After much delay, and with the caveat that I’ve probably completely forgotten about a player somewhere along the way, here’s my snapshot list of the 25 best prospects in the organization. We begin with a surprise:
1) Wil Myers, C, A+, 19
2) Eric Hosmer, 1B, AA, 20
3) Mike Moustakas, 3B, AAA, 21
Let me start from the bottom up here. Moustakas has had a terrific season, but there are enough concerns with him that I can’t in good conscience rank him above the other two.
There are some small concerns – his plate discipline isn’t very good, and his defense is still rough. But the big concern can be distilled to these two lines:
.437/.485/.894. That’s Moustakas’ line at home for Northwest Arkansas this year.
.222/.318/.398. That’s his line on the road in Double-A.
There’s no reason why the home ballpark in Springdale should make Coors Field at its peak look like the Astrodome. But this year, at least, it has. It’s not just Moustakas. Clint Robinson is hitting .367/.475/.713 at home, .271/.324/.477 on the road. Paulo Orlando is .364/.429/.587 at home, .285/.343/.391 on the road. Johnny Giavotella is .322/.408/.452 at home, .290/.351/.391 on the road. And so on. The only Natural who’s hitting better on the road is Derrick Robinson, whose style – hit the ball on the ground and run like hell – isn’t going to be very park-dependent.
Maybe it’s just a half-season fluke from a stadium that otherwise plays as a slightly hitter-friendly ballpark. But until this mystery is solved, I can’t take Moustakas’ numbers in Double-A completely seriously. I should note that I had already decided to rank Moose behind Hosmer and Myers two weeks ago, before Moustakas reached Omaha. The fact that he’s hitting just .246/.254/.406 in Omaha, with a single walk in 17 games, only reinforces my point. He’s a great prospect, but he’s not as great as he looked in Double-A, and he’s going to need some more time to develop.
Regarding Hosmer vs. Myers…you can certainly make a case either way. Speaking of Northwest Arkansas, Hosmer has hit six home runs (four at home) in 14 games and slugged .736 since moving up to Double-A, which pretty much eliminates the one knock on his performance this season. He’s now up to 13 homers on the season, along with 33 doubles and 6 triples in just 101 games; he’s slugging .571. He has more walks than strikeouts. He’s stolen 13 bases in 14 attempts. There’s really nothing bad I can say about the guy.
But I ranked Myers above him anyway, because Myers offers the possibility of something Hosmer can’t: an elite bat at an up-the-middle-position. If I knew for a fact that Myers will eventually move off of catcher, I’d rank Hosmer #1. But I don’t. The Royals could have taken Yasmani Grandal in the draft and moved Myers to the outfield, but they didn’t. Myers still has a lot of work to do behind the plate, but the raw tools are there – he’s thrown out 33% of baserunners attempting to steal this year, which is very solid. In 59 games, he’s allowed 19 passed balls, which is a problem. Buster Posey, for instance, allowed just 10 passed balls in 64 games in A-ball. Of course, Posey was 22 at the time; Myers is 19.
Even if Myers has to move to the outfield, though, it’s not clear that he’s a worse hitter than Hosmer or Moustakas. For the season, he’s hitting .298/.417/.481; while he strikes out more than Hosmer, he also draws more walks – he has drawn 64 walks in just 92 games, which makes him probably the most patient hitter in the minors other than Kila Ka’aihue. Aside from home runs, he’s hitting better in Wilmington than he did in Burlington, and he’s just 19. His median projection is only slightly behind Hosmer’s – but his upside projection is something no other player in the system can match.
4) John Lamb, LHSP, A+, 20
5) Michael Montgomery, LHSP, AA/rehab, 21
In terms of pure talent, you could move Lamb a slot or two, but he’s a pitcher, and as the guy right below him has shown this year, there’s an inherent risk that doesn’t apply with hitters. Lamb is downgraded for actuarial reasons, not because of his talent. (Lamb, by the way, was just promoted to Double-A, his second promotion of the season.)
All you need to know about the Royals’ system is that Montgomery, who was the #1 prospect in the system before the season, is a slightly better prospect today than he was in March…and he’s been passed by four other guys.
As for whether Lamb or Montgomery is better…it’s really almost a tie at this point. Tie goes to the healthy pitcher.
6) Chris Dwyer, LHSP, AA, 22
While the first five guys established themselves ahead of the rest of the pack a while ago, it wasn’t entirely clear until recently who was the #6 prospect in the system. But after pitching lights-out in his last month in Wilmington, Dwyer was dominant in his first three starts in Double-A before he lost control of the strike zone in his last start and got knocked out in the first. It’s telling that after the draft, someone in the front office (Moore or J.J. Picollo, can’t remember who) was asked about Dwyer and said, in effect, that if he had been in the draft this year, the Royals would have taken him with the #4 overall pick. That tidily sums up why Dwyer ranks ahead of…
7) Christian Colon, SS, A+, 21
Give the Royals credit: not only did they make the right pick in the end by taking Colon, but by working out a pre-draft deal with him, they got him playing – Colon is the only guy among the first 12 picks to sign. After starting just 4-for-31 as he adjusted to pro ball, Colon is 24-for-78 (.308) since. His overall line of .257/.311/.349 is perfectly acceptable for a shortstop who just walked off of a college campus and into a tough high A-ball stadium. If I was sure he could stay at shortstop, he might rank higher.
7A) Kila Ka’aihue, 1B, AAA, 26
I list Ka’aihue as “7A” because, unlike every other prospect on this list, I expect him to lose his rookie eligibility by year’s end. (If Ka’aihue isn’t in the starting lineup this Sunday, something’s gone wrong.)
The Royals had an inherent advantage over most of the farm systems that were ranked ahead of them going into the season: virtually all of their best prospects were still far enough away from the majors that they would all be eligible next year. For the second straight season, the Royals have no impact rookies on the roster. Last year, you might recall, the Royals didn’t have a single player make his major league debut until September, when Victor Marte and Dusty Hughes got token call-ups. This year, Blake Wood is the only player to have debuted with the Royals. Wood, Marte, and Hughes are joined by Kanekoa Texeira (who debuted with the Mariners first) in the bullpen; the only other rookies to wear a Royals uniform have been non-entities Anthony Lerew and Brian Bullington.
By the tme you read this, 2007 10th-round pick Greg Holland may have made his debut, which would make him the surprise answer to the question, “who was the first player drafted by Dayton Moore to reach the majors?” Holland, like everyone else who’s debuted in the last two years, is a reliever.
(You know who is the last Royals’ hitter to make his major-league debut? That’s right – Kila.)
So the Royals’ farm system almost had to take a step forward. To its credit, it has. Expect the invasion of new talent to begin next year.
8) Danny Duffy, LHSP, A+/Rehab, 21
After a couple of rehab starts in rookie ball, Duffy returned to Wilmington. After a rough first start, he threw 5 shutout innings with 8 strikeouts his second time out, and last night he once again allowed just two hits in 5 innings, this time with 7 strikeouts. After the game, he was promoted to Double-A along with Lamb. As if we didn’t have enough left-handed pitchers in the minors.
When Montgomery returns to Northwest Arkansas in the next week or two, the Naturals will have the following rotation:
As Greg Schaum asks, “I challenge anyone to show me a better minor league rotation in the past several years.” I’m not taking him up on that challenge.
9) Aaron Crow, RHSP, AA, 23
In Crow’s defense, he’s been pitching much better of late. In his last 6 starts, he’s thrown 36 innings, allowed 31 hits and 13 walks, struck out 32, and surrendered 3 homers. Also, the same park effects that have made guys like Moustakas and Clint Robinson the Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig of the Texas League this year have been working against Crow. While his ERA is virtually the same at home and on the road, Crow’s peripherals are much better away from Springdale: 54 strikeouts vs. 29 walks, and just 5 homers in 69 innings. I argued at the time of the draft that the Royals should have taken college shortstop Grant Green. Even though Green is hitting .327/.374/.499 in the California League, he’s also made 27 errors in 77 games; it’s far from certain that the Royals made the wrong decision.
(Update: Crow started last night, on the road, and allowed 5 runs and 6 walks in just 4 innings. It seems he still has a lot of work to do.)
I’ve compared Crow to Luke Hochevar from the moment he was drafted, and that comparison grows stronger and stronger. Both were drafted out of independent leagues after failing to sign the previous year, and both have struggled in their first full season of pro ball. I suspect that Crow, like Hochevar, will eventually turn into a useful member of the starting rotation, while continuing to frustrate fans and the team alike for not being as good as his stuff suggests he should be.
10) Tyler Sample, RHSP, A-, 21
11) Tim Melville, RHSP, A+, 20
Sample has surpassed Melville in the eyes of many, even though he’s a year older and a level lower. I think Melville has become very underrated because of his high ERA, when in fact his peripherals are excellent for a 20-year-old in high-A ball. Melville went on the DL a few weeks ago, and until he returns I’d have to favor Sample. Both guys might rank in the top 5 of a weaker system.
12) Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B, R+, 17
The Nicaraguan bonus baby just keeps opening up eyes. Last night he batted six times, walked twice, doubled twice, and tripled. He’s hitting .286/.355/.482 overall and .318/.375/.591 since moving to Idaho Falls, which is a league dominated by college draftees.
Billy Butler went to Idaho Falls the year he was drafted, and at the age of 18 hit .373/.488/.596. That’s the only performance I can think of that comes close.
There’s a chance Cuthbert could make a cameo for Burlington before season’s end, at the age of 17, which might be unprecedented. Even if he doesn’t, he’s likely to start next season on a full-season team at the age of 18 years, 5 months. The only 18-year-old I can find to play for a full-season team was Andres Blanco, who got into 5 games for Wilmington in 2002. If anyone else knows of any examples, leave them in the comments.
This is a very conservative ranking for Cuthbert, based on the fact that he’s still in short-season ball. I would have no argument with ranking him as high as #9 overall.
13) Derrick Robinson, CF, AA, 22
He’s taken a big step forward; now he has to take another one. Right now he’s hitting .294/.355/.385, which is to say he projects as a switch-hitting Juan Pierre. That’s a useful player at the league minimum, but not an above-average player. Keep in mind, he’s still 22, and he’s still loaded with tools. He needs a full-year in Triple-A next year, and he needs to rediscover the strike zone; he drew 27 walks in April and May, but just 10 since.
14) Johnny Giavotella, 2B, AA, 23
After an insane four-game stretch last week where he went 11-for-15 with 2 homers (he had hit one all season), and another 4-for-5 night with a double and a homer on Wednesday, my favorite sleeper is up to .305/.378/.419. For the second straight season, he’s hitting much better in the second half of the season than the first. There’s no margin for error here; he’s either an everyday second baseman or a Quadruple-A player.
15) Buddy Baumann, LHSP, A+, 21
Baumann’s just the latest example of a pitcher who fell in the draft because of his height; he was a second-rounder on talent, but he’s listed at 5’10”, and the Royals got him in the seventh. He has better numbers since moving into the rotation than he had in relief.
16) Noel Arguelles, LHSP, injured, 20
At this point I’m not even sure he exists. If he does, the scouting reports we had on him pre-injury mandate that he be listed this high. Healthy, he’s a Top 10 guy.
17) Salvador Perez, C, A+, 20
18) Manny Pina, C, AAA, 23
Pina is the safe bet, a guy who’s almost certain to have a major-league career as a backup. Pina’s thrown out exactly 50% of attempted base thieves this year, and has a combined line of .242/.313/.402 this year. As long as the Royals’ backup catcher gets to start about 9 games a year, Pina might as well stay in Omaha and see if his bat can develop a little more.
Perez, on the other hand, is a much riskier bet to succeed – before a 7-for-13 stretch the last three nights, he was hitting .225/.245/.268 since June 1st. On the other hand, he’s barely 20, and his defensive skills are also highly advanced (he’s thrown out 44% of basestealers himself).
19) Paulo Orlando, OF, AA, 24
The longer this goes on, the harder it is to ignore his performance. Orlando is hitting .323/.386/.486, and he still has track-star speed in the outfield. He’s still probably a fourth outfielder in the end, but given his Brazilian background and undeniable tools, he may not have established his ceiling yet.
Dayton Moore acquired him for Horacio Ramirez. Yes, Moore was foolish enough to re-sign Ramirez afterwards, but still: he was able to turn Ramirez into a useful ballplayer. That has to count for something.
19A) Will Smith, LHSP, A+, 21
This ranking is just a wild guess. He’s been moved around so much this year that it’s hard to get a handle on him. If you’re a raging optimist, you can compare him to a poor man’s Chris Dwyer – average-plus fastball, good curveball – and point to what the Royals have done with Dwyer in the last year. He allowed just one run in seven innings in his first start for Wilmington.
20) David Lough, OF, AAA, 24
The Royals have long loved Lough, perhaps more than he deserves, but something has happened this month to make me take notice. Lough has always been a free-swinger; he walked just 24 times all last season, and in the first three months of this season he drew just 10 walks in 66 games. In June, Lough walked just once, and struck out 17 times.
In July, he’s walked NINETEEN times, and struck out just 12 times. Despite hitting just .207 this month, he has a .352 OBP.
I don’t know what it means yet. But when a player combines athleticism with plate discipline, good things usually happen. Which is why I’m starting to take Lough a tiny bit seriously as a prospect again.
21) Michael Antonio, SS, R-, 18
It’s still very early, and he’s still very raw, but I’m impressed with his .508 slugging average in rookie ball. He sort of reminds me of another Mike A. the Royals drafted out of New York City a few years ago.
22) Yowill Espinal, SS/2B, R+, 19
He’s 19, got a quarter-million to sign, and is hitting .302/.367/.365 in a college player’s league. He also has an .888 fielding percentage at second base.
23) Jeff Bianchi, SS, injured, 23
He hit .308/.358/.435 between A-ball and Double-A last year, and he’ll still be just 24 when he returns from Tommy John surgery next year. Probably a utility player in the end.
23A) Elisaul Pimental, A-, 22
Just a guess at this point.
24) Clint Robinson, 1B, AA, 25
He really is a poor man’s Kila Ka’aihue at this point. Robinson’s hitting .312/.393/.579, which is great and all, but Ka’aihue hit .314/.463/.624 for the same team when he was 24, and look what good that’s done him.
25) Louis Coleman, RHRP, AAA, 24
You could make a case for a lot of relievers here, from Coleman to Blaine Hardy to Patrick Keating to the newly-promoted Greg Holland, who has control issues but in his last 10 outings for Omaha, struck out a fairly ridiculous 30 men in 16 innings. I think Coleman’s the best of the lot; in 69 innings he’s allowed just 44 walks and 17 hits, while striking out 74. But the Royals have to remember – he throws low three-quarters, and he has shown an enormous platoon split throughout his minor league tenure. If the Royals use him as a tactical right-hander, he could be a nice weapon. If they just him to pitch the seventh inning without regard to the fact that the next three batters bat left-handed, bad things may result.
HM: Kevin Chapman, Jarrod Dyson, Blaine Hardy, Kelvin Herrera, Greg Holland, Patrick Keating, Ed Lucas, Rey Navarro, Bryan Paukovits, Jamie Romak, Edgar Osuna, Jordan Parraz, Crawford Simmons, Brandon Sisk, Tim Smith