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Born and raised in Lincoln, Neb., Gordon grew up making family road trips to Kansas City to see a certain third baseman--whom his brother Brett is named for. He starred as a third baseman and defensive back in high school before following his father Mike in playing baseball at Nebraska. Gordon developed into a two-time Big 12 Conference player of the year and won Baseball America's 2005 College Player of the Year award by hitting .372/.518/.715 with 19 homers and 23 steals as the Cornhuskers advanced to the College World Series. Gordon also won the 2005 Golden Spikes Award as the top amateur player in the United States. Before his banner junior season, he captured offensive MVP honors as he helped Team USA to a gold medal at the 2004 World University Championship in Taiwan. When Arizona took Justin Upton with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2005 draft, Gordon was an obvious choice for the Royals at No. 2. It was the earliest draft pick the Royals have ever had--though they'll pick first in 2006--surpassing their fourth overall selections in 1998 (Jeff Austin) and 2000 (Mike Stodolka). Rumors were prevalent that they would focus on budget more than ability, but they took the best player on the board. Gordon held out until late September, when he accepted a $4 million bonus that shattered Austin's club record of $2.7 million. He signed too late to play in the minors but did get 50 at-bats in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .260 with two homers. Gordon treats hitting like an art and constantly works to improve his craft. He even borrowed the coach's keys to Nebraska's practice facility in order to hit during summer and Christmas breaks. That work ethic has produced a hitter with great patience and a finely tuned swing. Gordon has the best bat speed in the organization. He hits for average and power to all fields. One scout compared him to Chipper Jones. While he's known mostly for his bat, Gordon isn't a one-dimensional player. Terrific baserunning instincts allowed the solid-average runner to swipe 23 bags in 26 tries as a junior, surpassing his total from his first two years in college. Gordon shows an above-average arm and solid hands at third base. He played first base in his pro debut in the Arizona Fall League only because he replaced Justin Huber on the roster and the club needed someone to man that spot. He also played first base with Team USA, but that was in deference to Gold Glove-caliber third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Gordon's biggest flaws should be easily correctable. He can improve his pre-pitch preparation. The Royals had him working on fielding balls from the balls of his feet, with a wider base and further in front of his body. The Royals initially slated Gordon to make his pro debut at high Class A High Desert, but his AFL showing has given them the confidence to start him at Double-A Wichita. He should develop into a potent middle-of-the-order bat and a fine lefthanded complement to righthanded-hitting Billy Butler, the system's other blue-chip prospect. Mark Teahen poses little obstacle to Gordon, who will take over at third base in Kansas City as soon as he's ready. That could happen at some point in 2006.
When the Royals drafted Butler 14th overall in 2004, most clubs viewed it as a signability pick--his $1.45 million bonus was $250,000 less than MLB's slot recommendation. He and righthander Eric Hurley, who went 30th to the Rangers, made Jacksonville's Wolfson High the fifth high school to produce a pair of first-rounders in the same draft. Butler has more than justified his selection, and he ranked third in the minors with 300 total bases and fifth with 71 extra-base hits in 2005. Butler is such a mature hitter already that instructors leave him alone and he's able to make adjustments on his own between at-bats. He succeeds because of his impressive bat speed, strength, vision, balance and confidence at the plate. He centers the ball well, uses the whole field and generates above-average power without sacrificing the ability to hit for average. Butler controls the strike zone and attacks pitches in his wheelhouse. He reached 90 mph as a prep pitcher, so he has arm strength. Drafted as a third baseman, Butler lacked the athleticism and footwork for the position, so he moved to left field, where the hope is that he can become adequate. He's a below-average runner. His hitting mechanics aren't typical-- his stance is open and spread out with his hands held high, and he uses a toe tap for timing--but they work for him. Butler should develop into an all-star-caliber offensive player along the lines of Travis Hafner. Left field is Butler's position for now, but most scouts think he's destined for first base or DH. He'll begin 2006 in Double-A, and the Royals don't know what they'll do if his bat becomes major league ready before his defense is passable.
Huber came to the Royals for third-base prospect Jose Bautista as part of the three-team deal that sent Kris Benson to the Mets in July 2004. In his last game in the New York system, Huber hurt his left knee and required arthroscopic surgery, knocking him off Australia's Olympic team and delaying his Royals debut until 2005. The injury also cinched the decision to move him from catcher to first base. He made his major league debut in place of an injured Mike Sweeney in June and won MVP honors in his third Futures Game with a two-run double in July. Huber is a pure hitter with a strong grasp of the strike zone. He stays inside the ball well and can spray hits from gap to gap while offering 20-homer power. He has more athleticism than expected from a former catcher. Huber is still learning how to play first base, fighting his catcher's instinct to block balls with his body rather than field them. He should become adequate, though never an asset defensively. He's a slightly below-average runner. Huber resembles Sweeney in many ways, and Sweeney's presence in Kansas City could mean Huber goes to Triple-A Omaha for regular duty unless the two end up in a first base/DH tradeoff. An Achilles injury canceled Huber's 2005 trip to the Arizona Fall League, but he'll be ready for spring training.
Lubanski was pegged as a mid-first-rounder in 2003, but the Royals took him fifth overall and signed him for $2.1 million--$400,000 below MLB's slot recommendation. He has proven a second-half player in his brief career, especially in 2005, when he hit .354-18-85 in the last three months to finish second in the minors with 116 RBIs and fourth with 294 total bases and 72 extra-base hits. Yes, the Royals know High Desert is a hitter's haven and that Lubanski hit .359-19-71 at home and .245-9- 45 on the road. But he started making better contact and his natural loft power started to shine in the second half, which he capped by going 13-for-15 in the high Class A California League playoffs. He's an aggressive hitter but began to take more pitches and showed a freer, looser swing. A plus runner, he was caught stealing just once in 15 tries. Lubanski covered so much ground as a high school center fielder that his timidity and poor routes as a pro puzzle observers. His arm rates just below-average and he needs to use his legs more when he throws. If he doesn't improve, he'll have to move to left field. Some club officials wanted Lubanski to cede High Desert's center-field job to Mitch Maier, but Maier's promotion ended that possibility. They'll start 2006 together again in Double-A, with Lubanski likely remaining in center. He could develop into a No. 5 hitter with basestealing speed.
Bianchi was a lightly crosschecked high school player, but he generated so much late buzz that Royals scouting director Deric Ladnier eschewed trips to college conference tournaments to see him. The Royals were happy to nab him in the second round for $690,000. Bianchi pushed for the Rookie-level Arizona League triple crown before a lower back strain ended his season and his Arizona Fall League hopes. Bianchi's efficient hitting mechanics and quick, short swing produce impressive results. He uses the whole field and flashes average power. He has plus-plus speed, getting from the right side of the plate to first base in 4.1 seconds. He's athletic and instinctive defensively, and plays a polished overall game. He had an easy transition to pro ball because his high school coach, Todd Garber, is the brother of Kansas City coordinator of minor league instruction Jeff Garber and incorporates many of the Royals' principles. Bianchi hasn't played enough yet for the Royals to discover any warts. His arm isn't the strongest and some teams projected him as a second baseman, but he's able to make plays from the hole. His back had no structural damage and isn't a long-term concern. Bianchi reminds the Royals of Texas shortstop Michael Young with less arm. He could make a jump to full-season ball, but that would mean sharing the low Class A Burlington shortstop job with Chris McConnell. Bianchi likely will end up at Rookie-level Idaho Falls.
The younger brother of Diamondbacks first-base prospect Jesus Cota, Luis played mostly shortstop at Tucson's Sunnyside High. The Royals liked his arm strength enough to gamble a 10th-round choice on him in 2003, and he blossomed into the Arizona juco player of the year the next spring. Kansas City signed him as a draft-and-follow for $1.05 million, a record for a 10th-rounder. Cota tops out at an easy 93-95 mph and works at 91-92. His four-seam fastball features so much life that it gets mistaken for a two-seamer as its bores in on righthanders. His power slider sits in the mid-80s and should become a second plus pitch once he refines his command of it. His changeup can be inconsistent, but it improved during the season. Cota needs more consistency with his delivery. He gets underneath the ball too much, leaving his fastball straight and his slider flat. The mechanical correction also would give him better control, allowing him to get ahead of hitters and put them away easier. The Royals view Cota as a power arm with the potential for three plus pitches atop a rotation. He'll need to improve his command and feel as his mental toughness gets checked in the pitcher's wasteland of High Desert this year.
Area scout Sean Rooney took game tapes he got from McConnell's mother to Kansas City's draft room and used them to support his case to draft the fast-twitch, slick-fielding infielder. McConnell signed for $40,000 as a ninth-round pick instead of attending Louisburg (N.C.) JC. The Royals knew of McConnell's defensive skills--plus range, plus arm, quick feet, soft hands--but his bat has produced more than expected. Though he has an unorthodox stance with a high back elbow and low crouch, his hand-eye coordination and quick hands have produced a .333 average in pro ball. Added strength from maturing physically now allows him to drive the ball into gaps, and he should produce average power for a middle infielder. Instinctive and fluid defensively, McConnell must improve on the bases. He has slightly above-average speed but needs to learn the nuances of baserunning and basestealing. Otherwise, inexperience is his only negative at this point. McConnell's arm strength would push Jeff Bianchi to second base if the duo played together. That won't happen immediately, as McConnell is set for Burlington and Bianchi ticketed for Idaho Falls.
Maier, who went 30th overall in 2003 in part because he'd sign for $900,000, has moved from catching in college to third base and now the outfield as a pro. Toledo's all-time leading hitter with a .414 average, he has started each of his two full pro seasons with a flourish and then leveled off following promotions. Maier's hand-eye coordination makes for consistent contact. He gets good leverage in his swing when it works right, so he has more power potential than he has shown. An above-average runner with solid instincts on the bases, he covers plenty of ground in center field. He improved so much at tracking balls that some Royals officials believe he's a better center fielder than Chris Lubanski. Maier's arm is good for center field and average for right. Maier's hands often drift forward as a pitch approaches, costing him power as he gets ahead of his body. Better balance could boost his home run totals and reduce his strikeouts. More patience at the plate also would help. Some scouts liken Maier to Paul O'Neill as a hitter and run producer. He'll work to fine-tune his swing this year in Double-A.
A right ankle sprain sidelined Murphy in May, but he recovered and received extended big league time after Tony Graffanino was traded to the Red Sox in July. Murphy sputtered offensively in semi-regular duty before a broken right ring finger ended his season in late August. Murphy shows the discerning eye and gap power to profile as an offensive second baseman. He fields well enough with solid hands and a strong arm. The Royals believe his struggles in the majors came from dipping into survival mode rather than relaxing and playing his usual game. Murphy rotates his wrists to point his bat head toward first base before swinging, a hitch that makes him late on some fastballs and susceptible to offspeed pitches. He has limited range at second base and is a below-average runner. Murphy's arm is playable at third base and he ultimately could become a utility infielder, bowing to younger prospects Jeff Bianchi and Chris McConnell. After his disappointing big league stint, he'll open 2006 in Triple-A.
In need of a left fielder, the Royals called up Costa ahead of schedule May 31 and started him for much of June. He hit homers off Jeff Weaver and Carlos Silva, but Costa wasn't ready for the majors and went down to Triple-A July 20 after Kansas City traded Tony Graffanino to the Red Sox for Chip Ambres. Costa's strike-zone discipline and short, efficient swing makes him a candidate to hit for a high average with low strikeout numbers. He handles all types of pitching well and can use the whole field. He's a heads-up baserunner with average speed and plenty of intensity. Costa has the strength to hit 20 homers annually, but he doesn't have much load to his swing and seems content to serve line drives to the opposite field. His below-average arm limits him to left field. Costa once drew Brian Giles comparisons, and while he's a stocky player with a keen eye, he'll never have Giles' power. If he doesn't hit for more pop, Costa may be nothing more that a fourth outfielder. He'll spend much of 2006 in Triple-A.
Though he was the third of four pitchers the Royals took in the first two rounds of the 2004 draft, Buckner has the brightest future of the group, which also includes Matt Campbell, J.P. Howell and Erik Cordier. Buckner isn't related to the former big league batting champion of the same name. His dad taught him how to throw a knuckle-curve, and it has developed into a plus 12-to-6 downer. It's a great swing-and-miss pitch that he's working to throw for called strikes more consistently. He fed college hitters a steady diet of curves, but Kansas City has urged Buckner to work more off his fastball as a pro. By doing so, Buckner has built up his arm strength and now reaches the low 90s with consistency. When he's on, he can work both sides of the plate with his fastball. His changeup could become an average pitch. Buckner's overall command varies from excellent to so-so depending on how well he maintains his alignment during delivery. He must work down in the zone more often. Projected as a middle-of-the-rotation starter, Buckner will move to Double-A for 2006.
The Arizona Fall League has proven a desert oasis for Bass. An elbow strain limited him to 32 innings in 2004, but he regained his fastball velocity in the AFL. Bass struggled with his mound tempo in 2005, working too slowly and giving up too many hits and walks after getting ahead in early counts. A quicker pace made him more aggressive and gave him the confidence to finish hitters by the end of the year, and Bass opened the AFL with 12 scoreless innings over three appearances and didn't walk a batter in 24 innings in Arizona. His fastball sits around 90 mph and reaches 93 with sinking action that makes it a plus pitch at times. Bass' knee-buckling curveball and tight slider are both solid offerings that are different enough to give hitters trouble, and he also works in a changeup. At his best, he throws all four pitches for strikes. Bass earned a spot on Team USA's Olympic qualifying team and could compete for a job in a thin Kansas City rotation during spring training. He'd probably be better off with some time in Triple-A, however.
Donachie led all Florida high school players with 15 homers in 2002, and parlayed that power and a prototypical catcher's skill set into an $800,000 bonus as a second-round pick. His pop was slow to come in pro ball, as he spent two years in complex leagues and had his 2004 full-season debut marred by a fractured skull. While they were standing in the on-deck circle during a July 16 game, Burlington teammate Kila Kaaihue hit him in the head with a practice swing, and Donachie had to be airlifted to a hospital. He finally broke out in high Class A last year, and he hit just as well on the road as he did at High Desert. Maturity and dropping switch-hitting to bat strictly righthanded led to his progress. Donachie still is adjusting to breaking pitches down and away from righthanders, after not having much experience batting righthanded against them. He projects as at least an average offensive catcher in terms of power and average, and his defensive skills draw the most plaudits. He's the organization's most well-rounded defender behind the plate. Donachie's above-average arm strength and quick release helped him lead California League regulars by erasing 52 percent of basestealers. He also blocks balls and calls games well. His performance in Double-A this year will indicate whether his improvement is for real.
Sanchez always impressed the Royals with his swing mechanics and ability to make contact, but they wondered if he'd ever develop the strength necessary to be anything more than a slap-hitting utility infielder. While he could stand to build more muscle, he already has added 15 pounds since signing at age 17--and the results have been obvious. He led the minors in hits and ranked second in the California League in runs while serving as High Desert's leadoff man last year. He had 42 extra-base hits after collecting just 34 in his first 1,015 pro at-bats. The physical maturity also enhanced Sanchez' speed. He went from an average runner to above-average. He rates as at least an average defender with solid range, hands and feet, while his arm strength can be a tick above average at times. This year in Double-A, Sanchez will try to prove his breakout season wasn't simply a product of High Desert and the California League.
Christensen had a promising pro debut in 2002, but his next couple of years were ugly. He arrived in spring training out of shape in 2003 and went 1-12 in low Class A, then worked just three innings in 2004 before needing Tommy John surgery. The injury and rehab process brought Christensen perspective, and he came to spring training in excellent shape last year. Though he won just three games for a mediocre Burlington team, he had the best season of his career and finished it off by ringing up 27 strikeouts in 15 innings over his last three starts. He's at his best when he's painting both sides of the plate with his 91- 92 mph fastball early in the count, then sending hitters back to the dugout with a curveball that features 1-to-7 tilt. Christensen throws both pitches for strikes and shows a good feel for pitching. His changeup is average, but he's gaining confidence and command with it. He's around the plate a lot, so leaving pitches up in the zone remains a dangerous proposition. He'll move to the rotation at High Desert, where making a bad pitch can offer even scarier results. He profiles as a No. 4 starter.
Cordier drew some first-round interest before going in the second round in 2004, becoming the highest-drafted player out of Wisconsin since the Angels selected Jarrod Washburn 31st overall nine years before. Cordier has a ceiling as a No. 2 starter, but he has pitched just 35 innings as a pro and didn't make it to the mound last season. Knee pain forced the Royals to shut down Cordirer in August 2004, but it subsided after rest. When his knee locked up again, he had surgery that September to clean up abnormal bone formation. Ever enthusiastic, he called Royals officials and trainers nearly every week during the 2005 season seeking medical clearance to pitch again, which he finally received in November. In high school, Cordier exhibited poise, smooth mechanics and the potential for three plus pitches. He works at 90-92 mph and touches 93-94 with his fastball. He throws his changeup with good arm speed, and he can snap off a solid curveball. Cordier would have gone to Idaho Falls in 2005, and could wind up there or in low Class A this year.
A fourth-round pick in June, Dickerson chose a $250,000 bonus over attending Texas. He immediately slapped his name all over the Arizona League's leader boards, ranking first in RBIs and triples, second in extra-base hits, third in hits and fifth in slugging. His offensive accolades were impressive because he entered pro ball known more for his above-average speed and defense. Dickerson didn't disappoint in those areas, either, rating as one of the system's best defensive outfielders because of his ability to get good reads and jumps to cover lots of ground in center field. His only knock as a defender is his below-average arm, which is still playable in center. Dickerson's line-drive swing is quick to the ball, but he swings and misses a lot against breaking balls, something that could improve with experience. He can also be very pull-conscious, a remnant from his since-adjusted high school stance where he stood so close to the plate that his left foot was almost in front of it. He still can smoke fastballs on the inner half, but needs to work on staying back on pitches on the outer half so he can drive them for power. Dickerson's overall approach drew comparisons to that of Mark Kotsay, who played his college ball at Cal State Fullerton, just down the road from where Dickerson grew up in Yorba Linda. Dickerson moves up to Idaho Falls for 2006.
With five tools that all rate at least average, Duarte stands at the front of a nice collection of young Latin outfielders (Alvi Morel, O.D. Gonzalez) who debuted in the Arizona League in 2005 and shared time with Joe Dickerson. Duarte looks young but his skills are advanced. He needed only one year at the Royals' Dominican academy before his game and his English were ready for a U.S. league. Royals instructors say they can tell when Duarte takes batting practice because the ball sounds different coming off his bat. He has big power but his swing tends to get long, especially when he's expecting a fastball in an advantageous count, but he has plenty of time to work that out. Duarte played mostly left field in 2005, but rates as an above-average defender with the arm to play right field and the speed to play center. That versatility will serve him well as he plays multiple outfield positions in Idaho Falls this year.
A 43rd-round pick by the Blue Jays out of high school in 2002, Nicoll improved his draft stock 40 rounds after three years at UC Irvine. He went 6-4, 2.50 with a 113-24 strikeout-walk ratio in 112 innings as a junior, beating Jays first-rounder Ricky Romero and then-No. 1 Cal State Fullerton in one start and holding Arizona's powerful offense hitless for six innings in another. Signed for $445,000, Nicoll doesn't offer a dominant pitch, but he succeeds with above-average command, feel and confidence. His fastball usually operates in the high 80s, but he throws it to both sides of the plate and keeps it knee-high nearly all the time. His slider and changeup are average, though he'll need one to improve if he's going to be anything more than a long reliever. The Royals took Nicoll for his polish and believe he'll move quickly through a system thin on advanced pitching talent. He could jump to high Class A to begin his first full season.
Scouting director Deric Ladnier spotted Kaaihue on a 2001 scouting trip to Hawaii to watch Bronson Sardinha and Brandon League. They went in the first two rounds that year, and the Royals took Kaaihue in the 15th round in 2002. His father Kala was a longtime minor league catcher who topped out in Triple-A during the mid-1970s, and his brother, also named Kala, is a catcher in the Braves system. Kila always had shown lots of raw power and a patient approach, but before 2005 he had a timid swing geared more toward not striking out than packing a punch. The Royals urged him to remain disciplined while attacking the pitches at which he chose to swing. Kaaihue did just that and enjoyed his best season yet. A pitcher and quarterback in high school, he has a strong arm and decent hands at first base, but he leaves a lot to be desired in terms of speed and range. He has earned a shot at Double-A this year.
Fisher didn't draw a lot of attention from scouts because he doesn't have overpowering stuff, but the Royals took him in the seventh round last June and signed him for $130,000 because they liked his mature approach and his polish. Those attributes allowed him to succeed right away in the Arizona League at age 17. Fisher ranked third in the AZL in strikeouts by attacking hitters aggressively and demonstrating a feel for throwing the right pitch at the right time. His fastball works at 87-91 mph with good sinking action, and his easy delivery makes it deceptive because it gets on hitters quicker than they expect. He could pick up more velocity as he fills out. Fisher registered most of his strikeouts with a 12-to-6 curveball that he regularly throws for strikes. He also uses a changeup that still needs more work. Slated for Idaho Falls in 2006, he could shoot up this list if he continues to succeed.
The Royals used the first pick in the major league Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings to take White Sox lefty Fabio Castro, whom they traded to the Rangers in a prearranged deal for German. He was the Athletics' 2001 minor league player of the year, but never could win a regular job with Oakland. He signed with Texas as a minor league free agent after the 2004 season. German excels at getting on base via his line-drive bat, patient eye and bunting ability, posing a career .404 OBP in the minors. He also has plus speed and has led his leagues in steals three times, including the Triple-A Pacific Coast League last year. He has little power but recognizes that and focuses on putting the ball in play. German's lack of defensive skills have hurt his ability to stick in the majors. His below-average arm makes second base his best position, and he lacks a quick first step, so he possesses just average range despite his speed. He played four different positions in 2005, and his best hope to make the Royals may be as a utilityman.
Looking to save money in the 2003 draft, Kansas City selected college seniors with its fifth- through ninth-round picks and signed them for $1,000 each. The best of that group, Aviles won NCAA Division II player-of-the-year honors that spring and the Arizona League MVP award that summer. His uncle Ramon, a former big leaguer, managed the Brewers' low Class A West Virginia affiliate in 2005. The Royals believe Aviles can develop into a solid utility player similar to Jose Hernandez. Aviles rarely misses a fastball and has average power for a middle infielder. He usually makes solid contact, though he doesn't walk much. Breaking balls can give him trouble, as he often fails to recognize them and can't lay off them. Defensively, Aviles doesn't offer enough range or consistency (he made 41 errors in 2005) to win an everyday job, but he'd be a fine fit as a utility player capable of playing any infield spot and offering some pop. He has hit at each level, and there's no reason to think he won't play well enough at Triple-A this year to merit a late look in Kansas City.
Signed following a tip from a former junior college teammate of farm director Shaun McGinn, Lisson quickly became one of general manager Allard Baird's favorite prospects for his athleticism and raw tools. Lisson has grown from a skinny kid with long arms and a high waist into a very physical player. His 2005 season ended in July when he tore the labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder while diving for a ball. When he played, he again showcased a patient approach to go with above-average speed and basestealing savvy. There's still hope that Lisson's above-average raw power will translate into homers, but he didn't get enough time last year to adjust a mechanical flaw. He often tucks in his front shoulder while awaiting a pitch, limiting his bat speed and power. He also strikes out in bunches and must be careful not to fall behind in the count because he's taking too many pitches. A plus arm and soft hands make Lisson a solid third baseman, though 2005 first-round pick Alex Gordon has now laid claim to that position. Lisson also has played catcher, first base and shortstop in the minors. He could return to low Class A to begin 2006.
The Rule 5 draft proved one of few areas of success for the Royals in 2005. Andrew Sisco, taken in the major league phase, earned a regular role in the bullpen in 2005 and for the future. Demaria, plucked from the Pirates with the first Triple-A pick, became the only player selected in the minor league phase to reach the majors last year. Demaria's 2.23 ERA for High Desert (including 1.11 at home) was the best of any pitcher who worked at least 50 innings at the launching pad. Demaria's success stems from commanding a straight changeup that rates as the best in the organization. It's so effective because he throws it with the exact arm speed he uses with his 88-mph fastball. Demaria commands those two pitches well, and has a usable breaking ball he can mix in if he's becoming too predictable. He'll probably open the season in Triple-A.
Atencio knew nothing but success as an amateur, winning consecutive New Mexico 5-A state titles at Albuquerque's El Dorado High before helping Lamar (Colo.) Junior College reach the 2002 Junior College World Series. At Lamar, he and the White Sox' Brandon McCarthy served as co-aces. While McCarthy excelled immediately in the minors, Atencio struggled. He got hammered in his pro debut in the short-season Northwest League, earning a demotion to the Arizona League in 2003. He led the low Class A Midwest League with 14 losses in 2004. Atencio seemed more comfortable when he moved to the bullpen full-time last season. His statistics weren't extraordinary, but his fastball jumped to 94-96 mph with heavy sink when he worked in shorter stints. Atencio also throws a slider that reaches the upper 80s, and his power two-pitch combo could take him to the majors if he can improve his command. His biggest problem is that he gets offline to the plate with his mechanics and fails to finish his pitches. He leaves fastballs above the belt too often, and move advanced hitters will punish them. He'll head to Double-A this season.
Kansas City selected Campbell and J.P. Howell two picks apart at Nos. 29 and 31 in 2004, but their career arcs have been vastly different. Howell won his major league debut June 11, less than a year after signing, while Campbell made just two starts after that date before having season-ending labrum surgery. The Royals believe Campbell threw too many curveballs at South Carolina, where he pitched the Gamecocks to three College World Series in his three seasons, but don't think that's totally to blame for his shoulder troubles. Campbell should be ready for spring training, though he might need some time to regain his arm strength after surgery. Signed for $1.1 million, he hasn't displayed consistent velocity as a pro because of his shoulder problems. His fastball has topped out at 92 mph but also peaked at 82 on other occasions. When healthy, he features a fastball with average velocity, plus command and tailing life away from righthanders. His curve's big 2-to-7 break makes it a plus pitch. His changeup has the potential to become an average offering. The Royals selected Campbell for his polish and poise, thinking he'd move quickly. That won't happen now, and he won't start 2006 above high Class A.
Averaging 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings in NCAA Division II three years ago got Hughes drafted. Opening 2004 with eight no-hit innings got him noticed. But spending 2005 in High Desert's notorious Mavericks Stadium got him scared. He must locate his fastball early and down in the zone to have success, and he fell behind too often. His forte is working both sides of the plate with an 84-90 mph fastball that's average at best. When he didn't locate his pitches well--and sometimes even when he did--opponents teed off, causing Hughes to lose his confidence. An elbow sprain ended his season in mid-July, and in retrospect, it might have been just as well to get him out of High Desert. Hughes likes to work inside and throws a quick, tight cutter as his go-to pitch. He also has a changeup and relies on mixing his pitches, speeds and location. The Royals think Hughes can bounce back this year in Double-A, where his success will determine whether he has a future as a No. 5 starter or just as a lefty specialist.
Raglione's numbers weren't pretty after he signed as an 18th-round pick in June, but his projectable frame makes him worth keeping an eye on. He played at the Metro Baseball Academy in Portland, Ore., which also produced Indians first-round pick Trevor Crowe, and would have gone in the first 10 rounds if not for a commitment to Washington State. Raglione is an athletic 6-foot-5, 195-pounder with a clean arm stroke. His height creates a steep downward plane for a fastball that currently sits at 88-89 mph and tops out at 92. Once he grows into his body, he could pitch in the low to mid-90s. Raglione's secondary pitches are still works in progress. His changeup rates as his second-best offering now, but his slider could surpass it once it becomes tighter and more consistent. He'll flash an above-average slider and follow it up with one well below average. Raglione will need time to develop, but the Royals are willing to wait for what could become an impressive payoff. He'll likely start 2006 in the Idaho Falls rotation.
A 43rd-round choice of the Blue Jays in 2000 out of high school in Mississauga, Ontario, Kniginyzky took a circuitous route to the Royals. He pitched at Lake City (Fla.) Community College and at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Junior College (where he came down with elbow tendinitis) before transferring to High Point University. After two years as a starter for the Panthers, he found his niche in the bullpen last spring. When Kansas City took him in the 23rd round, he became the first player drafted out of High Point since 1991. At 6-foot- 5, he gets an excellent downhill plane on a 90-94 mph fastball and also throws a hard curveball. He rarely uses his changeup in games, though it does have some potential. His key will be repeating his delivery. At different times, he'll throw across his body, fly open or drop his arm slot. The Royals may use him as a starter in low Class A this year to get him more innings, but they project him as a late-inning reliever.