 22 B-T: R-R HT: 6-4 WT: 225
Sidelined by back surgery for the first half of the 2007 season, Blake Wood returned healthy and showed everyone why the Royals thought enough of him to select him in the third round of the 2006 draft. The big righty was lights out in seven starts for Burlington, and he received a late promotion to Wilmington just in time for the Carolina League playoffs. Wood had to work hard on his mechanics this season, but he made excellent progress and shows a mid-90s fastball and a plus breaking ball.
10. Derrick Robinson, OF
Age: 20 B-T: S-L HT: 5-11 WT: 170
Though Derrick Robinson's statistics don't seem overly impressive (.243/.299/.300), he made some good strides in 2007 as a 19-year-old making the jump to the Midwest League from rookie ball, and he solidified his status as an excellent prospect. The Royals strongly believe that Robinson will hit as he matures, and that he won't merely be a slap-hitting speedster when he does. Robinson's plus-plus speed is well publicized, but he has channeled that quickness to become an outstanding outfielder as well.
11. Tyler Lumsden, SP
Age: 24 B-T: L-L HT: 6-4 WT: 215
Tyler Lumsden's 2007 season can only be classified as a setback. The tall southpaw struggled mightily at Omaha this year, going 9-6 with a bloated 5.88 ERA in 119.1 innings pitched. After the season, Lumsden headed to the Arizona Fall League, where his struggles continued. Even though he had a rough season, the Royals remain high on Lumsden, who still has a plus fastball and good breaking stuff. His inconsistency has baffled the organization a bit, but if he can put everything together, he can still become a valuable arm in the Royals' rotation.
12. Blake Johnson, SP
Age: 22 B-T: R-R HT: 6-5 WT: 200
Blake Johnson seems to be the forgotten man in Wilmington's stellar 2007 rotation, but the young righty had a marvelous season for the Blue Rocks. Johnson went 9-6 with a 3.28 ERA in 131.2 innings, and he, along with Pimentel, forms the bounty from what might be GM Dayton Moore's best trade yet. Johnson made some adjustments to his delivery that allowed him to be more consistent this season, and he pitched with much improved confidence. He was the best pitcher in the entire organization by a wide margin at throwing first pitch strikes, which is a key statistic the Royals now track. He also has one of the best curveballs in the system, and the Royals believe he's a prototypical starter.
13. Mitch Maier, OF
Age: 25 B-T: L-R HT: 6-2 WT: 210
Mitch Maier made the transition to Triple-A this season without skipping a beat, and he put together a solid season, hitting .279/.320/.428 with 14 home runs in 544 at bats. He still doesn't draw many walks, and that hurts his on-base percentage, but the 25-year old converted catcher is still the best defensive outfielder in the system, although Derrick Robinson may be in the running for that title as well. It's hard to tell when a spot might open up for Maier in Kansas City, and what his role might be once there, but he'll probably head back to Triple-A in 2008 to continue working on his offense.
14. Danny Duffy, SP
Age: 19 B-T: L-L HT: 6-2 WT: 185
The Royals selected Danny Duffy out of California's Cabrillo High School in the third round of the 2007 draft, and the young southpaw went on to dominate in the Arizona Rookie League. In 37.1 innings pitched, Duffy struck out an incredible 63 batters while compiling a miniscule ERA of 1.45. He was put on the shelf for a few weeks in July with some arm fatigue, but he recovered nicely and is now perfectly healthy. Duffy throws an overpowering mid-90s fastball with an easy arm action that draws raves from scouts, and he has an advanced feel for what should develop into a plus changeup.
15. Sam Runion, SP
Age: 19 B-T: R-R HT: 6-4 WT: 220
The Royals made the 6-foot-4 Runion the 66th overall player taken in the 2007 draft, and the big righty headed to the Arizona Rookie League to kick off his career. He got hit around a bit in his debut season, going 3-4 with a 5.82 ERA in 51.0 innings pitched. He did, however, strike out a batter per inning, and he used his hard slider to coax nearly 2.5 ground outs per fly ball. Runion has the ideal pitcher's frame, and his upside is considerable. He throws hard, and although there is some effort to his delivery, the Royals worked on his mechanics to keep his upper body in sync with his lower body.
16. Jeff Bianchi, SS
Age: 21 B-T: R-R HT: 6-0 WT: 175
The good news is that Jeff Bianchi stayed healthy enough to play in 99 games for the Burlington Bees, finally escaping from the Arizona Rookie League after two excellent but injury-shortened seasons. However, Bianchi struggled in his first shot at full season ball, and the young shortstop hit just .247/.296/.315 with two home runs in 368 at bats. The Royals insist that Bianchi's tools are still there, but his struggles remain something of a mystery. There doesn't appear to be anything chronically wrong with Bianchi's swing, and he's still an above average runner. Defensively, Bianchi looked solid, as he has good hands and a strong arm, and his range and footwork should keep him at shortstop.
17. Mario Lisson, 3B
Age: 23 B-T: R-R HT: 6-2 WT: 193
Mario Lisson built upon a quality 2006 season in Burlington with another strong campaign in Wilmington, making a rather seamless transition to High-A. In 463 at bats for the Blue Rocks, Lisson hit .285/.348/.408 with eight home runs. Lisson has yet to have a true breakout season, but scouts rave about his athleticism. Indeed, Lisson could play just about anywhere, and it will be interesting to see if the Royals move him to another position in the next couple of years. In the meantime, he‘s an outstanding defensive third baseman, and his tools across the board are very good. He could be a strong breakout candidate as he moves to Double-A in 2008.
18. Jose Duarte, OF
Age: 22 B-T: R-R HT: 5-10 WT: 165
Like Lisson, Jose Duarte made a smooth transition to High-A, where he hit .290/.356/.369 and swiped 34 bases in 47 attempts. For the second straight year, he hit just one home run, and he doesn't profile to add much power as he develops. He is, however, a fine defensive outfielder with a strong arm, but there is some question of whether or not he'll be able to stay in centerfield as he moves forward. That, of course, makes it a little difficult to project a place for him to play, but Duarte possesses excellent athleticism, and he remains an interesting prospect with a lot of potential.
19. Joe Dickerson, OF
Age: 21 B-T: L-L HT: 6-1 WT: 190
Joe Dickerson jumped from the rookie Pioneer League to the Midwest League in 2007, and he responded with a season that earned him recognition as the Bees' Player of the Year. Dickerson hit .289/.354/.375 with three home runs and 26 stolen bases, and he played solid defense while manning the Bees' outfield. He was shut down a little early, however, after separating his shoulder diving back into first, and the injury cost him a chance to play in the Hawaiian Winter Baseball League. Although he doesn't project to develop much power, he earned praise from coaches for his knack of putting the barrel of the bat on the ball. Dickerson is another outfielder who's a little tough to profile as either a corner outfielder or a centerfielder, and he must continue to hit if he's going to move up through the system.
20. Dusty Hughes, SP
Age: 25 B-T: L-L HT: 5-10 WT: 187
Fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, Dusty Hughes reemerged as a prospect this season with an excellent campaign at Wichita that exceeded the Royals' expectations. In 108.0 innings pitched, the southpaw went 6-2 with a 3.08 ERA in the hitter-friendly Texas League. Hughes works in the low-90s with his fastball, and he possesses one of the organization's best changeups, which succeeds in keeping opponents off balance. The Royals like how he works quickly and attacks hitters, and there seems to be a better-than-even chance the club will protect him from the Rule-5 draft this offseason by placing him on the 40-man roster.
21. Daniel Gutierrez, SP
Age: 20 B-T: R-R HT: 6-1 WT: 180
Daniel Gutierrez was something of a late riser on our list, but it's clear that the organization thinks much of his considerable upside. Gutierrez was suspended in spring training for violating team policy, and he didn't make his first appearance until late July. However, when he's on the mound, Gutierrez has a low-90s fastball with good movement, along with a curveball that shows plus potential and a developing changeup. He has an ideal pitcher's frame, and he flashed his potential in the instructional league with some truly dominant outings. Gutierrez is another guy who could rise rapidly if he keeps his head on straight.
22. Sean McCauley, C
Age: 18 B-T: R-R HT: 6-2 WT: 170
The Royals got a steal when they selected Sean McCauley in the 12th round of the 2007 draft. McCauley had a strong commitment to Western Carolina, and he figured to be a tough sign, but the Royals were able to sign him when it became clear that Western Carolina's head coach was moving to Tennessee. The 18-year old catcher has advanced catch and throw skills, and the Royals are pleased with how well he handled the pitching staff. Indeed, he was drafted for his defense behind the plate, but the club was a little surprised at how well McCauley did in his AZL debut, where he hit .286/.375/.476 in 84 at bats. At 170 lbs, McCauley has a lot of room to mature physically, and the organization is looking forward to seeing how he develops as a hitter.
23. Jason Godin, SP
Age: 23 B-T: R-R HT: 6-5 WT: 170
The Royals' fifth rounder in 2006 out of Old Dominion, Jason Godin had a solid year in 2007, which was spent primarily with Burlington (IA). In 96.1 innings for the Bees, Godin went 5-6 with a 3.46 ERA and 60 strikeouts, and he held opponents to a .225 average. He got a brief shot at High-A in June, but he got knocked around a bit and was sent back to Burlington after five outings to continue working on developing his changeup. Godin, who worked in the low-90s in 2006, lost a couple of ticks on his velocity down the stretch, likely due to the strain of his first full season. He still showed his plus curveball, but the Royals forced him to throw more fastballs this season to work on commanding the pitch and getting ahead of hitters. Word is that he looked really good in instructs this fall.
24. Brent Fisher, SP
Age: 20 B-T: L-L HT: 6-2 WT: 190
Brent Fisher entered 2007 poised to build upon his great success over two seasons in rookie ball, but the progress the organization was hoping for never materialized. Fisher did finally get out of Arizona, but he got hit around a bit in nine outings with the Burlington Bees before being shut down in late May with a shoulder injury. Reports out of Arizona are that Fisher is making steady progress, and his range of motion is good. When healthy, Fisher still throws a deceptive fastball, famously dubbed the ‘invisiball' by teammates, along with a hammer breaking ball.
25. Patrick Norris, OF
Age: 21 B-T: S-R HT: 6-2 WT: 190
The Royals were clearly interested in acquiring speed in the 2007 draft, and they found plenty when they selected Patrick Norris in the 16th round. The speedy centerfielder went to Burlington in the Appalachian League and had a great debut, hitting .294/.397/.338 with 30 stolen bases in 35 attempts. Though his switch hitting is still a work in progress, Norris showed off an advanced eye at the plate -- always a useful thing for a leadoff hitter to have. Once on base, Norris has game-changing speed, and an open question in the organization is whether or not he's faster than Derrick Robinson. It will certainly be interesting to follow Norris‘ progress through the system, because he could be a serious sleeper.
26. Salvador Perez, C
Age: 17 B-T: R-R HT: 6-3 WT: 175
Salvador Perez, a 17-year old catcher from Venezuela, made his American debut with the Arizona Royals in 2007 and shared catching duties with Sean McCauley. Another late riser on our list, Perez's potential and work ethic draws rave reviews from folks inside the organization. Defensively, he's got a good arm and receiving skills, and we've heard nothing but great things about his maturity, intelligence, and drive to improve. At the plate, he's presently a line drive/contact hitter, but he's got an athletic frame with lots of projection, and the Royals believe he'll develop good power as he matures.
27. Nick Van Stratten, OF
Age: 22 B-T: R-R HT: 6-1 WT: 185
Winnetonka High School graduate Nick Van Stratten hoped to open the season with a full season club after a solid debut in 2006, but he wound up going to Idaho Falls instead. However, Van Stratten made the most of it, hitting .316/.407/.500 in 24 games with the Chukars before being sidelined with a back injury in mid-July. The problem started in extended spring training, but Van Stratten gutted it out until the organization finally decided to shut him down. When healthy, Van Stratten is a sparkplug with solid tools across the board. There isn't much word on his rehab, but hopefully he's ready to go in time for spring training.
28. Angel Sanchez, SS
Age: 24 B-T: R-R HT: 6-2 WT: 190
Ideally, Angel Sanchez should rank a little higher, but the 24-year old shortstop missed the entire 2007 season following shoulder surgery during spring training. The good news is that Sanchez should be 100 percent ready to play in time for spring training, and the organization remains high on him. He offers the same type of range, arm strength, and athleticism that Tony Pena displays at shortstop, and he profiles as a solid hitting middle infielder. There is some talk that Sanchez could move to second base in the near future, perhaps as an heir-apparent to Mark Grudzielanek. Assuming he comes back at full strength, he‘s not far from a shot at regular duty in KC.
29. David Lough, OF
Age: 21 B-T: L-L HT: 6-0 WT: 180
Acquired for his athleticism, the Royals selected two-sport star David Lough from Mercyhurst College in the 11th round of the 2007 draft. Lough went to Burlington (NC) and hit .337/.380/.477 with a pair of home runs in 86 at bats. He was plagued by an early season hamstring injury suffered while rounding first base on a double, and he wound up missing some significant time. A self-described ‘quick-game' player, Lough patterns his game after Grady Sizemore, and he can cover a lot of ground in the outfield. His hamstring is fully recovered, and it will be interesting to see how he builds on his successful debut.
30. Adrian Ortiz, OF
Age: 20 B-T: L-R HT: 6-0 WT: 172
Touted as one of the fastest collegiate players available in the 2007 draft, Pepperdine's Adrian Ortiz became the Royals' fifth round pick and headed for Idaho Falls. There were pre-draft concerns that Ortiz wasn't much of a hitter, but he allayed those concerns a bit with a solid debut for the Chukars. In 264 at bats, Ortiz hit .326/.348/.367, and he stole 17 bases, though he was caught seven times. Despite his high batting average, Ortiz walked just nine times, and his plate discipline is something of a concern as he heads forward. However, along with Derrick Robinson and Patrick Norris, Ortiz forms a trio of ridiculously fast centerfielders in the low minors.
31. Hilton Richardson, OF
Age: 18 B-T: L-L HT: 6-3 WT: 200
Athleticism was clearly a major theme of the Royals' 2007 draft, and the club went after another gifted athlete in the seventh round when they selected Hilton Richardson out of Lake Washington High School. The 18-year old outfielder definitely struggled, however, in his first professional season, hitting just .199/.295/.304 in 191 at bats for the Arizona Royals. Of course, Richardson is a long-term project, and he has solid tools across the board to go along with a nice looking swing. If his contact rate improves as the Royals hope, Richardson could be a special player.
32. Jarod Plummer, RP
Age: 23 B-T: R-R HT: 6-5 WT: 200
Jarod Plummer put himself on the prospect map last year with a solid campaign in High Desert, and he backed that up with another fine performance at Wichita this season. In 79.0 innings for the Wranglers, Plummer struck out 90 batters while issuing just 16 walks, compiling an ERA of 3.08. Indeed, Double-A hitters had trouble coping with Plummer's plus splitter, and he held opponents to just a .217 batting average. The 23-year old righty seems close to the big leagues, and he could be a factor in the Royals' bullpen at some point in 2008.
33. Brian McFall, OF
Age: 23 B-T: R-R HT: 6-3 WT: 215
After his rough 2006 season in High Desert (his second straight season with a batting average under .240), we were almost ready to write off Brian McFall as a failed prospect who couldn‘t hit a breaking ball. The Royals stuck with him, however, and sent him back to High-A. McFall got off to a rough start, but he turned it on in the second half and finished with a solid line of .286/.358/.483 with 13 home runs. There's still some question about how he'll deal with more advanced pitching in Double-A, but in a system with few true power bats, McFall clearly has the best raw power in the organization. He's earned a shot at Double-A, and it will be interesting to see how he does.
34. Tyler Chambliss, P
Age: 23 B-T: R-R HT: 5-11 WT: 175
Working primarily as a reliever, Tyler Chambliss blew through the Midwest League during the season's first two months, striking out 54 batters in 46.2 innings while compiling a 2.12 ERA and holding opponents to a .190 average. He was promoted to Wilmington in June, but the Royals shifted him back to a starting role, and his numbers suffered a bit but were still respectable. Chambliss has a fastball that tops out in the low-90s with movement, along with an at times devastating curveball and good changeup. The presence of three quality pitches likely gave the Royals pause to develop him as a reliever, but we think the odds are that he will eventually return to that role. His fastball/curveball combo can be very effective in the bullpen, and we are curious to see how the Royals handle him as he moves forward.
35. Rowdy Hardy, SP
Age: 25 B-T: L-L HT: 6-4 WT: 170
Despite Rowdy Hardy's excellent professional debut in the Pioneer League in 2006, he didn't make last year's Top 50 cut. However, we could no longer ignore the lanky lefty after he thoroughly dominated the Carolina League in 2007. Hardy led the league in a number of key categories, including victories and WHIP, and he finished second in ERA (2.48) while walking just 16 batters in 167.0 innings pitched. Hardy is a master at changing speeds and locating his pitches, and even though his fastball tops out in the low-80s, he's not afraid to throw inside. The obvious question is whether or not Hardy will be able to continue his success at higher levels, but after his performance in 2007, do you really want to bet against him? Ultimately, the ‘great Hardy debate' will be settled on the diamond, and it will be fun to see how it turns out.
36. Danny Christensen, SP
Age: 24 B-T: L-L HT: 6-1 WT: 210
A year ago, Danny Christensen, Tyler Lumsden, and Brent Fisher were the system's top three lefties. While all three struggled in 2007, Christensen's season was probably the biggest disaster. The only good news is that Christensen stayed healthy for his third straight season, but Texas League hitters ripped him to the tune of a .312 average and 23 home runs while hiking his ERA to 6.21. This season will be a make it or break it year for the 24-year old southpaw, who needs to get better mileage out of his solid three-pitch repertoire.
37. Matt Mitchell, SP
Age: 18 B-T: R-R HT: 6-2 WT: 205
The Royals appear to have received good value out of their 14th round selection in 2007, using it to grab Matt Mitchell from Barstow, California. The young righty took home the Arizona League ERA title and the AZ Royals Pitcher of the Year award after going 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA in 55.0 innings pitched. Mitchell struck out 72 batters while limiting opponents to a .183 average, using an upper-80s fastball with good late life. The Royals want Mitchell to continue working on finishing his delivery to locate the ball better down in the zone, because he can at times have a tendency to leave balls up.
38. Mike Stodolka, 1B
Age: 26 B-T: L-L HT: 6-2 WT: 210
Mike Stodolka successfully made the transition from failed pitching prospect to first baseman last year with High Desert, and the Royals this season sent him to Wichita to continue the experiment. Stodolka responded with an even better season, hitting .291/.409/.462 with 12 home runs in 381 at bats in his first crack at Double-A (as a hitter). He continued to improve his defense at first base, and the thought of Stodolka making it to the Majors as a position player -- which at first seemed like a pipe dream -- is slowly turning into a possibility. Stodolka has exceptional plate discipline and a nice line drive stroke, and his development as a hitter has gone better than anyone imagined. He was set to become a minor league free agent, but the Royals already resigned him, so Stodolka should continue his march in Omaha next year.
39. Ed Cegarra, SP
Age: 18 B-T: R-R HT: 5-11 WT: 174
Originally slated for the Appalachian League this season, an injury prompted the Royals to send the 18-year old Venezuelan Ed Cegarra to full season Burlington to make a spot start or two. Once there, however, Cegarra handled himself so well the Royals were comfortable leaving him there for the remainder of the season. Cegarra has an advanced repertoire, featuring a low-90s fastball with movement and a hard slider with late break. The Royals are pleased with Cegarra's maturity that belies his age, although he can still get too down on himself when he makes mistakes. Nevertheless, the reports on Cegarra are universally positive, and he's a player who could make a large leap next year with a good full season under his belt.
40. Marc Maddox, IF
Age: 24 B-T: R-R HT: 5-11 WT: 185
Marc Maddox began the season on a tear with the Burlington Bees, and he was promoted to Wilmington after just 21 games. In High-A, he slumped a bit against the higher caliber pitching, finishing the season with a line of .259/.317/.331 with zero home runs in 405 at bats. The Royals had Maddox work extensively at third base during spring training, and he primarily played there with Burlington, but once he moved to Wilmington he was back at second base every day. He's not a spectacular defender at any position, but he did make some good strides with his turns on double plays this year, and he's comfortable playing second on a regular basis. It's tough to figure out how he profiles as he moves forward, but coaches speak fondly of his work ethic, and he's played exceptionally well in the Arizona Fall League this year.
41. Mitch Hodge, SP
Age: 18 B-T: R-R HT: 5-11 WT: 174
The Royals selected Mitch Hodge with their fourth round pick in the 2007 draft, and the young Canadian was sent to the Arizona Royals to begin his career. Hodge had a nice debut, compiling a 4.24 ERA in 40.1 innings pitched while striking out 35 batters. He had more polish than most pitchers on the staff, and coaches commented on how well he repeated his delivery. Hodge works primarily with his upper-80s to low-90s fastball and his changeup, which has nice tailing action and could develop into a plus offering. His curveball still needs some work, and he's working on adding more bite by throwing the pitch harder.
42. Harold Mozingo, SP
Age: 22 B-T: R-R HT: 6-1 WT: 175
Harold Mozingo, who was selected in the sixth round of the 2006 draft after an outstanding career at Virginia Commonwealth University, spent the year pitching for Burlington in the Midwest League. Mozingo was a little inconsistent, occasionally leaving pitches up in the zone and getting hit hard. On the season, he compiled a 7-8 record with a 4.75 ERA in 94.2 innings pitched before being shut down in early August. When he's going well, he‘s a strike thrower with command of low-90s fastball and a good curveball. In fact, when he was shut down, Mozingo was second in the entire organization in first pitch strike percentage, jumping ahead in the count 67 percent of the time. He remains an interesting prospect, and he should get a shot at High-A in 2008.
43. Michael Lehmann, SP
Age: 18 B-T: S-R HT: 6-2 WT: 190
The Royals went way over slot to sign their 2007 20th round pick, Michael Lehmann, and he rewarded the organization with an outstanding debut for the Arizona Royals. The 18-year old pitcher went 5-1 with a 2.64 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 44.1 innings pitched, and opponents hit just .218 against him. Lehmann had a little trouble early on by getting a little quick with his delivery, but once he settled in, he started locating his pitches better and challenging hitters. He earned high praise from coaches for being a tough competitor, and he showed a good fastball and curveball that could both develop into quality offerings, along with a developing changeup.
44. Fernando Cruz, 3B
Age: 17 B-T: S-R HT: 6-2 WT: 184
Fernando Cruz, a 17-year old who was home schooled in Puerto Rico, was declared draft eligible right before the 2007 draft, and the Royals gladly took him in the sixth round and assigned him to Arizona. Cruz was young even for the Arizona League, and he struggled in his first exposure to pro ball, hitting just .210/.254/.265 with one home run in 181 at bats. The Royals expected him to struggle, but they view him as an exciting player with a live body, and they believe he is going to develop physically into a strong offensive player. Though Cruz was drafted as a shortstop, the club moved him to third base, where they expect him to stick. He is obviously still a long way from developing into the player he will ultimately be, but his upside could be considerable.
45. Clint Robinson, 1B
Age: 22 B-T: L-L HT: 6-4 WT: 225
Nobody in the system put up a better offensive season than Clint Robinson, who the Royals selected in the 25th round of the 2007 draft. The big first baseman torched the Pioneer League, winning league MVP honors while hitting .336/.388/.593 with 15 home runs in 253 at bats. Robinson is described by some folks in the organization as a ‘gamer,‘ and he displays good raw power, particularly in batting practice. There are some concerns about his bat speed and whether or not he'll continue to rake at higher levels, but Robinson employs a good approach at the plate and doesn't strike out very often. For a big man, he handles himself well at first base, where he played full time for the Chukars. With the lack of first base prospects in the lower minors, Robinson could move quickly, especially if he keeps hitting..
46. Chris Nicoll, SP
Age: 24 B-T: R-R HT: 6-2 WT: 190
Hands down, Chris Nicoll had the most disappointing season of any farmhand in the organization. Nicoll was attempting to build upon his excellent 2006 campaign, in which he rose to the ranks of the best pitching prospects in the organization after compiling a 2.82 ERA for the Burlington Bees with over a strikeout per inning and excellent control. In contrast, however, his 2007 season was a complete disaster. Nicoll got what is commonly referred to as the yips, a total loss of command, and he made just 12 appearances for the Blue Rocks (with an ERA north of 7.00) before being sent to Arizona. There he worked with pitching coach Mark Davis, who battled through a similar problems during his career, but Nicoll never returned to competitive action before being allowed to go home to California. Nobody knows what to expect from Nicoll in 2008, or whether or not he'll be ready come spring training. We're holding out hope that he can somehow regain the confidence and command he had in 2006, because he definitely has the talent to go far.
47. Chris McConnell, SS
Age: 22 B-T: R-R HT: 5-11 WT: 175
A couple of years ago, McConnell generated significant excitement in the organization after back-to-back outstanding offensive campaigns in rookie ball, and he looked to be on the fast track through the system. That plan got derailed a bit last season, however, as McConnell ran into a wall (figuratively) in the Midwest League and wound up being sent back to Idaho Falls for the remainder of the year. He returned to Burlington to begin this season, and while he didn't light the world on fire by any means, he did show some improvement and earned a midseason promotion to Wilmington. He finished the season with a combined line of .233/.307/.326, but most importantly, his defense improved significantly. McConnell has the tools to be a plus defensive middle infielder, and if he can hit with a little more pop as he continues to mature physically, he has a shot. He's a great athlete, and we've heard some good reports about his progression at instructs.
48. Luis Cota, SP
Age: 22 B-T: R-R HT: 6-2 WT: 200
At one time a couple of years ago, Luis Cota ranked as perhaps the best pitching prospect in the organization. However, Cota has been going in the wrong direction as a prospect, first with a rough 2006 season in High Desert, followed by shoulder surgery in 2007 that cost him the entire season. When he's healthy, Cota has a plus fastball with movement and a hard slider that can be devastating. He's currently rehabbing in Arizona, and latest word is that his side sessions have been good. The ball is coming out of his hand well, and the Royals anticipate that he will be ready by the time spring training rolls around. At this point, it is impossible to determine if the Royals will ever get much out of the $1 million investment they made by signing Cota as a draft-and-follow in 2004, but if he returns fully healthy, he could make some noise.
49. Bryan Paukovits, SP
Age: 20 B-T: R-R HT: 6-7 WT: 238
The Royals drafted Bryan Paukovits in both 2005 and 2006 as a draft-and-follow, and they kept in contact with him about the things they wanted him to improve on. He didn't make much progress in 2005, but he worked hard on his pitch location and conditioning in 2006, and the Royals made him their last-ever draft-and-follow signee this spring. The towering righty reported to Burlington (NC), and he had a decent debut, going 3-4 with a 4.91 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 51.1 innings pitched. Paukovits offers a lot of projection, but he must continue to work on his conditioning and agility to continue moving through the system. He offers a fastball that sits in the low- to mid-90s, along with a developing curveball that shows promise. Like a lot of big guys, there is some effort to his delivery, and he will continue refining his mechanics as he moves forward.
50. Jamar Walton, OF
Age: 21 B-T: L-R HT: 6-4 WT: 195
If Jamar Walton ever puts everything together, he could be a beast. The 21-year old outfielder was acquired by the Royals after the Marlins released the former fourth-round pick during the season. Walton is a physical specimen with above average raw power and outstanding tools, and he came out of high school being heavily recruited by major college programs for baseball, football, and basketball. Though he's listed at 195 lbs., he's more like 230, and he just has the look of a guy who can hit with authority. The Royals slowed Walton's stride down a bit, and he put together a nice half-season for the Bees, hitting .278/.349/.402 with three homers and 12 doubles in 169 at bats. Walton is still very raw, but the Royals don't have many players who can match his tools, and he's certainly worth watching in the coming season. He resigned with the club this fall, and he could head to Wilmington next season.