Kansas City Royals: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Kansas City Royals: Scouting Reports

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, 2008.

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Kansas City Royals

The Royals completed the 2007 season in the same fashion they had in 12 of the previous 13 years—with a losing record. Yet unlike years past, optimism could be found in Kansas City's 69-93 mark and fourth consecutive last-place finish in the American League Central.

That hope is tied to a restructured player-development system and draft philosophy modeled after one of baseball's most successful franchises, the Braves. It's no coincidence, seeing as general manager Dayton Moore and farm director J.J. Picollo worked for Atlanta before coming to Kansas City. Senior advisor Art Stewart, who has been with the franchise since its inception, said the team's renewed efforts to build from within under Moore reminded him of the Royals' early days, when they swiftly assembled a contender through shrewd trades and homegrown talent.

"The most important thing we have done is staff our front office and development departments with good people and a full staff," said Moore, who noted that when scouting director Deric Ladnier arrived (also from the Braves) in 2000, he had just two crosscheckers on his staff. "Certainly, scouting and player development are the most important things we can do, and it doesn't matter if it is in a small or large market."

Kansas City made clear its commitment to the future by spending $6.6 million on the 2007 draft—the seventh-biggest outlay in baseball—starting with $4 million for No. 2 overall pick Mike Moustakas, the best hitter available.

The Royals have yet to show much improvement at the big league level, but they are putting more talent on the field. Four rookies who should be cornerstones for their future successfully made the transition to the big leagues in 2007. First-round picks Billy Butler and Alex Gordon had steady debuts and should anchor the middle of the lineup for years. Brian Bannister, stolen from the Mets in a trade for Ambiorix Burgos, won 12 games, while Joakim Soria, a Rule 5 draft coup, earned 17 saves.

A couple of righthanders are nearly ready to bolster the rotation. Luke Hochevar, the No. 1 overall pick in 2006 draft, made his major league debut in September. Daniel Cortes has been a revelation after coming over from the White Sox in a deal for Mike MacDougal. But other than counting on improvement from its young big leaguers, a Royals offense that finished 13th in the AL in scoring can't count on any immediate help.

The makeup of his team spurred Moore's decision to go off the beaten path to find a replacement for manager Buddy Bell, who resigned at the end of the season. Trey Hillman takes over after five seasons in Japan managing the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, whose 2006 Japan Series title was their first championship in 25 years. In Kansas City, Hillman will try to implement many of the same values that worked with the Ham Fighters, an offensively challenged club that won with pitching, defense and fundamentals.

The Royals showed that they'll explore every avenue for talent by also going to Japan to land reliever Yasuhiko Yabuta with a two-year, $6 million contract. They've increased their efforts on the global market, opening a new academy in the Dominican Republic last year. Domestically, they increased their U.S. farm system from six to seven affiliates.

1. Mike Moustakas, ss   Born: Sept. 11, 1988B-T: L-RHt: 6-0Wt: 195
Drafted: HS—Chatsworth, Calif., 2007 (1st round)Signed by: John Ramey
Mike MoustakasBackground: Moustakas stepped into the spotlight during his junior season, when he set the Chatsworth (Calif.) High single-season home record with 14 as a somewhat pudgy 5-foot-11, 175-pounder. Moustakas tightened his physique before his senior season and hit a state-record 24 homers, upping his career total to 52—another California mark. His performance earned him Baseball America's High School Player of the Year award and consensus acclaim as the best hitter available in the 2007 draft. After almost backing away because of signability concerns, the Royals chose him with the No. 2 overall pick. Chatsworth third baseman Matt Dominguez, went 10 choices later to the Marlins, making them the sixth pair of high school teammates to go in the first round of the same draft. Kansas City didn't sign Moustakas until just before the Aug. 15 deadline, when it gave him a $4 million bonus that matched the club record established by Alex Gordon in 2005. Agent Scott Boras said he thought Moustakas was worth considerably more and advised his client to attend Southern California rather than turning pro. Though he didn't come cheap, the Royals believe they locked up a future middle-of-the-order hitter. He might not make it as a middle infielder, but the Royals will accede to his wishes and allow him to begin his pro career as a shortstop. He's the nephew of former Mets hitting coach Tom Robson.

Strengths: Moustakas has few holes in his offensive game. He has a short, quick swing that he repeats easily, plus an advanced approach for his age. He lets the ball travel deep into the strike zone before cutting loose, and the ball jumps off his bat to all fields. In his first pro at-bat, Moustakas drove a two-strike pitch for an opposite-field double. He shows off tremendous bat speed and strength and simply has the look of a major league hitter. Royals assistant general manager Brian Murphy likened Moustakas' Major League Scouting Bureau video to a hitting clinic in which he did everything correct. A mature hitter, he already stays back on offspeed pitches. Also a quarterback and a pitcher in high school, Moustakas has good athleticism, average speed and some baserunning aptitude. He was clocked throwing as hard as 98 mph off the mound—he also flashed a two-plane slider—and that arm strength is an asset at shortstop. He has sure hands and makes accurate throws. He has tremendous makeup and understanding of the game.

Weaknesses: Moustakas projects to be too bulky to stay at shortstop. He's still filling out and his range is already less than ideal for the position. He might fit best at third base, though that's currently occupied by Gordon in Kansas City. Some clubs were intrigued by the possibilities of making him a catcher, but that would delay the arrival of his bat in the major leagues. Right field is another possibility, but his positioning and instincts will determine how long Moustakas stays at shortstop. After dominating in high school, he sometimes got frustrated with any lack of success during his brief pro debut.

The Future: The only thing that will slow Moustakas' ascent to the big leagues is finding him a defensive home. He'll stay at shortstop this year at low Class A Burlington. His athleticism and arm strength will make switching positions easy when that time comes. His bat will play anywhere on the diamond.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Idaho Falls (R) .293 .383 .439 41 6 12 4 1 0 10 4 8 0
2. Daniel Cortes, rhp   Born: March 4, 1987. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 225.
Drafted: HS—Pomona, Calif., 2005 (7th round). Signed by: Dan Ontiveros (White Sox).
Daniel CortesBackground: Cortes passed lefty Tyler Lumsden as the best prospect the Royals received from the White Sox in the Mike MacDougal trade in mid 2006. No player in the system made a bigger leap in 2007 than Cortes, who grew an inch and added 20 pounds since changing organizations. He was held back in spring training to slow down the tempo of his delivery and steadily progressed after joining high Class A Wilmington at the end of April.

Strengths: Slowing down Cortes' delivery resulted in his fastball velocity increasing from 89-92 mph to 93-96, and it seems to jump out of his hand. His heater has late life, currently grades as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale and has potential to get better. He mixes in a sharp, 12-to-6 curve that could become a dominant strikeout pitch. For a pitcher of his age and size, he does a good job of throwing strikes. His big, strong frame should lend itself to durability.

Weaknesses: Cortes still tends to be quick in his delivery and will sometimes overthrow his fastball and curveball. He relies heavily on those two pitches and is hesitant to mix in his changeup, which lags well behind in his repertoire.I

The Future: The Royals envision Cortes as a frontline starter and will send him to their new Double-A Northwest Arkansas affiliate in 2008. If they wanted to make him a reliever, he'd have closer potential and could arrive in the majors at some point this year. But they have no plans to do so at this time.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Wilmington (Hi A) 8 8 3.07 24 24 0 0 123 102 7 45 120 .226
3. Luke Hochevar, rhp   Born: Sept. 15, 1983. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 205.
Drafted: Fort Worth (American Assoc.), 2006 (1st round). Signed by: Phil Huffman/Gerald Turner.
Luke HochevarBackground: Hochevar took a winding path to professional baseball. Selected 40th overall by the Dodgers in 2005, Hochevar backed out of a $2.98 million bonus deal that September and showcased himself with an indy ball stint in the independent American Association the following spring. The Royals made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2006 and signed him for a $5.25 million big league contract. Hochevar's stuff was impressive in his first full pro season, though he went just 4-9, 4.86 in the minors before getting a September callup.

Strengths: Hochevar pitches off a 92-93 mph fastball that reaches 95 and also mixes in a two-seamer with heavy sink. His big, late-breaking curveball will become an above-average pitch once he shows the ability to commands it better. He throws his curve in the mid-80s and can freeze hitters or bury it in the dirt. He uses his slider primarily as a chase pitch.

Weaknesses: Hochevar battled wildness at times in 2007 due to a tendency to spin off toward first, causing his pitches to stay up and flatten out. He corrected the problem by the end of the season by focusing on landing in line with the plate. His changeup still needs fine-tuning but is a usable secondary pitch.

The Future: Armed with a five-pitch arsenal, Hochevar has done little to dissuade Kansas City from envisioning him as a frontline starter. He needs to improve his command to reach that level. His performance in spring training will determine whether he opens 2008 in Kansas City or Triple-A Omaha.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Wichita (AA) 3 6 4.69 17 16 0 0 94 110 13 26 94 .286
Omaha (AAA) 1 3 5.12 10 10 0 0 58 53 11 21 44 .244
Kansas City 0 1 2.13 4 1 0 0 13 11 1 4 5 .239
4.  Blake Wood, rhp   Born: Aug. 8, 1985. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 225.
Drafted: Georgia Tech, 2006 (3rd round). Signed by: Spencer Graham.
Blake WoodBackground: Wood missed the first half of 2007 after having surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back, but made up for lost time with a stellar second half. Wood described the operation as instant relief, and he improved with seemingly every start. His success carried over to Hawaii Winter Baseball, where he went 2-1, 3.55 with 57 strikeouts in 33 innings.

Strengths: Wood throws a heavy 94-95 mph fastball with some natural bore and an above-average curveball with true 12-to-6 break. He gained velocity on his fastball last year after learning not to overthrow it. He continues to improve an average changeup with good action down in the zone.

Weaknesses: Mechanics continue to be Wood's biggest obstacle. Though he doesn't rely on blowing the ball past hitters as he did in 2006—which caused him to hurry his delivery—he still needs to improve his balance and trust his arm strength to overwhelm hitters.

The Future: Once he got going, Wood had the look of a frontline starter, and he should provide a better look at his ceiling with a full season in 2008. He'll start the year in high Class A and figures to get a midseason promotion.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
AZL Royals (R) 0 0 0.00 4 4 0 0 10 9 0 0 15 .250
Burlington (Lo A) 2 1 3.03 7 7 0 0 36 32 3 14 26 .239
Wilmington (Hi A) 0 1 4.66 2 2 0 0 10 9 1 3 11 .257
5. Danny Duffy, lhp   Born: Dec. 21, 1988. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185.
Drafted: HS—Lompoc, Calif., 2007 (3rd round). Signed by: Rick Schroeder.
Danny DuffyBackground: After signing for $365,000 as a third-round pick in June after displaying one of the more impressive fastballs in the California draft class, Duffy couldn't have been more dominant in the Rookie-level Arizona League. He struck out 15.2 batters per nine innings, posted a 1.45 ERA and went 37 innings without allowing a homer.

Strengths: Duffy already has an 89-92 mph fastball that tops out at 95 mph, and he should add more velocity as he develops physically and fills out his frame. His curveball has the potential to give him a second plus pitch, while his slider can become solid average. He hides the ball well in his delivery.

Weaknesses: Duffy's mechanics are extremely raw and hamper his command. He struggles at times to get extension in his delivery ahnd to repeat his arm slot. He also has a tendency to rush toward the plate, causing him to lose command of the strike zone. His curveball remains inconsistent, and he doesn't have much of a changeup.

The Future: Duffy should fit in the middle of a major league rotation, though not any time soon. He could open the season in low Class A but will be held back in extended spring training if he struggles in minor league camp.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
AZL Royals (R) 2 3 1.45 11 9 0 0 37 24 0 17 63 .178
6. Carlos Rosa, rhp   Born: Sept. 21, 1984. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185.
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2001. Signed by: Luis Silverio.
Carlos RosaBackground: After an impressive spring training that prompted some consideration for Rosa to break camp with the big league club, the Royals sent him to high Class A with the intention of promoting him in June. But he needed just four starts before it became apparent he was ready for a new challenge in Double-A. He has made a full recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2004.

Strengths: Rosa's fastball operates at 93-95 mph and touches 97, and it seems quicker because he has such an effortless delivery. His heater has late armside run, and he backs it up with a sharp curveball and a changeup. Both are effective secondary pitches, though he trusts his curve more.

Weaknesses: By focusing on pitching down and away, Rosa has developed a hesitancy to work inside on hitters. More advanced hitters in Double-A took advantage and knocked him around until he made some adjustments in August. He doesn't have much feel for his slider and would be better off just scrapping it.

The Future: The biggest question surrounding Rosa is his ultimate role. He could make the Royals out of spring training as a reliever, but he also has enough pitches to remain a starter. If he's not rushed, he'll open 2008 in the Double-A rotation.#
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Wilmington (Hi A) 2 1 0.39 4 4 0 0 23 18 0 3 15 .209
Wichita (AA) 6 6 4.36 21 17 0 1 97 101 8 43 70 .272
7. Julio Pimentel, rhp   Born: Dec. 14, 1985. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190.
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2003. Signed by: Pablo Peguero/Angel Santana (Dodgers).
Julio PimentelBackground: Pimentel completed his tour of high Class A with a 2007 stint in the Carolina Leauge. He previously made stops in the Florida State League as a Dodger, and in the California League immediately after joining the Royals in the July 2006 Elmer Dessens trade. Primarily a reliever in 2006, Pimentel pitched almost exclusively as a starter last year.

Strengths: Pimentel has two above-average pitches in a lively 90-93 mph fastball and a changeup with late fade that can be a swing-and-miss pitch. He mixes in an improved curve that has some sharp, late break. He showed competitiveness by pitching out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the decisive Carolina League playoff game, though he eventually took the loss.)

Weaknesses: Pimentel's curveball is average at best and he struggles to control it at times. He did correct a tendency to pitch side-to-side that caused his arm slot to move too far away from his body, but he still needs better command. He pitches too much to contact and has a bafflingly low strikeout rate for someone with two plus pitches.

The Future: Pimentel's improving curveball should keep him in the rotation in the near future, but he may profile best as a late-inning reliever. He'll pitch out of the Double-A rotation in 2008.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Wilmington (Hi A) 12 4 2.65 27 22 0 0 153 145 8 43 73 .250
8. Matt Mitchell, rhp   Born: March 31, 1989. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 205.
Drafted: HS—Barstow, Calif. (14th round). Signed by: John Ramey.
Matt MitchellBackground: The Royals might come away with one of the steals of the 2007 draft after finding Mitchell in the small southern California town of Barstow and signing him for $100,000 as a 14th-rounder. The secret was out once he won the Rookie-level Arizona League ERA title with a 1.80 mark.

Strengths: Mitchell was able to correct an early tendency of pitching up in the strike zone by getting better extension in his delivery and throwing on more of a downhill plane. Advanced for a high school pitcher, Mitchell locates an 88-92 mph fastball to both sides of the plate and shows an ability to throw it for strike one. He uses his secondary pitches a lot for a young pitcher, including a palm changeup and a curveball with 11-to-5 break when it's on. He hides the ball well with a smooth delivery, similar to Curt Schilling's, which makes it hard for hitters to time his arm speed.

Weaknesses: Mitchell is still working on feel for his curveball, which has inconsistent trajectory and rotation. He's still figuring out his mechanics and needs to repeat his delivery on a more regular basis.

The Future: Kansas City is thrilled with Mitchell so far and thinks it could have a mid-rotation starter on its hands. He'll compete for a spot in the low Class A rotation this year.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
AZL Royals (R) 5 1 1.80 14 7 0 1 55 34 0 25 72 .183
9. Yasuhiko Yabuta, rhp   Born: June 19, 1973. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190.
Signed: Japan, 2007. Signed by: Louie Medina/Rene Francisco.
Yasuhiko YabutaBackground: The first Japanese free agent ever signed by the Royals, Yabuta agreed to a two-year contract worth $6 million in December. He spent his first eight years in Japan as a starter, but found more success when Bobby Valentine moved him to the bullpen in 2004. Yabuta registered 86 holds for Chiba Lotte over the past three seasons and drew attention by striking out Alex Rodriguez, Derrek Lee and Johnny Damon during the World Baseball Classic.

Strengths: Yabuta throws a 90-92 mph fastball and controls it down in the zone. His out pitch is a plus changeup with some late fade. It's deceptive because he deploys it with the same arm action as his fastball. He use his changeup and forkball to keep lefthanders at bay and throws strikes with ease.

Weaknesses: Yabuta struggled as a starter because he didn't have a good breaking ball. Coming out of the bullpen, he doesn't use his slider as much. The track record of Japanese relievers in the U.S. major leagues is strong, but he still has to adjust to big league hitters and an entirely new culture.

The Future: The Royals will immediately plug Yabuta into their big league bullpen. With David Riske departing as a free agent, Yubota will be the primary set-up man for Joakim Soria.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Chiba Lotte (JAP) 4 6 2.73 58 0 0 4 63 64 5 10 45
10. Derrick Robinson, of   Born: Sept. 28, 1987. B-T: B-L. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 170.
Drafted: HS—Gainesville, Fla., 2006 (4th round). Signed by: Cliff Pastornicky.
Derrick RobinsonBackground: Robinson committed to Florida as a cornerback, then abandoned football when the Royals drafted him in the fourth round in 2006 and handed him an $850,000 bonus.

Strengths: Speed is Robinson's biggest tool and it's beginning to show on the basepaths. He's a slightly above-average basestealer but has good instincts and should continue to improve as his timing and jumps get better. His ceiling is that of a prototypical leadoff hitter with a little extra pop in his bat, with one Royals official comparing him with a young Kenny Lofton. He's an above-average defender in center field.

Weaknesses: Robinson is very raw offensively. He doesn't work counts well, though Kansas City encouraged him to learn to hit first and develop discipline later. He improved his approach by spreading out his stance and creating a better base. He's improving his routes in center, and the Royals had him play shallow to get a better feel for going back on balls. His arm is below-average.

The Future: Kansas City believes Robinson has the potential to be a special player and will be patient with his development. He may begin 2008 back in Burlington but should move up to high Class A quickly.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Burlington (Lo A) .243 .299 .300 407 42 99 11 3 2 26 32 100 34
Wilmington (Hi A) .385 .429 .462 13 1 5 1 0 0 0 1 0 1

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Photo Credits:
Carl Kline (Cortes, Pimentel)
Bill Mitchell (Wood, Duffy, Mitchell, Robinson)
Brian Bissell (Moustakas)