2013 Kansas City Royals Top 10 Prospects Chat With JJ Cooper

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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.

Moderator: JJ Cooper will answer your Royals questions beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET.

    Grant (NYC): Any concern with regards to Cuthbert? What does he need to improve upon? Did he land in your 11-20 range?

J.J. Cooper: Hey everyone. Thanks for coming out. Cuthbert was in the Top 10 at one point, but we decided to slide him out late in the process. There are definite concerns, as he hasn't really hit since July 2011. That's quite a long while for a guy whose bat is his best attribute. His plate discipline suffered this year, which is a concern since that has generally been a strength of his. Now he's chasing more pitches out of the zone. Yes, he was one of the youngest players in the Carolina League and Wilmington is a tough place to hit, but at this point scouts I talked to want to see him start stinging the ball again.

    Ben (Leland Grove): How close to the top 10 was RHP Kyle Smith? What did evaluators have to say about his pitches?

J.J. Cooper: He wasn't far off the top 10. Smith is an EXTREMELY polished pitcher for a young high school draftee. He's more polished than a lot of college pitchers coming out of the draft. That being said, there are questions about his ceiling. His fastball is generally 88-91 mph. He locates it to both sides of the plate and he can throw his curveball and changeup for strikes. That kind of assortment will allow him to carve up Class A hitters, and I expect he'll have a dominant year next year, but long term, he profiles more as a back-end of the rotation starter, and with him being a young pitcher who has just hit low Class A, he's ranked behind guys who have either higher ceilings or higher likelihoods of being solid big leaguers.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Do you see similiarities between Starling and new Marlins' acquisition Jake Marisnick? Who has the higher ceiling between the two?

J.J. Cooper: Interesting question. I'd say Starling is a better athlete, although both are very good athletes. Starling has more power. Marisnick is a little faster, at least out of the box. Marisnick has a better hit tool at this point, even if he has questions about his hit tool as well. I'd say Starling has a higher ceiling but Marisnick is a safer bet.

    Frank (Chicago): What can you tell us about pitcher Miguel Almonte? Is he one to watch?

J.J. Cooper: I love Miguel Almonte, and a lot of the scouts I talk to love him too. Put it this way, I was at one point figuring out, can I rank a guy with 20 or so pro innings in the U.S. in the top 10? In the end, I decided against it, as he's such a pop-up guy (he wasn't nearly this good a pitching prospect when he signed) that it's better to rank him in the 11-20 range and let him prove it over a longer stretch next year before putting him in the top 10, but I do expect to see him in the Top 10 next year. He is way more polished than you would expect for a young pitcher. He throws three pitches for strikes, can run his fastball up to 96-97 mph as a starter and has a pretty clean delivery. He's pretty much where Yordano Ventura was the year he pitched in the AZL. If you play in a deep fantasy or sim league and you have a spot for a flier, Almonte's worth taking a chance on. He could be one of the best pitching prospects in the org before too long.

    @ProspectD2J (Toronto): Hey J.J., thanks for the chat as always. What was the deciding factor in choosing Johnny Giavotella as the 2B in the 2016 lineup over Christian Colon?

J.J. Cooper: Good question, and it really could go either way. Giavotella for all his big league struggles, is still probably a tick better hitter than Colon while Colon has a better glove. There are scouts from other organizations who see Colon more as a good utility infielder rather than an everyday player, but guys who like him expect his excellent makeup will allow him to exceed his somewhat modest tools. If I was predicting one position the Royals may go outside the org to fill by 2016, second base could be it.

    Grant (NYC): What are the chances of Ventura becoming a power reliever, as you alluded to?

J.J. Cooper: Right now they aren't very good because the Royals need him to become a starter. When it comes to bullpen arms, they have plenty of options. When it comes to potential front-end starters, they are in desperate need. If Ventura can start, they need him to start. I think he'll get every chance he can to prove he's a starter. If he falls on his face starting, then he always could move to the bullpen and be a power reliever.

    @ProspectD2J (Toronto): Are the Royals thinking about asking Brett Eibner to give pitching a shot? He's shown extra base pop, but will he ever make enough consistent contact to have any shot at a big league future as a hitter?

J.J. Cooper: They are not, at least from everything I can find out. I think eventually he will make that move though. The Royals really like his defense and his power potential as an outfielder, but no, it doesn't seem like he's going to make enough contact to let those tools play—he's struck out in 37 percent of his pro at-bats. If he does eventually move to the mound, he projects as a solid power reliever, as a lot of teams thought that was his better pro position when he was in college.

    MS (Ontario): The Royals do have a number of quality SS prospects in their system, at various levels. I see that Mondesi and Calixte made the top 10 - how far back was Humberto Arteaga, and how does he rate in comparison to the other two?

J.J. Cooper: One little sneak peek. It could change as we refine things, but there are five Royals SS in the current iteration of the Top 30 (6 if you count Christian Colon). It's the deepest position in the organization, which is a pretty dramatic turnaround. When I started doing Royals Top 30 lists for Baseball America, Jeff Bianchi was the only real SS prospect in the organization, and he was having real trouble staying healthy. Arteaga is a really polished glove with less bat potential than either Mondesi or Calixte.

    MS (Ontario): Other lists are still giving Cuthbert top 10 status, but you've dropped him off the Top 10. This year was truly terrible, but he was also the youngest player as his level (or one of the youngest). Is his drop down the Royals rankings more due to the strength of the system, or are the flaws in his game truly that worrisome, even at a young age?

J.J. Cooper: In a weaker system, he'd still be in the top 10, but if you compare him to Orlando Calixte, who was No. 9 on this list, Cuthbert not that much younger (1/2 a year). Calixte has better tools defensively, runs better and has the kind of wiry strong body that projects to age better than the already thick Cuthbert. So then it comes down to the bat/power. Cuthbert has more raw power, but he hasn't shown as much power production as Calixte and he hasn't outhit Calixte since the middle of 2011. Calixte may be able to stay at shortstop long-term, Cuthbert hopes to stick at 3B. If you put Cuthbert ahead of him, it's based on him being a significantly better hitter at a lesser defensive position. At this point it's a lot tougher to project that than it was a year ago. To answer the last question, the flaws are worrisome, but they also aren't something that leads anyone to write him off in any way. Next year will be very important for Cuthbert.

    Ken (Lakewood CA): Hi JJ and thanks. I don't put a lot of emphasis on the future projected line up, but Ervin Santana listed as the future #2 of the pitching staff is pretty telling, don't you think? Maybe some trades are in order? Cain is not listed in what looks to be a very good future starting line up. How about using him or Starling in a trade for SP? With some decent pitching, the Royals would seem to have a line up good enough to compete. Your thoughts please.

J.J. Cooper: I don't think either of those guys are the ones who the Royals trade. Cain doesn't have enough value to be the cornerstone of a trade for a front-end starter and the Royals would be selling low on Starling. If they trade him now, they are trading him after a solid but unspectacular Appy League season. It makes way more sense after spending $7.5 million on him to develop him and see what you paid for than to deal him away now. Also, to land a front-end starter who isn't holding a gun to the team's head because of upcoming free agency or salary problems, you usually have to give up big league or nearly big league ready players. I'd be much less surprised to see Butler, Moustakas, Hosmer, Myers or Gordon traded this offseason to land a front-end pitcher. Scouts from other teams in the AFL/instructs did notice that whenever the Mariners' prospects were on a field, a whole lot of Royals' front office officials were watching them and when the Royals prospects were on the field, the Mariners front office had a healthy contingent scouting them,

    MS (Ontario): Brett Eibner is a terrible hitter. Good fielder, has some pop in the bat, and his walk rate has actually been good. But the hit tool seems to be awful. Have you heard the Royals talk about moving him back to the mound, which was what many teams wanted to draft him to do? Or is this hitting experiment likely to continue for a while?

J.J. Cooper: Expect to see it at least for another season, as the Royals aren't ready to give up on him as a position prospect.

    Ryan (Dallas, TX): Ready to admit you were wrong about Mike Montgomery yet? I know there were quite a few people who ragged on you for ranking him #1 last year, and I was probably one of them. Here's some crow for you - dig in. /end gloat mode

J.J. Cooper: Chomp, chomp, not so tasty. Yes, I was too high on Montgomery. I still think there is a chance he puts it together, but at this point, he's now had two seasons where he's gone completely in the wrong direction. The biggest concern to me is I can't find anyone who saw him this year who thinks they've figured out what was wrong and know how to fix it. The Royals moved his arm slot down last year to help his command, but his stuff wasn't as good after the adjustment and he didn't exactly start painting the corners either. The plan as I understand it now is to go back to his more over the top delivery again and hope he can more consistently throw the 92-94 mph fastball he's shown in the past. There are still some pieces there, very good fastball for a lefty, very good changeup, so in the worst case scenario, maybe he ends up having to air it out as a power lefty in the pen, but the Royals have no need to make that move yet. He gets another chance to try to figure it out as a starter.

    Joe LeCates (Easton, MD): JJ, thank you for the chat today, and a Happy Thanksgiving to you this week. I have to work a #personalcheeseball question in: your thoughts on Justin Trapp (time may be against him at 22 already, but he seems to show some signs of refinement)?

J.J. Cooper: Good athlete who is starting to figure things out. Because of his football background (he was a quarterback with come college offers) he has always been behind, which explains why he'll head into his fifth pro season next year hoping to make it to high Class A for the first time. But there are some tools there. He's not an elite prospect, but if Irving Falu could end up getting big league ABs, I wouldn't put it past Trapp either.

    Greg (Fullerton, CA): Bubba Starling- what do you think is his floor/ceiling? Would McCuthen as a ceiling and Stubbs as a floor be adequate?

J.J. Cooper: I think that floor is too high. The floor for Starling is that he doesn't make enough contact to be a big league regular. I do think Stubbs and Starling's tool-sets are pretty similar (although Stubbs is a faster runner), but Stubbs entered the draft as a three-year college starter with solid production at Texas). We aren't to the point in Starling's career where we've seen that he can make some of the adjustments Stubbs showed in his first pro season. In Starling's case, right now he's a guy with great power potential but one who was an easy out in the Appy League to pitchers who could hit their spots.

    Keith (Manchester, CT): Thanks J.J. How optimistic are you are Bubba Starling's future given the strikeout rate — 70 K's in 53 games — and where do you set his ceiling given that?

J.J. Cooper: It's definitely a concern, but that's what development is all about. His swing needs to be refined if he's going to be a big leaguer, which is why he spent his first season in the Appy League and not the Midwest League. Even scouts who like Starling a lot expect there will be further hiccups along the way. If Starling puts it all together, it's likely that at some point it all clicks in and his hit tool takes a significant step forward. But if that happens, it might be 2014 or 2015 and not 2013 before that happens.

    Bobby (Cape Cod): Thanks for the chat J.J. Adalberto Mondesi is a favorite of mine. I think he will be a pretty good shortstop and be able to remain there, but what exactly is his offensive potential and how does is compare to his dads? Before he signed it did not seem like he had a lot of power but now it seems like he will have some pop. In your Pioneer League top 20, Tony Diaz said "This guy may show up in three years hitting 30 bombs in the big leagues". Does he possesses the same ability to develop into a speed/power guy like Raul if he fills out?

J.J. Cooper: It's hard to put limits on Mondesi because he is so young. If you want to dream on him, he's got the potential to be a shortstop who hits for average and power. Now that's based almost entirely on projection because of how young he is. He has made dramatic improvements since the Royals signed him because he's older and he's starting to fill out. If he continues to keep improving (and adding strength) he could be really special, but it's putting a lot of faith in projection.

    Cy (Western Mass): Hi J.J. It seems that Bubba Starling has everything but present hitting ability. So, the big question: do scouts think he can learn to be an above-average hitter for average? Thanks

J.J. Cooper: If you find the person who can answer that question for sure, he can make a whole lot of money as a scout. In Starling's favor, he's extremely athletic which helps him take instruction and implement it—if you ask a poor athlete (say me) to change something in my baseball swing, I'll struggle to replicate the instruction. With an elite athlete like Bubba, the kinesthetic awareness that he has allows him to make those kind of changes pretty quickly. He also is by all accounts a very hard worker, which adds to his chances of pulling it off. That being said, he still has a lot of work to do. If Bubba can just get to the point of being an average hitter, the rest of his tools would make him into a very solid big league regular.

    Clint (La Vista, NE): What are scouts saying about Cam Gallagher's chances to stick behind the plate? The swing looks simple and the size says power, is he a possible second division starter?

J.J. Cooper: Could be better than that. Most of the people I talked to outside of the Royals org who saw him were surprised by how good he looked back there (when healthy).

    Mike (Pleasant Hill, Mo): Assuming the top 3 are locks for the top 100, what are the chances Ventura, Odorizzi, and/or Bonifacio make it?

J.J. Cooper: Would be surprised if Ventura and Odorizzi don't make it. Bonifacio and Mondesi have chances to make it to me, but both of those are much iffier.

    Noel (Portland, OR): Is Ventura outranking Odorizzi a ceiling versus floor thing? I.e. Ventura's ceiling is higher than Odorizzi's, hence the higher ranking? Yet Odorizzi is the safer bet, correct?

J.J. Cooper: Agree with everything you said. Ventura's stuff grades out significantly better than Odorizzi's, but Odorizzi is a safer bet.

    Tyler (Albuquerque): Thoughts on Eddy Carl? Where did he fall in your rankings?

J.J. Cooper: He wasn't close to the top 10. Nothing against Carl personally, but with the move to the rotation, his stuff has become fringier. Still has a chance to make the big leagues, but it's hard to project him as a guy who will make an impact.

    Travis (TX): Did Eliner Hernandez underperfom this year in regards to expectations? Thanks.

J.J. Cooper: Yeah, but it's hard to separate how much of that underperforming was based on him being thrown into the deep end of the pool before he fully knew how to swim. Scouts for other orgs said he simply looked overmatched, but then considering his age, that's not all that shocking. The tools are the same as they were when he signed, he could fall on his face again next year and still be a solid prospect.

    Sammy (DC): Were you impressed with Christian Colon's season? Is he likely to become a backup to Escobar next year, or will he likely play at another position?

J.J. Cooper: It was a solid season, but he's going to be a second baseman if he's a big league regular. He could handle shortstop as a backup, but I think the Royals want to try him as a full-time player at 2B instead of as a utility infielder, that's the backup plan if he doesn't hit enough to be an everyday 2B.

    @ProspectD2J (Toronto): J.C. Sulbaran's numbers were pretty ugly in his brief time in the Royals organization after being acquired from the Reds. What feedback did you get from scouts on his upside and how much consideration did you give him for the top 10?

J.J. Cooper: Sulbaran wasn't close to the Top 10, he was significantly behind Donnie Joseph, the club's other acquisition in the Broxton trade. Sulbaran's stuff is pretty good at its best, but this year it was more often 89-92 and at times he was 86-88 struggling to touch 90. His other stuff isn't good enough to work if he doesn't have more velo than that.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Ture or false - it is time to give up on Noel Arguelles. True of False - Michael Mariot is a true prospect and deserves to be in the Handbook this year.

J.J. Cooper: Not time to give up on Arguelles, but time is ticking. His stuff actually ticked up at the end of the year and he was throwing harder than he had in past years, but you wouldn't be able to tell it from the numbers he put up. His delivery needs some refinement. Mariot is a fringe of the top 30 guy. If it breaks right, he could be a back of the rotation guy.

    @ProspectD2J (Toronto): What's the outlook for John Lamb in 2013 now that he should be fully healthy? Did he crack the 11-20 range?

J.J. Cooper: A lot depends on what we see from Lamb when spring training arrives. He was close to the top 10, but the reality is we never got to see Lamb's stuff fully back in his abbreviated return to the mound in 2012. The foot injury obviously set him back, but Lamb was more often 86-89 mph than the 90-95 he showed pre-injury. If his fastball is back to it's pre-injury form in 2013 and his command returns, than yes, he's a front-end of the rotation starter—pre-injury few lefties had Lamb's combination of feel and stuff. But before the season began, the expectation was that we'd see that stuff late in the 2012 season—for an example see the stuff Kyle Gibson was showing in the AFL 13 months after TJ.

    Travis (Austin, TX): Is Tim Mellville still a legit prospect or has that ship sailed? Thanks.

J.J. Cooper: If it hasn't sailed, than it's a speck on the horizon. The stuff is still there at times—pre-injury in 2012 he touched 96-97 mph, but put it this way, I wouldn't be surprised to see him go unprotected on the 40-man roster when it's announced later today, and I also wouldn't be shocked if he then went unpicked in the Rule 5 draft.

    Jonny (Florida): Is Patrick Leonard a prospect? What is his ceiling, and how close was he to Top 10? Thanks.

J.J. Cooper: He's definitely a prospect. Scouts from other orgs who saw him this year at Burlington and in instructs really liked him. He's a significantly better player now than he was when he was drafted. He should be able to stick at 3B and he has plenty of power potential.

    Dave (Pueblo, CO): Quick Thoughts on Patrick Leonard, Kenny Diekroeger, and Fred Ford - Really think the new team in Lexington will be stacked with talent next year.

J.J. Cooper: Mentioned Leonard in the previous answer. Ford has plenty of power himself, but like Brett Eibner, he has to make enough contact to tap into it. That will be his big question in 2013. I'm less high on Diekroeger. Stats in the Appy League don't mean all that much, but a guy coming out of Stanford should be able to dominate a lot of the pitchers in the Appy League, Diekroeger wasn't able to do that. That said, it was a worthwhile flier on a guy who would have gone way higher if he could have been drafted after his freshman year in college.

    Landon (Arkansas): Pick a hitting & pitching prospect not in the top ten that have the greatest chance to turn themselves into top 100 prospects within one year.

J.J. Cooper: Almonte for the pitcher (although if Lamb's shows he's back to pre-injury form next year I can promise he'll be back in the Royals Top 10 and likely the Top 100). I'll pick Patrick Leonard for the hitter, but he'd be a back end of the top 100 guy.

    Dave (Kansas City, MO): Angel Baez and Aroni Nina had surprising seasons after signing awhile back. What are the ceilings of the two?

J.J. Cooper: I like Baez more than Nina. I think Baez could be a power reliever—he ran it up to 98 mph at his best this year. Some control problems are the reason to think he ends up in the pen more than the starting rotation.

    Dave (Pueblo): The 2013 Wilmington rotation could look like Zimmer, Selman, Smith and Brickhouse. Is this as good as minor league rotation (potential wise) as a team could have? Angel Baez is another sleeper in that mix, too!

J.J. Cooper: Sorry just too early to really even project that out, but no, I'd guess there will be a better one out there. The Mariners' Double-A Jackson club had three top 100 guys in their rotation last year. Of those four guys, Zimmer is the only likely Top 100 guy. It's conceivable that the Mariners could have Hultzen, Walker, Brandon Maurer and Paxton all together in Triple-A to start this season that would be a better rotation.

    Gerald (DC): Does Robinson Yambati still have starter potential or has he been relegated to the bullpen? Has the stuff bounced back from 2011?

J.J. Cooper: Bullpen guy, but yes the stuff did bounce back to where he was in the upper 90s again at his best.

    Bill (Anchorage): Do you see the Royals as a top three farm system?

J.J. Cooper: No. Still a very good farm system, but I'd say the Cardinals and Rangers are clearly better than them, likely the Astros too. I'd say the Royals are more likely a 5-10 system.

    Arnie (KC): Hi JJ, the Royals went way over slot to sign 3rd round pick Colin Rodgers. How is the organization feeling about this investment after his debut. Thanks

J.J. Cooper: Polished pitcher, more of a back-end of the rotation guy but he knows how to pitch.

J.J. Cooper: I've got to wrap this up, but thanks for all the questions. John Manuel will be here tomorrow to talk Twins prospects.