Prospects 31-35 on this year's top 60 list include a pair of players, Mario Lisson and Kurt Mertins, who could make solid utility infielders in the majors someday, along with Jose Duarte, who is the best defensive outfielder in the system. To read more about these and the other players on the list, take a look inside.
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.
31. Kurt Mertins, IF
Age: 22 B-T: R-R HT: 6-0 WT: 175
Kurt Mertins had a rough full season debut at the plate in 2007 at Burlington, but the Royals felt confident enough in him to send him to the Carolina League in 2008. Mertins responded with a very solid offensive season, hitting .282/.351/.400 in a tough league for hitters. After a blistering June and July, a period in which he hit over .320, Mertins entered August near the .300 mark. However, he hit a slump in the season's final month, which may have carried over into the Hawaiian Winter League, where he hit just .218/.295/.372. Since being selected in the 13th round of the 2006 draft, Mertins has added strength to his frame, particularly in his legs, and when he's going right, he sprays line drives all over the diamond. Defensively, Mertins' best position is second base, but he also saw considerable time at third base in 2008, due to the glut of middle infielders on the Wilmington roster. Because he can also play shortstop reasonably well, Mertins is one of the best utility prospects the Royals have, and he should move up to Double-A in 2009 barring any setbacks.
32. Brian McFall, OF
Age: 24 B-T: R-R HT: 6-3 WT: 215
Brian McFall's career seemed to have stalled in 2007 when, despite repeating High-A, he got off to a horrid start for the Blue Rocks. He turned his season around in the second half, however, finishing the season with the fourth-best slugging percentage in the Carolina League, and he was back on the prospect map. McFall hoped to build upon that success in 2008, as he moved up to the Double-A Texas League. The results, however, were a mixed bag. He did bang out 18 home runs, and his slugging percentage was a respectable .454. His batting average dipped to .241, however, and he struck out 103 times in 348 at bats. That trend continued for him in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit four home runs in 17 games, despite hitting just .194. McFall remains a very streaky player who some scouts believe thinks too much. His raw power is still among the best in the system, and he still possesses a strong arm and relatively good speed. A return to Double-A in 2009 seems likely, but he might be running out of time in the organization.
33. Jose Duarte, OF
Age: 23 B-T: R-R HT: 5-10 WT: 165
Duarte over the past two seasons has solidified his reputation as an above average centerfielder, and the Royals now view him as the organization's best defensive outfielder. Duarte has legitimate big league speed and great first step quickness, along with a plus arm that led all Texas League outfielders with 18 assists in 2008. At the plate, his numbers declined with the move up to Double-A, where he finished the season with a line of .250/.313/.350 and 28 stolen bases in 36 attempts while hitting atop the Naturals' lineup. Interestingly, Duarte did set a career high with 10 home runs, after hitting just one at each of his previous two full season stops. Duarte is a gifted athlete, and while he doesn't yet project to hit enough to be a big league starter, he could ride his defense to carve out a nice career as a fourth outfielder. This season will be pivotal for Duarte, as he turns 24 in March.
34. Devon Lowery, RP
Age: 25 B-T: L-R HT: 6-1 WT: 195
Nobody on this year's Top 60 list has been in the organization longer than Devon Lowery, who the Royals selected in the 14th round of the 2001 draft. Indeed, it was a long road to the Majors for Lowery, delayed by injuries and a case of the yips, but he finally broke into the big leagues in September after an outstanding 2008 campaign. Lowery in 2008 pitched in 40 games between NW Arkansas and Omaha, logging a 1.87 ERA and 60 strikeouts while holding opposing hitters to a .213 average in 72.1 innings pitched. His fastball reaches the mid-90s, complemented by a hard slider. Lowery pitched in five games for the Royals in September, and while he got hit around a bit, he could be one of the first pitchers called back to Kansas City if the need arises in the bullpen. Indeed, were it not for the Royals' free agent bullpen acquisitions, Lowery might have had a legitimate shot at breaking camp with the big club in 2009.
35. Mario Lisson, SS
Age: 24 B-T: R-R HT: 6-2 WT: 210
The 2008 season was an interesting one for Mario Lisson, who was looking to build upon the solid numbers he put up for the Blue Rocks in 2007 (.285/.348/.408). Unfortunately, Lisson's production fell sharply as he advanced a level, and he hit just .225/.284/.374 in 130 games for the Naturals. Lisson did bang out a career high 14 home runs, however, and he stole 31 bases while being caught just six times. A good low ball hitter, Lisson's power/speed combination is promising, and he's one of the organization's best baserunners. Lisson began the season as the Naturals' third baseman, but the Royals shifted him to shortstop a couple of months into the season, and he took to the position like a fish to water. One scout told us that he looked like he had been playing shortstop his whole life. While Lisson certainly is not a "can't miss" guy, his defensive prowess and athleticism should eventually get him a look at the big league level, perhaps as a utility man with some pop. The Royals have some work to do this spring figuring out how to sort the logjam of middle infielders at the High-A and Double-A levels, but it seems likely that Lisson will return to NW Arkansas to begin the season.
Photo Credits: All photos taken by Dave Sanford, Scout.com