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For years, Mike Moustakas was the strong second fiddle to Chatsworth (Calif.) High teammate Matt Dominguez. In 2007, Moustakas established himself as an even better prospect than his fellow first-round pick by slimming down and showing his power potential. He set the California state records for home runs in a season (24) and career (52). The No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 draft, he signed for $4 million right at the Aug. 15 deadline. Though he got just 41 at-bats at Rookie-level Idaho Falls that summer, his advanced approach left the Royals with no qualms about sending him to low Class A Burlington in 2008. Moustakas struggled to adapt to breaking balls and the cold weather during the first month, but he made adjustments and ranked as the Midwest League's No. 1 prospect by season's end. He was the league's first teenaged home run champ since Steve Gibralter in 1992. Moustakas punishes balls with quick wrists, exceptional bat speed and a vicious stroke. When he gets a fastball teed up where he's expecting it, he can easily drive it out of the park, and his power rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He also makes consistent contact and should hit for average. After his early problems with breaking balls, where he was getting out on his front foot and beating them into the ground, Moustakas learned to keep his weight back on his back leg and use his legs to drive them. Kansas City actually was happy to see him prove he could deal with an extended slump and make the necessary adjustments. Moustakas is a much better fit at third base than shortstop. Clocked as high as 97 mph off the mound in high school, he has a strong arm that's a big asset at third base. He also played the outfield in high school, and some scouts believe his arm, frame and makeup would make him an outstanding catcher. The Royals will keep him at third base, however, to expedite getting his bat to the big leagues. Moustakas has the bat speed to turn on most any fastball, but he gets pull-conscious and can do a better job of using the entire field. While he improved at hitting breaking balls as the season went along, he needs to recognize which ones he can drive and which he should lay off. Considering he made a midseason transition to third base, Moustakas handled it very well, but he still needs to work on reading the ball off the bat and charging bunts and choppers. He's lacks elite athleticism, so he'll have to work to maintain his first-step quickness. Though Kansas City tries to be conservative when it comes to moving players through the system, Moustakas has the talent to accelerate his timetable. He'll move up to high Class A Wilmington in 2009 and could reach the majors as early as the end of the 2010 season. With Alex Gordon at third base, Moustakas may have to change positions again down the line, but he moves well enough and definitely has enough arm to handle a corner-outfield assignment.
As an eighth grader, Hosmer was a 5-foot-9, pudgy baseball rat. A growth spurt gave him a start on becoming a prospect, and he remade himself with an intense workout program. The most dangerous prep hitter in the 2008 draft, he went third overall and signed for a club-record $6 million. His pro debut was cut short when MLB ordered him to sit out after he got caught up in a grievance involving No. 2 overall pick Pedro Alvarez. Hosmer has the kind of bat speed and raw power that can't be taught. He and Mike Moustakas have comparable raw power, and the consensus is that Hosmer hits the ball a little bit harder. While most young power hitters are looking to yank and crank, he's very adept at sitting back and driving balls to the opposite field. He won't get to use it, but he has one of the best fastballs in the system, having been clocked as high as 97 mph. He has soft hands at first base and enough speed and athleticism to play in the outfield. Even with all his gifts as a hitter, Hosmer does need to develop a gameplan instead of just hitting whatever the pitcher throws. He'll wind up with below-average speed as he gets older. Like Moustakas before him, Hosmer is advanced enough to handle low Class A despite getting little previous exposure to pro ball. He should be the Royals' No. 3 hitter of the future.
The throw-in in the Mike MacDougal deal with the White Sox has become the prize now that lefthander Tyler Lumsden has crashed and burned in Triple-A. The Royals got more than they bargained for in Cortes, who has added height, strength and velocity in the two years since he was traded. Cortes has a 91-93 mph fastball that touches 96 mph, but his out pitch is his plus 12-to-6 curveball. He used to throw a slider with the White Sox, but showed his aptitude by quickly picking up the curve with the Royals. Some believe he could move rapidly with a move to the bullpen, where his fastball could play up to 96-97 mph. He has the personality to handle the pressure of working as a setup man or closer. Cortes' changeup isn't very effective and he doesn't trust it much. He needs to improve it to handle lefties, who hit .285/.396/.455 against him in 2008. His command needs more polish. When he gets in trouble, he tends to speed up his delivery, which causes him to leave his pitches up in the zone. Cortes could pitch in Kansas City's bullpen right now, but he'll likely work out of Triple-A Omaha's rotation instead. He still has significant work to do but has the ingredients to become a frontline starter.
Montgomery was leading his high school basketball team in scoring when his coach kicked him off the team in January for recording too many technical fouls. That gave him a chance to focus on pitching, which paid off as he showed improved velocity and an advanced approach. Signed for $988,000 as the 36th overall pick, he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Montgomery's long arms and athletic frame should allow him to continue to add 20-30 pounds and more velocity. He already sits at 90-92 mph and touches 95 with nice life on his fastball. He pairs it with a unique palm curveball that he developed because it puts little stress on his arm. His 80-mph changeup already rates as average and has the potential to be an out pitch. As his basketball career showed, he's an intense competitor. Montgomery can spin a breaking ball, but the Royals want him to find a more conventional grip and he has yet to find one that he's comfortable with. Other than that, he's very polished for his age and just needs more innings to develop. Montgomery is advanced enough to head to low Class A, though he may spend time in extended spring to avoid the April chill of the Midwest League. He has the potential to become the franchise's best lefthander since Danny Jackson.
Melville entered 2008 as the top prep pitching prospect in the draft, but concerns about his price tag and a senior season that didn't quite live up to expectations caused him to slide to the fourth round. The Royals snapped him up and signed him for $1.25 million--$960,000 above slot. He's the second Holt High (Wentzville, Mo.) product to figure prominently in the last two drafts, as Holt grad and Missouri State product Ross Detwiler went sixth overall in 2007. At his best, Melville has a 91-95 mph fastball, a plus curveball and an adequate changeup. He has plenty of athleticism and repeats his free and easy delivery, so he has no trouble throwing strikes. He also has the frame to add weight, so he could throw consistently in the mid-90s when he's fully matured. Melville has clean mechanics, but they may have gotten too polished early last spring, costing him deception and velocity. He abandoned some tweaks and reverted to his old delivery by the end of the high school season, and his stuff improved. He needs to find more consistency with his curveball and to refine his changeup. Melville didn't sign until the Aug. 15 deadline, so he'll be making his pro debut in 2009. Fronted by Mike Montgomery and Melville, Burlington's rotation could be one of the best in low Class A.
Duffy has come a long way since he was a 5-foot-4 high school freshman with a 70- mph fastball. He has dominated the lower levels of the minors, going 10-7, 1.97 with 165 strikeouts in 119 innings. The Royals shut him down in late August because of shoulder discomfort, but he could have pitched in the Midwest League playoffs if they hadn't played it safe. Duffy has a nice fastball for a lefty, sitting at 88-92 mph and touching 94. At times, his curveball is a plus pitch and his changeup rates as slightly above average. He has good mound presence and challenges hitters, throwing strikes and keeping the ball down in the zone. He has shortened his stride since turning pro, allowing him to throw on more of a downhill plane, and he also has fixed a tendency to throw across his body. Like many young pitchers, Duffy is prone to overthrowing when he gets into a jam, costing him command. He'll also get cute and lob up an 85-86 mph fastball at times. He rarely has feel for both of his secondary pitches on the same day, and his curve can get loopy. The Royals haven't had a pair of potential frontline lefties like Mike Montgomery and Duffy in years. With his three-pitch mix and maturity, there's no reason Duffy shouldn't continue to succeed in high Class A in 2009.
Gutierrez has made great strides since signing as a draft-and-follow in 2006. His velocity jumped during instructional league in 2007 and he sustained the increase in 2008, which made him a different pitcher. He missed all of May with a hairline fracture in his pitching elbow, but he pitched well afterward. In the first game of the Midwest League finals, he outdueled South Bend ace Jarrod Parker with 11 strikeouts over six scoreless innings. Gutierrez pounds the lower part of the strike zone with his fastball, generating plenty of grounders. He pitched at 88-92 mph early in the season but was working at 90- 95 with good life at the end of the year. He has power and 12-to-6 break on a curveball that buries itself just as it reaches the plate. He also shows some feel for a changeup. He can locate his pitches to all four quadrants of the strike zone. He limits the running game by varying his timing to the plate and his pickoff move. After the elbow scare, Gutierrez needs to show he can stay healthy and sustain his improved velocity over a full season. When he operates in the low 90s, his other pitches play up. If he can improve his changeup, the sky is the limit. There's some talk that Gutierrez could handle a jump to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, though the Royals usually aren't that aggressive. He'll probably open 2009 in high Class A Wilmington.
Royals third-base coach Luis Silverio spotted Rosa when he was the team's director of Dominican operations in 2002. At the time, Rosa was a skinny kid throwing 88-89 mph, but Silverio immediately spotted his potential and signed him for $25,000. Rosa almost became a Marlin this offseason, but Florida backed off because of the forearm strain that ended his season in August. Rosa's four-seam fastball is one of the system's best. He sits between 92-94 mph as a starter and runs it up to 96-97 as a reliever. His slider gives him a second plus pitch. He already has good control and does a nice job of pitching down in the zone, leading to lots of groundballs. Staying healthy has been a concern for Rosa, who missed the entire 2005 season after Tommy John surgery, although the Royals say he's healthy now. If he's going to be a starter, he'll have to improve his fringy changeup. He still has nights where he lacks feel for his slider. While he throws strikes, he needs to sharpen his command. The Royals have to decide whether to bring him up now as a setup man or send him back to Triple-A to hone his skills as a starter.
Improving his conditioning and diet enabled Ka'aihue to overcome knee problems and take off in 2008, when was the Texas League MVP. His father Kila Sr. played 11 years in the minors and his brother Kala is a first baseman in the Braves system. With healthy knees, Ka'aihue had much improved balance at the plate and used his legs and hips to turn on pitches. He always had outstanding plate discipline--he led the minors with 104 walks in 2008--and his newfound strength allowed him to finally take advantage of fastball counts. His bat speed also got better and he started catching up to plus fastballs that had blown him away in the past. Ka'aihue has to hit for power because he lacks athleticism and speed, making him a liability as a runner and defender. He needs to walk a fine line between being disciplined and too passive, as he sometimes lets hittable pitches go by. It's hard to know if Ka'aihue's 2008 breakout is a sign of things to come or a repeat of Craig Brazell's 2007, which led to a trip to Japan. The Royals didn't do him any favors by trading for Mike Jacobs, so Ka'aihue will have to make his own opportunity.
Wood missed the first three months of the 2007 season after back surgery to repair a herniated disc. While recovering, he focused on improving his conditioning, lost 25 pounds and improved his athleticism. He stayed healthy in 2008, though he struggled once he reached Double-A. On the nights where everything is working, Wood looks like he's ready for the big leagues. He has a heavy fastball that sits between 92-94 mph and touches 97. He'll also flash a power curveball and a plus changeup. Some believe he's more likely to stick as a starter than Daniel Cortes or Carlos Rosa. There are still too many games where Wood can't locate his fastball, buries his curveball in the dirt and doesn't have feel for his changeup. He doesn't always repeat his delivery, which leads to command issues, and too often speeds up his tempo. When he drops his arm slot, he leaves his fastball up in the zone and his curve loses bite. He rarely has both his curve and changeup working in the same outing. Unless he wows the Royals in spring training, Wood will head back to Double-A. If he can improve his command, he has a chance to become a No. 2 or 3 starter in the majors.
New Orleans' Tom Walter named Giavotella a team captain as a sophomore--the first time he'd done that in 11 years as a head coach. It was a reward for Giavotella's intensity and his leadership skills. He showed the same qualities when he helped spark Burlington to the Midwest League title after signing with the Royals for $787,000 as a second-round pick last summer. Giavotella was an all-state second baseman on New Orleans Jesuit High's state championship team, and even though he's only 5-foot-8, he was a standout linebacker on the football team as well. He's built like a fire hydrant with massive forearms and a barrel chest. Giavotella has a compact swing that allows him to turn on fastballs and wait on breaking balls and changeups, though he's currently vulnerable to being pitched on the outer half. He has a very good batting eye and should continue to rack up high on-base percentages thanks to advanced pitch-recognition skills. Giavotella will have to hit because his defense will never be a strength. He showed improvement on the double-play pivot after the Royals moved his hands up to quicken his exchange, but he doesn't have much range to his right and likely never will rate better than a 45 defensively on the 20-80 scouting scale. He has solid arm strength and average speed. On the basepaths, the Royals have worked to get him squared him up more so he can get a better first step on his jumps. Giavotella should head to high Class A for his first full pro season.
When Danny Duffy and Matt Mitchell were shut down at Burlington in August, the Royals needed to find someone to step right into the Midwest League playoff race. Herrera proved up to the challenge, going 2-0, 2.13 in three outings and turning in a quality start in his lone postseason outing. He has yet to find a challenge in pro ball, as he dominated the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 2007 before blowing away the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 2008. There are few pitchers in the system with a higher ceiling than Herrera. Though he's just 5-foot-10, he has quality stuff, commands his fastball to both sides of the plate and shows an advanced feel for pitching. As an 18-year-old last season, he was sitting at 91-92 mph and touching 95. He's especially tough on righthanders because his fastball rides in on their hands and his slurvy curveball has some bite. He also throws a solid changeup and has precocious command of both of his offspeed pitches. He also has made a quick adjustment to life in the United States. Herrera will return to low Class A to start the season, but he may force Kansas City to give him an early promotion.
Barrera has one of the best arms in the system, and befitting a dominating reliever, he's all about power. But it has been a very slow climb for the righthander with the mid-90s fastball, which explains why the Royals had to deliberate long and hard before protecting him on the 40-man roster in November. Barrera's problems have revolved around an awkward delivery that caused command problems. Coming out of high school, he crowhopped on his right leg as he began his leg kick at the start of his delivery. His weight shift frequently was so far ahead of his arm that his right foot had left the rubber before he released the ball. He had to be sent back to extended spring in 2007 from low Class A Burlington to rework his motion because it clearly was illegal. Barrera's delivery still flirts with being illegal--it depends on the interpretation of the umpire on any given night--but he has toned it down and has reduced the effort involved. Barrera's secondary pitches have improved as a result. His mid-80s slider and splitter are now plus pitches at times when they had been average at best. The awkwardness of his delivery does create deception, which helps because his slider and splitter aren't that different. His split doesn't drop straight down but cuts like his slider, which has just a little more sweep to it. If Barrera can continue to refine his delivery, he has the stuff to be a late-innings reliever. After enjoying his first extended success in four pro seasons, he'll have to keep improving to handle a jump to Double-A this year.
Unlike with most high school pitching prospects, scouts don't have to do a lot of projecting to forecast how Sample will fill out as an adult. The 18-year-old already has a big league body at 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds. The Royals drafted him in the third round last June and their $500,000 bonus persuaded him to give up an Arkansas scholarship. Sample had Tommy John surgery as a high school sophomore, but his stuff has fully returned. His fastball sits at 92-94 mph and topped out at 96 with good life. He pairs it with a 12-to-6 knuckle-curve, a pitch popular in the Denver area thanks to the late Bus Campbell, an former Blue Jays scout who had a knack for teaching it. Roy Halladay was his prized pupil. Sample also throws a changeup, though it needs plenty of polish. He's very raw, as he needs to lengthen his stride to improve his command and must learn to repeat his delivery. His inability to locate his fastball led to a rocky pro debut, but the Royals believe his problems are easily correctable. If he can refine his mechanics and makes sure he doesn't gain too much weight, he could blossom into a frontline starter. Kansas City may take it slow with Sample and let him open 2009 in extended spring training.
Lough was a baseball, football and soccer star in high school. He decided to focus on football as a wide receiver and kick returner at Mercyhurst (Pa.) College, and also opted to walk-on to the baseball team as well. He was an instant starter in center field as a freshman and quickly realized that at his size, he had a much brighter future in baseball. It was a wise choice as the Royals made him the highest draft pick (11th round) ever from Mercyhurst, which also produced big leaguers John Costello and David Lee. Despite his lack of stature, Lough has some impressive physical tools. He has a very muscular frame and has impressive raw power thanks to a quick bat and solid swing that comes with an exaggerated high finish. He's still unrefined at the plate, which partly can be attributed to the fact that he has spent only two years as a full-time baseball player. He did show steady improvement in 2008, with 31 of his 48 extra-base hits coming during the second half. Lough has plus speed and is average defensively in center field and above-average in left. His arm is a tick below-average, which prevents him from playing in right. Despite his speed, Lough isn't a very good basestealer because he doesn't get good jumps and still is learning how to read pitchers. He'll move to high Class A in 2009, and may have to play a lot of left field on a Wilmington club with multiple center fielders. Lough has one of the highest ceilings in the system, though he has a long way to go to turn his potential into big league production.
Robinson could patrol center field in Kansas City right now, but he has a long way to go to prove that he can hit enough to make it to Kansas City. The Royals spent $850,000 to get Robinson to give up a football scholarship to Florida, and he has shown the athleticism and makeup they were hoping for. But at the plate, the switch-hitter's lefthanded swing still looks unnatural. He has shown improved pitch recognition and is using his hands better. Where he used to survive on bloop hits, he now has more line-drive singles and doubles, especially when he's hitting righthanded. But Robinson will have to make more strides with pitch recognition and develop the ability to take a walk if he's going to ever be anything more than a No. 9 hitter. He's also still honing his ability to bunt, which would immediately improve his batting average. He can fly down the line in 3.8-3.9 seconds from home to first from the left side, and steals bases largely with his pure speed. If he improved his leads and his ability to read pitchers' moves, he could steal even more than the 62 bags he nabbed last year. In the outfield, he has the speed to run down balls in the gaps, and through hard work he has improved his arm to where it's now just a tick below average. Kansas City has pushed Robinson aggressively, but after struggling for three seasons, he'd be best off returning to high Class A to try to help him develop some confidence at the plate.
For a righthander with quality stuff, Pimentel's climb through the minors has been much slower than expected, which may partly explain why the Dodgers were willing to include him in a trade for Elmer Dessens in 2006. He needed three years to master high Class A, then ran into trouble again in his first exposure to Double-A last year. Despite his struggles, he was named to the Futures Game roster, where he showed off a lively 90-93 mph fastball. His changeup has late fade and at times gives him a second swing-and-miss pitch. He also does a good job of throwing strikes. But the sum of the parts never has added up for Pimentel. He struggles with rushing his delivery when he gets into jams, and he has a knack of cruising for several innings before suddenly and completely falling apart. Some scouts believe he'll be better off as a reliever, where his mechanical issues and his lack of a consistent curveball will be less of an issue. Kansas City will keep him a starter for now, but his role could change if he can't solve Double-A in his second chance.
The Royals have a clear need for catching help, but their top catching prospects are years away from the majors. Perez is the best of the bunch, as the 18-year-old Venezuelan combines solid defensive skills with a potentially potent bat. A twisted ankle cost him nearly half of his 2008 season. At 6-foot-3, he doesn't have a typical backstop's build, but the Royals compare his body to Sandy Alomar's. Perez sets a good target behind the plate, shows soft hands and does a decent job of blocking balls in the dirt. His arm rates a 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale, though it plays a tick better than that because of his quick exchange. He threw out 45 percent of basestealers last season. At the plate, Perez is slowly gaining strength, which is paying off in improved bat speed. He's still not a power hitter, but he caught up to fastballs last year that would have blown him away in 2007. His swing is still a little lengthy, and it likely always will be because of his long arms, but he showed an improved path to the ball in 2008. He should get his first taste of full-season ball with a move to low Class A in 2009.
Like Kelvin Herrera, Fortuna is a largely unpublicized Latin American prospect who could end up rocketing up this list a year from now. The live-armed teenager already can touch 95-96 mph with his fastball. Fortuna has a clean arm action and a solid delivery, but he still needs to refine nearly everything. He has shown the ability to spin a breaking ball which leads the Royals to believe he'll pick up the pitch, but his curveball is very fringy right now and he struggles to locate it. His changeup might be a tick ahead of the curveball at this point. Fortuna's command wavers and he doesn't always repeat his delivery, but Kansas City believes he just needs innings to fix most of the problems, and he has shown that he's a fast learner. He had adjusted very well to life in the United States and has picked up English. At worst, if Fortuna doesn't pick up a curveball, the Royals think he easily could add a slider to become a power arm out of the pen. With his fastball and delivery, he has a lot of potential as a starter and will get every opportunity to succeed in that role. He's not ready for full-season ball, so he'll begin 2009 in extended spring training.
After leading the Arizona League with a 1.80 ERA in his 2007 pro debut, Mitchell held his own after making the jump to low Class A last season. But his season ended on a down note, as he was shut down in late August with elbow discomfort and required Tommy John surgery that will sideline him for the entire 2009 season. There's a potential bright spot to the injury, however. Mitchell was throwing a fringe-average fastball that usually sat between 89-90 mph last summer while he was less than 100 percent. There's a good chance he'll come back throwing harder, which would allow his above-average changeup and improving curveball to play up. Mitchell uses a palmball grip for his changeup because of his small hands, and it works for him. Mitchell has excellent contol for a young pitcher, but unless he gains some velocity, he'll have to be very precise as he climbs the ladder because he doesn't have put-away stuff. If his rehab goes well, he should return at high Class A in 2010.
If Derrick Robinson is the Royals' toolsiest center-field candidate, Ortiz is their fastest. His entire game is built around his 80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale. Against lefthanders, he sometimes takes a running start at the ball as he tries to slap it onto the ground, though he has the ability to stay back and drive the ball into the gap against righties. He can fly from home to first in 3.8 seconds, turns liners in the gaps into triples and choppers into base hits, which explains why he has batted .308 or better at each of his three pro stops. But to be a leadoff hitter, Ortiz needs to become more patient. He too often swings at the first or second pitch, and he drew only 24 walks last season, a concern for a player who has to be a tablesetter. His utter lack of power is also a problem, as upper-level pitchers won't be afraid to bust him inside. For all his speed, Ortiz must improve at picking his spots to run after getting caught 20 times in 54 steals attempts in 2008. He's an excellent center fielder with very good range and an above-average arm with a quick release and pinpoint accuracy. He led the Midwest League with 18 assists in just 99 games and finished 2008 with a total of 22. Ortiz will return to high Class A to start 2009, where he'll join David Lough, Paulo Orlando and Robinson in an extremely speedy outfield.
There's very little projection left in the 26-year-old Maier, but he has proven that he can be a useful contributor in the majors. The Royals made him the final pick in 2003's first round, in part because he was willing to sign for a below-slot $900,000 bonus. Maier does a lot of little things well. He can play a solid center field--he was the best defensive center fielder on the big league roster before Kansas City traded for Coco Crisp--and can play anywhere in the outfield and even serve as an emergency catcher. He has average speed with solid instincts that allow him to take an extra base and steal if he catches a pitcher napping. He also hits for solid average with a little bit of pop and has showed an improved approach and swing in recent years, but he still doesn't provide enough offense to be a big league regular. Maier dreamed of being a defensive back for Michigan as a kid, and he still carries that all-out mentality onto the baseball field. He missed only a couple of weeks after a Zach Jackson fastball broke three bones in his face in mid-August. Maier will likely never be more than a backup outfielder, but his attitude, versatility and decent bat should help him spend 2009 in Kansas City.
Dickerson saw his 2008 season end early, as a fastball in on the hands broke his left index finger on July 13 and sidelined him until the Arizona Fall League. He's a classic tweener. If you're an optimist, you focus on his solid bat, his defense in right field and his ability to play center field in a pinch. If you're a pessimist, you fixate on his lack of a clear profile. He doesn't project to hit enough to be a big league corner outfielder, and he doesn't play defense well enough to be a big league center fielder. In any case, Dickerson has been one of the most consistent hitters in the system since the Royals made him a fourth-round pick in 2005. As he has climbed the ladder, he has showed diminished power production, in part because he's learned how to use the whole field instead of employing the pull-happy approach he entered pro ball with. His bat control allows him to put the barrel on the ball consistently. He has a tick above-average speed, but that never has paid off in basestealing success. He can use that speed to take an extra base and to cover more ground that most right fielders. His arm is average. Dickerson has moved one level at a time though the system and will continue to do so in 2009, when he advances to Double-A.
Abreu has shown a great arm, iffy command and rotten luck during his time with the Royals. He missed 2007 with an elbow injury, but bounced back with a strong season in low Class A. After combining with Danny Duffy on a no-hitter on Aug. 7, however, Abreu stepped on a baseball during a conditioning drill, twisted his ankle and missed the rest of the year. He has one of the best arms in the system with a 93-94 mph fastball that touches 97, and his 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings last year was the highest average among full-season Royals pitchers. On the downside, he always has struggled with his control and his health. His delivery has a little funkiness to it that makes it hard to pick up the ball but also makes it hard for him to find the strike zone. Abreu sets up on the far right side of the rubber and throws from a three-quarters arm slot that makes him especially tough on righthanders, who hit .209/.315/.314 against him last season. He also throws an 11-to-5 curveball that has depth. As a 24-year-old, Abreu will be old for high Class A in 2009, but if he can continue to improve his control he could be a useful power arm out of the bullpen.
While Salvador Perez is lanky for a catcher, Bonilla has the more traditional squat, muscular build. His present tools may grade out a tick above Perez's, but Perez's better defense and long-term potential give him the edge on this list. Of the two, Bonilla has a better arm, as it grades as a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He threw out 43 percent of basestealers in 2008. He showed improvement receiving the ball, but he still needs to become consistent behind the plate. Using a compact swing, Bonilla has shown some power and the ability to use the entire field. He runs very well for a catcher and actually has enough athleticism to potentially play second base or outfield, though the Royals have no intention of moving him. He's a long ways away but has all the tools to become a big league everyday catcher. With Perez and Sean McCauley ahead of him, Bonilla likely will move up to Idaho Falls in 2009.
Martin earned all-Pacific Coast Conference honors in each of his two seasons at San Diego Mesa JC, then turned in two more solid years at Texas Tech. His modest size and tools helped him fall to the 29th round in 2007, but he has shown intriguing power since signing for $1,000. In his pro debut, he ranked second in the Appalachian League with 10 homers, and he followed up by hitting nine in only 190 at-bats as a utility infielder in low Class A in 2008. He was held back in extended spring until late May, and he struggled to get at-bats on a team that had Mike Moustakas, Johnny Giavotella and Jason Taylor in the infield. As a result, the Royals sent Martin to Hawaii Winter Baseball, where he emerged as a prospect. He tied former Texas Tech teammate Roger Kieschnick for the HWB lead with six homers, and he ranked second with 12 doubles and fourth with a .518 slugging percentage. Martin generates good bat speed and has a sound swing, and the ball jumps off his bat in surprising fashion for someone his size. He's too aggressive and will have to be more patient as he advances through the minors, and he has struggled to make consistent contact at times. Defensively, Martin's hands grade out as average, though his arm and range may be a tick short for shortstop. He fits better defensively at second or third base, but he's still a little raw at second because he's not accustomed to playing on that side of the bag. He has the power and defensive profile to be a big league utilityman and needs to be tested in 2009, either at high Class A or Double-A, as a 24-year-old.
Asheville, N.C., has been a hot destination for scouts in recent years, as Cameron Maybin, Justin Jackson and Runion have gone in the top two rounds of the last four drafts. As a senior in 2007, Runion outdueled Madison Bumgarner in an April start that helped cement his status as a premium prospect. The Royals knew when they drafted Runion that he was somewhat raw and would require patience, and that has been the case. He has a lively fastball that generally sits at 91-92 mph and touches 94. When he keeps his arm angle up, he gets good downward plane on his heater. His lack of a consistent breaking ball led to him getting shelled in low Class A last year, but he showed improvement after a demotion. Runion's curveball is best when he slows down and snaps it off with 11-to-5 break. In the Midwest League, he started dropping his arm and trying to throw his breaking ball with more velocity, and it became a slurvy slider with some sweep. Runion has a little bit of feel for a changeup, but he doesn't replicate his fastball arm speed when throwing it. Runion has the stuff to be a power reliever, but the Royals look at his body and fastball and see a reason to keep developing him as a starter. While he needs to refine his stuff, he has done a good job of finding the strike zone. He'll take a second crack at low Class A in 2009.
Espinall is part of the Royals' renewed push to find talent in the Caribbean. He signed in 2007 for $250,000, while AZL Royals double-play partner Guelin Beltre signed for $230,000. The two likely will climb the ladder together for several years. Espinal makes the Top 30 ahead of Beltre on the basis of his superior physicality. Unlike many young Dominican signees, Espinal already has some stockiness and strength which should give him average power to go with his above-average speed. Like many young Dominican signees, he has to improve his plate discipline--he walked only twice in 204 at-bats in his pro debut last summer. He shows average range and a plus arm at shortstop, but he's not as flashy as Beltre and may outgrow the position and end up as an offense-first second baseman. Espinal broke the hamate bone in his hand, ending his season early and causing him to miss instructional league. He should be ready for spring training, however, and has an outside chance of earning a spot in low Class A.
The Royals believed enough in Hayenga to give him a $300,000 bonus in 2007 despite the fact that he was recovering from a torn labrum. He suffered the shoulder injury when he dove into a base in high school and jammed his shoulder. He has yet to throw a pitch in an official game, but Kansas City got the first glimpse of what it paid for during instructional league when his fastball sat at 92-94 mph in his first outing. A prep basketball standout, Hayenga is an above-average athlete with a relatively clean and repeatable delivery. The Royals had him focus on throwing mainly fastballs and changeups in instructs, but he had a 12-to-6 curveball with depth before he got hurt. He showed solid command in his return to the mound in instructional league. Club officials have been impressed with Hayenga's dedication to rehabbing his shoulder and think they landed a steal in the 31st round. It's unlikely that Hayenga will break camp with a full-season club in 2009, though he could head to low Class A after a stint in extended spring training.
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