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Area scout Cliff Pastornicky helped the Royals decide to select Zack Greinke in 2002, selling them on his precocious feel for pitching. Greinke held the top spot on this list from that point until he made his major league debut on May 22, 2004. Two weeks later, Pastornicky and the Royals found Greinke's successor atop this list by cutting a predraft deal to sign Butler for $1.45 million--$250,000 below Major League Baseball's recommendation for the 14th overall pick. He would have attended Florida had he not turned pro. Like Greinke, Butler is a Florida high schooler who's very advanced for his age, and he too could move quickly through the system. Butler and righthander Eric Hurley (30th overall to the Rangers) made Jacksonville's Wolfson High the fifth high school to produce two first-rounders in the same draft. Butler instantly became the best hitting and power prospect in the organization. Using a patient approach and line-drive mentality, he led the Rookie-level Pioneer League in batting and ranked second in extra-base hits. Butler's stance looks unorthodox--he stands very open and spread out, holding his hands high and tapping his toes before engaging the ball--but has quick hands and excellent hand-eye coordination that allow him to let the ball get deep in the zone and to make quick adjustments. He centers the ball well, uses the whole field and generates natural loft without slipping into the uppercut swing plane that befalls many power hitters. He has the best raw pop of any player in the 2004 draft. Pitchers weren't able to sneak fastballs or sliders by him in his pro debut. Some Pioneer League scouts questioned Butler's maturity, but the Royals love his makeup. He displays ample confidence and was well-liked by his Idaho Falls teammates. He also possesses a strong arm that propelled fastballs up to 93 mph when he pitched in high school. If Butler rates as a certainty with the bat, his glove is the complete opposite. He must improve his flexibility to enhance his range at third base. He can catch the ball, but isn't fluid when doing so. Though he has plenty of arm strength, he must set his feet better to avoid throwing errors. At best, the Royals hope Butler can become an average defender who makes the routine plays. He eventually may have to move to first base, and has the hands and the bat to profile well at this position. Butler is a below-average runner but not a baseclogger, so left field also could be a possibility. Some scouts are so skeptical of his defensive ability that they think he'll be limited to DH. Butler rates as one of the few players in the system with all-star potential. His offensive abilities outstrip his defensive deficiencies and should allow him to rise quickly up the ladder. He'll begin 2005 at low Class A Burlington and could be ready for Kansas City at some point in 2007. He's the Royals' No. 3 hitter of the future.
Pedro and Ramon Martinez helped Bautista learn his craft in the Dominican Republic, and he pitched in the Futures Game in 2003. Bautista has been traded twice since then, and also had his age adjusted upward two years. Still, the Royals consider acquiring him from Baltimore for Jason Grimsley as a coup. Bautista's fastball, slider and curveball all can rate as average or better on any given day, while his changeup can be a solid pitch as well. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and has touched 99 mph with good boring life down in the zone. Like many tall and lanky pitchers, Bautista struggles to repeat his delivery and throws across his body. His lack of command often renders him a one-pitch guy. Bautista can be a No. 2 or 3 starter if he can locate his secondary pitches consistently. He'll get a chance to win a job in the Kansas City rotation in spring training. It's also possible he could return to Triple-A, or contribute as a late-inning reliever.
Part of the "Moneyball" draft class, Teahen helped the Athletics get Octavio Dotel in a three-way deal that sent Carlos Beltran to Houston and Teahen, John Buck and Mike Wood to Kansas City. Teahen has a good grasp of the strike zone, uses the whole field and makes consistent, hard contact. His instincts, range and accurate arm led managers to rate him the best defensive third baseman in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Teahen has yet to demonstrate the power desired from a corner infielder. While in the Arizona Fall League, he worked on incorporating his legs more into his swing and picking out pitches to pull, rather than simply serving balls into left field. Teahen is Kansas City's safest bet to become a solid major leaguer. He could open the season as the everyday third baseman, or free-agent signee Chris Truby could serve as a stopgap as Teahen gains more Triple-A seasoning during the first half.
Lubanski was pegged as a mid-first rounder before settling for a slightly below-market $2.1 million bonus as the fifth overall pick in 2003. In his first full season, he hit just .224 through June before moving from first to third in Burlington's order and batting .315 with improved power the rest of the way. The Royals like the adjustments Lubanski made and believe he can be an above-average hitter with at least average power. He has slowed some since being drafted, but is still a plus runner. His work ethic and makeup are also positives. Lubanski needs to improve in all aspects of the game. He struggles against lefthanders, can be fooled by breaking pitches and needs more plate discipline. He got nailed 11 times in 27 steal attempts. As a center fielder, he needs to improve his reads and first-step quickness. He has a below-average arm and several scouts project him as a left fielder. Initially compared to Johnny Damon, Lubanski now seems more likely to make his mark with his strength rather than his speed. The Royals think he's on the verge of a breakout, possibly in 2005 at their new high Class A High Desert affiliate.
The Royals acquired Huber from the Pirates for Jose Bautista as part of the three-team trade that sent Kris Benson to the Mets. In his last game in the New York system, he tore cartilage in his left knee in a home-plate collision. Arthroscopic surgery cost him the rest of the season and a chance to play for Australia in the Olympics. Huber has more offensive potential than most catchers. He should hit for a high average with 20-homer power, and he also draws plenty of walks. He has average arm strength. Huber has a better bat than fellow trade acquisition John Buck, but his defense lags behind Buck's and may push Huber to first base or left field. His footwork is his most glaring deficiency, the major reason why he never has thrown out more than 25 percent of basestealers at any level. After a brief stop at Triple-A Omaha, Huber should be ready for the majors. He's likely to see time in several roles for the Royals rather than become their everyday catcher.
Burgos features the best fastball in the system. It tops out at 98 mph, 10 mph more than it did when he signed as a 16-year-old. His heater sits in the low to mid-90s and moves away from righthanders with some cutting action. He struggles to locate his changeup and slider consistently, but can dominate if either is working. More often than not, he can't command them--which led to his ranking second in the low Class A Midwest League in walks last year. Burgos may throw more strikes once he does a better job of maintaining his delivery, which could happen soon because he finally has stopped growing and begun to get used to his body. He showed an average splitter late in the year, and it could become a key pitch if Burgos ends up in the bullpen. That's a move he'd favor because of his strong ambition to become a closer. To succeed as a starter, he'll need to trust his stuff more and do more than simply trying to blaze fastballs by hitters. Burgos also needs to show more maturity and focus. He'll remain in the rotation in high Class A this year.
A native Panamanian, Cota was a strong-armed shortstop who also pitched at Tucson's Sunnyside High. The Royals spent a 10th-round choice on him in 2003 and watched him blossom in junior college before signing him as a draft-and-follow for $1.05 million--a record for a 10th-rounder. Cota throws his four-seam fastball at 92-96 mph range, and it has so much boring action that scouts mistook it for a two-seamer. He scrapped his curveball after signing to focus on his slider, and it now clocks in at 86-88 mph, giving him a second plus pitch. He's very athletic, allowing him to repeat a sound delivery and field his position. Cota struggled with his command in his pro debut, which may have been a result of being tired after working 93 innings in junior college. He needs to work down in the zone more often. He didn't start using a changeup until instructional league, but made good initial progress. With his stuff, Cota can become a frontline starter, though he's quite a ways from the majors. He'll begin his first full season in low Class A.
Costa signed for $775,000 after earning the 2003 Big West Conference player of the year award. His father Leo is a former college football player and national bodybuilding champion who works as a personal trainer. That upbringing gives Costa an aggressive mentality. A polished hitter, Costa has quick hands that allow him to turn pitches into line drives. He easily makes adjustments and consistent contact. He's an average baserunner and defender. Costa's below-average arm relegates him to left field, where he'll need to produce for more power. The Royals want him to do a better job of loading his hands in his swing. If he does that and starts to turn on more pitches, he could translate his strength into 20-25 homers per year. One Royals scout compares Costa, physically and statistically, to Brian Giles. Giles always posted solid on-base percentages in the minors but never slugged better than .400 until he reached Double-A. Costa has followed a similar path, and needs to ratchet up his power production at Double-A Wichita in 2005. He should be in the majors by 2006.
Maier turned down an offer to walk on the Michigan football team as a defensive back, opting instead to play baseball at Toledo, where he led the Mid-American Conference in batting as a freshman and junior. The Rockets' all-time leading hitter at .414, he agreed to a $900,000 predraft deal in 2003. Maier's hand-eye coordination allows for patience and consistent contact, though his plate discipline slipped in 2004. The Royals have encouraged him to move his hands closer to his body, which should shorten his swing and help him improve against breaking balls. Maier runs well underway and displays good instincts along the basepaths. A college catcher, Maier moved to third base to address an organizational weakness. The results have been mixed, as he lacks first-step quickness and doesn't read balls well off the bat. His likely destination is an outfield corner. He needs to add a touch of leverage to his swing to develop more power. Maier could move quickly once he finds a position. If he has a good spring, he could open 2005 in Double-A.
Scouts first took notice of Murphy at Orange Coast College in 2002 when they went to see teammate Matt Clanton, whom the Cubs took in the supplemental first round. Murphy has been a consistent run producer as a pro, with 201 RBIs in 322 minor league games. Murphy's offense is his strong suit. He has gap power and a solid approach at the plate. As a second baseman, he offers a strong arm and a good double-play pivot. Murphy hit .302 through June before falling into a .202 tailspin afterward. He needs to stop wiggling his hands before unloading on a pitch, because it makes his swing longer and forces him to commit sooner, leaving him vulnerable to pitchers who change speeds well. He can be a little pull-conscious. His below-average speed makes his range average at best. Murphy rates an edge over Ruben Gotay as the Royals' second baseman of the future because his athleticism makes him a better defender. He'll move up to Double-A in 2005. Murphy got a surprise September call up and should reach the majors to stay in 2006.
Howell led Texas to the College World Series finals in 2004, tying for the Division I lead in wins (15-2, 2.13) while ranking second in strikeouts (166 in 135 innings). He cut a predraft deal for a $1 million bonus as the first supplemental pick after the first round. Howell mirrors Zack Greinke's ability to add and subtract from four pitches that he'll throw in any count. His four-seam fastball tops out at 89 mph, but both it and his lively two-seamer play above-average because of his command. His plus curveball comes in two varieties, one he can bury in the dirt for a strikeout and another he throws for strikes. Howell's splitter elicits swings-and-misses because it closely resembles his two-seamer. He also uses a fosh changeup. He's not afraid to throw inside, but Howell needs to do so more often. He can rely too much on his curveball at times. His bulldog nature is often an asset, though he sometimes loses control of his emotions. Howell is refined and could begin 2005 in high Class A. Despite his lack of velocity, his feel for pitching and heart could make him a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
It would have seemed implausible heading into 2004, but the Cubs opted not to protect Sisco on their 40-man roster after the season and lost him to the Royals in the major league Rule 5 draft. The No. 4 prospect in the Cubs organization a year ago, Sisco had a lot going for him. A 6-foot-9 hulk of a pitcher who had been recruited as a defensive end by Pacific-10 Conference football programs, he threw a 92-94 mph fastball and an effective changeup, flashed a plus curveball and projected to add velocity. But he didn't follow his offseason conditioning properly and arrived in spring training too bulky and tight. That cost him arm speed and velocity, and he pitched at 87-89 mph and rarely topped 90 for much of the year. He also lost the feel for his breaking pitch. His control regressed significantly and he was much more hittable than he had been in the past. Sisco also has to answer questions about his maturity and off-field issues. While his ceiling is as huge as he is, it may be a stretch for Kansas City to keep him in the majors all season when he'd be best served by returning to high Class A. Before the Royals could send Sisco to the minors in 2005, however, Rule 5 guidelines stipulate that he'd have to be placed on waivers and offered back to Chicago for half the $50,000 draft price.
McFall was a surprise third-round pick in 2003, but the Royals didn't want to risk losing him. They liked his athleticism and power, and he threw 92 mph as a righthander. After signing for $385,000, he struggled with the transition from junior college to Rookie ball. He also was overmatched in low Class A at the beginning of 2004, though he fared well after a demotion, leading the Pioneer League in doubles, RBIs, slugging percentage and steals. McFall is an emotional player, and often carries one at-bat into the next. That's a big reason for his struggles in Burlington and for his success at Idaho Falls. His bat speed and strength give him raw power to rival that of any Kansas City farmhand, especially when he gets his arms extended. He strikes out too much because he struggles to recognize breaking balls and sometimes pull off pitches when he tries to muscle up. McFall has slightly above-average speed and moves well, enabling him to make a smooth adjustment from first base to right field last year. He also continues to show a plus arm, though he needs to make better reads on balls hit over his head. McFall could have five tools that all play average or better in the majors, though the Royals will handle him cautiously. They know jumping him past low Class A in 2005 could lead to more difficulties.
After trading for John Buck and Justin Huber in 2004, the Royals had no need for Benito Santiago, whom they signed to a two-year contract before the season. So they traded Santiago to the Pirates for Nunez, who has been called "Little Pedro" because of his physical resemblance to fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez. Scouts say he's a closer match for another Dominican, Julian Tavarez. Nunez has a live arm, throwing 92-94 mph and reaching 97. Strictly a fastball pitcher when he signed, he since has developed a curveball and slider. Though he's not very big, he generates his heat with very little effort. He could stand to add some weight, though his velocity and stamina haven't been problems to this point. He'll go through periods where he has trouble finding the strike zone, but for the most part Nunez has shown good command. Nunez is still quite raw but has shown consistent improvement. His ability to refine a usable changeup will determine whether he can stay in the rotation or will be better suited for the bullpen. He'll make his Royals debut in high Class A.
Buckner, who will tell you quickly he isn't related to the former major leaguer of the same name, played alongside Orioles first-rounder Nick Markakis at Young-Harris (Ga.) Junior College in 1999, but chose to attend South Carolina instead of signing with the Devil Rays after they took him in the ninth round. Buckner found immediate success with the Gamecocks. His fastball velocity improved from 87-88 mph to the low 90s, serving as a perfect complement to an excellent knuckle-curve that drops off the table. He struck out 14 against Clemson in early March in front of several scouting directors, including Kansas City's Deric Ladnier, and appeared destined for the first round. But he came down with mononucleosis and never got back to full strength as the draft approached, so the Royals were able to get him in the second round--one round after South Carolina teammate Matt Campbell. Buckner also owns a changeup with plus potential but he needs to throw it more. Also on his to-do list are getting stronger and establishing his fastball more after relying heavily on his breaking ball in college. He has the polish and college pedigree to move quickly after starting 2005 in low Class A. He could end up as a No. 3 or 4 starter.
The Royals grabbed a pair of similar college lefthanders with the 29th and 31st picks in last June's draft, taking Campbell ahead of J.P. Howell and signing him for $1.1 million. Campbell has slightly better pure stuff, as he throws his fastball with more velocity (87-91 mph) and generates a bigger break on his 2-to-7 curveball that hitters often swing through. Howell has better command and feel for pitching. Campbell was worn out after pitching South Carolina to the College World Series for the third time in three years, and wasn't at his best in his pro debut. Kansas City shut him down early and expects to see the true Campbell in 2005. As with his South Carolina teammate Billy Buckner, the Royals want Campbell to use his fastball more often than he did in college. They figure his heater, which features arm-side tail, could gain velocity as he throws it more and improves his conditioning work. Campbell can locate his fastball to both sides of the plate, and he shows promise with his changeup. He may begin 2005 in low Class A but could advance fast.
Ramirez rebounded from a shoulder injury, which didn't require surgery but cost him most of 2003, to save 32 games and earn Texas League all-star honors in 2004. He signed with the Royals as a minor league free agent, and a strong winter performance in his native Dominican Republic had them worried they might lose him in the major league Rule 5 draft. Ramirez has good sinking life on his 90-93 mph fastball, and his curveball and changeup are also reliable pitches. He keeps the ball down in the zone, though he'll get himself into trouble at times with walks. Outside of his shoulder problems in 2003, he has been durable and resilient. He'll compete for a set-up job in the beleaguered big league bullpen as a nonroster invitee to big league camp.
The Royals still rate Blanco's defensive abilities as better than Angel Berroa's. They underlined that point when they promoted Blanco to replace the former American League rookie of the year in the lineup twice in 2004, first when Berroa was hurt in April and again when he was demoted briefly in August. Blanco has exceptional hands, arm strength and range. While there's no question he can play shortstop in the majors, the jury is still out on his bat. He possesses what Kansas City calls offensive survival skills--he can bunt and make consistent contact from both sides of the plate. Blanco needs to get stronger because he can be overpowered at the plate. He also needs to play more of the small man's game. He often takes long swings to lift balls, though he's still looking for his first professional home run. He has above-average speed, but he hasn't shown the instincts to steal bases. Blanco has to start making these offensive adjustments at Triple-A in 2005 if he's to emerge as anything more than a defensive-minded utilityman. The Royals believe that can happen, pointing to the minor league career path of Omar Vizquel, and like Blanco enough to consider trading Berroa.
After a breakout 2003 in high Class A, when his fastball jumped from 87-89 mph to the low 90s and his curveball improved from below- to above-average, Bass made Kansas City's 40-man roster and ranked seventh on this list. Shoulder problems ruined his 2004 season, however, as he didn't make his first start until May and took the mound just nine times all season. The Royals were encouraged by how he bounced back pitching in relief in the Arizona Fall League, as he regained the fastball and curveball he had shown the previous year. Bass' success comes from locating the ball to both sides of the plate and keeping it down, enticing loads of groundouts. He still needs to make progress with his changeup and slider. Assuming Bass remains healthy, he'll begin 2005 in Double-A with the chance for a swift promotion to Triple-A.
Vega first showed off his power potential in the 2002 Perfect Game/Baseball America World Wood Bat Association fall championship. There was talk the Royals or Reds might snag Vega in the first or supplemental first round in the 2003 draft, but Kansas City was able to pick him up in the fourth and sign him for $375,000. Vega looked raw struggling through his pro debut, but showed the benefits of instruction in a solid second trip through the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2004. Royals coaches helped Vega simplify his swing mechanics and eliminate a bad bat wrap that left him long and slow to the ball. He still struggles reacting to offspeed pitches and lets his swing get too long at times, but he showed improvements that allowed him to unleash his strength and loft power. He could develop into a special hitter if he can keep his stroke short and add the ability to hit for average to his plus power. Vega moved from third base to first last season. Though the new position makes little use of his above-average arm strength, he was a much better defender and was able to concentrate more on his hitting. He has good hands and body control, and his lack of range wasn't as much of an issue. Kansas City will continue to move Vega slowly, and it's possible he could open the season in extended spring training before heading to Idaho Falls in June.
Looking to save money, Kansas City drafted college seniors with their fifth- through ninth-round picks in 2003, then offered them all take-it-or-leave-it $1,000 bonuses. A two-way player plagued by injuries during his college career at Wake Forest and Nevada-Las Vegas, Braun is the best prospect of the group. In his first full pro season, he finished second in saves and seventh in appearances in the high Class A Carolina League. He overpowered hitters with a 93-96 mph fastball and two plus breaking pitches, a mid-80s slider and a curveball. He showed the give-me-the-ball mentality organizations want from a potential closer, and no signs of injury or fatigue. Braun's big, strong frame and clean arm action give the Royals hope that his injury problems are behind him. He's 24, so they're putting him on the fast track to the majors, with the next stop coming in Double-A.
Hughes ranked third among NCAA Division II pitchers with 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 2003 and enjoyed a solid pro debut. But he never drew much attention until he opened the 2004 season with eight no-hit innings for Burlington. Hughes never looked back. He commands the strike zone with pinpoint accuracy and a fearless demeanor, never walking more than three batters in any of his 26 appearances last year. Hughes throws his fastball anywhere from 84-91 mph. It appears faster than radar readings indicate because he keeps the ball behind him during his delivery, and his deception forces hitters to pick up his pitches late. He likes to vary speeds with his fastball and isn't afraid to buzz hitters inside. His low-80s slider features a late break. It's the pitch he puts hitters away with. He throws his average changeup sparingly, but uses it effectively when needed. Hughes' sustained success at both Class A levels has led the Royals to project him as a back-of-the-rotation starter rather than a set-up man. He should start 2005 in Double-A.
When the Royals took Cordier in the second round last June, he became the highest-drafted Wisconsin player since the Angels drafted Jarrod Washburn 31st overall in 1995. Cordier, who impressed scouts at multiple showcase events, signed for $575,000. He throws three pitches that have plus potential. His fastball regularly sits in the 90-92 mph range, he demonstrates a good feel for his changeup and gets good rotation on his curveball. Because he's athletic and he's a lanky 6-foot-3 and 197 pounds, he has plenty of projection remaining. Cordier's pro debut was lackluster, as he had trouble adjusting to the intense heat of Arizona as well as the rigors of pro ball. The Royals will bring him along slowly. He's a candidate for Idaho Falls in 2005, but he could emerge as a No. 2 or 3 starter once he masters the nuances of pitching professionally.
Lowery's arm strength made him one of North Carolina's top high school quarterbacks in 2001, and he drew interest from several NCAA Division I-A football programs, including Wake Forest. He chose instead to sign with the Royals and is one of the organization's better athletes. His transition to a baseball-only life has been slow as his fastball dropped from 90-94 mph in high school to 86-88 as he became accustomed to professional throwing and conditioning regimens. Lowery's velocity returned midway through 2003, earning him a move to the rotation and a boost in the organizational hierarchy. He kept his heavy, lively fastball down in the zone and used his late-breaking slider as an out pitch in 2004, when he ranked sixth in the Carolina League in strikeouts and eighth in ERA. Lowery shows good arm speed on a changeup that fades away from lefthanders and displays an outstanding delivery overall. His velocity began to dip late in the season as he reached a career high in innings for the second straight year, so he skipped instructional league. Lowery will focus on keeping his strength and stamina over an entire season in the Double-A rotation in 2005. He profiles as an innings-eating No. 4 starter.
Area scout Steve Connelly wanted to sign Aviles after his junior season at Concordia College, but had to wait until he earned NCAA Division II player of the year honors as a senior in 2003. Aviles shortened his stroke and led D-II in batting (.500), slugging (1.016), homers (22) and runs (83) that spring, and the Royals made sure they got him by spending a seventh-round pick on him (albeit with only a $1,000 bonus). Aviles was the Arizona League MVP in 2003, then capped his banner season by holding his own in winter ball in Puerto Rico. He played for Carolina, where his uncle Ramon (a former big leaguer) was a coach. Aviles kept producing in 2004, thanks to a compact swing and solid strength for his size. He led the Carolina League in doubles and ranked third in hits after jumping three levels to high Class A. He makes good contact but could stand to draw more walks. Aviles' arm and hands rate as solid-average, though he's not as quick or rangy as most shortstops. Aviles is the sort of overachiever organizations love to uncover, but also one who must prove himself at each level. His bat will determine whether he becomes an everyday middle infielder or a utility player, and his next test will come in Double-A.
Lisson is one of general manager Allard Baird's favorite sleepers. The Royals' Rookie-level Dominican Summer League player of the year in 2003, he made a successful U.S. debut last season. Lisson offers a live, athletic body but has also demonstrated the ability to play under control. He possesses the strength and bat speed to produce plus power, but he's also selective at the plate. He can be almost too patient at times, as he struck out 82 times in 70 games in 2004. Lanky and long-limbed, he should improve his coordination as he grows into his body. Lisson's strong arm and soft hands have allowed him to excel defensively all over the diamond. He spent time at catcher and first base after signing, but soon moved to shortstop and third base. His size could mean a permanent move to the hot corner, which fits well in an organization shallow at third base but deep up the middle. There's no reason to rush him with Mark Teahen well ahead of him, so Lisson will move one level at a time and go to low Class A in 2005.
Blackwell led NCAA Division I with 20 saves at South Carolina in 2004 after transferring from Pensacola (Fla.) Junior College. He's one of three Gamecocks pitchers taken early by Kansas City in last June's draft, following first-rounder Matt Campbell and second-rounder Billy Buckner. Though he has a wiry frame and a funky, low three-quarters delivery, Blackwell has proven resilient and durable as a closer. The Royals don't plan on tinkering with his motion because he never has experienced any arm problems, and his arm action is clean with good extension. His delivery also creates deception. Blackwell's fastball clocks in around 90 mph, and he commands it and his slider to both sides of the plate. He also elevates his fastball successfully. His changeup is an effective weapon against lefthanders. Blackwell's pitching style reminds the Royals of 2004 supplemental first-rounder J.P. Howell's because he competes hard and is adept at changing speeds to keep hitters off balance. He should end up as an effective set-up man, and his polish should make his route to the majors a quick one after he begins 2005 in low Class A.
Griffin opens 2005 with plenty to prove if he's to remain in the organization's plans. The first documented high school pitcher to hit 100 mph, he parlayed his velocity into becoming the ninth overall pick in 2001 and signing for a $2.4 million bonus. Four years later, he's a middle reliever who has yet to have a winning season. Griffin still flashes that great fastball, as well as a plus slider that reaches 88 mph, but he never has found the strike zone consistently. Though he often dials down his fastball to 90-94 mph in hopes of improving his location, he still gives up too many walks and is too hittable. He has yet to show the ability to retain and apply instruction. The Royals are frustrated with his slow development, though they continue to praise his effort. He continued to search for a consistent release point in instructional league. He'll return to the Double-A bullpen this year, and his fastball-slider combination still could be lethal if he ever develops command.
After McConnell's pleasantly surprising offensive debut, the Royals compare him to Mike Aviles, another overachieving shortstop from the New York/New Jersey area. Kansas City drafted him in the ninth round and signed him for $40,000--primarily for his glove. A flashy defender, McConnell has plus-plus range, soft hands and an average arm. His bat was something of a concern, but he hit well in the Arizona League thanks to excellent hand-eye coordination and what scouting director Deric Ladnier calls "good hitting hands." Even when he starts his swing early, McConnell can keep his hands back long enough to make solid contact. His bat control and short, quick swing mean he puts a lot of balls in play. It's questionable how much pop he'll have down the road. McConnell can make spectacular plays at shortstop, but he'll have to cut down on his errors after making 16 errors in 29 games at shortstop. He'll likely move through the system with fellow 2004 draftee Josh Johnson (third round), and they could share shortstop duties at Idaho Falls this year.
Barrera is similar to 2003 draft-and-follow Luis Cota, as both are short righthanders with lightning arms. Barrera can reach 96-98 mph with his fastball and 84-87 with his slider. On the other hand, his mechanics and command are raw. He came to the Royals with a hop in his delivery that took his foot off the rubber and placed him off line from home plate. Barrera signed a 2005 contract, passing on a commitment to Rio Hondo (Calif.) Junior College, so Kansas City didn't begin extensive work with him until instructional league. He'll be able to find the strike zone more often once he establishes a more consistent release point. The Royals will take it slow with Barrera, likely assigning him to extended spring training before he makes his pro debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. His focus in his first year will be to locate his fastball (which sits mostly at 89-93 mph) and slider while developing a changeup.