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Top Ten Prospects: Kansas City Royals
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Will Kimmey
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, 2005.
Background: Area scout Cliff Pastornicky helped the Royals decide to select Zack Greinke in 2002, selling them on his precocious feel for pitching. Greinke held the top spot on this list from that point until he made his major league debut on May 22, 2004. Two weeks later, Pastornicky and the Royals found Greinke’s successor atop this list by cutting a predraft deal to sign Butler for $1.45 million—$250,000 below Major League Baseball’s recommendation for the 14th overall pick. He would have attended Florida had he not turned pro. Like Greinke, Butler is a Florida high schooler who’s very advanced for his age, and he too could move quickly through the system. Butler and righthander Eric Hurley (30th overall to the Rangers) made Jacksonville’s Wolfson High the fifth high school to produce two first-rounders in the same draft.
Strengths: Butler instantly became the best hitting and power prospect in the organization. Using a patient approach and line-drive mentality, he led the Rookie-level Pioneer League in batting and ranked second in extra-base hits. Butler’s stance looks unorthodox—he stands very open and spread out, holding his hands high and tapping his toes before engaging the ball—but has quick hands and excellent hand-eye coordination that allow him to let the ball get deep in the zone and to make quick adjustments. He centers the ball well, uses the whole field and generates natural loft without slipping into the uppercut swing plane that befalls many power hitters. He has the best raw pop of any player in the 2004 draft. Pitchers weren’t able to sneak fastballs or sliders by him in his pro debut. Some Pioneer League scouts questioned Butler’s maturity, but the Royals love his makeup. He displays ample confidence and was well-liked by his Idaho Falls teammates. He also possesses a strong arm that propelled fastballs up to 93 mph when he pitched in high school.
Weaknesses: If Butler rates as a certainty with the bat, his glove is the complete opposite. He must improve his flexibility to enhance his range at third base. He can catch the ball, but isn’t fluid when doing so. Though he has plenty of arm strength, he must set his feet better to avoid throwing errors. At best, the Royals hope Butler can become an average defender who makes the routine plays. He eventually may have to move to first base, and has the hands and the bat to profile well at this position. Butler is a below-average runner but not a baseclogger, so left field also could be a possibility. Some scouts are so skeptical of his defensive ability that they think he’ll be limited to DH.
The Future: Butler rates as one of the few players in the system with all-star potential. His offensive abilities outstrip his defensive deficiencies and should allow him to rise quickly up the ladder. He’ll begin 2005 at low Class A Burlington and could be ready for Kansas City at some point in 2007. He’s the Royals’ No. 3 hitter of the future.
Background: Pedro and Ramon Martinez helped Bautista learn his craft in the Dominican Republic, and he pitched in the Futures Game in 2003. Bautista has been traded twice since then, and also had his age adjusted upward two years. Still, the Royals consider acquiring him from Baltimore for Jason Grimsley as a coup.
Strengths: Bautista’s fastball, slider and curveball all can rate as average or better on any given day, while his changeup can be a solid pitch as well. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and has touched 99 mph with good boring life down in the zone.
Weaknesses: Like many tall and lanky pitchers, Bautista struggles to repeat his delivery and throws across his body. His lack of command often renders him a one-pitch guy.
The Future: Bautista can be a No. 2 or 3 starter if he can locate his secondary pitches consistently. He’ll get a chance to win a job in the Kansas City rotation in spring training. It’s also possible he could return to Triple-A, or contribute as a late-inning reliever.
Background: Part of the “Moneyball” draft class, Teahen helped the Athletics get Octavio Dotel in a three-way deal that sent Carlos Beltran to Houston and Teahen, John Buck and Mike Wood to Kansas City.
Strengths: Teahen has a good grasp of the strike zone, uses the whole field and makes consistent, hard contact. His instincts, range and accurate arm led managers to rate him the best defensive third baseman in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
Weaknesses: Teahen has yet to demonstrate the power desired from a corner infielder. While in the Arizona Fall League, he worked on incorporating his legs more into his swing and picking out pitches to pull, rather than simply serving balls into left field.
The Future: Teahen is Kansas City’s safest bet to become a solid major leaguer. He could open the season as the everyday third baseman, or free-agent signee Chris Truby could serve as a stopgap as Teahen gains more Triple-A seasoning during the first half.
Background: Lubanski was pegged as a mid-first rounder before settling for a slightly below-market $2.1 million bonus as the fifth overall pick in 2003. In his first full season, he hit just .224 through June before moving from first to third in Burlington’s order and batting .315 with improved power the rest of the way.
Strengths: The Royals like the adjustments Lubanski made and believe he can be an above-average hitter with at least average power. He has slowed some since being drafted, but is still a plus runner. His work ethic and makeup are also positives.
Weaknesses: Lubanski needs to improve in all aspects of the game. He struggles against lefthanders, can be fooled by breaking pitches and needs more plate discipline. He got nailed 11 times in 27 steal attempts. As a center fielder, he needs to improve his reads and first-step quickness. He has a below-average arm and several scouts project him as a left fielder.
The Future: Intially compared to Johnny Damon, Lubanski now seems more likely to make his mark with his strength rather than his speed. The Royals think he’s on the verge of a breakout, possibly in 2005 at their new high Class A High Desert affiliate.
Background: The Royals acquired Huber from the Pirates in exchange for Jose Bautista as part of the three-team trade that sent Kris Benson to the Mets. In his last game in the New York system, he tore cartilage in his left knee in a home-plate collision. Arthroscopic surgery cost him the rest of the season and a chance to play for Australia in the Olympics.
Strengths: Huber has more offensive potential than most catchers. He should hit for a high average with 20-homer power, and he also draws plenty of walks. He has average arm strength.
Weaknesses: Huber has a better bat than fellow trade acquisition John Buck, but his defense lags behind Buck’s and may push Huber to first base or left field. His footwork is his most glaring deficiency, the major reason why he never has thrown out more than 25 percent of basestealers at any level.
The Future: After a brief stop at Triple-A Omaha, Huber should be ready for the majors. He’s likely to see time in several roles for the Royals rather than become their everyday catcher.
Background: A native Panamanian, Cota was a strong-armed shortstop who also pitched at Tucson’s Sunnyside High. The Royals spent a 10th-round choice on him in 2003 and watched him blossom in junior college before signing him as a draft-and-follow for $1.05 million—a record for a 10th-rounder.
Strengths: Cota throws his four-seam fastball at 92-96 mph range, and it has so much boring action that scouts mistook it for a two-seamer. He scrapped his curveball after signing to focus on his slider, and it now clocks in at 86-88 mph, giving him a second plus pitch. He’s very athletic, allowing him to repeat a sound delivery and field his position.
Weaknesses: Cota struggled with his command in his pro debut, which may have been a result of being tired after working 93 innings in junior college. He needs to work down in the zone more often. He didn’t start using a changeup until instructional league, but made good initial progress.
The Future: With his stuff, Cota can become a frontline starter, though he’s quite a ways from the majors. He’ll begin his first full season in low Class A.
Background: Costa signed for $775,000 after earning the 2003 Big West Conference player of the year award. His father Leo is a former college football player and national bodybuilding champion who works as a personal trainer. That upbringing gives Costa an aggressive mentality.
Strengths: A polished hitter, Costa has quick hands that allow him to turn pitches into line drives. He easily makes adjustments and consistent contact. He’s an average baserunner and defender.
Weaknesses: Costa’s below-average arm relegates him to left field, where he’ll need to produce for more power. The Royals want him to do a better job of loading his hands in his swing. If he does that and starts to turn on more pitches, he could translate his strength into 20-25 homers per year.
The Future: One Royals scout compares Costa, physically and statistically, to Brian Giles. Giles always posted solid on-base percentages in the minors but never slugged better than .400 until he reached Double-A. Costa has followed a similar path, and needs to ratchet up his power production at Double-A Wichita in 2005. He should be in the majors by 2006.
Background: Maier turned down an offer to walk on the Michigan football team as a defensive back, opting instead to play baseball at Toledo, where he led the Mid-American Conference in batting as a freshman and junior. The Rockets’ all-time leading hitter at .414, he agreed to a $900,000 predraft deal in 2003.
Strengths: Maier’s hand-eye coordination allows for patience and consistent contact, though his plate discipline slipped in 2004. The Royals have encouraged him to move his hands closer to his body, which should shorten his swing and help him improve against breaking balls. Maier runs well underway and displays good instincts along the basepaths.
Weaknesses: A college catcher, Maier moved to third base to address an organizational weakness. The results have been mixed, as he lacks first-step quickness and doesn’t read balls well off the bat. His likely destination is an outfield corner. He needs to add a touch of leverage to his swing to develop more power.
The Future: Maier could move quickly once he finds a position. If he has a good spring, he could open 2005 in Double-A.
Background: Scouts first took notice of Murphy at Orange Coast (Calif.) JC in 2002 when they went to see teammate Matt Clanton, whom the Cubs took in the supplemental first round. Murphy has been a consistent run producer as a pro, with 201 RBIs in 322 minor league games.
Strengths: Murphy’s offense is his strong suit. He has gap power and a solid approach at the plate. As a second baseman, he offers a strong arm and a good double-play pivot.
Weaknesses: Murphy hit .302 through June before falling into a .202 tailspin afterward. He needs to stop wiggling his hands before unloading on a pitch, because it makes his swing longer and forces him to commit sooner, leaving him vulnerable to pitchers who change speeds well. He can be a little pull-conscious. His below-average speed makes his range average at best.
The Future: Murphy rates an edge over Ruben Gotay as the Royals’ second baseman of the future because his athleticism makes him a better defender. He’ll move up to Double-A in 2005. Murphy got a surprise September call up and should reach the majors to stay in 2006.
Background: Howell led Texas to the College World Series finals in 2004, tying for the Division I lead in wins (15-2, 2.13) while ranking second in strikeouts (166 in 135 innings). He cut a predraft deal for a $1 million as the first supplemental pick.
Strengths: Howell mirrors Zack Greinke’s ability to add and subtract from four pitches that he’ll throw in any count. His four-seam fastball tops out at 89 mph, but both it and his lively two-seamer play above-average because of his command. His plus curveball comes in two varieties, one he can bury in the dirt for a strikeout and another he throws for strikes. Howell’s splitter elicits swing-and-misses because it closely resembles his two-seamer. He also uses a fosh changeup.
Weaknesses: He’s not afraid to throw inside, but Howell needs to do so more often. He can rely too much on his curveball at times. His bulldog nature is often an asset, though he sometimes loses control of his emotions.
The Future: Howell is very refined and could begin 2005 in high Class A. Despite his lack of velocity, his pitchability and heart could make him a middle-of-the-rotation starter.