|Original Published Date: November 4, 2016|
The Kansas City Royals were once the darling of the industry with the best minor league system in the league. However, after many promotions, the system looks much different today; although after two World Series appearances and one World Championship, nobody in Kansas City cares. In fact, you can attribute the modern-day approach to building a championship quality team through “building within”, to the Royals. Even the Yankees are drinking the developmental Kool-aid and for the moment are off the drug known as free agency.
That said, we write and evaluate prospects and the Kansas City Royals system today, is thinner than it has been in years. Kyle Zimmer is the biggest name in the system but can’t stay healthy and is once again on the disabled list after having surgery to fix thoracic outlet syndrome. We still like the arm but we are very close to giving up.
Leading the list is 2013 first round draft pick Hunter Dozier. He split time between Double and Triple-A, slugging .533 before getting a cup-of-coffee in September. His teammate in Omaha, Jorge Bonifacio didn’t get the September call but is just about ready after hitting 19 home runs. Their best pitching prospect is Matt Strahm, who pitched very well for the big league club in 21 appearances in relief. The Royals still hope he will be a starter but given their success with a dominate bullpen, he could wind up there permanently.
Hunter Dozier (3B)
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 3B
After striking out 151 times in 2015 (29% strikeout rate) with only 12 home runs, I turned bearish on Hunter Dozier. If you strikeout nearly 30% of the time, you better have the upside of a 3-handle on your power or there is grave concern. I didn’t like the setup and therefore, moved him to number 10 on my Kansas City list last year.
2016 was a different season for Dozier. The Royals worked with his swing and got him back to hitting to all fields instead of trying to pull everything and it all clicked. In a 26 game return to Double-A, he lowered his strikeout rate to 21% while improving his ISO. His success continued once he was promoted to Triple-A, slugging 15 home runs while posting a 23% strikeout rate and a 9.3% walk rate. His .295 batting average was fueled by a .359 BABIP, but it was an encouraging offensive year and put Dozier squarely back on the prospect map for me.
Scouting Report: With a shorter swing and improving plate patience, Dozier is once again on the prospect radar. It’s a good thing because at age 25, Dozier needed to pull it together. Having said that, I still don’t see as an impact player; more of a solid everyday player at the highest level.
Where Dozier plays defensively could be the biggest obstacle facing him. With Mike Moustakas due back next year from a knee injury, the Royals have started playing Dozier more in the outfield and a little at first base to add to his versatility. Right field could ultimately be where he settles as he has enough power to profile as a 20-home run bat and enough arm to play the position.
Fantasy Impact: Dozier should be up sometime in 2017 with a chance to be a regular contributor by mid-season. The upside is 20 home runs, with a .260 batting average and a handful of stolen bases. That’s a solid fantasy contributor at a corner infield position or as a fourth outfielder.
Jorge Bonifacio (OF)
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF
From time-to-time when I write about prospect, I date them back to the year of Trout; defined as the year Mike Trout was drafted and signed. That year was 2009, the same year that 16-year-old Jorge Bonifacio was signed as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. Trout has gone on to win a MVP and place second multiple times and become arguably the best player in baseball. Bonifacio on the other hand, has been toiling in the minor leagues, learning his trade and candidly waiting for his power to develop.
Scouting Report: Over the past two years, the power has emerged. He followed up a 17 home run campaign in 2015 with a 19 home run effort last season in Triple-A. He also improved his OPS by almost 100 points while keeping his strikeout rate the same (23%). While he’ll likely never hit 30 home runs in a season, the raw power and swing suggest that 20 to 25 home runs annually is fully in range.
While Jorge doesn’t have the plus speed that his older brother Emilo has, he is not a clogger on the base paths and could even steal a few bases annually. Putting it all together, the upside is a solid outfielder with a .260 batting average and 20 to 25 home run potential. In fact, very similar to the profile of Dozier with the major difference that Dozier still has a chance to play in the dirt and Bonifacio does not.
Fantasy Impact: The upside of Bonifacio is a .260 batting average with 20 to 25 home runs. After seven seasons in the minor leagues, he’s finally ready to see playing time in the big league and that should be at some point in 2017.
Ryan O’Hearn (1B)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Corner Infielder
As Eric Hosmer enters his free agent year, the Kansas City Royals need to start considering the makeup of their team after he leaves. I’m sure you’re thinking…what if he stays? Seriously? As one of the best young first baseman in the league and with the Boras Corporation representing him, I just can’t see that happening. What I could see happening is Ryan O’Hearn manning first base starting in 2018, or perhaps even late in 2017 if the Royals decide to get something for Hosmer at the trading deadline.
O’Hearn has big lefty power, hitting 22 home runs across High and Double-A. He does strikeout a lot as his 28% strikeout rate demonstrates. He has been able to maintain a high BABIP, so his career .290 batting average does look good. However, with below average speed, a mid-300 BABIP is not sustainable and therefore, a batting average correction to the mid-200s is likely.
Scouting Report: O’Hearn is not Eric Hosmer. He has more raw power but his hit-tool is one, if not two grades lower. He uses his size well and adds plenty of loft to his swing to project to hit 25 home runs annually. His contactability is the problem. It really hasn’t improved as he’s moved through the system and given his swing mechanics, he could just be what he is – big power with a lot of swing and miss. He does have a good understanding of the strike zone and should be able to post a .300 plus OBP.
Defensively, O’Hearn is average at first and given his lack of athleticism, it’s really the only place for him to play.
Fantasy Impact: I’ve received a lot of good reports on O’Hearn’s power and saw it on display at the Arizona Fall League. He has 25 home run power but it will come with a lot of strikeouts and therefore, his batting average will always be under pressure. He has a chance to make a name for himself over the next couple of years, but could have competition with Jorge Bonifacio, who has also played some first base.
Matt Strahm (LHP)
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
Matt Strahm is the top ranked Royals pitcher, almost by default as other, higher upside pitchers can’t stay healthy or have just underperformed. Here’s some examples: Kyle Zimmer seems to go from one injury to the next and Miguel Almonte and Ashe Russell just can’t throw strikes. Strahm on the other hand has stayed healthy, is throwing strikes and is now in the big leagues.
Once Strahm fully recovered from his TJ surgery in 2013, he has pitched well as both a starter and in relief. In 80 games in the minor leagues, he has struck almost 11 per nine will walking just under three. In his limited exposure in the major leagues, he hasn’t missed a beat and is pitching strong with similar results. I do believe the Royals intend to use him in the rotation, starting as soon as next season. The move to the bullpen was not only a way for him to help the team in 2016 but was a way to keep his innings down.
Scouting Report: Strahm has solid stuff with a fastball that he can run up to 94 MPH but generally sits 89 to 91 MPH as a starter. The offering plays up as he’s able to throw it for strikes and there is some cross-fire in his delivery, making things very difficult for arm side batters. His best secondary offering is his change-up with good deception and fade. His curve ball is a still a work-in-progress but it’s getting sharper and he is able to throw it for strikes.
Strahm has the ceiling of a number three/four starter with a chance to have better than average ratios and eight strikeouts per nine. He doesn’t get great plane on his pitches and therefore he could be homer-prone. In fact, in 102.1 innings in Double-A this season, he gave up 14 home runs or 1.23 per nine.
Fantasy Impact: Based on his early success with the Royals, Strahm is owed in a lot of Dynasty Leagues. I think it’s warranted as he throws strikes and has good enough stuff to be an effective pitcher. He’s not a stud but instead is a solid number five/six pitcher on your fantasy team.
A.J. Puckett (RHP)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Number 6 SP
The Royals selected Pepperdine right-handed pitcher A.J. Puckett with their first pick (#67 overall) in the 2016 MLB Draft. Puckett had an impressive junior year, posting a 1.27 ERA while striking out nearly a batter an inning and walking 2.39 per nine. He had little trouble in his professional debut, posting a 3.53 ERA with a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio across Rookie Ball and Low-A.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Puckett is long and lean with some physical projection remaining. He has a solid three-pitch arsenal with a low-90’s fastball, a hard curve, and a change-up. His change-up might be his best pitch as it has nice deception and he is able to throw it consistently for strikes. Despite his size, he doesn’t get great plane on his fastball, preferring to pitch up in the zone. Since he doesn’t have a mid-90’s fastball in his arsenal, he could be prone to giving up home runs.
He does pound the strike zone with plus control and the ability to locate his fastball well. However, there is concern that without premium stuff, his command will have to be even better in order to pitch at the highest level.
Fantasy Impact: There are a lot of pitchers in the minor leagues with Puckett’s profile. Will he be one of the ones that breakout of the pack to hit his ceiling of a Top 50 pitcher in the big leagues? Perhaps, but Dynasty League owners need to see more before drafting him on their teams.
Miguel Almonte (RHP)
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2015, Fantasy Ceiling: 8th inning guy
Miguel Almonte was flying through the Royals system, making his major league debut in 2015 at 22-years-old. He was flashing a fastball that he could run up to 97 MPH with a plus change-up. He seemed poised to move into the Royal’s rotation in 2016 as at least a mid-rotation starter. However, in 2016, Almonte’s lost the strike zone, eventually being moved to the bullpen where things didn’t get much better. In August, the Royals moved him back to Double-A and while his 7.31 ERA in 11 appearances wasn’t great, his control was better, albeit a small sample size.
The big question is what happened? The easiest thing to suggest was an injury. However, from all accounts, there isn’t one. Did he get rushed, and the major league experience simply set him back? Perhaps… My guess is that his raw mechanics finally caught up to him. If you can’t repeat your delivery, it’s very difficult to have success as advanced hitters will not swing at balls.
Scouting Report: My last look at Almonte was in the Arizona Fall League in 2014. In the outing, 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 a plus arsenal.
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 continue to be his biggest problem and the results of him not being able to repeat his delivery are showing in the stat line.
Fantasy Impact: Given the Royals strong belief that a deep bullpen is a big key to success, Almonte is likely in the bullpen long-term. I think he figures out his delivery problems enough to have a major league career but I’m not confident his control will ever be good enough for him to perform in high leverage situations. That said, the arm is special and we are not yet willing to give up on that yet and therefore, we continue to rank him.
Josh Staumont (RHP)
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Closer with extreme risk
The Royals drafted Josh Staumont in the second round of the 2015 MLB Draft as an arm strength guy who they were hoping they could teach to throw strikes. After 163.1 innings in professional ball, Staumont is still an arm strength guy who can not throw strikes.
Scouting Report: In his second season, Staumont pitched to a 4.89 ERA, striking out over 12 per nine while walking 7.6 per nine in 29 games across High and Double-A. He has an 80-grade fastball with the ability to hit triple-digits but clearly has trouble locating the pitch for strikes. His primary out pitch is a curve ball that sits 85 to 86 MPH with a nice tight break; almost slider like. The problem of course is he has 30-grade control and 20-grade command.
The Royals continued to work with his mechanics during the Fall Instructional League and hope there will be improvement. It’s likely he’ll never have enough control to pitch in the rotation, but if he can improve his control to at least 40-grade, he has the stuff to be a high-leverage reliever.
Fantasy Impact: Anybody who can throw 100 MPH should be on all Dynasty League owners radar. If he can figure out his mechanics and throw strikes, at least some of the time, he could be an interesting late-inning bullpen arm.
Corey Toups (2B)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Waiver Wire MI
I had a chance to see Corey Toups in Wilmington this year and really came away impressed. He’s one of those guys, who always seem be second basemen, that just get the most out of their ability. He has a little bit of pop, a little speed, plays a solid second base with good on-base skills. He is prone to striking out, posting a 22.9% strikeout rate across High and Double-A.
Scouting Report: While the ceiling is likely an extra bat, Toups does have enough bat speed that he could hit for average power if given full-time at-bats at the highest level. He’s also an average runner that should be able to steal double-digit stolen bases. The approach is solid but there is swing and miss in his bat. He seemed to be prone to soft stuff away; a problem for many hitters.
Fantasy Impact: Toups should be monitored in all Dynasty Leagues as he does have fantasy friendly skills. The problem is his hit-tool is currently below average and he doesn’t have a true plus tool. That said, he plays hard and seems to have great make-up.
Ashe Russell (RHP)
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
For their first pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, they Royals drafted high school right-handed pitcher Ashe Russell. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Russell is what pitchers are supposed to look like coming out of high school – long and lean with physical projection.
In his first season, the Royals took things very easy with Russell, limiting him to no more than four innings in each of his 11 starts. To start in 2016, the kept him back in extended spring training before finally staring him in the AZL for two starts (one inning a piece)…and then he didn’t pitch again for the year. There were no reports of an injury, only that his stuff was way-off, velocity was sitting 87 to 88 MPH so the Royals shut him down.
Scouting Report: Russell has 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.
When healthy and pitching well, 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 is an interesting talent but word of diminished velocity is indeed discouraging. Plus, when you get nothing official from the Royals, it does sound off bells. Given he’s four years away, I would fish somewhere else if I was an owner.
Kyle Zimmer (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: No idea
I’m an owner of Kyle Zimmer in one Dynasty League and have been a staunch, some would call it a stubborn supporter of the right-hander. I ranked him number one on my Royals list last season and stuffed him at number 20 in my pre-season Top 100. I’ve seen him pitch and the stuff is tremendous, but he just can’t stay healthy and at this point, I’m not sure he ever will.
Assuming he comes back from his latest injury, the dreaded thoracic outlet syndrome, I’m guessing the Royals will try to get him to the big league via the bullpen. Will it work? I haven’t a clue and candidly, I don’t think the Royals do either.
Scouting Report: Nothing in Kyle Zimmer’s scouting report has changed since he only pitched one inning this past season. So, we present our scouting report from 2015, which is eerily similar to 2014’s version.
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: Again, call me crazy but I’m still holding on to Zimmer. I totally understand if you feel differently. Just know, it’s probably the last year I do that as at some point, you just have to move on.
2017 Emerging Prospect
Khalil Lee (OF)
The Royals drafted high schooler Khalil Lee in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft and paid him an over slot signing bonus of $750,000. He got off to a fast start in the AZL, showing some pop and speed and an excellent eye at the plate. In 49 games, he posted an .880 OPS with six home runs and eight stolen bases and a 15% walk rate. He’s athletic and could be a quick mover due to his advanced approach at the plate. If it doesn’t work out for him in the outfield, he could move to the bump as he was also considered an equally impressive pitching prospect entering the draft.
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