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It has become a cliché to compare lefthanded pitching prospects without overwhelming velocity to Tom Glavine, but George just might be the real deal. He has been following the same career path as the two-time Cy Young Award winner: debut in Rookie ball, solid first full season in Class A, second season split between succeeding in Double-A and struggling for the first time after reaching Triple-A. Glavine went back to Triple-A the next year before surfacing in the majors, and George probably will do the same. He might already have gotten a look in Kansas City had he not spent September with the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team as the second-youngest pitcher on the staff. George was the third of three pitchers selected by the Royals in the first 31 picks of the 1998 draft, and his ceiling appears significantly higher than college righthanders Jeff Austin and Matt Burch, who were taken before him. George throws in the low 90s and hit 96 mph in about a third of his starts in 2000. His changeup is his best pitch, and he already has an advanced feel for changing speeds. George has been equally successful against lefthanders and righthanders. He has a sound pitcher's frame (a near carbon copy of Glavine's), a smooth delivery and generally throws strikes. He's tough to run on, as just 42 percent of basestealers succeeded against him in 2000. Before 2000, George's fastball had maxed out at 94 mph. When he picked up a little more velocity, he at times fell into a power pitcher's mentality, which wreaked havoc with his command. He was more effective when he didn't try to blow the ball by hitters. If he has learned that lesson, his only need is an improved breaking ball. He throws both a slider and a curveball, with the slider the more effective pitch. Kansas City hasn't had a lefthander win more than 10 games in a season since 1988. That drought should end soon, with George and youngsters Jimmy Gobble and Mike Stodolka on the way. The Royals need starters and don't have another lefty candidate besides George. Making the club out of spring training isn't a certainty, though he shouldn't need more than another half-season in Triple-A.
The Royals have a good track record of spending first-round picks on University of Maryland-bound tailbacks. In 1974, they signed Willie Wilson. Twenty-two years later, they got Brown. After a breakthrough 1999, Brown regressed a bit in 2000 and was suspended for five games after an altercation with Triple-A Omaha manager John Mizerock. Brown hasn't met a fastball he can't crush. His bat is extremely quick and can drive the ball out of any part of any ballpark. In 1999, he hit for average and showed fine plate discipline. He also runs well enough to be a 30-30 threat. Brown was too aggressive at the plate in 2000, and his slugging (down 79 points) and on-base percentages (down 112) plummeted. He was extremely raw defensively when he signed, and he must work if he's to become an average left fielder with an average arm. Multiple Pacific Coast League managers didn't like Brown's attitude. Unless the Royals trade Johnny Damon, Brown doesn't have an opening for a regular big league job in 2001. If Damon leaves as a free agent after the season, Brown will replace him in left field.
Eligible for the 1998 draft as a college sophomore, MacDougal projected as a first-round pick before the season. But he came down with mononucleosis and slid to the 17th round. He returned for his junior year, then went in the first round with a compensation pick the Red Sox surrendered to sign free agent Jose Offerman. MacDougal has the best stuff in the organization, including the major leagues. He can touch 99 mph and throw 96 with ease, and he's best at 93-94 mph because then his fastball just dives at the plate. His slider and changeup also are above-average pitches when he throws them for strikes. He has allowed just eight homers in 203 pro innings. MacDougal has so much life on his pitches that it's difficult to control them. He needs to more consistently throw his fastball on the corners and his secondary pitches for strikes. After a brief taste of Double-A at the end of 2000, MacDougal will return there to begin 2001. As soon as he learns to harness his pitches, he'll get the call to Kansas City.
Gobble was the fourth of four pitchers selected by Kansas City before the second round of the 1999 draft. He too was a free-agent compensation choice, the result of Detroit signing Dean Palmer. After barely pitching in 1999, Gobble held his own in the Class A South Atlantic League as a teenager. He finished strong, going 7-2, 2.58 in his final 11 starts. Gobble has the same build and better stuff than Chris George. Like George, he can throw in the low 90s and isn't afraid to use his plus changeup when he's behind in the count. The difference is that Gobble's curveball is an upgrade over either of George's breaking pitches. What he doesn't have is George's advanced feel for pitching. Gobble's curveball breaks so much he struggles to keep it in the strike zone. More advanced hitters may not chase his curve as much, so he may need to refine it. Gobble still needs polish, so the Royals will be patient with his progress. He'll move up to high Class A Wilmington in 2001 and probably will spend the entire season there.
Austin was Baseball America's College Player of the Year and the No. 4 overall draft pick in 1998. He didn't sign until the following February, when he agreed to a club-record $2.7 million bonus. If not for his holdout, the Royals believe he already would have been a member of the big league rotation. His command is a strong suit. He needed just 30 pro starts to reach Triple-A. Austin's best pitch always has been a hard-breaking curveball. He has made strides with his changeup, a key because his fastball is nothing more than average. He pitches at 89-90 mph and can reach 92. Not only does Austin's fastball lack overpowering velocity, but it also lacks movement. It's fairly straight, and he got hit in Triple-A when he threw it over the plate. He'll have to learn to work the corners better. Austin could win a big league rotation job in spring training but might be better off with a few more starts in Triple-A. He projects as a solid starter, albeit not as a No. 1 guy.
Harvey is the highest-ranking player on this list who wasn't a first-round draft pick. He won the NCAA Division I (.478) and short-season Northwest League (.397) batting titles in 1999, and might have done the same in the high Class A Carolina League in 2000 had a toe injury not sidelined him. Harvey doesn't have a classic baseball physique, but he can hit for average and gap power. He excels at hitting to the opposite field and has the size to develop over-the-fence power if he starts pulling more pitches. For his size, he runs surprisingly well. Despite having surgery on his right foot after the 1999 season, Harvey never fully recovered and played just 46 games in 2000. Though he's listed at 240 pounds, he was up to 255 this season and must watch his weight. He has stiff hands that limit his effectiveness at first base. Harvey showed that high Class A pitchers were no match for him. He's probably ready for Double-A despite just 102 games of pro experience. He could put up huge numbers at Double-A Wichita and Omaha, which have hitter's parks in hitter's leagues.
Stodolka's willingness to accept a $2.5 million predraft deal made him attractive to the Royals. While he wouldn't have gone quite as high as fourth overall on pure ability, he's still loaded with talent. A year earlier, some teams weren't sure if he was better as a hitter or a pitcher. Stodolka's future was determined when his fastball jumped from 88 mph in 1999 to 90-93 mph last spring. He also throws a hard curveball and has been working on adding a changeup. The Royals love both his stuff and his ability to throw strikes with it. Like many pitchers fresh out of high school, Stodolka needs to improve the command of his curveball and refine his changeup. There's nothing that can't be cured with experience. Stodolka will spend his first full pro season at Kansas City's new low Class A Burlington affiliate. He should be one of the first high school pitchers from the 2000 draft to reach the majors. Late 2003 is a realistic ETA.
The Royals have never had a Dominican all-star. Big league second baseman Carlos Febles has a chance to be their first, and Gomez is their next best hope. He ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and No. 7 in the Carolina League the last two years. Gomez is the best all-around athlete in the system. He's a center fielder who can run (6.5-6.6 seconds in the 60-yard dash) and throw, and he can put on a power display in batting practice. He also exhibits a strong work ethic. Gomez has tools but not skills, however. He lacks strength or plate discipline, which makes him a weak hitter. Especially troubling is the way he still buckles against breaking pitches from lefthanders after four years as a pro. He batted .237 and slugged .255 against southpaws in 2000. He lacks basestealing instincts and doesn't make good reads in the outfield. The Royals hustled Gomez to high Class A at age 19 because of his tools. They need to send him back there in 2001 so he can develop his baseball aptitude.
Having six picks in the first two rounds of the 1999 draft exhausted most of Kansas City's draft budget. As a result, Ellis had to accept a $1,000 bonus. He has proven to be a bargain, earning all-star honors in both of his seasons as a pro and leading the Carolina League in hits and on-base percentage (.404) in 2000. Ellis is the quintessential heady ballplayer, an overachiever in terms of his raw physical ability. He gets on base by making contact and drawing walks, and he can steal an occasional base more on instincts than on speed. He's a steady if unspectacular defender. Ellis' arm strength isn't quite up to par for shortstop, which means he may have to settle for being a second baseman or a utilityman. He's not blessed with a lot of power and might not be more than a No. 8 or 9 hitter if his production levels off. Ellis will have to keep proving himself, and in 2001 must do so in Double-A. Don't rule him out as a shortstop. Rey Sanchez' contract expires after the 2000 season, and the Royals don't have any other options
Paul Faulk lived an area scout's dream in 1999, when he bagged three first-round picks in Mike MacDougal, Jimmy Gobble and Snyder. Snyder was ranked the No. 1 prospect last year in the Northwest League. In 2000, he didn't pitch until August because of a stress fracture in his elbow and an impinged nerve in his hand. When he returned, he worked two innings before blowing out his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery. When healthy, Snyder had it all. Start with a classic pitcher's body and uncommon athleticism for his size. He had three quality pitches: a 95-96 mph fastball, a hard curveball and a devastating changeup. Some thought Snyder's curve was at the root of his elbow problems, which also included tendinitis in college. He may need to rework his breaking ball when he returns. Despite the successful track record for Tommy John patients, he still faces a long road back. Snyder could start throwing off a mound in August. He may not see any real action until instructional league. The Royals were cautious with him before he got hurt, and they'll take extra care now.
The Royals have endured bullpen trouble in recent years, and Sonnier may be the closer they've been looking for. If he is, scouts Craig Struss and Bill Price deserve credit for uncovering him after he spent time at two junior colleges and Louisiana Tech. Sonnier offers intimidating size and stuff. He has a mid-90s fastball and a hard slider, and he uses a splitter as a strikeout pitch. He ranked third among minor league relievers last year with 12.7 per nine innings, and he led Double-A Texas League relievers with 5.8 hits allowed per nine innings. He comes straight over the top, which costs him a little life and deception on his pitches, and he could tweak his command, but it's hard to argue with his results. Sonnier could factor into the Kansas City bullpen sometime in 2001.
Like Shawn Sonnier, Bukvich is a tribute to fine scouting. He spent a year at NCAA Division II Delta State (Miss.), then two at Mississippi, where he had an 8.44 ERA and more walks than strikeouts before being declared academically ineligible for his senior year. But area scout Mark Willoughby stayed on Bukvich, and persuaded the Royals to draft him in the 11th round. Upon signing, Bukvich showed a 96 mph fastball and reached high Class A without allowing a home run. He also displayed a closer's mentality. He still needs to throw more strikes and refine his second pitch, a hard slurve that the Royals would like to become a true slider. If he doesn't open 2001 at Double-A Wichita, he certainly could get there by the end of the season.
Sanches led all short-season pitchers with 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings in his pro debut in 1999, and began 2000 by overmatching the Carolina League. He opened May by throwing a no-hitter and one-hitter in consecutive starts, improving his record to 2-1, 1.77 with 35 strikeouts in 36 innings. At that point the Royals believe the game was coming too easily to Sanches, who lost focus and slumped the rest of the way. He doesn't have the stuff that allows him a great margin for error. His best pitch is his curveball, and his fastball can touch 90 mph with average movement. He has a feel for a changeup, though it still is developing. Sanches must improve his command, both throwing more strikes and locating his pitches in the strike zone. If he doesn't, he could be in for a rude awakening at hitter-friendly Wichita this year.
The Royals have been looking for a catcher since moving Mike Sweeney from behind the plate. Last year, they used a four-headed monster of Gregg Zaun, Jorge Fabregas, Brian Johnson and Hector Ortiz, and got the expected mediocre production. As a result, they spent their second- and third-round picks in June on catchers, choosing Tonis and Scott Walter out of California colleges. Tonis is better defensively than Walter and could catch up to him with the bat. Tonis is athletic for a catcher, to the point where he played all nine positions in a game for Cal last spring, during which his fastball was clocked at 90 mph. His strong arm enabled him to throw out 33 percent of basestealers after turning pro, and he's durable behind the plate. Offensively, his swing needs a couple of adjustments and he probably won't hit for a high average, but Kansas City sees him as a run producer capable of 15-25 homers a season. Tonis, the only 2000 draftee to play in Triple-A, is ticketed for Double-A this season.
Thurman had four undistinguished seasons in the Royals system before 2000, when he finally made a breakthrough by leading the Carolina League in ERA. He was 17 when he was drafted, so Kansas City knew he would take time. His best pitch is his changeup, though he falls in love with it on occasion and costs himself velocity on his fastball. When his delivery is sound, Thurman can touch 93 mph, though he more often pitches in the 88-90 range. He didn't have a breaking ball before he turned pro, and since has made progress with a curveball. If he can throw his curveball for strikes and mix in some more fastballs, he could move quickly. He has a big league body that reminds the Royals of a stronger Dave Stewart. Thurman is ready to move up to Double-A in 2001.
Affeldt has 18 wins in four seasons as a pro, and he led the Carolina League in losses in 2000. His reward? A spot on the 40-man roster, because he's a projectable 6-foot-5 lefthander. For now he has only average velocity, though the Royals believe he'll throw in the low 90s if he can get stronger. His fastball is more effective than its radar-gun readings because it has good life and he pitches inside as well as anyone in the system. Affeldt uses a curveball as his second pitch and is developing a changeup. This season is an important one for him. He needs to get stronger and improve his stuff after being more hittable than ever last year. Making the jump to Double-A in hitter's park in a hitter's league will be difficult if he doesn't.
The Royals might not have had to turn to Ricky Bottalico and Jerry Spradlin as closers if Moreno hadn't been hurt. Converted to relief in 1998, he immediately responded by dominating in Double-A and earned a big league promotion in May 1999. Once in Kansas City, Moreno tried to overthrow, and he went on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis. He also injured his elbow, tearing a tendon in spring training last year and requiring Tommy John surgery. There was no need for Moreno to overthrow, because he already possessed a mid-90s fastball that peaked at 98 mph. He also throws a slider and changeup. The success rate of pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery keeps increasing, though Moreno will have to show he's healthy before being projected as the club's closer of the future again.
The nephew of famed Latin American scout Epy Guerrero, Junior looked like a great find in 1999, when he dominated the Carolina League and ranked among the minor league leaders in ERA and strikeouts per nine innings (10.46). But last year he was probably the most disappointing player in the system. Double-A hitters feasted on Guerrero, showing that a pitcher can’t live on velocity alone. He throws in the mid-90s and can reach 98 mph, but his fastball is straight and up in the strike zone, and advanced hitters can pound it. Compounding his troubles, he has no secondary pitches he can trust. His mid-80s slider has potential, though he can’t throw it for strikes and Double-A batters refused to chase it. He’s also working on a splitter and a changeup, and neither is close to average yet. Guerrero will get a second chance in Wichita in 2001.
Mullen got a wakeup call after the 1999 season. He had been placed on the 40-man roster after winning 16 games in 1998, then was removed following a rocky Triple-A debut the following year. He also found out that he'd be moving from the rotation to the bullpen. Mullen definitely responded. Told to air it out while working shorter stints, he saw his previously nondescript fastball jump to a consistent 88-92 mph and touch 93-94. His slider and changeup gave him two other trustworthy pitches. He pitched well in 11 outings with the Royals, especially against lefthanders, whom he limited to a .143 average. He'll need to fare better against righthanders, who hit .350 with a .550 slugging percentage, but Kansas City thinks he can be more than a situational lefty. Mullen had shoulder irritation for most of the season and had minor surgery to correct it during the offseason. He should be ready to go by spring training.
Curry is all about speed, which isn't surprising considering that his mother Irene was a U.S. Olympic track athlete. Curry set the single-season Southeastern Conference record for stolen bases as a junior in 1998, and he led all Double-A players with 52 swipes last year, when Texas League managers rated him the circuit's best baserunner. He also understands that he needs to get reach base to maximize his value, and he has done just that, posting a career .394 on-base percentage. Curry wasn't protected on the 40-man roster after last season, in part because he doesn't do much else well. He's merely average in center field and has a below-average arm, though it has improved from a 3 to a 4 on the 2-to-8 scouting scale. He needs to add strength, not that he'll ever be much of a slugger. Curry will start in center this year in Triple-A but may have difficulty cracking a deep Kansas City outfield after that.
Morrison gave up the most famous home run in college baseball history--Louisiana State's Warren Morris' two-out, two-run shot to win the 1996 College World Series--but has done a nice job putting it behind him. He finished second on Miami's career saves list and reached Double-A before the end of his first full pro season. He returned to Wichita in 2000, serving as a set-up man to Shawn Sonnier, but was shut down in early August with a partial rotator-cuff tear that required surgery. The shoulder problem explained why he wasn't quite as effective as he had been the previous two years. Morrison primarily works with a 90-92 mph fastball and a sharp curveball. His changeup is average, though he doesn't go to his third pitch very often. Aside from regaining his health, Morrison's biggest need is to improve his control. The Royals expect he'll be 100 percent in spring training. He doesn't project as a big league closer, but he can help the Kansas City bullpen in the near future.
The Royals haven't done Dodson any favors. After he tore up the Northwest League in his 1998 pro debut, they skipped him past two affiliates and sent him to Double-A, where he was a bit overmatched but still managed to hold his own. As a reward, they handed him an invitation to big league camp in 2000. Dodson so impressed manager Tony Muser with his hustle that he stuck around until the next-to-last cut, albeit while getting just 17 at-bats. When he returned to Double-A, his spring inactivity contributed to a two-month slump that didn't see him cross the Mendoza Line for good until June 21. And once he started hitting for average, his home run power disappeared. Dodson has intriguing tools--above-average bat speed and power, average foot speed and an outfield arm that has been rated the Texas League's best for two years running--but his confidence and possibly his career have been damaged by the way he has been handled. He probably needs to head back to Wichita for a third try in 2001.
Before the Royals took Mike Tonis and Scott Walter in the first three rounds of the 2000 draft, Phillips was their only real catching prospect. Interestingly, he was more of a center fielder at Alabama. Kansas City made him a full-time catcher after signing him, and he responded by being named the Northwest League's No. 1 propsect in his pro debut in 1998. Like Jeremy Dodson, Phillips was jumped two levels to Double-A, where he has been mediocre with the bat for two seasons. He hasn't had as much trouble hitting for average as Dodson, but Phillips has shown little power or on-base ability. He needs to get stronger and more patient to contribute offensively. He's athletic for a catcher and excels in all phases of the game defensively. Phillips has a strong, accurate arm, and his 54 percent success rate at gunning down basestealers would have led the Texas League last year had a hip-flexor injury not cost him the necessary attempts to qualify. He also moves well behind the plate, and receives and blocks well. Kansas City needs a catcher, and Phillips could get a look if he produces in Triple-A.
Stanford has lost heartbreakers to end each of the last two College World Series, and Cogan took the defeat in a wild 14-11, 13-inning semifinal against Florida State in 1999. Cogan made the Northwest League all-star team as a reliever in his pro debut, but when he struggled at Wilmington at the outset of 2000, he was demoted to low Class A Charleston and put in the rotation. Counting two outings at Wilmington, Cogan didn't allow a run until his fourth pro start. His fastball, curveball and changeup are all average, and he seems to do better when he has more time to mix his pitches and set hitters up. Cogan helps himself by throwing strikes and keeping the ball in the park, having permitted just four homers in 160 pro innings. His ceiling isn't as high as the average Stanford pro product, but the Royals just may have something in Cogan.
High school righthanders who can touch 96 mph don't usually last until the seventh round, but Kaanoi had two strikes against him: He's just 5-foot-11, and most clubs thought he was headed to Arizona State. Area scout Dave Herrera determined he was signable and was proven correct. Kaanoi is built similar to former Royals phenom Tom Gordon, so the club isn't concerned about his size. The only worry is how he'll bounce back from arthroscopic surgery to repair a partial tear of his rotator cuff. Kaanoi has a free and easy arm action, so the cause of his injury is somewhat of a mystery. When he returns, he'll need to add secondary pitches. He has good arm speed, so Kansas City is confident he'll be able to develop a nice curveball. Because he's coming off surgery, he'll be handled carefully and may not pitch in 2001 until the Northwest League season begins in June.
In Walter and second-round pick Mike Tonis, the Royals snagged two of the three best college catching prospects in the 2000 draft. Walter may have the most offensive upside of the three (Dane Sardinha of the Reds is the other), though Northwest League managers thought he had an aluminum-bat swing that would need a lot of refinement. He didn't get a chance to make any adjustments, as a broken hand ended his pro debut after 13 games. Based on the brief time he played, he'll definitely need to make more contact and show more patience at the plate. Though he's still considered a bit raw behind the plate and will have to improve his footwork, he did throw out five of the nine basestealers who tested him. Tonis is slated for Double-A in 2001, so Walter likely will be catching every day in high Class A.
One of the most appealing things about Obermueller when the Royals drafted him was that he had been primarily an outfielder in college, meaning he had limited mileage on his arm and was less of an injury risk. But he spent most of 2000, his first full season as a pitcher, on the sidelines. Obermueller's mechanics got out of whack in spring training, leading to shoulder tendinitis. He didn't appear in a game until May 27, and after just seven outings he had to be shut down for a month. He made one final start at the end of July, then was diagnosed with a partially torn labrum in his shoulder, which necessitated surgery. When healthy, Obermueller throws in the low 90s and can reach 96 mph. He also has a curveball and changeup that project as major league average, and he hasn't had any difficulty throwing strikes. Once he returns in 2001, his biggest concerns will be getting a sounder delivery and more experience.
One look at Baerlocher's size and dominant 2000 season--he led the South Atlantic League in ERA and ranked second in the minors in strikeouts--might lead to the conclusion that he has overpowering stuff. In fact, it's far from it. Baerlocher's best pitch is an outstanding changeup that Class A hitters couldn't touch even when they knew it was coming. However, he falls in love with it at the expense of his fastball, which averages 88-89 mph. He might improve the velocity slightly, though his body is fairly well filled out. He'll also need a consistent breaking ball to succeed at higher levels. Wichita is one of the toughest Double-A proving grounds for finesse pitchers, and Baerlocher will face that challenge this year.
The cousin of former NFL linebacker Dana Howard, Gettis planned on pursuing football himself. He was a quarterback who signed with the University of Minnesota, then changed his mind and joined the Royals as a nondrafted free agent. His power potential and arm strength are intriguing, though he has yet to prove he can hit advanced pitching. He got blown away in the Carolina League last year, and wasn't much better after getting demoted to the South Atlantic League. Gettis needs to find a batting stance and stick to it, and he has to do a much better job of making contact. His raw strength has translated into just 12 career homers. While Gettis can throw, he has played almost solely in left field because he's been too heavy (up to 245 pounds) and still is learning the nuances of outfield play. He's a classic boom-or-bust player who can become special or struggle to make it out of Class A.
Like Byron Gettis, Guzman is a hit-or-miss prospect. He spent 1999 in the United States after being acquired from the Mets, then returned home for a second stint in the Dominican Summer League last season. Guzman is a potential five-tool player. A right fielder capable of playing center, he has an arm that rivals any outfielder's in the organization and he can run the 60-yard dash in 6.5 seconds. He has considerable power potential as well, though he has yet to do much at the plate because he hasn't made consistent contact. The Royals obviously are being patient with Guzman, who probably isn't quite ready for full-season ball.