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The Royals wanted to draft an advanced college pitcher in the first round in 2002 because they used their first two picks the previous year on a pair of risky raw talents, Colt Griffin and Roscoe Crosby. But Kansas City's scouts said Greinke was the most polished and poised pitcher available, even though he spent most of his time as a shortstop before his senior year of high school. He got in just 12 innings in his pro debut after signing for $2.475 million, but the Royals were convinced he was mature enough to handle a trip to the Puerto Rican League. He more than held his own there, working with Braves pitching guru Guy Hansen. Another bold move by the Royals put Greinke in high Class A Wilmington to begin the 2003 season. He dominated the competition, winning his first nine decisions. He ranked as the Carolina League's best prospect, earning a berth in the Futures Game and a promotion to Double-A Wichita. He allowed three earned runs or more just three times all year en route to a 1.93 composite ERA, the third-best in the minors. He missed one start with a strained back, but it was more to give him a mental and physical break because the competitive Greinke told coaches he could pitch if needed. Greinke loves the game and has great makeup. He spent time during spring training evaluating players with scouting director Deric Ladnier, offering his insights on their strengths and weaknesses. He also took to watching batting practice, learning where hitters liked the ball and what they had trouble with. Greinke is a constant tinkerer and thinker with impeccable control of an array of pitches. He likes developing new pitches and variations by adding and subtracting velocity and changing grips. He throws his fastball in the high 80s most of the time, but can rev it up to the mid-90s when he wants. A new grip on his two-seamer makes it dive toward the ground. His slider ranks as a put-away pitch with depth and a hard, late bite. His changeup is his third-best pitch, but still grades as above-average and ranks as the organization's best. Greinke now throws his curveball with a spike grip for more action. His ability to improvise sometimes gets him in trouble. He might get beat trying a new pitch in a situation when an outside fastball or biting slider would work fine. He doesn't strike out as many hitters as he could because he revels in breaking bats and inducing weak contact to create better pitch economy. He could rack up more whiffs if he just threw his slider more in two-strike counts. Consistency on his secondary pitches is about the only area Greinke needs to improve. He'd be even more lethal if he located all the different variations in his repertoire on one occasion. He normally just goes with what feels best that day. Greinke secured an invite to major league spring training, but the Royals might send him out of big league camp earlier than he deserves because they're don't want to raise any hope that he might make the rotation. He'll probably begin the year back in Double-A to build confidence, receiving a quick bump to Triple-A Omaha as soon as he dominates. He still has a chance to make his major league debut late in the year.
Lubanski enjoyed a standout amateur career, hitting for the cycle twice in a doubleheader as a senior and playing on Team USA's youth and junior squads. He projected to go no higher than the seventh pick in the draft, but the Royals liked him enough to draft him at No. 5 on merit. After signing for $2.1 million, he ranked as the top prospect in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Lubanski's speed rates the best of his four above-average tools. He's a 70 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale. He has an athletic body with broad shoulders, and is capable of developing 25-homer power while also producing a strong average. He shows good pop now, especially when he centers the ball. He has great makeup and took a leadership role on his college-heavy AZL squad. Lubanski improved his throwing, but it will never rate much better than average. He's still learning what to do with certain pitches and gets anxious and a little out of control at the plate, on the bases and in the field. Lubanski draws comparisons to a young Kirk Gibson, and he also reminds Royals officials of Johnny Damon and Carlos Beltran. He's ticketed for low Class A Burlington, but a strong spring could lead Kansas City to challenge him with a jump to high Class A.
Maier was an all-state quarterback growing up near Michigan and had an offer to walk on to the Wolverines football team as a safety, but he turned it down to play baseball at Toledo. He led the Mid-American Conference in batting as a freshman and junior, also topping the league in steals as a junior. He signed for $900,000 as the 30th overall pick. The Royals drafted Maier for his bat. His build and offensive approach recall Twins prospect Joe Mauer's. Maier understands the strike zone, makes consistently hard contact and has natural loft power that could lead to 25 homers a year. He hits lefthanders as well as righthanders. Maier's speed, acceleration and smarts could allow him to reach double figures in steals. Maier needs a defensive home. A quirk in his throwing motion limited his effectiveness at catcher, so the Royals addressed an organization weakness by moving him to third base in instructional league. He'll probably play the outfield in 2004, as they just want him to get comfortable at the plate and not worry about defense for the time being. Maier was hurt more than any Royals player by the organization's two Arizona League teams last year. He'll make a small jump this year to low Class A, where he'll flank Chris Lubanski as a corner outfielder.
DeJesus plays with an almost reckless aggression, which has resulted in several trips to the disabled list and postponed his pro debut for two years. Last year, he injured his right shoulder twice diving for balls in the outfield but recovered to make his big league debut in September. DeJesus is instinctive and plays above the sum of his tools. He shows gap-to-gap power, good control of the strike zone and above-average speed, which should make him an effective leadoff or No. 2 hitter. He's a solid center fielder, with decent range and an arm that rates a tick above-average. DeJesus doesn't have a lot of power but did show more juice in the Arizona Fall League, especially when driving inside pitches. Despite his high on-base percentages, he has a knack for making weak contact against poor pitches. The Royals will give DeJesus a shot at winning their left-field job this spring, but he won't make the team unless management projects at least 300 at-bats for him. He could take over center field when Carlos Beltran leaves.
Griffin was set to play first base at Louisiana Tech before becoming the first documented high school pitcher to hit 100 mph. He rocketed into the first round and received a $2.4 million bonus. While he has struggled with mechanics and control, one scout who saw him in 2003 said he had never seen a power pitcher improve so much in one season. Griffin dialed down his velocity for more control and now pitches at 94 mph and tops out at 97. A hard-biting 87-89 mph slider that can tie up lefthanders inside gives him two plus-plus pitches. Burlington pitching coach Tom Burgmeier got Griffin to use a more consistent arm slot and shorter arm stroke on his delivery, which greatly improved his command. He must make more progress with his control after leading the minors in walks and finishing second in wild pitches (23). Kansas City isn't worried that his strikeout rates aren't as high as expected, as he has been told to concentrate on inducing weak contract. His changeup may never be an average pitch, but the Royals say he can succeed with just his fastball and slider. The Royals drafted Griffin knowing he was raw and a great deal of patience would be required. They feel good about his future after the strides he made. He'll pitch in high Class A this year and could shoot through the system if everything clicks.
Murphy didn't qualify academically to play at Long Beach State in 2002, so he attended Orange Coast Junior College. He received plenty of exposure from scouts who flocked there to watch supplemental first-round pick Matt Clanton. Murphy's makeup, bat and stocky, short-legged build remind Royals officials of Marcus Giles, though he should have a better glove. Murphy has the bat to become a regular as an offense-first second baseman. He's a well-rounded hitter with a great approach and knowledge of the strike zone. He makes consistent contact and often waits longer on inside pitches before rapping them the opposite way. The ball jumps off his bat, leading scouts to project more power. Murphy's solid hands and plus arm strength allow him to make all the routine plays at second, and he isn't afraid of contact when turning the double play. Murphy is a below-average runner, so he must use his instincts and positioning to supplement his range. He must improve his footwork at second base. He should have enough bat if he has to move to third base. The Royals think Murphy is the safest bet of any of their middle-infield prospects to make the majors. He'll move up to high Class A in 2004.
After grabbing Mitch Maier at the end of the first round, the Royals opted for another polished college hitter in Costa. The 2003 Big West Conference player of the year, he signed for $750,000 after playing in the College World Series. His father Leo is a former college football player and national bodybuilding champion who works as a personal trainer. Costa's hands are quick and nimble, allowing him to react to all types of pitches. He shows good bat control and plate discipline, and he uses the whole field. He's fast and aggressive on the bases and in the outfield. Costa's upright stance with his feet close together was more tailored for aluminum bats, so the Royals spread him out in hopes of generating more power. He also must focus on going with pitches, not trying to pull balls on the outer third or inside-out offerings on the inner half. His arm is limited but shouldn't prevent him from playing center field. He likes working out, but Kansas City has cautioned him about getting too muscle-bound and losing flexibility. Costa received a late promotion to high Class A, where he doubled in his lone playoff start. He'll begin there in 2004 as he pushes his way to the majors as a player in the mold of Rusty Greer.
Bass treaded water in low Class A for a year and a half before mental and physical maturation allowed him to go 4-3, 3.64 over the second half in 2002. He continued his success last year, ranking fourth in the Carolina League in ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched. He took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against Winston-Salem before surrendering a two-out home run. Bass' stuff has improved dramatically since 2002. His fastball went from 87-89 mph to topping out at 93-94, while his curveball moved from below-average to plus and became the system's best. He shows great command to both sides of the plate and keeps the ball down in the zone, eliciting plenty of groundouts. He's a good athlete with sound mechanics and fields his position well. Bass doesn't have a great changeup, but it's improving and eventually should be an average weapon against lefties. He's also working to refine his slider. Bass announced himself as a prospect in 2003 and was added to the 40-man roster in the offseason. This year will offer more evidence as to whether he can be a middle-of-the-rotation starter as he moves from a pitcher's paradise in Wilmington to a hitter's haven in Wichita.
American League rookie of the year Angel Berroa is an exceptional defender, but the Royals say Blanco possesses a better arm and range. He earned all-star honors in high Class A as an 18-year-old last season after spending most of 2002 in Rookie ball. Blanco plays shortstop like Omar Vizquel with his tremendous hands, arm strength and range. He makes errors, but many happen because he gets to more balls than his peers. Bat control isn't a problem for Blanco, who can bunt and make contact with ease. His quick hands and wrists allow him to shoot balls through the infield for hits. Blanco must get stronger in order to hit enough to play regularly in the majors. He's a career .259 hitter with no homers and a .299 slugging percentage. He needs to become less flashy and erratic, remembering to set his feet properly to reduce throwing errors and raising his basestealing percentage by running in better counts. Blanco's bat will determine when he reaches the big league. He'll need to hone his offensive survival kit--walking, bunting and hitand- run skills--this year in Double-A.
Gettis had a scholarship to play quarterback at Minnesota, then signed with the Royals after finalizing negotiations in a bowling alley. He's the cousin of former NFL linebacker Dana Howard. Gettis and didn't play a lot of baseball as a youth, so it took a while for his athleticism to translate into baseball success. He needed two years at each level before exploding at Double-A, winning the organization's minor league player of the year award in 2003. Most of Gettis' success can be attributed to a better grasp of the strike zone. He had always been a dead-red fastball hitter, but learned to lay off breaking balls and got himself in more hitter's counts by focusing on driving the ball up the middle. He's one of the stronger hitters in the system. His arm and athleticism make him an average right fielder. Gettis carries a lot of weight on his 6-foot frame, leading to concerns his body could get soft. He still has holes in his swing, but his newfound plate discipline makes them harder to exploit. Gettis could become a regular with 30-homer power, or he could wind up as a fourth outfielder. The Royals will have a better idea after he spends 2004 in Triple-A.
Gotay led the low Class A Midwest League in doubles and extra-base hits in 2002, but regressed offensively last season. He ranked fifth in the Carolina League in doubles, but his average dipped. The Royals attribute that to opponents focusing on Gotay, who hit third in the Wilmington lineup, and avoiding throwing him fastballs. He did rebound in Puerto Rico over the winter. Gotay has gap power and the ability to use the entire field. He must improve his strength and conditioning. He has tired out down the stretch the last two seasons, and the extra strength would add more carry to his drives. Gotay has struggled against lefthanders throughout his career. He's limited defensively, with fringe arm strength and footwork that need improvement. He compensates for his arm with a quick release. He and shortstop Andres Blanco developed a strong defensive rapport working together for the first time in high Class A, and he also served as Blanco's translator. Gotay played third base in Puerto Rico but doesn't project to have the power for the position. A purely offensive second baseman, Gotay will benefit by moving from Wilmington to Wichita in 2004.
Bayliss was the New England Small College Athletic Conference pitcher of the year as a junior at Trinity in 2002, going 8-1, 2.43. He threw a seven-inning no-hitter with 14 strikeouts for Trinity, then topped the feat with a nine-inning, nine-strikeout no-no for Burlington last year. It was his best performance of an otherwise ugly second half, as he wore down. Bayliss has a 91-94 mph fastball that tops out at 96 and has good life. His slider, a second above-average pitch, reaches the low 80s. His curveball is a 12-to-6 hammer but is inconsistent. His changeup has a chance to be average but is mostly a show-me pitch. Bayliss works a lot of deep counts and must gain better command so he can throw quality strikes rather than laying pitches cross the heart of the plate. He can be guilty of trying to throw everything hard in a quest for strikeouts and could benefit from pitching to contact more often. Bayliss has a workhorse build but sometimes throws across his body and fails to finish pitches. The Royals adjusted his delivery slightly in instructional league, and it made his stuff more consistent. He and Colt Griffin will anchor the high Class A rotation this year.
Donachie enjoyed a strong instructional league to wrest the catcher-of-the-future mantle from Mike Tonis. Donachie is quiet behind the plate with sure hands, great arm strength, and game-calling and blocking skills. His quick exchange and release don't show in his statistics, as he nabbed just 24 percent of basestealers in 2003. Similarly, his power potential doesn't show up in his numbers. He led all Florida high schoolers with 15 home runs as a senior in 2002, including one off first-round pick Zack Greinke. Donachie began switch-hitting in high school, but his coach didn't let him swing from the left side in conference games. He didn't resume work on that side of the plate until instructional league after the 2003 season. The Royals expect him to eventually hit about .260 with 15 homers annually. He reminds them of A.J. Pierzynski because he seems to do everything with ease. He also impressed with a decided improvement in his focus, as he had been immature in his first pro season. Donachie's playing time has been limited as a pro because of an ankle injury and a glut of catchers in the system. He'll try to turn his promise into production this year, either at Kansas City's new Rookie-level Idaho Falls affiliate or in low Class A.
Despite standing 6-foot-6, Middleton isn't a power pitcher. He's not athletic and throws his fastball in the 88-90 mph range with good sinking action, occasionally touching 92. But he's a tremendous competitor with great makeup and a big-breaking curveball that he improved in instructional league. Once he gains more consistency with it, it should become more of a strikeout pitch. His changeup is borderline average. He doesn't issue many walks, but still needs to improve the quality of his strikes and keep the ball down more. Even without a put-away pitch, Middleton led the Carolina League in ERA, ranked second in innings and tied Zack Greinke for second in wins. Middleton is probably a safer bet than Brian Bass, whom he'll join in the Double-A rotation in 2004, but doesn't have as high a ceiling.
Next to Chris Lubanski, Rosa is the Royals' best prospect under 20. His live arm pumps 90-94 mph fastballs. The Royals project Rosa to add velocity as he matures, and he already can work his fastball to both sides of the plate. A plus slider and solid changeup, for which he shows a good feel, give him the chance to reach the majors with three above-average pitches. He's very athletic, smart and driven. He picked up English quickly and has shown the ability to retain instruction and make his own adjustments on the mound. Rosa has a good arm action but there's some effort to his delivery. Though he has added three inches and 35 pounds since signing as a 5-foot-10 135-pounder in 2001, he still must add strength to his thin frame. He also must work on controlling his emotions. His burning desire to win often leads to him getting down on himself when he struggles, but also delivers the work ethic that will help him reach the majors. He'll get his first chance at full-season ball in low Class A this year.
Vasquez entered 2003 with a 7-22 career record and eight saves to his credit. He always had a penchant not only for racking up strikeouts, but also for allowing runs. After a strong start in high Class A, he was even better in Double-A. Vasquez ranked fourth in the Texas League with 22 saves and 10th in the minors with 29 overall. That success and a nasty slider earned Vasquez a spot on the 40-man roster this offseason. He loves his plus slider and its late, hard break so much that at times he'll use it exclusively and still dominate hitters because he commands it so well. The Royals would like him to get more use out of his 90-92 mph fastball, which he can spot to both sides of the plate. They would also like him to look at possibly adding a splitter or improving his changeup so he has a better weapon to use against lefthanders. He also could stand to refine his command. Vasquez reminds some in the organization of 2002 major league Rule 5 pick D.J. Carrasco. He'll have a shot to make the Kansas City bullpen in spring training, just as Carrasco did last year.
The Royals became Thompson's fourth organization in five months shortly after December's major league Rule 5 draft ended. He began 2003 in the Blue Jays system and was traded to the Pirates for John Wasdin in July. When Pittsburgh didn't protect Thompson on its 40-man roster, the Padres drafted him and sent him to Kansas City in a prearranged deal for Rule 5 righthander Jason Szuminski and cash. Thompson's excellent speed affords him the range to be an above-average defender and the ability to steal bases. It also factors into his offensive approach, as he'll bunt and slap singles while also legging out doubles and triples. He has just four career home runs and has never walked a lot, but flashed more power and plate discipline in the Arizona Fall League last offseason to raise his profile heading into the Rule 5 draft. He led the AFL with 28 runs, four triples and 13 steals in 25 games, and scouts ranked him as the league's fastest baserunner. Thompson's ability to play all three outfield positions and pinch-run should help him stick with the Royals as a fifth outfielder, but he'll also have to improve his offensive production. If he doesn't, he has to clear waivers and be offered back to the Pirates for half the $50,000 draft price before he can be sent to the minors.
Chapman spent the first part of his offseason in the Arizona Fall League playing first base to prepare to win a role as a utility corner infielder and pinch-hitter with the Phillies. But he tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder while working out during the winter, and Philadelphia chose not to offer him a contract for 2004, making him a free agent. The Royals signed him in late January to help address their lack of organizational depth at the hot corner. Chapman isn't blessed with plus tools, but he has worked relentlessly to improve himself every year. He was solid in his first two seasons as a pro, then answered concerns about a lack of power by spending his entire offseason following the 2001 campaign working out. He added 10 pounds of muscle and transformed himself from an organizational player to a prospect. He's an average hitter who sometimes gets pull-conscious and can be worked hard inside and then away with offspeed pitches. Chapman finished fourth in the Triple-A International League in RBIs last year, when he also played in the Triple-A all-star game and led the Phillies system in doubles. He could develop into a Joe Randa type who hits .270 with a handful of home runs. Chapman has mediocre range but is a steady defender at either infield corner. He may not be ready to take the field until June, when he's expected to return to Triple-A.
Gomez is an excellent athlete who played on the Dominican Republic's junior national volleyball team, but he has yet to translate his plus tools into baseball success and doesn't show great instincts in any phase of the game. He looks great in a uniform, but the Royals are still waiting for the light to come on for him. His status wasn't helped when it was revealed last spring that Gomez was two years older than previously thought. He has above-average range in center or right field, plus one of the better outfield arms in the system. Plate discipline and pitch recognition are his biggest downfalls. He strikes out too much, struggles against fastballs on the inner half and doesn't make in-game adjustments. His walk rate plummeted in his first exposure to Triple-A and he stopped using his plus speed to steal bases. Gomez has solid power, but often gets homer-happy and lets his swing get too long. He'd be better off shortening his stroke down and becoming a gap-to-gap hitter who makes use of his wheels. Gomez has one option left, and looks to be headed back to Triple-A for what might be his last chance. He profiles as a fourth outfielder at best.
Bukvich experienced two poor seasons at Mississippi and was academically ineligible as a senior, but area scout Mark Willoughby remembered Bukvich's arm strength from his freshman year at NCAA Division II Delta State (Miss.). Bukvich raced through the minors but has struggled somewhat since first reaching the majors in July 2002. He opened last year as a set-up man in Kansas City, but his control soon deserted him and led to a demotion to Triple-A in May. He earned a second brief promotion at the end of June, but spent most of the year in Omaha struggling to refine his command. While his 92-96 mph fastball can be dominant, Bukvich often fails to finish pitches and leaves the ball up in the zone, resulting in home runs of falling behind in the count. First-pitch strikes are key because he can't use his fringe-average splitter or slurvy slider unless he's ahead in the count. None of his struggles are new, as they've been constant shortcomings throughout his career. How Bukvich addresses those concerns will determine whether he spends 2004 in Kansas City or Triple-A.
The Royals angled for their catcher of the future when they selected Tonis and Scott Walter out of college in the second and third rounds in 2000. They expected one of them to make it to Kansas City by 2003, but Tonis hasn't stayed healthy and Walter hasn't shown the defensive skills. Tonis had knee surgery after the 2001 season, a shoulder operation during spring training in 2002, then broke his jaw five games into an August rehab assignment that year. He missed about a month in 2003 with a strained left hand. Despite the injuries, Tonis still ranks as the system's best defensive catcher. He works well with pitchers, calls a solid game and owns good catch-and-throw skills. He threw out 34 percent of basestealers last year. Tonis' offense has suffered with all the down time. He has a slow bat and hasn't developed the 15-20 home run power the Royals expected. He doesn't recognize breaking balls well and hit just .219 against righthanders last year. He's even-tempered and works hard, but now looks more likely to be a backup rather than a regular in the majors. How Tonis fares this season in Triple-A will be pivotal in determining his future with the club.
Area scout Steve Connelly pushed to select Aviles as a college junior in 2002, then watched him explode to become the NCAA Division II player of the year as a senior. Aviles shortened his stroke and led Division II players in batting (.500), slugging (1.016), homers (22) and runs (83). The Royals had to draft him earlier than expected in the 2003 draft, but still signed him for $1,000 as a seventh-rounder. He delivered an MVP year in the Arizona League, leading the circuit in runs and doubles. Aviles is a contact hitter with a knack for making adjustments. He should have average power. He's a natural fielder with good hands, an above-average arm and average speed, but he sometimes tries to be too flashy. He ultimately may not have the range for shortstop and might have to move to second base. He spent the offseason in Puerto Rico, playing for Carolina, where his uncle Ramon (a former big leaguer) is a bench coach. The Royals will push Aviles through the system quickly, and he'll begin 2004 in high Class A.
Springer tells anyone who asks that he's from Tupelo, Miss., the birthplace of Elvis Presley. He's athletic and was an all-state running back in high school. A cousin of Brewers shortstop Bill Hall, Springer needed two seasons of Rookie ball to complete his transition from a high school third baseman wielding an aluminum bat to a professional outfielder using wood. Royals hitting instructor Andre David had Springer wear ankle weights in the batting cage to quiet his approach at the plate, and helped him eliminate a bad case of bat wrap. The result was a 27-game hitting streak and the sixth-best average in the Arizona League in 2003, when Springer was the organization's most improved player. He's strong, shows good power and has the ability to recognize and adjust to breaking balls. He needs to shorten his swing despite excellent bat speed and must tighten his strike zone. Springer has a long way to go defensively, especially reading balls and getting jumps. He'll always have limitations as a fielder, most notably a below-average left-field arm, but he's faster than his build would indicate. He could return to the infield down the road if he gets crowded out of the outfield by 2003 draftees Chris Lubanski, Mitch Maier and Shane Costa. Low Class A should provide a proving ground for Springer's bat in 2004.
Santos is one of two Hawaiian first-base prospects for the Royals, joining Kila Kaaihue, and he's the best defender at the position in the system. He has soft hands and solid range. He also rivals another first baseman, 2003 third-rounder Brian McFall, for the most pure power in the organization. Santos can drive the ball out of any park, but he struggles desperately against lefthanders. He has yet to hit better than .165 against southpaws in his career, posting a .116 mark with 44 strikeouts in 86 at-bats against them last year. He sometimes gets caught trying to hit everything out of the park and could help himself by going the other way more and gaining a better grasp on the strike zone. Santos will return to Double-A to continue working on his approach against lefthanders.
Scouting director Deric Ladnier first saw Kaaihue when he went to Hawaii to check out Bronson Sardinha and Brandon League in 2001. A year later, he remembered Kaaihue's power potential and bloodlines--his father Kala caught in the minors for the Cardinals and Pirates--and drafted him in spite of a poor senior season. Kaaihue was overmatched in low Class A at the beginning of 2003, hitting .194 with three home runs and 31 strikeouts in 154 at-bats through May. He caught up during the second half, hitting .266 with eight homers and 46 strikeouts in 241 at-bats. He has a sweet swing with long extension and loft power, and his excellent bat speed gets the barrel through the zone quickly. He sometimes has trouble wrapping his bat, but he stayed inside the ball better late in the year after making an adjustment. Kaaihue doesn't chase pitches out of the strike zone and does draw walks, though he sometimes gets on a power jag and values muscle over contact. Elbow and biceps injuries limited Kaaihue to DH in 2002. He showed good hands with below-average range and speed in 2003. He will remain in low Class A to start 2004, allowing him to build on the confidence he gained in the second half of last year.
McFall wasn't on the radar for many teams early in the 2003 draft, but the Royals rated his power potential among the best in the class. They signed him for $385,000. He was one of five players drafted last year out of Chandler-Gilbert, where he also showed promise on the mound. McFall's future won't be on the mound, however, because the ball really jumps off his bat. He has as much raw power as anyone in the system, but he has a ways to go in understanding breaking balls and working himself into hitter's counts. He didn't see too many fastballs in the Arizona League, where he often batted cleanup. McFall is an intense player who works hard and runs out every ball, but he sometimes plays out of control. He's an above-average runner for his body type and can play third base a little bit, though he's better at first base. He's still a below-average defender, though he has made strides. McFall hit 92 mph off the mound in college, so he has the arm to go with the athleticism to move to the outfield if needed. He'll stay in Rookie ball this year.
One of North Carolina's top high school quarterbacks in 2001, Lowery was recruited by Wake Forest and other NCAA Division I football programs. He settled on playing baseball, however, and is one of the best athletes in the system. Lowery spent most of his career in the bullpen before moving to the rotation last July. He added strength after the 2002 season, boosting his fastball 3-4 mph to 94. It has good life, especially when he keeps it down in the zone. Lowery throws his late-breaking slider for strikes against righthanders and uses a fading changeup against lefties. He's a smart pitcher who retains coaching well, and he shows a good feel for working hitters. He wore down last year after setting a career high in innings but should have enough stamina once he gets used to being a starter. Lowery impressed the Royals so much that he almost received a late promotion to high Class A when Wilmington needed an extra pitcher. Lowery will start 2004 there to continue developing his repertoire. He might return to the bullpen because he has a knack for getting groundballs and his secondary pitches might come up a little short at the major league level.
Area scout Mark Willoughby first spotted Ryan Bukvich at NCAA Division II Delta State, where he also found Hughes. Hughes ranked third in Division II with 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings last spring, then made the Arizona League all-star team in his pro debut. He succeeds with above-average command of two plus pitches: a 90-94 mph fastball and a low-80s slider with a hard, late break. Hughes also works with an average changeup and overmatched the AZL's young hitters with his ability to throw offspeed pitches behind in the count. He was much better out of the bullpen, posting an 0.45 ERA in relief versus a 4.40 mark in the rotation. His strong lower half and compact, stocky build are reminiscent of Mike Stanton. Hughes should move quickly through the organization, ultimately ending up as a set-up man. He'll begin 2004 in the high Class A rotation if he has a good spring.
A strong pro debut earned Christensen comparisons to fellow 2002 high school draftee Zack Greinke. They have a similar competitive nature, polish and feel for pitching. Christensen was expected to leap to high Class A in 2003, but he reported to spring training pudgy and out of shape after developing poor eating habits. As a result, he tired quickly, struggled to finish his pitches and left the ball up in the zone to get blasted--especially by lefties, who hit .355 against him. He ended up tied for second in the Midwest League with 12 losses before getting sent down to the Arizona League, where he made adjustments and regrouped. Christensen also spent time on the disabled list with a blister on his middle finger, which came from throwing his big-breaking curveball, a plus pitch when he throws it for strikes. His fastball has plenty of life at 87-90 mph, topping out at 92. He also throws a circle changeup. The Royals challenged Christensen to get in better shape, and he hired a personal trainer for the offseason. He also needs to improve his command. He likely will head back to low Class A to start 2004.
Burgos is the only other player in the system with a pure power arm that can rival Colt Griffin's. Burgos made his U.S. debut last year after two seasons in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League. He threw 87-88 mph when he signed in 2002, climbed to 94- 95 a year later and now unleashed 96-97 mph heat. Burgos already shows an advanced feel for his changeup and is working on a slider and curveball. He has solid mechanics but still is adjusting to having grown four inches since signing. His high waist and long arms lead to effortless velocity. He just needs to maintain a more consistent release point and overall focus. Burgos can dominate on the mound with his physical stature and raw stuff, but he has really struggled with cultural adjustments, including learning English. He grew up in a rough area of the Dominican and can be tough to coach at times. Burgos shows the baseball skills to move to low Class A, but his maturity will dictate whether he goes to Burlington or Rookie-level Idaho Falls. Though he has a front-of-the-rotation ceiling, he's a long way from reaching it.