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Since the Royals made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2005 draft, Gordon has done nothing to make the Royals think twice about their club-record $4 million bonus investment. He pulled off an unprecedented feat by winning Baseball America's College Player of the Year Award and Minor League Player of the Year awards in consecutive seasons, capturing the latter honor in his pro debut. Gordon is accustomed to accumulating hardware, as he was a two-time Big 12 Conference player of the year at Nebraska and was the offensive MVP when Team USA won a gold medal at the 2004 World University Championships. After signing late in 2005, he played in the Arizona Fall League, his only pro experience before he led the Double-A Texas League in slugging (.588), finished second in on-base percentage (.427) and ranked fourth in batting (.325). A native of Lincoln, Neb., Gordon grew up as a Royals fan, and his brother Brett was named for Hall of Famer George Brett, the greatest player in franchise history. Gordon may one day make a run at that title. There's little that Gordon can't do offensively. He has a smooth stroke with impressive bat speed and is able to generate power to all fields. In college he was able to wait longer on pitches because of the metal bat, but he quickly learned how to get his load started earlier with wood. That allowed his power to emerge quickly as the season progressed and he hit 19 home runs in the final two months. He finds ways to get hits even when his swing isn't at its best, further evidence of his knack for centering the ball on the barrel of the bat. He has a strong concept of the strike zone and is willing to draw walks. An average runner with terrific instincts, Gordon is an efficient basestealer. He succeeded on 22 of his 25 attempts in 2006. Defensively, he has proven to be more athletic at third base than Kansas City expected. He has above-average arm strength. Gordon has had a habit of tinkering with his swing going back to his days at Nebraska, as well as a tendency to open up that causes a slight uppercut. The Royals are trying to get him to focus on keeping his swing on a slight downward plane to generate more backspin and loft. Gordon has the most room to improve defensively. He was mechanical and a little stiff as third baseman coming out of college, but he has made significant improvement. While he still needs to get lighter on his feet, there's no reason he shouldn't be at least an average defender. With incumbent Royals third baseman Mark Teahen coming off a solid season, either he or Gordon could end up switching positions. Possible destinations for Gordon include the outfield corners or first base, and he provides enough offense to play anywhere. Because his bat is nearly major league-ready, he'll get a look with big club this spring and could make the Royals' Opening Day roster. Teahen's shoulder surgery could enhance Gordon's chances of breaking camp with Kansas City. Even if Gordon opens the year at Triple-A Omaha, he'll surely make his way to the majors to stay at some point in 2007.
A candidate to go No. 1 in the 2005 draft, Hochevar dropped to the Dodgers at No. 40 because of signability. Negotiations took a strange turn that September, when he switched agents and agreed to a $2.98 million bonus, then switched back to Scott Boras and declined to sign. After a sharp stint in the independent American Association, he did go No. 1 to the Royals in June. Hochevar got a $3.5 million bonus and $5.25 million guarantee as part of the first major league contract the Royals have given to a draft pick since Bo Jackson in 1986. Hochevar features a lively four-seam fastball that sits at 92-93 mph and touches 95. He complements his fastball with a plus-plus late-breaking curveball that he can throw for strikes or bury for strikeouts. He worked more with a slider in college, but the Royals wanted him to focus on his curve and have been pleased with the results. His changeup is a usable third pitch, and he has good overall command of his entire arsenal. Because of his tendency to land on his heel, Hochevar's fastball command can be inconsistent. His changeup can use further improvement. He signed late, so he has just 38 pro innings under his belt at age 23. The Royals sent him to the Arizona Fall League to get more experience, but he left early with shoulder fatigue. Hochevar's shoulder problem isn't considered serious, and he could earn a spot in Kansas City's Opening Day rotation with a strong spring training. More likely, he'll begin the season at Double-A Wichita, where he finished 2006 in the Texas League playoffs, and make his big league debut later in the year.
In 2004, Butler and Eric Hurley (Rangers) made Jacksonville Wolfson the fifth high school ever to produce two first-rounders in the same draft. Somewhat of a surprise selection at No. 14, Butler has justified the pick by hitting .344/.417/.564 as a pro. He won the Texas League batting title and the Futures Game MVP award in 2006, and capped the year by hitting .313 while helping Team USA qualify for the 2008 Olympics. With excellent bat speed, balance and a cerebral approach, Butler has no real weakness as a hitter. He has great plate coverage and will hit the ball where it is pitched. He has the best raw power in the system and is still learning how to turn on inside pitches. He's content to go the other way, particularly with runners on base. While there are no questions about his bat, Butler's defense is another story. Drafted as a third baseman, he since has moved to the outfield. His arm is strong enough for right field, but his speed is below average and his routes and footwork need plenty of work. There are no doubts that Butler has the bat to be an all-star, but his lack of defensive skills might mean his future is as a DH. He desperately wants to prove he can play the outfield and the Royals will give him every chance to do so in Triple-A this year. His bat could force him to Kansas City by midseason.
Always among the youngest players in his league, Lubanski has shown the ability to make adjustments as the season progresses as evidenced by a career-long trend of second-half surges. The fifth overall pick in the 2003 draft had a .704 on-base plus slugging percentage before the 2006 all-star break, compared to a .978 OPS afterward. Though he has filled out since being drafted, Lubanski is still very athletic. He has plus speed and a smooth stroke with leverage that bodes well for power. His plate discipline and pitch recognition continue to improve, and he led the Texas League in walks in 2006. He has good range in the outfield. Though he runs well, Lubanski isn't the speedster he was billed as coming out of high school. He's not adept at stealing bases and is tentative in the outfield. His routes, jumps and arm are all fringy, making him a left fielder rather than a center fielder. He sometimes misses hittable pitches when he gets them. He hit just .225 against lefthanders in 2006 because he lunges too often and needs to trust his hands more. Lubanski looked like a possible first-round bust by mid-2005, but he has turned his career around, and the Royals see him as their long-term answer in left field. He'll probably spend most of 2007 in Triple-A.
In his first summer as Royals general manager, Dayton Moore made it a goal to acquire as many pitching prospects as possible. The best he got was Lumsden, who came from the White Sox along with righthander Daniel Cortes in exchange for Mike MacDougal. A supplemental first round pick in 2004, Lumsden missed all of 2005 following arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow. Lumsden had no physical problems and showed three quality pitches in 2006. His fastball sits at 90-93 mph and tops out at 95. He also features a hard 12-to-6 curveball and a solid changeup. His delivery is sound and balanced. Lumsden sometimes has trouble repeating his mechanics, landing too hard on his front foot and throwing across his body. When that happens, he gets under his pitches and leaves them up in the strike zone. That's why he was more hittable than a southpaw with three legitimate pitches should have been in 2006. Developing pitchers has been problematic for the Royals, who have far more openings on their big league staff than the White Sox did. Lumsden's elbow problems appear behind him, and he could grab a spot in Kansas City's rotation with a strong spring training. More likely, he'll head to Triple-A for a few starts.
Maier prompts more divided opinion than perhaps any player in the system. Some see him as an everyday center fielder, while others think he's a fourth outfielder. He was part of an all-first-rounder outfield in Wichita, flanked by Billy Butler and Chris Lubanski. A catcher in college, Maier first moved to third base as a pro. He was the leader of a star-studded Wichita club and earns high praise for his work ethic. He has shortened his swing and improved his rhythm and balance. He stays tough against lefthanders and posted an .888 OPS against them in 2006. He has average speed and arm strength, and his good instincts allow him to play center. Though Maier is a well-rounded player, none of his tools jump out. His swing still gets long with an uppercut at times, and he needs to continue refining his approach at the plate. He profiles better for the top rather than for the middle of a batting order, and thus could stand to draw more walks. Maier's defense has improved and his chances of being an everyday player have increased now that he has proven he can play center. His makeup and all-around tools should make him at least a big league reserve. He'll get the opportunity to make the Royals in spring training.
Bannister's father Floyd was the No. 1 overall pick in the June 1976 draft and won 134 games in the majors, while his brother Brett signed with the Mariners as a 19th-rounder in 2005. An unheralded seventhround pick in 2003, Brian won 15 games in a breakthrough 2005 minor league season and opened last year in the Mets rotation. He hurt a hamstring running the bases in late April and pitched just once in the next three months. In December, the Royals shipped closer Ambiorix Burgos to New York for Bannister. They're polar opposites on the mound, as Burgos has overpowering stuff but is very raw, while Bannister is underwhelming but very polished. Though he had more walks than strikeouts in his brief big league exposure, his strengths are his aboveaverage command his feel for pitching. His most effective pitch is his 85-87 mph cutter. His fastball sits at 89-91 mph, and while his curveball has nasty bite, he doesn't throw it for strikes. He used his rehab time to focus on his changeup, which had always been fringy. Bannister projects as a decent back-of-the-rotation starter, and he should make Kansas City's Opening Day roster in 2007.
Huber has been on the prospect radar for so long that he has appeared in three Futures Games, winning MVP honors in 2005. A catcher in the Mets system before coming to the Royals in a three-team deal for Kris Benson in 2004, he moved to first base after switching organizations. Passed by 2006 trade acquisition Ryan Shealy at that position, Huber is now getting time in the outfield. He surprisingly didn't get a September callup and spent the month back home in Australia. Huber stays inside the ball well and can spray line drives all over the field. He has a good knowledge of the strike zone and could hit 15-20 homers per season. He has solid arm strength and more athleticism than most former catchers. Huber has yet to prove he has the power to warrant everyday play at first base or an outfield corner. His athleticism hasn't translated well to his defense, where he lacks instincts. He was a shaky receiver and is now an adequate first baseman and a raw outfielder. His speed is slightly below average. With Shealy at first and a multitude of outfield candidates, Huber's chances of becoming a regular with Kansas City are diminishing. He doesn't have much to gain from a third stint in Triple-A, so a trade could be possible.
Lefthander Matt Campbell, a 2004 first-rounder, hasn't pitched since tearing his labrum in mid-2005. But his former college teammate Buckner, a second-rounder in 2004, has acquitted himself quite well. He allowed only one run in his final 21 innings in 2006, including a playoff victory. His father (not the former big league batting champion of the same name) taught Buckner how to throw a knuckle-curve as a kid. It has a devastating 12-to-6 spike and is a strikeout pitch. His fastball sits in the low 90s with natural sink that creates groundballs. Buckner needs better command across the board. He refuses to give in to hitters and walks too many hitters in an attempt to be too fine. The Royals don't want to take away his aggressive nature, but they would like him to do a better job of channeling his emotions while trusting his fastball more. His changeup can be an average pitch but needs more work. Kansas City sees him as a reliable starter with some upside if he can improve his command. He is set to begin 2007 in Triple-A Omaha.
Fisher did not draw much attention as an amateur because his fastball wasn't overpowering, but he has done nothing but dominate as a pro. He repeated the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2006 and easily won the strikeout crown. He led all starters in short-season leagues in whiffs per nine innings (13.3) and finished second in opponent average (.169). Because of the remarkable deception on his 88-91 mph fastball, Fisher's Rookie-level Idaho Falls teammates took to calling it the "Invisi-ball."He gets swings and misses with his fastball by hiding it behind a compact arm action. He also throw a curveball that he can spot for strikes and backdoor righthanders with. Fisher has a feel for a changeup, but he doesn't throw it often because he has been able to dominate Rookie ball with just his fastball and curve. The Royals want him to throw the change more as he'll need it at higher levels. His fringe-average velocity may not play as well against more advanced hitters. Still just 19, Fisher offers plenty of projection and could add velocity. He'll head to low Class A Burlington in 2007 and offers as much upside of any pitcher in the lower levels of the system.
No player has caused more frustration in the system then Bianchi, who has hit .414 but hasn't gotten past the Arizona League because he has been plagued by injuries since signing as a second-rounder in 2005. He caught the Royals' eye when they viewed a Major League Scouting Bureau video that one scout said displayed the best hitting approach he ever had seen from a high school player. But his pro debut was shortened by a lower back strain and his 2006 season ended early when he required surgery on the labrum in his right shoulder. Bianchi has a short, quick swing that allows him to use the entire field while showing average power. He works counts and doesn't chase bad pitches. His best pure tool is his well above-average speed, and he profiles as a leadoff hitter. Bianchi's shoulder operation might lead to a future switch to second base because his arm already was a question at shortstop, but he has the hands and feet to stay in the middle infield. The Royals see some Michael Young in Bianchi and are anxious to find out what he can do with a full-season assignment to low Class A this year.
In an attempt to save money in the 2003 draft, the Royals drafted college seniors in rounds five through nine and signed them for $1,000 each. Braun has turned out to be the most promising of the bunch. The power reliever features a fastball that he can dial up to 96 mph to go with an 88-90 mph slider and an 85-87 mph curveball. His curve is more of strikeout pitch than his slider because of its greater velocity differential from his fastball. He also has a changeup that he throws infrequently. Braun got knocked around in his big league debut last year, when he learned that major leaguers aren't going to be intimidated by sheer power. He'll have to improve his control and command in order to succeed at the highest level after relying mostly on throwing the ball by minor leaguers. Braun had Tommy John surgery in college in 1998 and missed most of the 2005 season following shoulder surgery, but was healthy throughout last season. He operates with a maximum-effort delivery, not the best prescription for throwing quality strikes and staying healthy.
Several teams were interested in trading up to get Soria in the major league Rule 5 draft at the 2006 Winter Meetings, but the Royals held onto the No. 2 overall pick and claimed him for themselves. Having pitched just 16 2/3 innings in the United States since the Dodgers signed him as a 17-year-old in 2001, he was tough to evaluate. He missed all of 2003 recovering from Tommy John surgery, got released in 2004 and spent most of the last two seasons pitching in the Mexican League. The Padres bought his contract from the Mexico City Red Devils in December 2005, then loaned him back to the club in 2006. Soria generated buzz by going 8- 0, 2.02 in the winter Mexican Pacific League before the Rule 5 draft. He works off an 89-93 mph fastball with late movement, and he can locate it to both sides of the plate. He also flashes a plus changeup and keeps both pitches down in the strike zone. His curveball is average, though he'll sometimes fly open in his mechanics and leaves it up. Soria, who threw a perfect game in his first outing after Kansas City selected him, has to stay on the major league roster throughout 2007, or else clear waivers and be offered back to San Diego for half his $50,000 draft price. That shouldn't be an issue, and he should stick with the Royals as a swingman.
Wood went 10-1, 3.13 as a Georgia Tech sophomore before slumping to an 11-4, 4.79 mark as a junior last spring. The Royals thought he was better than a third-round talent and gladly took him there and signed him for $460,000. Once he recovered from shin splints that bothered him in college and made some progress with his delivery, Wood threw his lively fastball at 93-95 mph in his pro debut. He also has a changeup with good action down in the strike zone. Wood's biggest problem is inconsistent mechanics. He'ill lower his arm slot while landing on a stiff front side, causing his pitches to stay up in the zone as he flies off the mound in his finish. It also leads to his curveball flattening out. Wood went to instructional league with a focus on improving his direction to the plate and incorporating his lower half more. The Royals love his arm strength and raw stuff and see a lot of upside once he smoothes out his delivery. A good spring training could mean he skips low Class A.
The highest drafted player out of Wisconsin since the Angels selected Jarrod Washburn 31st overall in 1995, Cordier missed 2005 while recovering from knee surgery. He came back strong in mid-June before elbow problems shut him down again two months later. The Royals hoped he could avoid surgery, but he had Tommy John in the fall. Cordier's fastball, which sits at 92-95 mph and tops out at 98, is the best in the system. It has good arm-side run and he can pound it in on righthanders to get groundballs. He also has advanced feel for a plus changeup. Though he'll flash a plus breaking ball, Cordier's release point varies and often leaves him with a slurve. He's still trying to figure out if he should throw a curveball or a slider. The Royals prefer their pitchers first try to develop a curve, so he likely will go that route. With his latest surgery, his health is an obvious concern and has limited him to 87 innings in 2 1/2 pro seasons. Patience will be required as he comes back from surgery, but his arm strength is rare and the Royals think his upside rivals Hochevar's because of his potential for three plus pitches. He won't pitch again until 2008.
No one was more surprised that he was a second-round pick last June than Taylor himself. Given the impression he would last until at least the fifth round, he was hanging out with friends when he got a telephone call telling him he was the first pick of the second round. He turned down Clemson to sign with the Royals for $762,500. He lost the chance for some exposure when a broken arm kept him out of most of the summer showcases, but he did hit .316 for the U.S. junior national team. Some scouts likened his athleticism to that of Justin Upton, a fellow Virginia high school product and the No. 1 overall pick in 2005. Taylor has good hand-eye coordination and can drive the ball to all fields. He shows plus raw power but has more of a line-drive stroke. He should hit more homers as he learns to incorporate his lower half into his swing more often. His approach and plate discipline are well beyond those of most teenagers, though he's still learning to adjust to the better offspeed pitches he'll see in pro ball. A shortstop in high school, Taylor lacked the range to play there as a pro and moved to third base. He arm and hands are both above average, and he runs well. Because he's now at the hot corner, more will be expected of his bat. He'll be tested in low Class A this year.
Johnson established himself as a potential first-round pick with a dominant performance at the 2003 Area Code Games, but he slumped as a high school senior and went to the Dodgers in the second round in 2004. He has had an up-and-down pro career, struggling in his pro debut, having a fine first full season and then getting knocked around in two high Class A leagues last year. Los Angeles traded him, Odalis Perez and Julio Pimentel to acquire Elmer Dessens last July. Johnson has a lean, wiry frame and gets good downward plane on an average 89-92 mph fastball that he throws for strikes, albeit without pinpoint command. He uses it to set up a mid-70s curveball that has good downward bite and serves as his out pitch. He also features a developing changeup with nice action. Johnson is very laid back but shows some aggressiveness when he gets into jams. Kansas City wants to see him come out of his shell and show more ferocity. His command is average but he has clean mechanics, so it should improve with experience. Johnson pitched in two hitter-friendly home parks in 2006, so his performance wasn't as rough as his statistics might suggest. Nevertheless, he may have to repeat high Class A at the Royals' new Wilmington affiliate.
Another piece of the Elmer Dessens deal, Pimentel originally signed as an outfielder. He wasn't hitting well at the Dodgers' Dominican academy, so they put him on the mound and he quickly took to the conversion. With a lean, athletic frame, Pimentel pitches at 91-92 mph with his fastball and touches 95. He also features a hard breaking ball that he throws at 83-84 mph. It's a curveball-slider hybrid with short, tight break. His changeup sits at 85- 86 mph and is a little on the hard side relative to his fastball, but it bottoms out nicely. Command is his biggest shortcoming. Pimentel has a tendency to land on the outside of his left foot, and will spin off to the first-base side of his mound. The Royals are trying to get him to land on his toe consistently, which will improve the command of all of his pitches. His inconsistent mechanics may limit him to the bullpen, and Los Angeles moved him there last May. He continued in relief after the trade, but Kansas City believes he still has a chance to be a starter. He'll open 2007 in the Double-A rotation.
Rosa missed all of 2005 recovering from Tommy John surgery, but rebounded to finish fourth in the low Class A Midwest League in ERA and win the organization's minor league pitcher of the year award. Rosa features a lively fastball with late arm-side run that sits at 92 mph. He never was comfortable with a conventional circle changeup before his elbow reconstruction, so the Royals taught him a fosh changeup that's now his second-best pitch. He maintains his fastball arm speed when he throws the fosh, which arrives at 84-85 mph and has excellent late sink. His slider is a fringy third pitch. Under new general manager Dayton Moore, Kansas City now emphasizes curveballs over sliders, but pitchers like Rosa who used a slider as their only breaking pitch were allowed to continue doing so. The Royals have also smoothed out his delivery since surgery and have him landing on his toe, as opposed to his heel, and that has improved all of his offerings. Rosa will take the next step up to high Class A this year.
Cota played mostly shortstop in high school and the Royals took a chance on his arm strength in the 10th round in 2003. The move paid off as he was named Arizona's junior college player of the year the following spring and signed as a draft-and-follow for $1.05 million, a record for a 10th-rounder. Cota has gone just 12-20, 5.52 as a pro and had a careerworst 7.09 ERA last year. While high Class A High Desert and the California League as a whole are extremely hitter-friendly, that can't be blamed for all of his struggles. His command is erratic and he leaves too many balls up in the zone. Cota does have strikeout stuff and just needs to learn how to harness it. He possesses one of the best arms in the system as his fastball touches 95 mph and he sits at 91-92 mph with ease. His slider came on as the season progressed but is still too erratic. It's a mid-80s breaker with slight downward bite when he stays on top of it. While the slider has more potential, he currently gets more out of his changeup because he keeps it down in the zone. Cota's ceiling is as high as any pitcher's in the system. Because the Royals have shifted their high Class A affiliate from High Desert to Wilmington, which favors pitchers, he'll likely repeat the level in 2007.
Robinson had scouts salivating in the summer of 2005, when he was clocked running a 6.19-second 60-yard dash on the showcase circuit. Though he committed to Florida as a cornerback in football, he told scouts he wanted to play baseball and signed with the Royals for $850,000, easily the highest bonus in the fourth round last year. Robinson's rare speed plays better on defense than on the bases at this point. He easily tracks balls and has nifty instincts in center field, but he was caught in 14 of his 34 steal attempts as a pro. Opponents knew he planned on running nearly every time he reached base in order to work on his basestealing skills, which made it tough to run. The question mark with Robinson is his bat. A natural righthanded hitter, he struggled horribly from the left side in his pro debut, hitting just .194 with 52 strikeouts in 134 at-bats. He has some strength and bat speed, but he needs a smoother stroke and better plate discipline. His speed will be wasted if he can't consistently make contact and get on base. His arm is below average. Robinson's is a project and Kansas City will be patient in trying to mold him into a leadoff hitter. He likely will open 2007 in low Class A.
The Royals may have hit on back-to-back college righthanders in the third round, taking Nicoll in 2005 and Blake Wood last year. Kansas City liked Nicoll's strong performance in the Cape Cod League in 2004 and at UC Irvine the following spring, and it has carried over into pro ball. Prior to last season Nicoll didn't have a standout pitch, but his slider has improved drastically and is now his best offering. He throws it with short, tight rotation at around 83 mph, though he has yet to master full command of it. Kansas City has moved him from the first-base side of the rubber to the third-base side to improve the angle on his slider against righthanders. His darting fastball sits at 88-90 mph and he locates it well on both sides of the plate. Nicoll tends to pitch too much off of his slider and also needs to incorporate his changeup more. He earned a late-season promotion to high Class A and could begin 2007 there.
Acquired from the Dodgers for shortstop Wilson Valdez in March, Plummer quietly put together on of the best seasons by any pitcher in the system. The organization's High Desert pitcher of the year, he reached double figures in both wins and saves as a swingman. Plummer's strong suit is his ability to command his 88-92 mph fastball, which looks deceptively fast because of his slightly unorthodox delivery. His arm action is long in back but whiplike coming forward, and it throws hitters off without affecting his ability to throw strikes. Plummer pitches mostly off of his fastball. He picks up some strikeouts by burying his 80-82 splitter in the dirt once he gets ahead in the count. His curveball, a big, looping breaker that he throws in the mid-70s, is mostly for show. Plummer spent the offseason in the Hawaiian Winter League and will open in Double-A this year. His fastball command should allow him to reach the big leagues if he can get a little more out of his secondary stuff.
Christensen came out of Brooklyn's Xaverian High, the same school as Rich Aurilia and Orioles 2006 supplemental first-rounder Pedro Beato. He showed up in spring training out of shape for his first full pro season in 2003 and went 1-12, then made just one start in 2004 before needing Tommy John surgery. Christensen has put himself back on the prospect map the last two years. Though not overpowering, he succeeds with an excellent feel for pitching and above-average command of an 85-89 mph fastball. He wasn't afraid to attack the strike zone despite the favorable hitting conditions he faced at High Desert and in the California League. He also flashes an average curveball and a plus changeup that's effective against righthanders with it's down-and-away life. Command is typically the last thing that comes back after Tommy John surgery, and Christensen still is working on locating his secondary pitches. That will be key for him, as his fastball velocity offers little margin for error. After surviving High Desert, he'll begin this season in Double-A.
Sanchez has been a grinder, slowly working his way up the ladder. He repeated both the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and the low Class A Midwest League in his first four seasons. Helped by the hitting environment at High Desert, he put together his best season in 2005, and he proved it wasn't a total fluke last year. The Royals always have liked Sanchez' ability to put the bat on the ball and his situational hitting skills. Though he makes good contact, he doesn't hit for much power and doesn't have exceptional on-base ability. Despite aboveaverage speed, he was thrown out in nine of his 17 steal attempts last year. If Sanchez makes it to the big leagues, his glove will be his ticket. He's an excellent shortstop who can make both routine and spectacular plays. With a strong arm, he can effortlessly make throws from the hole without taking an extra step. Sanchez will move up to Triple-A in 2007.
Undrafted before 2006, Mertins created buzz among scouts when he got a chance to play shortstop at the JC of the Desert (Calif.). He hit .387, went 37-for-42 stealing bases and showed some arm strength. After signing for $35,000 as a 13th-round pick, he maintained that pace in his pro debut, batting .342 and succeeding on 26 of 30 steal attempts. Mertins stays inside the ball well and while he's not a slap hitter, he has a little man's approach. The power he does have is mostly to the gaps, though he has the bat speed to turn on mistakes. A savvy basestealer, he has above-average speed but isn't a burner. Mertins has a lean frame and should add strength as he gets older, but that also could come at the expense of some speed. He played second base and DHed in his debut, but the Royals may give him the chance to play shortstop this year. There's also talk of skipping him a level and sending him to high Class A.
The Royals thought they had a ninth-round steal when McConnell hit .333 and showed good gap power through his first two seasons, but he took an enormous step backwards with the bat in 2006. He struggled early in the year in low Class A, stopped trusting his swing and his approach disintegrated. He would chase a curve in the dirt and then stare at a fastball right over the plate for strike three. McConnell has an unorthodox swing with a low crouch and a high back elbow, and it remains to be seen whether that will work above Rookie ball. Kansas City was impressed that his problems at the plate didn't carry over into the field. McConnell is a plus defender with quick feet, good hands and an above-average arm, though he is also a little unorthodox in the field as well. He's a slightly above-average runner who's still honing his instincts on the bases. McConnell rallied to post decent numbers after a demotion to Idaho Falls, so his season was not a total loss. The Royals will try and keep him and Jeff Bianchi separated so they can both play shortstop, but both need to advance to low Class A this year. They may split time between second base and short together at Burlington this year.
Dickerson led the Arizona League in RBIs and triples in his 2005 pro debut, and he posted similar numbers in his encore last year one step up in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. He uses a short, quick stroke to generate pull-side power. He consistently makes hard contact with pitches on the inner half, but his plate coverage needs to improve because pitchers at higher levels will exploit his hole on the outer half. Dickerson shows the ability to close that hole during soft-toss and batting practice, but it's still an issue during games. Though he has above-average speed, he's still learning to steal bases and has been nailed in 20 of his 38 pro attempts. Dickerson is solid in center field because he gets good reads and breaks, but there are concerns that he lacks the athleticism to stay there. As he adds strength to his frame, he may not be able to maintain his current range. If that happens, his fringeaverage arm would limit him to left field. After two years of Rookie ball, Dickerson is ready to prove himself in low Class A.
Godin had back surgery in November 2004, missed all of 2005 and returned with no ill effects last spring. He had 146 strikeouts in 115 innings to lead the Colonial Athletic Association, following in the footsteps of Harold Mozingo (drafted one round after Godin by the Royals in June) and Justin Verlander. A fifth-rounder, Godin turned pro for $210,000. His best pitch is a 12-to-6 curveball that sits at 79-80 mph. He can throw the curve for strikes or bury it in the dirt when he's ahead in the count. He throws his 88-91 mph fastball on a good downhill plane and commands it well. He added a slider when he returned at Old Dominion, but probably will scrap it per the new organization philosophy that prefers the curveball. He rarely threw a changeup before he signed but quickly made strides with it as a pro. After he logged 115 innings in college, the Royals shut Godin down after just 22 pro innings. They put him on a program to add muscle mass and weight in hopes of increasing his durability. If he has a strong spring, he could skip a level and go to high Class A.
Acquired from the White Sox along with Tyler Lumsden in exchange for Mike MacDougal last July, Cortes offers more projection than most pitchers in the Royals system but is still very raw. He committed to San Diego State out of high school, but a three-inch growth spurt as a senior added 5 mph of velocity and earned him a $115,000 signing bonus as a seventhrounder. Cortes operates at 87-92 mph with his fastball but once he fills out his lean frame he should add more velocity. The Royals took away his slider and moved him to the thirdbase side of the rubber when they acquired him. Though his ERA ballooned to 6.69 after the trade, they were pleased with the progress of his curveball, an 82-83 mph bender with hard 12-to-6 break. Though Cortes has an outstanding pitcher's frame, he uses too much effort in his delivery and tries to hard to light up radar guns. He lands on his heel too often and his pitches have a tendency to fade to the right when he does. He needs to improve his changeup and command. He's certainly a work in progress, but Cortes' upside is significant. He might have to repeat low Class A to start 2007.
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