#6: Miguel Almonte
H-W: 6’2”, 180 lbs
DOB: 4/4/1993 (20 years old)
Signed: NDFA ($25,000 signing bonus), Dominican Republic, 2010
2013: 131 IP, 115 H, 36 BB, 132 K, 6 HR, 3.10 ERA in Low-A
2012: 77 IP, 56 H, 13 BB, 74 K, 2 HR, 1.75 ERA in Dominican (50 IP) and Complex (27 IP)
Almonte had pitched all of 27 innings on the mainland at the end of the 2012 season, but that was enough for Jason Parks, the lead prospect analyst at Baseball Prospectus, to rave about Almonte after seeing him pitch in instructional league – naming him a Top 10 prospect in the system right then and there and even comparing him to a poor man’s Julio Teheran.
While the consensus opinion on Almonte is not quite as optimistic as Parks – who actually ranked Almonte the #46 prospect in all of baseball on his Top 100 list this year – Parks clearly was on to something. Almonte jumped to full-season ball last year and was quietly excellent. He had a 5.40 ERA in April, but from May 1st on he had a 2.69 ERA and had nearly as many strikeouts (119) as hits and walks combined (123). He pairs a low-90s fastball with a changeup that’s already above-average and has the potential to be an out pitch. He needs to settle on a breaking ball and get consistent with it, but he doesn’t turn 21 until around Opening Day, and a good breaking ball is really the only thing he’s missing at this point.
I have him ranked a little lower than most others, because he’s a pitcher who hasn’t gotten out of A-ball yet, and you can't just ignore the attrition rate for pitchers who are four levels from the majors. Also, if it were that easy to throw a good breaking ball, everyone would be doing so. But Almonte is a very, very good prospect, and if he develops without any hiccups – something precious few pitchers in the Royals system have done recently – he should be a #3 starter at the very least. He’ll probably start this year in Wilmington; far less talented pitchers have put up excellent numbers there, so try to temper your excitement if he has a 0.86 ERA into mid-May or something.
#5: Jorge Bonifacio
H-W: 6’1, 192 lbs
DOB: 6/4/1993 (20 years old)
Signed: NDFA ($135,000 signing bonus), Dominican Republic, 2009
2013: .298/.372/.429 in Complex (9 G), High-A (54 G), and Double-A (25 G)
2012: .282/.336/.432 in Low-A (105 G)
With Wil Myers having been traded, and with Norichika Aoki being a free agent at the end of this season, Bonifacio is the Royals’ right fielder of the future, and they’re hoping that future begins in 2015. It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable hope to me.
Bonifacio has been very young for his levels; he started in full-season ball in 2012 when he was still 18 years old, and he’ll start this season at age 20 – he’s two months younger than Almonte – even though he’s already reached Double-A and hit well in a short stint there. He has a compact swing that many project will add power over time.
That time may not be this year, however. Bonifacio was hitting .325/.404/.452 for Wilmington on May 12th when he got hit by a pitch and broke his hamate bone. He returned six weeks later; after a ten-day rehab in Arizona he returned to Wilmington, and while he only hit .250/.307/.338 in 20 games there, he impressed the Royals enough that he was sent to Northwest Arkansas for the final month of the season, and hit .301/.371/.441.
Hamate bone injuries are notorious for taking a long time to recover completely from; in particular, hitters frequently see their power sapped for a year or even more afterwards. So don’t panic if Bonifacio fails to reach even his career high of 10 homers this season. Given his youth, swing, and the injury, he could easily be the kind of player who goes from hitting eight homers in the minors in 2014 to 15-20 homers in the majors in 2015.
Projecting forward, everything about Bonifacio suggests that he’ll be a league-average right fielder. He projects to hit .270-.280, he projects to hit 15-20 homers, he projects to have average plate discipline, he projects to be an average defender. That might sound like I’m damning with faint praise, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. A league-average player making the league minimum is a huge asset, and if he’s capable of being a league-average guy when he’s 23 or 24 years old, he might be a borderline All-Star when he’s 26 or 27. He’s already reached the high minors, he’s still very young for his level, and he has a job opening waiting for him next year. There are sexier prospects in the system, but there may be none safer.