Inside is a free preview of the scouting reports RC will provide in conjunction with the publishing of our Annual Top Prospect List. This year, the list has been expanded to include the Top 60 prospects in the organization. Prospects #51-60 are an interesting group, many of whom are raw but have loads of untapped potential upside.
Editor's notes: All player ages are listed as of December 31, 2008. Players who spent significant time in the Major Leagues and/or surpassed 50 innings pitched or 100 at bats were excluded from this year's list.
51. Hilton Richardson, OF
Age: 19 B-T: L-L HT: 6-3 WT: 200
The 2008 season was a decent step forward for Richardson, whom the Royals selected in the seventh round of the 2007 draft. The big outfielder often looked overwhelmed in the Arizona League during his first professional season, but he looked much more comfortable in 2008 with the Burlington Royals. His numbers there -- .229/.293/.327 – weren't great, but they were a modest improvement, and his natural athleticism really showed itself, particularly in the outfield. Indeed, there may be no better pure athlete in the system. Richardson covers a lot of ground in centerfield, and he runs the bases like a gazelle, particularly for a big man (he actually looks a lot like Mark Teahen on the bases). At the plate, he hits the ball hard, and he shows good power in batting practice, even if that power hasn't yet shown up in games. His swing path in 2008 was also much improved, although Richardson still strikes out too much, and he still has trouble with breaking balls in particular. Richardson probably isn't ready for a full season assignment just yet, but his athleticism alone makes him an intriguing prospect to watch.
52. Carlos Fortuna, SP
Age: 18 B-T: R-R HT: 6-2 WT: 185
Carlos Fortuna is one of the more intriguing young arms that came out of the Dominican Academy this year. After pitching fairly well in the DSL in 2007 (3.94 ERA, 28 K in 32 IP), the 18-year old spent 2008 with the Arizona Royals. In Surprise, Fortuna had an up-and-down campaign, logging 5.82 ERA but striking out 41 batters in 38.2 innings pitched. His calling card, of course, is his fastball, which sits at 90-92 mph but tops out around 95. His 6-foot-2 frame offers a lot of projection, and right now the big question is whether or not he can develop a useful breaking ball to complement his big fastball. Fortuna doesn't turn 19 until late March, so it seems likely that he will again start out in extended spring training before heading back out to one of the rookie ball affiliates. The Royals seem excited about him, and if the curveball comes along as hoped, he could become a very interesting prospect as he moves up.
53. Chris McConnell, SS
Age: 23 B-T: R-R HT: 5-11 WT: 175
The progress has been slow for McConnell, who once was considered among the best infield prospects in the system. McConnell returned to Wilmington in 2008, and the 22-year old shortstop had an improved year at the plate, hitting .252/.333/.325 with 29 doubles in 461 at bats. He did, however, take a step back defensively, as he committed 28 errors for the Blue Rocks after committing just 17 between Wilmington (where he had just five in 66 games) and Burlington in 2007. McConnell remains one of the most natural middle infielders in the system, and he still has soft hands, excellent footwork, a quick release, and a strong arm. However, some scouts are concerned that he might try to be a bit too flashy, resulting in too many preventable errors. At this point, McConnell's glove will have to carry him, and he should move up to Northwest Arkansas in 2009. He profiles best right now as a utility man at the big league level, but he will have to cut down on the errors as he moves forward.
54. Nick Van Stratten, OF
Age: 23 B-T: R-R HT: 6-1 WT: 185
Nick Van Stratten once again in 2008 was limited by injuries, but once again made the most of his playing time. He lost a lot of weight after undergoing back surgery in 2007, but he entered spring training having fully recovered. Still, the Royals held him back in extended spring training, and he didn't join the Burlington Bees until mid-June. Once there, he was the same sparkplug as always, hitting .345/.400/.489 with one homer in 139 at bats. While teammates and coaches universally praise the Winnetonka High School (KC) graduate's hustle and gamer mentality, it still occasionally gets him into trouble. For instance, while chasing after a home run in a game in mid-August, Van Stratten took on the outfield fence – and lost – leaving him with a foot injury that cost him nearly two weeks on the disabled list. Indeed, injuries, it seems, are the one thing that have consistently held Van Stratten back thus far. When he's on the field, he is an exciting player to watch with good tools across the board.
55. Jamar Walton, OF
Age: 22 B-T: L-R HT: 6-4 WT: 200
The 2008 season was a tale of two halves for Jamar Walton. Reassigned to the Burlington Bees, the big outfielder slogged through the season's first three months and entered July hitting just .205. However, Walton hit .339 over the season's final 42 games, and he was one of the key catalysts behind the Bees' second half surge. On the year, Walton finished with a respectable line of .266/.305/.392 with seven home runs in 357 at bats, and Royals officials identify him as one of the players who made the most progress this season. There are still few players in the system who can match Walton's tools, and he has a Major League body. Walton runs well, he throws well, and he flashes what can be above average power at times. He will be 23-years old when the 2009 season opens, and he should finally get a shot at advanced A-ball with the Wilmington Blue Rocks.
56. J.D. Alfaro, SS
Age: 20 B-T: R-R HT: 5-9 WT: 170
The Royals selected Alfaro in the ninth round of the 2008 draft after noticing his stellar play in the NJCAA Division I World Series. Alfaro was the starting shortstop for Grayson County College, the eventual champion, and he took home tournament MVP honors after playing flawless defense and hitting .476 with 14 RBIs in Grand Junction. After signing, Alfaro was assigned to Idaho Falls, where he had a solid professional debut, hitting .266/.300/.504 with a club-best nine home runs. The fiery shortstop finished fourth in the Pioneer League in RBIs (55) and fifth in doubles (22), totals which were also tops among the Chukars. In the field, he's a sure handed shortstop with average range, and he's worked hard on improving his footwork. Alfaro is a bit different than most of the shortstops in the organization, as it will be his bat, rather than his glove, that will probably have to carry him. He has a middle/away approach at the plate, but he has no trouble turning on mistakes.
57. Carlo Testa, OF
Age: 22 B-T: L-L HT: 6-3 WT: 218
The Royals selected Belmont University's Carlo Testa in the 18th round of the 2008 draft. While in college, Testa was a standout two-way player for the Bruins, being named to the Atlantic Sun All Conference first team as both a starting pitcher and outfielder, the first time that happened in the conference's history. Testa was initially assigned to the Appy League, but he played just seven games for the B-Royals before being promoted to Idaho Falls. He got off to a rough start for the Chukars, hitting just a shade above .200 during his first month in the Pioneer League. He turned his season around, however, in August, and he finished the season with an impressive line of .304/.395/.462 with five home runs in 171 at bats. At 6-foot-3, 218 pounds, Testa already has a major league body, and he shows good power in batting practice. He is a physical player with good speed and a strong arm well-suited to right field, and he could be a sleeper as he moves forward, especially if he maintains his excellent plate discipline.
58. Fernando Cruz, 3B
Age: 18 B-T: S-R HT: 6-2 WT: 184
When the Royals selected 17-year old Fernando Cruz in the sixth round of the 2007 draft out of Puerto Rico, the club expected that he would get stronger as he matures. Cruz began to fulfill that prophecy in 2008, adding considerable size and strength to his frame. Unfortunately, that strength hasn't yet translated into results at the plate, as Cruz hit just .237/.260/.283 with zero home runs for the Burlington Royals. The numbers were a slight improvement over his 2007 performance with the AZ Royals, but the switch hitting Cruz is still struggling to stay under control in the box. His numbers from the left side of the plate have been better throughout his career, even though his coaches think he's actually a better right handed hitter. Regardless, Cruz is a high ceiling player the Royals remain excited about, and he will once again be one of the youngest players in whatever league he plays in next season.
59. Yowill Espinal, SS
Age: 17 B-T: R-R HT: 6-0 WT: 180
Espinal received the largest bonus in the Royals' 2007 international spending spree, inking for $250,000 as a 16-year old last August. Espinal didn't turn 17 until this past April, but he handled starting shortstop duty for the Arizona Royals during the summer. On the season, Espinal hit .240/.248/.348 with four home runs in 50 games played. On the bases, Espinal swiped 13 bags while only being caught twice. He committed 18 errors, but that doesn't tell the whole story about his defense (after all, by the time the AZL gets in gear, the field conditions in Arizona can be pretty lousy). Espinal flashes above average range and a good arm, and his feet work well. The Royals believe he is physically ahead of where a lot of guys his age out of the Dominican Republic are normally at, and he should continue to fill out as he matures. At the plate, Espinal still must learn to hit breaking balls, but he has no trouble turning around mistake fastballs.
60. Geulin Beltre, SS
Age: 18 B-T: S-R HT: 6-0 WT: 180
The Royals last year signed Beltre out of the Dominican Republic for $230,000, one of the largest international signing bonuses the Royals have ever doled out. Beltre made his debut as a 17-year old in the Arizona League this summer, where he hit .188/.235/.250 with one home run in 23 games. A shortstop by trade, Beltre was limited to DH duty for the AZ Royals by a sore elbow that hampered him throughout the summer. When healthy, Beltre offers an interesting mix of tools. He runs well, has a strong arm, and solid power potential to all fields. He struggled to make consistent contact in his debut, and like his teammate Espinal, he had a tendency to bail out early on quality breaking balls. Still, the Royals are excited about Beltre's upside, and it will be interesting to see how he develops.
Photo Credits: All photos taken by Dave Sanford, Scout.com