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Moustakas stepped into the spotlight during his junior season, when he set the Chatsworth (Calif.) High single-season home record with 14 as a somewhat pudgy 5-foot-11, 175-pounder. Moustakas tightened his physique before his senior season and hit a state-record 24 homers, upping his career total to 52--another California mark. His performance earned him Baseball America's High School Player of the Year award and consensus acclaim as the best hitter available in the 2007 draft. After almost backing away because of signability concerns, the Royals chose him with the No. 2 overall pick. Chatsworth third baseman Matt Dominguez, went 10 choices later to the Marlins, making them the sixth pair of high school teammates to go in the first round of the same draft. Kansas City didn't sign Moustakas until just before the Aug. 15 deadline, when it gave him a $4 million bonus that matched the club record established by Alex Gordon in 2005. Agent Scott Boras said he thought Moustakas was worth considerably more and advised his client to attend Southern California rather than turning pro. Though he didn't come cheap, the Royals believe they locked up a future middle-of-the-order hitter, though perhaps not a middle infielder. But they will allow him to begin his pro career as a shortstop. He's the nephew of former Mets hitting coach Tom Robson. There are few holes in Moustakas' offensive game. He has a short, quick swing that he repeats easily, plus an advanced approach for his age. He lets the ball travel deep into the strike zone before cutting loose, and it jumps off his bat to all fields. In his first pro at bat, he drove a two-strike pitch for an opposite-field double. He shows off tremendous bat speed and strength and simply has the look of a major league hitter. Assistant general manager Brian Murphy compared Moustakas' Major League Scouting Bureau video to a hitting clinic in which he did everything correct. A mature hitter, he already stays back on offspeed pitches. Also a quarterback and a pitcher in high school, Moustakas has good athleticism, average speed and some baserunning aptitude. He was clocked throwing as hard as 98 mph off the mound--he also flashed a two-plane slider--and that arm strength is an asset at shortstop. He has sure hands and makes accurate throws. He has tremendous makeup and understanding of the game. Moustakas projects to be too bulky to stay at shortstop. He's still filling out and his range is already less than ideal for the position. His best position might be third base, though that's currently occupied by Gordon in Kansas City. Some clubs were intrigued by the possibilities of making him a catcher, but that would delay the arrival of his bat in the major leagues. Right field is another possibility. His positioning and instincts will determine how long Moustakas stays at shortstop. After dominating in high school, he sometimes got frustrated with any lack of success during his brief pro debut. The only thing that will slow Moustakas' ascent to the big leagues is finding him a defensive home. He'll stay at shortstop this year at low Class A Burlington. His athleticism and arm strength will make switching positions easy when that time comes. His bat will play anywhere on the diamond.
Cortes has passed lefty Tyler Lumsden as the best prospect the Royals received from the White Sox in the Mike MacDougal trade in mid-2006. No player in the system made a bigger leap in 2007 than Cortes, who has grown an inch and added 20 pounds since changing organizations. He was held back in spring training to work on slowing down the tempo of his delivery and steadily progressed after joining high Class A Wilmington at the end of April. Slowing down Cortes' delivery resulted in his fastball velocity increasing from 89-92 to 93-96 mph, and it seems to jump out of his hand. His heater has late life, currently grades as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale and has the potential to get better. He mixes in a sharp, 12-to-6 curveball that could become a dominant strikeout pitch. For a pitcher of his age and size, he does a good job of throwing strikes. Cortes still has a tendency to be quick in his delivery and will sometimes overthrow his fastball and curveball. He relies heavily on those two pitches and is hesitant to mix in his changeup, which lags well behind in his repertoire. The Royals envision Cortes as a frontline starter and will send him to their new Double-A Northwest Arkansas affiliate in 2008.
Hochevar took a winding path to professional baseball. Selected 40th overall by the Dodgers in 2005, he backed out of a $2.98 million bonus deal that September and showcased himself with a stint in the independent American Association the following spring. The Royals made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2006 and signed him for a $5.25 million big league contract that included a $3.5 million bonus. Hochevar's stuff was impressive in his first full pro season, though he went just 4-9, 4.86 in the minors before getting a September callup. Hochevar pitches off a 92-93 mph fastball that reaches 95 and also mixes in a two-seamer with heavy sink. His big, late-breaking curveball will become an above-average pitch once he shows the ability to command it better. He throws his curve in the mid-80s and can use it to freeze hitters or to bury it in the dirt. He used his slider more when he was in college and still employs it as a chase pitch. Hochevar battled wildness at times in 2007, primarily because of his tendency to spin off the mound toward first base. When he does that, he leaves his pitches up in the strike zone and they flatten out. He largely corrected the problem by the end of the season by focusing on landing in line with the plate. His changeup still needs fine-tuning. Armed with a five-pitch arsenal, Hochevar needs to improve his command to become a frontline starter. His performance in spring training will determine whether he opens 2008 in Kansas City or Triple-A Omaha.
Buckner is the most advanced pitcher in the system, yet where he fits remains a bit of a question. He made 12 relief appearances in Triple-A so that he'd be better prepared for a callup, then worked primarily as a starter when he did join the Royals in late August. Like many pitchers getting their first taste of the majors, he didn't challenge hitters as aggressively as he did in the minors. Buckner mixes an 89-92 mph fastball with an above-average knuckle-curve and a changeup that could grade equally high down the road. Buckner's curve is his go-to pitch. He shows good arm action with his changeup, which he also uses as a strikeout pitch. When he's going good, he gets ahead with an easy twoseam fastball that has some sink or a four-seamer that moves away from righthanders to setup his offspeed pitches. His mechanics are sound. Buckner relied too much on his curve in college, and as a result he has an underdeveloped fastball. He needs better command of his heater to reach his potential. He didn't establish his curveball and changeup in the majors as well as he did in the minors. At times, he tries to be too fine with his pitches. Buckner projects as a possible No. 3 starter if he can refine his fastball command. The Royals would like him to earn a big league rotation job in spring training.
Wood missed the first half of 2007 after having surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back but made up for lost time with a stellar second half. Wood described the operation as instant relief, and he improved with seemingly every start. His success carried over to Hawaii Winter Baseball, where he went 2-1, 3.55 with 57 strikeouts in 33 innings. Wood throws a heavy 94-95 mph fastball with some natural bore and an above-average curveball with true 12-to-6 break. He gained velocity on his fastball last year after learning not to overthrow it. He continues to improve an average changeup with good action down in the zone. Mechanics continue to be Wood's biggest obstacle. Though he doesn't rely on blowing the ball past hitters as he did in 2006--which caused him to hurry his delivery--he still needs to improve his balance and trust that he has plenty of arm strength and life in his fastball to overwhelm hitters. Once he got going, Wood had the look of a frontline starter, and he should provide a better look at his ceiling with a full season in 2008. He'll start the year in high Class A and figures to get a midseason promotion.
After signing for $365,000 as a third-round pick in June, Duffy couldn't have been more dominant in the Rookie-level Arizona League. He struck out 15.2 batters per nine innings, posted a 1.45 ERA and went 37 innings without allowing a homer. Duffy already has an 89-92 mph fastball that tops out at 95, and he should add more velocity as he develops physically and fills out his frame. His curveball has the potential to give him a second plus pitch, while his slider can become solid-average. He hides the ball well in his delivery. Duffy's mechanics are extremely raw and hamper his command. He struggles at times to get extension in his delivery and to repeat his arm slot. He also has a tendency to rush toward the plate. His curveball remains inconsistent, and he doesn't have much of a changeup. Duffy should fit in the middle of a major league rotation, though not any time soon. He could open the season in low Class A but will be held back in extended spring training if he struggles in minor league camp.
After an impressive spring training that prompted some consideration for Rosa to break camp with the big league club, the Royals sent him to high Class A with the intention of promoting him in June. But he needed just four starts before it became apparent he was ready for a new challenge in Double-A. He has made a full recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2004. Rosa's fastball operates at 93-95 mph and touches 97, and it seems quicker because he has such an effortless delivery. His heater has late arm-side run, and he backs it up with a sharp curveball and a changeup. Both are effective secondary pitches, though he trusts his curve more. By focusing on pitching down and away, Rosa has developed a hesitancy to work inside on hitters. More advanced hitters in Double-A took advantage and knocked him around until he made some adjustments in August. He doesn't have much feel for his slider and would be better off just scrapping it. Rosa could make the Royals out of spring training as a reliever, but likely will open 2008 in the Double-A rotation.
Pimentel completed his tour of high Class A with a 2007 stint in the Carolina Leauge. He previously made stops in the Florida State League as a Dodger, and in the California League after joining the Royals in the July 2006 Elmer Dessens trade. Primarily a reliever in 2006, Pimentel pitched almost exclusively as a starter last year. Pimentel has two above-average pitches in a lively 90-93 mph fastball and a changeup with late fade that can be a swing-and-miss pitch. He mixes in an improved curveball that has some sharp, late break. He showed his competitiveness by pitching out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the decisive CL playoff game, though he eventually took the loss. Pimentel's curveball is average at best and he struggles to control it at times. He needs better command, pitches too much to contact and has a bafflingly low strikeout rate for someone with two plus pitches. Pimentel's improving curveball should keep him in the rotation for now, but he may profile best as a late-inning reliever. He'll pitch out of the Double-A rotation in 2008.
The Royals might come away with one of the steals of the 2007 draft after finding Mitchell in the small southern California town of Barstow and signing him for $100,000 as a 14th-rounder. The secret was out once he won the Arizona League ERA title (1.80). Mitchell was able to correct an early tendency of pitching up in the strike zone by getting better extension in his delivery and throwing on more of a downhill plane. Advanced for a high school pitcher, Mitchell locates an 88-92 mph fastball to both sides of the plate and shows an ability to throw it for strike one. He uses his secondary pitches a lot for a young pitcher, including a palm changeup and a curveball with 11-to-5 break when it's on. He hides the ball well with a smooth delivery, similar to Curt Schilling's, which makes it hard for hitters to time his arm speed. Mitchell is still working on feel for his curveball, which has inconsistent trajectory and rotation. He's still figuring out his mechanics and needs to repeat his delivery on a more regular basis. Kansas City is thrilled with Mitchell so far and thinks it could have a future mid-rotation starter. He'll compete with fellow 2007 high school draftees Daniel Duffy and Sam Runion for spots in the low Class A rotation this year.
The first Japanese free agent ever signed by the Royals, Yabuta agreed to a two-year contract worth $6 million in December. He spent his first eight years in Japan as a starter, but found more success when Bobby Valentine moved him to the bullpen in 2004. Yabuta registered 86 holds for the Chiba Lotte Mariners over the past three seasons and drew attention by striking out Alex Rodriguez, Derrek Lee and Johnny Damon during the World Baseball Classic. Royals director of international operations Rene Francisco and special assistant Louie Medina discovered Yabuta while spending considerable time in Japan as part of the team's increased Pacific Rim presence. New manager Trey Hillman, who spent the past five years skippering the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, confirmed their positive reports. Yabuta throws a 90-92 mph fastball and controls the pitch down in the strike zone. His out pitch is a plus changeup with some late fade. It's deceptive because he deploys it with the same arm action as his fastball. He use his changeup and a forkball to keep lefthanders at bay. He throws strikes with ease. Yabuta struggled as a starter because he didn't have a good breaking ball. Coming out of the bullpen, he doesn't use his slider as much. The track record of Japanese relievers in the U.S. majors is strong, but he still has to adjust to big league hitters and an entirely new culture. The Royals will immediately plug Yabuta into their big league bullpen. With David Riske departing as a free agent, Yubota will be the primary setup man for Joakim Soria.
The best athlete in the system, Robinson abandoned a football scholarship to Florida to sign with the Royals for $850,000 in 2006. Speed is Robinson's biggest tool and it is beginning to show on the basepaths. He's a slightly above-average basestealer now but has good instincts and should continue to improve as his timing and jumps get better. He stole 35 bases in 42 attempts in 2007 after being caught 14 times in 34 attempts in 2006. Robinson's ceiling is that of a prototypical leadoff hitter with a little extra pop in his bat, with one Royals official comparing him to a young Kenny Lofton. He's still raw offensively, however, and did not work counts well as the Royals encouraged him to learn to hit the ball first and develop discipline later. He did improve his approach at the plate by spreading out his stance and creating a better base. Robinson is an above-average defender and continues to improve his routes. The team had him play a shallow center field last year to get a better feel for going back on the ball. The Royals believe Robinson has the potential to be a special player and will take their time with his development. He may begin 2008 back in Burlington but should move up to high Class A quickly.
Runion was the first of three consecutive high school pitchers taken by the Royals in the 2007 draft, an indication of the team's commitment to developing young arms. Though outshone by fellow '07 selections Danny Duffy (third) and Matt Mitchell (14th) in the Arizona League last summer, Runion's stuff was better than his lofty ERA indicated. Signed for $504,000 as a second-rounder, he showed one of the better fastballs in the Arizona League, a 90-94 mph offering that jumps on hitters with late life and movement. And he may have more in the tank as he fills out. His secondary pitches remain a work in progress, including a changeup, slider and a sloppy curveball. Runion throws from a three-quarters arm slot and was working in instructional league to get tighter rotation on his offspeed and breaking pitches while maintaining his arm speed. Though his stuff may play better out of the bullpen in the short term, the Royals want to give him a chance to develop his secondary pitches and think he'll have the durability to be a starter. He'll likely join Duffy and Mitchell in the low Class A rotation in 2008.
Lumsden appeared on the verge of the major leagues after a stellar 2006 campaign, and he was the key component of a midseason deal that also brought Daniel Cortes from the White Sox for Mike MacDougal. But he unraveled last season, frustrating team officials by occasionally showing off the best stuff in the system but often struggling with his command. Lumsden has an easy and seemingly effortless delivery. His fastball clocks at 91-92 mph, and he has a legitimate 12-to-6 curveball and a changeup that he can throw for strikes. Locating his pitches on a consistent basis was a challenge last season, however, particularly his fastball. He also was hesitant to throw his fastball inside to righthanders. In general he was too concerned with strikeouts and didn't pitch enough to contact. While he missed all of 2005 after arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, Lumsden has shown no ill effects and his mechanics are fine. His command should improve as he matures. Lumsden will be a longshot to make the major league rotation out of spring training, but Kansas City did put him on the 40-man roster in November.
Dayton Moore made his focus on developing pitchers obvious from the time he took over as Royals general manager, and one of his first deals was getting Johnson and Odalis Perez in July 2006 for Elmer Dessens. After struggling in high Class A in 2006, Johnson spent all of last season with Wilmington and saw his ERA dip from 6.19 in six May starts to 1.40 in 26 innings in August. He corrected a flaw in which he collapsed a little in the back of his delivery, resulting in his arm slot getting too low and his pitches flattening out. By staying taller in his delivery he got more leverage and threw on more of a downhill plane, adding velocity to a 92 mph fastball that now reaches 94 and has improved by a full grade from 2006. Johnson mixes in a mid-70s curveball with good downward bite and an improving changeup with late sink that he throws with good arm action. Johnson can still be inconsistent with his command and struggles when he becomes too reliant on his curveball. He's ready to make the jump to Double-A.
For the second straight year, Braun overwhelmed minor league hitters with an arsenal that features a fastball that reaches 97 mph, a top-to-bottom curveball and a low-90s, late-breaking slider. He still has yet to translate that success to the major leagues, however, and he struggled after making the team out of spring training and again in a late-July callup. His major league ERA is a full four runs higher than his minor league mark. Command in the strike zone and overall inconsistency have been at the root of his problems. He can bury hitters by keeping his pitches down in the zone one inning and then get hit around by leaving those same pitches up the next inning. Key to his future role will be his ability to stay down in the zone and establish command in the majors, where he had a 24-22 K-BB ratio compared to 36-12 in Triple-A. Control problems have limited his projection. Once considered a closer in the making, Braun now looks more like a setup man.
After getting off to slow starts before making second-half surges in each of his first three full seasons, Lubanski came out swinging last season in his return to the Texas League. A midseason leap to Triple-A was not so smooth, and he once again struggled in unfamiliar surroundings. He didn't fare much better in the Arizona Fall League, hitting just .200/.266/.412, and was left off the 40-man roster. Lubanski has long boasted one of the smoothest swings in the Royals system and has continued to add power as he filled out, though at the cost of speed. He showed an improved ability to drive the ball to all fields last season and better plate discipline. Lubanski now bears little resemblance to the speedy center fielder the Royals selected fifth overall in 2003. His bulk has pushed him to left field, where he's an average defender at best, and he's no longer a threat on the basepaths. Always trying to improve with a tireless work ethic, he also tends to doubt himself when things go wrong and guesses at the plate rather than trusting his swing. He should improve upon last year's performance while repeating Triple-A and make his major league debut.
Huber missed significant time for a second straight season, leaving Royals officials to ponder numbers that would project to 30-plus home runs over a full season. A productive enough player at the plate, Huber remains on the prospect map despite not really profiling anywhere with the Royals after a third season in Triple-A. Knee injuries forced him from behind the plate after he was acquired from the Mets in 2004. He split time last season between right field and first base but is not great at either position. He has plenty of arm to play either corner outfield position but lacks instincts. He showed improved footwork and a better understanding of first base, and that could be where he ultimately lands. It's Huber's bat that will determine his big league success. One team official compared him to a Matt Diaz, a player without an obvious position who can hit .300 with power if given 300 at-bats. Huber has good strike-zone discipline and drives the ball to all fields and would be a DH candidate if Billy Butler could play first base. Out of options, Huber needs to make the big league club out of spring training or else be exposed to waivers.
Expectations have dipped for Bianchi since back and shoulder injuries spoiled a sparkling pro debut in 2005. Once compared to Michael Young and expected to shoot through the farm system, Bianchi had mixed results in his first full professional season after missing most of 2006 due to labrum surgery. The Royals held him back in spring training to keep him out of cold weather in the Midwest League, and by season's end he started to show the form team officials once considered the best offensive approach they had seen by a high school player. He has a tendency to get out on his front foot too much, but can have a short, explosive swing when he lets the ball travel deep into the zone. Bianchi didn't hit his first home run until July and didn't show much power in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League, though he did hit .330 over 91 at-bats in August and September and hit in 12 of his first 13 games in Hawaii Winter Baseball. Bianchi has a strong enough arm to play shortstop and has average range. Injuries have sapped some of his flair and confidence since he was first drafted, and his long-term future may be at second base. Going into spring training, he'll compete with fellow prospect Chris McConnell for the shortstop gig in high Class A.
Fisher didn't get a lot of attention as an amateur because he didn't have an overpowering fastball, but he drew attention in his first two seasons in the organization with strong performances. He made just nine appearances for Burlington in 2007, however, before being shut down with a strained rotator cuff. The Royals had high hopes for him after he won the strikeout title in his second season in the Arizona League in 2006, and because of his youth they expect him to bounce back this season. Fisher features a 90-92 mph fastball that plays up because of his deceptive delivery, to the point that teammates have labeled it the "invisi-ball." He keeps his front side closed and the ball behind him for a long time, making it difficult for hitters to time him. He mixes in an average curveball that he can spot well, and a changeup that he still needs improvement. The team is eager to see how he fares against higher-level hitters, but he'll go back to low Class A to start 2008.
The Mets had visions of the next Tom Glavine when they drafted Musser with the 73rd overall pick in 1999, but a variety of injuries and control problems limited his development and they finally released him following the 2005 season. The Royals signed Musser following his brief stint with the Diamondbacks and moved him to the bullpen, a role in which he has thrived. His strong 2006 Arizona Fall League performance prompted Kansas City to add him to the 40-man roster. Musser earned big league promotions three times in 2007, the last ending when he broke his right hand punching a chair in the clubhouse after giving up a game-winning run. He recovered in time to help Team USA win gold in the World Cup. Rather than focus on conserving energy as a starter, Musser lets it all out in each relief appearance and has seen his fastball velocity increase from 88-92 mph to 92-95. Musser dominated as a Triple-A reliever and didn't give up an earned run until his 27th appearance. He pitches exclusively out of the stretch and displays a lively fastball that tails late from a three-quarters arm slot. His go-to pitch is a slider that has some width and depth and that he can control down in the zone. He's added a cut fastball and his changeup is serviceable. Musser should make the big league team out of spring training as the first or second reliever out of the bullpen.
Cruz successfully petitioned the commissioner's office to enter the draft a year early after meeting high school diploma requirements as a 17-year-old home-schooled student. That meant he was late coming onto the draft scene, first drawing wide attention at a May scouting combine in Puerto Rico. Some scouts believed he could be a first- or second-rounder if he had to wait until the 2008 draft, so the Royals think he could be a steal after signing him for $125,000. Cruz has the tools to be above-average at the plate and in the field. A converted shortstop, he has a 70 arm (on the 20-80 scouting scale) and soft hands, but needs to improve his first-step quickness. He has the swing and power potential that draw comparisons to Carlos Beltran, with tremendous bat speed from both sides of the plate, projectable power and a smooth swing with some natural loft. He generates his power from a strong lower half, and as his upper-body fills out he should show it more in games. Cruz is raw and often struggles with plate discipline and pitch selection, and can look like a different player from one pitch to the next. The Royals consider his time on the practice field and with hitting instructors as valuable as at-bats at this point, and he'll stay in extended spring training before reporting to a short-season affiliate.
The athletic outfielder doubled as a wide receiver/kickoff return specialist for Mercyhurst's football team before matching the school's single-season hits record (74) while slugging .689 in the spring. One of several speedy outfielders selected by the Royals in the 2007 draft, Lough went in the 11th round and signed for $49,500. He's a well-above-average runner with a promising, though raw, approach at the plate. His impressive pro debut was slowed by a hamstring strain that factored in his stealing just six bases in seven attempts. He showed a consistent lefthanded swing path with raw power potential. He was a little too pull-conscious, but when he stayed back on the ball he showed power to the opposite field with backspin and carry. Lough has the speed to bat leadoff but could move down the lineup as his power develops. He was more polished in center field, where he showed plenty of range and an above-average arm. Lough will compete with fellow rookie outfielders Patrick Norris and Adrian Ortiz for a spot in the high Class A lineup.
Maier has been able to match the offensive promise of his professional debut following his first-round selection in 2003. And after playing catcher and third base early in his pro career, Maier has emerged as a steady defensive center fielder. But he has not been consistent enough at the plate to settle the question of whether he's more than a fourth outfielder. He worked with Omaha hitting coach Terry Bradshaw to get his hands in a better load position. The change--he now has the bat off his left shoulder when it was previously wrapped with the barrel pointed to center field--has helped him get ready to hit and shorten a swing that tended to get a little long. He hovered around .300 for most of the season before an August slump in which he hit just .222. He still strikes out too much, but the organization may accept that as part of his profile. Maier has defensive instincts, gets good reads on balls, and has enough arm to play any outfield position. Though not a basestealer, Maier has average speed and is a competent baserunner. A hard worker with good makeup, he'll have a shot to make the big league club out of spring training.
The Royals were too late finding McConnell in 2004 to send a crosschecker to see him. Instead area scout Sean Rooney borrowed a home video of McConnell's at-bats filmed by his mother, and team officials were impressed enough to give him a bargain bonus of $40,000. The team thought it had a steal after McConnell's tremendous pro debuts in 2004 and '05, but then tinkered with his awkward swing and McConnell responded by hitting just .211 in 2006. He may have turned the corner in re-establishing himself at the plate last season despite hitting just .233. McConnell's defense is what will get him to the big leagues, and the Royals would like to see him take a more conservative approach at the plate to help his advancement, learning to hit behind runners and bunt. While he has some power for a player his size, his swing gets a little long and he needs to stay on top of the ball. Defensively, McConnell could be ready for the big leagues. He has a plus arm that has improved significantly since he was drafted, and he can throw from three different angles. He has above-average range and made just three errors in Wilmington after his promotion. He split time at short with Bianchi in low Class A and the two will compete for the job in high Class A this year.
Duarte stole more than 30 bases for the second consecutive season and turned in his most consistent season at the plate as a professional, earning recognition from the organization as the top position player on the Wilmington squad. Duarte has a quick bat and a good path to the ball but needs to improve his plate discipline and pitch recognition. Thin and lanky with a physique that draws comparisons to Doug Glanville, Duarte is still developing physically and does not project to hit for much power. He has above-average speed, though not considered a burner, and is an advanced basestealer. His speed translates best in center field, where he has above-average range and is an instinctive defender who gets jumps and reads on balls. Duarte ranks as the best defensive outfielder and has the best outfield arm in the system, and is advanced enough to fill the position in Kansas City. Duarte's future depends on his development at the plate. He'll begin next season in Double-A.
After a pair of standout seasons in the Rookie-level Arizona and Pioneer leagues, Dickerson made a fine full-season debut as a 20-year-old, ranking among the Midwest League leaders in batting. An early-season adjustment, in which Dickerson steadied his base by correcting a tendency to move his feet in the batter's box, paid off when he batted .302 after the all-star break. The adjustment allowed him to use his hands better and turn on balls on the inside half of the plate. He has average to above-average speed but is not an advanced basestealer, indicated by being caught 13 times in 39 steal attempts. Dickerson is still filling out and his power numbers should improve over time. Where Dickerson fits in the outfield is a question. He may not have the speed and range for center field and would need to develop significantly more power at the plate to stick at a corner outfield spot. Dickerson has drawn comparisons to Brad Wilkerson as a potential corner outfielder who can play center, and he will begin 2008 in high Class A.
Hayenga was considered among the top high school pitchers in Washington before tearing his labrum sliding into third base last spring. Washington State still considered him one of its most important signings in years, but the Royals went well above the slot recommendation for picks after the fifth round with a $300,000 bonus to lure him away from college. A good athlete who led his high school basketball team in scoring and rebounding, Hayenga has a projectable body and was considered an early-round pick before the injury. He throws a lively 88- 92 mph fastball and mixes in an average sweeping curve with good deception and late bite that could develop into a plus pitch. His changeup is a work in progress. The Royals have been impressed with his makeup and dedication to his offseason rehab program and he'll likely make his pro debut in short-season ball.
Hughes tossed a complete-game win at an NCAA Division II regional in his collegiate finale and combined on a no-hitter in his full-season debut in 2004, retiring 22 consecutive batters for Burlington. Since then he's had to battle to keep his career going. Hughes missed 2006 after undergoing Tommy John surgery at the end of 2005, but he rebounded in 2007 with his best pro season. He was named Double-A Wichita's pitcher of the year and went 1-0, 2.45 in the Arizona Fall League. The Royals did not protect him on the 40-man roster, however. Hughes mixes an average 88-91 mph fastball with a plus changeup that is equally effective against lefties and righties. He's still working to establish a reliable breaking ball. Hughes may profile best as a reliever, but the Royals plan to keep him in the rotation next season, beginning in Triple-A.
The former Division II player of the year has moved level-to-level through the Royals system after signing for $1,000 out of the 2003 draft, part of an organization cost-cutting effort that focused around drafting college seniors. Aviles has always displayed a short, compact swing and quick bat, and turned in his best year as a professional in his second stint in Triple-A. He's a gap hitter with some power who has the potential to balance a big league lineup in a utility role. Though Aviles has plenty of arm to play shortstop, he lacks range and touch for the position and profiles best as an offensive-minded second baseman. The Royals left him off the 40-man roster but still feel he could be a contributor in the big leagues. He'll compete for a major league job in spring training but is more likely headed back for another year in Triple-A, waiting for an opportunity to open up.
Hardy won an Ohio Valley Conference-record 32 games with Austin Peay State and signed with the Royals for $1,000 as a fifth-year senior prior to the 2006 draft. He has continued to win as a professional, leading the Carolina League in victories and innings and ranking second in ERA last season, compiling one of the best seasons of any pitcher in the minor leagues. He succeeds with below-average stuff but with the best control in the system, evidenced by a 91-16 K-BB ratio last season and just 21 walks in 247 career innings. Hardy's fastball sits at just 82-84 mph and tops out at 86. He has plenty of movement on the pitch, locates it to both sides of the plate and has shown he's not afraid to pitch inside with it. He keeps hitters off balance with an above-average changeup with late sink that he uses almost as a variation of his fastball. Hardy's curveball is still developing and is not quite average, but he can locate it on the outer half or throw it as a backdoor pitch. Velocity is Hardy's biggest hurdle in developing as a starter, and how he fares against Double-A hitters this season will be telling. Scouts will always doubt him because his stuff is so short. Though compared by some to Jamie Moyer, Hardy may profile best a lefty specialist out of the bullpen because he may have difficulty making it through a lineup more than once.
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