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When the University of San Francisco's coaching staff watched Zimmer play third base as a senior at La Jolla (Calif.) High, they noticed his strong arm more than his bat. In fact, his arm impressed them enough that they asked Zimmer to walk on to the club. He moved to the mound as a freshman, joined the Dons rotation as a sophomore and pulled down $3 million as a first-round pick as a junior, going fifth overall to the Royals in the 2012 draft. Zimmer's younger brother Bradley is a junior outfielder for San Francisco, who projects to be a first-round pick in 2014. After a rocky start in 2013--Zimmer logged a 5.98 ERA in 13 first-half starts at high Class A Wilmington--he settled down to dominate over the second half. Shut down right before the season ended with a tight throwing shoulder, he isn't expected to have any long-term problems. Depending on the night, Zimmer can have three above-average pitches, including a fastball that rates near the top of the scale. He sits at 92-96 mph and has touched 100. He'll sometimes start the night throwing 92-94 mph, then steadily add velocity as the game goes along, then add another few ticks on top of that in a key situation. His slider and curveball alternate in effectiveness, with Zimmer often relying more on whichever one he has a better feel for on that night. He's alternated between a conventional and a spike grip on the curveball. Both are above-average at their best, with the slider earning some 70 grades. He showed an improved ability to throw the curve for an early-count strike as the season progressed. Zimmer's changeup is a step behind his breaking pitches. It has some deception because hitters have to gear up for his fastball, but it doesn't have much life. His first-half problems stemmed a bit of bad luck as well as ineffective pitching from the stretch. More than half of all baserunners he allowed scored in his first 14 starts compared to a quarter of baserunners in his final eight starts. A few tweaks to how he broke his hands from the stretch seemed to fix the issue. Even when he was getting knocked out of starts early, scouts pegged Zimmer as one of the best pitching prospects in the minors. He had surgery during the 2012 offseason to remove bone chips in his elbow, so he has some durability questions, but Zimmer has ace potential. He could reach Kansas City at some point in 2014.
Signed for just $28,000 as a short 17-year-old with a high-80s fastball but excellent arm speed, Ventura was touching 100 mph just two years later. His fastball hasn't gained velocity since then, but it comes easier now. Where he once threw with a max-effort delivery, now he tickles triple digits with a natural, easy motion. As Ventura showed in three late-season big league starts, he has one of the best arms in baseball. His fastball sat at 97 mph in those three starts, topping out at 102. Ventura's fastball is a true 80 pitch, but his development as a starter has taken off now that he's refined his curveball into a second plus pitch. It's a tight 12-to-6 breaking ball that he can throw for strikes or bury. Ventura has improved the movement on his changeup to the point where it's an average pitch now that it has late fade. He pitches with a speedy tempo that fits his power approach and does a good job of holding runners. The only remaining red flags with Ventura are his command and his short stature. Ventura throws strikes, but he doesn't always hit his spots. His lack of size leads some scouts to be concerned about his durability, but Ventura threw 150 innings in 2013, and he's been healthy throughout his minor league career. He's ready to battle for a job in the Royals rotation.
The son of longtime big league outfielder Raul Mondesi, Raul Adalberto has grown up around the game and it shows. (His brother Raul Jr. is an outfielder who spent time in the Rays and Brewers systems.) Rarely overwhelmed despite playing against much older competition, Mondesi signed for $2 million in 2011 and has been matching or exceeding expectations ever since. He made his pro debut as the youngest player in the Rookie-level Pioneer League and was the second-youngest player in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2013. Mondesi combines flashes of present brilliance with enticing projection. He will chase pitches out of the zone, but at times he shows solid pitch recognition. He has a pretty simple swing from both sides of the plate and shows no pronounced difference when hitting against lefthanders or righthanders. Long-term, he projects as an above-average hitter with average power. He's gained speed since signing to become a 60 runner. Defensively, Mondesi has fluid actions, above-average range and an above-average arm and is especially good coming in on balls. He committed 30 errors in 2013, split almost evenly between fielding and throwing miscues, but scouts expect him to improve his efficiency. Slated to be that rare 18-year-old in the high Class A Carolina League in 2014, Mondesi is moving fast enough to reach the big leagues just in time to supplant Alcides Escobar in 2017 at the latest.
From the moment the Royals traded away Wil Myers, Bonifacio became the club's best hope for a long-term right fielder. His older brother Emilio joined the Royals in a midseason trade. Jorge's climb was slowed in 2013 by a broken hamate bone he suffered in mid-May, though he showed few ill effects upon returning, earning a quick promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Bonifacio is one of the best pure hitters in the organization. He has a significant hand waggle to start his trigger, but he gets into hitting position quickly, taking a small step for timing, followed by a short, direct swing. He uses the entire field. While Bonifacio projects as an above-average hitter, he may never have more than average power because of his approach. The Royals shortened his stance a few inches during the Arizona Fall League to help him get more leverage in his swing to see if that will lead to more home runs. Bonifacio is a 40 runner who neither helps nor hurts on the basepaths. He's an average right fielder, with his range limited by his speed, but he takes good routes, throws to the right base and has an above-average arm. Bonifacio is expected to start 2014 back at Double-A, but he could see Triple-A Omaha by the middle of the season.
The Royals have developed a pipeline of young Dominican pitchers, starting with Kelvin Herrera and followed by Yordano Ventura and now Almonte, who like his predecessors signed for a bargain price, in his case $25,000. Almonte made the jump to low Class A Lexington just nine months after he was pitching in the Dominican Summer League and performed so well that he earned a spot in the Futures Game. Polished for a 20-year-old with little more than 200 pro innings, he has a smooth, clean delivery, though he is prone to overthrowing. Almonte locates his 90-94 mph fastball, which will touch 97. His mid-80s changeup is above-average as well. Those two pitches were enough to carve up South Atlantic League lineups. He led qualified league starters with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings. He's still working on the feel for his breaking ball and has a tendency to shelve it. Almonte split a fingernail late in spring training, which played a role with him going back and forth between a spike-curve and a more conventional curveball grip. Almonte doesn't have the ceiling of Kyle Zimmer or Ventura, but he could eventually slot behind them as a No. 3 starter. His ability to throw strikes and his advanced understanding of pitching could earn him a challenging assignment to Double-A Northwest Arkansas to begin 2014.
The Royals pulled off the surprise of the 2013 draft when they selected Hunter Dozier, a late-first-round talent, with the eighth overall pick. Their intentions became clear later when they selected Manaea with the 34th pick. He had projected as a potential top-five choice before an injury ruined his junior season at Indiana State. The Royals were confident that the torn labrum in Manaea's hip would not be a long-term problem--it's an injury Jason Vargas and Brett Myers returned from with no issues--so they were willing to spend $3.55 million, using the bonus-pool surplus they built by drafting Dozier. As a junior Manaea went 5-4, 1.47 while ranking fourth in NCAA Division I in strikeouts per nine innings (11.4). In the Cape Cod League in 2012, he threw his fastball at 94-96 mph with an above-average slider, but he was effective as Sycamores ace at 88-92, still managing to deceive hitters because of his fastball's deception and late life. Manaea throws from a low-three quarters arm slot that makes it hard for lefties to pick him up. His changeup is his No. 3 pitch, but it shows potential to be average. His control was above-average. Manaea got on the mound at the end of instructional league and should be ready for spring training. He probably will begin 2014 at high Class A Wilmington.
Thanks in part to a broken collarbone that ruined his junior season, Dozier was lightly recruited coming out of high school. He left Stephen F. Austin after three years as the school's first first-round pick, all-time leader in hits and doubles as well as the highest drafted player in Southland Conference history. The Royals liked Dozier enough to take him eighth overall, believing he wouldn't last until their second pick at No. 34. They signed him for $1 million under slot, freeing money to pursue sandwich pick Sean Manaea. Dozier has an advanced feel for hitting, sorting out pitches early in the count to get into favorable situations, but he's equally comfortable hitting with two strikes. He walked (38) more than he struck out (37) while hitting 30 doubles in just 69 games at Rookie-level Idaho Falls and low Class A Lexington in his debut. Dozier has an above-average hit tool and the potential to have at least solid-average power as well, if some of those doubles begin clearing the fence as he matures. While Dozier was too big to stick at shortstop as a pro, he has plenty of lateral range and an above-average arm that fits well at third base. He's an average runner. Dozier is advanced enough to jump right to high Class A Wilmington in 2014. He could be in Double-A Northwest Arkansas by the end of the year and challenge Mike Moustakas for the third base job shortly thereafter.
As a high school star in Gardner, Kan., everything came easy to Starling. He showed NCAA Division I ability in football, basketball and baseball. He turned down a chance to be Nebraska's quarterback to sign with the Royals for $7.5 million as the fifth overall pick in 2011. Professional baseball has proven more of a challenge, though Starling did improve his contact rate significantly after mid-May laser eye surgery. He has above-average speed, is a plus center fielder and has an above-average arm. But none of that will matter if he doesn't improve his feel for hitting. The Royals spread out Starling's stance early in his pro career, but have now moved his feet back together to improve his timing. With the wide stance and a small toe tap, he struggled to get his legs involved in his swing, and a torso-turn as part of his load made it hard to properly time pitches. Starling has enough bat speed that he is rarely late on pitches, but when he doesn't get the timing of his front foot and hands in sync, he often rushes the bat through the zone, rolling over outside pitches. He has decent pitch recognition skills and draws walks, so if he can get his timing issues corrected, he could unlock his plus power potential. Starling needs to prove that a solid second half--.269/.359/.434 in 65 games--is a sign of good things to come. He'll face the difficult hitting environment of high Class A Wilmington in 2014.
Adam's durability with solid stuff had been his calling card through much of his pro career, but then he regained the plus velocity that intrigued the Royals when they signed him for $800,000 out of the fifth round in 2010. His overall numbers look bad for 2013, but he was solid at Double-A Northwest Arkansas after a brutal April when he posted a 12.84 ERA. He went 8-9, 3.93 for the rest of the year. Adam's fastball gained a full grade in 2013 as he went from sitting 90-92 mph, touching 94, to sitting 92-94 and touching 97. His improved stuff came from better tempo and incorporating his legs into his delivery. He also added an average slider midway through the season, finding that it generated swings and misses better than his fringy curveball. His changeup also is fringy because he can't consistently throw it with the same arm speed as his fastball. Either the curveball or changeup will have to improve to give him something to better combat lefthanded hitters. Adam heads to spring training in 2014 with at least a chance to earn a spot on the Triple-A Omaha roster. Whether he breaks with Omaha or not, he should be ready to compete for a big league job in 2015.
The Royals spent aggressively under the draft rules of the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, and Binford was one of the final beneficiaries. A $575,000 bonus swayed the Tommy John surgery alumnus and 30th-round pick in 2011 away from a Virginia commitment, and so far the Royals have seen a return on their investment. He allowed two earned runs or fewer in 20 of 23 starts at low Class A Lexington in 2013. Binford shows excellent command and feel for a young pitcher with his size. He doesn't throw especially hard, but he generates excellent downhill angle on his naturally heavy 88-93 mph fastball, and he locates it with precision. Binford's delivery isn't picture-perfect--he has a wrap in his takeaway and his delivery ends with his momentum carrying him toward first base--but he repeats his motion consistently. His changeup has developed into an average pitch that generates weak contact. His fringy breaking ball is on the line between curveball and slurve. He can throw it for strikes but needs to tighten it up. Binford projects as a back-end starter if he maintains his present velocity with a chance for more if he adds a little more. He will pitch at high Class A Wilmington in 2014.
When the Royals hit the Dominican Republic showcase circuit to prepare for the 2011 international signing period, they discovered that Hernandez, and not shortstop Raul A. Mondesi, was the focus of an intense bidding war. Hernandez signed for $3 million, then joined Mondesi in the Rookie-level Pioneer League to make his pro debut in 2012 and looked overwhelmed, struggling to put together competitive at-bats. While Mondesi advanced to low Class A Lexington in 2013, Hernandez went back to Idaho Falls. His second stint went much better than the first. Where Hernandez was often simply trying to make contact in 2012, he drove the ball in 2013, which allowed him to lead the PL in triples (eight) despite being only an average runner. A center fielder as an amateur, Hernandez is shaky defensively in right field now, as he seemed to struggle to read balls at night and in the higher altitude parks of the PL. His 10 errors ranked second in the league. He has an above-average arm and has the tools to be at least an average outfielder, appearing more confident in day games. Hernandez is ready for low Class A Lexington in 2014, and he could grow to be an above-average hitter with at least average power, but he's years away from reaching that ceiling.
After an excellent 2012 pro debut, the ghost of Sam Selman past returned in large part in 2013. He showed many of the same control and delivery issues that affected much of his career at Vanderbilt. Even when he was missing his spots repeatedly, Selman proved very hard to square up--he held opponents to a .197 average and .268 slugging percentage. On the other hand, he led the high Class A Carolina League in walks (85) and ranked second with 14 hit batters. His poor command stems from an inability to consistently stay back over the rubber and a wrist wrap that makes his long arm action hard to repeat. Too often Selman's arm is trying to catch up to his body, which also affects how much break he gets on his curveball and slider. The curveball is fringe-average at best, while the slider flashes above-average when he's maintaining his delivery. After sitting 90-95 mph and touching 98 in 2012, Selman backed off his velocity to 88-93 as he tried to throw strikes. His heater still is an above-average pitch when he locates because it's hard to lift. His changeup has improved significantly since signing to become a fringe-average pitch. Everything about Selman's potential revolves around his control and his delivery. He'll try to sort it out at Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2014.
Halfway through the 2011 season, Cuthbert was outhitting the more highly touted members of a stacked 2009 international signing class that included Gary Sanchez and Miguel Sano. At the time, he was hitting .289/.350/.467 as an 18-year-old at low Class A Kane County. Scouts have been waiting to see Cuthbert recreate that production ever since. As one scout explained, "Two years ago, I expected to see him in the big leagues by now." Cuthbert had a solid first half while repeating high Class A Wilmington in 2013, but he was exposed after a promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, with a lack of selectivity leaving him prone to chasing breaking balls out of the zone and negating his above-average raw power. He has a relatively simple swing but often tries to do too much instead of letting his above-average power come naturally. Scouts are not enamored of Cuthbert's body, as he has a thick lower half that makes him a baseclogger. Despite his lack of speed, he has good first-step quickness and an above-average arm that has allowed him to stick at third base. He will play the entire 2014 season as a 21-year-old, so he's still young enough to fix his selectivity issues, and the club added him to their 40-man roster in the offseason. Now he needs to pick up the production in a return to Double-A.
Calixte hasn't met a fastball he can't hit. Signed for $1 million in 2010, he has proven he can turn around velocity and he has more power than most middle infielders. But while he can hit anything straight, Calixte has yet to prove he can lay off breaking balls in or out of the strike zone. His aggressiveness has proven to be his undoing, as it limits the projection of his hit tool and keeps him from fully unleashing his average power. Defensively, Calixte was more reliable in 2013 and he showed his versatility by playing some second and third base. He looked reasonably comfortable at both, with an above-average arm and plus range. He has average range at shortstop with fluid actions and is an average runner. With Raul A. Mondesi breathing down his neck, Calixte could wind up as a super-sub with enough pop to play anywhere in the infield as well as the outfield corners. At the least, his versatility and track record versus lefthanders (.296/.368/.543 over the past two seasons) could make him a quality reserve. Calixte will return to Double-A Northwest Arkansas to try to learn to temper his aggressiveness.
As the Royals watched Mariot's stuff get better and better, it's been hard for them not to flash back to the development of current closer Greg Holland. Like Holland, Mariot is a short righthander drafted out of college. And like Holland, Mariot's stuff has improved as he's climbed the ladder. Mariot sat at 89-93 mph early in the 2013 season, but by the end he was consistently touching 98 with his fastball while also aggressively using his average slider. He mixes in a fringy curveball and a tick-below-average changeup. Mariot's control, an asset previously, wavered a little as he adjusted to his newfound velocity. He finished the year by giving up one unearned run in his final 21 innings and finished fifth among Triple-A Pacific Coast League relievers in strikeout rate (9.8 per nine innings). The former starter shared the Omaha closer job, but he worked two or more innings 11 different times. Added to the 40-man roster in November, Mariot will begin 2014 back at Triple-A but could work his way into a crowded Royals bullpen at some point.
International scouting director Rene Francisco and his staff have had success signing short Dominican righthanders to reasonable contracts. Examples include Kelvin Herrera and Yordano Ventura. They snagged Fernandez for $45,000 in 2011 and watched him pitch his way out of the Dominican Summer League in 2012 by allowing just five hits in 12 innings. After arriving in the Rookie-level Arizona League, he similarly dominated with a 90-94 mph fastball that could develop into a consistent plus pitch, an average slider that shows tilt and bite and a decent changeup. If he continues to get stronger, Fernandez has the makings of three average or better pitches to go with a clean delivery. He hasn't worked deep in games yet, but he has shown an ability to maintain his velocity for all five innings start after start. Fernandez's control and feel is significantly more advanced than the average 19-year-old, which opens up the possibility that he could jump to low Class A Lexington in 2014.
For the first time since he signed with the Royals as a second-round pick in 2010, Eibner quieted some of the voices calling for him to move to the mound. He produced the best season of his pro career at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, improving his power production and showing a modest improvement in his always-outsized strikeout rate. Much like a lesser version of Drew Stubbs, Eibner provides power and above-average defense in center field, but it comes with a well-below-average hit tool. As you would expect for a former pitcher with a low- to mid-90s fastball, his arm is above-average, and Eibner has a tick-above-average speed that gets better once he's underway. But his power comes from a big, righthanded swing that has never been conducive to making consistent contact. Adopting a more closed stance in 2013 helped him stop pulling off as many balls, improving his plate coverage and triggering an .854 OPS in the second half. Eibner can drive the ball for extra bases to all fields and crushed lefthanders in 2013, batting .341/.442/.635. His defensive chops and power give him a chance to at least be a reserve outfielder and possible platoon player, and if his second-half improvements stick, he could end up being even more. He's expected to join Triple-A Omaha in 2014.
Much like David Lough, a football/baseball player at Mercyhurst (Pa.) College who blossomed after focusing on baseball full-time, Adams is an athletic two-sport star who has improved significantly once he chose baseball as his vocation. A Missouri State basketball recruit as a shooting guard with an excellent three-point shot, Adams spent two years in Rookie ball and parts of three seasons in Class A before finally reaching Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2013. He joined Triple-A Omaha for the playoffs, hitting a pair of triples and stealing two bases as the Storm Chasers won the Triple-A national championship game. Adams was an above-average runner when he signed with the Royals, but he's steadily gained speed to become a double-plus runner. He's also started to unleash his plus raw power. Adams can play all three outfield positions, though his fringe-average arm is a poor fit in right field and he's better as a fill-in than a regular in center. He projects as a potential fourth outfielder who could be more if his bat continues to improve. Even after a brutal Arizona Fall League stint--he hit .146 with 20 strikeouts in 46 at-bats--the Royals added Adams to the 40-man roster.
When Duenez toured the workout circuit, most scouts wondered where he'd play. He doesn't run well, so that narrowed his positional possibilities to first base or possibly the corner outfield. In a Latin America amateur market where most of the prized position prospects play shortstop or center field, that was a red flag. The Royals focused instead on his ability to hit after they saw him square up baseballs time after time, signing him for $425,000 in 2012. He quickly made the jump to the Rookie-level Arizona League for his pro debut in 2013, showing the same all-field approach with good bat speed and excellent barrel control. Duenez will have to hit because he's a tick-below-average runner who will slow as he matures, and his power is all projection. He primarily played first base in 2013, leading the AZL with eight errors, though the Royals also want to try him in left field. He does have a potentially above-average arm. Duenez is one of the best pure hitters in the organization and polished enough that he has a shot at making the jump to low Class A Lexington in 2014.
Gasparini signed the richest contract ever for a European amateur when he inked his $1.3 million deal with the Royals in July 2013. That's understandable seeing as scouts regarded him as arguably the finest amateur prospect ever from Europe. His bonus easily topped the Twins' 2009 deal with German outfielder Max Kepler for $800,000. Gasparini moved 300 miles to train at the Italian Baseball Academy as a 14-year-old, which means he's more advanced than the average European prospect, and his knowledge of the English language helps ease his cultural transition. But he still has faced less advanced competition than the average U.S. or Latin American prospect. Gasparini is an excellent athlete with easy actions and speed that grades as a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His arm is a tick-below-average with an unconventional action that leads many scouts to think he'll move to center field eventually. At the plate, Gasparini has plenty of bat speed and a reasonably smooth swing from both sides of the plate. He projects as a top-of-the-order hitter with below-average power for now, but he's young enough to exceed that power projection if he fills out. For now, Gasparini will continue to work out at the Royals complex with an eye on his first pro action in the second half of 2014.
It's been quite an up-and-down path through the minors for Dwyer. Signed for an above-slot $1.45 million in 2009 as a draft-eligible freshman after one year at Clemson, Dwyer arrived as a power pitcher with a 90-94 mph fastball and plus curveball but without much feel for setting up hitters and below-average control. After a thyroid condition sapped his strength in 2012, however, Dwyer bounced back in 2013 as more of a touch-and-feel lefty who retired hitters at Triple-A Omaha with average stuff. He pitched anywhere from 86-92 mph with his fastball, working backwards at times by getting ahead with a now above-average changeup that he throws with good arm speed and excellent late fade. His curveball has diminished in stature, and he struggles to throw it for strikes at times, but it's an average pitch. He still issues too many walks (4.1 per nine innings in 2013) even with his diminished velocity, nibbling around the strike zone's edges. Dwyer started and won the Triple-A national championship game and made his big league debut in 2013. Unless his old plus fastball and curve return, he profiles as a reliever or spot starter rather than as a rotation stalwart.
With Joseph, you get the good with the bad. He's got a fastball/slider pairing that is devastating to lefthanders and can be a tough look for righthanders as well. That repertoire comes with a delivery that makes it hard to throw strikes consistently, however. Joseph's pitching motion is the antithesis of direct to the plate. He stands with his back turned to the batter, his front foot pointing somewhere between home plate and first base. He hangs over the rubber at this cocked angle, then sweeps his front foot to the plate at the last moment, ensuring that his momentum is carrying him toward third base as he delivers the pitch. Acquired from the Reds in a July 2012 trade that sent Jonathan Broxton to Cincinnati, Joseph's delivery may be beyond repair, but its funkiness provides deception. He must do a better job of throwing strike one to set up his plus slider. At times he tries to take velocity off to throw his slider for strikes, but it's more of a chase pitch, so it's only effective when paired with his 88-92 mph fastball in the zone. If Joseph threw more strikes, he could be a solid late-inning reliever, but for now, he looks more like a second lefty in the pen.
The life of a catcher is never easy, but Gallagher has already had more than his share of bumps, bruises and broken bones that come with being a backstop. Part of a baseball family that has seen his father Glenn and brother Austin both play in the minor leagues, Cam is looking for his first injury-free season. In 2012, he was accidentally hit on the hand by a backswing and also endured a shoulder injury. In 2013, he missed a month and a half when he broke his hand when hit by a pitch and missed 10 days in August after a foul tip nipped him. In three seasons, he has accrued fewer than 500 total at-bats. Gallagher's timing at the plate never recovered from his broken hand--he hit .268 before the injury and .193 afterwards. He has soft hands, calls a solid game and has a solid-average arm. Gallagher has shortened his swing since high school. He makes contact, draws walks and doesn't strike out excessively, but so far, he's yet to show the above-average power that the Royals forecasted when they drafted him in the second round in 2011. Gallagher still has the ceiling of a regular catcher, but he needs to stay on the field to develop his game. He may head back to low Class A Lexington to start 2014.
When Evans arrived at Georgia Tech in 2011, he became the first freshman to serve as the Yellow Jackets regular catcher since Jason Varitek in 1991. A two-way player as a catcher/reliever at Georgia Tech, much like Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, Evans combines at least average power potential at the plate with a chance to develop into at least an average receiver. His 2013 debut ended early when he broke his hand on a foul tip at Rookie-level Idaho Falls. A large-framed catcher, Evans has an excellent arm, which has been clocked at 94-96 mph off the mound, but he needs to improve his footwork. His hands also could get quieter as he receives pitches. Evans has a solid approach at the plate for a power hitter. He's looking for something to pull, but he recognizes pitches well enough to work counts to get himself in situations to zone pitches. The Royals have all-star Salvador Perez signed through 2019, but Evans and Cam Gallagher stand out as the two in-house backstops who have a chance to develop into everyday regulars. Evans could jump over Gallagher to high Class A Wilmington for his first full season.
At this point, it's highly unlikely that Colon ever will live up to the expectations that come with being the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft, but he should make it to the big leagues for the first time in 2014. It's been a slow climb for the middle infielder, who was expected to move quickly when he was drafted as a heady shortstop whose feel for the game made his average tools play up. Instead, his heady approach is all that has kept his below-average tools from sinking his big league chances. A teammate of future Athletics first-round pick Grant Green in high school and Giants 2010 first-rounder Gary Brown at Cal State Fullerton, Colon has proven to have a lot more 40 grades on his scouting report than 50s. He has below-average power and is a below-average runner with below-average range and a below-average arm at shortstop, though those limitations are diminished when he slides over to second base. He's a sure-handed infielder at any spot. He did steal 15 bases thanks to his baseball intelligence. He's an average hitter, with strong contact ability his best attribute. The Royals spent the first two-thirds of the 2013 season looking for a second baseman without calling up Colon. He will head to spring training with a chance to make the big league team as a utility infielder.
When The Woodlands' baseball program holds an alumni get-together, first-rounders Jameson Taillon and Kyle Drabek and 2013 MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt should be the first to offer to pay for dinner, but Brickhouse can chip in as well. In the Royals' final spending spree under the old draft rules, Brickhouse signed for $1.5 million, nearly $1.2 million above slot for the third round. After a rough debut in 2012, he took significant steps forward in a second try at low Class A before elbow problems sidelined him in early June. One of a number of Royals pitchers to have Tommy John surgery in 2013, Brickhouse is expected to be sidelined until roughly the middle of 2014. Before the injury, Brickhouse was getting groundballs with a heavy 90-95 mph fastball that shows natural sink and late movement, especially when he's getting on top of his two-seamer. His breaking ball is less consistent, and he struggles to maintain his arm speed when throwing his changeup. Brickhouse did a good job of refining his delivery and improving his ability to repeat it, but the stocky righthander still shows some effort. Now he'll be effectively starting over as he works back from a lengthy rehab.
Baez was supposed to be next in line among the Royals' Dominican pitching pipeline before he took a step back in 2013. Blessed with one of the best arms in the system, he lost the feel for the strike zone, then lost his control, breaking his pitching hand in a fit of anger. He returned in time to show the same electric, erratic stuff in a late-season return to high Class A Wilmington and a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He struck out 19 batters in the AFL in just 13 innings, but he also walked nine and gave up 14 hits. Baez's fastball will vary from 88-98 mph depending on how well he's maintaining his delivery. His curveball and changeup both show flashes of being average, but they are inconsistent because of his control and delivery issues. After five years as a starter, Baez likely will move to the bullpen in 2014 to see if his control can improve. The Royals left him off the 40-man roster, figuring that teams will pass on his great arm in the Rule 5 draft because he hasn't proven he can throw strikes. Baez's ultimate ceiling could be late-inning reliever.
Two years at Northwest Mississippi CC served Reed well. He went from an unnoticed high school arm to a power lefty who signed with the Royals for $1.2 million as a second-round pick in 2013. Reed didn't throw particularly hard coming out of high school, but his velocity jumped from 86-90 mph to 92-93 mph (touching 96) as a juco sophomore. The Royals didn't see the same Reed in his first pro exposure and shut him down for nearly two weeks in the middle of the Rookie-level Idaho Falls season because he was throwing with more effort and less stuff, and his fastball sat at 88-92 mph. At his best, he had toned down his formerly high-effort delivery. He flashes an above-average slider, though it's inconsistent. His changeup is fringy at best. Reed's biggest problem is he has yet to demonstrate that he can consistently throw strikes. He walked 4.7 batters per nine innings in junior college and was even worse in Idaho Falls (7.0 BB/9). Scouts see Reed ending up in a relief role. Though he's raw, he should open with low Class A Lexington to start 2014.
The Royals have put an emphasis in recent years on signing Latin American prospects who can square up the ball, emphasizing hitting ability over athleticism. Like Samir Duenez, Vasquez's best attribute as an amateur was his simple lefthanded swing and all-fields, line-drive hitting approach. Kansas City made him one of its top targets for 2013, signing him for $750,000. The Royals believe Vasquez can stick in center field, but scouts for other teams note his average speed and expect he'll end up moving to a corner outfield spot, likely left field because of his below-average arm. If he does have to move to a corner, some question whether his gap power will profile. Vasquez will either open 2014 with Rookie-level Burlington or play in the Dominican Summer League.
Gore's .215 average at low Class A Lexington and absolute lack of power don't stamp him as a prospect. A closer look reveals a few reasons to believe that he has big league potential, at least as an extra outfielder or pinch-runner. Gore has absolute top-of-the-scale speed, and he's one of the best basestealers in the minors. His 89 percent success rate was easily the best among minor leaguers with 50 or more steals in 2013. He can go from first to second in three seconds flat at his best. Like the Reds' Billy Hamilton, Gore can't be thrown out at second base when he gets a good jump, even on a pitchout. He improved his reads defensively to become an above-average left fielder and average center fielder, though he doesn't throw well. At the plate, Gore drew 62 walks in 2013, and his on-base percentage was nearly 120 points higher than his batting average. In instructional league, the Royals told Gore to bunt in nearly every at-bat, turning a weakness into a potential strength. Even with infielders in, he bunted his way to a .458 average, suggesting that if he can improve his average to about .270--a tick above the major league average--he could be a useful contributor.
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