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A little-noticed high school arm who grew from being a short and thick underclassman to a tall-and-lean senior at La Habra (Calif.) High, Staumont earned a spot in NAIA Biola (Calif.) University's rotation as a freshman (he worked 10.2 innings in one marathon outing), but he transferred to Division II Azusa (Calif.) Pacific to follow coach John Verhoeven. It says something about Staumont's stuff that he posted a 3.67 ERA in his junior season at Azusa Pacific despite walking more than seven batters per nine innings. It says even more that he was a second-round pick despite his wildness. And in his first full season as a pro, Staumont led the minors with 104 walks, but he also ranked second in strikeouts (167) and first among full-season starters with 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He went 2-0, 1.57 with 53 strikeouts and 12 walks in his final 40 innings between the regular season and playoffs and was effective as a starter in the Arizona Fall League. Staumont creates extremely easy top-of-the-scale velocity. He's touched triple digits with a delivery that looks almost effortless. Staumont's right arm has allowed him to pitch successfully at a level beyond his current understanding of the craft. This year his understanding of pitching started to catch up to his stuff, though it still has a ways to go before he's consistently setting up hitters. His plus-plus four-seamer sits anywhere from 92-98 as a starter and has touched 102 when working out of the bullpen. It is a rather true pitch without much life. The only thing keeping it from an 80 grade is its lack of life. He also throws a two-seamer with sink, but the Royals have had him focus on commanding the four-seamer first before letting him rely on the harder-to-control two-seamer. His 11-to-5 curveball isn't consistent but is a plus pitch at some point in most every outing and will flash plus-plus at its best. His changeup is below-average and he uses it more at this point because he knows he needs to rather than because it's a reliable weapon. Staumont's control improved as the season progressed in part because of a mechanical tweak. He now brings his hands above his head in his windup instead of the simple hand break he used earlier. It improved his timing. He is focused on using his legs in his delivery more instead of the "tall and fall" delivery he used in college. He is somewhat stiff, which limits his below-average control and command and his ability to diagnose and correct delivery issues quickly as they crop up. Staumont has work to do on holding runners. He was easy to steal on and four of his five errors in 2016 came on errant pickoff throws. Staumont's rapid improvement has raised Royals' hopes that he could stay in the rotation, although his feel doesn't always match his stuff. Staumont's ceiling is that of a front-end starter if he can improve his control with a fallback option of serving as an impact reliever. His strong finish in Double-A in 2016 has him positioned to challenge for a spot in Triple-A to start 2017.
Strahm went from a little-noticed string bean throwing 82 mph to the ace of the Neosho County (Kan.) CC staff. He spent all of 2013 and much of 2014 recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he moved fast once he was healthy. He made it to the big leagues after less than 250 minor league innings, then struck out 19 of his first 40 big league batters. Strahm's arsenal is that of a starter, but it plays up even more as a reliever. His 90-93 mph fastball (which sits 92-96 mph as a reliever) is a plus pitch with swing-and-miss capabilities thanks to its late-riding life, his mid-80s changeup is an average pitch and his now-harder curveball is also average. He worked in 2016 to stop collapsing his front shoulder in his delivery. That helped him firm up his slurvy curveball (it bumped up from 68-72 mph to 75-78 mph) and gave it more depth and less sweep. It also helped Strahm get more consistently down in the zone----he's always been comfortable elevating his fastball. He has a no-fear mentality and average control. Strahm has starter stuff, but he may fit better on the Royals' 2017 roster as a reliever. A stint as a reliever that eventually morphs into a starting role, a la Danny Duffy, is a likely result. Long-term, he projects as a No. 3 starter.
After a fast start to his career, Dozier struggled after a promotion to Double-A to finish the 2014 season. He regressed more in 2015 He bounced back in dramatic fashion in 2016, finishing second in the Pacific Coast League in doubles (36) while posting 68 extra base hits between Double-A and Triple-A. Dozier's problems all started with poor timing and an inability to get into a rhythm. At instructional league in 2015 Dozier focused on shortening his swing and improving his bat path. He reworked his load, eliminating a drift in his hands that cocked his bat for his swing and replacing it with a shorter, more fluid load. Dozier cut his strikeout rate, hit for the best power of his career and did a better job of using the whole field. If he can stick with his newfound approach, he again projects to be an above-average hitter with average power. Defensively, Dozier is fringe-average at third base with an average arm. He's currently a below-average defender in the outfield due to inexperience, but as an average runner, he has room for improvement. Dozier's rebound gives hope that he can be an everyday regular. Cheslor Cuthbert's superior defense means Dozier likely ends up in the outfield.
An accomplished skinny lefthander at Sarasota (Fla.) High, Skoglund became the ace of his Central Florida staff before signing with the Royals for $576,100. Skoglund missed the second half of the 2015 season with elbow soreness but avoided surgery, and he showed no ill effects in 2016 He led the Texas League in innings pitched (156) and strikeouts (134), was second-best in the league in walk rate among starters and finished third average against (.230). Though he's 6-foot-7, Skoglund generally works side to side, going in and out on hitters, rather than working up and down in the strike zone with downhill plane. He succeeds with his average 90-92 mph fastball because he has above-average command and control. Skoglund did a good job of tightening up his once-slurvy breaking ball into an average curveball with 2-to-7 shape. He locates it well, but it lacks the late-break or depth to be a plus pitch. He's also tinkered with a below-average slider. His changeup is fringe-average as well. As a lefthander with three average pitches and excellent control but no plus offering, Skoglund is the epitome of a back-of-the-rotation starter. He's ready for Triple-A and could see some big league time in 2017 With a rebuild looming, Skoglund should be a significant part of the 2018 rotation plans.
A promising athlete at De La Salle High in San Francisco's East Bay area, Puckett gave up football and focused full-time on baseball after a car accident left him in a medically induced coma for two weeks; surgery left him with plates in his skull. After a middling sophomore season, Puckett emerged as Pepperdine's ace as a junior, putting together a 45.2-inning scoreless streak and finishing among the Top 10 in Division I in ERA (1.27) and WHIP (0.92). The Royals let Puckett throw another 59 innings as a pro on top of his 99 innings for Pepperdine because he was very pitch-efficient--he topped 80 pitches only once in 13 pro appearances. Puckett does an excellent job locating his 91-93 mph average fastball to both sides of the plate and changes hitters' eye levels by working down and then elevating, with the potential to have above-average control. His changeup is a plus offering with excellent deception. His fringe-average curveball is loopier than scouts would like, although he'll occasionally flash a tighter breaker. Puckett's ultimate ceiling will depend on how his breaking ball develops. His fastball and changeup are big league caliber, and his curveball has shown signs of developing into an average pitch as well. If the curve improves, he could be a No. 3 starter. He should move quickly through the minors, but will likely start in high Class A Wilmington.
High school pitchers from New York usually go to college or they go much later in the draft. But Blewett's size and arm strength convinced the Royals to make him the first New York high school righthander to be picked in the top two rounds in 15 years. Blewett had an excellent first half in 2015 but tailed off badly down the stretch. Repeating low Class A Lexington in 2016, he struggled early (3-6, 5.12) and but was much better in the second half (5-5, 3.55). Blewett's turnaround began when he figured out how to regain some of the fluidity in his delivery he had lost in his attempts to stay direct to the plate. He had become too mechanical and segmented in his motion. Once he fixed that, his fastball ticked back up from the 90-92 mph it was in the first half to a plus 93-95 mph heater with angle. His curveball sharpened up as well. It flashes average now and should become a solid-average offering. His inconsistent changeup generally is below-average (lefthanded hitters posted an .837 OPS against him), but will flash fringe-average every now and then. Blewett is yet to put together a full season of success as a professional, but he has the building blocks to be a durable mid-rotation starter if he continues to refine his secondary stuff.
Low Class A Lexington has an auxiliary video board in left center field that proved to be a useful target for Vallot. Many of his 13 home runs (in only 82 games) landed around the board and one actually destroyed part of it. It was a highlight of a season that had plenty of bumps and some broken bones. A 93-mph Gage Hinsz fastball to the face was the worst injury, as Vallot missed a month recovering. He also missed time with a back injury. In between his injuries, Vallot showed some of the best power in the South Atlantic League. He was repeating the league, but was still among its younger catchers. Vallot can square up velocity and has started to show signs of recognizing spin. He projects as a below-average hitter with above-average power. Vallot is a well-below-average defensive catcher at this point with inconsistent footwork. He has to continue to work to stay nimble enough to have a chance to stay behind the plate. He struggles with throwing accuracy----all 17 errors he committed behind the plate came on wild throws. In a perfect world, Vallot is a Mike Napoli-type slugging catcher whose ability to catch gives his bat time to adjust to the big leagues. High Class A Wilmington is not a friendly place for power hitters, but it is Vallot's next step.
Scouts frequently complain that college baseball encourages hitters to focus too much on contact and not enough on driving the ball. O'Hearn is one of their prime examples, as he went from a singles hitter at Sam Houston State to a slugger in pro ball. He hit a home run every 60 at-bats in college but one every 20 at-bats as a pro. O'Hearn's power comes from strength and leverage. His bat speed is average at best, which leads to some concerns. His plus raw power plays in games though, giving him a chance to hit 25 home runs in an everyday big league role. The Royals have emphasized getting O'Hearn to use the entire field and he responded. After hitting two home runs the opposite way to left field in 2015, he hit nine to left in 2016 O'Hearn is an average defender at first base. He does a good job of scooping low throws, though his range is limited. The Royals have worked to get him time in left field as well, but he's well below-average in the outfield largely because he is a well below-average runner. With Eric Hosmer heading into his final year before free agency. O'Hearn is the best homegrown option to earn to a starting job in Kansas City in 2018 He still has work to do in Triple-A this year to prove he is more than a minor league slugger.
The younger brother of veteran big leaguer Emilio Bonifacio, Jorge Bonifacio began his pro career as a hitter who liked to use the opposite field. He morphed into a pull-heavy slugger whose batting average plunged in response. Now he's trying to find a balance. Bonifacio has spent years working to balance his power and hitting tools, trying to get to his raw power without gutting his ability to use the whole field and hit for average. Early in his pro career, his inside out swing kept him from driving the ball but led to plenty of singles and doubles. His attempt to pull the ball led to his average cratering after he reached Double-A. In 2016, he finally started to find a happy medium. He improved his selectivity and started to drive the ball from gap to gap, but his power tailed off badly in the second half. Bonifacio projects as an average hitter with average power. He is an above-average arm that fits in right field but his below-average speed limits his fringe-average range. Bonifacio doesn't fit in as an extra outfielder because of his defense. If he gets to his power, he profiles as a second-division regular. If not, he'll be a long-time Triple-A/up-and-down player. With Paulo Orlando and Hunter Dozier ahead of him, he returns to Triple-A in 2017.
At this point, Zimmer seems as much a legend as an actual flesh-and-blood pitcher. He and the Royals hoped a labrum cleanup in 2015 would give him a chance to pitch significant innings in 2016, but he was instead shut down once again. He was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition that causes numbness and weakness in the shoulder and arm. He had surgery to correct the issue and expects to be ready for spring training. The hope for everyone involved is that the thoracic outlet syndrome explains why Zimmer sometimes felt great with plus stuff and at other times struggled to break 90 mph. Zimmer has not been healthy for a full season at any point since he was the fifth overall pick in 2012, but he can still sit 92-94 mph with a plus fastball that has late life and his curveball that is at least plus. Zimmer has never had trouble generating swings and misses. His slider and changeup have atrophied, but both have been average or better in the past. The successful returns of Dylan Bundy and Jameson Taillon are reminders that pitchers can bounce back from lengthy injury layoffs. If Zimmer is healthy, he still has better stuff than almost anyone in the Royals' system and could pitch in the big leagues in 2017.
The Royals spent big $2.2 million to land Matias in 2015 by handing out the second-largest bonus awarded to an international amateur in franchise history. He had some of the best power in his international class and easily possessed the best outfield arm. He made a point of throwing from the warning track to make sure scouts saw the power of his arm, which easily grades as a 70 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. Matias also draws 70 grades on his raw power that already pays off in towering home runs during games. He led the Rookie-level Arizona League with eight homers and ranked second with 21 extra-base hits in 2016, impressive feats for a 17-year-old. His eyes light up when he gets a fastball to drive. Matias doesn't recognize spin well, and he can be induced to chase, but he has exceptional bat speed that generates power. He drew a high volume of walks (11.1 percent of plate appearances) to go with an extreme strikeout rate (36.9 percent). Matias has as much potential as any hitter in the system. If he develops into even a fringe-average hitter he will profile as a prototypical right fielder. He plays center field occasionally but his above-average speed will likely wane as he matures. He heads to spring training in 2017 trying to prove he can handle low Class A Lexington as an 18-year-old.
Many scouts saw Lee as a more promising lefthanded pitcher than outfielder, and if he had headed to Liberty, he would have been a two-way contributor. The Royals made him a 2016 third-round pick because of his bat, and he paid off their belief by finishing among the Rookie-level Arizona League leaders in many categories, including on-base percentage (.396) and slugging (.484). Lee stands out because of his athleticism, body control and plus bat speed. In his pro debut, he showed better-than-expected barrel control as well. Unlike many young hitters, he's comfortable hitting with two strikes and showed an ability to string together good takes on breaking balls out of the zone. Lee is small for an outfielder but has surprising strength and above-average raw power. Despite a high strikeout rate, he draws frequent walks and drives the ball enough to project as an average hitter. Lee played all three outfield spots in the AZL, but he is an average runner without the exceptional first step or reads required to play center field. His above-average arm (he sat 91-93 mph as a pitcher) fits in right field. Lee is ready for full-season ball with a jump to low Class A Lexington in 2017.
If the 2015 draft was notable for college shortstops at the head of the class--Dansby Swanson went No. 1 and Alex Bregman No. 2-- the 2016 class was notable for its lack of first-round shortstops. The Royals were thrilled to find Lopez still available in the fifth round, since they had him near the top of their college-shortstop board. A lefthanded hitter, he has a plus arm and enough athleticism to stay at the position, thanks to soft hands and excellent body control. Lopez hit two home runs in three college seasons, but freed from power-sapping TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, he hit six home runs at Rookie-level Burlington. He projects as a below-average power hitter, but he can catch up to fastballs and has a solid feel for the strike zone, which gives him a shot to be a top-of-the-order hitter with an average hit tool and plus speed on the bases. The Royals are thrilled with his makeup and grinder mentality. Lopez has enough experience for the Royals to contemplate sending him to high Class A Wilmington in 2017.
Mills has spent his career proving people wrong. A walk-on at Tennessee-Martin, he gained velocity as he matured and grew to be staff ace. Even then, Mills operated in the high 80s, so he fell to the 22nd round. He got back to work in pro ball by adding more velocity, and he turned himself into a big leaguer when the Royals called him up in May 2016. Scouts generally don't get excited when they see a pitcher like Mills, who throws an average 90-93 mph fastball with sink and bore, an above-average changeup and a fringe-average curveball and slider. What makes it all work is Mills' ability to stay away from the middle of the strike zone and the sweet spot of bats with above-average control. He's a fast worker who pitches down in the zone and on the corners. His lack of an out pitch requires him to hit his spots, but when Mills is on, his fastball rarely arrives above the knees. Mills is a No. 5 starter or low-leverage reliever who could pitch in the big leagues in 2017.
The Royals spent big in the late rounds of the 2011 draft because the new Collective Bargaining Agreement for 2012 threatened to restrict draft spending. Junis, a 29th-round pick, was one of the beneficiaries, turning down North Carolina State after the Royals offered $675,000. Junis cleaned up the timing of his delivery, found more arm speed and pitched more aggressively in 2016 It paid off, mainly because a righthander who ranges from 89-95 mph makes hitters much less comfortable than one who sits at 87-92 mph, like Junis did in 2015 He always has had above-average control and excellent durability, but thanks to the better arm speed, his curveball, slider and changeup all got sharper as well. Nothing in Junis' repertoire grades as plus, but with an average fastball and curve, fringe-average change and improved deception, he has a shot to be a No. 5 starter. After a rough finish at Triple-A Omaha in 2016, he will return there in 2017 with a chance to be an emergency big league option.
The Royals emphasized high school pitchers at the top of the 2014 and 2015 drafts, but the strategy has not borne fruit in the early going. Foster Griffin (first round) and Scott Blewett (second) from the 2014 draft have career ERAs hovering near 5.00, while 2015 first-round righties Watson (3-11, 7.57 at low Class A Lexington) and Ashe Russell (just two innings) endured tough 2016 seasons. However, scouts who saw Watson reported fine velocity with a solid-average 92-93 mph fastball that peaked at 95 He struggled to command the pitch and left it elevated too often, leading to a .314 opponent average. Watson also showed a plus slider that he could throw to righties and lefties. One problem is the Royals encourage young pitchers to throw curveballs, so Watson's slider laid mostly dormant. Instead he tried to keep hitters off balance with a curveball and changeup that both graded well below-average. His changeup lacks deception and his curve lacks shape or depth, necessitating Watson to throw many fastballs in fastball counts. Unless Watson dominates in spring training, he seems destined to repeat the South Atlantic League in 2017.
The best defensive catcher in the Royals system, Gallagher led Double-A Texas League catchers in most defensive categories in 2016. He committed just three errors all season and led the league by throwing out 48 percent of basestealers. Gallagher's arm grades as above-average, but it's the consistency of his throwing mechanics and accuracy that helps him shut down running games. He is a quiet receiver who presents pitches well. Gallagher's glove will get him to the big leagues and explains why the Royals added him to the 40-man roster in November. His bat, however, will likely prevent him from ever being a big league regular. Gallagher projects as a 30 hitter on the 20-to-80 scouting scale with modest bat speed, but he does draw enough walks to post reasonable on-base percentages. He will show average raw power in batting practice, but that rarely translates to games. Scouts project him to hit 6-10 home runs at most. Gallagher moves to Triple-A Omaha in 2017, where he will be only a call away from Kansas City.
Viloria didn't strike a single extra-base hit in 150 at-bats in 2015, but he came a long way in 2016, when he led the Rookie-level Pioneer League with 28 doubles and claimed the circuit's batting title at .376 He also added an MVP award for his time at Idaho Falls. Viloria offers aggressively at pitches in the zone, but showed an ability lay off pitches out of the zone in 2016 He likes to jump on mistakes with average power. Viloria's lefthanded bat should be plenty potent if he can stay behind the plate, but that's still a question. He is a high-energy presence at catcher with an average throwing arm. He led the Pioneer League by throwing out 34 percent of basestealers and likes to back-pick runners at first base. His blocking and game-calling have improved, but he still has work to do. Some scouts worry he may end up getting too big to stay at catcher, but he moves well enough if he can watch his weight. He's ready for low Class A Lexington and projects as a bat-first catcher.
Duenez moved more quickly than any other position player in the Royals system in 2016. He started the season at low Class A Lexington but jumped to high Class A Wilmington in June and joined Double-A Northwest Arkansas before the season ended, making him one of the youngest players in Double-A. Along the way, Duenez became the first Royals minor leaguer to compile 100 RBIs in a season since Wil Myers in 2012, when he won the BA Minor League Player of the Year award. Duenez is a pure hitter. His sweet lefty swing keeps the bat in the hitting zone for a long time, he uses the entire field and he catches up to good velocity. He projects as a plus hitter, but his power potential is in question because he prioritizes contact above all and is a hit-over-power corner bat. Defensively, he fits best at first base, where he's average, but he has tried left field in the past. Duenez stole 24 bases in 2016 because of savvy, but he's a tick below-average runner. Added to the 40-man roster in November, he heads back to Double-A in 2017 as a 20-year-old.
Edwards has always shown arm strength, but until 2016 hitters caught up to his mid-90s velocity all too often. The former Western Kentucky weekend starter cleaned up his mechanics in 2016, largely by focusing on firming up the front side in his delivery, en route to a spot on the 40-man roster in November. Once he did that, the quality of his slider improved significantly because he started to generate more bite and less sweep. It didn't hurt that his velocity ticked up as well. Edwards sits 96-97 mph and has touched 100, and his slider now earns some above-average grades. Edwards is an imposing 6-foot-6 presence on the mound, and his three-quarters arm slot helps him generate sink. His control still wavers, but he has made big strides in that department. Edwards heads to spring training with a shot at winning a job in the Royals bullpen in 2017, with middle reliever his most likely future role.
The low Class A Lexington rotation faced a rough assignment in 2016 because it played in front of a generally rocky defense. Legends defenders ranked last in the South Atlantic League with a .966 fielding percentage and near the bottom in double plays and passed balls. Additionally, most of the Lexington starters worked on strict limits of 75-80 pitches. That helps explain Garabito's 2-11 record in 2016, his fourth pro season but first in full-season ball. He worked through five innings in just six of his 18 starts, ruling out the potential for a win in the majority of appearances. Garabito's fastball-curveball combo gives him at least a chance to be a useful reliever, and he flashes enough fade and deception with his changeup in bullpen sessions to show signs he'll have three pitches to remain a starter. He shows very little confidence in his change in games, however, so he doesn't sell in convincingly. He sits 90-93 mph and touches 95 with his average fastball. He also has long shown the ability to spin his curveball. It has good depth and projects as a future plus pitch. Garabito heads to high Class A Wilmington in 2017 as he continues to acquire feel for his changeup.
Signed for a European-record $1.3 million in 2013, Gasparini's development path has been understandably rocky. A native Italian, he still is trying to catch up to the speed of the game and owns a career .219 average through three pro seasons. Gasparini's 2016 effort at low Class A Lexington was particularly disappointing. His pitch recognition and plate approach are so raw that he looks fastball regardless of count. Therefore, he tends to pull off even ordinary breaking balls and changeups. A switch-hitter, Gasparini has plenty of bat speed and the raw ingredients to hit for average. He shows gap power now that projects to potentially average power. Working with Lexington coach Glenn Hubbard, Gasparini showed improvements defensively but still a lot work to do. His internal clock at shortstop still needs fine-tuning and his throwing motion is longer than scouts would like to see. He stabs with his arm action as he pulls the ball from his glove, creating a slower-than-desired release, not to mention accuracy issues. Gasparini has above-average arm strength, is a plus runner and is twitchy enough to cover enough ground at shortstop, but there are concerns about his hands. He committed 48 errors in 2016, including 31 fielding miscues, which led to a putrid .885 fielding percentage and speculation as to whether he his speed would play in center field. Gasparini is slated to return to Lexington in 2017.
Much like oft-injured 2012 top pick Kyle Zimmer, Russell is a Royals first-round pitcher whose value fluctuates wildly from year to year. The first prep righthander off the board in 2015, Russell threw just two innings in two outings in 2016 as his mechanics completely broke down and he lost the ability to throw strikes. Things got so bad the Royals were not comfortable putting him back on the mound in instructional league. Kansas City expected Russell to head to low Class A Lexington at some point in 2016, but she showed up to spring training bigger and wider in the shoulders with a resulting loss of flexibility and looseness. His velocity backed up to the high 80s, his control wavered and he lacked the fluidity and consistency of his delivery. Even as he reworked his training program, he never rediscovered his delivery or arm speed during side work. Prior to his lost year, Russell had shown a plus 92-94 mph fastball and a hard slider that flashed plus, though his high-energy delivery, timing issues and stabbing arm action led a number of evaluators to project him to the bullpen. Now he's a wild card who will be starting over in 2017.
From 2009 to 2011, the Royals signed Torres, Humberto Arteaga, Orlando Calixte and Raul A. Mondesi internationally and drafted Christian Colon and Jack Lopez in an attempt to find a long-term shortstop. While Mondesi appears to be Alcides Escobar's heir apparent for 2018, and Colon--the fourth overall pick in 2010--fills a utility infielder role in Kansas City, none of the others have developed for the Royals. Torres, a member of the 40-man roster, presents them with a viable utilityman option. He doesn't have Mondesi's speed or power or Arteaga's pure range, but he's a well-rounded and versatile middle infielder. He has played a lot of second base in deference to Mondesi and is a plus defender, but he's also above-average at shortstop thanks in part to his plus arm. He plays third base as well. A switch-hitter, Torres doesn't project to hit enough from either side to be more than a backup. He's a 40 hitter with 20 power on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, but his defensive acumen and put-it-in-play approach could make him a bench candidate. Torres will return to Triple-A Omaha in 2017.
A Top 10 Prospect for the Royals for four straight seasons, Almonte's development has gone backwards the past two years. After making his major league debut in 2015, he ended up back in Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2016 to try to fix significant delivery issues that have sapped his once-impressive control. Almonte consistently opened up in his delivery too early, causing his elbow and arm slot to drop, which cost him control. He left his fastball and changeup elevated, while his curveball got sweepier. The result was too many walks and too many hittable pitches up in the zone. Almonte's fastball varied from 92-98 mph depending on how well he was maintaining his delivery. At his best, he still has 70 fastball and a 60 changeup on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, with a below-average curveball. Opposing scouts have long thought Almonte would be better served by throwing a slider or a cutter because his lower arm slot makes it hard to stay on top of his curve. He still has the stuff to be a high-leverage reliever, but his last two seasons have not been encouraging. Almonte has to prove he can handle Triple-A Omaha before getting another shot in Kansas City.
Rivero has just 46 pro games under his belt, most of them in the Rookie-level Arizona League. He has yet to hit a pro home run, and he's many years from the big leagues. But when Royals officials watch Rivero, they can't help but recall a young Salvador Perez. The comparison comes as much from Rivero's mindset, determination and personality as his tools. He responds to instruction and quickly carries the lessons into games. He got dramatically better at the plate in 2016 as the season progressed. He improved his pitch selection, allowing his short, simple swing to play. He hit .345 in August and scouts think highly of his offensive potential. Defensively, Rivero is a potentially plus defender with a good body, in particular a strong lower half. He has excellent blocking ability, a potentially above-average arm and he receives well. He has just started working on game-calling. With Rivero's work ethic, the Royals are excited to see how he'll develop, though he probably will require another year of short-season ball in 2017.
The Royals spent lavishly on the international market in 2015, signing outfielder Seuly Matias for $2.25 million and Guzman for $1.5 million. They knew the outlay would put them in the penalty box and restrict their international spending limits--no player could sign for more than $300,000--in 2016 and 2017. The early returns are encouraging, however. Guzman, like Matias, skipped straight to the Rookie-level Arizona League for his pro debut in 2016. Guzman is a promising shortstop with potentially average power down the road. His line-drive, all-fields approach already gives him the ability to find the gaps. A switch-hitter, his swings show promise from both sides of the plate, and his pitch recognition is reasonably advanced for his age. Some question whether Guzman is twitchy enough to stay at shortstop. He's a smooth athlete with fluid actions, but his range may be limited by his lack of burst, and his arm is merely average, not the plus cannon teams desire. He's a tick below-average runner.
McCarthy became the first player in Marist history to play in the major leagues when the Royals called him up in September. He made a quick trip to the majors, all things considered. McCarthy missed time in college and then again in 2013 with a pair of knee surgeries. A partially torn elbow ligament cost him time in 2014 as well, though he was able to rehab the injury without surgery. Since returning to health in 2015, McCarthy has moved quickly. He jumped three levels in 2015 and did it again in 2016. His hard slider has improved to the point where it's a fringe-average pitch. It lacks the two-plane movement to grade as average, but he still makes his living working down in the zone with plenty of two-seam fastballs. McCarthy's 92-95 mph sinker generates plenty of ground balls and can grade as an above-average pitch on good days. He also mixes in a fringy changeup. McCarthy's control is the biggest thing standing between him and a big league role. He showed some improvement early in 2016, but he still needs to work to throw more strikes.
Considered one of the top high school arms in the 2014 draft, Griffin impressed scouts with a strong track record of success, solid stuff and an excellent ability to locate three pitches. He was a projection pick in many ways, because scouts saw his long limbs and solid frame and figured as he matured he would add a tick to his 88-92 mph fastball. Instead, Griffin has struggled to maintain even his prep velocity while starting every fifth day. With a fringe-average fastball at best and a fringe-average curveball and changeup, he lacks an out pitch. So far, hitters have been quite comfortable facing Griffin--he allowed a career .291 opponent average before high Class A Carolina League batters hit .330 against him in 2016. Griffin tinkers with his delivery too much during and between starts, but he has the potential for average control. If he can find a little more velocity, he could still be a back-end starter thanks to his ability to locate, but the projections of a future mid-rotation innings-eater now seem unrealistic.
The 2011 draft already has produced five players among the top 20 selections who have either made an all-star team or earned MVP votes. That list includes Gerrit Cole, Sonny Gray, Francisco Lindor, Anthony Rendon and the late Jose Fernandez. Starling, selected fifth overall in 2011, is one of two players taken among the top 20 who has not reached the big leagues. Making consistent, solid contact has been a struggle for Starling, in part because he has never figured out how to lay off sliders out of the zone. His 2015 season seemed to indicate that he was finally catching up to his peers--he reached career highs by hitting .269 with 12 home runs--but in 2016 he looked more lost at the plate than ever before, hitting an abysmal .183/.235/.298 in 109 games at Double-A and Triple-A. His on-base percentage ranked worst in the full-season minors. Starling consistently took defensive swings in which he appeared to be guessing at pitches. The Royals promoted him to Triple-A Omaha in July in a change-of-scenery gambit, but he hit just .181 in the Pacific Coast League. Starling's above-average raw power evaporated as he seemed to lack the confidence or ability to get into hitter's counts. A plus-plus defender in center field with an above-average arm and above-average speed, he has no chance to claim even a bench role unless he can up his average to .240.
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