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Berroa is the exception to the rule that the Athletics take advantage of the Royals whenever the two clubs swing a trade. In recent years, Oakland has plucked Scott Chiasson (for Jay Witasick), Kevin Appier (for Jeff D'Amico, Brad Rigby and Blake Stein) and Jermaine Dye (in a three-team deal that left Kansas City with Neifi Perez). Kansas City did make out well in January 2001, when it gave up free-agent-to-be Johnny Damon and infield prospect Mark Ellis in another three-team transaction. Berroa gave the Royals the shortstop prospect they coveted. He was as advertised, setting career highs in most offensive categories while improving defensively. Called to the majors in September, Berroa started for the final two weeks of the season and held his own. Berroa has Gold Glove potential at shortstop, where there's nothing he can't do. He has plenty of range and arm. He can get outs by making the long throw from deep in the hole as well as charging slow rollers. He got steadier in 2001, cutting his errors to 33 after making 54 the prior season. Unlike most standout middle-infield defenders, Berroa can hit. With his speed and pop, Berroa could be a 20-20 player in the majors. He led all minor league shortstops with 60 extra-base hits last season. In order to hit at the top of a lineup, however, Berroa will need to draw more walks. He puts the ball in play early in the count rather than working pitchers. He has become much less nonchalant in the field, though some high Class A Carolina League managers thought he showed off his arm too often. He can become more proficient as a basestealer after getting caught 12 times in 39 attempts last year. Royals scouts thought Berroa was two years away from being ready for the majors at the time of the trade, but he has developed much more quickly than expected. Even if Berroa begins the year at Triple-A Omaha, he shouldn't stay there long.
One of four Royals first-round picks in 1999--and one of three credited to area scout Paul Faulk--Gobble has excelled in Class A the last two seasons. He's built like Chris George, Kansas City's future ace, and has slightly better stuff. He also had more success in the Carolina League at the same age. Gobble has command of three quality pitches. He works with a low-90s fastball, the best curveball in the system and an advanced changeup. There was some concern he'd have trouble keeping his big-breaking curve in the strike zone, but it hasn't been a problem. He does a nice job of keeping the ball down, surrendering just 18 homers in 314 pro innings. He's unflappable on the mound, which he showed when he shut out the Royals for six innings in an exhibition game. Gobble could tweak his changeup and use it more often. But all he really needs is experience because his stuff should play at higher levels. Besides letting him skip short-season Spokane, the Royals have moved him one level at a time. They may not be able to stay so patient if he pitches well at Double-A Wichita to start 2002.
Until scouts went to see Natchitoches (La.) High righthander Calvin Carpenter pitch against Marshall (Texas) High last spring, Griffin wasn't even on the prospect radar screen. Then he threw 98 mph and attracted a huge following. After becoming the first documented high schooler to hit 100 mph, Griffin went ninth overall in the draft and signed for $2.4 million. Not only can he light up radar guns like few other pitchers, but the ball also comes out of his hand easily. He has a classic pitcher's body that still has room for projection, so he could throw even harder. The Royals expect his slider and changeup eventually will become major league average pitches. Griffin is raw and inexperienced. While everyone coveted his arm strength, some scouts worry that he prizes velocity more than movement. They also wonder how much aptitude he has for a breaking ball. He had no command when he reported to Spokane, though his summer-long layoff for negotiations was at least partly to blame. Griffin needs a lot of polish, so a return trip to Spokane may be in order. The Royals are willing to wait on an arm as special as his.
Though MacDougal had just two starts above high Class A entering 2001, Kansas City rushed him to Triple-A. He wasn't ready, as evidenced by his 1-6, 7.02 record through mid-June. He rebounded in the second half, going 7-2, 3.43 to earn his first big league callup. That stint ended when he was struck by a bat in the dugout during a game, fracturing his skull. MacDougal's stuff is better than any pitcher the Royals have, including the major leaguers and Colt Griffin. He throws in the mid-90s with ease, and his fastball dives so much that he can't always throw it for strikes. His slider is the nastiest breaking pitch in the system. His changeup was much improved in the latter half of last season. His pitches are so electric that MacDougal has had difficulty directing them over the plate. He gets behind in counts and gives up more hits and walks than someone with his arsenal should. MacDougal started putting everything together late last summer, so it wouldn't be any surprise if he opened 2002 in Kansas City's rotation. He has no lingering effects from the skull fracture.
The Royals like to go after big-time football recruits, from Willie Wilson and Bo Jackson to 1990s first-round picks Matt Smith and Dee Brown. They considered Crosby before taking Colt Griffin ninth overall last June, and got Crosby in the second round because he wanted to play wide receiver at Clemson. Signed for $1.75 million, he caught 27 passes and scored four touchdowns for the Tigers as a freshman. Longtime Royals scout Art Stewart says the only high school player comparable to Crosby over the last two decades is Ken Griffey. Crosby has a quick bat and feet to match, and his power-speed combination was the best available in the 2001 draft. He covers a lot of ground in center field, where his arm is average. No matter how athletic prospects may be, though, they almost never develop unless they concentrate on baseball. Crosby isn't close to doing that. His competition in high school wasn't particularly strong, intensifying his need for pro at-bats. Some scouts question his swing. Crosby won't rejoin the organization until mid-May. He likely will make his pro debut in Spokane before returning to Clemson in August. He has NFL first-round potential, which further clouds his future.
Kansas City lost righthanders Corey Thurman and Ryan Baerlocher in December's major league Rule 5 draft, but came out ahead by taking Ascencio from the Phillies with the fifth overall pick. The Royals compare the move to getting an extra first-round pick. Ascencio led the high Class A Florida State League in ERA last season. Unless the Royals want to expose him to waivers and offer him back to Philadelphia for half his $50,000 draft price, he has to stick on the major league roster in 2002. He has two pitches that are ready for that level: a 90-94 mph fastball that chews up bats and the best changeup in the system. Ascencio occasionally will flash a plus curveball but is far from doing so on a consistent basis. His mechanics and his command also need refinement. His status as a Rule 5 pick could hinder his development in 2002. Kansas City general manager Allard Baird says the club won't just carry Ascencio on the 25-man roster to retain him. He'll be given every chance to earn a job as a starter or reliever in spring training.
Few hitters can match Harvey's résumé. He won batting titles in NCAA Division I (.478) and the short-season Northwest League (.397) in 1999. He might have done the same in the Carolina League if he hadn't been injured in 2000 or promoted in 2001. His overall .350 average ranked fourth in the minors last year. Harvey's bat caught George Brett's eye--or rather his ears--with the sound the ball makes coming off it. He uses a wide-open stance and laces line drives and gappers to the opposite field. Though he has just 27 homers in 220 pro games, the Royals believe he has the strength to hit with plus power. Though he runs OK for his size, Harvey doesn't offer much besides his bat. He has stiff hands at first base and may move to left field, where he'd do less damage. His ability to put the bat on the ball actually works against him in terms of drawing walks. While Harvey made his major league debut last September, he'll probably spend most of 2002 in Triple-A. Mike Sweeney is a free agent after this season, so the first-base job could be his in 2003.
The seventh overall pick in the 1999 draft, Snyder was the Northwest League's No. 1 prospect in his pro debut. But he has worked just two regular season innings in the two years since, thanks to two elbow operations, which included Tommy John surgery in September 2000. He started to regain his stuff last fall in instructional league and looked good in a five-inning Arizona Fall League cameo. If Snyder's velocity comes back better than ever, as it has with many Tommy John survivors, look out. He threw 95-96 mph before he got hurt and 90-94 in the AFL. Far from a one-pitch guy, he also had a devastating changeup and a plus curveball. He has worked diligently during his rehabilitation, reinforcing Kansas City's belief that he has the best makeup among its pitching prospects. Snyder's comeback is far from complete. He has just 26 pro innings of experience and more elbow surgeries than victories (one). If he hadn't gotten hurt, Snyder might already have reached the majors. The Royals say they'll evaluate him in spring training before deciding where to send him for 2002. He'll be monitored carefully wherever he lands.
The Royals never have been strong at catcher, with Ellie Rodriguez (1969) and Darrell Porter (1980) the only All-Star Game selections in the franchise's 33 seasons. They tried to bolster the position in 2000, when they took Tonis and Scott Walter with second- and third-round picks. He reached Double-A last year in his first full pro season despite a right knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery. He has lived up to his billing as an advanced defensive catcher. He threw out 39 percent of basestealers in 2001 and is athletic. He once played all nine positions in the same college game, when he was clocked at 90 mph from the mound. Tonis has some power and exhibits more patience than the rest of the Royals' better position prospects. He might never hit for much of an average. He has worked on shortening his swing but it still gets a bit long at times. Journeyman Brent Mayne is the best Kansas City has behind the plate right now, and he won't stand in Tonis' way when he's ready. That should be in 2003 after he gets another year of seasoning in the upper minors.
When the Braves went looking for shortstop defense at the 2001 trading deadline, the Royals sent Rey Sanchez to Atlanta for Voyles and infield prospect Alejandro Machado. After falling and breaking his ankle in February, Voyles had been sidelined until June. He recovered to soar from high Class A to the majors, allowing just seven runs in 35 overall appearances. Voyles' two best pitches are his hard curveball and his changeup. His fastball is solid at 88-93 mph, and his career began to take off in 2000 when he started using it more often. He does a good job of keeping the ball in the ballpark and has the tough mindset required to close games. Voyles will overthrow and lose the strike zone, a flaw minor league hitters let him get away with. Those in the majors and Arizona Fall League (where he had a 6.19 ERA) did not. If he can command his fastball during spring training, he stands a good chance of making the Royals. When fading Roberto Hernandez relinquishes the closer role, Voyles might be first in line.
Kansas City hasn't signed a major leaguer out of the Dominican Republic since it got Carlos Febles in 1993. Hernandez is poised to break that string within a couple of years. After spending three seasons in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, he made a successful U.S. debut last year. He spent the first two months in extended spring, impressing the Royals with how quickly he picked up English, before fitting right in at low Class A Burlington. All three of his pitches show potential. He has an 89-93 mph fastball, a curveball he can spin for strikes and a useful changeup. His command belies his youth, and he has a strong frame that should make him durable. Hernandez will move a step up to high Class A Wilmington in 2002.
Area scout Mark Willoughby, who urged the Royals to take Miguel Ascencio in the Rule 5 draft, also deserves the credit for Bukvich, who easily could have slipped through the cracks. Bukvich began his college career at NCAA Division II Delta State (Miss.), then transferred to Mississippi and got lit up for two years before being declared academically ineligible as a senior. Willoughby remembered Bukvich's live arm and persuaded Kansas City to take him in the 11th round of the 2000 draft. All he has done in the last 1 1/2 years is reach Double- A while holding opponents to a .180 average and three homers in 100 innings. Bukvich throws in the mid-90s, and he pleased the Royals by turning his hard slurve into a true slider in 2001. It's an average big league pitch now. To finish his climb toward Kauffman Stadium, he just has to throw more strikes. Another possible closer of the future, he likely will return to Wichita at the outset of this season.
Long an organization favorite, Affeldt had his best pro season and earned Double-A Texas League all-star honors in 2001. He's a poor man's version of Jimmy Gobble, which means he still has pretty good stuff for a lefthander. Affeldt can reach the low 90s with his fastball, which has nice life. His curveball and changeup improved in 2001, though he must use the latter pitch more often, especially against righthanders. If he has an advantage over Gobble, it's that he has a sturdier frame. Despite his solid arsenal, Affeldt doesn't consistently throw quality strikes and gets hit more than he should. Though there are no plans to take him out of the rotation as he moves to Triple-A in 2002, some scouts outside the organization wonder if he'll top out as a lefty reliever.
Though Stodolka's willingness to accept a predraft deal worth $2.5 million led to him being taken fourth overall in the 2000 draft, he had plenty of ability to go with his signability. As a high school junior, in fact, he was more attractive to some teams as a hitter. He rarely was at his best in 2001 after he got mononucleosis and was weak when he arrived in camp. Kept in extended spring in April, he had a 2.21 ERA in his first two months in low Class A before shoulder tendinitis got him. He missed three weeks and got shelled upon his return. Stodolka lost a couple of miles an hour off his usual 90-93 mph last summer but should get the velocity back. He'll show a sharp curveball at times but doesn't consistently finish it off or command it. His changeup is getting better but isn't a finished product. Stodolka could shoot up this list if he's 100 percent in 2002, which he may start back at Burlington.
A fifth-round pick as a high school catcher, Hill couldn't solve professional pitchers. He batted .229 with 14 homers in five years before moving to the mound in instructional league after the 2000 season. Hill touched 92 mph in high school and 95 in instructional league, then threw explosive 94-96 heaters throughout last year, when managers rated his fastball the best in the low Class A Midwest League. Opponents hit just .158 against him in his first season on the mound. Hill is working on a hard curveball, though it looks better in the bullpen than in games, when he gets overexcited and tries to power rather than finesse it. He fiddles around with a changeup but for the most part attacks hitters low in the zone with his fastball. If he can refine a second pitch and improve his command, he'll give the Royals another potential closer.
Sometimes compared to Willie Wilson and Carlos Beltran, Gomez is the best of a group of young Royals outfield prospects straining to translate their physical tools into baseball skills. A former member of the Dominican junior national volleyball team, Gomez is unquestionably loaded with athleticism. He can run the 60-yard dash in 6.5-6.6 seconds, put on a power display in batting practice and has arm strength. He started to hit for average in 2001, which was a positive sign, but he still has plenty of work to do. He must get stronger so he can produce more extra-base hits. He also must tighten his strike zone so he won't be exploited by better pitchers and must learn the art of basestealing to make better use of his speed. He must get better jumps in center field. Gomez will work on those areas of his game in the upper minors this year.
Moreno used to be Kansas City's closer of the future--back when the future meant 2000. Now the Royals will settle for just getting him healthy and going from there. Promoted to the majors in 1999, Moreno overthrew and wrecked his arm. He went down, first with biceps tendinitis and then with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He made it back to Triple-A by the end of last year, but he came down with a sore shoulder this winter while pitching in his native Venezuela. Moreno once topped out at 98 mph, and while he doesn't throw quite that hard any longer, he's now a better pitcher. His slider has improved since his surgery, and his changeup is coming along. If he's healthy he still could solve Kansas City's closer problem. But if there's one thing the system is deep in, it's relief prospects, and Moreno must re-establish himself.
The $2.7 million bonus Austin received as the fourth overall pick in the 1998 draft remains a club record, and it looked like a prudent investment until he got to Omaha. Baseball America's 1998 College Player of the Year hit the wall as a Triple-A starter, going 1- 7, 9.45 to open last season. Austin's curveball always has been his meal ticket, but he and the Royals both learned that it wasn't enough. His fastball never had notable velocity or movement and his changeup was merely average. But once Austin moved to the bullpen last May, his fastball jumped to 94-96 mph and his curve got a little sharper. He even made it to Kansas City for 21 appearances. Austin lost his effectiveness toward the end of the season, perhaps because he wasn't used to the rigors of relieving. He'll get a chance to make the Royals in spring training.
Berger spent most of the previous three years in high Class A before coming out of nowhere to lead the Texas League in homers and slugging percentage (.648) in 2001. His 40 longballs ranked second in the minors and more than doubled his previous career high of 18. Did his advanced age of 26 and Wichita's bandbox Lawrence-Dumont Stadium contribute to his power exploding? Certainly. But he also altered his stance and stopped diving into pitches. While he's going to have to prove he can do it again, he did homer twice in five big league starts and went deep four times in the Arizona Fall League. He offers some speed and athleticism, too, though he's a tentative left fielder with a below-average arm. Kansas City has plenty of outfield and DH candidates, so Berger probably faces a year in Triple-A. The ball flies out of Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium, so he could keep mashing.
Pardon Cogan if he has gotten a little confused by how Kansas City has handled him. He began his pro career in relief, the same role he had at Stanford. After he was mediocre in high Class A in 2000, he was demoted and converted to a starter. He posted a 1.83 ERA in 13 starts, then rocketed onto the Royals' Opening Day roster in 2001--as a lefthanded specialist. He gave up a homer to the first big league hitter he faced, Jorge Posada, and rode the Kansas City-Omaha shuttle three times during the year as his considerable mental toughness was put to the test. If Cogan doesn't make the Royals out of spring training, the latest plan calls for him to resume starting. He's probably better off doing that because he doesn't have an out pitch. He's more effective mixing his three average pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup) to keep hitters off balance. Cogan generally throws strikes and keeps the ball in the park, though those traits weren't evident during his major league trials last year.
If Ken Harvey can't handle the defensive responsibilities of first base, Santos could be Mike Sweeney's eventual successor in Kansas City. He has the most raw power in the organization, though he hasn't tapped into it as well as Brandon Berger has with his. Santos can drive the ball out of any part of any ballpark, but he needs to realize that sometimes singles can be useful as well. He did make some adjustments last year, shortening his swing and using more of the field, but he still hit just .252 and struck out too much. Santos has soft hands and is a very good defender. He'll be challenged this year in high Class A, where Wilmington's Frawley Stadium is extremely pitcher-friendly.
Taken one round after Mike Tonis in the 2000 draft, Walter is his opposite. Where Tonis' defense is ahead of his offense, the reverse is true with Walter. He's still adjusting his swing from aluminum to wood, but Walter should hit for more average and power than Tonis. He just needs to show more patience at the plate, staying back and trusting his swing. Walter did make progress with his throwing, blocking and game-calling skills last season. He has a ways to go, however, after erasing just 28 percent of basestealers and permitting 124 swipes in 93 games in 2001. He has been hindered by injuries in both his years a pro, losing time to a broken left thumb in 2000 and a broken left wrist last year. The Royals value defense more than offense from their catchers, so Walter will open 2002 a level behind Tonis, either in high Class A or Double-A.
Ferrara has an interesting pedigree. He played shortstop in high school under coach Rich Hofman--who mentored Alex Rodriguez a decade earlier. After drafting him in the third round last June, the Royals nearly lost Ferrara to defending College World Series champion Miami. He showed up on the Coral Gables campus last fall, but delayed attending classes for three days before signing when Kansas City bumped its offer from $425,000 to $450,000. Converted to third base in instructional league, he labored diligently on his footwork and took to the hot corner. He has a nice approach and gap power at the plate. Ferrara has a solid array of tools and is the most well-rounded player from Kansas City's latest draft crop. The Royals also praise his makeup. He'll begin 2002 in extended spring training.
The Royals got bad news in January, when they learned that Sonnier's shoulder needed more extensive surgery than originally thought. He had his labrum and rotator cuff repaired and his shoulder tightened. He probably won't start throwing until May at the earliest. Before he ran into shoulder problems in 2001, Sonnier had breezed through the minors after signing as a nondrafted free agent. He spent time at two junior colleges and Louisiana Tech before finally attracting attention at the 1998 National Baseball Congress World Series. When healthy, Sonnier can challenge hitters with a 90-94 mph fastball, a slider and a splitter. He doesn't always get a lot of life on his fastball or throw strikes, two shortcomings he'll try to address when he gets back on the mound.
Until his senior year at Willis (Texas) High, Brown was known mainly for his basketball exploits. In baseball, he had peaked as a junior-varsity outfielder. Last spring, he moved into the varsity rotation and repeatedly showed a 90-93 mph fastball, which got him drafted in the eighth round. Outside of Roscoe Crosby, Brown was the best athlete signed by the Royals in 2001. That athleticism gives him an excellent chance to repeat his delivery, which will allow him to refine his secondary pitches (a curveball and rudimentary changeup) and his command. With his size and heat, Brown resembles a young Lee Smith. He still has a lot to learn about the art of pitching, but his ceiling is extremely high. He may start 2002 in extended spring training before going to Spokane in June.
Tierney helped his draft status last spring when he faced future White Sox first-round pick Kris Honel in a high school playoff game. Showing a 90-mph fastball and a sharp breaking ball, Tierney got within four outs of a no-hitter before losing 1-0 on two singles and a wild pitch. Tall and lanky, he's ultraprojectable and has an easy arm action, so he should develop plus velocity. His fastball has nice, late life. Tierney made some progress with his changeup after turning pro, though his breaking ball was very inconsistent. While he did get rocked in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, he kept throwing strikes to both sides of the plate. Like Ira Brown, Tierney likely will be kept on the slow track for now.
The cousin of former big league pitcher Greg Harris, Natale spent two years at Santa Ana (Calif.) JC before winning the NAIA World Series with Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) in 2000. While the Royals admit they didn't have huge expectations for him when they drafted him in the 22nd round that June, he has been an extremely pleasant surprise. They knew he had a good splitter. Natale's fastball has sat at 90 mph, which is enough velocity because it sinks and he can spot it where he wants. After he excelled as a reliever in his first taste of pro ball, Kansas City shifted him to the rotation in high Class A last year to see if his stuff would hold up. It did, as his changeup proved to be an effective third pitch. Natale will try to keep beating the odds this year in Double-A.
Among their outfielders, the Royals have a starter kit of football skill-position players. Big leaguer Dee Brown was a prized tailback recruit by Maryland, and 2001 second-rounder Roscoe Crosby spent last fall as a Clemson wide receiver. The quarterback would be Gettis, who was set to throw passes for Minnesota before changing his mind and signing with the Royals in a bowling alley as a nondrafted free agent. He's the cousin of former NFL linebacker Dana Howard. Gettis has the power and arm scouts like to see in a right fielder, but he has yet to get the most out of his tools. It's not for want of trying--Kansas City loves his makeup--but rather it's because he's so raw. His ability to make contact, instincts and weight all have been negatives thus far. Gettis has yet to rise higher than Class A after four years as a pro and might return to Wilmington after struggling there in 2000 and 2001.
Machado had moved from shortstop to second base with the Braves, then shifted back after coming to the Royals in the Rey Sanchez trade last summer. His arm is just average for shortstop, but his range, soft hands and instincts may allow him to remain there. He made just eight errors in 110 games between second and short in 2001. As good as he is defensively, Machado is going to have to show a lot more offensively to reach the majors. He has good speed but doesn't get on base enough or know how to use it well once he does. He's a slap hitter who needs to get stronger and improve his bunting ability. He's not adverse to drawing a walk, though he could make more consistent contact. Machado will play in high Class A in 2002.
Sanchez could be the sleeper of the Royals' 2001 draft after they took him out of Puerto Rico in the 11th round. Like Ira Brown and Chris Tierney, Sanchez didn't light up the Gulf Coast League but that couldn't diminish Kansas City's enthusiasm. He's a toolsy shortstop whose arm and speed are plus tools. He's wiry strong and the ball carries off his bat when he centers the ball. For all his upside, Sanchez is going to need plenty of time in the minors. He'll have to develop his body and tighten his strike zone in order to provide much offense. He must get more aggressive on the bases and more steady in the field. Sanchez doesn't figure to make his full-season debut until 2003 at the earliest.