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A high school basketball, water polo and baseball player who originally went to San Francisco as a third baseman, Zimmer pitched only sparingly in high school and just five innings as a freshman. As a sophomore in 2011, he beat UCLA and No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole with a shutout in the NCAA regional playoffs, then had a strong summer in the Cape Cod League. Zimmer further established himself as one of the top prospects for the 2012 draft with his first outing as a junior, during which he hit 99 mph and started with 22 consecutive strikes. He overwhelmed scouts with his stuff and his athleticism, which runs in the family. His father Eric pitched at UC San Diego, his mother Cathy ran the hurdles at San Diego State and his younger brother Bradley is a Dons outfielder and a prospect for the 2014 draft. The pressure of the spotlight didn't affect Zimmer, as he posted a 3.90 grade-point average while working toward a degree in business administration. Hamstring woes caused his velocity to fluctuate as the draft approached and a predraft physical detected bone chips in his elbow, but that couldn't stop him from becoming the highest draft pick in San Francisco history. Signed for $3 million, he made nine pro starts before having surgery to remove the bone chips. Post-surgical exams showed a healthy elbow ligament, and Zimmer is expected to be at full speed by spring training. Zimmer is a power pitcher with a nasty mound demeanor to match. He consistently sits at 93-95 mph with his four-seam fastball, reaching the upper 90s on his best nights. His heater also has late life and excellent armside run, generating swings and misses. Hitters have trouble making contact with his hammer curveball as well, and it grades as a 70 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale at times. He actually has more confidence in his slider, though it's more of an average offering. Zimmer junked a splitter he threw as a freshman and has developed an erratic but promising changeup with late tumble. It needs work because he didn't need to use it much in college, but it shows flashes of becoming a plus pitch. His natural athleticism and strong lower body bode well for his ability to maintain his delivery and his stuff late into games. Because of his athleticism, his command and his feel for his delivery are much more advanced than would be expected for a pitcher with just two years of experience. He pounds the strike zone with all four of his pitches. The former infielder also fields his position with aplomb. Zimmer fits perfectly with the Royals' organizational philosophies on pitching. They favor four-seam fastballs and curveballs, and he doesn't even throw a two-seamer. Kansas City desperately wanted a frontline starter with top-five picks in 2010 and 2011, and it finally got one in Zimmer. He's likely to start his first full pro season at high Class A Wilmington and should pitch his way to Double-A Northwest Arkansas at some point during 2013. The Royals' offseason makeover of their rotation eases some of the pressure to hurry Zimmer to the big leagues, but his potential as a true No. 1 could force the issue before too long. He could arrive at Kauffman Stadium in 2014.
A three-sport star in high school, Starling turned down a scholarship to play quarterback at Nebraska when the Royals selected him fifth overall and paid him $7.5 million in 2011. He remained in extended spring training at the start of 2012 to retool his set-up and swing, then headed to Rookie-level Burlington. Of the 13 high school first-rounders from 2011, he was one of three who didn't play full-season ball during the year. Starling has well above-average raw power and his speed, center-field defense and arm strength all project as at least plus tools. His ultimate impact will be determined by his bat, however. He's still raw at the plate and swings and misses a lot--he struck out in 35 percent of his at-bats, fifth-worst in the system. He too often drops his bat head during his load, which leads to a long, flat swing. Kansas City is working on having him pull his bat back with his top hand instead of pushing it back with his bottom hand to help him control the bat head better. He also has to improve in recognizing breaking balls. Defensively, he's more advanced than expected and projects as a plus center fielder. Starling's power and speed will allow the Royals to live with some strikeouts, but he still has a long way to go at the plate. He'll advance to Kansas City's new low Class A Lexington affiliate in 2013.
Signed for $28,000 as a 17-year-old with a mid-80s fastball, Ventura quickly blossomed into one of the hardest throwers in the organization. Slated to return to low Class A in 2012, he earned a spot at high Class A during spring training, then merited a Double-A promotion and Futures Game appearance at midseason. Nicknamed "Lil' Pedro" because of his combination of size and velocity, Ventura has a fastball that sits at 94-97 mph and reaches 102. He can throw his curveball for strikes by taking a little off it, or use it as a chase pitch by breaking it off harder. It's a true downer curve that should end up as a plus pitch if he continues to refine it. His changeup has more deception than movement, and he needs to show more trust in it. Ventura still is working to improve his command and control. Some scouts worry that his fastball will lack effectiveness at higher levels because his size doesn't give him much angle or downward plane. Despite Ventura's small stature, Kansas City hopes he can fill one of the holes in their big league rotation, perhaps as soon as mid-2013. His stuff makes him a safe bet to at least be a power reliever.
The brother of big leaguer Emilio Bonifacio, Jorge couldn't be more different from his older sibling. Where Emilio is a light-hitting infielder who stands out for his speed, Jorge is a barrel-chested, power-hitting right fielder. In his first taste of full season ball, he hit .314/.369/.469 in the first half of 2012 as a teenager in low Class A, before slumping and missing much of August with an injured right wrist. Now that Wil Myers is gone, Bonifacio is the best pure hitter in the system. He produces line drive after line drive with quick wrists and plenty of strength in his hands. His swing can get long at times and it isn't picture perfect, but he hasn't had problems catching up to good velocity and he consistently barrels the ball. Unlike many young hitters, Bonifacio already knows that the opposite-field gap is his friend. He also has the strength to produce plus power as he matures, but he'll have to learn to pull inside pitches more frequently. He's an adequate right fielder with plenty of arm for the position, though he figures to slow from his current average speed as he matures and his stocky frame continues to fill out. If he continues to develop, Bonifacio has the tools to become an impact right fielder. He'll head to a more difficult hitting environment in Wilmington in 2013.
The son of 1994 National League rookie of the year Raul Mondesi and the brother of Rays' minor leaguer Raul Mondesi Jr., Adalberto signed with the Royals for a $2 million bonus. Some international scouts didn't think his bat was worth such a hefty price tag, but he has been working to convert the critics. He was the youngest player in the Rookie-level Pioneer League in 2012 and didn't turn 17 until midseason, yet he more than held his own against players three to five years his senior. A switch-hitter, Mondesi has an advanced approach and present gap power. Some scouts project him to have average home run power as he gets older and matures physically. He already has started to fill out and has gotten quicker since signing, becoming an above-average runner. He'll need to improve his plate discipline, but time is on his side. At shortstop, he has excellent instincts, hands so quick that his transfers seem like a blur, and a strong arm. He made 23 errors in 47 games in 2012, the result of his youth and ability to get to balls that other shortstops can't reach. Mondesi should be the youngest player in full-season ball in 2013, when he'll play in Lexington. If he advances one level a year, he could still get to Kansas City at the age of 21.
Selman totaled just 12 innings as a freshman and sophomore at Vanderbilt because of control problems, and he was demoted to a midweek starter as a junior when they persisted. He recovered, returned to the weekend rotation in May and pitched his way into the second round of the 2012 draft. The Royals signed him for $750,000 and then watched him lead the Pioneer League with 89 strikeouts despite falling one inning short of qualifying for the ERA title. Even as a 160-pound high school senior, Selman could touch 94 mph. Now that he's a much more robust 195-pounder, he sits at 90-95 mph and peaks at 98. He also snaps off a nasty slider at times, giving him the potential for two plus pitches. His changeup is fringy at best. He showed improvement with his control as a pro, but it's still a concern. He has a wrap in his arm action that inhibits his ability to repeat his release point and secondary pitches. Once projected as a power lefty out of the bullpen, Selman now has a realistic chance at becoming a mid-rotation starter. He'll open his first full season at one of Kansas City's Class A affiliates, with his ability to find the strike zone dictating how quickly he advances.
Known as Paul Carlixte before teams discovered that he and his brother had swapped identities, Calixte signed with the Royals in 2010 after they had scouted him for more than three years. The questions about his identity didn't cost him much, as he still signed for $1 million. After he struggled in an aggressive assignment to low Class A in 2011, he showed better feel at the plate and thrived after a midseason promotion to high Class A in 2012. Calixte has more power and hitting ability than the average shortstop prospect. Wilmington's tough hitting environment kept his home run numbers down after his promotion, but Calixte has average power to go with a solid bat. He has yet to show the patience to draw walks, as he's aggressive early and late in the count. With good range, excellent hands and a strong arm, he is a solid to plus defender at shortstop. He played some third base in the Arizona Fall League, but shortstop is his long-term home. Calixte's impressive second half in Wilmington gives him a chance to play in Double-A at age 21. Kansas City has several legitimate shortstop prospects, and he's the closest to the big leagues.
A native of suburban Kansas City who had played at Kauffman Stadium while in high school, Adam lasted five rounds in the 2010 draft because of his up-and-down senior season and commitment to Missouri. Signed for a well above-slot $800,000, he opened eyes by touching 98 mph in instructional league shortly after signing. He hasn't shown the same velocity during his two pro seasons. Adam usually works at 90-92 mph and occasionally hits 94 with his fastball. While he has had some success, the Royals aren't ready to give up on finding that lost velocity. They believe he needs to return to the bigger hip turn and higher leg kick he showed in high school, instead of the more tall-and-fall delivery he has used as a pro. He had trouble repeating his high school mechanics, so returning to them could detract from his command, which has been better than expected. Adam's below-average curveball needs more bite, though he controls it well. His changeup is also below-average because he struggles to maintain his usual arm speed. Adam will make the jump to Double-A at age 21. How he performs in 2013 will shed light on whether he can be a No. 2 or 3 starter, or more of a back-of-the-rotation option.
The pride of Big Corn Island, a four-square-mile island 40 miles off the coast of Nicaragua, Cuthbert has played in front of minor league crowds larger than the 6,000 people who inhabit his homeland. After a great start in 2011, his production has fallen through the floor. He posted an OPS of .800 or better in his first three months as an 18-year-old in low Class A, but he hasn't topped .710 since. Once a patient hitter, Cuthbert now chases too many pitches out of the zone. His plus power potential stopped showing up in games, as he couldn't get into counts to consistently get pitches to drive. While he has good hand-eye coordination, his bat control needs improvement as he sometimes overswings. At third base, Cuthbert continues to make all the routine plays and occasionally a Web Gem despite below-average speed and quickness. His arm is above-average and the strongest among the system's infielders. Cuthbert does not appear to have any significant mechanical problem with his swing, so the Royals are optimistic that his recent struggles are more a case of being young for his levels. They haven't ruled out promoting him to Double-A to start 2013.
Several prospects will rise two levels in a year, but few covered the amount of distance that Almonte did to pull off his jump in 2012. Signed for $25,000 in 2010, he started last season in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, earned a promotion to the Rookie-level Arizona League, then flew cross-country to Burlington, N.C., for the Appalachian League playoffs. He's still flying under the radar because he has moved so quickly. He's just 19 and has thrown only 27 regular season innings in the United States. Almonte has a good three-pitch mix with a heavy 91-93 mph fastball that touches 96, an average changeup and an inconsistent curveball. He does show feel for spinning for the ball, so he could have three solid offerings in time. Almonte repeats his delivery well and has shown the ability to diagnose his own mechanical flaws and fix them when they crop up, giving him advanced command for his age. Despite Almonte's inexperience, the Royals think the potential No. 3 starter is ready to handle the jump to low Class A.
Before he blew out his elbow in 2011, Lamb was the Royals' best pitching prospect and a half-season or so away from a big league callup. He strained a lat muscle during spring training that year, and his torn ligament was discovered after he struggled to regain his velocity. He was slated to return to the mound last June, but that was delayed by a bout of tendinitis in his left foot resulting from his running work at the Royals' Arizona training complex. He threw 13 innings over six abbreviated starts before being shut down for the four months of offseason rest that is part of Kansas City's rehab protocol for Tommy John surgery. Lamb has shown signs that he was getting back to full strength, but in those starts a fastball that sat at 90-95 mph before his injury operated at just 85-91. The Royals expect he'll pick up velocity once he gets fully stretched out in 2013. He still possesses the organization's best changeup, and before he got hurt he also had an average curveball to go with excellent command. He was still shaking the rust off his curve when his season ended. Added to the 40-man roster in November, Lamb will return to Double-A to start 2013 and try to get back on the path of becoming a No. 2 starter. If he shows he's fully recovered, he could make his major league debut before the season ends.
The Royals nabbed a pair of high school righthanders with consecutive picks and over-slot bonuses in 2011, but Bryan Brickhouse (third round, $1.5 million) and Smith (fourth, $695,000) couldn't be more different. Where Brickhouse is a big, raw hard thrower, Smith is 5-foot-11, as polished as they come and generally works at 88-91 mph with his fastball. What he lacks in stature and velocity, Smith makes up for with advanced feel for pitching, solid secondary stuff and an athletic, compact delivery that he repeats well. He can handcuff hitters with his plus curveball and average changeup, but he still pitches off his fastball. He changes hitters' eye levels by working up and down, and he is comfortable locating to both sides of the plate. Smith touches 93-94 mph pretty regularly, and some scouts think he could gain a tick more velocity as he matures. Even if his stuff doesn't get firmer, his savvy should help him move quickly. He needed just one start to earn a promotion from Rookie-level Idaho Falls last June, and he's ready for high Class A as a 20-year-old with just 14 pro starts of experience. He has a ceiling of a No. 3 starter.
If Colon had been drafted 20th overall in 2010 he would likely be seen as a safe productive pick. But because he went fourth overall, ahead of pitchers the Royals desperately need such as Chris Sale and Matt Harvey, Colon's steady climb toward the majors has seemed less impressive. Signed for $2.75 million, he was slowed in 2012 by a pair of freak injuries. He missed the Double-A Texas League all-star game and lost six weeks after hurting his foot when he stepped on a bat, then saw his season end three weeks early in mid-August when he fouled off a ball that hit him in the face. The latter injury didn't affect his vision. Colon's eventual move to second base became more obvious once the Royals signed shortstop Alcides Escobar to a long-term deal last March. Colon's tools fit better at second, as his average range is less of an issue there than it is at shortstop. He's average across the board in terms of his bat, speed and arm, with his power projecting as slightly below-average. He controls the strike zone well, and his exceptional instincts help him maximize his physical ability. Scouts from outside the organization expect Colon will end up as a solid utility infielder, but Kansas City still views him as an everyday second baseman and hopes he'll push for the job in late 2013 after more time in Triple-A Omaha.
After bombing with a 6.94 ERA in Double-A in 2011, Joseph just as quickly reversed course last season. Acquired along with righthander J.C. Sulbaran from the Reds in July for Jonathan Broxton, Joseph immediately became the Royals' best lefthanded relief prospect. He filled a void created when Kansas City traded Kevin Chapman to the Astros in March. His stuff rates a tick better than Chapman's, as he pairs a 92-95 mph fastball with a slider that's devastating at times. Joseph's success depends on his delivery. When he overthrows, he opens up too soon, taking away the bite from his slider. But when he stays under control, he's nearly unhittable for lefthanders and is capable of getting righties out as well. Command isn't his strong suit, but he generally throws enough strikes to succeed. Joseph likely will return to Triple-A after joining the Royals' 40-man roster in November. When they need another lefty in their bullpen, his will be the first number they call.
Gallagher's big frame led some scouts to wonder whether he would be able to stick behind the plate as a pro, but the Royals liked his work as a backstop enough to sign him away from East Carolina for an over-slot $750,000 in the second round of the 2011 draft. He went one round earlier than his father Glenn (who reached Double-A) and brother Austin (currently in the Dodgers system). Gallagher missed time last summer with minor hand and shoulder injuries, but otherwise had a solid year at Burlington. He has proven to be a more polished receiver than expected and already shows aptitude for calling a game. He has a strong arm and threw out 26 percent of basestealers in 2012. Though Gallagher has shortened his somewhat lengthy swing, his calling card continues to be above-average power for a catcher. As might be expected, he shows a good understanding of how pitchers are trying to get him out, helping him make consistent contact. He's a well below-average runner. In a system thin on catching prospects, Gallagher stands out as the only one whom scouts project as a big league regular. He'll advance to low Class A this year.
Rated by many clubs as the top international amateur prospect for the 2011 signing period, Hernandez signed for $3.05 million, earning kudos for his impressive bat speed and solid feel for the game. The Royals thought he and fellow 2011 signee Adalberto Mondesi were advanced enough to make their professional debuts at Idaho Falls. Mondesi, the son of a longtime big leaguer, flourished in the challenging environment, but Hernandez struggled to keep his head above water. He struggled to recognize breaking balls and developed bad habits. Where he impressed scouts with his quick wrists as an amateur, he started trying to push balls to the opposite field too often instead of using his bat speed to turn on pitches he could drive. Hernandez is a solid athlete who profiles as a right fielder with the ability to hit for average and power, though his power potential requires a lot of projection for now. He's an average runner with a strong arm. Hernandez is young enough that a return to Rookie ball in 2013 still would get him to full-season ball as a 19-year-old.
The Royals knew the 2011 draft would be the last chance to spend money under less restrictive bonus rules, with a new labor agreement bringing spending restrictions in 2012, so they spent $14.1 million in bonuses. Brickhouse was one of the beneficiaries, getting $1.5 million in the third round to give up his commitment to North Carolina. He throws nearly as hard as former high school teammate Jameson Taillon, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Pirates, though Taillon has better feel and secondary stuff. At his best, Brickhouse has a fastball that touches 95-96 mph with excellent late movement that leads more to weak contact than strikeouts. His breaking ball and changeup are inconsistent, but both show flashes of being plus offerings. His biggest problem is that his command often disappears for batters or innings at a time because he struggles to repeat his delivery. As with many young fireballers, his control will determine his fate. If Brickhouse solves his mechanics, he could be a No. 2 or 3 starter. If not, he'll likely end up as a power reliever. It's possible that he could repeat low Class A at the beginning of 2013 to help build his confidence.
When Baez won his Kane County debut on May 26, it ended quite a drought. He had gone 0-15, 4.90 in 43 previous pro appearances. Obviously a win-loss record doesn't tell much about a young pitcher, but his stuff is much better than his 6-20 career mark would indicate. Baez throws a heavy fastball that sits at 92-96 mph and peaks at 98. His changeup shows the potential to become an average pitch, though his curveball isn't as impressive. It's more of a slurve, and his low arm slot may work better for a slider in the long term. He did a better job of throwing strikes in 2012 but still has room for improvement, especially with his command. Scouts from other teams envision Baez becoming a late-inning reliever, but the Royals see no reason to close the door on starting yet. He'll pitch in their high Class A rotation this year.
Many scouts who saw Lopez in high school liked his glove and feel for the game, but they also saw him as a player who would do well to fulfill his commitment to Miami so he could develop physically before entering pro ball. The Royals decided they were willing to let him mature on their dime, as they signed the 16th-rounder for $750,000 in 2011. The son of Reds bullpen coach Juan Lopez often looked overmatched at the plate during his pro debut last year, mainly because he just didn't have the strength to drive the ball consistently. Lopez has good pitch recognition and a solid approach at the plate, but at this point pitchers can knock the bat out of his hands. He's a solid runner with the instincts to steal a few bases. Lopez has above-average range, soft hands and an adequate arm. If he can get stronger, he could be an everyday shortstop and perhaps hit second in a big league batting order. If not, his feel for the game could make him a useful utilityman.
Signed for $1.1 million in 2010 as part of the Royals' push to fix a gaping hole at shortstop in the organization, Arteaga has impressed with a steady, heady approach since turning pro. Kansas City has other shortstop prospects who can provide more offense, as Arteaga lacks Adalberto Mondesi's pop, Orlando Calixte's strength in his swing, Jack Lopez's feel for the game and Ramon Torres' strike-zone judgment. But when he's standing in the dirt with a glove on his hand, Arteaga is better than any of them. He reads the ball of the bat well and has a decisive first step, which explains how he has plenty of range despite below-average speed. He also has soft hands and an average arm. At the plate, Arteaga is a line-drive hitter who tries to find the gaps. He won't ever offer much power of speed, so any offensive value he provides will come from getting on base. He'll play in low Class A at age 19 this year, likely splitting time at shortstop with Mondesi or Torres.
The Royals believed Dwyer was one of the top lefties in the 2009 draft, paying him a well above-slot $1.45 million in the fourth round as a rare draft-eligible freshman. But after getting his career off to a strong start in 2010, he has gone backward in two seasons since. He had to be shut down in 2012 after a thyroid condition caused him to lose nearly 20 pounds. His normally 90-92 mph fastball dipped to 83-86 in his final start of the season. His condition has since been treated with medication and he's expected to be back to full strength by spring training. Fixing Dwyer's control problems will not be as straightforward. He has yet to repeat his delivery enough to consistently stay ahead of hitters, which means he can't use his 12-to-6 curveball as much as he would like. His breaking ball has been a plus pitch in the past but has regressed since he reached Double-A. He has improved his changeup to the point where it's average. Kansas City protected Dwyer on its 40-man roster in November and is set on giving him more time to develop as a starter. Some scouts believe his command trouble points to a future as a reliever.
If Kansas City didn't have so many interesting shortstop prospects, Torres would get significantly more attention. As it is, he's intriguing but ranks behind Adalberto Mondesi, Orlando Calixte, Jack Lopez and Humberto Arteaga. Torres wore down at the end of each of his first two pro seasons but has added strength and held up better in the Arizona League last year. The Royals have spread him out in his stance, giving him a more balanced swing. A switch-hitter, he has an excellent batting eye and a good two-strike approach. He's a tick above-average as a runner. At shortstop, Torres has average range, soft hands and a plus arm. His on-base skills give him a chance to be a top-of-the-order hitter, but he's a long way from Kansas City and may spend another year in Rookie ball. He may end up moving to second base because of the logjam of shortstops in the organization.
After helping Jefferson (Mo.) CC to back-to-back Junior College World Series appearances. Ford proceeded to show the best raw power Royals scouts had seen in a Kauffman Stadium workout since Wil Myers came to town in 2009. Kansas City took Ford in the seventh round last June and signed him for $125,000, then converted the athletic first baseman to the outfield. He was able to translate his plus-plus raw power into home runs, as he went deep 13 times in 62 pro contests. But he'll struggle to maintain that production at higher levels if he can't close the holes in his long swing. He struck out in 39 percent of his at-bats, the second-worst rate among Royals farmhands. He sells out for power too much and needs to shorten his stride and stay back on pitches. An average runner, Ford played right field in his pro debut, but his below-average arm eventually will push him to left. Kansas City is eager to see how his power will play in low Class A this year.
After six years and 640 games in the minors, Lough finally reached the majors last September. The highest-drafted Mercyhurst player ever, Lough began his college career as a football wide receiver and baseball walk-on before signing for $49,500 as an 11th-round pick in 2007. He became the program's third big leaguer, following John Costello and David Lee. Lough profiles as a tweener in the outfield but has enough tools to serve as a useful backup. He can hit for average and possesses above-average speed and the ability to play all three outfield positions. He makes consistent line-drive contact and employs an all-fields approach. Lough's 35 power on the 20-80 scouting scale isn't enough for him to be a regular on a corner, and he's not good enough defensively to play center field on an everyday basis. His below-average arm is overtaxed in right field. After hitting safely in his final six starts in September, Lough will compete for a reserve role in spring training.
Rodgers confounded scouts when his fastball velocity fluctuated last spring, but the Royals believed in him enough to go well over his assigned pick value in the third round and sign him for $700,000. Kansas City usually breaks draftees in with an Arizona League assignment, but made an exception with Rodgers because of his polish. He had no problem handling older hitters in the Appalachian League, and is 2.05 ERA would have led the circuit if the Royals' strict innings limits hadn't kept him from qualifying. Rodgers' calling cards are guile and deception. He rarely throws back-to-back fastballs at the same velocity. He'll toss his fastball over the plate at 84 mph against the bottom of the order, then run it up to 93 against the cleanup hitter. His delivery shows no more effort when he's pitching at 90-93 mph than it does when he's working at 84-86. It's not an inability to maintain velocity, as he purposefully changes speeds with his fastball. He has the makings of a plus curveball and changeup, with the latter his best secondary pitch during his pro debut. Rodgers could be part of a very interesting Lexington rotation in 2013.
If Binford were a year younger, he'd probably be in college rather than pro ball. He didn't pitch much as a high school junior as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, and he entered 2011 as a raw project at a small Pennsylvannia private school who was strongly committed to Virginia. In the final year before MLB installed stricter draft spending restrictions, the Royals took him in the 30th round and persuaded him to sign for $575,000--something not feasible under the current draft rules. In his 2012 pro debut, Kansas City discovered that Binford was more physical and tougher than they expected. He showed advanced feel for pitching and surprising control, at one point going five straight starts without allowing a walk. Binford gets ahead of hitters with an 89-93 mph fastball with good boring action. He can throw his curveball for strikes in any count, though it's a fringy pitch that's better when it catches hitters off guard. His changeup shows some potential but is further away. Binford lacks much more projection but profiles as a No. 4 starter who could soak up innings. He's ready to make the jump to low Class A.
Another late-round bonus baby from the 2011 draft, Junis received $675,000 as a 29th-rounder to give up a North Carolina State scholarship. He had to be shut down halfway through his 2012 pro debut with an elbow strain, though he didn't require surgery and should be ready for spring training. Also a star basketball player and a power-hitting third baseman in high school, Junis is a quality athlete who has no problem throwing strikes. His long-term success depends in part on how much projection remains in his strong frame. He currently sits at 88-90 mph with his fastball, though some scouts believe he could work at 92-94 once he matures. He shows the ability to snap off a power breaking ball and has an advanced changeup for his age. If he's healthy, he could open 2013 in low Class A.
Much like Royals great Bret Saberhagen did on a much bigger stage, Yambati seems to alternate between good and bad years. In the 1980s, Saberhagen was dominant during odd-numbered seasons and merely adequate in even-numbered years. Yambati has been awful in odd-numbered seasons and intriguing in even-numbered ones. After struggling with his mechanics in 2009, he nearly matched Yordano Ventura pitch for pitch in 2010. But while Ventura successfully made the leap to full-season ball in 2011, Yambati again lost the feel for his delivery, saw his stuff take a step back and posted horrific numbers. He managed to pull it back together in 2012, when he became a full-time reliever. He smoothed out his delivery and regained the velocity on his fastball, which once again sat at 93-95 mph and touched 97. Working out of the bullpen, Yambati has simplified his approach. He largely pitches off his fastball, mixing in an occasional slider that has the potential to be average. He generates strikeouts but must continue to refine his control and command. He could move quickly as a reliever and will battle for a job in Double-A during spring training.
When Eibner came out of Arkansas as a two-way player in 2010, many scouts thought he had more promise as pitcher than as a hitter. He wanted to hit and the Royals liked his potential at the plate, so they gave him $1.25 million in the second round and made him an everyday player. Two pro seasons later, it looks like the scouts who preferred him on the mound were correct. For a player with significant Southeastern Conference experience, he has found it surprisingly difficult to hit minor league pitching. Eibner has batted .203 and struck out 255 times in 196 pro games. His noisy set-up makes it tough for him to catch up to good velocity, and he sometimes swings through hittable pitches. He has some of the best raw power in the system but throws too many at-bats away. A solid runner and center-field defender, Eibner's most usable tool may be his arm. With the Razorbacks, he showed a 92-93 mph fastball that touched 97. He also showed flashes of a plus slider and a developing changeup. He'll continue to try to make it as a hitter in 2013 when he repeats high Class A, but the clamor to see him pitch will get louder and louder unless he starts to have some success.
Now that Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer are in the big leagues and Wil Myers and Clint Robinson have been traded, the Royals don't have many possible big league bats in the upper levels of the system. Fletcher is one possibility, though he'll have to cut down on his strikeouts to allow his plus power potential to play in games. While he has succeeded throughout most of his career with an unconventional front-foot approach because his hands work well, he had problems against more advanced pitching, striking out in 38 percent of his Double-A at-bats last year. The son of former big leaguer Scott Fletcher, Brian will have to produce at the plate because the rest of his tools are lacking. He's a well below average runner with subpar arm strength. He projects as average at best at first base, and his lack of speed limits him in left field. Fletcher's status as a righthanded-hitting first baseman will make his road to the majors tougher, but his power gives him a chance.