The Royals’ top five prospects are all American-born; four were drafted by the team, while Jake Odorizzi was acquired in trade. Despite that, I think it can be argued that the Dayton Moore Royals have actually done a more impressive job mining talent in Latin America than stateside. A topic for another column, perhaps. You’ll see five exhibits for that argument below.
#6: Yordano Ventura
H-W: 5’11”, 140 lbs (listed – he’s probably closer to 170 now)
DOB: 06/03/1991 (Age 21)
Signed: Latin American Free Agent, 2009, signed for $28,000
Overall Rank in Baseball: #75-150
Organizational Rank by KC Star: #6
2010: 64 IP, 58 H, 18 BB, 71 K, 3 HR, 3.08 ERA in DSL and Complex league
2011: 84 IP, 82 H, 24 BB, 88 K, 8 HR, 4.27 ERA in low-A ball
2012: 109 IP, 92 H, 42 BB, 130 K, 8 HR, 3.62 ERA in high-A and AA
Ventura has the highest upside of any pitcher in the organization, if you define “upside” as “the absolute craziest best-case scenario that could possibly happen”. Ventura throws harder than any other pitcher in the farm system, legitimately upper 90s, touching 100 (as he did at the Futures Game this summer). He also has a curveball with tremendous break; when he throws it for strikes, it can be unhittable.
Right now, his third pitch is a changeup that is still well below-average. If he were to turn that into an above-average pitch, and tighten up his control, and if his slender physique holds up – he’s a bonafide #1 starter in the majors.
That’s a lot of ifs.
A year ago it was assumed that Ventura was a future reliever. He had the stuff to be an elite closer, but neither his body nor his delivery would hold up for seven innings at a time. To his credit, it’s no longer taken as an article of faith that he’s bullpen-bound. The Royals say that he has tightened up his delivery and has become much more consistent with it over the past year. They still see him as a future starter in the majors, and while that’s not an industry consensus, that’s not a laughable proposition either.
He’s definitely a future major leaguer, and probably a successful one. But there’s a huge difference between an above-average reliever and an above-average starter. The Royals have a half-dozen of the former; they have none of the latter. You can say this about a lot of prospects, but 2013 is a pretty critical year for him. If he continues to progress as a starter, he might be in the Royals’ rotation by August – the Royals feel he is slightly closer to being major-league-ready than Kyle Zimmer or John Lamb. But he could also go out and put up a Mike Montgomery stat line and be in the bullpen by year’s end.
Trade Suitability: Medium to High. I’m not sure the Royals would agree; they see him as a potential ace if everything goes right. But simply knowing the actuarial risk involved with pitching prospects, if I’m Dayton Moore, I’d see what I can get if I sell Ventura high. His numbers in 2012 were embellished by spending most of it at Wilmington; if he goes out and puts up a 5+ ERA in Double-A next year, his trade value plummets.
Yeah, there’s a risk that you trade him away and he turns into Johnny Cueto or something and you look like a fool in three years. But he probably won’t. If he turns into a souped-up version of Kelvin Herrera, you can stand the hit. I’d see about making him the centerpiece of a deal for someone like Jon Lester. Would I trade him straight up for one season of Josh Johnson? Uh…I guess it doesn’t matter now. Man, the Marlins are an effing disgrace.
#7: Adalberto Mondesi
H-W: 6’1”, 165 lb
DOB: 07/27/1995 (Age 17)
Signed: Latin American Free Agent, 2011, signed for $2 million
Overall Rank in Baseball: #101-200
Organizational Rank by KC Star: #7
2012: .290/.346/.386, 11/13 in SB, in 50 G in Advanced Rookie league
Three years ago, the Texas Rangers signed Jurickson Profar for a $1.5 million bonus during the July signing period for 16-year-old in Latin America. The signing surprised a lot of teams. Profar was considered a fine prospect, and a very polished one – he led his Curacao team to the Little League World Series in 2004 and 2005, winning the championship the first time and losing in the championship game the second time. But he wasn’t considered one of the elite players available during signing season, and most teams saw him as a future pitcher – the Rangers wanted him as a shortstop.
The following year, Profar made his pro debut, and despite being only 17, the Rangers aggressively placed him in the Northwest League, where most teams send their college draft picks, while keeping their high school picks and Latin American kids in complex ball. Profar more than held his own against guys four and five years older than him, hitting .250/.323/.373 and playing an impressive shortstop. After the season Baseball America ranked him the #74 prospect in the game.
In 2011, he spent the whole year in low-A ball, and hit .286/.390/.493 with 12 homers, 8 triples, 37 doubles, 23 steals, more walks (65) than strikeouts (63), all while being considered an elite defensive shortstop. He was 18 years old the entire season. He jumped all the way to #7 in BA’s prospect rankings before this season.
This year, he skipped a level and went to Double-A, and hit .281/.368/.452 – just 19 years old, remember. He got a September call-up and went 3-for-17, but all three hits were for extra bases. He was on the Rangers’ roster for the Wild Card Game and had a pinch-hit single in the ninth inning. When BA puts out its Top 100 Prospect list next spring, it will be stunning if Profar isn’t the #1 prospect in all the land.
You see where I’m going with this.
Last summer, the Royals signed Adalberto Mondesi out of Latin America to a $2 million bonus. While Mondesi was well-regarded and considered a relatively polished player – he’s the son of Raul Mondesi – most teams considered that kind of bonus money to be a stretch.
This year, the Royals send Mondesi straight to Idaho Falls, skipping over the Arizona Rookie League team, letting Mondesi face more advanced competition. As you can see from the numbers above, Mondesi did just fine.
Unlike Profar, Mondesi wasn’t 17 in his first pro season. He was, at least until July 27th, 16 years old. (The Royals didn’t actually sign Mondesi until a few weeks after the July 2nd opening of signing season in Latin America – because he was still 15.)
And much like Profar, the impression people have of Mondesi has gone from “nice little player, but not worth the money he got” to “holy sh*t, how did we miss this?” in under a year. He’s 17 years old, people. While not guaranteeing anything, the Royals are hoping that they’ll be able to place him in full-season low-A ball to start next year. To the best of my knowledge, that would make him the youngest player in Royals history to play in a full-season league. (Oh, and unlike most Dominican players, we can trust his birthdate. His dad is Raul Mondesi. Adalberto was actually born in Los Angeles.)
Like Profar, he’s a switch-hitter who’s comfortable from either side. Like Profar, he’s considered a well-above-average defender at shortstop.
All these things were on my mind when I asked J.J. Picollo about Mondesi a few weeks ago. I swear to you, his first words were, “Well, I don’t want to compare him to Jurickson Profar, but…” Unfortunately, I didn’t hear what Picollo said after that, as I couldn’t hear him over the sound of my own cackling.
Look, I’m not saying Adalberto Mondesi is the new Jurickson Profar. But dammit if he doesn’t have a chance. Put it this way: he’s roughly three years younger than Bubba Starling, and performed nearly as well against comparable competition, while playing the toughest position on the field. You know my obsession with age in prospects – but do you have any idea how rare it is for a 16-year-old to play in an advanced rookie league, let alone play well?
And it’s not like I’m looking at the numbers in a vacuum – scouts who see him play think he has a chance to be an elite-level shortstop in the majors. (Picollo told me that offensively, he’s as good as Profar at the same age, and defensively “he’s fantastic.”) It’s possible Mondesi will outgrow the position – he’s already added two inches to his listed height since signing – but right now he has the actions and quickness to be well above-average at the position.
I thought I was going to make a statement with this selection, placing Mondesi as high as I have – until Bob Dutton came out with his rankings and placed Mondesi 7th as well. So either I’m not nearly as bold as I think I am, or Mondesi’s reputation is growing by the day.
A lot could go wrong, of course. He might not continue to improve with the bat even as he moves up the chain. He might not be the #1 prospect in the game in two years. But the fact that we’re even talking about the possibility makes it impossible for me to rank him any lower than this. Frankly, I’m more worried that I have him too low. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’s the #1 prospect in the system a year from now.
When he’ll be 18.
I know this: between Starling and Mondesi, the Kane County Cougars are going to be packed with prospect goodness next season. Since I drive by the ballpark every day on my way to work, I can’t wait to drop in and see them play every week – what’s that? They moved their low-A team where? Kentucky?
Trade Suitability: Over My Dead Body.
#8: Jorge Bonifacio
H-W: 6’1”, 192 lb
DOB: 06/04/1993 (Age 19)
Signed: Latin American Free Agent, 2009, signed for $135,000
Overall Rank in Baseball: #101-200
Organizational Rank by KC Star: #8
2010: .296/.381/.433, 14/21 SB in 69 G in DSL and Complex league
2011: .284/.333/.492, 5/11 SB in 62 G in Advanced Rookie ball
2012: .282/.336/.432, 6/9 SB in 105 G in low-A ball
Speaking of Latin American position players debuting in full-season ball at a very early age, Bonifacio took the field for the Kane County Cougars this April at the age of 18. As best as I can tell, he was the youngest hitter on a Royals’ full-season squad since Andres Blanco nearly a decade ago.
Blanco got promoted because he was a defensive wizard, not because he could hit. Bonifacio, the younger brother of the Marlins’ Emilio Bonifacio, can hit; he more than held his own as one of the youngest players in the Midwest League. He profiles as a prototypical right fielder with above-average power. He hit 10 homers (and six triples) in 105 games this year, in a league where it’s tough to hit the ball out.
He’s still a few years away, and he still has some things to work on. His trendline in 2012 certainly wasn’t inspiring:
August: .207/.258/.241 (eight games)
His season ended a few weeks early with a bruised thumb, but he’s fine; he’s been on the bench for Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Winter League.
I don’t have a lot to say about Bonifacio, not because he’s not a very good prospect, but because there’s not anything particularly unique about him. He’s a very good hitter at a very young age, and in a farm system that didn’t have Wil Myers, he’d be a lot more important to the Royals’ future.
Trade Suitability: Medium to High, because the Royals do have Wil Myers. Bonifacio is the highest-rated position player prospect in the system that the Royals could actually part with, and as such, would make sense as the #2 prospect in almost any trade the Royals make for an elite starting pitcher, or as the main prospect they trade for a lesser or temporary solution.
#9: Orlando Calixte
H-W: 5’11”, 160 lb
DOB: 02/03/1992 (Age 20)
Signed: Latin American Free Agent, 2008, signed for $1 million
Overall Rank in Baseball: #101-200
Organizational Rank by KC Star: #15
2010: .227/.350/.318, 3/4 SB in 20 G in Complex league
2011: .208/.256/.263, 11/15 SB in 81 G in low-A ball
2012: .262/.315/.444, 10/18 SB in 125 G in low-A and high-A ball
(Calixte is currently hitting .297/.333/.378 in 10 Arizona Fall League games.)
If you want yet another reminder why I consider prospect age so important, take a look at Calixte. In 2011, at age 19, he played for Kane County and hit .208, with nine extra-base hits in 81 games. Even given his youth, even given the seven-figure signing bonus the Royals gave him three years earlier, I was skeptical that he was going to ever turn into a premium prospect.
A year later, Calixte roped 27 extra-base hits in just 62 games for Kane County, before getting promoted to Wilmington, and continued to hit there. He hit .281/.326/.426 for the Blue Rocks, with 17 doubles in 256 at-bats, and his numbers there are especially impressive because Wilmington’s ballpark is death for right-handed hitters. On the road, Calixte hit .321/.374/.521 after his promotion to high-A ball.
Mind you, this is from a 20-year-old shortstop.
Calixte’s probably not going to play shortstop in the majors; his defense there is considered rough, and while errors are a terrible way to evaluate defensive ability in a prospect, when a prospect makes 56 of them, as Calixte did this year, that gets your attention. I’ve heard more than one report compare him to a young Alfonso Soriano, with a slight physique hiding a surprising amount of power when it uncoils. But at least statistically, Calixte reminds me of another player. A shortstop with suspect defense, who can hit .280 with good power for a shortstop but little plate discipline…that kind of reminds me of Yuniesky Betancourt.
Before you advocate that the Royals release him immediately, let me point out that that’s a compliment. Once upon a time, Betancourt was a valuable and inexpensive player with the promise of more to come. In 2006, he hit .289/.310/.403 for the Mariners; in 2007 he hit .289/.308/.418, and made barely more than the MLB minimum each year. (His legs weren’t yet chained to the ground either.) One major league GM liked Betancourt so much that he offered to trade Billy Butler for him straight up; another major league GM liked Betancourt so much that he refused the offer. (Only one of them still has his job.)
Anyway, the point is that Betancourt had the skills to become a better player than he was more than anything else. It’s not a perfect comparison – Betancourt almost never struck out, even when he was sucking ass for the Royals, while Calixte whiffed 109 times last year. On the other hand, given his youth and the ballparks involved, Calixte has a chance to hit for far more power than Betancourt ever did.
Calixte will be 21 this year, and most likely will begin the season for Double-A Northwest Arkansas, the most favorable ballpark for a hitter that he’s played in yet. The chance is certainly there that he’ll slug .500 for the first half of the season, and no matter what position he winds up at, that will move him up the prospect map very quickly.
Trade Suitability: Medium now, but High next July. Like Bonifacio, the Royals have no need for Calixte in the short or even medium term. They have Alcides Escobar at shortstop, and Mike Moustakas at third. He’s probably not going to bring back a starting pitcher right now, because his prospect profile is dampened a little by the ballparks he was hitting in this year. But if the Royals are in the race in July, and Calixte is putting up gaudy numbers in Double-A, he would be the perfect prospect to cash in to fill whatever holes the Royals have for the stretch run.
#10: Cheslor Cuthbert
H-W: 6’1”, 190 lb
DOB: 11/16/1992 (Age 19)
Signed: Latin American Free Agent, 2009, signed for $1.35 million
Overall Rank in Baseball: #101-200
Organizational Rank by KC Star: #10
2010: .250/.314/.422, 2/3 SB in 32 G in Complex and Advanced Rookie ball
2011: .267/.345/.397, 2/2 SB in 81 G in low-A ball
2012: .240/.296/.322, 6/9 SB in 124 G in high-A ball
Cheslor Cuthbert is 19 years old.
A year ago, while Wil Myers was suffering through a horribly disappointing season after coming into the season with huge expectations, I tried to console myself with the reminder that he was just 21 years old and in Double-A; there was still plenty of time for him to right the ship.
And then I looked up his numbers and realized: he was actually just 20 years old and in Double-A. He was the same age as most college sophomores, and was holding his own in Double-A. There was plenty of time for him to right the ship. And he did, of course, when he was 21.
Cheslor Cuthbert is 19 years old.
Cuthbert, like Myers a year before, came into the 2012 season with significant expectations – but he earned those expectations by holding his own in low-A ball when he was 18 years old. Like Myers, he fell flat on his face. Like Myers, he is an excellent bounceback candidate simply because of his age.
That’s not to sugarcoat his 2012 season, because he was pretty terrible. He didn’t hit for average, he didn’t hit for power, and he didn’t play with much energy at times, according to many observers. The same people who thought he was a beast in spring training were left scratching their heads, wondering what happened to him. He's not a bad guy; he's just very laid-back, and didn't approach the need to make adjustments this season with enough urgency.
Cuthbert can’t even blame it on Wilmington, not really. He hit six of his seven homers on the road, and (strangely) walked 25 times on the road, just 12 times at home. But his road numbers (.238/.310/.353) won’t get anyone excited. The Royals will admit that 2013 is a bit of a make-or-break year for him.
But he’s just 19 years old. He turns 20 on Saturday.
Cuthbert's two years younger than Myers. He’s nine months younger than Calixte. He’s three months younger than Bubba Starling. (Pro tip: if you want to emphasize a prospect’s youth, just compare them to Bubba. Works every time.) He’ll go back to Wilmington in the spring, he’ll still be 20, and with even modest progress he’ll be in line for a mid-season promotion. I don’t expect him to bounce back the way Myers did, because he was never in Myers’ class as a prospect to begin with. But he still projects as a league-average third baseman in two or three years, with potential for more if he shows a little more #want on the field. Even in a deep farm system, that’s a top ten prospect.
Trade Suitability: Low now, medium in the summer. Sort of like Calixte, given that his position is filled at the major league level, he’s going to have more value as a trade chip than as a future member of the Royals’ lineup. But it makes no sense to trade him at the nadir of his value. If he bounces back in 2013, he could be on the move.