Prospects 21-25 on this year's Top 60 list include a pair of exciting outfielders, Adrian Ortiz and Joe Dickerson, who played for the Wilmington Blue Rocks in 2008. Also included is Keaton Hayenga, a fireballer with a 95 mph fastball who should make his professional debut in 2009. To read about these and the other players on the list, click 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.
21. Jason Taylor, 1B
Age: 20 B-T: R-R HT: 6-1 WT: 210
Jason Taylor seems to be his own worst enemy. After being placed on the suspended list for disciplinary reasons and missing the entire 2007 season, Taylor will miss the first 50 games of the 2009 season after testing positive during the offseason for a "drug of abuse." He actually showed up at spring training in 2008 and impressed club officials, who were encouraged by what seemed to be new level of focus and maturity. He had an excellent camp and was assigned to the Midwest League, where he had a solid season for the Bees, hitting .242/.372/.418 with 17 home runs and 40 stolen bases. His numbers show a player who has an interesting mix of power, on base ability, and speed, although the Royals do not expect the stocky former second rounder to steal as many bases as he moves forward. Taylor began the season as the Bees' third baseman, but when the Royals acquired shortstop Juan Rivera from the Dodgers, the club moved Mike Moustakas to third and shifted Taylor to first base. Taylor is a good fielder with a quick first step and solid range, particularly to his left, and there was some chatter that his ultimate destination could be a corner outfield spot. However, that decision and Taylor's development will have to wait as he serves his suspension, along with whatever additional disciplinary measures (if any) the Royals decide to take.
22. Salvador Perez, C
Age: 18 B-T: R-R HT: 6-3 WT: 175
Salvador Perez is clearly a favorite of the Royals' brass. Coaches and club officials alike praise his work ethic and aptitude, the latter of which was described by one coach in particular as being "off the charts." The Venezuelan catcher was signed by the Royals as a 16-year-old in September 2006, and he made his American debut just nine months later in Arizona, where he finished second in the Arizona League by gunning down over 48 percent of attempted basestealers. Perez in 2008 made a lot of progress with his bat while splitting the season between Burlington (NC) and Idaho Falls, hitting a combined .361/.409/.482 in 25 games and 83 at bats. While in the Appy League, he suffered a sprained ankle running up the first base line in Princeton, which caused him to miss the entire month of July. He returned for a few games in August before being promoted to Idaho to replace the injured Sean McCauley. At the plate, Perez has been working on situational hitting and utilizing his lower half more, and he is gifted with good size and strength and very fast hands. As he continues to fill out his 6-foot-3 frame, he could add significant power. Defensively, he is the best "catch-and-throw" catcher in the Royals' lower minors, meaning he has a very quick exchange and release when gunning down runners, which he did at a 45 percent success rate in 2008. Perez will not turn 19 until May, so there is no need to rush him, although he could open the 2009 season with the Burlington Bees.
23. Joe Dickerson, OF
Age: 22 B-T: L-L HT: 6-1 WT: 190
For the second straight year, Joe Dickerson fell victim to an injury that prematurely ended a solid season. This time, the culprit was an errant pitch that struck him on the left hand and broke a finger. Prior to the injury, Dickerson was having a very good season, hitting .297/.376/.442 with five homers and 10 triples in 310 at bats. Dickerson's finger recovered in time for him to participate in the Arizona Fall League, and he held his own against the more advanced pitching, hitting .269 with nine extra base hits in 104 at bats. At the plate, Dickerson has steadily improved his numbers each year while progressing through the system one level at a time. His batting coach in Wilmington praised his approach, particularly with two-strikes, and it seems clear that Dickerson is one of the more advanced natural hitters in the system. The problem, of course, is that he has not developed much power, and that could limit his options as he moves forward. Dickerson is an instinctive defensive player with an average to slightly below average arm, and he has good range for a corner outfielder. However, because he doesn't hit with much power, he does not project well in right or left field, and he probably lacks the range to play center. Of course, David DeJesus (whose numbers at Wilmington as a 22-year-old -- .296/.400/.434 -- were very similar to Dickerson's 2008 numbers in roughly the same number of games) probably heard similar things coming up, so it is difficult to write off Dickerson as a "tweener" at this point. And like DeJesus, Dickerson has good speed but has not yet translated it into much success stealing bases. He will likely open the 2009 season by continuing his march through the system, this time at NW Arkansas.
24. Keaton Hayenga, SP
Age: 20 B-T: R-R HT: 6-4 WT: 180
The Royals in 2007 selected Keaton Hayenga out of Eastlake High School in Redmond, Washington, in the 31st round. Despite suffering a torn labrum while sliding into a base during his senior season, Hayenga received a $300,000 bonus to abandon his scholarship offer at Washington State and sign with the Royals. It has been a slow recovery for the tall right hander, but Royals officials praised his diligence in rehabbing the injury. Hayenga didn't throw his first pitch in a competitive scenario until instructs, but when he finally got back on the mound, he showed the ability that made him arguably the best pitching prospect in the Northwest prior to his injury. His fastball velocity came back faster than anyone expected, reaching 95 mph in the fall, which he complements with a very good changeup and what will hopefully turn into a plus curveball. Like his fellow 2007 draftee and Washington native Hilton Richardson, Hayenga is a gifted athlete, excelling in high school on both the baseball field and the basketball court, where he earned team MVP honors and averaged over 23 points a game his senior year. With his arm now fully healthy, Hayenga seems poised to become one of the organization's top pitching prospects, although he will likely stay behind in extended spring training before heading out to a rookie ball affiliate in the summer.
25. Adrian Ortiz, OF
Age: 21 B-T: L-R HT: 6-0 WT: 172
The primary knock on Adrian Ortiz when the Royals selected him out of Pepperdine in the 5th round of the 2007 draft was that he wasn't much of a hitter. Ortiz has spent the last two seasons proving otherwise, compiling a career batting average of .314 through his first three stops in the minors. Ortiz began 2008 with the Burlington Bees, where he hit .308/.334/.386 with 20 extra base hits in 422 at bats. He was named as a starter in the Midwest League All-Star game, and at the time he was promoted to Wilmington in late July, he was among the league leaders in hits. In Wilmington, Ortiz actually improved his numbers despite the move to the more advanced league, where he hit .311/.345/.398 in 103 at bats. He is a burner who is among the fastest players in the organization, and he stole 34 bases in 2008. He still needs some work, however, on reading pitchers and getting better jumps, as he led the minors by being caught stealing 20 times. At the plate, the ball comes off his bat pretty well at times, and he's capable of plugging the gaps with line drives. More often, however, Ortiz is content with hitting the ball on the ground and beating out base hits. He occasionally gets overly aggressive, chasing pitches out of the zone, and the Royals would like to see him become more patient and get on base more often. Some scouts are also concerned about his approach against lefties, despite a career average of over .300 against southpaws thus far in his career. Defensively, Ortiz covers a lot of ground in center and possesses an excellent arm, which allowed him to lead the Midwest League in assists despite spending the season's final month in Wilmington. Odds are that Ortiz will return to Wilmington to begin the 2009 season, but he could move up to Double-A at some point in the summer.
Photo Credits: Keaton Hayenga photo courtesy of Perfect Game. All other photos taken by Dave Sanford, Scout.com