RC Scouting Reports: Prospects 16-20

Prospects 16-20 include four pitchers, one of whom is the largest pitcher on our list, and another who is among the smallest. Tyler Sample stands at 6-foot-7 and has a great fastball. On the other end of the scale, Ed Cegarra stands under six feet but pitched the majority of the season in the Carolina League as a 19-year old. Click inside to read all about these and the other players on our 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.

16. Julio Pimentel, SP
Age: 23   B-T: R-R  HT: 6-1  WT: 195

Julio Pimentel's second year as a starter didn't go nearly as well as the first. The Royals in 2007 converted the right-hander back to a starting pitcher after a couple of seasons in the bullpen, and he responded with an outstanding season for the Blue Rocks. Pimentel got his first crack at Double-A in 2008, but he got hit around at a .307 clip, compiling a 5.38 ERA with 115 strikeouts and 52 walks in 157.1 innings pitched for the Naturals. Indeed, Pimentel last year was entirely too hittable, and the 193 hits he allowed was the fourth-highest total in the Texas League. Scouts believe his troubles stem from the lack of a consistent breaking ball. He is occasionally able to snap off a hard breaking ball that dives late, but more often than not, he has trouble staying on top of the pitch and winds up spinning it. Besides the breaking ball, Pimentel throws a fastball with movement that sits in the low-90s and occasionally reaches 94-95 mph, along with a changeup that shows a lot of promise. The Royals placed Pimentel on the 40-man roster after the 2007 season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, so clearly the club thinks a lot of his potential. Some think Pimentel's future will ultimately be back in the bullpen, and that may be the case unless he can harness his breaking ball. Odds are that Pimentel will return to the NW Arkansas rotation for another crack at the Texas League in 2009, as long as an elbow injury he sustained in a game this spring doesn't turn out to be too serious.

17. Chris Nicoll, P
Age: 25   B-T: R-R  HT: 6-3  WT: 190

If the Royals gave out a minor league "Comeback Player of the Year" award, Chris Nicoll most certainly would have been the recipient in 2008. His 2007 campaign was simply devastating, when he made just 12 appearances for the Blue Rocks before being sent to Arizona to battle through the yips with pitching coach Mark Davis, who struggled through similar problems during his career. He was sent home early, and his future looked like it was in serious jeopardy. The Royals took a new approach with Nicoll in 2008, however, and it paid great dividends. He was converted to relief duty, and after an encouraging spring training, he was returned to Wilmington where he became a key part of what turned into a stellar bullpen. He threw 43.1 innings for the Blue Rocks, compiling a 2.91 ERA with 49 strikeouts and 15 walks. Carolina League hitters batted just .217 off Nicoll, and he was promoted to Northwest Arkansas in June. With the Naturals, Nicoll continued to impress, racking up 55 strikeouts (against just eight walks) and a 3.09 ERA in 43.2 innings. Between the two levels, Nicoll pitched a total of 87 innings and finished the season with a 3.00 ERA, 104 strikeouts, and just 23 walks. He was slated to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, but a sore elbow kept him out of action. Still, Nicoll clearly revived his career in 2008, and one scout even labeled him as the most advanced pitcher in the system. Nicoll throws a fastball between 89-92 mph, along with a curveball, a changeup, and a slider that is a shade above average. Because of his mix of pitches, Nicoll probably profiles better as a starting pitcher, and the Royals have not ruled out a return to starting duty. Regardless, if he continues to throw strikes, he could be in Kansas City at some point in 2009.

18. Tyler Sample, SP
Age: 19   B-T: R-R  HT: 6-7  WT: 245

At 6-foot-7 and a muscular 245 pounds, Tyler Sample is certainly the most physically imposing player the Royals have drafted in recent years. The club selected the big right-hander in the third round of last year's draft, and he was assigned to the Arizona Royals. Sample's numbers there (0-5, 9.00 ERA and 29 walks in 27.0 IP) certainly were not memorable, but he did strike out well over a batter per inning, and he was quite adept at coaxing ground balls – positive signs as he moves forward. Sample played high school ball at J.K. Mullen High in Denver, which required a great sacrifice on the part of his family. During the school year, Sample lived with his father in an apartment near campus, while his mother and the rest of his family lived over an hour away in Elizabeth. The move allowed Sample to play against better amateur competition, and to work extensively with [Red Sox scout and professional instructor] Darryl Milne on his mechanics and pitches. Sample, who told us he models his game after Josh Beckett fellow Coloradan Roy Halladay, works with a plus fastball that sits in the low- to mid-90s and tops out around 96 mph, along with a developing changeup and a spike curveball with a sharp downward break. He works quickly, and when he's going right, he can be quite dominant. His inconsistency stems from mechanics that still need some work, and he has a tendency to lose control of his fastball and leave it up in the zone. Because he is still pretty raw, he will likely open the 2009 season in extended spring training before being assigned to a rookie ball affiliate during the summer.

19. Ed Cegarra, SP
Age: 19   B-T: R-R  HT: 5-11  WT: 174

When you ask Royals coaches and scouts about Ed Cegarra, the first responses you hear are words like "confidence," "poise," and "composure." Considering Cegarra played the majority of the season as one of the youngest players in the Carolina League, it's easy to see why the organization likes thinks so highly of this Venezuelan right-hander. Indeed, Cegarra has been pushed pretty aggressively over the past two seasons. He debuted with the Burlington Bees as an 18-year-old in 2008, and despite putting up somewhat underwhelming numbers there, he earned high praise for his command and maturity. Cegarra returned to the Bees to begin the 2009 season, and he pitched so well (2.67 ERA, 53 strikeouts, and just 5 walks in 54.0 innings pitched) that he was promoted to Wilmington in late May. He ran into better competition in the Carolina League, and after battling through some inconsistency, he finished his season with a 4.67 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 106 innings for the Blue Rocks. Cegarra works quickly and throws a fastball that sits in the low 90s with movement, along with a decent changeup. He also has a slider that he tends to spin it a bit, and his trouble with the breaking ball seems to be the primary reason he struggled in Wilmington. Still, the Royals love the way Cegarra attacks the strike zone, and he will return to Blue Rocks' rotation this spring.

20. Jose Bonilla, C
Age: 20   B-T: R-R  HT: 5-10  WT: 188

For Royals fans, it had been years since there was any kind of appreciable catching depth in the minor league system. That is no longer the case, as the trio of Sean McCauley, Salvador Perez, and Jose Bonilla gives the Royals three catchers in the lower minors who could each develop into special players. It was a close call, but this year Bonilla narrowly gets the nod over Perez as the organization's best catching prospect. In 112 at bats for the Arizona Royals in 2008, the 20-year-old Dominican backstop led the club in almost every offensive category, including batting average (.357), on-base percentage (.405), slugging percentage (.625), home runs (5), and RBIs (24). His offensive game is quite advanced, and he is strong and possesses very good power for a player at his level. Despite leading the AZL in passed balls, Bonilla moves well behind the dish, and he possesses a plus arm that nailed over 40 percent of attempted base stealers last season. He does not quite have the catch-and-throw skills of Perez or the receiving ability of McCauley, but taken together, he possesses the best total package of talent. Like Perez and McCauley, Bonilla will be jockeying the spring for an assignment to low-A Burlington. It should be both interesting and telling which player(s) ultimately wins the assignment.

Photo Credits: All photos taken by Dave Sanford, Scout.com

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