Jose Altuve was the subject of one our questions in last week's Ask BA. He's also the 2011 minor league batting champion, having accumulated just enough plate appearances before his July promotion to qualify.
Altuve's .389 average is the highest in the full-season minors since Erubiel Durazo hit .404 in the Diamondbacks system in 1999. As best as I can determine, Durazo is the lone .400 hitter in the U.S. full-season minors since Aaron Pointer batted .401 in 1961.
The Royals entered 2011 with a farm system that not only ranked No. 1 in baseball, but also drew acclaim as the best in the recent memory. On our annual Top 100 Prospects list, Kansas City became the first organization ever to place five players among the top 20 and the first to have nine farmhands on the list.
Among those nine players, Eric Hosmer (No. 8), Mike Moustakas (No. 9) and Danny Duffy (No. 68) have graduated to Kansas City. So have several players from the Royals' next tier of prospects: Louis Coleman, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Johnny Giavotella and Salvador Perez.
Of the other Top 100 Royals, only righthander Jake Odorizzi (No. 69) has lived up to expectations. Outfielder Wil Myers (No. 10) and middle infielder Christian Colon (No. 51) had lackluster seasons with the bat, lefthander John Lamb (No. 18) had Tommy John surgery, and lefthanders Mike Montgomery (No. 19) and Chris Dwyer (No. 83) posted ERAs north of 5.00.
The Royals have been aggressive on the talent market this year, spending $14.1 million on the draft (most notably, $7.5 million on No. 5 overall pick Bubba Starling) and a combined $5.05 million on two Dominicans, outfielder Elier Hernandez and shortstop Adalberto Mondesi. There's still talent in the pipeline, but at the same time Kansas City may not have more four prospects on the 2012 Top 100. When we update our organization rankings in the 2012 Prospect Handbook, I suspect the Royals will fall in the 11-20 range rather than in the top 10.
Cabrera led all short-season and Rookie-level pitchers in strikeouts last year with 87 in 73 innings, then topped the entire minors with 217 in 167 innings in his full-season debut. Though he has missed bats in the lower levels of the minors, he has done it more with pitchability and deception than overpowering stuff, so it's hard to project him as more than a No. 3 starter and calling him a No. 4 would be more realistic.
Cabrera uses an 87-92 mph fastball, which he'll cut at times, to set up his best pitch, a changeup. He also can throw a slurvy breaking ball for strikes. Pitchers who can command multiple pitches often dominate younger hitters, and because he didn't sign out of the Dominican Republic until he was nearly 21, Cabrera already is 23 and hasn't gotten past high Class A yet. We'll get a much better feel for exactly how good he can become when he gets to Double-A in 2011.
While he's a legitimate prospect, Cabrera isn't one of the Rockies' five best farmhands. I couldn't put him ahead of guys such as lefthanders Drew Pomeranz and Tyler Matzek; righthander Chad Bettis; catcher Wilin Rosario; third baseman Nolan Arenado; shortstops Rosell Herrera and Cristhian Adames; and outfielders Charlie Blackmon, Tim Wheeler and Kyle Parker.
The AFL season begins on Oct. 4, with the game's two best prospects (Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, Angels outfielder Mike Trout) set to be teammates on the Scottsdale Scorpions. Rosters are formed as follows:
Each major league organization contributes seven players to the AFL. Any minor leaguer who was on a Double-A or Triple-A roster by Aug. 15 is eligible. Additionally, organizations can send as many as two high Class A players, and also gets two exemptions for players at lower levels (typically late-signing draft picks, such as Mariners lefthander Danny Hultzen, the No. 2 overall choice in June).
Players with two or more years of major league service time can't play in the AFL unless they were selected in the previous Rule 5 draft. Foreign players are eligible only if they're not on a protected list in a winter league in their native country.
As for the taxi squad, those players are eligible to play only on Wednesdays and Saturdays, though AFL teams can use them beyond that limitation if they have holes on their roster. Each AFL club usually has a couple of taxi squadders, who have to meet the eligibility requirements outlined above.