Kansas City Royals Top 10 Prospects

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1. Raul A. Mondesi, ss
2. Kyle Zimmer, rhp
3. Bubba Starling, of
4. Miguel Almonte, rhp
5. Nolan Watson, rhp
6. Ashe Russell, rhp
7. Marten Gasparini, ss
8. Matt Strahm, lhp
9. Scott Blewett, rhp
10. Cheslor Cuthbert, 3b/1b

In the summer of 2011, Royals general manager Dayton Moore and scouting director Lonnie Goldberg were in a car riding back from a meeting with their most recent first-rounder Bubba Starling. As they drove away, Moore described to Goldberg his dream: one day he wanted to see kids walking down Kansas City, Mo., streets wearing Bubba Starling jersey T-shirts, Eric Hosmer jerseys and Royals caps.

He was dreaming of the day that the Royals would capture the city, the area and the region the way they had when Moore, born in Wichita, was a kid.

Mission accomplished. An estimated 800,000 attended the Royals’ World Series victory parade in November. Now, manager Ned Yost has gone from giving a false name at Starbucks early in his Royals career to avoid scrutiny to receiving standing ovations the moment he walks into any Kansas City-area restaurant.

“As we’re starting the parade, I look to my left and there is a row of kids . . . and they are wearing different Royals T-shirts,” Goldberg said. “There’s a (Lorenzo) Cain, a Hosmer, a Salvy (Perez) . . . That was really cool.”

Kansas City hats have begun popping up all over the nation, and this next sentence might seem even crazier: the Royals have become the best team in baseball.

It’s not just their World Series win. It’s 95 wins in 2015. It’s a trip to Game Seven of the 2014 World Series. It’s a team that has averaged 90 wins per season since 2013, the most in the American League.

The Royals said they were going to build through player development. And though it took seven years from Moore’s first full draft in 2007 until the club’s first playoff appearance, that’s exactly what they did, helped by a few trades and free-agent signings.

Now comes the hard part. The Royals know they have to plug the free-agent holes left by Johnny Cueto, Ben Zobrist and possibly Alex Gordon on the fly. They will be doing so with a thinner farm system that has been weakened by trades that sent away lefthanders Cody Reed, Sean Manaea and Brandon Finnegan, a trio that would rank Nos. 2 through 4 on this ranking.

The deals for Cueto and Zobrist thinned the system, so Kansas City’s success in 2015 will cost the franchise a little going forward.

That’s not to say that the Royals’ window is yet closed. Even with the free agent losses, Kansas City brings back the core of the 2015 champs. Even if the Royals don’t win 95 games again, they should be in the thick of the 2016 playoff hunt, especially if Moore and his front office again succeed in finding free-agent bargains.

Kansas City’s window with this core will close after the 2017 season. At that point, center fielder Cain, third baseman Mike Moustakas, shortstop Alcides Escobar, first baseman Hosmer and closer Wade Davis will reach free agency at the same time. But for now, the Royals and their fans are too busy enjoying the parade.

Last Year’s Royals Top 10 Prospects

1. Raul A. Mondesi, ss

Born: July 27, 1995. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2011. Signed by: Edis Perez.

Batting: 55
Power: 45
Speed: 60
Defense: 70
Arm: 70
Based on 20-80 scouting scale—where 50 represents major league average—and future projection rather than present tools.

Background: Mondesi has a long way to go to match the big league career of his father Raul Mondesi Sr., who made his only All-Star Game appearance the summer when his son was born, but the son has some bragging rights. While dad never played in the World Series, Raul Adalberto experienced the postseason without ever playing in the majors in 2015. With the pregnant wife of starting second baseman Ben Zobrist due to possibly deliver during the World Series, the Royals added Mondesi to the roster, envisioning him as a pinch-runner or early-innings pinch-hitter in games at New York’s Citi Field. Zobrist never left the team, and Mondesi went just 0-for-1 as a pinch-hitter, making him the only player to make his big league debut in the World Series. Mondesi has been on a fast track ever since he signed for $2 million in 2011. He has been one of the youngest players in every league in which he’s played. The Royals have had few worries that the advanced assignments would harm Mondesi’s development because he’s supremely confident, but at the same time his speedy development schedule has kept him from ever getting a chance to get comfortable and dominate a level.

Year Player, Pos. 2015 Org.
2006 Alex Gordon, 3b Royals
2007 Alex Gordon, 3b Royals
2008 Mike Moustakas, 3b Royals
2009 Mike Moustakas, 3b Royals
2010 Mike Montgomery, lhp Mariners
2011 Eric Hosmer, 1b Royals
2012 Mike Montgomery, lhp Mariners
2013 Kyle Zimmer, rhp Royals
2014 Kyle Zimmer, rhp Royals
2015 Raul A. Mondesi, ss Royals

Scouting Report: Mondesi’s tools are exceptional, but he has yet to put together the consistent stretches that show the skills to match. An average runner when he signed, Mondesi has gotten stronger and faster and is now is a double-plus runner who will turn in top-of-the-scale times. At shortstop he is a potential double-plus defender with an equally impressive 70-grade arm. The Royals asked him to play second base sporadically at Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2015 to give him versatility. He handled the move with no issues. The switch-hitting Mondesi is much less consistent at the plate. When he’s locked in, he can lay down a bunt for a hit or crush a home run, but he struggles to put together a consistent approach. He is much too aggressive, struggling to accept that a walk is a positive outcome. Few players are harder for scouts to evaluate than Mondesi, because they have to decide how much of his plate discipline issues come from his aggressive promotions (he was four years younger than the average Texas Leaguer in 2015) and how much of it is an approach problem that isn’t going away. Mondesi’s speed and bat speed should give him at least an average hit tool, and he has surprising power for a shortstop, but his plate discipline has to improve. Mondesi missed time in 2015 with a back injury that could best be described as tightness. He worked on stretching exercises, but it is something he’ll have to work to keep from becoming a significant long-term issue.

The Future: Kansas City shortstop Alcides Escobar has two years left before he reaches free agency. That makes it likely that Mondesi will break into Kansas City at second base, though he should still be the team’s shortstop of the future after time at Triple-A Omaha in 2016. If he can become more selective, Mondesi has a higher upside than Escobar because he has more power and similar defensive chops—but he still has a lot of work to do to reach that ceiling.

2015 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Northwest Arkansas (AA) .243 .279 .372 304 36 74 11 5 6 33 17 88 19

2. Kyle Zimmer, rhp

Born: Sept. 13, 1991. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 228. Drafted: San Francisco, 2012 (1st round). Signed by: Max Valencia. Video

Background: The older brother of Indians outfield prospect Bradley Zimmer, Kyle is a late-bloomer as a pitcher who moved to the mound in college. Since being selected fifth overall in 2012, his career has been most notable for injuries. He had hamstring issues and surgery for bone chips in his elbow in 2012, a tight shoulder in 2013 and shoulder problems in 2014 that led to offseason labrum cleanup and a late start to 2015.

Scouting Report: Zimmer’s stuff took a slight step back in 2015, but it still profiles him for the front of a rotation. He sat 92-94 mph as a starter and can bump 97 more consistently in relief. He locates his fastball well both arm side and glove side and keeps the ball down in the zone. Zimmer’s curveball still is a double-plus pitch. He showed reduced feel for it in 2015, but it got more consistent as the season progressed. His fringe-average changeup and slider always have been lesser offerings, and they took a step back in 2015 when he used them less frequently in the bullpen. Both have flashed average in the past.

The Future: Few minor league pitchers can match Zimmer’s raw stuff, but he never has thrown even 130 innings in a season, dating back to college. If healthy, he should pitch in Kansas City in 2016, but he has to prove he can handle a major league workload.

2015 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Lexington (Lo A) 1 0 1.13 9 0 0 0 16 11 1 6 21 .190
NW Arkansas (AA) 2 5 2.81 15 7 0 3 48 42 4 14 51 .235

3. Bubba Starling, of

Born: Aug. 3, 1992. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS—Gardner, Kan., 2011 (1st round). Signed by: Blake Davis.

Year Player, Pos. 2015 Org.
2006 Luke Hochevar, rhp Royals
2007 Mike Moustakas, 3b Royals
2008 Eric Hosmer, 1b Royals
2009 Aaron Crow, rhp Marlins
2010 Christian Colon, ss Royals
2011 Bubba Starling, of Royals
2012 Kyle Zimmer, rhp Royals
2013 Hunter Dozier, 3b Royals
2014 Brandon Finnegan Reds
2015 Ashe Russell, rhp Royals

Background: Starling was supposed to be a centerpiece of the Royals’ rebuilding project. Selected fifth overall in 2011, the high school three-sport star turned down Nebraska football to sign with the Royals for a club-record $7.5 million, then struggled for much of his pro career under the weight of lofty expectations.

Scouting Report: Too often in the past, Starling had too many at-bats where he looked lost. He chased too many pitches but also failed to take advantage of hitter’s counts. He still has rough stretches, but he does a better job of recognizing breaking pitches and driving balls, and he turned in the best strikeout rate of his career (25 percent) at Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2015. Starling’s hit tool will probably always be below-average, but he can be a very useful big leaguer as a .240 hitter with at least average power, because he’s a plus defender who makes it look easy in center field with a plus arm. He is an above-average runner out of the box who is faster underway.

The Future: Starling’s high strikeout rate makes it unlikely that he ever will be an impact big leaguer, but the Royals value rangy outfielders who can throw, which will play in his favor. Added to the 40-man roster in November, he faces a probable 2016 callup to Kansas City if he keeps pace at Triple-A Omaha.

2015 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Wilmington (Hi A) .386 .471 .614 44 6 17 4 0 2 12 7 17 2
Northwest Arkansas (AA) .254 .318 .426 331 51 84 19 4 10 32 30 91 4

4. Miguel Almonte, rhp

Born: April 4, 1993. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 210. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2010. Signed by: Fausto Morel/Alvin Cuevas.

Background: Almonte took a big step forward in 2015 and made it to the big leagues as a reliever as a September callup. He pitched poorly in Kansas City thanks to an uncharacteristic home run problem—all six runs he allowed were allowed on four home runs.

Scouting Report: His brutal MLB debut notwithstanding, Almonte has big stuff that gives him a chance to succeed with fringy control and command. He carried his 94-97 mph velocity throughout his minor league starts, and even if his fastball grades as plus, it’s actually his second-best offering behind his double-plus changeup. The Royals asked Almonte to shelve his changeup at times to focus on improving his curveball, and the tactic was successful. Almonte did a better job of staying on top of the pitch in 2015, which allowed for more downward action and sharp bite. It flashed plus at best and was average on a regular basis. His control is average but his command is below-average, though his delivery doesn’t have any glaring issues.

The Future: Almonte isn’t a finished product, but he has the stuff to be a mid-rotation starter. He should return to Triple-A Omaha in 2016 for additional polish.

2015 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
NW Arkansas (AA) 4 4 4.03 17 17 0 0 67 65 4 27 55 .255
Omaha (AAA) 2 2 5.40 11 6 0 0 37 33 3 15 41 .244
Kansas City (MLB) 0 2 6.23 9 0 0 0 0 7 4 7 10 .212

5. Nolan Watson, rhp

Born: Jan. 25, 1997. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Indianapolis, 2015 (1st round). Signed by: Mike Farrell.

Bubba Starling, 2011 $7,500,000
Eric Hosmer, 2008 $6,000,000
Alex Gordon, 2005 $4,000,000
Mike Moustkas, 2007 $4,000,000
Sean Manaea, 2013 $3,550,000

Background: For the second straight year, the Royals used their first two picks on high school pitchers. Both times Kansas City paired a riskier, higher-ceiling arm with a more polished strike-thrower. The 2015 duo—the more-polished Watson and the harder-throwing Ashe Russell—played down the road from each other in Indianapolis. Watson’s stock rose significantly once the Vanderbilt commit’s fastball jumped from 86-88 mph in the summer of 2014 to the 90-93 he showed before the 2015 draft.

Scouting Report: Watson is an advanced pitcher for his age who repeats his delivery and has a present plus fastball. He touched 95 mph in his pro debut at Rookie-level Burlington, and some scouts think he’ll settle at 92-95 mph. His fastball is a power sinker that lives in the bottom of the zone. The Royals asked Watson to limit the use of his potentially above-average slider in favor of a curveball. Watson took to the new pitch quickly, and he could develop a low-80s, power curve in time. His changeup took off in instructional league when he threw it regularly.

The Future: Watson has a chance to have three average or better pitches and at least average control, giving him a shot of being a future No. 3 starter. The Royals may hold him back from low Class A Lexington until May, but he’s ready for full-season ball in 2016.

2015 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Burlington (R) 0 3 4.91 11 11 0 0 29 39 2 11 16 .320

6. Ashe Russell, rhp

Born: Aug. 28, 1996. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 201. Drafted: HS—Indianapolis, 2015 (1st round). Signed by: Mike Farrell. Video

Background: Russell was long considered one of the best arms in the 2015 high school draft class thanks to an excellent fastball/slider combination. His lightning-quick arm and the excellent boring action of his fastball impressed scouts. They also knew that the team drafting Russell would have to live with a flawed delivery.

Scouting Report: Russell has a darting 92-94 mph fastball that will touch 97, and his slider already flashes plus. But with an up-tempo delivery with length in his takeaway and a stabbing arm action, Russell’s control and quality of stuff tends to vary. When he separates his hands too late, his upper body will struggle to catch his lower half. When that happens, he loses direction to the plate, his breaking ball flattens out and his fastball misses up in the zone. The Royals asked Russell to work on a curveball and use his slider less. His curve is a little sweepy now, which is partly due to his lower arm slot. His changeup is barely even a pitch right now because the Royals want him to focus on his delivery rather than mastering a fourth pitch.

The Future: Russell has a front-line arm, but his timing issues made him hittable in his pro debut at Rookie-level Burlington. He might not be ready to start at low Class A Lexington in 2016, though his performance in spring training will determine his assignment.

2015 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Burlington (R) 0 3 4.21 11 11 0 0 36 32 8 13 24 .235

7. Marten Gasparini, ss

Born: May 24, 1997. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 165. Signed: Italy, 2013. Signed by: Nick Leto.

Best Hitter for Average Jose Martinez
Best Power Hitter Ryan O’Hearn
Best Strike-Zone Discipline Whit Merrifield
Fastest Baserunner Terrance Gore
Best Athlete Bubba Starling
Best Fastball Josh Staumont
Best Curveball Kyle Zimmer
Best Slider Ashe Russell
Best Changeup Miguel Almonte
Best Control Alec Mills
Best Defensive Catcher Cam Gallagher
Best Defensive Infielder Raul A. Mondesi
Best Infield Arm Raul A. Mondesi
Best Defensive Outfielder Bubba Starling
Best Outfield Arm Brett Eibner

Background: Gasparini has stood out since age 13 and has a chance to develop into the best player born and raised in Italy. He signed for a European-record $1.3 million bonus in July 2013. His 2014 debut was slowed by a hamstring injury, and he started slow in 2015, but he hit .357/.448/.529 with a vastly improved strikeout rate in the second half at Rookie-level Idaho Falls.

Scouting Report: Gasparini has a number of exceptional tools that started to play in 2015. He’s a plus runner with a plus arm, and he is starting to tap into potentially average power. He faces questions about whether he will stick at shortstop, however. He made 35 errors in 52 games in 2015, and his .871 fielding percentage was the worst among Pioneer League shortstops. Gasparini’s speed and arm would play well in center field if he can’t clean up his defensive issues, but considering his youth and relative inexperience, the Royals will work to better his defense. The switch-hitting Gasparini shows similar aptitude from either batter’s box. His inexperience shows when recognizing breaking balls, but he has gap power now that should develop into double-digit home runs.

The Future: Gasparini’s bat is ready for an assignment to low Class A Lexington in 2016, when he turns 19, which means his glove will have to hurry to catch up. In terms of all-around tools, he ranks second only to Raul A. Mondesi in the system.

2015 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Idaho Falls (R) .259 .341 .411 197 36 51 4 10 2 25 25 80 26

8. Matt Strahm, lhp

Born: Nov. 12, 1991. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Neosho County (Kan.) CC, 2012 (21st round). Signed by: Casey Fahy.

Background: When Strahm arrived at Neosho County (Kan.) CC, he was an 82 mph-throwing lefty out of West Fargo, N.D. As he filled out his 6-foot-4 frame and cleaned up his delivery, he added nearly 10 mph to his fastball and turned into the ace of the Panthers’ staff.

Scouting Report: After Strahm missed all of 2013 and much of 2014 recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Royals wanted to take things slow with the southpaw in 2015— but it started out a little too slow. Stretched to be ready for 60-pitch outings, Strahm threw just seven relief innings at low Class A Lexington in April. By late June, he had pitched his way into the rotation. His fastball sits at 89-94 mph with an easy, deceptive delivery and average control. His slider locks batters up when he’s staying back in his delivery. At other times it becomes a slurvier 78-82 mph offering with 2-to-8 break, more sweep and less depth than the average slider. Even then, Strahm locates it well, and it’s deadly against lefties, who hit just .143 against him in 2015. His changeup is a fringy third offering he doesn’t use much.

The Future: The Royals added to Strahm to the 40-man roster in November, and he will head to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2016. He has a shot at being a No. 4 starter, but he should make his debut first as a reliever, which could happen in 2016.

2015 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Lexington (Lo A) 2 1 2.08 14 0 0 4 26 12 1 12 38 .140
Wilmington (Hi A) 1 6 2.78 15 11 0 1 68 48 7 19 83 .194

9. Scott Blewett, rhp

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

Catcher Salvador Perez
First Base Eric Hosmer
Second Base Raul A. Mondesi
Third Base Mike Moustakas
Shortstop Alcides Escobar
Left Field Alex Gordon
Center Field Bubba Starling
Right Field Lorenzo Cain
Designated Hitter Cheslor Cuthbert
No. 1 Starter Yordano Ventura
No. 2 Starter Kyle Zimmer
No. 3 Starter Miguel Almonte
No. 4 Starter Nolan Watson
No. 5 Starter Ashe Russell
Closer Wade Davis

Background: Blewett became the first New York high school righthander to go in the top two rounds of the draft since Jason Marquis in 1996. Steve Karsay was selected No. 22 overall in 1990. Midway through 2015, he looked like he was going to pitch his way to high Class A Wilmington. Held in extended spring training until late May, Blewett blitzed low Class A South Atlantic League hitters in his first eight starts, but as the summer wore on, he labored through August and his ERA nearly doubled.

Scouting Report: Early on in 2015, Blewett filled the strike zone with a 92-95 mph fastball. He was aggressive in the zone, unlike many young pitchers who like to nibble on the edges. His 12-to-6 curveball also is a potentially above-average pitch that he can command. As Blewett wore down, his fastball backed up, his control wavered and his curve lacked the same depth. He still flashed 95 mph once in a while, but he was sitting in the low 90s and his fastball lacked the same crispness. Blewett flashes a fringe-average changeup, but he doesn’t show any confidence or conviction in it yet.

The Future: Blewett still shows the ingredients to be a mid-rotation starter. He has an excellent frame, a plus fastball and an above-average curveball. He learned in his full-season debut that he’ll need more stamina to hold up to the rigors of a pro workload. Blewett might not move to Wilmington immediately in 2016, but he should get there before long.

2015 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Lexington (Lo A) 3 5 5.20 18 18 0 0 81 88 6 24 60 .272

10. Cheslor Cuthbert, 3b/1b

Born: Nov. 16, 1992. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 205. Signed: Nicaragua, 2009. Signed by: Juan Lopez/Orlando Estevez.

Background: When the Royals called him up on July 7, Cuthbert became the 14th Nicaragua-born player to reach the big leagues. He is the first from Corn Island, a pair of islands, in fact, located 50 miles off the coast of Nicaragua that are inhabited by fewer than 10,000 people. Cuthbert’s callup cost him a trip to the Futures Game. Instead, he hit a single in each half of a Royals doubleheader.

Scouting Report: Cuthbert has been young for every league in which he’s played, and he reached the big leagues at age 22. His tools are solid, but he impressed the Royals’ big league staff more with his steadiness. Though he hasn’t shown more than fringe-average power, he adheres to the organization’s philosophy of putting the ball in play consistently. Cuthbert battles at the plate and should end up as a .270 hitter with solid on-base skills. He’s an average defender at third base, despite a thick lower half, thanks to surprising agility and an accurate, average arm. Scouts have long thought Cuthbert would migrate to first base, but he has kept himself in good shape.

The Future: Cuthbert isn’t going to push Mike Moustakas aside at third base, but he has shown enough that the Royals are comfortable with him serving as a ready backup at Triple-A Omaha as injury insurance.

2015 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Omaha (AAA) .277 .339 .421 397 55 110 22 1 11 51 37 60 5
Kansas City (MLB) .217 .280 .370 46 6 10 2 1 1 8 4 9 0

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