Prospects 36-40 on RC's Top 60 Prospect list includes four pitchers and one position player, all at various levels of development. Brent Fisher will try to rebound in 2009 after two injury-plagued campaigns, while Mario Santiago will continue searching for a true "out pitch." Inside, read all about these players and the others who rank 36-40 on this year's top prospect list.
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.
36. Brent Fisher, SP
Age: 21 B-T: L-L HT: 6-2 WT: 190
The last two seasons have been difficult for Brent Fisher, whose domination in rookie ball in 2005 and 2006 had Royals fans giddy about his future. He missed the last three months of the 2007 season with a shoulder injury after pitching in just nine games for the Bees, and Fisher eventually had the shoulder cleaned out, causing him to miss the majority of 2008 as well. He finally got back to Burlington in August, where he pitched fairly well in four games. Fisher has never had an above average fastball in terms of velocity, but it was sitting around 84-86 mph when we saw him on August 24, which was a tick or two slower than he had thrown in the past. His delivery is still quite deceptive, and he still has a hammer breaking ball that drops off the table. Hopefully the velocity returns in 2009, because when Fisher is fully healthy, he can give hitters fits.
37. Mario Santiago, SP
Age: 24 B-T: R-R HT: 6-2 WT: 210
Mario Santiago has a lot going for him. The 6-2, 210 pound right hander out of Baton Rouge Community College was the Royals' 16th round selection in the 2005 draft, and he has steadily become one of the organization's more durable starting pitchers. In 2008, Santiago posted an 8-8 record and a 3.43 ERA in 27 starts for the Blue Rocks in his first season at High-A. He threw 141.2 innings for Wilmington, striking out 86 batters while walking 39 and allowing 155 hits. Santiago is one of the organization's harder throwers, with a fastball that sits around 92-93 mph and frequently touches 95. His strikeout numbers have been relatively low, however, because his secondary stuff hasn't quite developed. He throws a change-up that can occasionally be very good, but his breaking ball has been very inconsistent. Because of this, Santiago also gives up too many hits, and Carolina League hitters batted .280 against him in 2008. Most troubling is the fact that right handed batters hit Santiago at a .307 clip, which runs counter to what you would expect with a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher. Nevertheless, if Santiago can develop a consistently useful breaking ball, he has the arm and the size that could make him one of the system's most intriguing pitching prospects as he moves forward.
38. Giancarlo De La Cruz, P
Age: 19 B-T: R-R HT: 6-0 WT: 166
After a 2007 season that ended with him being named the Royals Dominican Summer League Pitcher of the Year, De La Cruz made his American debut in 2008 with the Burlington Royals. A 2006 international signee, De La Cruz is one of several young Dominican pitchers the Royals are excited about, and the 19-year old had an encouraging season. He finished with a 5.69 ERA for Burlington, but he struck out 44 batters and walked just 13 in 49 innings pitched. After a couple of rough starts at the beginning of the summer, De La Cruz reeled off a string of stellar outings from mid-July through mid-August. During that stretch, De La Cruz logged a 2.12 ERA over seven appearances and 29.2 innings, striking out 34 batters while surrendering 19 hits and walking just seven (0.89 WHIP). He throws a fastball that sits between 88-91 mph along with a good curveball. His best pitch, however, is his plus changeup, which he doesn't hesitate to throw on any count. De La Cruz throws strikes and works the corners well, and if he can be more consistent with all his pitches, he could become a very interesting prospect.
39. Paulo Orlando, OF
Age: 23 B-T: R-R HT: 6-3 WT: 185
The Royals in August acquired Paulo Orlando from the White Sox in the Horacio Ramirez trade. In 18 games with the Blue Rocks after the trade, 23-year-old outfielder hit .254/.325/.507 with 10 extra base hits and helped lead the club to another playoff appearance. Orlando spent the majority of the 2008 campaign with the Winston-Salem Warthogs, and on the season, he hit .261/.310/.421 with 12 home runs and 14 triples in 522 at bats, very respectable numbers for the Carolina League. Because he grew up in Brazil, Orlando is still pretty raw, but his athleticism is outstanding. He has a long, lean body that one scout compared to Rocco Baldelli's, and he is a fast runner with a long stride. Orlando also has good raw power and a quick bat, but his pitch recognition isn't there yet, particularly on curveballs. He's something of a project who is still a long way from Kansas City, but his upside could makes things interesting if everything starts to click for him.
40. Blake Johnson, SP
Age: 23 B-T: R-R HT: 6-5 WT: 200
After finishing the 2007 season as one of the best right-handed pitching prospects in the organization, Blake Johnson had a rough 2008 campaign. Johnson moved up to Double-A, and the Texas League hitters raked him to the tune of a .296 batting average. On the season, he went 10-9 with a 4.85 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 143.0 innings pitched. Johnson was once again stingy with the free passes (just 38 walks), but he was particularly prone to the long ball. After giving up just seven home runs in over 130 innings in the Carolina League in 2007, he surrendered 20 round-trippers in 2008. Still, when he's going right, Johnson has an interesting three-pitch repertoire to go along with his prototypical frame. His fastball usually sits at 90-92 mph, and he mixes it with a solid changeup and what can be at times a plus curveball. The Royals are concerned that Johnson has a tendency to use the curveball too often, and he needs to work on commanding the strike zone better, particularly with his fastball. A return to Northwest Arkansas in 2009 seems likely.
Photo Credits: Paulo Orlando photo courtesy of the Wilmington Blue Rocks. All other photos taken by Dave Sanford, Scout.com