RC's Top 60 Royals Prospects

Who are the top prospects in the Royals' organization? Inside, check out RC's 2008 prospect rankings and scouting reports, which have been expanded this year to include the organization's top 60 prospects.

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.

1. Mike Moustakas, 3B
Age: 20   B-T: L-R  HT: 6-0  WT: 195

So far, so good for Mike Moustakas, the Royals' top prospect for the second straight year. The Royals' 2007 first rounder joined the Burlington Bees out of camp in 2008 as the club's starting shortstop. However, like the Bees, Moustakas got off to a miserable start, hitting just .190 with one extra base hit in 84 April at bats. Midwest League pitchers were pitching him inside and throwing him a lot of offspeed stuff, and it took Moustakas some time to adjust. He was getting himself out early in counts, but by the time May rolled around, Moustakas started seeing more pitches, and he began sitting back and driving the ball. After two relatively solid months in May and June, he got red hot in July and never cooled off. After the All-Star break, Moustakas hit a blistering .321/.392/.557 with 13 home runs, and it was likely no coincidence that the Bees also started winning games in bunches en route to a second half title. On the season, Moustakas finished with a line of .272/.337/.468 and 22 home runs in 496 at bats. At 19-years old, he became the first teenager to lead the Midwest League in home runs since 1992, and his total was higher than any Bees player since the club affiliated with the Royals in 2001. At the plate, Moustakas has everything an elite hitting prospect should have: great bat speed and a short stroke that generates impressive raw power. The Royals, to their credit, did not use his early struggles to tinker with his swing, preferring instead to let Moustakas make his own adjustments. The Royals were impressed with his maturity, and despite being younger than the vast majority of his teammates in Burlington, Moustakas was a clubhouse leader. He handled the club's decision to move him from shortstop to third base exceptionally well, and he worked hard throughout the season on improving his defense. He will probably never be an above average defender, regardless of what position he ultimately winds up at, but he does have some athleticism and a plus arm. This spring, Moustakas will continue his march to the big leagues with a stop in Wilmington, where it will be interesting to see how he handles the more advanced Carolina League pitching.


2. Eric Hosmer, 1B
Age: 19   B-T: L-L  HT: 6-4  WT: 215

For the third straight year, the Royals in 2008 used their first pick in the draft to select a client represented by agent Scott Boras. And for the second straight year, the club selected the best high school hitter available, following up their 2007 selection of Mike Moustakas by nabbing first baseman Eric Hosmer with the third overall pick of the 2008 draft. After signing for a club-record $6 million at the deadline, Hosmer was assigned to Idaho Falls. However, he had played in just three games with the Chukars when the commissioner's office ordered the Royals to remove him from the league. A contract squabble between the Pirates and their first round pick, Pedro Alvarez, had entangled Hosmer, and baseball ordered both players to sit out as the validity of their contracts – which arrived in the commissioner's office after the signing deadline expired – was investigated. Ultimately, Hosmer's signing was deemed valid, but it was too late for him to return to the Pioneer League. He participated in fall instructs, where his performance was deemed "outstanding," and he spent the offseason working out and preparing for the upcoming season. Hosmer's potential is off the charts. He produces excellent bat speed, and he possesses perhaps the best raw power potential in the organization. Some scouts even go far enough to claim that he is among the best handful of high school hitters to come out of the draft in the past decade. He is also reportedly advanced defensively, with soft hands and a plus arm, although his speed generates varied opinions. Some think his lack of speed will ultimately limit him to first base, while others believe he has the wheels (and certainly the arm) that could handle a future move to a corner outfield spot. The Royals have no plan to move him off of first base any time soon, but regardless of his ultimate destination, his bat should be able to play anywhere. Hosmer will likely follow the same path as Moustakas, debuting this spring with the Burlington Bees.


3. Dan Cortes, SP
Age: 21   B-T: R-R  HT: 6-6  WT: 216

When Dan Cortes was traded from the White Sox for Mike MacDougal in July 2006, he entered the Royals' system as, by his own admission, "a skinny, shy kid." In the two and a half years since, he has grown, added strength, and matured into the Royals' top pitching prospect. Originally selected by the White Sox out of Garey High School (CA) in the 7th round of the 2005 draft, Cortes took a couple of seasons to really find his stride. He had his first breakthrough in 2007 at Wilmington, where as a 20-year-old he went 8-8 with a 3.07 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 123.0 innings pitched. During the offseason, Cortes continued to get stronger, putting 15 more pounds of lean muscle on his 6-foot-6 frame. The work paid off, as Cortes had another solid season, going 10-4 with a 3.78 ERA for the NW Arkansas Naturals. In 116.2 innings pitched, he struck out 109 batters while walking 55 and holding opponents to a .241 average. For his efforts, he was named a Texas League postseason All-Star and the Royals Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Cortes doesn't yet have great command of his pitches inside the strike zone, but he does have two pitches that profile at 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. The first is a fastball that sits at 93-94 and tops out around 97 mph. The other is a devastating 12-to-6 curveball that falls off the table. Cortes has yet to show much of a changeup, and that is the one thing that could stall his progress as a starting pitcher. Some scouts, in fact, believe Cortes is probably better suited for the bullpen, where he could pitch at the Major League level right now with his fastball/curveball combo, which is among the best in the minors. The Royals will continue trying to develop the big right-hander as a starter, however, and he will begin 2009 either in Omaha or back in NW Arkansas. Regardless, it seems likely that his long-awaited Major League debut could come at some point this year.


4. Kila Ka'aihue, 1B
Age: 24   B-T: L-R  HT: 6-3  WT: 221

Last year, Kila Ka'aihue's name was absent from every major top prospect list, including this one. Despite his on-base skills, the big first baseman had the look of a player who was probably running out of chances in the organization, even though he did hit 21 home runs between Wilmington and Wichita in 2007. Late in spring training last year, however, J.J. Picollo told RC that he thought Ka'aihue was going to have a big year. According to Picollo, Ka'aihue was having a great camp: he was hitting breaking balls better, he was taking outside fastballs to left field, he was recognizing pitches better, and he just had a different look in the box. Ka'aihue had spent the offseason working out and getting physically stronger, so he could repeat his swing better. Sure enough, when the season opened, Ka'aihue proceeded to put together one of the best campaigns of any farmhand in Royals history, and by the time it was over, he was in Kansas City for a September cup of coffee. Ka'aihue played 91 games for the Naturals before being promoted to Omaha, where he hit 11 home runs in 33 games. Between the two levels, he hit a combined .314/.456/.628 with 37 home runs, 100 RBIs, and a minor league-best 104 walks. His on-base percentage was also the best in the minors, and his slugging percentage and OPS (1.085) both ranked second behind Rangers prospect Nelson Cruz. For his tremendous season, Ka'aihue picked up some impressive hardware, including the Texas League MVP trophy and the Royals Minor League Player of the Year award. If Ka'aihue were older, it might be easy to write off his 2008 success as a Calvin Pickering or Craig Brazell-type occurrence. However, Ka'aihue won't turn 25 until this spring. He is young and has ideal size and strength along with good bat speed. His pretty swing is complemented by precisely the type of plate discipline that organizations try to teach. He is also very intelligent, keeping a meticulous notebook on the pitchers he faces – what they throw, how they pitched him, how their pitches move, etc. In short, there is much to suggest that Ka'aihue is a legitimately excellent prospect. Because of the logjam at first base in Kansas City, Ka'aihue will begin the 2009 season back in Omaha, but he will almost certainly be back with the Royals at some point this season.


5. Daniel Gutierrez, SP
Age: 21   B-T: R-R  HT: 6-1  WT: 180

During spring training last year, Royals' farm director J.J. Picollo told us that we might be hearing a lot more about Daniel Gutierrez in the next six months. Indeed, the 6-foot-1 right-hander was the talk of the instructional league in 2007, and he stood poised to establish himself as a top pitching prospect in 2008. Gutierrez did just that, putting together an excellent season capped by two outstanding playoff starts, in which he was 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 12 innings for the Midwest League champion Burlington Bees. Assigned to Burlington out of spring training, Gutierrez got off to a great start, compiling a 2.37 ERA in four April starts with well over a strikeout per inning. However, he soon began experiencing pain and swelling in his right arm behind his triceps, and the Royals shut him down for the entire month of May. The injury was diagnosed as a fractured growth plate in his elbow, which was causing a tendon to swell up. Gutierrez told RC that surgery was not an option, and that even though he still experiences pain occasionally when he pitches, he just has to battle through it and try to keep the swelling down. When Gutierrez returned to the Bees in June, the Royals limited his innings, but it didn't take him long to get back up to speed. He finished the regular season with a 2.70 ERA and 104 strikeouts and 25 walks in 90 innings pitched, and he held opposing hitters to a .246 average. Gutierrez has an ideal pitching frame and a live arm with big league stuff. He throws a fastball that sits at 91-93 mph and tops out in the mid-90s, and he maintains that velocity late into games. He also throws a hammer curveball with late break, and a useful changeup that he hasn't had to throw very often in the low minors. Gutierrez earned praise for his poise on the mound, and his consistency in keeping the ball down and pounding the strike zone. Had it not been for his injury, Gutierrez very likely would have earned a promotion to Wilmington early in the summer. As it stands, he will begin the 2009 season in the Carolina League, and he could move very quickly, provided he stays healthy.


6. Blake Wood, SP
Age: 23   B-T: R-R  HT: 6-4  WT: 225

Despite a rough initiation at Double-A, Blake Wood continued to solidify himself as one of the Royals' premier pitching prospects. His year began back at Wilmington, where he finished the 2007 season after a late promotion from Burlington. In 10 starts for the Blue Rocks in 2008, Wood pitched exceptionally well, holding Carolina League hitters to a ridiculous .168 average. Wood pitched 57.1 innings for Wilmington, going 3-2 with a 2.67 ERA while striking out 63 batters and surrendering just 32 hits and 15 walks (0.82 WHIP). He was promoted to Northwest Arkansas in late May, and it didn't take him long to make an impression. On June 4, Wood tossed the first complete game in Naturals history against the Arkansas Travelers, a three-hit shutout in which he struck out 10 batters and didn't allow a runner past first base. Unfortunately, that success was short-lived, and he was hit-or-miss for the remainder of the season. In all, Wood started 18 games for the Naturals, and he finished with a 5.30 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 86.2 innings pitched. Despite his struggles in the Texas League, it's easy to see why the big right-hander is so highly thought of. He has a great pitcher's frame that produces a fastball that sits in the low- to mid-90s, touching 96-97 mph on occasion. He also has a hard curveball that is pretty nasty when he's commanding it, along with an above average changeup. Wood's overall command is a little spotty, however, and he frequently goes into a game without control of one of his offspeed pitches. Nevertheless, he can be utterly dominant in the games in which everything is clicking for him, and it is that potential that produces visions of a future big league workhorse. Wood should return to Northwest Arkansas to begin the 2009 season, but improved consistency could prompt a relatively quick promotion to Omaha.


7. Carlos Rosa, P
Age: 24   B-T: R-R  HT: 6-1  WT: 208

Despite battling injuries through much of his career, Carlos Rosa remains one of the Royals' most intriguing young arms. The Dominican right-hander missed the entire 2005 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and an oblique strain ended his season prematurely in 2007. Last year, it was a forearm strain that sidelined him in August, but in between his last two injuries, Rosa put together a season that took him all the way to the big leagues, where he made two appearances for the Royals in June. During the offseason, the Royals initially tried to trade Rosa to Florida for Mike Jacobs, but his forearm injury convinced the Marlins to accept Leo Nunez instead. Rosa's 2008 season began back in Double-A, and he quickly showed that the string of excellent outings he had in 2007 just prior to being shut down was no fluke. In eight starts for the Naturals, Rosa dominated Texas League hitters, holding the league to a .189 average while compiling a 1.20 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 45.0 innings pitched. He was promoted to Omaha in May, and after just five outings there, he was called up to Kansas City to fill a hole in the bullpen. He was returned to Omaha after a couple of weeks, and after six more outings with the O-Royals, he was shut down when his forearm started bugging him. Rosa finished his stint at Omaha with a 4.09 ERA and 44 strikeouts (against 12 walks) in 50.2 innings pitched. He throws a fastball that sits in the low-90s and frequently reaches 95-96 mph, along with a nasty hard slider that is among the best in the organization. Rosa also has a changeup that can occasionally be very good, although opinions vary on the effectiveness and consistency of the pitch. Although he has worked almost exclusively as a starter throughout his career, many scouts believe Rosa's future is in the bullpen, due to his lethal fastball/slider combination. Indeed, the Royals this spring have indicated that they also like his stuff better as a reliever, and he will begin the 2009 season in the Omaha bullpen. If all goes well, he could be among the first relievers called up to Kansas City when the need arises.


8. Daniel Duffy, SP
Age: 20   B-T: L-L  HT: 6-2  WT: 185

As an encore to his 2007 professional debut, in which he blew through the Arizona League with a 1.45 ERA and nearly 1.7 strikeouts per inning, Danny Duffy headed to Burlington in 2008 and dominated the Midwest League. The Royals wanted to limit Duffy's innings and exposure to the cold Iowa spring, so he didn't join the Bees until May. While in extended spring training, the 2007 3rd rounder worked on repeating his delivery, keeping his offspeed pitches down in the zone, and improving his fastball command. Once in Burlington, Duffy made 17 starts for the Bees, going 8-4 with a 2.20 ERA. In 81.2 innings pitched, the southpaw struck out 102 batters while surrendering just 25 walks and 56 hits, and he held opposing hitters to a miniscule .193 batting average. Even more encouraging, his splits suggest he was equally effective against both right-handed and left-handed batters (.194 and .192 BA, respectively). Duffy was shut down in August prior to the Bees' playoff run, however, due to some fatigue in his shoulder, which he also experienced during the 2007 season. Nevertheless, Duffy's numbers thus far in his career cannot be ignored. He throws a live fastball that sits between 87-91 mph and tops out a couple of ticks higher, along with a plus curveball and an above average changeup, the latter of which he has made much progress with over the past year. He has a live arm with a lot of life on his pitches, and coaches praised how he goes right after hitters. There is some concern that he tends to rely on his offspeed stuff a little too much, and his fastball command has been rather spotty at times. In the lower minors, his fastball command hasn't caused him much trouble, because he has been "effectively wild" with the pitch, as pitching coach Doug Henry put it. Still, as Duffy faces more advanced hitters, his fastball command could become more of an issue, so that is likely to be a primary focus for him as he moves forward. This spring, Duffy should begin the season with the Wilmington Blue Rocks, who figure to once again have a very strong rotation.


9. Mike Montgomery, SP
Age: 19   B-T: L-L  HT: 6-5  WT: 180

The Royals selected Montgomery in the supplemental first round of last year's draft, 36th overall. The tall southpaw from California's Hart High School gained size and strength over his senior year, causing his fastball velocity to rise a few ticks on the radar gun, and all of a sudden, he was a potential first rounder. After signing for $988,000, Montgomery headed to the rookie level Arizona League, where he dominated and became one of the best prospects in the circuit. In 42.2 innings for the Arizona Royals, the 19-year-old logged a 1.69 ERA with 34 strikeouts, holding opponents to a .211 batting average. When RC spoke with Montgomery immediately after the draft, he told us he thought of himself primarily as a fastball/changeup pitcher, although he came into the organization with four pitches: the fastball that sits at 91-92 mph and tops out at 95, a plus changeup with excellent movement, a palm curveball, and a more traditional curveball. His curveball clearly needs the most work, and its refinement should coincide with an increase in strikeouts. In high school, Montgomery was a standout athlete who also excelled on the basketball court, and he seems to have a solid grasp about what it will take to reach the big leagues. He has an advanced feel for pitching, changing speeds well and working off his fastball to set up his other pitches. The Royals also love Montgomery's projectability, because he should add weight to his 6-foot-5 frame as he continues to mature, which could add a few ticks to his already impressive fastball. Of all the high school starting pitchers in the Royals' 2008 draft class, Montgomery will probably be the first to reach full season ball, perhaps even out of spring training.


10. Tim Melville, SP
Age: 19   B-T: R-R  HT: 6-5  WT: 205

It was probably difficult for North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Mike Fox to contain his excitement last June when his prized recruit, Tim Melville, slid through the amateur draft's first three rounds. The big St. Louis area right-hander had signed with UNC after a junior season in which he went 10-1 on the mound with a 0.89 ERA, hit .443 at the plate, and was named the Jackie Robinson National High School Player of the Year. Melville's bonus demands, his commitment to UNC (a school that usually doesn't lose many recruits), and a moderately disappointing senior season caused big league teams to pass on the player who was considered one of the top high school pitchers available in the draft. But alas, his career at North Carolina wasn't to be. The Royals selected Melville in the fourth round of the draft, and then lured him away from Chapel Hill with first round money - $1.25 million. The Commissioner's office sat on the signing bonus agreement for several weeks, so Melville didn't officially sign until August 15, and as a result he will not make his professional debut until this year. He did pitch at instructs, however, and the reports were glowing. The Royals made some corrections to his delivery to speed it up, and he threw the ball very well. Armed with a plus fastball that sits at 92-93 mph and tops out a few ticks higher, Melville could add some velocity to the pitch as he continues to fill out. He also throws a plus curveball that he locates exceptionally well, along with a changeup that shows potential. The Royals believe he fits the organization's pitching philosophy well, as he is very coachable and possesses a strong work ethic. Melville's mechanics are reportedly very sound, and he has a tremendously projectable frame. He probably won't kick off his professional career in low-A Burlington, but if all goes well, it seems likely he'll get there at some point in 2009.


11. Kelvin Herrera, SP
Age: 19   B-T: R-R  HT: 5-10  WT: 162

Kelvin Herrera didn't begin the season with the same fanfare as his fellow Dominican Academy graduates Giancarlo De La Cruz, Santiago Garrido, and Sugar Ray Marimon, but he left little doubt that he is by far the most advanced pitcher in that group. Indeed, after a stellar 2008 campaign that took him all the way to low-A Burlington, Herrera is among the top pitching prospects in the organization. He began his season pitching for the Burlington Royals in the Appy League, where he logged a 1.42 ERA with 45 strikeouts and just five walks in 50.2 innings pitched. In August, injuries and fatigue on the Bees' staff created an opening, so the Royals sent Herrera to the Midwest League to round out the rotation. He made three appearances for the Bees, going 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA, and he went six strong innings in his lone playoff start against Kane County, yielding just two runs on six hits and no walks while striking out four batters. At 5-foot-10, 162 pounds, Herrera isn't very physically imposing on the mound, but he's strong for his size. That strength generates a fastball that sits at 92-93 mph and reaches 95. His excellent fastball is complemented by a changeup and slurvy breaking ball, both of which can become plus pitches that he commands well. Herrera has an exceptionally clean delivery with plenty of deception, and he earned praise from coaches and officials alike for his fearlessness on the mound. Look for Herrera to return to low-A to begin the season, although he could be a candidate for a relatively quick promotion to Wilmington if all goes well, particularly when some of the 2008 draftees are ready to make their full season debuts. Herrera's stuff is advanced enough that he should be able to handle the jump.


12. Johnny Giavotella, 2B
Age: 21   B-T: R-R  HT: 5-8  WT: 185

When Johnny Giavotella made his professional debut in Peoria on June 13, the Burlington Bees were 29-38 and in last place in the Midwest League's Western Division. After Giavotella's arrival, the club went 44-27, winning the second half title and blowing through the playoffs undefeated en route to the Midwest League championship. Certainly, the Bees' surge can be attributed to a number of factors, such as the excellent second half performances of key players like Mike Moustakas, David Lough, Alex Caldera, and Danny Duffy. But Giavotella's arrival was equally important, and the "spark plug" reputation he gained at the University of New Orleans during his collegiate career seems to have travelled with him to the Midwest League. The Royals selected the 5-foot-8 second baseman in the third round of the 2008 draft, and the club felt he was advanced enough to go straight to low-A ball. Giavotella validated that belief by hitting .299/.355/.421 with four home runs and 18 doubles in 278 at bats for the Bees. At the plate, Giavotella uses his massive forearms to generate good pull power, particularly for a middle infielder, although he has yet to show much power going the opposite way. He is a patient hitter who should continue getting on base at a good clip as he moves forward, as he had a career on base percentage well north of .450 during his collegiate career at UNO. A Royals official told us he was one of the best hitters at instructs last fall, and he could rise very quickly to become one of the first 2008 draftees to reach the big leagues. Giavotella is somewhat limited defensively, and he committed 13 errors in just 67 games at second base for the Bees. The Royals don't expect him to be a liability there, but it will be his bat that will probably have to carry him. The next stop for Giavotella will be Wilmington this spring.


13. David Lough, OF
Age: 22   B-T: L-L  HT: 6-0  WT: 180

After just one full season, David Lough has established himself as the best outfield prospect in the organization. That might say more about the lack of outfield talent in the Royals' system, particularly in the upper minors, than it does about Lough, but the fact remains that Lough is a very exciting young player. Drafted in the 11th round out of Mercyhurst College in 2007, Lough has true five tool potential. In his first crack at full season ball, Lough hit .268/.329/.455 with 16 home runs, 11 triples, and 12 stolen bases, very impressive numbers for the league. Hitting at or near the top of the Bees' lineup all year, he finished among the top 10 in the Midwest League in runs, home runs, and slugging percentage. At the plate, Lough has a nice line drive swing, although he can get out on his front foot and be a little pull happy at times. He doesn't tinker with his swing very much, and he generates good raw power, particularly for someone his size. In the outfield, Lough primarily played left field until Adrian Ortiz was promoted to Wilmington, at which point he took over center field duties. With his speed and range, Lough plays a legitimate center, although the presence of guys like Derrick Robinson and Ortiz ahead of him means he will probably play more left field as he moves forward. It shouldn't matter too much, because Lough has a bat that should play at a corner. The main thing he still has to work on is his base running. With his speed, the Royals would like him to steal more bases, but he still gets poor jumps, and his stolen base rate in 2008 was only slightly above 50 percent. Lough is a fiery competitor who was one of the primary catalysts for Burlington's run to the Midwest League championship, and he was clutch as he logged a 935 OPS with six home runs in August as the Bees locked down the second half title. He should move up to Wilmington this spring along with the core of that team.


14. Derrick Robinson, OF
Age: 21   B-T: S-L  HT: 5-11  WT: 170

The progress has been slow for Derrick Robinson, but there certainly has been progress. Selected in the fourth round of the 2006 draft, the speedy centerfielder still holds the title of "fastest man in the organization," and in 2008 he again led the organization (and the Carolina League) in stolen bases (62). Robinson played the entire season for the Wilmington Blue Rocks, and his numbers across the board showed moderate improvement, despite the jump to a more advanced league. His stats – .245/.316/.322 – certainly weren't great, but Robinson drew more walks, reduced his strikeout rate, and hit more line drives than in previous seasons. A switch hitter, Robinson still struggles from the left side of the plate, and he still gets himself out a lot. Still, he earns praise from coaches and scouts for his confidence and work ethic. Coaches in Wilmington worked on his swing in 2008, getting him to set his front foot down earlier so he could see the ball longer and react more quickly. Despite winning the Royals' 2008 "Willie Wilson Base Runner of the Year" award, Robinson has some work to do on the bases as well. His stolen base success rate declined as the year went on and opposing pitchers threw more pitchouts, and he doesn't always have the best running rhythm. In the outfield, nobody in the organization covers more ground than Robinson, and he already plays a major league caliber center field. He is certainly a candidate to move up to Double-A this spring, but his development might be better served with another year in the Carolina League. If Jose Duarte remains in Double-A, it seems even more likely that Robinson would repeat High-A.


15. Jeff Bianchi, IF
Age: 22   B-T: R-R  HT: 6-0  WT: 175

Jeff Bianchi excited a lot of folks after his first two injury-shortened seasons in rookie ball. The 2005 second rounder hit a combined .414 over 40 games during his first two years in the Arizona League, but shoulder and back problems limited his playing time. He was healthy enough to make his full season debut in 2007 with the Burlington Bees, but he hit just .247/.296/.315, and some in the organization worried that he had lost some of the energy and intensity he played with in rookie ball. Nevertheless, Bianchi moved up to Wilmington in 2008, and after a dreadful April (in which he also missed time with a pulled hamstring), he began putting up the type of numbers the Royals expected all along. Bianchi finished the season with a line of .255/.290/.442 and 10 home runs in 396 at bats. His power numbers were fairly impressive for a middle infielder in the pitching friendly Carolina League. He led the Blue Rocks in extra base hits, and his 34 doubles were the seventh-best total in the Carolina League. Wilmington batting coach Nelson Liriano suggested that Bianchi's power resurgence could be related to increased bat speed, caused by loading earlier in his swing. Bianchi still gets a little pull conscious in games, and he is still a pretty streaky hitter, but scouts were pleased that much of his athleticism and energy seemed to return, particularly in the field. Bianchi moved to second base and had a spectacular defensive season, leading to his recognition as the Royals' minor league defensive player of the year. The move to second, however, was not permanent, as the Royals believe he still has the hands, range, and arm to play shortstop. Whether Bianchi plays second or short in 2009 will likely depend on how the organization sorts out its abundance of middle infielders this spring. Bianchi is a candidate to head to NW Arkansas out of camp, but there is also a possibility that he returns to Wilmington to start the season, where he is more likely to play shortstop.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


41. Greg Holland, RP
Age: 23   B-T: R-R  HT: 5-11  WT: 180

Greg Holland, the Royals' 10th round pick in the 2007 draft, made a huge leap in the system in 2008 without skipping a beat. After a solid 2007 professional debut in the Pioneer League, Holland broke camp with the Wilmington Blue Rocks, and he put together an impressive season that justified his advancement and positioned him as one of the best relief prospects in the Royals' system. On the year, the right-hander out of Western Carolina compiled a 3.42 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 84.1 innings pitched. Holland, who turned 23 in November, has a four-pitch repertoire, including a fastball that tops out around 96 mph and an occasionally plus slider. He saw action as both a starter and reliever in 2008, but the Royals believe he is better suited for the bullpen, and the starts he made were primarily geared toward getting him more innings. Holland missed some time midseason with an elbow strain, but he recovered well, and he could continue to be a fast mover in the system. As it stands, his fastball is among the best in the organization.


42. Chris Lubanski, OF
Age: 23   B-T: L-L  HT: 6-3  WT: 210

It always took Chris Lubanski some time to adjust to each level as he moved up through the system, and the Royals were hopeful that he would show considerable improvement at the Triple-A level during his second season in Omaha. Unfortunately, the results were not terribly favorable in 2008. Lubanski hit just .242/.306/.448 with 15 home runs in 393 at bats for the O-Royals last season, and his prospect light has clearly dimmed considerably. Lubanksi still does several things well. He shows pretty good power, he still runs fairly well for a big man, and he plays a decent left field, even though he often looks better in practice than in games. One has to figure that 2009 will be Lubanski's last chance to prove himself capable of playing at the next level (at least with the Royals), so hopefully he is able to put together a season that earns him a look in Kansas City. The odds of that happening at this point probably aren't very good, but Lubanski has throughout his career shown a knack for surprising skeptics.


43. Patrick Norris, OF
Age: 22   B-T: S-R  HT: 6-2  WT: 190

Patrick Norris does a few things very well. He is a switch hitting, plus-plus runner with great baserunning instincts (he has stolen 63 bases in two rookie ball campaigns with an 85 percent success rate), he has well above average range in the outfield, and he gets on base at a very good clip (.375 career OBP). Those skills by themselves make him a legitimate prospect. His swing consistency hasn't been great, however, and he projects at this point as a Tom Goodwin type hitter at the big league level. Of course, that type of player can have value, and Norris spent the 2008 season focusing on slapping the ball to the left side and forcing defensive mistakes with his speed. Indeed, it is an understatement to say that his speed is disruptive to opposing defenses, and despite his lack of power, it is pretty easy to envision Norris one day roaming a major league outfield, especially if his ability to get on base remains as he faces pitchers with better control in full season ball. Norris probably has a better likelihood of reaching the major leagues than many players surrounding him on this list, but his upside is limited by a swing that generates very little power.


44. Kyle Martin, SS
Age: 24   B-T: R-R  HT: 6-0  WT: 175

Selected as a senior out of Texas Tech in the 29th round of the 2007 draft, Kyle Martin began his career in the Royals' system without much fanfare. The shortstop debuted with the Burlington Royals in 2007 and hit just .242, but his 10 home runs led the club and was the second-highest total in the Appalachian League. The Royals' abundance of middle infielders in the lower minors left Martin stuck in extended spring training at the beginning of the 2008 season, but he joined the Burlington Bees in May and immediately began making the most of his opportunities. Martin finished the season with an impressive line of .316/.373/.537 and nine home runs in 190 at bats. He led the Bees in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and he homered once every 21.1 at bats, which is a better ratio than teammate and Midwest League home run champion Mike Moustakas. The Royals sent Martin to the Hawaii Winter Baseball League after the regular season, and he continued to hit the ball out of the ballpark, tying for the league lead in home runs with six. Put simply, Martin has very good raw power for a middle infielder, and that tool, along with his serviceable, versatile glove (he played every position on the infield in 2008), makes him an interesting guy to watch. He has been a bit old for every league he has played in thus far, but the example of Mike Aviles shows that a guy who can consistently square up on pitches always has a chance.


45. Clint Robinson, 1B
Age: 23   B-T: L-L  HT: 6-4  WT: 225

Robinson entered the 2008 season looking to build upon the 2007 campaign that netted him the Pioneer League MVP award. He got off to a good start for the Burlington Bees, but early in the season the big first baseman suffered a wrist injury while sliding into a base. Robinson played through the injury for awhile, but his numbers began to tank, and he wound up missing the majority of May. It took Robinson some time to get back up to speed after the injury, but he finished strong, hitting .301/.365/.515 with five home runs in August as the Bees wrapped up the second half title. On the season, Robinson hit .264/.333/.472 with 17 home runs in 379 at bats while splitting time equally between first base and DH. Robinson has impressive raw power, and his numbers from his first exposure to full season ball are encouraging. Defensively, he is slow and lacks much range, but the Royals do not feel that he is a liability at first base. He will likely continue to rotate between first base and DH as he moves forward to Wilmington in 2009.


46. Marc Maddox, IF
Age: 25   B-T: R-R  HT: 5-11  WT: 185

Maddox took a nice step forward in 2008. After struggling a bit with the Blue Rocks in 2007, he moved up to Northwest Arkansas this year and put together a fine offensive campaign. The second baseman in 2008 hit .283/.363/.375 with four home runs and 30 doubles in 453 at bats for the Naturals. Although at this point it seems clear that the power Maddox showed in college (where he hit 53 home runs in four years) likely will not materialize at the professional level, he did drive the ball more consistently and saw his power numbers rise across the board, in addition to his batting average and on-base percentage. Defensively, scouts doubt that Maddox will ever become an average second baseman – even though he's hardly a butcher out there – so his bat and his versatility (he can play third base and first base as well) will have to carry him.


47. Dusty Hughes, P
Age: 26   B-T: L-L  HT: 5-10  WT: 187

Dusty Hughes put himself back on the prospect map with a solid 2007 campaign after missing the entire 2006 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. In 2008, Hughes split time between Northwest Arkansas and Omaha, compiling a cumulative 4.00 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 108.0 innings pitched between the two levels. Hughes primarily pitched out of the bullpen with the Naturals, and his numbers there were considerably better as a reliever than as a starter. Hughes struggled a bit after his promotion to Omaha, where he pitched almost exclusively as a starter. Hughes' best pitch is his changeup, which he mixes with a high-80s/low-90s fastball and a decent curveball. He projects best as a fifth starter or a swing man in the major leagues. It will be interesting to see whether the Royals leave Hughes as a starter or decide to convert him to a full-time reliever. The concern about the latter option has always been that because Hughes' out pitch is his changeup, his usefulness in coming out of the bullpen to face left-handed batters could be limited.


48. Matt Mitchell, SP
Age: 19   B-T: R-R  HT: 6-2  WT: 205

After signing for an above slot $100,000 bonus as a 14th rounder in 2007, Mitchell had an outstanding debut and was selected as the Arizona Royals' Pitcher of the Year. When 2008 arrived, he was one of the few 2007 high school draftees assigned to a full season club, and he did a nice job as one of the Burlington Bees' workhorses. Mitchell appeared in 25 games for the Bees, going 8-8 while logging a solid 3.47 ERA with 77 strikeouts and 25 walks in 116.2 innings pitched. Mitchell's fastball sits in the high-80s, and he mixes in an average curveball and a potentially above average change-up. He worked extensively on his curveball, trying to add velocity to the pitch to generate a harder break. Because it is not yet an out pitch for him, his strikeout rate fell quite sharply in 2008 as he faced more advanced hitters, and the lack of an out pitch as he moves forward could hold up his progress. Of more immediate concern, however, is Mitchell's health. He was sidelined in late August with what was deemed a strained forearm, but after attempting to pitch through the pain, it was determined that he needed Tommy John surgery. He had the procedure in late October, and he will miss the entire 2009 season.


49. John Lamb, P
Age: 18   B-T: L-L  HT: 6-3  WT: 185

Even though John Lamb did not pitch at all during his senior season in high school, the Royals selected the southpaw in the fifth round of the 2008 draft and signed him to a $165,000 bonus. It has been a slow recovery for Lamb, who suffered a broken elbow in a car accident last February. Still, the Royals hope that once he has fully recovered, he will be the same pitcher who drew the inevitable comparisons to Tom Glavine during high school showcases. When healthy, Lamb had a good fastball that tops out in the low-90s, along with a promising curveball. He has earned high praise for his intelligence on the mound, and he should be ready to go when spring training rolls around. He will likely stay behind in extended spring training, and if all goes well, he should debut with one of the rookie ball clubs during the summer. If that happens, he could rise quickly.


50. Mike Lehmann, SP
Age: 19   B-T: S-R  HT: 6-2  WT: 190

Mike Lehmann used the 2008 season to build upon a solid 2007 debut with the Arizona Royals. After putting up some of the best numbers on the 2007 AZL staff, Lehmann headed to the Appalachian League in 2008, where he was one of the B-Royals' most effective starters. On the season, the 19-year old right-hander went 4-4 with a 3.43 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 57.2 innings pitched. He cut his walk rate as well, and was more successful at inducing ground balls while keeping opponents to a .257 batting average. Lehmann was particularly good in July, when in six appearances he logged a 1.24 ERA with 24 strikeouts (and just three walks) in 29.0 innings pitched. The Royals remain intrigued by Lehmann, who was signed to a $123,000 bonus after being selected in the 20th round of the 2007 draft. He has a good fastball and curveball, and while his change-up is still a work in progress, it shows signs of becoming a quality offering. He could make his full season debut in 2009 at Burlington.


51. Hilton Richardson, OF
Age: 19   B-T: L-L  HT: 6-3  WT: 200

The 2008 season was a decent step forward for Richardson, whom the Royals selected in the seventh round of the 2007 draft. The big outfielder often looked overwhelmed in the Arizona League during his first professional season, but he looked much more comfortable in 2008 with the Burlington Royals. His numbers there -- .229/.293/.327 – weren't great, but they were a modest improvement, and his natural athleticism really showed itself, particularly in the outfield. Indeed, there may be no better pure athlete in the system. Richardson covers a lot of ground in centerfield, and he runs the bases like a gazelle, particularly for a big man (he actually looks a lot like Mark Teahen on the bases). At the plate, he hits the ball hard, and he shows good power in batting practice, even if that power hasn't yet shown up in games. His swing path in 2008 was also much improved, although Richardson still strikes out too much, and he still has trouble with breaking balls in particular. Richardson probably isn't ready for a full season assignment just yet, but his athleticism alone makes him an intriguing prospect to watch.


52. Carlos Fortuna, SP
Age: 18   B-T: R-R  HT: 6-2  WT: 185

Carlos Fortuna is one of the more intriguing young arms that came out of the Dominican Academy this year. After pitching fairly well in the DSL in 2007 (3.94 ERA, 28 K in 32 IP), the 18-year old spent 2008 with the Arizona Royals. In Surprise, Fortuna had an up-and-down campaign, logging 5.82 ERA but striking out 41 batters in 38.2 innings pitched. His calling card, of course, is his fastball, which sits at 90-92 mph but tops out around 95. His 6-foot-2 frame offers a lot of projection, and right now the big question is whether or not he can develop a useful breaking ball to complement his big fastball. Fortuna doesn't turn 19 until late March, so it seems likely that he will again start out in extended spring training before heading back out to one of the rookie ball affiliates. The Royals seem excited about him, and if the curveball comes along as hoped, he could become a very interesting prospect as he moves up.


53. Chris McConnell, SS
Age: 23   B-T: R-R  HT: 5-11  WT: 175

The progress has been slow for McConnell, who once was considered among the best infield prospects in the system. McConnell returned to Wilmington in 2008, and the 22-year old shortstop had an improved year at the plate, hitting .252/.333/.325 with 29 doubles in 461 at bats. He did, however, take a step back defensively, as he committed 28 errors for the Blue Rocks after committing just 17 between Wilmington (where he had just five in 66 games) and Burlington in 2007. McConnell remains one of the most natural middle infielders in the system, and he still has soft hands, excellent footwork, a quick release, and a strong arm. However, some scouts are concerned that he might try to be a bit too flashy, resulting in too many preventable errors. At this point, McConnell's glove will have to carry him, and he should move up to Northwest Arkansas in 2009. He profiles best right now as a utility man at the big league level, but he will have to cut down on the errors as he moves forward.


54. Nick Van Stratten, OF
Age: 23   B-T: R-R  HT: 6-1  WT: 185

Nick Van Stratten once again in 2008 was limited by injuries, but once again made the most of his playing time. He lost a lot of weight after undergoing back surgery in 2007, but he entered spring training having fully recovered. Still, the Royals held him back in extended spring training, and he didn't join the Burlington Bees until mid-June. Once there, he was the same sparkplug as always, hitting .345/.400/.489 with one homer in 139 at bats. While teammates and coaches universally praise the Winnetonka High School (KC) graduate's hustle and gamer mentality, it still occasionally gets him into trouble. For instance, while chasing after a home run in a game in mid-August, Van Stratten took on the outfield fence – and lost – leaving him with a foot injury that cost him nearly two weeks on the disabled list. Indeed, injuries, it seems, are the one thing that have consistently held Van Stratten back thus far. When he's on the field, he is an exciting player to watch with good tools across the board.


55. Jamar Walton, OF
Age: 22   B-T: L-R  HT: 6-4  WT: 200

The 2008 season was a tale of two halves for Jamar Walton. Reassigned to the Burlington Bees, the big outfielder slogged through the season's first three months and entered July hitting just .205. However, Walton hit .339 over the season's final 42 games, and he was one of the key catalysts behind the Bees' second half surge. On the year, Walton finished with a respectable line of .266/.305/.392 with seven home runs in 357 at bats, and Royals officials identify him as one of the players who made the most progress this season. There are still few players in the system who can match Walton's tools, and he has a Major League body. Walton runs well, he throws well, and he flashes what can be above average power at times. He will be 23-years old when the 2009 season opens, and he should finally get a shot at advanced A-ball with the Wilmington Blue Rocks.


56. J.D. Alfaro, SS
Age: 20   B-T: R-R  HT: 5-9  WT: 170

The Royals selected Alfaro in the ninth round of the 2008 draft after noticing his stellar play in the NJCAA Division I World Series. Alfaro was the starting shortstop for Grayson County College, the eventual champion, and he took home tournament MVP honors after playing flawless defense and hitting .476 with 14 RBIs in Grand Junction. After signing, Alfaro was assigned to Idaho Falls, where he had a solid professional debut, hitting .266/.300/.504 with a club-best nine home runs. The fiery shortstop finished fourth in the Pioneer League in RBIs (55) and fifth in doubles (22), totals which were also tops among the Chukars. In the field, he's a sure handed shortstop with average range, and he's worked hard on improving his footwork. Alfaro is a bit different than most of the shortstops in the organization, as it will be his bat, rather than his glove, that will probably have to carry him. He has a middle/away approach at the plate, but he has no trouble turning on mistakes.


57. Carlo Testa, OF
Age: 22   B-T: L-L  HT: 6-3  WT: 218

The Royals selected Belmont University's Carlo Testa in the 18th round of the 2008 draft. While in college, Testa was a standout two-way player for the Bruins, being named to the Atlantic Sun All Conference first team as both a starting pitcher and outfielder, the first time that happened in the conference's history. Testa was initially assigned to the Appy League, but he played just seven games for the B-Royals before being promoted to Idaho Falls. He got off to a rough start for the Chukars, hitting just a shade above .200 during his first month in the Pioneer League. He turned his season around, however, in August, and he finished the season with an impressive line of .304/.395/.462 with five home runs in 171 at bats. At 6-foot-3, 218 pounds, Testa already has a major league body, and he shows good power in batting practice. He is a physical player with good speed and a strong arm well-suited to right field, and he could be a sleeper as he moves forward, especially if he maintains his excellent plate discipline.


58. Fernando Cruz, 3B
Age: 18   B-T: S-R  HT: 6-2  WT: 184

When the Royals selected 17-year old Fernando Cruz in the sixth round of the 2007 draft out of Puerto Rico, the club expected that he would get stronger as he matures. Cruz began to fulfill that prophecy in 2008, adding considerable size and strength to his frame. Unfortunately, that strength hasn't yet translated into results at the plate, as Cruz hit just .237/.260/.283 with zero home runs for the Burlington Royals. The numbers were a slight improvement over his 2007 performance with the AZ Royals, but the switch hitting Cruz is still struggling to stay under control in the box. His numbers from the left side of the plate have been better throughout his career, even though his coaches think he's actually a better right handed hitter. Regardless, Cruz is a high ceiling player the Royals remain excited about, and he will once again be one of the youngest players in whatever league he plays in next season.


59. Yowill Espinal, SS
Age: 17   B-T: R-R  HT: 6-0  WT: 180

Espinal received the largest bonus in the Royals' 2007 international spending spree, inking for $250,000 as a 16-year old last August. Espinal didn't turn 17 until this past April, but he handled starting shortstop duty for the Arizona Royals during the summer. On the season, Espinal hit .240/.248/.348 with four home runs in 50 games played. On the bases, Espinal swiped 13 bags while only being caught twice. He committed 18 errors, but that doesn't tell the whole story about his defense (after all, by the time the AZL gets in gear, the field conditions in Arizona can be pretty lousy). Espinal flashes above average range and a good arm, and his feet work well. The Royals believe he is physically ahead of where a lot of guys his age out of the Dominican Republic are normally at, and he should continue to fill out as he matures. At the plate, Espinal still must learn to hit breaking balls, but he has no trouble turning around mistake fastballs.


60. Geulin Beltre, SS
Age: 18   B-T: S-R  HT: 6-0  WT: 180

The Royals last year signed Beltre out of the Dominican Republic for $230,000, one of the largest international signing bonuses the Royals have ever doled out. Beltre made his debut as a 17-year old in the Arizona League this summer, where he hit .188/.235/.250 with one home run in 23 games. A shortstop by trade, Beltre was limited to DH duty for the AZ Royals by a sore elbow that hampered him throughout the summer. When healthy, Beltre offers an interesting mix of tools. He runs well, has a strong arm, and solid power potential to all fields. He struggled to make consistent contact in his debut, and like his teammate Espinal, he had a tendency to bail out early on quality breaking balls. Still, the Royals are excited about Beltre's upside, and it will be interesting to see how he develops.



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