By Dave DeFreitas and Nick J. Faleris
After reaching the World Series two years in a row and bringing home the title in 2015, the Royals took a step back in 2016, and they now stand at a crossroads. Their young core of major league talent are about to get prohibitively expensive, and with the decline in performance from some key bats and the tragic passing of their young ace Yordano Ventura (RHP) this winter, the Royals will need to part with a couple of hometown heroes in order to restock a system that is currently light on impact talent.
ON THE HORIZON
Hunter Dozier, 3B, Royals | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/220 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 25y 4m
Quick Hit: Dozier is a physical specimen with significant present strength and room to add more. He is a fringe-average runner, with 4.36-to-4.45 second home-to-first times, but he has very long strides and sees the run play up when underway. The hands are average and the arm is maybe a tick-above average, but the footwork, while athletic, lacks much fast-twitch action.
The eighth overall pick in the 2013 draft, Dozier has made steady progress, but has really grown into his power the last two seasons at Double-A and Triple-A. Dozier’s Adonis-like physique and smooth actions make it easy to see the athleticism and strength potential that the young power bat possesses. The swing is smooth, the bat speed is good (but not great), and he has some feel for the barrel to go with good balance at the plate. There is, however, some length to the swing and he does tend to get a bit rotational.
Dozier gets good carry and the plus raw power translates well in-game, as he has more than enough juice to drive the ball out the opposite way. Limiting the playable power at times is the approach, which is a bit pull heavy presently, causing him to lose the outer third of the plate. He does a good job covering the ball down and is very quick down and in, but he has holes up and out over the plate as well as above the belt inside. He has done better to control the swing and miss he showed earlier in his career, going from 28.9% in 2015 at Double-A to 22.8% rate in Triple-A last season, while also raising his walk rate almost a percentage point to 10%. He has some feel for the strike zone as well and doesn’t expand too much, but he does tend to be aggressive early versus the fastball, and he’ll likely always have some swing and miss in the zone. That said, he tends to make hard contact, which will translate to his share of doubles, and grow into above-average home run pop in the major leagues.
On the defensive side, he spent 27 games in the corner-outfield spots at Double-A and Triple-A in 2016, and it looks like the outfield will be his new home in Kansas City – at least while incumbent Mike Moustakas (3B) is around. He is athletic enough to make the transition and will likely see the foot speed play better on the grass, given his long strides and lack of that snap quickness you look for at third base. After finishing the season with the big club, Dozier will come into camp expected to take over a regular spot in the lineup. While there may be some bumps in the road early on, if he can continue to adjust like he did in 2016 he has a chance to be a solid everyday contributor and legitimate run producer going forward. Dozier doesn’t have the elite power that Mark Trumbo (OF/DH, Orioles) has, but the profiles are similar, with Dozier having the edge on athleticism and defensive value.
Josh Staumont, RHP, Double-A Northwest Arkansas | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/50
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/200 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 11m
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Quick Hit: Powered by his 80-grade fastball and 60-grade power curveball, Staumont has put up impressive strikeout numbers in his year-plus as a pro, riding them all the way to Double-A in 2016. Staumont gets good angle from his tall and wirey frame and overhand arm slot, and the crossfire action of his delivery works to add some deception to the impressive velocity. The power, 12-to-6 curveball comes out the same as the fastball with snap, however, the inconsistent feel and execution of the pitch play down the effectiveness and prevent it from being a plus- to double-plus offering. He also has a fringy changeup that he rarely had to use in college, but is a pitch he will most definitely need if he’s going to start.
There is some effort to Staumont’s actions and he tends to drift forward causing the arm to rush to catch up, ultimately impeding the righty from achieving any sort of consistent control marks. In 2016 he walked 6.62-per-nine innings while also striking out 13.05-per-nine, prompting critics to claim he is destine for the bullpen. This may be the case, as the well-below-average command/control grades would make it impossible for him to turn over lineups – however, Staumont is a very good athlete, and while there is some effort to his actions, the delivery is compact and he has tremendous arm speed. The inconsistencies in the execution, especially for a college arm, are definite cause for concern, but he has been well below a hit per inning thus far (7.6 H/9 at High A and Double-A in 2016), a sign that even when down in the count and forced to challenge, he is hard to square up.
Eventually, however, Staumont will have to rein in the walks and be able to use his breaking ball in fastball counts in order to have any sort of chance of sticking in the rotation. For a 23-year-old taken in the second round, he has some ways to go, and if he doesn’t make strides in the control department early this season, the Royals could decide to shift him to the pen to expedite his route to the big leagues. While it may still be too early to close the book on starting, the extreme walk and strikeout rates beg the question of how valuable he would be in the rotation even if he gets to fringe-average control numbers. Chances are that he would top out as a good number four starter, whereas his matchup stuff would overshadow some of the deficiencies, downplay the need for a third pitch, and potentially put him in leverage spots at the end of the game out of the pen. If the Royals are competitive this year, Staumont could be a shutdown-type arm that would add serious firepower to an already-strong Royals’ bullpen.
Jorge Bonifacio, OF, Triple-A Omaha | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 6m
Quick Hit: Brother of the speedy super-utility player Emilio Bonifacio (UTIL, Braves), Jorge is much more of the corner-outfield profile with legitimate extra-base power from the right side of the plate and enough athleticism to make him a fringe-average defender. The swing is pretty easy and he has above-average bat speed, but the approach is an ultra-aggressive, pull-centric one and he will expand the zone. He’s got some bad-ball hitter tendencies, and he does get good barrel exit, so even if fooled, he can keep the hands back and still generate good carry. He isn’t going to be much of a stolen-base threat in the big leagues, but he isn’t a baseclogger either, and he’ll be aggressive going from first to third base.
He has above-average arm strength, which should give him more value in right field, however the body will require some maintenance as it matures and he will likely settle in at below average range-wise. All in, the key for Bonifacio is going to be the amount of good contact he can make – if he is able to tighten up the approach and make enough contact to let the power play, then he stands to hit is ceiling of an everyday corner guy with the extra-base power driving the profile. However, like fellow right-handed power bat Wladimir Balentien (OF, SEA/CIN, 2007-2009), the swing and miss could prevent him from being a regular, and land him in an OF-4, extra-outfield role and a power bat off the bench. Going into his age-23 season, the Royals have some time with Bonifacio, and have no real place to put him right now anyway with Lorenzo Cain (CF), Alex Gordon (LF), and Hunter Dozier in front of him. Seeing him starting the season at Triple-A Omaha would not be a surprise.
Quick Hit: Since being drafted in the eighth round in 2014, O’Hearn’s plus to double-plus raw power has translated well in- game as he has advanced through the minor league ranks. His 2016 season was split between High A and Double-A where he posted 56 extra-base hits and a .182 ISO over 406 Double-A at-bats. O’Hearn has a thick frame, and while there is not a lot of physical projection there, it is conceivable that he will tighten things up and add further mobility to his already loose and fluid actions. His hands work well, and while he does have some length to the stroke, he has a level plane and above-average bat speed that allow him to generate very good carry to the big part of the field.
O’Hearn shows some feel for the zone, as evident by his consistently high walk rates (10.3% at both Double-A and in the AFL in 2016), so he will add value in the on-base department. However, he has significant swing and miss in the zone, and hasn’t been below a 24% strikeout rate since his pro debut in 2014. While these sorts of strikeout numbers don’t bode well for hitters as the climb and face more advanced arms, O’Hearn separates himself a bit by being able to use the whole field and do significant damage the other way. His extra-base hits were spread almost evenly pole-to-pole in 2016, showing that even though he has some holes, the approach is solid and he has some semblance of bat control. He is not a strict fly ball hitter either, and the career 1.30 GO:AO rate combined with the career .361 BABIP show that he is making consistent hard contact and getting more than just lofty trajectory off the barrel. O’Hearn also handles same-sided arms well with a .788 SLG in 75 Double-A at-bats last year versus southpaws. So while the strikeouts are prohibitive, there is more to this kid than raw power and a see-ball/hit-ball approach.
Defensively, O’Hearn is limited to a corner spot, with first base being his primary position. He does have some athleticism and can speed up his actions at times, however, the range is limited and the arm strength is below average. He has spent some time in the outfield the past two seasons, so ability to handle left field does slightly bump his versatility value. Overall, O’Hearn’s power will drive the profile, and if he makes enough contact has a shot at being a second-division regular with some corner defensive utility.
Donnie Dewees Jr., OF, High A Myrtle Beach (Cubs) | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/204 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 3m
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Quick Hit: The Cubs’ second-rounder in the 2015 June draft, Dewees was dealt to Kansas City in early February for right-hander Alec Mills, and right away Dewees does a fair bit to elevate a rather thin position player crop for Kansas City. While Dewees is of smaller stature, what he lacks in size he more than makes up for in athleticism and feel for the game. Dewees won’t blow anyone away with double-plus tools, but he does a lot of things well and has the ingredients for an above-average hit tool to go with a 70-grade (3.97, 4.12 second home-to-first times) run tool from the left side of the plate.
Drafted out of the college ranks (University of North Florida), he will play most of 2017 at age 23 and doesn’t offer too much physical projection, however, he has significant fast twitch to his actions and while he does have some effort to his swing, still produces average to above -average bat speed. He has a good feel for the strike zone and his advanced approach makes him a good bet for above-average on-base production. He has a level stroke, but tends to get the ball in the air too much for a guy of his skillset. He does have some home run pop to the pull field, but his game is going to be gap-to-gap, with doubles and triples being the key contributors to his damage production. He put up about a 2:1 K:BB ratio in his first taste of Class A ball, but fell to about 3:1 in his 167 plate appearances after being promoted to High A. He is aggressive in the zone, which is good because he will be challenged going forward and will have to show he is up to the task, but he will have to get more selective and be comfortable hitting with two strikes to really make an impact with the lumber.
Dewees is quick to full speed and will consistently pressure the defense on the bases, and he sees that foot speed translate well to center field where he has a quick first step and good closing speed coming in on balls. He has some effort in the arm action and has below-average arm strength, but if he can stick in center field and show plus range there, he should bring more than enough defensive value to overshadow the weak arm.
All in, Dewees profiles as a pesky, top-of-the-order hitter who will rely on his instincts and feel for the game as much as he does his physical tools. He will have to maximize the value his legs bring and learn to work himself into deeper counts, but if he can do those things, he stands to rise quickly through a depleted Royals system and provide them with versatile, catalyst-type player who slots in well into the OF-5 role.
Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Double-A Northwest Arkansas | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/40
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/225 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 25y 3m
Quick Hit: Whether or not Zimmer will stay healthy is anyone’s guess as this point, however, how good the stuff can be when he is healthy is undeniable. His 70-grade fastball gets excellent life in the zone, with ride up and arm-side tail. The power curveball is a plus pitch and his best secondary, with 12-to-6 snap and some feel to use it versus both righties and lefties. He has some smooth effort in the delivery and does a good job having everything come out the same, with the quick arm adding some deception to the plus stuff. The ingredients are there for his circle changeup to be an above-average offering that will show some hard bottom, and it plays up slightly due to the good arm action, but he lacks feel with it and can’t inconsistently execute the pitch presently. He will mix in a tight slider with occasional downer action to it, but most of them stay pretty short and are more cutter-like, making it his fourth pitch.
It is tough to grade out the command and control for Zimmer, as it seems like he is perpetually coming off of injury, and he missed almost all of the 2014 and 2016 seasons. When he’s been healthy, the control has been adequate, with 2.63 BB/9 in 48 innings in 2015 and 3.11 BB/9 over 89 2/3 innings in 2013 – the last two campaigns where he logged any kind of notable mound time. He is capable of creating angle to the plate and he’s posted good ground ball rates as a pro, thanks mostly to the soft contact he generates off of the breaking ball. He is fairly loose in the zone with the fastball, but has some margin for error due to the quality of the stuff.
The Royals moved him to the pen in 2015 in an effort to try and keep him healthy, however he only made six appearances last season due to his second surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. As for what lies ahead in 2017, the Royals’ first priority with Zimmer has to be his health. Regardless of what he does this March, expect Zimmer to get some innings at Double-A and Triple-A, and if he’s healthy, we could see him in Kansas City later this summer. Due to the delicate nature of his shoulder, expect Zimmer to debut as a bullpen arm.
Quick Hit: A high-waisted, athletic kid, Almonte has loose actions and generates very good arm speed and whip as he comes through his 3/4’s slot. He has a strong lower half and gets good push off the rubber, but has some drop and drive that, when coupled with the arm slot can cause him to lose some plane on the fastball and have it flatten out on him, and also cause him to work underneath the ball. He has some athletic effort in the delivery, but is not a max effort guy. The fastball is a plus pitch that sits in the middle 90s with late tail to both sides of the plate and he will occasionally dial up some sink, but really lacks any kind of consistent feel, leading to trouble controlling the good late life he gets. The circle changeup is a plus pitch as well, as the arm action really sells it and it gets good late bottom. The breaking ball is average, but given how well the arm works, it would play up if he were able to locate with any kind of regularity. 2016 was his second year bouncing between Double-A and Triple-A, and he saw his control/command numbers take a significant step backwards, which lead to a demotion back to Double-A in June where he only worked out of the pen. After 3.68 BB/9 and 10.06 SO/9 in 2015 at Triple-A, he fell to 6.30 BB/9 and 8.55 SO/9 in 2016 and saw his H/9 jump to 10.3-per-9 from the 8.1 mark the year before. So while the move was warranted, he did not fare much better in shorter stints.
Almonte made it to the show in 2015, so him failing to get back surely added to the disappointment in his 2016 campaign – the wheels coming off after moving to the pen at Double-A makes you wonder if that disappointment impacted him mentally a bit in the second half. Given the quality of Almonte’s stuff and the athleticism he shows in his delivery, the results should be a lot better than what they have been thus far. Bottom line though is that until he throws more strikes, he will struggle to right the ship. Despite making 12 starts and appearing in 32 games in 2016, Almonte only threw 76 innings, which is no doubt the result of his overall inefficiency. It’s hard to see a guy with 30-grade present command stick in the rotation, but Almonte had been better in the past, so perhaps 2016 was just a hiccup. He turns 24 in April, so there is still time. If he can work ahead with the fastball more often, he stands to get more chase with his secondary offerings, and if those can be made, he could be able to contribute in the back-end of the rotation in Kansas City in 2017.
Matt Strahm, LHP, Royals | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/185 B/T: R/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 25y 1m
Quick Hit: After Tommy John surgery in 2013, Strahm is finally healthy, and he had a successful debut for the Royals as a bullpen arm after a very strong 102 1/3 innings for Double-A Northwest Arkansas last year. Strahm has a wirey, athletic frame with some deception in the low-3/4’s arm action. He is not max effort, but he’s also not low maintenance with the mechanics either – he has some crossfire with a big hook and wrap in the arm action. The stuff is average across the board, with the deceptive look giving him some margin for error, but he will struggle to get extended at times and will see the fastball leak up and arm side, making him prone to the long ball (14 home runs allowed in 102 1/3 innings at Double-A in 2016). The breaking ball is more slurve than slider, but he can throw it for strikes and will get some firm finish when he is able to start it on the glove side of the plate. The changeup has been used sparingly, but when he is able to locate, it can be a weapon versus right-handed hitters.
Strahm didn’t fare well ERA-wise versus same-sided hitters in 2016, but that may have been slightly inflated, as the walk and strikeout rates were both very strong (3 walks and 31 strikeouts over 27 innings pitched versus lefties at Double-A).
While the deception can play the arsenal up, his command is below average, and though his 1.06 GO:AO ratio during his 22 major league innings of relief work is encouraging, it’s also a small sample size. Strahm has been a distinct fly ball pitcher, with GO:AO rates of 0.75 and 0.79 for his past two seasons and 196 1/3 innings of work. So while he still doesn’t walk many (2 BB/9 at Double-A in 2016) and he can limit the traffic on the bases, he’ll likely see his contact rates jump versus more advanced bats when trying to turn over lineups as a starter.
For those reasons, it’s easier to see Strahm impacting the big league roster as a bullpen arm moreso than a starter, though the Royals, given the holes in their rotation, may still give him a shot if he can develop the changeup as a legit third pitch. The effort and funk in the delivery, coupled with the deception, will play up in a middle-relief role, where he can dole out some uncomfortable at-bats as the first lefty out of the pen.
Eric Skoglund, LHP, Double-A Northwest Arkansas | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’7”/200 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 3m
Quick Hit: The long, lanky Skoglund brings very good angle and some feel for average stuff as a potential rotation piece for KC going forward. Skoglund is all arms and legs with easy, fluid arm action through a high-3/4’s slot. There is not a ton of effort to his game and he has surprising body control and coordination for just a large, rangy build. That athleticism and relatively simple mechanics have translated into solid average command and allowed him to generate a lot of soft contact and consistently turn over lineups. The fastball gets two-seam tail to the arm side, and while it will flatten out upstairs, he gets some late life in the zone and the ease of his arm action works to play up the average velocity. The breaking ball is more of a slurvy offering that he can change the shape of and dial up some chase versus left-handers, but it lacks much bite or snap even for put away, making it a fringe average pitch that he has to locate. The changeup might be his best secondary offering with some late dive when he gets the hand out front. However, he will push it at times and see it sail up and arm side.
Skoglund doesn’t walk many (2.17 BB/9 in 2016) and he works quick, looking for contact – the fastball command is average to maybe a tick above and he does a nice job locating to both sides while also changing eye level. Even though Skoglund is a slender guy, there isn’t a ton of physical projection for the 24-year-old, meaning you shouldn’t expect him to see a large bump in velocity. But this kid does have a feel for pitching and is the type of guy who will get the most out of his tools and find a way to get out and chew through innings. The ground ball rate took a hit in 2016, going from 1.39 GO:AO in 2015 to 0.97 GO:AO, but if he can get back to keeping the ball on the ground, he misses enough bats and has a tough enough angle to the plate to where he might be able to survive with fringe-average to average stuff at the back end of a rotation ala Jeff Francis (MLB 2004-2015, multiple teams).
Jake Junis, RHP, Triple-A Omaha | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/225 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 2m
Quick Hit: Another one of the high school arms the Royals have drafted in recent years, Junis is a big, strong kid with slightly rolled shoulders and a smooth, compact delivery. He stays tall and gets good angle to the plate, but has a big arm swing in back that can work against him at times, as he will occasionally be late and have to rush. He does have good arm speed though, and he’s not a max-effort guy who produces average to slightly-above average stuff across the board. The fastball sits in the low 90s and gets moderate tail to the arm side, and he’ll also cut it at times. He can find an extra gear when he reaches back, but the added effort often throws his mechanics out of sync. He has variations on the breaking ball, with a firm, 12-to-6 breaker and a shorter, tighter version for putaway. He has some feel with both and locates to the glove side, but the good action can be inconsistent and it isn’t a true swing-and-miss offering presently.
While Junis lacks a true plus pitch, he doesn’t walk many (approx. 2 BB/9 between Double-A and Triple-A) and mixes well enough to keep hitters off balance, generating good, but not great, swing and miss (8.3 SO/9). While he is a very good athlete with some present strength, the body is mature and lacks a whole lot of projection.
He heads into camp this spring with a chance to win a spot at the back end of the rotation, however the fly ball rates are not great and he gives up his share of hard contact (9 H/9 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2016), both of which could lead to some big innings versus more advanced lineups. Junis will need to prove that he can consistently execute his pitches at the next level, but pitching almost all of 2017 at age 24, he still has time to get to that number four starter ceiling.
Samir Duenez, 1B, Double-A Northwest Arkansas | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/45
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/195 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 5m
Quick Hit: Duenez logged time across three levels in 2016, beginning his campaign with Class A Lexington and finishing the year with a 14 game stint in Double-A Northwest Arkansas. In the aggregate, the lefty-swinging first baseman slashed .284/.336/.438 over 579 plate appearances, with over a third of his hits going for extra bases (13 home runs, 33 doubles and five triples). Duenez looks the part of a solid second-division regular, capable of maturing into an average hit tool and average power bat from the left side.
Defensively, Duenez is a capable first baseman with enough arm and athleticism to perhaps log some time in the outfield. He has below-average speed but gets good jumps and reads and should not be a liability on the bases. There’s not much in the way of impact here, but Duenez does enough to maintain a fairly high floor and should be a capable contributor in some role in Kansas City over the course of the next two seasons.
Quick Hit: In his second full season, Blewett tossed almost 129 1/3 innings while making some strides with the consistency of his stuff. At six-foot-six, Blewett is a very large, lanky body, but has added some strength and does a good job to control his massive frame. The arm works well with smooth effort through his high-3/4’s slot, and he stays tall, utilizing his good angle. The fastball is a plus pitch and sits in the low 90s with tail to both sides of the plate. He is not a max effort kid and has a little bit of an extra gear when he reaches back. The curveball is his best secondary with 11-to-5 break and tight rotation. It shows occasional snap, but he does have some feel with it and should see the firmness tick up as the body continues to mature. The changeup also has a chance to be an above-average pitch for him, as the arm works well with it and he will show some occasional late bottom. If he continues to throw it and develop the feel, it will be a very valuable weapon for him versus both righties and lefties. He will occasionally mix in a slider, but it is short and shallow with actions more like a soft cutter than a true 3/4’s breaker with bite.
Overall, Blewett is a very good athlete and has made significant strides when it comes to smoothing out his mechanics getting more consistent with the quality of his stuff. He has already shown ability to miss bats over the long haul, striking out 10 twice in 2016 and finishing with an 8.42 SO/9 mark (up from 6.64 SO/9 in 2015). He saw his walks spike a bit last season and put himself in too many bad counts, but the ingredients are there for him to tighten up the fastball command, and as he gains feel of his three-pitch mix, could be primed to seriously cut back on the hit totals and find even more swing and miss. He will pitch most of 2017 at age 21 and should start off at High A – if he has a good first half, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for him to get a large chunk of time at Double-A later in the summer, and be well on his way to that number four slot in the rotation.
Khalil Lee, OF, Rookie AZL Royals | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/50
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/170 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 18y 6m
Quick Hit: Taken in the third round in last year’s MLB Draft, Lee projects to be a solid contributor both with the bat and when roaming the outfield grass. He is listed at only 5’10”, but he has a very athletic frame with smooth, easy actions and room to add significant strength as he matures. He stays very upright in the box and does a good job generating torque and getting the most out of his body. He has a very long finish, which can make the swing appear longer than it actually is – he actually has a small load and does a good job keeping the barrel in the zone for a long period. He does have some hip travel, and he also has a tendency to muscle up and pull off at times, but that is likely more a result of him trying to force more bat speed and create power rather than a sign of any large mechanical flaws. As he gets stronger and settles in with pro instruction, the actions will smooth out, and he will learn to trust his hand speed more. Once that happens, Lee stands to develop solid gap-oriented power the opposite way. While inconsistent at present, he does project to have above-average bat speed once he adds some strength, and should see the swing and miss decline in the coming seasons. It was a small sample size, but he did walk 33 times in 222 plate appearances in Rookie ball, so there is some feel for the strike zone there that suggests the on-base skills will be a legit asset going forward.
He is an above-average runner and should maintain that foot speed, but he is likely better suited for a corner-outfield spot since he is not a burner and he takes a couple steps to really get going. His 55-grade arm will play well in right field and he has the overall tools to turn into a 55- to 60-grade defender there. All in, Lee looks like he will be a solid everyday player with the offensive versatility to hit almost anywhere in the lineup. Lee has the ingredients to consistently turn in good at-bats and high contact rates and he’ll eventually grow into some pop to both gaps. Michael Brantley (LF, Indians) is the high-end outcome for Lee, but even though there is significant proximity risk, there are similar attributes here and a lot for Kansas City to be excited about.
Meibrys Viloria, C, Rookie Idaho Falls | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/175 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 10m
Quick Hit: Viloria is a thick, stocky kid with broad shoulders and significant strength throughout, and who plays well above his listed weight presently. His actions are very easy, with a smooth stroke that works to keep the barrel in the zone for a long time. Everything is fairly compact without a lot of pre-pitch movement, and he has an advanced feel for the zone at a young age. He has very good balance and because everything is so quiet, he is able to keep his hands back when fooled and still get the barrel to the ball. The bat speed is above average, and generates excellent carry on his line drives, so he could see the present gap power evolve to average over-the-fence pop as he matures.
Defensively, he has the tools to stick behind the dish – the hands get a little noisy and he sits up a little high, but he is a good athlete and moves well for how thick the body is. The arm is loose with 50-grade arm strength, but he doesn’t always get into good throwing position, so there could be a little more in the arm if the footwork gets more consistent. He will get a little lax with the framing aspect, but he has the hand strength to work his way into a solid receiver.
Viloria took a big step forward in 2016 and is ready to be challenged as a 20-year-old this season. If he can maintain the middle-of-the-field approach, the easy stroke should allow him to continue to find the barrel and eventually get to a 55-grade hit tool with solid damage numbers to both gaps. With that kind of offensive production, any learning curve behind the plate for the former middle infielder will be much easier to stomach. He will have to maintain the body to get the most out of his natural athleticism, but the ingredients are there for him to be a solid everyday backstop.
Quick Hit: A sandwich pick in the 2014 draft (#40 overall), Vallot brings big raw power and plus arm strength the catcher spot. Vallot is a thick kid with significant present strength, but there’s not a ton of physical projection left for the 20-year-old. He has a thick lower half and broad shoulders, and while there is some baby fat on the frame still, the body will require some maintenance going forward for him to keep his athleticism behind the dish. He gets good carry on his fly balls and the raw power does translate in-game, however the swing works uphill and the bat speed is average at best. He doesn’t have too long of a path and the effort is smooth, but the approach is very much a pull-centric one, and it eliminates his ability to utilize the opposite field power he has. He has some feel for the strike zone, will take his walks, and is comfortable hitting with two strikes, however he has an epic amount of swing and miss in the zone right now, as evident by the 35.8% strikeout rate he showed in his 330 plate appearances at Class A Lexington.
He does, however, have a good chance to stick behind the dish with his quiet, smooth actions and 60-grade arm. He gives a nice low target, stays quiet while the ball is being delivered, and his strong hands give him the ingredients to become a solid receiver. He is athletic and does a good job moving his big body around to keep balls in front, but as noted above, the body has a chance to get big and become a detriment to his mobility. If Vallot can find a way to make more contact, he has the tools to be a second-division regular backstop, in the mold of former Tampa Bay Rays catcher Toby Hall (MLB 2000-2008, multiple teams).
A.J. Puckett, RHP, Class A Lexington | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/200 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 6m
Quick Hit: Puckett was selected by the Royals in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft, signing for a plump seven-figure bonus after earning West Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year honors for his spring efforts at Pepperdine. After a brief two-game introduction to pro ball on the complex, Puckett shipped out to Class A Lexington where the well-built righty made 11 starts totaling 51 2/3 innings of work. Puckett worked consistently around the zone with his three-pitch mix, focusing primarily on his average fastball and plus changeup.
The heater regularly sits in the 89-to-94 mph range, coming with good arm-side action and sink, and Puckett can work it effectively to both sides of the plate. His bread and butter is a hard-diving changeup that plays very well off of the fastball thanks to arm speed deception and good plane overlap, with the offering very effective in both disrupting timing and producing soft contact. Puckett will need to tighten up his curveball, which too often shows soft action and inconsistent bite, leaving it hittable up in the zone. Puckett projects as a capable back-end starter who can keep the ball on the ground, provided his breaking ball can refine into a workable pro pitch to help him turn over lineups at the upper levels. He’ll move to High A to start 2017, and he could see time at Double-A before the season concludes.
Seuly Matias, OF, Rookie AZL Royals | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/180 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 18y 3m
Quick Hit: The Royals nabbed Matias with a $2.25 million signing bonus worthy of one of the more impressive tool sheds in the 2015 J2 class. Matias kicked off his pro career in 2016 in the Dominican Summer League before shifting stateside for the final month and a half of the season, where he launched eight home runs over just 46 rookie ball contests on the complex – good for a share of the league’s home run title. Matias is a sturdily-built specimen who shows big lift and power in his cuts, but who also moves the barrel through the zone quickly and without much in the way of plane overlap. With a limited window for contact, it’s likely that Matias will always bring a lot of empty swings to the table to go along with the plus raw power.
Defensively, Matias profiles best in right field where his arm could play as an impact weapon. An average runner at present, Matias is likely to lose a step by the time the body fully matures making center field a less enticing but not impossible option. His instincts and actions are sound enough to project an average glove in time with continued reps and instruction. There’s lots of risk in the swing-and-miss offensive profile, but also upside for a power-laden corner outfielder that could produce enough at the plate to carve out an everyday role Kansas City. He should see time in rookie ball this summer and, with continued steady development, could be ready to debut in full season ball while still a teenager in 2018.
Garrett Davila, LHP, Rookie Burlington | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/180 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 11m
Quick Hit: After being taken in the fourth round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Davila has added significant heft to his once-skinny frame, and as a result has seen his mechanics smooth out and become much more efficient. Sitting around 88 mph with the fastball on draft day, Davila rolled out a 45-grade heater in 2016, and he still projects to have a little more in the tank as he continues to mature. He is not a max-effort kid and has a simple, compact delivery with the arm working well through the high-3/4’s slot. He does get some tail on the fastball, but the life in the zone is average. He locates down well and does a good job keeping the ball on the ground, but the fastball command will have to be at least average for him to make good on his projection.
The ingredients are there for an average curveball – it has some firmness to it already, and while it isn’t a real hammer, it is more than a rolling slurvy breaker. Davila sports a solid circle changeup as well, and it gets good fade and enough deception to keep hitters off balance. He doesn’t project to be a big swing-and-miss guy, but there is likely more to come stuff wise given the strides he’s already made since signing – the ease of his actions and how he hides the ball a bit in back both work to play up the stuff and give him the chance to miss enough bats to keep hitters honest. He should head to Class A Lexington this spring, and he could eventually work his way in to a back-end rotation spot similar to that of fellow Royal, Jason Vargas (LHP).
Nolan Watson, RHP, Class A Lexington | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 10m
Quick Hit: The 33rd overall selection in the 2015 MLB Draft, Watson has a disappointing full season debut from a production standpoint, averaging just 5.6 SO/9 over 96 1/3 innings of work for Class A Lexington while allowing over a hit per inning and averages of 1.8 HR/9 and 4.1 BB/9. The stuff still shows potential, with the fastball working in the low 90s and reaching the middle 90s with some arm-side action and sink. His slider is a potential above-average to plus offering, but it lacks consistent action, and the former Hoosier state prep product can struggle mightily to place to pitch with purpose. His curveball and changeup are potential average offerings, but the lack impact at present, leaving him with little in the way of a present putaway weapon.
Watson will play all of 2017 at the age of 20, so it’s far too early to hit the panic button. Still, one year into his development the profile appears to be more that of a capable back-end of the rotation arm than the mid-rotation standout that the Royals envisioned back in June 2015. He should get another crack at the Sally League this spring, with an eye towards High A ball later in the year if all goes well.
Ashe Russell, RHP, Rookie AZL Royals | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/35
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/201 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 4m
Quick Hit: 2016 was an unmitigated disaster for Russell, as he fell off a cliff early with regards to his command and was shut out of game action entirely as a result (logging just two innings of work in rookie ball on the complex). His troubles with his motion not only hindered his control, but also his ability to execute on his offerings, with the quality of his stuff taking a massive step back (including his fastball velocity, which dropped an alarming five mph off of the stuff he showed in high school). When things are working, Russell has a lot going for him. He is a good athlete and has some present strength in his wirey, 6-foot-4 frame. His arm is lighting quick through a 3/4’s slot, and he can produce plus life on the fastball, which can sometimes sit as high as the middle 90s. He will work under the ball at times and see the pitch flatten out, but gets late, hard sink when he keeps his hand on top and drives down in the zone. Russell has the makings of a plus breaking ball, with tight two-plane action, but will need to develop the changeup, which lags developmentally.
Russell is still very much a thrower at this point and while the ingredients are there for him to be an impact arm, 2016 was a jarring indicator that there may be a lot of work remaining just to get him on track for a regular turn in a pro rotation. The stuff can be swing-and-miss quality when he is on, but until he learns some command and consistent feel with his mechanics, he stands to see a lot of traffic on the bases and will have trouble turning over lineups even at the lower levels. Russell has the ceiling of a good number four starter in the big leagues, but he will need to learn to pound down in the zone and use the late life to generate ground balls. He’s a long ways off from the big leagues at this point, but the arm strength demonstrated in the past could allow him to snap back quickly if he has exorcised his demons.
|1. Hunter Dozier, 3B/OF, MLB||6. Matt Strahm, LHP, MLB||11. Chase Vallot, C, A|
|2. Josh Staumont, RHP, AA||7. Ryan O’Hearn, 1B, AA||12. A.J. Puckett, RHP, A|
|3. Jorge Bonifacio, OF, AAA||8. Meibrys Viloria, C, Rk.||13. Seuly Matias, OF, Rk.|
|4. Scott Blewett, RHP, High A||9. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, AA||14. Jake Junis, RHP, AAA|
|5. Khalil Lee, OF, Rk.||10. Donnie Dewees, OF, High A||15. Erik Skoglund, LHP, AA|
With Wade Davis (RHP, Cubs) already bringing back right fielder Jorge Soler this offseason, the Royals have embarked on that treacherous path of reloading while at the same time trying to maximize the value of their current young core before several key members get too expensive for the club to retain. As it stands now, the 25-man roster is littered with impact talents who are either in their prime, or not far removed from it. So as Eric Hosmer (1B), Mike Moustakas (3B), Lorenzo Cain (CF), and Alcides Escobar (SS) all approach free agency this coming offseason, the hour is at hand where general manager Dayton Moore and company will need to part with at least a couple of these names in hopes of bringing back more young studs to fill their shoes.
As glum as that may sound to Royals’ faithful, that is a wealth of impact bats and middle-of-the-field assets from which to deal. Like we saw with the White Sox this winter, we could see the Royals make a flurry of moves mid-season, and go into the 2017 offseason as one of the more highly touted young farm systems in the game. Both Escobar and Cain are plus defenders at premium positions and still at the top of their games – if the Royals find a good fit, they should be able to bring back arms comparable to what the White Sox got for Adam Eaton (CF, Nationals) in right-handers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. Even though the Royals’ trade chips are rentals because of their pending free agency, we saw what premium talent can bring back last offseason when a trade partner wants to go all in.
Their present farm system is better known for high-end draft names that have not yet clicked as opposed to guys who are on the cusp. Bubba Starling (OF) and Kyle Zimmer (RHP) are both former fifth overall draft picks who have yet to bear fruit – and the struggles of 2015 first rounder Ashe Russell (RHP) is also a less than ideal situation for an organization that will always rely heavily on the draft to keep a strong core together.
That said, they do have several promising arms that took steps forward at Double-A in 2016, and while those guys don’t profile as top-of-the-rotation types, Josh Staumont (RHP) could be a lights out arm at the back-end of a game, and others like Scott Blewett (RHP) and Matt Strahm (LHP) could provide very valuable innings out of the number four and number five slots in the rotation. So don’t expect Kansas City to do a complete system teardown and subject their faithful fans to years of strain. They have some interesting young international pieces in Meibrys Viloria (C), Seuly Matias (OF), and Miguel Almonte (RHP), not to mention the recently graduated Raul Mondesi Jr. (SS) who is poised to take over the pilot’s chair up the middle.
This is called the “Five-Year Outlook” section, but he fact is that five years is looking more and more like the long-end estimation on how quickly some of these clubs can retool. Kansas City does not have lengthy, expensive contracts chaining them to the deck, so that mobility should allow them to continue to make well-timed trades (as they did in sending Zack Greinke (RHP) to the Brewers in 2010) while still scouring the international market and building through the draft. So get out your handkerchiefs and get ready to say goodbye to The Moose, Hosmer’s hair, Escobar, and Cain – but chances are you won’t be misty eyed for long once you see what the Royals’ front office brings back in return.
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