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Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections
of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development
personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards
of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time)
are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.
Royals led the Indians 7-2 entering the top of the ninth inning Aug.
9 before an 11-run Cleveland rally helped by three errors sent Kansas
City to a 13-7 loss, its 11th straight. The skid swelled to a club-record
19 games, the longest in the majors since 1988, before the Royals beat
Barry Zito and the Athletics to snap the streak. The win inspired a
celebration that included six bottles of champagne.
That marked the high point for a Kansas City team that lost 106 times
in 2005, the most in baseball and the most in franchise history. That
came on the heels of a 104-loss season and three years after a 100-loss
campaign. It marked the fourth time in five years the team set or tied
a franchise record for losses.
That time period corresponds directly with the tenure of Allard Baird
as general manager, which began in June 2000. While Baird has played
his part, David Glass also must assume culpability. The former Wal-Mart president
and CEO became Royals chairman of the board of directors in 1993. He stepped down from his Wal-Mart duties in 2000 before becoming Royals owner. The Royals have topped the .500 mark only once since his affiliation with the club began (an 83-79 finish in 2003) while the team has operated much like a discount store. Glass allowed Baird $22 million to spend on
free agents this offseason, but retreads Paul Bako, Elmer Dessens, Scott
Elarton, Mark Grudzielanek, Joe Mays, Doug Mientkiewicz and Reggie Sanders
aren't going to reverse Kansas City's fortunes.
The Royals' frugality has forced Baird to trade all-star outfielders
Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye since 2001, and the club
failed to acquire a quality big leaguer in any of those deals. Expensive
misses in the 2000 and 2001 drafts—Colt Griffin, anyone?—thinned
the organization's minor league talent. Scouting director Deric Ladnier's
last four first-round picks (Zack Greinke, Chris Lubanski, Billy Butler
and Alex Gordon) look stronger, but the system offers little beyond
Injuries and ineffectiveness in Kansas City have further depleted the
system's depth by hastening the timetables for prospects rushed through
the system to fill holes. Eleven Royals made their major league debuts
in 2005 after a club-record 14 did so in 2004.
Despite the influx of youth, journeymen Emil Brown and Terrence Long
commanded 1,000 at-bats in 2005 while players such as Justin Huber and
Shane Costa never got regular playing time during their big league stints.
Meanwhile, Greinke got pounded and promising young arms such as J.P.
Howell and Leo Nunez were abused by major league hitters when they would
have been better served with more time in the minors.
Bright spots were few, though David DeJesus cemented his status as
a solid regular and Mike MacDougal started to regain the form that made
him an all-star in 2003. Rookies Ambiorix Burgos and Andrew Sisco showed
promise in the bullpen. John Buck and Mark Teahen, two pieces of the
Beltran trade, hit well late in the year.
But all of those players are only complementary parts and not the star
players the Royals so desperately need. Double-A Wichita roster should
feature most of the organization's position-player prospects. Kansas
City will spend the 2006 draft trying to bolster underwhelming crop
of pitchers, starting with the No. 1 overall pick.
February 10, 1984 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 215
Nebraska, 2005 (1st round) Signed by: Phil Huttmann
Background: Born and raised in Lincoln,
Neb., Gordon grew up making family road trips to Kansas City to see a
certain third baseman--whom his brother Brett is named for. He starred
as a third baseman and defensive back in high school before following
his father Mike in playing baseball at Nebraska. Gordon developed into
a two-time Big 12 Conference player of the year and won Baseball America's
2005 College Player of the Year award by hitting .372/.518/.715 with 19
homers and 23 steals as the Cornhuskers advanced to the College World
Series. Gordon also won the 2005 Golden Spikes Award as the top amateur
player in the United States. Before his banner junior season, he captured
offensive MVP honors as he helped Team USA to a gold medal at the 2004
World University Championship in Taiwan. When Arizona took Justin Upton
with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2005 draft, Gordon was an obvious
choice for the Royals at No. 2. Rumors were prevalent that they would
focus on budget more than ability, but they took the best player on the
board. Gordon held out until late September, when he accepted a $4 million
bonus that shattered Austin's club record of $2.7 million. He signed too
late to play in the minors but did get 50 at-bats in the Arizona Fall
League, hitting .260 with two homers.
Strengths: Gordon treats hitting like an art and constantly
works to improve his craft. He even borrowed the coach's keys to Nebraska's
practice facility in order to hit during summer and Christmas breaks.
That work ethic has produced a hitter with great patience and a finely
tuned swing. Gordon has the best bat speed in the organization. He hits
for average and power to all fields. One scout compared him to Chipper
Jones. While he's known mostly for his bat, Gordon isn't a one-dimensional
player. Terrific baserunning instincts allowed the solid-average runner
to swipe 23 bags in 26 tries as a junior, surpassing his total from
his first two years in college. Gordon shows an above-average arm and
solid hands at third base. He played first base in his pro debut in
the Arizona Fall League only because he replaced Justin Huber on the
roster and the club needed someone to man that spot. He also played
first base with Team USA, but that was in deference to Gold Glove-caliber
third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
Weaknesses: Gordon's biggest flaws should be easily correctable.
He can improve his pre-pitch preparation. The Royals had him working
on fielding balls from the balls of his feet, with a wider base and
further in front of his body.
The Future: The Royals initially slated Gordon to make his pro
debut at high Class A High Desert, but his AFL showing has given them
the confidence to start him at Double-A Wichita. He should develop into
a potent middle-of-the-order bat and a fine lefthanded complement to
righthanded-hitting Billy Butler, the system's other blue-chip prospect.
Mark Teahen poses little obstacle to Gordon, who will take over at third
base in Kansas City as soon as he's ready. That could happen at some
point in 2006.
2005 Club (Class)
Did Not Play-Signed 2006 Contract
April 18, 1986 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 225
HS--Jacksonville, Fla., 2004 (1st round) Signed by:
Background: When the Royals drafted Butler 14th
overall in 2004, most clubs viewed it as a signability pick—his
$1.45 million bonus was $250,000 less than MLB's slot recommendation.
He and righthander Eric Hurley, who went 30th to the Rangers, made Jacksonville's
Wolfson High the fifth high school to produce a pair of first-rounders
in the same draft. Butler has more than justified his selection by hitting
.352 with 40 homers in 195 games, and he ranked third in the minors with
300 total bases and fifth with 71 extra-base hits in 2005.
Strengths: Butler is such a mature hitter already that
instructors leave him alone and he's able to make adjustments
on his own between at-bats. He succeeds because of his impressive
bat speed, strength, vision, balance and confidence at the plate.
He centers the ball well, uses the whole field and generates above-average
power without sacrificing the ability to hit for average. Butler
controls the strike zone and attacks pitches in his wheelhouse.
He can handle any fastball and doesn’t get fooled by breaking
pitches. Butler reached 90 mph as a prep pitcher, so he has arm
Weaknesses: Drafted as a third baseman, Butler lacked the
athleticism and footwork for the position. After he made 18 errors
in 41 games at the hot corner last year, he moved to left field,
where the hope is that he can become adequate. He has yet to find
a comfort level with reads and routes on fly balls. He's a below-average
runner. His hitting mechanics aren't typical—his stance
is open and spread out with his hands held high, and he uses a
toe tap for timing—but they work for him.
The Future: Butler should develop into an all-star caliber
offensive player along the lines of Travis Hafner. Left field
is Butler's position for now, but most scouts think he's destined
for first base or DH. He'll begin 2006 in Double-A, and the only
fear the Royals have is what to do if his bat becomes major league
ready before his defense is passable. That could happen this year.
Australia, 2000 Signed by: Omar Minaya (Royals)
Background: Huber came to the Royals for third-base
prospect Jose Bautista as part of the three-team deal that sent Kris Benson
to the Mets in July 2004. But in his last game in the New York system,
Huber hurt his left knee and required arthroscopic surgery, knocking him
off Australia's Olympic team and delaying his Kansas City system debut
until 2005. The injury also cinched the Royals' decision to move him from
catcher to first base. He made his major league debut in place of an injured
Mike Sweeney in June and won MVP honors in his third Futures Game with
a two-run double in July.
Strengths: Huber is a pure hitter with a strong grasp
of the strike zone. He stays inside the ball well and can spray
hits from gap to gap while offering 20-homer power. Most of his
juice comes to right-center field. He has more athleticism than
expected from a former catcher.
Weaknesses: Huber is still learning how to play first base,
fighting his catcher's instinct to block balls with his body rather
than field them. He should become adequate, though never an asset
defensively. He's a slightly below-average runner. Some Royals
officials felt Huber was rushed to the majors and that his intermittent
playing time there hindered his development.
The Future: Huber resembles Sweeney in many ways, and
Sweeney's presence in Kansas City could mean Huber goes to Triple-A
Omaha for regular duty unless the two end up in a first base/DH
tradeoff. An Achilles injury canceled Huber's 2005 trip to the
Arizona Fall League, but he'll be ready for spring training.
2005 Club (Class)
March 24, 1985 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-3 Wt: 206
HS--Schwenksville, Pa., 2003 (1st round) Signed by:
Background: Lubanski hit for the cycle twice
in a high school doubleheader and was pegged as a mid-first-rounder in
2003. The Royals took him fifth overall and signed him for $2.1 million--$400,000
below MLB's slot recommendation. He has proven a second-half player in
his brief career, especially in 2005, when he hit .354-18-85 in the last
three months to finish second in the minors with 116 RBIs and fourth with
294 total bases and 72 extra-base hits.
Strengths: Yes, the Royals know High Desert is a hitter's
haven and that Lubanski hit .359-19-71 at home and .245-9-45 on
the road. But he started making better contact and his natural
loft power started to shine in the second half, which he capped
by going 13-for-15 in the high Class A California League playoffs.
He's an aggressive hitter but began to take more pitches and showed
a freer, looser swing. A plus runner, he was caught stealing just
once in 15 tries.
Weaknesses: Lubanski covered so much ground as a high school
center fielder that his timidity and poor routes as a pro puzzle
observers. His arm rates just below-average and he needs to use
his legs more when he throws. If he doesn't improve, he'll have
to move to left field.
The Future: Some club officials wanted Lubanski to cede
High Desert's center-field job to Mitch Maier, but Maier's promotion
ended that possibility. They'll start 2006 together again in Double-A,
with Lubanski likely remaining in center. He could develop into
a No. 5 hitter with basestealing speed.
2005 Club (Class)
High Desert (Hi A)
October 5, 1986 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190
HS--Lampeter, Pa, 2005 (2nd round) Signed by: Sean Rooney
Background: Bianchi was a lightly crosschecked
high school player, but he generated so much late buzz that Royals scouting
director Deric Ladnier eschewed trips to college conference tournaments
to see him. Ladnier and his staff viewed Bianchi as a first-round talent
and were happy to nab him in the second round for $690,000. Bianchi pushed
for the Rookie-level Arizona League triple crown before a lower back strain
ended his season and his Arizona Fall League hopes.
Strengths: Bianchi's efficient hitting mechanics and quick,
short swing produce impressive results. He uses the whole field
and flashes average power. He has plus-plus speed, getting from
the right side of the plate to first base in 4.1 seconds. He's
athletic and instinctive defensively, and plays a polished overall
game. He had an easy transition to pro ball because his high school
coach, Todd Garber, is the brother of Kansas City coordinator
of minor league instruction Jeff Garber and incorporates many
of the Royals' principles.
Weaknesses: Bianchi hasn't played enough yet for the Royals
to discover any warts. His arm isn't the strongest and some teams
projected him as a second baseman, but he's able to make plays
from the hole. His back had no structural damage and isn't a long-term
The Future: Bianchi reminds the Royals of Mike Young with
less arm. He could make a jump to full-season ball, but that would
mean sharing the low Class A Burlington shortstop job with Chris
McConnell. Bianchi likely will end up at Rookie-level Idaho Falls.
2005 Club (Class)
AZL Royals (R)
19, 1985 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 193
South Mountain (Ariz.) CC, D/F 2003 (10th round) Signed
by: Mike Brown
Background: The younger brother of Diamondbacks
first-base prospect Jesus Cota, Luis played mostly shortstop at Tucson's
Sunnyside High. The Royals liked his arm strength enough to gamble a 10th-round
choice on him in 2003, and he blossomed into the Arizona juco player of
the year the next spring. Kansas City signed him as a draft-and-follow
for $1.05 million, a record for a 10th-rounder.
Strengths: Cota tops out at an easy 93-95 mph and works
at 91-92. His four-seam fastball features so much life that it
gets mistaken for a two-seamer as its bores in on righthanders.
His power slider sits in the mid-80s and should become a second
plus pitch once he refines his command of it. His changeup can
be inconsistent, but it improved during the season.
Weaknesses: Cota needs more consistency with his delivery.
He gets underneath the ball too much, leaving his fastball straight
and his slider flat. The mechanical correction also would give
him better control, allowing him to get ahead of hitters and put
them away easier.
The Future: The Royals view Cota as a power arm with the
potential for three plus pitches atop a rotation. He'll need to
improve his command and feel as his mental toughness gets checked
in the pitcher's wasteland of High Desert this year.
2005 Club (Class)
Burlington (Lo A)
December 18, 1985 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 170
HS--Franklinville, N.J., 2004 (9th round) Signed by: Sean
Background: Area scout Sean Rooney took game
tapes he got from McConnell's mother to Kansas City's draft room and used
them to support his case to draft the fast-twitch, slick-fielding infielder.
McConnell signed for $40,000 as a ninth-round pick instead of attending
Louisburg (N.C.) JC.
Strengths: The Royals knew of McConnell's defensive skills--plus
range, plus arm, quick feet, soft hands--but his bat has produced
more than expected. Though he has an unorthodox stance with a
high back elbow and low crouch, his hand-eye coordination and
quick hands have produced a .333 average in pro ball. Added strength
from maturing physically now allows him to drive the ball into
gaps, and he should produce average power for a middle infielder.
Weaknesses: Instinctive and fluid defensively, McConnell
must improve on the bases. He has slightly above-average speed
but needs to learn the nuances of baserunning and basestealing.
Otherwise, inexperience is his only negative at this point.
The Future: McConnell's arm strength would push Jeff Bianchi
to second base if the duo played together. That won't happen immediately,
as McConnell is set for Burlington and Bianchi ticketed for Idaho
Toledo, 2003 (1st round) Signed by: Jason Bryans
Background: Maier, who went 30th overall in
2003 in part because he'd sign for $900,000, has moved from catching in
college to third base and now the outfield as a pro. Toledo's all-time
leading hitter with a .414 average, he has started each of his two full
pro seasons with a flourish and then leveled off following promotions.
Strengths: Maier's hand-eye coordination makes for consistent
contact. He gets good leverage in his swing when it works right,
so he has more power potential than he has shown. An above-average
runner with solid instincts on the bases, he covers plenty of
ground in center field. He improved so much at tracking balls
that some Royals officials believe he's a better center fielder
than Chris Lubanski. Maier's arm is good for center field and
average for right.
Weaknesses: Maier's hands often drift forward as a pitch
approaches, costing him power as he gets ahead of his body. Better
balance could boost his home run totals and reduce his strikeouts.
More patience at the plate also would help.
The Future: Some scouts liken Maier to Paul O'Neill as
a hitter and run producer. He'll work to fine-tune his swing this
year in Double-A.
Orange Coast (Calif.) JC, 2002 (5th round) Signed
by: Gary Johnson
Background: A right ankle sprain sidelined Murphy
in May, but he recovered and received extended big league time after Tony
Graffanino was traded to the Red Sox in July. Murphy sputtered offensively
in semi-regular duty before a broken right ring finger ended his season
in late August.
Strengths: Murphy shows the discerning eye and gap power
to profile as an offensive second baseman. He fields well enough
with solid hands and a strong arm. The Royals believe his struggles
in the majors came from dipping into survival mode rather than
relaxing and playing his usual game.
Weaknesses: Murphy rotates his wrists to point his bat
head toward first base before swinging, a hitch that makes him
late on some fastballs and susceptible to offspeed pitches. He
has limited range at second base and is a below-average runner.
The Future: Murphy's disappointing big league stint indicated
he needed time in Triple-A., which he'll get after Kansas City
signed free agent Mark Grudzielanek.
Cal State Fullerton, 2003 (2nd round) Signed by:
Background: In need of a left fielder, the Royals
called up Costa ahead of schedule May 31 and started him for much of June.
He hit homers off Jeff Weaver and Carlos Silva, but Costa wasn't ready
for the majors and went down to Triple-A July 20 after Kansas City trade
Tony Graffanino to the Red Sox for Chip Ambres.
Strengths: Costa's strike-zone discipline and short,
efficient swing makes him a candidate to hit for a high average
with low strikeout numbers. He handles all types of pitching well
and can use the whole field. He's a heads-up baserunner with average
speed and plenty with intensity.
Weaknesses: Costa has the strength to hit 20 homers annually,
but he doesn't have much load to his swing and seems content to
serve line drives to the opposite field. His below-average arm
limits him to left field.
The Future: Costa once drew Brian Giles comparisons, and
while he's a stocky player with a keen eye, he'll never have Giles'
power. If he doesn't hit for more pop, Costa may be nothing more
that a fourth outfielder. He'll spend much of 2006 in Triple-A.
2005 Club (Class)
Gordon: Denton Hanna
Bianchi: Bill Mitchell
Cota, Lubanski, Maier, Murphy: Steve Moore
Butler, McConnell: Rodger Wood