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Top Ten Prospects: Kansas City Royals
Complete Index of Top 10s

By Will Kimmey
January 30, 2006


Chat Wrap: Will Kimmey took your Royals questions
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.

The 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 that group.

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.


1. ALEX GORDON, 3b      Born: February 10, 1984 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 215
Drafted: 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) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Did Not Play-Signed 2006 Contract


2. BILLY BUTLER, of/3b       Born: April 18, 1986 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 225
Drafted: HS--Jacksonville, Fla., 2004 (1st round)   Signed by: Cliff Pastornicky

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 strength.

  

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.


2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
High Desert (Hi A) .348 .419 .636 379 70 132 30 2 25 91 42 80 0 0
Wichita (AA) .313 .353 .527 112 14 35 9 0 5 19 7 18 0 0


3. JUSTIN HUBER, 1b    Born: July 1, 1982 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 200
Signed: 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) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Wichita (AA) .343 .432 .570 335 68 115 22 3 16 74 51 70 7 3
Omaha (AAA) .274 .374 .531 113 19 31 6 1 7 23 16 33 3 0
Kansas City .218 .271 .256 78 6 17 3 0 0 6 5 20 0 0


4. CHRIS LUBANSKI, of        Born: March 24, 1985 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-3 Wt: 206
Drafted: HS--Schwenksville, Pa., 2003 (1st round)   Signed by: Sean Rooney

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) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
High Desert (Hi A) .301 .349 .554 531 91 160 38 6 28 116 38 131 14 1


5. JEFF BIANCHI, ss        Born: October 5, 1986 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190
Drafted: 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 concern.

  

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) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
AZL Royals (R) .408 .484 .745 98 29 40 7 4 6 30 16 22 5 2


6. LUIS COTA, rhp    Born: August 19, 1985 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 193
Drafted: 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) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Burlington (Lo A) 5 8 4.01 26 26 0 0 148 143 10 63 137 .253


7. CHRIS McCONNELL, ss      Born: December 18, 1985 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 170
Drafted: HS--Franklinville, N.J., 2004 (9th round)  Signed by: Sean Rooney

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 Falls.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Idaho Falls (R) .331 .403 .516 275 56 91 17 8 6 39 31 34 7 6


8. MITCH MAIER, of    Born: June 30, 1982 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 200
Drafted: 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.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
High Desert (Hi A) .336 .370 .583 211 42 71 26 1 8 32 12 43 6 1
Wichita (AA) .255 .289 .416 322 55 82 21 5 7 49 15 47 10 3


9. DONNIE MURPHY, 2b       Born: March 10, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-10 Wt: 180
Drafted: 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.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Wichita (AA) .313 .362 .523 214 33 67 13 1 10 32 13 32 1 1
Kansas City .156 .241 .260 77 4 12 5 0 1 8 9 23 0 1


10. SHANE COSTA, of     Born: December 12, 1981 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 220
Drafted: Cal State Fullerton, 2003 (2nd round)    Signed by: Gary Johnson

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) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Wichita (AA) .282 .349 .448 277 37 78 18 2 8 43 24 23 5 1
Omaha (AAA) .188 .188 .250 16 1 3 1 0 0 1 0 1 0 0
Kansas City .235 .287 .333 81 13 19 2 0 2 7 5 11 0 0


Photo Credits:
Gordon: Denton Hanna
Bianchi: Bill Mitchell
Cota, Lubanski, Maier, Murphy: Steve Moore
Butler, McConnell: Rodger Wood

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