Trading away Zack Greinke was a pretty good indication that the Royals were just throwing in the towel on the season, and 71 wins and 91 losses later, we knew they had basically thrown in the towel. That did not mean, however, that they did not utilize the season. Eric Hosmer hit well as a 21-year old. Mike Moustakas had his issues, but you might as well have those when the team isn’t any good. Johnny Giavotella had more issues, but it was only over 46 games. On the mound, Danny Duffy was rushed, but it wasn’t a horrible debut. Looking to the bullpen specifically, Louis Coleman and Aaron Crow had very successful debuts, and it looks like Crow might get a chance to start in 2012. There were a lot of struggles by these rookies, but pretty much all of them were very young to go along with the usual rookie issues. There’s a lot of young talent there.
But the year wasn’t quite as good as 2010, which was essentially perfect. Wil Myers, Michael Montgomery, John Lamb, Jason Adam, Christian Colon, and Chris Dwyer were all top leftover top prospects, and they all had some struggles. Myers had a knee injury and subsequent infection, and he wasn’t hitting before then. Mike Montgomery and Chris Dwyer saw their control become problems. Jason Adam saw his velocity dip a bit. John Lamb needed Tommy John surgery. And Christian Colon didn’t hit near what people hoped. That being said, most of those prospects retain solid chances of being good contributors at the major-league level.
The Royals don’t sit on their laurels when it comes to the minors, however. They spent a ton of money when they drafted local Bubba Starling, and they spent a lot to sign of the premium Latin American prospects in Elier Hernandez. They even saw two other Latin American prospects, Cheslor Cuthbert and Yordano Ventura, begin to develop, and while they have their risks, they have tremendous potential as well.
Say what you want about the puzzling moves Dayton Moore makes for the major-league team, but his front office, scouting, and development people know what they’re doing. Even after unloading a bunch of top prospects, they still have a deep farm system filled with star potential. The Padres have a deep system, but few of the prospects have even a ceiling of being an All-Star, but the Royals have similar depth and some star power. Now comes the hard part – building an entire roster from that talent.
Wil Myers RF
Projection: 3-5 WAR
Myers hit his first speed bump in 2011, but it was mostly due to a knee injury that ended up getting infected. When it came time for the AFL, he looked more like the old Myers. That Myers can hit for a high average and above-average power, and he knows how to draw a walk, though he can be almost too patient at times. The real question with Myers, however, is how he’d handle the position switch from catcher to right field, which hurt his value significantly (would have been “Elite” at catcher), but he showed improvement and already has the arm for the position. As I said, his value took a major hit with the position switch, but he’s such a good hitter at such a young age (turned 21 in December) that he’s still a top prospect, though more power would help.
Jake Odorizzi SP
Age/Level: 22/AAA or AA
Part of the Greinke trade, Odorizzi made the Kansas City front office look brilliant in 2011. Armed with a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a plus curveball, Odorizzi knifed through High-A before encountering a few more problems at AA. He still did well, but it showed that he has more work to do on his fringe-average change-up. Odorizzi’s stuff plays up due to his above-average control, and while he can work on his command within the zone, he was only 21 in AA. He has time, and his delivery, though he short-arms it a bit, is conducive to him improving as expected. I have high expectations for him.
Bubba Starling CF
Projection: 3+ WAR
Starling just oozes tools out of his pores. He has plus speed, a plus arm and defense, and plus power, and while there are concerns about his bat, they aren’t so big that it hinders the enthusiasm in regard to Starling. The main concern is polishing his game. Having spent a lot of time also being a stand-out high school quarterback, Starling now begins to focus on baseball, and that puts him behind the curve a little. There’s certainly a fear of a new Donovan Tate, but you can’t just assume that will happen. Starling offers a huge upside, but he’s plenty far away from reaching it.
Michael Montgomery SP
Montgomery had a rough 2011, but I’ll try to not give him a tough time about it, considering he was 21 and in AAA. He vaulted through three levels of competition in 2010, and even though there were concerns (a spike in his walk rate in AA), the Royals through him into AAA anyway. Montgomery’s stuff didn’t go down as he maintained his low-to-mid-90s fastball and plus curveball, but his control deteriorated a bit. Montgomery’s delivery requires some effort, and he lands stiffly on his front leg, which can cause some control issues. The other concern is repeating the movement of his long limbs. But all in all, I think he’s been rushed, and we’re seeing the effects. I still like him a lot.
Cheslor Cuthbert 3B
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Cuthbert had a very nice start to his Low-A season, but the second half saw a significant drop in production. At only age 18, he demonstrated a solid hit tool, an polished approach, and above-average power. Cuthbert even showed an ability to be a very good defensive third baseman. But the worry was what the second half meant. Did the league catch up to him (unlikely), or did his effort level go down (more likely though not absolute)? It was his first full season and could have been wearing down, but there were concerns about his effort. At this point, it’s nothing to worry about considering his age, and he could make a huge jump up the rankings next season.
John Lamb SP
Lamb went down in June and needed Tommy John surgery, but considering the success rate of that surgery, it seems unfair to just toss him off the radar. Lamb was throwing 91-94 before the surgery, and he had a plus change-up and a curveball that is a tick above average. His control was solid, but he did have occasional issues. His delivery is perfect and an example of why you can’t get too tied up in mechanics and injuries, but it should help him improve his control when he gets back to it. The nice thing about Lamb is that he’s still very young for AA, so while he won’t make his debut before June in all likelihood, he won’t need to be rushed at all.
Yordano Ventura SP
Projection: 2/3/4, Relief Ace
Watching Ventura throw might make your arm hurt, but a ton of velocity comes from his max-effort catapult toward home plate. Ventura throws a fastball in the mid-90s that will occasionally hit 99-100, even late into games, and he adds a curveball and change-up that flash as plus. While that gives you the image of an ace, he has his drawbacks. He’s not very big, and he uses an all-out approach on the mound, which is an injury and durability concern. Ventura’s secondary pitches are also very inconsistent. That being said, you take big gambles on the big stuff, and he still has plenty of time to work out the kinks.
Jason Adam SP
Adam had a kind of tough introduction to pro ball. Prior to the season, reports had his fastball in the mid-90s, but it say more in the low-90s in 2011. He still has a power curveball that’s above-average to plus, but his change-up is still rough, though it improved due to the Royals forcing him to use it in games more often than he planned (I wonder how much this affected his stats). His delivery is a bit stiff, but he shows an ability to repeat it and has decent control. It was Adam’s first year in pro ball, and with that comes some adjustments and getting used to what it takes to make it through a full season. He could make a real run next season.
Jorge Bonifacio RF
Projection: 2+ WAR
Bonifacio played well in Rookie Ball in 2011, but he’s a long way away from contributing. He shows a solid hit tool and plus power, but he’s over-aggressive at the plate, which will hurt him later if he doesn’t improve. In the outfield, he’s not especially rangy and won’t be as he continues to fill out, but he has a cannon for an arm and should fit just fine in right field. As I said, Bonifacio hasn’t even played full-season ball yet, but he certainly has the tools to be an impact corner outfielder.
Chris Dwyer SP
Age/Level: 24/AAA or AA
Projection: 3/4, Relief Ace
Dwyer might need a repeat of AA after posting a walk rate of 5 this past season. His delivery is herky-jerky, and as you might expect, he doesn’t repeat it well. If he wants to stay in the rotation, he needs to slow himself down and focus more on where the ball is going, as it seems like he may not actually see the plate when he throws at times. The stuff, however, is plenty impressive as he hits the low-to-mid-90s with his fastball, and he adds an awesome curveball and an average change-up. He has the repertoire and frame to remain in the rotation, but it’s a fair question to ask if he has the control.
Big Question – Elier Hernandez
When a team pays $3 million for a 16-year old, you know he has to be good. Hernandez has a chance to be a special bat with plus power, and while he probably won’t play center, he should be a solid corner outfielder with a very strong arm in right. But he’s 16 and hasn’t played a lick of pro ball yet. High school pitchers are risky, but 16-year old out of Latin America are way riskier. Hernandez has tons of talent, but he has tons of risk as well. I just have absolutely no idea where to rank him.