2017 Kansas City Royals Top 10 Prospects

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1. Josh Staumont, rhp
2. Matt Strahm, lhp
3. Hunter Dozier, 3b/of
4. Eric Skoglund, lhp
5. A.J. Puckett, rhp
6. Scott Blewett, rhp
7. Chase Vallot, c
8. Ryan O’Hearn, 1b
9. Jorge Bonifacio, of
10. Kyle Zimmer, rhp

The bill for the Royals’ back-to-back World Series appearances and its 2015 title started to come due in 2016, but the balloon payment is looming in 2018.

Understandably, the defending World Series champs tried to keep the team together to attempt a repeat. Free agent Alex Gordon was re-signed, ensuring the Royals began 2016 with largely the same lineup that won it all in 2015.

The dominant bullpen was largely kept intact (closer Greg Holland was allowed to reach free agency as he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery) while free agent righthander Ian Kennedy was signed to try to fill some of the innings lost when trade pickup Johnny Cueto signed with the Giants as a free agent.

It didn’t work. A knee injury cost Mike Moustakas all but a month of the season. Lorenzo Cain missed time. Gordon hit a baffling .220/.312/.380 as the offense cratered.

And the Royals’ bullpen, the most-feared in baseball in 2014-15, became merely mildly intimidating in 2016 thanks to an injury to Wade Davis and the struggles of free agent signee Joakim Soria.

The emergency of Duffy as an ace and a still-impressive defense allowed the Royals to hang around the periphery of the wild-card race until the start of September. But when the bullpen blew two saves as part of four one-run losses in a five-game span, Kansas City’s season was effectively over.

The result was an 81-81 record. Now Kansas City has one more shot at the postseason before this group largely heads elsewhere.

Six members of the lineup—Cain, Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales, Jarrod Dyson and Alcides Escobar—will be free agents after 2017. So will lefthander Danny Duffy and righthander Wade Davis. Even a large-revenue team would have trouble keeping that group together. For the Royals, it will be tough enough to find the payroll room to keep them this year when the majority head to arbitration.

So Kansas City heads into 2017 knowing this is the final bid for postseason glory before a likely lengthy rebuilding process. It’s a worthwhile tradeoff to trade off future success to win a World Series, and that’s exactly what the Royals did. Lefthanders Sean Manaea, Cody Reed and Brandon Finnegan would likely all fit in the Kansas City rotation in 2017 as young, hard-throwing and cost-controlled starting pitchers. All three were traded away to help fuel the successful 2015 World Series run.

Kansas City lost its first-round pick in the 2016 draft to sign Kennedy as a free agent, giving the club the second smallest draft pool in 2016. The farm system is the thinnest it has been since before Dayton Moore’s rebuilding process hit full speed in 2009-10.

If Kansas City falls out of the playoff race by the July trade deadline, it could dominate the trade market with a slew of desirable talents that could speed up the rebuilding process.

1. Josh Staumont, rhp | bba_video_icon_red

Fastball: 70.
Curveball: 60.
Changeup: 40.
Control: 45.
Based on 20-80 scouting scale—where 50 represents major league average—and future projection rather than present tools.

Born: Dec. 21, 1993. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Azusa Pacific (Calif), 2015 (2nd round). Signed by: Colin Gonzalez.

Background: A little-noticed high school arm who grew from being a short and thick underclassman to a tall-and-lean senior at La Habra (Calif.) High, Staumont earned a spot in NAIA Biola (Calif.) University’s rotation as a freshman (he worked 10.2 innings in one marathon outing), but he transferred to Division II Azusa (Calif.) Pacific to follow coach John Verhoeven. It says something about Staumont’s stuff that he posted a 3.67 ERA in his junior season at Azusa Pacific despite walking more than seven batters per nine innings. It says even more that he was a second-round pick despite his wildness. And in his first full season as a pro, Staumont led the minors with 104 walks, but he also ranked second in strikeouts (167) and first among full-season starters with 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He went 2-0, 1.57 with 53 strikeouts and 12 walks in his final 40 innings between the regular season and playoffs and was effective as a starter in the Arizona Fall League.

Scouting Report: Staumont creates extremely easy top-of-the-scale velocity. He’s touched triple digits with a delivery that looks almost effortless. Staumont’s right arm has allowed him to pitch successfully at a level beyond his current understanding of the craft. This year his understanding of pitching started to catch up to his stuff, although it still has a ways to go before he’s consistently setting up hitters. His plus-plus four-seamer sits anywhere from 92-98 as a starter and has touched 102 when working out of the bullpen. It is a rather true pitch without much life. The only thing keeping it from an 80 grade is its lack of life. He also throws a two-seamer with sink, but the Royals have had him focus on commanding the four-seamer first before letting him rely on the harder-to-control two-seamer. His 11-to-5 curveball isn’t consistent but is a plus pitch at some point in most every outing and will flash plus-plus at its best. His changeup is below-average and he uses it more at this point because he knows he needs to rather than because it’s a reliable weapon. Staumont’s control improved as the season progressed in part because of a mechanical tweak. He now brings his hands above his head in his windup instead of the simple hand break he used earlier. It improved his timing. He is focused on using his legs in his delivery more instead of the “tall and fall” delivery he used in college. He is somewhat stiff, which limits his below-average control and command and his ability to diagnose and correct delivery issues quickly as they crop up. Staumont has work to do on holding runners. He was easy to steal on and four of his five errors in 2016 came on errant pickoff throws.

The Future: Staumont’s rapid improvement has raised Royals’ hopes that he could stay in the rotation, although his feel doesn’t always match his stuff. Staumont’s ceiling is that of a front-end starter if he can improve his control with a fallback option of serving as an impact reliever. His strong finish in Double-A in 2016 has him positioned to challenge for a spot in Triple-A to start 2017.

Wilmington (HiA) 2 10 5.05 18 15 0 73 62 3 67 94 .230
NW Arkansas (AA) 2 1 3.04 11 11 0 50 42 2 37 73 .232

2. Matt Strahm, lhp

Born: Nov. 12, 1991. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 185. Drafted: Neosho County (Kan.) CC, 2012 (21st round). Signed by: Matt Price.

Background: Strahm went from a little-noticed string bean throwing 82 mph to the ace of the Neosho County (Kan.) CC staff. He spent all of 2013 and much of 2014 recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he moved fast once he was healthy. He made it to the big leagues after less than 250 minor league innings, then struck out 19 of his first 40 big league batters.

Scouting Report: Strahm’s arsenal is that of a starter, but it plays up even more as a reliever. His 90-93 mph fastball (which sits 92-96 mph as a reliever) is a plus pitch with swing-and-miss capabilities thanks to its late-riding life, his mid-80s changeup is an average pitch and his now-harder curveball is also average. He worked in 2016 to stop collapsing his front shoulder in his delivery. That helped him firm up his slurvy curveball (it bumped up from 68-72 mph to 75-78 mph) and gave it more depth and less sweep. It also helped Strahm get more consistently down in the zone–he’s always been comfortable elevating his fastball. He has a no-fear mentality and average control.

The Future: Strahm has starter stuff, but he may fit better on the Royals’ 2017 roster as a reliever. A stint as a reliever that eventually morphs into a starting role, a la Danny Duffy, is a likely result. Long-term, he projects as a No. 3 starter.

NW Arkansas (AA) 3 8 3.43 22 18 0 102.1 102 14 23 107 .260
Kansas City (MLB) 2 2 1.23 21 0 0 22 13 0 11 30 .173

3. Hunter Dozier, 3b/of | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Aug. 22, 1991. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Stephen F. Austin, 2013 (1st round). Signed by: Mitch Thompson.

Background: After a fast start to his career, Dozier struggled after a promotion to Double-A to finish the 2014 season. He regressed more in 2015. He bounced back in dramatic fashion in 2016, finishing second in the Pacific Coast League in doubles (36) while posting 68 extra base hits between Double-A and Triple-A.

Scouting Report: Dozier’s problems all started with poor timing and an inability to get into a rhythm. At instructional league in 2015 Dozier focused on shortening his swing and improving his bat path. He reworked his load, eliminating a drift in his hands that cocked his bat for his swing and replacing it with a shorter, more fluid load. Dozier cut his strikeout rate, hit for the best power of his career and did a better job of using the whole field. If he can stick with his newfound approach, he again projects to be an above-average hitter with average power. Defensively, Dozier is fringe-average at third base with an average arm. He’s currently a below-average defender in the outfield due to inexperience, but as an average runner, he has room for improvement.

The Future: Dozier’s rebound gives hope that he can be an everyday regular. Cheslor Cuthbert’s superior defense means Dozier likely ends up in the outfield.

NW Arkansas (AA) .305 .400 .642 95 14 29 8 0 8 21 14 23 4
Omaha (AAA) .294 .357 .506 391 65 115 36 1 15 54 40 100 3
Kansas City (MLB) .211 .286 .263 19 4 4 1 0 0 1 2 8 0

4. Eric Skoglund, lhp

Born: Oct. 26, 1992. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-7. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Central Florida, 2014 (3rd round). Signed by: Jim Buckley/Gregg Kilby.

Background: An accomplished skinny lefthander at Sarasota (Fla.) High, Skoglund became the ace of his Central Florida staff before signing with the Royals for $576,100. Skoglund missed the second half of the 2015 season with elbow soreness but avoided surgery, and he showed no ill effects in 2016. He led the Texas League in innings pitched (156) and strikeouts (134), was second-best in the league in walk rate among starters and finished third average against (.230).

Scouting Report: Although he’s 6-foot-7, Skoglund generally works sides to side, going in and out on hitters, rather than working up and down in the strike zone with downhill plane. He succeeds with his average 90-92 mph fastball because he has above-average command and control. Skoglund did a good job of tightening up his once-slurvy breaking ball into an average curveball with 2-to-7 shape. He locates it well, but it lacks the late-break or depth to be a plus pitch. He’s also tinkered with a below-average slider. His changeup is fringe-average as well.

The Future: As a lefthander with three average pitches and excellent control but no plus offering, Skoglund is the epitome of a back-of-the-rotation starter. He’s ready for Triple-A and could see some big league time in 2017. With a rebuild looming, Skoglund should be a significant part of the 2018 rotation plans.

NW Arkansas (AA) 7 10 3.45 27 27 0 156 135 19 38 134 .230

5. A.J. Puckett, rhp

Born: May 27, 1995. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Pepperdine, 2016 (2nd round). Signed by: Rich Amaral.

Background: A promising athlete at De La Salle High in San Francisco’s East Bay area, Puckett gave up football and focused full-time on baseball after a car accident left him in a medically induced coma for two weeks; surgery surgery left him with plates in his skull. After a middling sophomore season, Puckett emerged as Pepperdine’s ace as a junior, putting together a 45.2-inning scoreless streak and finishing among the Top 10 in Division I in ERA (1.27) and WHIP (0.92).

Scouting Report: The Royals let Puckett throw another 59 innings as a pro on top of his 99 innings for Pepperdine because he was very pitch-efficient–he topped 80 pitches only once in 13 pro appearances. Puckett does an excellent job locating his 91-93 mph average fastball to both sides of the plate and changes hitters’ eye levels by working down and then elevating, with the potential to have above-average control. His changeup is a plus offering with excellent deception. His fringe-average curveball is loopier than scouts would like, although he’ll occasionally flash a tighter breaker.

The Future: Puckett’s ultimate ceiling will depend on how his breaking ball develops. His fastball and changeup are big league caliber, and his curveball has shown signs of developing into an average pitch as well. If the curve improves, he could be a No. 3 starter. He should move quickly through the minors, but will likely start in high Class A Wilmington.

Lexington (LoA) 2 3 3.66 11 11 0 52 42 4 15 37 .227

6. Scott Blewett, rhp | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Aug. 10, 1996. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS–Baldwinsville, N.Y., 2014 (2nd round). Signed by: Bobby Gandolfo.

Background: High school pitchers from New York usually go to college or they go much later in the draft. But Blewett’s size and arm strength convinced the Royals to make him the first New York high school righthander to be picked in the top two rounds in 15 years. Blewett had an excellent first half in 2015 but tailed off badly down the stretch. Repeating low Class A Lexington in 2016, he struggled early (3-6, 5.12) and but was much better in the second half (5-5, 3.55).

Scouting Report: Blewett’s turnaround began when he figured out how to regain some of the fluidity in his delivery he had lost in his attempts to stay direct to the plate. He had become too mechanical and segmented in his motion. Once he fixed that, his fastball ticked back up from the 90-92 mph it was in the first half to a plus 93-95 mph heater with angle. His curveball sharpened up as well. It flashes average now and should become a solid-average offering. His inconsistent changeup generally is below-average (lefthanded hitters posted an .837 OPS against him), but will flash fringe-average every now and then.

The Future: Blewett is yet to put together a full season of success as a professional, but he has the building blocks to be a durable mid-rotation starter if he continues to refine his secondary stuff.

Lexington (LoA) 8 11 4.31 25 25 2 129 138 10 51 121 .275

7. Chase Vallot, c | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Aug. 21, 1996 B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HS–Lafayette, La., 2014 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Travis Ezi.

Background: The Lexington Legends have an auxiliary video board in left center field that proved to be a useful target for Vallot. Many of his 13 home runs (in only 82 games) landed around the board and one actually destroyed part of it. It was a highlight of a season that had plenty of bumps and some broken bones. A 93-mph Gage Hinsz fastball to the face was the worst injury, as Vallot missed a month recovering. He also missed time with a back injury.

Scouting Report: In between his injuries, Vallot showed some of the best power in the South Atlantic League. He was repeating the league, but was still among its younger catchers. Vallot can square up velocity and has started to show signs of recognizing spin. He projects as a below-average hitter with above-average power. Vallot is a well-below-average defensive catcher at this point with inconsistent footwork. He has to continue to work to stay nimble enough to have a chance to stay behind the plate. He struggles with throwing accuracy–all 17 errors he committed behind the plate came on wild throws.

The Future: In a perfect world, Vallot is a Mike Napoli-type slugging catcher whose
ability to catch gives his bat time to adjust to the big leagues. High Class A Wilmington is not a friendly place for power hitters, but it is Vallot’s next step.

AZL Royals (R) .133 .257 .367 30 5 4 1 0 2 2 3 14 0
Lexington (LoA) .246 .367 .463 272 37 67 20 0 13 44 39 118 0

8. Ryan O’Hearn, 1b | bba_video_icon_red

Born: July 26, 1993. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Sam Houston State, 2014 (8th round). Signed by: Justin Lehr.

Background: Scouts frequently complain that college baseball encourages hitters to focus too much on contact and not enough on driving the ball. O’Hearn is one of their prime examples, as he went from a singles hitter at Sam Houston State to a slugger in pro ball. He hit a home run every 60 at-bats in college but one every 20 at-bats as a pro.

Scouting Report: O’Hearn’s power comes from strength and leverage. His bat speed is average at best, which leads to some concerns. His plus raw power plays in games though, giving him a chance to hit 25 home runs in an everyday big league role. The Royals have emphasized getting O’Hearn to use the entire field and he responded. After hitting two home runs the opposite way to left field in 2015, he hit nine to left in 2016. O’Hearn is an average defender at first base. He does a good job of scooping low throws, though his range is limited. The Royals have worked to get him time in left field as well, but he’s well below-average in the outfield largely because he is a well below-average runner.

The Future: With Eric Hosmer heading into his final year before free agency. O’Hearn is the best homegrown option to earn to a starting job in Kansas City in 2018. He still has work to do in Triple-A this year to prove he is more than a minor league slugger.

Wilmington (HiA) .352 .408 .670 88 13 31 7 0 7 18 8 27 0
NW Arkansas (AA) .258 .339 .437 414 49 107 25 2 15 60 48 131 3

9. Jorge Bonifiacio, of | bba_video_icon_red

Born: June 4, 1993. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 220. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2009. Signed by: Edis Perez.

Background: The younger brother of veteran big leaguer Emilio Bonifacio, Jorge Bonifacio began his pro career as a hitter who liked to use the opposite field. He morphed into a pull-heavy slugger whose batting average plunged in response. Now he’s trying to find a balance.

Scouting Report: Bonifacio has spent years working to balance his power and hitting tools, trying to get to his raw power without gutting his ability to use the whole field and hit for average. Early in his pro career, his inside out swing kept him from driving the ball but led to plenty of singles and doubles. His attempt to pull the ball led to his average cratering after he reached Double-A. In 2016, he finally started to find a happy medium. He improved his selectivity and started to drive the ball from gap to gap, but his power tailed off badly in the second half. Bonifacio projects as an average hitter with average power. He is an above-average arm that fits in right field but his below-average speed limits his fringe-average range.

The Future: Bonifacio doesn’t fit in as an extra outfielder because of his defense. If he gets to his power, he profiles as a second-division regular. If not, he’ll be a long-time Triple-A/up-and-down player. With Paulo Orlando and Hunter Dozier ahead of him, he returns to Triple-A in 2017.

Omaha (AAA) .277 .351 .461 495 82 137 22 6 19 86 51 130 6

10. Kyle Zimmer, rhp | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Sept. 13, 1991. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 230. Drafted: San Francisco, 2012 (1st round). Signed by: Max Valencia.

Background: At this point, Zimmer seems as much a legend as an actual flesh-and-blood pitcher. He and the Royals hoped a labrum cleanup in 2015 would give him a chance to pitch significant innings in 2016, but he was instead shut down once again. He was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition that causes numbness and weakness in the shoulder and arm. He had surgery to correct the issue and expects to be ready for spring training.

Scouting Report: The hope for everyone involved is that the thoracic outlet syndrome explains why Zimmer sometimes felt great with plus stuff and at other times struggled to break 90 mph. Zimmer has not been healthy for a full season at any point since he was the fifth overall pick in 2012, but he can still sit 92-94 mph with a plus fastball that has late life and his curveball that is at least plus. Zimmer has never had trouble generating swings and misses. His slider and changeup have atrophied, but both have been average or better in the past.

The Future: The successful returns of Dylan Bundy and Jameson Taillon are reminders that pitchers can bounce back from lengthy injury layoffs. If Zimmer is healthy, he still has better stuff than almost anyone in the Royals’ system and could pitch in the big leagues in 2017.

Wilmington (HiA) 0 1 1.93 2 2 0 5 3 0 4 9 .176
NW Arkansas (AA) 0 1 0.00 1 1 0 1 1 0 2 2 .250

Last Year’s Royals Top 10 Prospects

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