Prospects 26-30 include a pair of fireballing relievers, Henry Barrera and Juan Abreu, who made tremendous strides in 2008. It also includes Alex Caldera, who was one of the most consistently good starting pitchers in the organization as he helped pitch the Burlington Bees to the Midwest League Championship. Read about these and the other players on the list, 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.
26. Sam Runion, SP
Age: 20 B-T: R-R HT: 6-4 WT: 220
Runion, the Royals' 2nd round pick in 2007, spent a month in extended spring training before making his full season debut with the Burlington Bees in May. Unfortunately, Midwest League hitters lit him up at a .327 clip, and after pitching 40.2 innings for the Bees with a 5.75 ERA and just 11 strikeouts, Runion was sent down to the Appy League. He fared much better there, posting a 3.35 ERA with 30 strikeouts and 10 walks in 48.1 innings. The 6-foot-4 Runion offers tremendous projection, and his greatest strength is a four-seam fastball that moves like a two-seamer and sits in the low-90s, topping out around 95 mph. He maintains that velocity well throughout the game, and projects a lot of confidence on the mound. Runion's primary problem, however, is the lack of a useful breaking ball. He has worked extensively on tightening it up and staying on top of the ball, and his coaches in Burlington (NC) gave us a positive report about it a few weeks after his demotion. Still, the pitch must continue to improve as he moves forward, to give him an out pitch and a useful complement to his fastball and changeup. Runion will likely get another shot at the Midwest League out of spring training this season.
27. Sean McCauley, C
Age: 19 B-T: R-R HT: 6-2 WT: 170
McCauley in 2008 posted another solid season at rookie ball, this time in Idaho Falls, sandwiched around a couple of injuries. The catcher experienced shoulder pain at the beginning of spring training, which kept him out of action until May. He opened with Chukars and hit .278/.347/.385 with two homers and 12 doubles in 169 at bats. A quad strain ended his season a couple of weeks early and kept him out of game action during instructs. Nevertheless, the former 12th rounder out of Virginia remains one of the Royals' best catching prospects, and he drew much praise for his receiving ability behind the plate. Offensively, McCauley generates surprising pull power from such a wiry frame, and his numbers thus far in his career have been a welcome sight for the Royals, who paid him an above-slot bonus in 2007 based upon his defensive prowess, not his offense. If healthy, McCauley could begin the 2009 season with the Burlington Bees, although there are several other catchers at the same stage of development who will also be jockeying for the assignment.
28. Juan Abreu, RP
Age: 23 B-T: R-R HT: 6-0 WT: 170
Abreu missed the entire 2007 season with an elbow injury, but the 23-year-old right hander bounced back in 2008 with an outstanding campaign for the Burlington Bees. In Abreu's first exposure to full season ball, he appeared in 22 games, logging a 3.66 ERA and striking out an incredible 104 batters in 76.1 innings pitched. Opponents hit just .214 against him, and when an ankle injury prematurely ended his season in early August, the reliever was actually leading the entire Burlington staff in strikeouts. Despite missing the season's final three weeks, Abreu put together the type of season the Royals had hoped for ever since signing him out of the Dominican Republic in 2003. Long heralded for possessing one of the organization's best arms, Abreu features a fastball that sits in the low-90s and touches 97 on occasion, along with a sharp breaking ball that generates lots of swings and misses. He still hasn't fully harnessed his control, as his 42 walks in 2008 can attest, but Abreu should move up to Wilmington this spring.
29. Henry Barrera, RP
Age: 23 B-T: R-R HT: 6-0 WT: 196
Henry Barrera really came into his own in 2008 for the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Selected in the 5th round of the 2004 draft, the right handed reliever had much difficulty during his first three seasons translating his plus fastball into results. He had a minor breakthrough in Burlington in 2007, but his improved command in 2008 prompted the Royals to protect him on the 40-man roster over the winter. Barrera made 42 appearances for Wilmington, logging a 2.81 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 57.2 innings pitched. His fast arm propels a fastball that can reach 97 mph, which he complements with a plus slider and an occasionally devastating splitter. Barrera has an interesting delivery, in which he essentially hops at the beginning of his stride, and several times throughout the season he was called for a balk or an illegal pitch because of it. The Royals are working through the issue with Barrera, and he has shown that he doesn't need the extra jump to maintain his velocity. Barrera is still a little rough around the edges, but he has the right mix of plus offerings that could land him a role in the Royals' bullpen at some point in the near future. In the meantime, Barrera will begin the 2009 season with the NW Arkansas Naturals.
30. Alex Caldera, SP
Age: 23 B-T: L-R HT: 6-3 WT: 200
Somewhat lost in the hoopla generated by fellow Bees rotation members Danny Duffy and Daniel Gutierrez was Alex Caldera's outstanding season. The right hander out of Chaffey College was the Bees' most reliable starter, leading the club and finishing near the top of the Midwest League in starts (25), wins (12), innings pitched (149.1), and strikeouts (120) while surrendering just 36 walks and 6 home runs. Selected in the 13th round of the 2007 draft, Caldera was consistently good throughout the season, posting ERAs of under 3.00 in every month except June. His stats in June were skewed, however, by his lone disastrous outing, a start on June 2 against Clinton (which at the time was the best hitting team in the league) in which he surrendered nine earned runs in 4.1 innings pitched. He finished the season on a roll, winning seven of his final 10 starts with a 2.02 ERA as the Bees locked down the second half title. The primary knock against Caldera is that his fastball velocity is a tick below average, sitting in the mid- to upper-80s and occasionally topping out at 90 mph. He locates the pitch well, however, and coaches praised his tenacity in attacking the strike zone. He mixes the fastball with a decent changeup and a curveball that he has little trouble throwing for strikes. Caldera should move up to Wilmington to begin the 2009 season.
Photo Credits: Henry Barrera photo courtesy of the Wilmington Blue Rocks. All other photos taken by Dave Sanford, Scout.com