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In spring training last year, Montgomery made a strong push to make the Royals' Opening Day roster. In the end, Kansas City decided to send him to Omaha to give him some Triple-A experience, with the expectation that he would soon make the trek to the majors. He recorded a 2.45 ERA in his first six starts before struggles with his control and command caught up to him. He went 3-10, 6.11 in his final 22 outings and never got that callup. It was the first onfield hiccup for Montgomery, who quickly established himself as the Royals' best pitching prospect after signing for $988,000 as the 36th overall pick in the 2008 draft. He ranked No. 1 on this list before the 2010 season, when he was spectacular at high Class A Wilmington in April before straining his forearm. Montgomery sat out two months and hasn't missed a start since, though his control hasn't been as sharp. He averaged 2.6 walks per nine innings before he was sidelined and has averaged 3.9 afterward. As a 6-foot-5 lefthander who generates good downward plane, Montgomery can dominate when he maintains his delivery. He runs his fastball up to 95-96 mph on his best nights and sits at 92-93, overpowering hitters when he commands it. But he struggled to do so in 2011, which left him behind in too many counts. Though Montgomery did a good job of getting out on the front side of his delivery in spring training, he had trouble keeping his mechanics in sync once the season began. While he battled to control his fastball, Kansas City tried to get him to focus more on pitching up and down in the zone and worrying less about working in and out. Even when he struggled, Montgomery was able to locate his plus changeup. He throws the changeup with deceptive arm speed and nice fade, and he keeps it down in the zone. After four pro seasons, Montgomery still is seeking the right grip for his curveball. He tried a spike curveball in spring training and while it showed some promise, it also caused forearm discomfort. He shelved it in May and went back to a more traditional curve. That version is slower at 74-76 mph and has big break that often carries it out of the strike zone, and it also lacks consistency. He still has the palmball/curve he used in high school that he can use when he feels he has to throw a strike. Whichever breaking ball Montgomery throws, it's usually his third-best offering and shows only flashes of becoming a plus pitch. He's an intense competitor. Montgomery's 2011 struggles were disconcerting, but he also was a 22-year-old in the Pacific Coast League and sill has plenty of time to work out his delivery issues. The Royals aren't worried and scouts from other teams see no long-term hiccups. He still projects as a frontline starter and will head to spring training with an outside chance to make the big league club.
As a high school senior, Starling accounted for 3,167 yards and 39 touchdowns as a quarterback and averaged 28 points per game in basketball. He could have been Nebraska's quarterback of the future, but the Royals signed him for a franchise-record $7.5 million bonus after selecting him fifth overall in the 2011 draft. In an organization that covets premium athletes, Starling is the best of the bunch. He has excellent strength and bat speed and shows plus-plus power in batting practice. While he's not nearly as polished as Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas were when the Royals drafted them near the top of the first round out of high school, Starling has shortened his swing enough over the last year that scouts believe he'll hit for average as well. He's a well above-average runner, making him a basestealing threat and giving him plus range in center field. Clocked at 95 mph on the mound, he has a stronger arm than most center fielders. He was cited for underage drinking during instructional league, but the Royals say his makeup isn't a problem. Starling has a huge ceiling but will need more development time than Hosmer or Moustakas did. Starling could make his pro debut at low Class A Kane County, or he could begin 2012 in extended spring training.
A potential first-round talent in 2009, Myers fell to the third round because of his $2 million asking price, which the Royals paid him. He finished 2010 as one of the top catching prospects in baseball. A year later, he has switched positions and added a little tarnish. He missed a month in 2011 with a knee injury that got infected and didn't hit with as much authority as he had in the past. Myers has the quick hands and raw strength to hit 20-25 homers per year, plus the understanding of the strike zone and the hand-eye coordination to hit for average. He's most comfortable hitting pitches on the outer half, but Double-A pitchers busted him inside with fastballs and he struggled to turn on them. Late in the season, he spread out his feet, which opened him up to handle inside heat better. Myers has average speed and a plus arm, but he's a below-average right fielder for now. He takes poor routes to balls and some scouts were turned off by his low-energy approach, especially when it came to working on his defense. Myers looked like his old self while hitting .360/.481/.674 in the Arizona Fall League and profiles as a possible all-star corner outfielder. He'll return to Northwest Arkansas to begin 2012, seemingly better prepared to handle Double-A pitching this time around.
Odorizzi starred as a pitcher, shortstop and wide receiver in high school before Milwaukee made him the 32nd overall pick in the 2008 draft and signed him for $1.06 million. He swiftly blossomed into the Brewers' top pitching prospect before they packaged him with Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Jeremy Jeffress to acquire Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt from the Royals in December 2010. When he was in low Class A, Odorizzi's athleticism drew comparisons to Greinke's. Odorizzi sits at 91-93 mph and touches 95 with his fastball, which seems a little firmer because he has a slow, easy delivery with a quick finish. He misses a lot of bats with his heater, which has sinking and running action, and maintains its velocity deep into games. Odorizzi's curveball, slider and changeup all have the potential to be average. His curve has the most upside, and he throws his changeup with conviction. After his promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas last July, he tried to be too fine with his pitches, which led to more walks and deeper counts. Odorizzi could pitch his way to Triple-A with a dominant spring, but it's more likely that he'll return to Northwest Arkansas for a tuneup. He profiles as a No. 2 or 3 starter once he refines his secondary pitches.
Miguel Sano (Twins) and Gary Sanchez (Yankees) were the big names in the international signing class in 2009, but Cuthbert has been right on their heals since signing for $1.35 million out of Big Corn Island off the coast of Nicaragua. His polish made the Royals comfortable sending him to Kane County last May at age 18, making him the Midwest League's youngest position player. He had a .866 OPS entering August but wore out in the final month. Cuthbert is an advanced hitter for his age. He works deep counts, recognizes breaking balls and uses the entire field. Thanks to his approach, strength and simple swing, he could become a plus hitter with plus power. The Royals also think Cuthbert can become an above-average defender at third base with good hands, solid footwork and an above-average arm. MWL observers wondered if he'd be able to stay at third base since he's a well-below average runner with fringy range and a thick lower half. He'll have to maintain his conditioning and agility to avoid a move across the diamond. With above-average offensive potential and a chance to stick at third base, Cuthbert could emerge as one of the game's better prospects with a solid 2012 season in high Class A. He's on course to reach Kansas City at age 22.
Lamb's stock dipped when he fractured his pitching elbow in a car accident as a high school senior. The Royals stayed on him, drafted him in 2008's fifth round and signed him for $165,000. He reached Double-A two years later and established himself as one of game's top lefty prospects. Lamb strained an oblique muscle in spring training last year and showed decreased velocity once the season began. Even when his oblique healed, his stuff didn't bounce back and doctors found a torn elbow ligament that required Tommy John surgery in June. Before the surgery, Lamb showed exquisite command of a 90-95 mph fastball and a plus changeup. He also threw an inconsistent curveball that can become an average pitch. Because of his feel for his delivery, the Royals expect he won't take long to regain his command when he returns. He has shown the ability to keep the ball down in the zone and to win without his best stuff. If his pitches come back to what they were before he got hurt, Lamb projects as a solid No. 2 or 3 starter. He was only throwing off flat ground during the offseason and won't return to game action until June at the earliest. It probably will be 2013 before he's fully back to his pre-injury form. Even so, he still could get to the majors before he turns 23.
Herrera ranked among the Royals' best pitching prospects after he made his U.S. debut in 2008, then lost nearly two years to elbow problems. To get him back on track, Kansas City moved him to the bullpen last year, and it proved to be a perfect fit. While climbing from high Class A to the majors, he threw more innings (70) than he did in 2009-10 as a starter (46). In a system with plenty of intriguing arms, Herrera has the best pure stuff. He has been clocked as high as 102 mph, consistently touches 100 and sits at 95-98 mph with his overpowering fastball. He backs up his heat with a solid curveball and even flashes a plus changeup with late tumbling action, though he doesn't use the changeup as much in a relief role. Herrera's delivery never will be particularly clean, but he has smoothed out the jarring motion he used in past years. While his mechanics don't prevent him from throwing strikes, they do lead to concerns about his long-term health. Herrera followed a two-inning big league cameo with a dominating stint this winter in the Dominican League. He's ready for a set-up role in Kansas City and could be Joakim Soria's eventual successor at closer if he stays healthy.
The Royals have a renewed emphasis to scout, draft and sign players in their area, such as Adam, whose high school sits 22 miles from Kauffmann Stadium. His inconsistent senior season and commitment to Missouri helped drop him to the fifth round of the 2010 draft, where Kansas City pounced and signed him for $800,000. The Royals sent him to low Class A for his 2011 pro debut, and while he had an up-and-down year, he finished with 5⅔ scoreless innings in the deciding game of the Midwest League quarterfinals. After showing a 95-96 mph fastball during instructional league in 2010, Adam didn't have the same velocity while enduring the grind of starting every fifth day. He pitched at 88-93 mph for much of the season. His curveball shows flashes of being a plus pitch and he locates it well for a 20-year-old, but it lost some of its bite when his velocity dropped. Adam's changeup eventually could give him a third average-or-better pitch. He was glacially slow to the plate at the start of the season and while he improved, he has to get quicker after giving up 27 steals in 30 attempts. Adam didn't dominate in his pro debut, but he did make every start after arriving in Kane County in mid-May. He's a potential No. 3 starter and headed to high Class A.
The Royals viewed Dwyer, a rare draft-eligible freshman, as one of the top lefthanders in the 2009 draft and paid him accordingly, $1.45 million as a fourth-round pick. He made it to Double-A in his first full pro season, but he was shut down that July with a back injury and had control problems when he returned to Northwest Arkansas in 2011. His ERA swelled to 6.96 by mid-July, though he recorded a 3.53 ERA over his final nine starts. When Dwyer was able to throw strikes early in games in 2011, he'd get ahead with a 90-92 mph fastball that touches 94 and set up hitters for his sharp 12-to-6 curveball. But too often, he couldn't find the strike zone because of delivery issues. He had problems locating pitches to his glove side and keeping the ball down in the zone. Dwyer tends to throw across his body and fail to finish his pitches, which takes away some of the bite and effectiveness from his curve. Interestingly, his average changeup was his most consistent pitch last year. Dwyer had delivery issues even when he was going well in 2010 and he must take a step forward with his control if he's going to be the middle-of-the-rotation starter that Kansas City envisions. He'll advance to Triple-A at some point in 2012.
Ventura is the rare sub-6-foot pitcher who can reach triple digits on the radar gun. Signed for $28,000 out of the Dominican Republic at age 17, he has added nearly 10 mph to his fastball since then as he's gained weight and cleaned up his delivery. While Ventura can throw 100 mph, he's better off when he stops worrying about the radar gun, something that has been a problem for him. When he's trying to throw hard, his delivery becomes much messier with plenty of effort, leading him to spin off the mound and recoil at the end of his follow-through. When he relaxes and throws eaiser, he stays more in line to the plate. Then he locates his 94-97 mph fastball much better and his curveball shows plus potential rather than becoming the flat spinner he shows when he's overthrowing. His fastball has good late life. Ventura's 79-83 mph changeup is his third-best pitch, but it has late fade and almost unfair separation from his heater. He generally throws strikes but his lack of command leads to his stuff getting hit harder than it should. Ventura has the upside of a frontline starter, though he could wind up in the bullpen if he can't clean up his mechanics. He responds well to being challenged, and the Royals will push him to high Class A at age 20 this season.
In 2010, the Royals had the fourth pick in a draft with a clear-cut top three prospects. Colon attracted the Royals because he was willing to sign for MLB's recommended $2.75 million slot bonus and because he gave them a shortstop prospect at a time when the team had no shortstop of the future. Since then, Kansas City has acquired Alcides Escobar in the Zack Greinke trade and Colon has struggled in Double-A. When he was drafted, scouts questioned whether he had a true plus tool outside of his bat. His hitting hasn't lived up to expectations during his short pro career, however. Colon became too pull-happy in his first full pro season, transferring his weight too early and becoming easy pickings for quality breaking balls. He has bat speed and gap power, and he controls the strike zone well, but he's going to have to tone down his approach. Colon will have to hit to make an impact because he's a tick below-average defender at shortstop, largely because of troubles ranging to his right. He has average arm strength and fringy speed. Colon played second base in the Arizona Fall League and showed he could be a plus defender there. He won't move Escobar at shortstop and will have to prove he can out-hit Johnny Giavotella at second base. If he can't, Colon's path to the big leagues may be as a utility infielder. He'll head back to Northwest Arkansas to begin 2012.
A fourth-round pick of the Astros out of high school, Eibner turned down pro ball to attend Arkansas. He starred as a two-way player for the Razorbacks, and many teams preferred him as a pitcher whose natural athleticism would help him take off once he focused on the mound. But he wanted to hit, and the Royals agreed to let him do so after signing him for $1.25 million as a second-round pick in 2010. Eibner homered in his first pro at-bat last April, but injured his left thumb diving for a ball the next day and missed two months. Once he returned, he showed excellent bat speed and power potential but also the same propensity to swing and miss too much that plagued him in college. He throws away too many at-bats by chasing pitches out of the zone. When he does work counts to get a pitch he can drive, he has easy plus power. Though he's only a slightly above-average runner, Eibner is a quality center fielder. He has an advanced ability to read balls off the bat, which allows him to take direct routes that give him more range than his speed should allow. His plus arm would fit well in right field if needed and delivered fastballs clocked as high as 97 mph in college. Eibner has four solid tools, but he'll have to improve his contact ability to get to the big leagues. He'll roam center field in high Class A this year.
Ever since the Brewers picked him with the 16th pick of the 2006 draft, Jeffress has had one of the best arms in the minors. But six seasons later, he's still is working to harness his overpowering fastball. A pair of drug suspensions for marijuana cost him 150 games and hurt his development. A third suspension would cost him a lifetime ban in the minor leagues, but because he's on the 40-man roster, he can't be suspended for recreational drugs. Acquired in the Zack Greinke trade in December 2010, Jeffress opened last season in Kansas City but his control problems landed him in the minors in mid-May. When he can't throw strikes, he relies too much on his 96-100 mph fastball and hitters can sit on it. His 12-to-6 spike curveball can be a plus pitch, but he struggles to locate it in the strike zone. After his demotion, the Royals tweaked Jeffress' arm slot, moving his hand slightly further away from his head. The adjustment made his curve more of an 11-to-5 breaker and allowed him to command it better. He uses a cutter/slider as his third pitch. Jeffress' lack of control and command limit his ceiling. He has the pure velocity to close games, but he's more likely to be a seventh-inning reliever unless he can find a way to throw more strikes. He'll compete for a spot in Kansas City's crowded bullpen in spring training.
As recently as five years ago, the Royals had only one homegrown Latin American prospect among their Top 30 Prospects. The team's renewed emphasis on scouting in that region has paid off with the likes of Cheslor Cuthbert, Kelvin Herrera and Yordano Ventura. Kansas City hopes it found another keeper in 2011 when it signed Hernandez to a $3.05 million bonus that ranked third on the international amateur market last year. He has some of the best bat speed international scouts have seen in recent years. Like many young prospects, he has work to do on his pitch recognition, and he's a ways from tapping into his above-average power potential because his quick swing is more suited to line drives than long flyballs. Hernandez also has excellent quickness--though only average speed--enough arm for right field and solid athleticism. If his bat develops, he could be a potential all-star corner outfielder, but he's years away from realizing that ceiling. Hernandez got his first taste of pro ball with an impressive showing in instructional league. He could make his official U.S. debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2012.
Because the Royals have three Rookie-level affiliates, Burlington sometimes get the short end of the talent pool. Kansas City treats Idaho Falls as its most advanced Rookie club and the AZL Royals as its least advanced, with Burlington caught in between. Nevertheless, Burlington did a get a full 2011 season from Bonifacio, one of the system's most promising young outfielders. The brother of big leaguer Emilio Bonifacio, Jorge has a somewhat lengthy swing and a rather noisy setup, yet still makes a healthy amount of contact and hits for power. He profiles as a solid defender in right field with an above-average arm. His worst tool is his speed. He's an average runner now but figures to slow down as he matures physically. The Royals challenged Bonifacio by playing him with their advanced instructional league team in the fall. He handled that assignment with few problems and appears ready for low Class A in 2012.
Brickhouse is the latest in a long line of power pitchers from The Woodlands (Texas) High, following former first-round picks Kyle Drabek and Jameson Taillon. A third-round pick last June, Brickhouse signed for $1.5 million--a higher bonus than nine first-round picks got in the 2011 draft. He's a good friend of Taillon, and watching the No. 2 overall choice in 2010 going through the draft process helped prepare Brickhouse for the spotlight of getting scouted in every start. He's not as physical or athletic as Taillon, but Brickhouse still features a fastball that sits at 92-94 mph and touches 97. He throws both a curveball and a slider, but they're similar enough that they'll likely end up as one breaking ball. The curve shows promise with a tight 11-5 break at times. His changeup needs lots of work, as is the case with many young pitchers. Brickhouse has to refine his delivery to stop collapsing on his front side. When that happens, he shows the ball too early and struggles to control his fastball. Some scouts see Brickhouse as a hard-throwing reliever, but the Royals believe he has the stuff to be a mid-rotation starter. As a relatively polished high school pitcher, he could reach low Class A at some point in 2012, though he'll probably make his pro debut at Idaho Falls.
A member of the Cuban 18-and-under national team, Arguelles defected at the World Junior Championships in Edmonton in July 2008. Seventeen months later, he signed a five-year, $6.9 million big league contract with the Royals that included a $3.4 million bonus. They had to wait more than a year to see him in game action, however, because he developed shoulder soreness and needed surgery to repair his labrum. With Arguelles' track record of performing well at major international tournaments, Kansas City sent him straight to high Class A to make his pro debut. He responded well, as his plus command allowed his fringy stuff to play up. Arguelles' fastball sat at 90 mph and peaked at 93 before he got hurt, but he operated at 87-89 in 2011. His best pitch is his average changeup, which he's not afraid to throw in any count. He also has a tick below-average curveball. The Royals kept him on tight pitch counts as he came back from injury, but he was so efficient that they had to scrap plans to have Michael Mariot piggyback behind him because Mariot wasn't getting enough work. If Arguelles returns to pre-injury form, he could be a No. 3 or 4 starter. If not, his feel for pitching still could get him to the big leagues in a lesser role. He'll head to Double-A in 2012.
When their high school-heavy 2007 and 2008 draft classes started to reach the upper minors, the Royals began emphasizing picking advanced college relievers who could help fill in some holes. Louis Coleman was the first of that group to make the big leagues and Chapman could be the second. He battled injuries through much of his college career at Florida, but after cleaning up his delivery and getting more direct to the plate, he dominated as a junior in 2010. He pitched himself into the fourth round of the draft and signed for $250,000. When Chapman is locating his 93-95 mph fastball, he can succeed using it almost exclusively. His fastball has late sink and tail, and he can cut it as well. He also throws a sweeping slider that can be an average pitch. Lefties get few good swings against him, and he has enough stuff to get righties out as well. Chapman still has control issues at times, partly because he isn't consistent about getting the ball out of his glove promptly. When he doesn't, his arm struggles to catch up to his body and he can't find the strike zone. After reaching Double-A last June, he'll head back there to open this season.
Since signing for a well-over-slot $1.25 million as a fourth-round pick, Melville has climbed significantly slower through the system than fellow 2008 draftee Mike Montgomery. Melville repeated high Class A in 2011 without making huge progress. His fastball still can be a plus pitch but he doesn't always command it, and he doesn't throw it with the conviction expected for someone who works at 92-93 mph and touches 95. He always has nibbled more than scouts would like. Melville's slow curveball lacks consistency, occasionally featuring big break but too often getting loopier than he would like. His changeup is fringy. Scouts outside the organization believe Melville will improve once the Royals give him the freedom to throw a two-seam fastball and a slider. Kansas City wants him to master his current repertoire before he worries about adding more pitches, although it did allow him to start using his slider late in the season. Many high school power pitchers take a while to develop, and the Royals hope that's true with Melville. At this point, his most realistic ceiling may be as a No. 4 or 5 starter or a power reliever. He'll finally make the jump to Double-A this year.
When the Royals first started scouting Calixte when he was a 15-year-old in 2007, they were able to get a good feel for his power potential and his likelihood of sticking at shortstop. What they couldn't get was a clear idea of who exactly he was. He has to wait nearly two years after he turned 16 to sign because he had swapped identities with his brother. Once MLB determined he was Orlando Calixte (and not Paul Carlixte or Orlando Caxito) and cleared him to sign, Kansas City was happy to land him for $1 million. Calixte impressed the Royals enough last spring that they sent him to low Class A for his U.S. debut. He often looked over his head, especially when pitchers figured out there were few pitches he wouldn't swing at. But he also showed excellent bat speed, and has the strength to eventually have more power than a typical shortstop. Calixte eventually may outgrow the position, but he has sure hands and a solid arm. The question is whether he'll lose a step off his slightly above-average speed and have enough range once he matures physically. He'll head back to Kane County in 2012 to try to gain some confidence.
Even with Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Wil Myers in the system, Robinson arguably has been the most productive Royals minor leaguer over the last three years. A former 25th-round pick signed for $1,000, he won the Double-A Texas League triple crown by hitting .335-29-98 in 2010. He followed up by batting .326 with a career-high 100 RBIs in 2011, helping lead Omaha to the Pacific Coast League championship. He missed the Triple-A championship game with a sports hernia that required surgery. When Robinson turned pro, he was a dead-pull hitter incapable of taking a ball the other way. Now he uses the whole field and has a very advanced two-strike approach. He's a plus hitter with average power, though his other tools aren't nearly as impressive. His speed rates as a 20 on the 20-80 scouting scale and he's a below-average defender at first base. Robinson throws well enough to play the outfield, but his lack of speed makes that a stretch. He has played just three games in left field in five years as a pro. With Hosmer and Billy Butler entrenched in Kansas City, Robinson is stuck in Triple-A for now. The trade market for first basemen with average power never is particularly heated, so he may have to bide his time in Omaha for a while.
When the Royals traded Alberto Callaspo to the Angels in July 2010, they received a pair of finesse starters in Sean O'Sullivan and Smith. The latter is a big-bodied lefthander who's not particularly flashy and has three average pitches with average command. Smith's two-seam fastball sits at 88-90 mph, a tick up from what he showed in 2010. He tweaked his two-seam grip midway through last season, adding velocity while not losing any of movement. His four-seamer operates at 91-92 mph and touches 94. His best secondary pitches are his big-breaking curveball and a changeup that's not quite as consistent. He added a slider midway through 2011 to give him a better chance against righthanders. Smith lacks a true strikeout pitch and he lands on a stiff front leg, which affects his control at times. His crossfire delivery helps create some deception, however, and he's equally successful against lefties and righties. Smith projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter if he continues to develop, and he should be at least a long reliever in the big leagues. He'll get a shot at making Kansas City's rotation in spring training but most likely will be sent to Triple-A.
When Salvador Perez sped up his timetable to the big leagues and Wil Myers moved from behind the plate to the outfield, the Royals suddenly were left quite thin in minor league catchers. They attempted to rectify that by drafting Gallagher in the second round last June and trading Wilson Betemit to the Tigers for Julio Rodriguez (and minor league lefty Antonio Cruz) a month later. Gallagher's bloodlines didn't hurt: his father Glenn and his brother Austin (currently in the Dodgers system) were both third-round picks. Signed for an over-slot $750,000, Cameron is big for a catcher but has the soft hands to be a good receiver. He also has a strong arm, though he threw out just two of 11 basestealers in his pro debut. Gallagher has offensive promise as well with above-average power potential, though his bat is relatively unrefined. Like most catchers, he's a below-average runner who's sure to slow down as he spends more time behind the plate. Some scouts wonder if he'll end up being too big to stay at catcher, though Kansas City isn't concerned. The last two Pennsylvania high school catchers to succeed (Neil Walker and Devin Mesoraco) were slow starters, so it won't be a surprise if Gallagher takes a while to get acclimated to pro ball. He could see some time in low Class A in his first full pro season, though it's not a given that he'll open 2012 there.
The best player to come out of New York's George Washington High since Manny Ramirez, Antonio signed for $411,000 as a third-round pick in 2010. Though he didn't face much in the way of high school competition, he has adapted well to pro ball. He smacked 10 homers at Burlington last summer and is ready for low Class A at age 20. Antonio has plus power potential with a long swing that will bring both home runs and strikeouts. He'll have to improve his ability to lay off balls off the plate at higher levels. He's an average runner. Because the Royals have a surplus of middle infielders projected to play at Kane County in 2012, Antonio will get to play some third base in addition to his usual position of shortstop. That move will serve him well, as he may outgrow shortstop in the long run. He has good hands, but he tends to bend at the waist rather than his knees, which limits his below-average range. He has a strong if erratic arm that would fit fine at the hot corner, though he needs to be careful about getting on the side of the ball in his release.
In the 2011 draft, scouts viewed Lopez as a polished high school middle infielder who could use some time in college to get bigger and stronger. Once the third round passed, the son of Reds bullpen coach Juan Lopez seemed destined to attend Miami. But the Royals took him in the 16th round and signed him at the Aug. 15 deadline for $750,000, matching what they paid second-rounder Cameron Gallagher. Kansas City viewed Lopez as one of the best high school shortstops in the draft, especially at the plate. He has good handeye coordination and a more advanced approach than the normal high school draftee. He doesn't have much power now, but he's expected to add strength as he fills out and already has added 10 pounds since last spring. Defensively, Lopez has fine actions, soft hands and a strong enough arm. His speed and range are solid. His game has a lot of similarities to Christian Colon's, though Lopez is more likely to stick at shortstop. He could handle an assignment to low Class A in his first full pro season, but he'll likely stay in Rookie ball because the Royals have a surplus of middle infielders headed to Kane County.
The Royals left Teaford unprotected in the 2009 Rule 5 draft, and to no one's surprise, he went unpicked. But in the two years since, he has improved his stuff and transformed from roster-filler to big leaguer. He showed in 2011 that the improvements he made the year before weren't a fluke. Teaford doesn't have an explanation for why his former 88-90 mph fastball jumped to 90-93. But that increase in velocity made all the difference, helping his average breaking ball and changeup play up. He also throws a cutter at times, and he can vary his arm slot to make life harder on lefthanders. He does a good job of throwing strikes. Teaford worked both out of the bullpen and the rotation in 2011, and figures to serve Kansas City in a swing role in the short term. His ceiling isn't particularly high, but he already has proven he can get big league hitters out.
The son of former big leaguer Scott Fletcher, Brian turned down the Astros as a 39thround pick out of high school in 2007, when Brett Eibner did the same. After three years at Auburn, Fletcher went in the 18th round and signed for $275,000, the equivalent of fourth-round money. He doesn't have a conventional approach at the plate, but his style works for him and has produced a .328/.384/.566 numbers in pro ball. While he gets out on his front foot too quickly and pushes his hands through the zone, he manages to square up his share of pitches, which allows his solid power to come through. Some scouts wonder if Fletcher's approach won't work as well against more advanced pitchers, but the Royals aren't going to change him as long as he keeps producing. His aggressiveness at the plate sometimes works against him, though he has a good gameplan with two strikes. Fletcher is a below-average runner, but he does have a feel for when to take an extra base. His below-average arm limits him to left field, and he also could see some time at first base, where his power might profile. Kansas City left Fletcher in low Class A all of last year because he was integral in Kane County's run toward the Midwest League playoffs. With a solid start, his stay in high Class A this year could be shorter.
Jorge Bonifacio wasn't the only young Latin American to emerge on the Royals prospect scene in 2011. Mateo showed an advanced approach with a sweet swing for a switch-hitter as he flushed away a poor 2010 to rank among the best hitters in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. His lefthanded swing allows him to keep the bat head in the zone for a long time. His righty stroke has no obvious flaws but isn't smooth or refined. The big question for Mateo is whether he'll improve enough at second base to stick there, because he doesn't have enough power potential to profile at third base. He has the tools to be a solid defender at second, with adequate range, reliable hands and a strong arm for the position. His footwork is a mess at times, though that can be explained somewhat by his youth. He's an average runner. Mateo will join a very crowded infield in Kane County in 2012.
Facing a shortage of young shortstops in the system, the Royals added Orlando Calixte and Arteaga in 2010. Arteaga got a slightly higher bonus at $1.1 million, in part because he was two years younger. And unlike with Calixte, there's no question that Arteaga is a long-term shortstop. His defense is his best attribute, as he has the range, hands and feel for reading balls off the bat to make all the plays at shortstop. He had a fringy arm when he signed, but it's now solid thanks to his diligent work on a throwing program, His quick release and smooth actions help as well. Offensively, he's less gifted than Calixte. Arteaga has very little power and will need to get stronger just to avoid having the bat knocked from his hands at higher levels. He's a slightly below-average runner, so he'll need to become an average hitter to have any offensive value. Scouts from other organizations question whether he can do that. Arteaga's defense will carry him through the lower levels of the minors, but his bat will determine how far he goes. He has years of development ahead and will spend a second season in Rookie ball in 2012.
Lough is one of the few players who has been around long enough to see the system go from among the game's worst to among the best. Unfortunately for him, the system's improvement has slowed his climb. Added to the 40-man roster after the 2010 season, he spent 2011 repeating Triple-A. He never got very close to making his big league debut, as the arrival of Lorenzo Cain in the Zack Greinke trade and the development of Jarrod Dyson moved Lough down Kansas City's depth chart. A career .299 hitter in the minors, he hits for average, shows average power and is a plus runner. Lough doesn't play center field well enough to be more than an occasional fill-in, and he doesn't hit for enough power to be a regular corner outfielder. His belowaverage arm makes him best suited for left field. Lough's profile and minor league track record is quite similar to current Royal Mitch Maier's, and his hope is to have a similar career. Lough's path to the big leagues in 2012 still seems blocked by Cain and Dyson.