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Kansas City Royals

Original Published Date: October 31, 2014

The Kansas City Royals got very little help out of their minor league system in 2014 but still managed to make the playoffs and ultimately the World Series for the first time since the Reagan Administration. They had expected right-hander Kyle Zimmer to be up, but he hurt his shoulder at the end of the 2013 season and didn’t pitch until August.  However, after pitching a dominating five inning, 11 strikeout performance in the Arizona Fall League, he hurt his shoulder again and had surgery the following week.

Leading the youngster is Raul Mondesi Jr. who is one of the more exciting players in the minors. The Royals are pushing him hard and he’s meeting the challenge with more production to come. Lefty Sean Manaea and third baseman Hunter Dozier were drafted in the 2013 draft and performed very well and both have first division upside. Two more lefty starters, Brandon Finnegan and Foster Griffin, both drafted in the first round of 2014 have hit the ground running with mid-rotation starter upside. Finally, one of my favorite prospect sleeper, Brandon Downes showed that his wrist injury is behind him, posting an .843 OPS in 169 at-bats in the Pioneer League.

With a winning major league franchise and more kids on the way, the Royals finally have things pointed in the right direction.

1. Raul Mondesi Jr. (SS)

2015 Age: 19 Ceiling:1st Div
Ht:6-1 Weight: 160 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 A+ 435 54 8 33 17 .211 .256 72.0 5.1 .274

At the ripe age of 18, we stuffed Raul Mondesi Jr. to a number three ranking in our Royals 2014 Top 10 list. The ranking was based on his plus offensive and defensive raw tools. Today, the glove is still ahead of the bat as he flirted around the Mendosa line for most of the year in High-A. The fact that he was the youngest player in the league by a full year cannot be overlooked.   In fact, he’ll likely start 2015 back in the Carolina League and could still be the youngest player in the league.

Mondesi has impact talent that can affect both sides of the ball. He has the athleticism to make both the routine and spectacular plays at shortstop and the arm strength to make all throws. It’s a plus defensive future profile that should allow him to play the position for many years.

His offensive game is still raw and while he posted a meager .211/.256/.354 slash line in the Carolina League, sometimes you have to trust the scouting reports and ignore the stat lines. First there is premium bat speed that gives the promise of at least average power but also the ability to allow pitches to travel deep into the zone. Mondesi is an aggressive hitter walking a paltry 24 times in 435 at-bats. However, he’s not a “see ball, hit ball” batter, but instead has an approach that usually just ends with him swinging the bat. Through repetition, he’ll eventually be rewarded for this approach, but for now there is lots of strikeouts and few walks.

Finally, Mondesi is a plus-plus runner. I got him on a dig to first from the right side in 4.04 seconds in the spring and then at 4.05 in the Arizona Fall League. The speed will play at the highest level and while he’ll fill out as he matures, the body type point to long-term success in the run game.

Fantasy Impact: It’s hard to look at a batting average of .211 and then select Mondesi early in a Dynasty League draft. However, you have to believe, ok…dream a little bit that the tools will turn into production. When they do, it could be special – a .260 to .270 hitter, with 12 to 15 home runs, and 30 plus stolen bases at a scarce position.

2. Kyle Zimmer (RHP)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 215 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 R 4.2 5 1 0 7.71 9.64 1.93 1.93

It was a lost year for the former number one prospect in the Royals organization. Kyle Zimmer was shut down in August of 2013 for right shoulder stiffness and the Royals decided to take it very slowly with their prized right-hander. Once he was finally ready to face live game action in May, he was shut down again for a Lat strain.

On August 18th, he finally made his season debut; facing three batters in the Pioneer League. The Royals loosened the reigns in the Arizona Fall League where he pitched very well in 9.2 innings, including an October 13th outing that saw him strikeout 11 in five innings. It looked like Zimmer was all the way back. Unfortunately, he re-injured his shoulder in his following outing which led to a debridement procedure the following week to repair his right labrum and rotator cuff. While I’m not exactly sure what is involved in a “debridement procedure”, it clearly is shoulder surgery that involves the labrum and rotator cuff; and any surgery on the shoulder should be considered serious.

When healthy, Kyle Zimmer has a top-of-the-rotation arsenal with a plus fastball that sits 92-95 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: If you are drafting in a start-up Dynasty League, you have to discount Zimmer despite his solid number two upside. If you already own him, I would hold onto him instead of selling at some percentage on the dollar. Until we know more about his status, you need to be in a holding pattern with Zimmer.

3. Sean Manaea (LHP)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-5 Weight: 235 Bats: Right Throws: Left ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 A+ 121.2 102 42 5 3.99 10.08 3.11 1.28

Sean Manaea injured his hip during his junior year at Indiana State which caused him to slide to the 34th overall pick in the supplemental first round of the 2013 first year player draft. Fully healthy, Manaea made the Royals look very shrewd as he posted a 3.11 ERA in 121.1 innings in Wilmington.

Manaea’s arsenal is above-average if not plus across the board. It features an electric fastball that sits 92-94 MPH and touching 96-97 when he needs something extra. While fastballs aren’t typically swing and miss pitches, Manaea’s delivery and ability to locate and alter the velocity will have batters flailing. His slider is another potential weapon that features a tight hard-late break. The offering can get slurvy when he takes too much off. The change-up is behind the other two pitches but shows promise as well.

The delivery is solid with excellent momentum, balance, and deception. He does have a tendency to lose his release point given his wide arm span on his delivery. That was likely a primary cause of the poor control he demonstrated; allowing 3.99 walks per nine. Finally, Manaea uses his size well, pitching with a traditional three-quarters delivery that allows him to pitch with plenty of plane.

Fantasy Impact: There’s a lot to like with Sean Manaea and this off-season might be fantasy owners last time to buy-low. The arsenal and deception in his delivery are going to miss plenty of bats with a strikeout an inning possible. The control is the only worry and that will likely improve through the development process. The ceiling is a solid number two, if not more if his control improves.

4. Hunter Dozier (3B)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling:1st Div
Ht:6-4 Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 A+,AA 458 69 8 60 10 .251 .350 72.5 12.4 .326

Drafted in 2013 with the eighth overall pick, Hunter Dozier quickly proved that he wasn’t a money saving value pick by batting .308 in 273 at-bats in 2013. The Royals rewarded Dozier by starting him off in the difficult hitting environment in Wilmington and he promptly posted a .295/.397/.429 slash line, aided by a .371 BABIP. The going got difficult upon his promotion to the Texas league when the BABIP Gods caught up with him, resulting in a .209 batting average.

BABIP aside, Dozier can hit. He has a great approach and manages the strike zone well. In his 458 minor league at-bats, he’s posted a 73% contact rate and a 12.4% walk rate. The power has yet to fully materialized but Dozier has the size at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds and enough bat speed to profile at least average future power.

Dozier played shortstop in college but has been moved to third base and is performing well. However, at 6-foot-4, he’ll be one of the larger third baseman once he makes the major leagues. It’s not necessarily a concern, but something to understand and watch.

Fantasy Impact: Dozier’s fantasy value will be dependent upon how much future power he develops. If he hits 12 to 15 home runs and bats .280, he’s a low-end fantasy third baseman in a 15-team mixed league. If the power develops, he could be a top five fantasy asset at third base. I’m going to split the different and suggest 15 to 20 home runs, a .280 batting average, with excellent on-base skills enhancing his contribution in the RUNS category. Therefore, I think he has Top 10 upside at third base.

5. Miguel Almonte (RHP)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 A+ 110.1 107 55 9 2.61 8.24 4.49 1.26

When Miguel Almonte signed with the Royals out of the Dominican Republic in 2010 for $25,000, I doubt the Royals projected him to be one of their top prospects four years later.  At 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, Almonte is not your prototypical physical pitcher but has an arsenal that features a 93-94 MPH fastball that can touch 96, two breaking pitches (with the curve ball starting to flash well above average), and his money pitch – a plus change-up that he commands with ease.

Almonte was more hittable in High-A than what he experienced last year, giving up a hit per inning. Until his breaking pitch improves, his hit rate will likely continue at this rate. Another benefit of improving his breaking pitch is more strikeouts; although he did strikeout nearly eight per nine, primary on the back of his change-up. He has excellent control of his arsenal, allowing only 2.61 walks-per-nine.

By leveraging his height and three-quarters delivery, Almonte gets plenty of plane on his pitches. This led to a solid 1.75 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio and a reasonable .80 home run per nine. He also gets excellent momentum on his stride which allows his pitches, particularly his fastball to jump up on hitters. Overall the delivery is solid and this is allowing him to consistently repeat his delivery.

Fantasy Impact: Almonte has the upside of a solid number three starter and more if his curve ball improves a grade. With the quality of his arsenal, fantasy owners should expect a 7.5 to 8.0 strikeout-per-nine rate with excellent control. Pitching in Kauffman stadium will also have an extra benefit as it will help minimize mistakes.

6. Brandon Finnegan (LHP)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 5-11 Weight: 185 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2014
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 A+,AA 27.0 20 4 3 1.33 8.67 1.33 0.89

The Royals took Texas Christian Friday Night starter Brandon Finnegan with the 17th overall selection in the 2014 first year player draft. Finnegan had significant draft helium throughout the season as his performance took a significant step-up. To put a cherry on top of his remarkable year, Finnegan made his major league debut on September 6th, 2014 to become the first player in his draft class to make the show.

Despite being 5-foot-11, Finnegan has more of a power arsenal with a powerful fastball/slider combination. The fastball can touch into the mid to upper nineties but sits 92-93 MPH. The slider is his signature pitch. It sits 85-87 MPH with late bite and currently can miss plenty of bats. The two pitches together give Finnegan the upside of a solid number three starter.

The main worry about Finnegan is his size. He does pitch tall with a traditional three-quarters delivery that allows him to get on top of his pitches. However, will he have the endurance to pitch 200 plus innings on a regular basis? Time will tell, but the physical profile does go against the current norm for starting pitchers.

Fantasy Impact: Finnegan has the polish and the bat missing arsenal that fantasy owners desire. However, the elephant in the room is his diminutive size. Will he be able to log heavy innings and stay healthy? If you believe he will, then he’s a solid number three starter with upside. I’m more cautious and have ranked him accordingly.

7. Foster Griffin (LHP)

2015 Age: 18 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 200 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2017-18
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 R 28.0 19 10 2 3.86 6.11 3.21 1.11

Drafted as the 28th player in the 2014 first round player draft as the first player in the compensation round, Foster Griffin is the description of projection. He’s a 19-year-old teenager with the ideal body that player development directors crave – 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds.

The arsenal is very raw with a fastball that sits 88-90 MPH. However, his size and pitching mechanics suggest that there is more velocity in the tank. His delivery starts with a high three-quarters arm slot with excellent momentum to the plate. It’s not a high leg kick and this allows him to keep very good balance but he could be losing some kinetic energy in the process. The arms speed is not consistent but this will improve over time.

Griffin’s primary off speed pitches are a curve and change-up. Both are very raw but show promise particularly if he can keep his arm speed consistent. The total package points to a solid number three starter but with upside if the Royals can add a grade on his fastball. That will make his secondary pitches play up and give him a chance to be a very interesting pitcher.

Fantasy Impact: Assuming Griffin stays healthy, he’s at least three, possibly four years from the big leagues.   All of the raw tools are there but it’s impossible to try and project what kind of fantasy performer he could become. That said, there’s upside and if you are in a deep Dynasty League and want to invest in a high-upside talent, put Griffin on your short list.

8. Elier Hernandez (OF)

2015 Age: 20 Ceiling:1st Div
Ht:6-3 Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 A- 420 54 9 34 5 .264 .296 76.4 3.6 .324

Signed to an impressive $3 million dollar signing bonus in 2011, Elier Hernandez had a solid season in full season Low-A as an 18-year-old teenager. The raw tools have yet to turn into in-game production as he posted a modest .676 OPS in 106 games. However, the elite bat speed still gives promise of plus future power and his excellent hand-eye-coordination points to an average to above average hit tool. Of course, he’ll need to learn to walk more than once a week, but continue to dream on the tools and let the development process do the rest.

Fantasy Impact: Given his lack of foot speed and extreme aggressiveness at the plate, it’s doubtful that Hernandez becomes an elite fantasy contributor. He does have 20 plus home run potential and that gives him an upside of a $20 player.

9. Jorge Bonifacio (OF)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling:2nd Div
Ht:6-1 Weight: 195 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 AA 505 49 4 51 8 .230 .302 74.9 8.8 .295

It might be faster if we simply copied last year’s write-up about Jorge Bonifacio and skip all the new research. Candidly, it’s the same. He’s got a compact body with great bat speed that has yet to translate into in-game power. When I say, “not translate into in-game power”, we are talking eight home runs in over 900 at-bats across the last two years.   In seeing the swing, it’s candidly a more contact, level-oriented swing and lacks leverage. The contact swing could make him a .270 hitter but with below average power.  If true, that makes him a replacement level player.

Fantasy Impact: Bonifacio has been on a lot of Dynasty Leagues in the past, including mine. However, I’ve moved on to other “shiny bobbles” and will revisit if Bonifacio’s power starts to develop. I think it eventually will and you could see 15 to 20 home run power, if not more over time.

10. Bubba Starling (OF)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling:2nd Div
Ht:6-4 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 A+ 482 67 9 54 17 .218 .304 68.9 8.9 .293

The helium is out of the balloon for Bubba Starling.  However, there’s still talent in the former number five overall pick in the 2011 draft. The raw tools are still there with above average foot speed, power potential, and fielding ability. The problem is his approach at the plate is putting him into disadvantageous hitting counts, which are resulting into too many weak grounders as he rolls over on the ball. In seeing him in at least 20 at-bats in 2014, I question whether how well he picks up spin. The Royals would be well served to have Starling repeat High-A in 2015.

Fantasy Impact: It’s hard to give up on a guy that likely cost you a first round pick in a re-draft of your Dynasty League. I get it…but depending on your league size, there are just too many other players that have past him on the depth chart to simply hold onto him because he’s “Bubba Starling”. There’s talent and the hit-tool could come around, but it might be time to move on.

2015 Emerging Prospect

Brandon Downes (OF)

I’ve watched Brandon Downes since he was a high school player and believe that he’ll one day live his dream of being a big leaguer. His stocked dropped after he injured his wrist in his junior year at Virginia and he even considered returning for his senior year. However, he signed for $150,000 and has done nothing but impress in the Pioneer League. Downes showed excellent bat speed and the ability to make hard contact while playing a very good defensive center fielder.   I think he was a steal in the seventh round and now that he’s fully healthy, he could move quickly.

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