Kansas City Royals

Original Published Date: October 30, 2015

Once the gold standard for farm systems, the Kansas City Royals minor league system is now mid-pack or maybe even worse after their 2015 trade deadline deals.  However, nobody in Kansas City cares as their major league ball club is one of the best in all of baseball.

While the system is down, it still has two elite prospects in Raul Mondesi and Kyle Zimmer.  Readers of a variety of prospect sites might be surprised to see that we ranked Kyle Zimmer in front of Raul Mondesi.  While we still view Mondesi as a top 50 prospect and a potential impact player, Zimmer has top-of-the-rotation stuff and should help the Royals in a meaningful way in 2016.  Yes, his shoulder injury was scary, but assuming he’s healthy, he could be very, very good.

Ashe Russell, Miguel Almonte, and Scott Blewett are all good arms with a chance to be mid-rotation starters.  Almonte is the closest to the show but Russell and Blewett might have more upside.   Reymond Fuentes also makes an appearance and fantasy owners need to take note.  He can hit and has double-plus speed.

While the system might be down a grade, there’s enough talent to provide depth for the big league club for several years.

1. Kyle Zimmer (RHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 215 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A,AA 64.0 53 17 5 2.81 10.13 2.39 1.14

Kyle Zimmer has been ranked #1 or #2 on our Kansas City list since he was drafted number five overall in the 2012 first year player draft.  A shoulder injury that caused him to miss most of the 2014 season as well as a late start this past season, has given the entire prospect community pause.  I get it and shoulder injuries are always concerning, but I saw Zimmer dominate a team that had Corey Seager, Darnell Sweeney and Tyrone Taylor in the Arizona Fall League last year to the tune of 11 strikeouts in five innings and I was sold on the upside.

The Royals handled Zimmer with kid-gloves for most of the season, pitching him out of the bullpen with strict pitch limits until August when they moved him back to the starting rotation.  Overall, he was effective but once he moved back to the starting rotation, he flashed the skills that got me excited last year in the Arizona Fall League.  He’s just about ready and assuming he has no setbacks over the winter, he should see Kansas City sometime in 2016.

The big question might be:  Will he beat his brother, Brad to the show?  It could be very close…

Scouting Report:  When healthy, Kyle Zimmer has a top-of-the-rotation arsenal with a plus fastball that sits 92 to 95 MPH and tops out at 97 MPH. He also throws a two-seamer and is able to keep both fastballs down in the zone. He throws both a curve and a slider but it’s the curve that is his money pitch. It’s a plus-plus current pitch today and could easily get swing and misses at the highest level. I’d grade the change-up as an average pitch. If you’re keeping score, that’s two plus pitches with a third pitch having above-average potential, if not more.

What gets me the most excited about Zimmer is his athleticism and ability to repeat his delivery. His mechanics are very natural and easy. His posture is excellent and this is leading to very good balance on his follow-through. He has good momentum to the plate, not excellent, but with his size and velocity, the fastball in particularly really jumps up on batters. There is still room for improvement as sometimes Zimmer’s timing gets off and that can lead to bouts of wildness.

Fantasy Impact:  While there is still risk with Zimmer, now might be the last time to buy him cheap from a frustrated owner.  The upside is a solid number two starter with high strikeouts and better than league average ratios.  Obviously he has to stay healthy, but from all accounts, the surgery went well and his is fully healed.

2. Raul Mondesi (SS)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 185 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
2015 AA 304 36 6 33 19 .243 .279 71.1 5.0 .316

It’s was another ho-hum performance by Raul Mondesi in 2015 but it still doesn’t deter us from listing him as one of the game’s best prospect.

The son of All Star outfielder, Raul Mondesi, Raul Adalberto  Mondesi signed for an impressive $2 million dollar signing bonus during the 2011 International signing bonus period.  The Royals immediately moved him to short-season ball as a 16-year-old where he more than held his own and that put the young Mondesi on an accelerated path.  While even the casual observer can see the talent that he has, it’s never shown up on the back of his baseball card.

In 366 career minor league games, Mondesi has slashed .246/.293/.372 while hitting 24 home runs.  Not bad when you consider that he just turned 20-years-old in July, but not the overall production you expect to see with a prospect of his talent.   The fundamental problem has been a strikeout rate of 23% and a walk rate of 5%.  Did the Royals rush him and not let him develop his hit tool?  Perhaps, but it probably just means that he’ll spend next year repeating Double-A.  Now if they promote him to Triple-A and on to the major leagues next year, then we reserve the right to change our opinion.

Scouting Report:  The tools that Mondesi brings to the field are indeed impressive.  He has plus bat speed that allows him to barrel the ball with authority to all fields.  The swing is fairly level with slightly more loft from the left side, but even if he never changes the swing plane, he should be able to hit 12 to 18 home runs annually.  He’s a double-plus runner with times of 3.92 and 4.08 logged during the Arizona Fall League last year.  That speed has played well on the base paths already, so projecting 25 plus stolen bases seems reasonable.   Defensively, he has solid range with a plus arm and should be able to stay at shortstop long-term.

Fantasy Impact:  The ceiling is a top five fantasy shortstop.  However, we would really like to see him post an impact year in the upper minors before telling our readers to go all-in.  I’ve seen him play multiple times and I see the talent, but the hit tool is just not there.  Can he develop it?  That’s the million dollar question and what makes fantasy baseball so much fun.  I say yes, but there is clearly downside risk.

3. Miguel Almonte (RHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 AA,AAA 13.2 98 52 7 3.65 8.33 4.51 1.35

Miguel Almonte is making steady progress as he navigates his way to the major leagues, pitching in both Double and Triple-A in 2015.  He continues to show an ability to miss bats, striking nearly eight and half batters per nine.  His biggest weakness has been his ability to locate his pitches and this can be seen in his high hit rate (8.5).

Almonte did get a cup-of-coffee to the major leagues at the end of the 2015 season and should see considerable time in Kansas City in 2016.  It could come in the bullpen as that has been a pattern in the past with the Royals.

Scouting Report:  My last look at Almonte was in the Arizona Fall League in 2014.  In the outing I scouting, his fastball sat 93 to 94 MPH with plenty of 5’s and 6’s, a plus change-up with plenty of deception, and a big curve ball that froze plenty of batters.  It was a solid, if not plus arsenal in which he was able to throw each of his pitches for strikes.  As mentioned earlier, his command was below average and many of his pitches caught too much of the plate and were not located properly.

At 6-foot-2, Almonte’s gets good plane on his pitches given his solid three-quarters arm slot.  He does pitch in the lower-half of the zone and despite throwing a four-seam fastball, should get plenty of ground balls.  He has good extension to the plate but his momentum throws off his balance and causes him to land hard to the first base side.  The mechanics are far from picture-perfect with a lot of moving parts, but for the most part, he’s able to repeat his delivery and throw strikes.

Fantasy Impact:  Almonte is a solid pitching prospect for Dynasty League owners with an upside of a solid mid-rotation starter.  There should be high strikeouts but they could be expensive with a higher than expected ratios.  He is nearly big league ready and should be able to help fantasy owners as soon as 2016.

4. Ashe Russell (RHP)

2016 Age: 19 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018-19
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 R 36.1 32 17 8 3.22 5.94 4.21 1.24

For the third year in a row, the Kansas City Royals drafted a pitcher with their first overall pick in the June amateur draft.   At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Ashe Russell is what pitchers are supposed to look like coming out of high school – long and lean with physical projection.

As with many of their young pitchers, the Royals took things very easy with Russell, limiting him to no more than four innings in each of his 11 starts.  He pitched well in the Appy League, striking out 24 while walking 13 and posting a 4.46 ERA.  He did give up eight home runs in only 36.1 innings which you can attribute to a small sample size, but there could be something more to it.

Scouting Report:  In watching Russell pitch, he’s got a quick arm with a lot of moving parts to his delivery.  The herky-jerky movement does provide deception but it also could prove difficult for him to repeat his delivery.  The delivery is also at a lower three-quarters arm angle, which neutralizes his height and brings the ball towards the hitter at a flatter angle.  This could have contributed to his high home run rate.

The arsenal is solid with a fastball that sits 91 to 93 MPH and can touch higher.  Since there is some projection, Russell could see his velocity increase a grade.  He also throws a slider that has a nice tight spin and is working on a change-up.

Fantasy Impact:  Russell should be drafted in all leagues with at least 200 minor league prospects.  His upside is a mid-rotation starter but we do worry about his low three-quarters delivery that could cause him to be homer-prone.

5. Scott Blewett (RHP)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-6 Weight: 210 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A 81.1 88 47 6 2.66 6.64 5.20 1.38

In the second round of the 2014 first year player draft, the Royals drafted 6-foot-6, 210 pound right-handed pitcher Scott Blewett.  They kept him in extended spring training in April and May and then assigned him to the Sally League as a 19-year-old.  While the stat line was not stellar as he posted a 5.20 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP, he did show very good control while striking out 6.64 per nine.

The Royals are very high on Blewett as he has the size, projectability and present stuff to be a solid major league pitcher.  Given his success in Low-A, the Royals will likely start him in Wilmington of the Carolina League to begin the 2016 season.

Scouting Report:  Despite his size and long levers, Blewett has a very good control that stems from his athletic delivery.  He has a high three-quarters delivery that gives him tremendous plane on his pitches which should result in plenty of ground balls.  To make matters more difficult for batters, he throws a sinking fastball that is hard for batters to get on top of the pitch, resulting in…more ground balls.

His secondary pitches are not very well developed but his curveball is showing flashes of being a quality offering.  His change-up is further behind but most observers believe that it will become at least an average pitch over time.

Fantasy Impact:  I really like what I see in Blewett.  He has a quality core to his arsenal and enough physical projection that his fastball should increase a grade over time.  He should be a ground ball machine with a chance to strike out seven to eight batter per nine with better than average league average ratios.  If you add it all up, the upside is a Top 50 fantasy pitcher.

6. Jorge Bonifacio (OF)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 195 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
2015 AA 483 60 17 64 3 .240 .305 73.9 7.8 .287

As a prospect writer it can be tiring to write about Latin players who are signed at the age of 16.  Yeah, it’s exciting to dream on the potential and with Jorge Bonifacio, there has been massive potential.  We’ve written about his big raw power.  I’ve seen it several times in batting practice, but in 2013, he hit four.  In his follow-up season, he hit a total of four.  Disappointed that his talent was not translating to the stat sheet, we dropped him to nine in our Royals Top 10 and he wasn’t even considered in our Top 100.

Finally this year, the power started to show.  He slugged .416 while repeating Double-A and hit 17 home runs.  Yeah, he still strikes out way too much but should be able to walk enough to post an on-base percentage over .300.  While he was never off the prospect radar, he’s now moving back up lists.

Scouting Report:  Jorge Bonifacio is the polar opposite of his older brother Emilo.  Jorge has plus raw power that he generates through plus bat speed and leverage.  As mentioned above, the power is finally starting to show up in-game and that bodes well for the 23-year-old.  There will always be swing and miss in his game, but he does make enough contact and with his understanding of the strike zone, he should be able to post a .240 to .260 batting average.  He’s a below average runner, so stolen bases will not be a large part of his game.

Fantasy Impact:  There is enough raw power to translate into 20 plus home run future potential but it will come with a poor batting average and only a handful of stolen bases.  Bonifacio does have the arm to play third but his lack of quickness might eventually force a move to first.  That will put further pressure on his bat.  He should only be rostered in Dynasty Leagues with less than 250 prospects.  The fact that he is on the 40-man and close to the majors does reduce his risk.

7. Foster Griffin (LHP)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 200 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A 102.2 123 62 8 3.07 6.22 5.44 1.54

Taken in the first round of the 2014 first year player draft, Foster Griffin had a solid year as a 19-year-old in his aggressive full-season assignment.  Yeah, you can argue that his 5.62 ERA was awful but it was fueled by a high BABIP where he gave up 113 hits in 91.1 innings.  The good news is that he threw strikes, walking only 30 batters with a ton of ground balls (2.80 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio).

Scouting Report:  As we mentioned last year, Griffin had physical projection that could add velocity to his fastball.  He did add a tick to his fastball with his four-seamer sitting 90 to 93 MPH with a lot late life.  Most of the life on his fastball can be traced to the great extension he gets on his delivery.   His change-up continues to be his best off-speed pitch but he also made demonstrative improvements to his curve.  It’s a solid three pitch mix that is backed up by an athletic delivery that should allow him to continue to throw strikes.  Throw-in the plane and extension he gets, and it’s a solid number three starter profile.

Fantasy Impact:  I continue to like Griffin a lot in Dynasty League format.  He’s an under-the-radar prospect, as pitchers with a 5.62 ERA should be, but the delivery and the stuff point to more.   He should be rostered in all deeper Dynasty Leagues with 300 or less minor league slots.

8. Reymond Fuentes (OF)

2016 Age: 25 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 170 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2013
2015 AAA 396 70 9 46 29 .308 .360 81.8 6.7 .356

The much traveled Reymond Fuentes found his way to Kansas City after the Padres traded him for Kyle Bartsch last winter.  Prior to last year, Fuentes had struggled against more advanced pitching, but had a resurgence that saw him end the year in San Diego.  In 2015, he once again played very well in Triple-A, posting a 308 batting average, .a 422 on-base percentage and stealing 29 bases.  He can play and at 24-years-old is still young enough to eventually develop a major league career.  Granted, that career might be as a fourth outfielder, but I think there is more in the tank and if given the chance, Fuentes has the ceiling to be a solid major league regular.

Scouting Report:  Fuentes carrying tool is plus speed that can be seen both in the outfield and on the bases.  He has cut down on his strikeouts over the years and now makes solid contact (82%).  He also has enough bat speed to keep defenses honest with the ability to hit a handful of home runs annually.  His approach is very aggressive and hopefully over time that will calm down which should allow him to get on base more.  The approach is the skill that must be improved for him to move from his floor of a fourth outfielder to a regular contributor.

Fantasy Impact:  At worse, Fuentes is a 200 at-bat player with a chance to steal 20 bases annually.  The speed will flat out play on your fantasy team and the hope is that the approach will improve and the 200 at-bats will turn into 500 at-bats with all of the counting stats improving.  While there is downside risk, I’m still a believer.

9. Bubba Starling (OF)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 210 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
2015 A+,AA 375 57 12 44 6 .269 .337 71.2 8.9 .346

Home town kid who get drafted number five overall and makes their major league debut less than a year later is a story that Hollywood loves.  Unfortunately for Bubba Starling, it hasn’t quite ended the way.  Yeah, it started out well…he was drafted number five overall and yes the expectations were huge.  Why not…at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, and Midwest good looks is how major league players are supposed to look.  However, when you struggle to make hard contact, progression through the minor leagues can stall.

But that may be changing and why he is back on our list.  Starling changed his swing mechanics, reducing the length and becoming shorter to the ball and the results have been better.  In 103 games, he posted a .269 batting average with a 71% contact rate.  It’s not Jose Altuveish, but it’s an improvement and with continued progress, Starling might actually be able to carve out a major league career.

Scouting Report:  When he was drafted, Starling was labeled a five-tool player.  The raw power is still there and could eventually translate into 20 home run power but the speed was never plus and now has regressed a grade.   Defensively, his game is big league ready and if his hit-tool can continue to improve, he could be a solid-regular major league player.  The optimistic ceiling is an Alex Gordon type of career with a more realistic career being a fourth outfielder.

Fantasy Impact:  Because of his draft status, Starling is owned in just about every Dynasty League.  If you own him in a league that has less than 200 minor leaguers, it’s time to drop him.  There’s just too much risk with limited upside to own Starling in all but the deepest leagues.

10. Hunter Dozier (2B)

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
2015 AA 475 65 12 53 6 .213 .281 68.2 8.6 .283

Putting their best Houston Astros hat on during the 2013 draft, the Royals selected Hunter Dozier as the eighth overall pick, signing him to a well below slot bonus and used the savings to land lefty Sean Manaea.   After Dozier got off to a strong start, it looked like a brilliant move, but last year the cracks started to show upon his promotion to Double-A and they continued in 2015.  In 128 games, Dozier posted a .211/.279/.347 slash line, striking out an alarming 151 times.

Scouting Report:  I saw Dozier in 2014 in the Wilmington and he looked good.  The swing was compact and therefore he was able to make solid contact.  However, reports that I have gotten indicate that his swing has stretched out and he’s add significant loft.  It would definitely explain the 68% contact rate and that might be acceptable if massive power would have resulted.  It didn’t.

Dozier is by all accounts a smart player with a high Baseball-IQ. Therefore, I haven’t loss faith in what he might be able to become.  Am I concerned?  Sure, but he just turned 24-years-old, so he’s young enough to still make adjustments.  That said, it needs to start happening.

Fantasy Impact:  With his struggles, it’s hard to own Dozier in a Dynasty League with less than 300 minor league players.  Even if he gets his swing back, his ceiling is a .270 hitter with 12 to 15 home runs and a handful of stolen bases.  Since he’s now been moved to third, it makes the fantasy profile even more challenging.

2016 Emerging Prospect

Ryan O’Hearn (1B)

When the Royals selected Ryan O’Hearn in the eighth round of the 2014 draft, I doubt anybody in the front office thought he would hit 27 home runs in his first professional season.  While you can argue that he was a college player in Low-A and the 16 home runs are inflated, the power continued once he was promoted to a more age-appropriate level in Carolina League.  The Royals will likely start O’Hearn back in Wilmington to start the 2016 season but he could easily see Double-A by years-end.


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