Aggressive signing bonuses paid out to players beyond the first round combined with selecting early in recent years has put the Royals in a position to build an impressive farm system. And their scouting department has made the most of the opportunity.
Their 2008 draft has already yielded a pair of big league regulars in Eric Hosmer and Johnny Giavotella, while supplemental first rounder Mike Montgomery has reached AAA and is one of the top prospects in the system. Fifth rounder John Lamb remains a top prospect in spite of an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery in 2011.
In 2009 the Royals held the 12th pick, selecting local product Aaron Crow after he chose not to sign with Washington as a top 10 pick in the previous draft. Without a second round selection, the Royals continued to add impact players in Wil Myers and Chris Dwyer in the third and fourth rounds, going over-slot to sign each.
The 2010 draft saw KC look to supplement their elite prospects at the mid to upper levels with depth, going college heavy. They grabbed Cal State Fullerton SS Christian Colon fourth overall and followed with two-way Arkansas star Brett Eibner in the second round, drafting him as an outfielder. They did manage to find a high upside high school product though, in fifth round local product Jason Adam.
In addition to their success in recent drafts, Kansas City's scouting efforts in Latin American look to pay dividends as well. Producing several intriguing prospects such as 3B Cheslor Cuthbert (Nicaragua), OF Elier Hernandez (Dominican Republic), RHP Kelvin Herrera (Dominican Republic), RHP Yordano Ventura (Dominican Republic) and LHP Noel Arguelles (Cuba, via Canada) all showing a lot of promise.
The Royals graduated a pair of elite prospects in Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas in 2011, along with a plethora of other solid players. In total the farm system graduated eleven players to Kansas City who are no longer qualify for prospect status, including:
Such a high graduation rate would decimate most farm systems, but the Royals still boast impressive depth. Although, focusing their 2010 draft efforts on supplementing depth through the college ranks combined with several highly touted pitching prospects suffering setbacks or plateauing in 2011, the system is no longer head and shoulders above the rest in baseball. It still ranks near the top though, with the strength lying in numbers, rather than the Major League ready impact prospects it featured a year ago.
The Royals philosophy under GM Dayton Moore, now in his sixth season, has been to aggressively build through the farm system. While the system has produced several potential impact players at the big league level in recent years, the Major League roster still has several holes to fill; most notably in the starting rotation.
A year ago Mike Montgomery, John Lamb and Danny Duffy all appeared to be close to contributing in the Major Leagues. Lamb suffered an elbow injury and underwent Tommy John surgery, Montgomery struggled with his command in AAA and Duffy had a solid but unspectacular rookie season in KC. Jake Odorizzi and Chris Dwyer looked like quality assets in the lower levels, though Dwyer had a disappointing season in 2011. As a small market team, Kansas City's hopes of contention in the near future hinge on contributions from young, inexpensive starting pitchers. Trading for Jonathan Sanchez and moving Aaron Crow from the bullpen to the rotation are currently their only hope of getting those contributions.
The offense and bullpen both appear to be present strengths with quality reinforcements on the way. Ultimately, the Royals need to find a way to get quality innings from their starting rotation. Therefore it can be argued that Mike Montgomery is the most important prospect in the system. If Montgomery can live up to his potential and give the Royals a quality front of the rotation arm, contention may not be all that far from reality.
If the system can’t directly produce a quality big league starter, Moore will have the option of trading some of his quality prospects for a much needed starter (or catcher, or center fielder). The organization has come a long way since Moore took over in 2006, though it remains to be seen whether that progress will lead to playing in October.
After a brief departure, which saw Kansas City emphasize college players in 2010, the Royals returned to their recent philosophy of aggressively selecting and signing (often at bonuses well above slot recommendation) high upside prospects out of high school in 2011. The Royals used the fifth overall pick to select local product Bubba Starling, a two-sport star at nearby Gardner-Edgerton in Gardner, KS and signed him to a club-record $7.5 million signing bonus at the August 15 deadline.
But the first round wasn’t the only place the Royals made a splash, as they went over slot to sign high upside prep players in each of the first five rounds. They supplemented the Starling selection by popping All-American C Cameron Gallagher in the second round, All-American RHP Bryan Brickhouse in the third and followed with two more high upside prep talents in RHP Kyle Smith and SS Patrick Leonard in the fourth and fifth. 29th round pick RHP Jake Junis was a late round selection that many considered a tough sign, but the Royals lured him away from North Carolina State with a $675,000 bonus to add one more talented high school prospect to the lower levels of the system.
Several mid to late round selections out of college had strong professional debuts in 2011. Tenth rounder Matt Murray out of Georgia Southern struck out 58 while walking just 10 over 53 innings for Burlington. 14th round JuCo selection OF D'Andre Toney hit .340/.432/.587 in 43 games in the Arizona League. UCLA product 1B Richard Espy hit .318/.391/.489 with seven Home Runs in 62 games for Idaho Falls as a 16th round pick.
It was a very expensive and very productive draft for the Royals who were looking to refill the cupboard of minor league talent after graduating a pile of prospects to The Show in 2011. In total the Royals spent $14.07 Million on signing bonuses (third highest), bringing their total for the past five drafts to $45.20 Million, also the third highest. While it sounds like an astounding figure, it should be noted that it is $6,498,511 less than the Posting Fee to negotiate with Japanese hurler Yu Darvish.
It is also an effort that they will be unable to repeat in 2012 thanks to the new changes to the draft via the recently completed Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The Royals will have to find new ways to land high level prospects outside of the top rounds in future drafts. Although the Royals will have a larger signing bonus pool to work with than most teams.
The Royals will be selecting fifth again in 2012, a common theme in the past decade, as KC has held a top five pick in five of the past six drafts, and eight of the past ten. Their top selections from 2007-09 all made their big league debut in 2011, with RHP Aaron Crow (no. 12, 2009) breaking camp with the big league club and being joined shortly thereafter by 1B Eric Hosmer (no. 3, 2008) and 3B Mike Moustakas (no. 2, 2007). Seven of their past ten first round selections are currently in the Majors (each from 2004-2009), with Chris Lubanski (no. 5, 2003) as the only one to retire without ever doing so.
The two most recent first rounders each show promise, with 2B Christian Colon (no. 4, 2010) reaching AA followed by a strong showing at the 2011 Arizona Fall League, and OF Bubba Starling (no. 5, 2011) set to make his pro debut in 2012. The success of their first round picks in the past decade is impressive, and the pressure will be on to continue the streak of success in 2012, with a draft that appears to be heavy on high school talent but light on college prospects.
Top 10 Prospects
1. OF Wil Myers - Baseball-reference player profile
After showing well throughout his PG career as a member of the North Carolina based Dirtbags, Myers was seen as a potential first rounder coming out of Wesleyan Christian High School in 2009. But his lofty asking price, a South Carolina commitment and uncertainty about his long term position allowed the Royals to hold off until the third round.
After signing for $2 million the Royals attempted to move Myers behind the plate with the hope that his athleticism and arm strength would allow him develop there and make his quality offensive tools very valuable. Myers’ bat forced a quick promotion to High-A Wilmington as a 19 year old in 2010 and appeared ready (offensively) to handle a jump to AA in 2011. The Royals responded by moving him from behind the plate to the outfield in order to accelerate his progress and gave him an aggressive promotion to AA Northwest Arkansas as a 20 year old. In spite of a slow start, his strong second half of 2011 at AA Northwest Arkansas and a red-hot showing in the Arizona Fall League suggest that Myers’ bat is not far away from being Major League ready. Myers has excellent pitch recognition and high level on-base skills along to go with good hand-eye coordination, leading to very good contact skills. Myers’ bat stays in the zone a long time with good bat speed and extension. Though he has yet to hit for a lot of power in the minors, he projects for average or better power long term. After moving from behind the plate Myers played all three outfield spots in 2011, though he is best suited for right thanks to his well above average arm strength. He struggled with the transition early on, but made a lot of progress and has the physical tools to be a high level corner outfielder.
With Jeff Francouer and Alex Gordon currently slated to occupy the corners of the outfield, Myers’ path to the big leagues is currently blocked. Barring a trade or injury, don't expect to see Myers in Kansas City until MLB rosters expand in September. Myers has high level hit tools but lacks the power to be an elite corner outfielder or the speed for centerfield. But he should provide very steady production with a high average and good on base percentage to go with strong defense in either outfield corner. Whether he begins 2012 in AAA Omaha or not, he is likely to reach that level at some point and is not far from a call to The Show.
2. OF Bubba Starling - Baseball-reference player profile
It took a $7.5 Million signing bonus for the Royals to talk Starling out of heading to the University of Nebraska to be a two-sport star for the Cornhuskers, breaking Eric Hosmer’s record of $6 Million set in 2008. After signing at the August 15 deadline, Starling saw limited time in fall instructs due to a lingering quad injury that slowed him during his senior season at Gardner-Edgerton High School.
Starling’s plus speed and athleticism coupled with a plus arm should allow him to become a premium defender at any outfield position. Physically, Starling is reminiscent of a young Josh Hamilton, though his bat is not as polished as Hamilton’s was coming out of high school. Starling’s premium power gives him five-tool potential, though he still raw after being a multi-sport athlete in high school. The Royals patience could be handsomely rewarded, as Starling’s ceiling is exceptionally high. Starling has the potential to wind up being anything from an expensive bust to a perennial MVP candidate and anything in between. His physical tools give him as much upside as any position player selected in the 2011 draft.
Starling’s professional debut is eagerly anticipated, but it may have to wait until after Extended Spring Training. If he can reach Low-A Kane County the end of his first professional season, it will be a positive sign for his development. If he can hit there, it will be cause for minor celebration.
3. LHP Mike Montgomery - Baseball-reference player profile
The 6-foot-4 lefty was a teammate of Trevor Bauer at Hart High School in Newhall, CA. Bauer chose the college route, pitching at UCLA before becoming the third overall pick in 2011, while Montgomery signed out of high school as the 36th overall selection in 2009. Entering 2011 Montgomery appeared likely to be the first of the duo to pitch in the Major Leagues, but after Bauer's strong pro debut, it is anybody's race.
Montgomery features an impressive repertoire, highlighted by a 92-94 mph fastball, that can climb as high as 97 on occasion. Monty supplements his heater with a big mid-upper 70s curveball with good bite and a lot of depth. His changeup has developed into a very solid pitch with big fading action and good deception. His command of the secondary pitches has been an issue throughout his pro career, leading to high walk rates and lower strikeout rates than would be expected of a pitcher with such a dangerous arsenal and good fastball command. Montgomery battled injuries in 2010 before finishing very strong and had a good showing at the Arizona Fall League. Entering 2011 he looked to be knocking on the door of a Major League callup. But his promotion to AAA Omaha did not go nearly as well as the Royals had hoped. His command issues with his offspeed stuff, especially his curveball, did not improve much, and his walk rate climbed to a career high 4.1 per nine innings as a result. Though making a career high 27 starts and avoiding the DL were positive signs.
While his AAA debut was disappointing, it was not a disaster by any stretch, as he held his own for a 21/22 year old who was on the fast track. Montgomery has the upside of a very good no. 2 starter and has a chance to pitch his way into the Kansas City rotation before his 23rd birthday.
4. 3B Cheslor Cuthbert - Baseball-reference player profile
Kansas City invested a (then) club record $1.35 Million to sign the 16 year old product of Big Corn Island (located 50 miles off the coast of Nicaragua) at the July 2nd International signing deadline in 2009. Cuthbert proved mature beyond his years, reaching Low-A Kane County as an 18 year old in 2011 and hit well in the pitching dominated Midwest League. A late season slump dropped his average to .267, but he maintained an impressive 10.5% walk rate and .345 OBP, while showing present power with 8 Home Runs.
Cuthbert’s offensive tools are impressive, his fluid swing generates very good bat speed and he shows good pitch recognition. His solid contact rate should improve significantly with experience. His adjustment to professional baseball as a 18 year old coming from an island of 6,000 people is impressive but far from complete. The bat speed and strength give Cuthbert the potential for at least above average power, which will be an important part of his game since he lacks the high end speed needed to play a position up the middle. Cuthbert has manned the hot corner in his early career and shows solid defensive tools there for his age, though he may eventually be forced to move to the outfield with Mike Moustakas penciled in at 3B in KC for the foreseeable future.
Don’t expect to see Cuthbert in Kauffman Stadium soon, having just celebrated his 19th birthday in November. Though he has moved quickly to this point and has a chance to continue doing so but still has a ways to go. He appears to be headed for High-A Wilmington in 2012.
5. RHP Jake Odorizzi - Baseball-reference player profile
One of the key pieces of the four prospect package that the Royals received in exchange for 2009 Cy Young Winner Zack Greinke, Odorizzi pitched well in his first season with the Royals organization in 2011. The Illinois product was an interesting two-way prospect in high school, with a lot of ability at shortstop, but his smooth easy delivery, plus arm speed and projectability on the mound led to the Brewers making him a first round selection out of Highland High School in 2008.
In 2011 he dominated at High-A Wilmington in the first half, posting 103 strikeouts to just 22 walks over 78 1/3 innings before a promotion to AA. The Texas League wasn’t as kind to Odorizzi, though he still posted a respectable line of 5-3 with a 4.72 ERA over 12 starts. Odorizzi has filled out his frame significantly since his days pitching at Perfect Game events as a member of the St. Louis Pirates, but has maintained his high level athleticism. This has allowed him to pound the strike zone throughout his professional career, repeating his smooth low effort delivery well. Odorizzi’s fastball generally sits in the low 90s, with reports of him touching 95 on occasion, though he frequently adds and subtracts velocity. His changeup has shown significant progress from his prep days, though it still has a ways to go, sitting in the low 80s with solid fade, but his tendency to leave it up in the zone at AA got him into trouble. His 12-6 curveball shows above average potential at the Major League level with hard spin in the upper 70s but he needs to develop better feel to succeed with it at the upper levels of pro ball.
Odorizzi is likely to return to Northwest Arkansas to open 2012 and his success will dictate his progress, though a September callup in 2012 is not entirely out of the question, 2013 is a more realistic ETA. He has the potential to develop into a no. 2 starter.
6. RHP Kelvin Herrera - Baseball-reference player profile
After spending parts of three seasons in Low-A, Herrera’s progress as a starter stalled out. A move to the bullpen in 2011 proved to make a huge difference, as Herrera shot up through three levels to reach Kansas City for a two inning cameo in September.
Herrera saw his velocity increase from the 91-93 range, touching 95 as a starter, to routinely flirting with triple digits out of the bullpen. Herrera is rare in that he is a reliever with a solid three pitch arsenal, with a good changeup and a solid low 80s curve. His electric stuff is overpowering, but he has yet to learn to harness it. He posted high walk and strikeout rates at AAA Omaha, and his tendency to leave pitches up in the zone has gotten him into trouble at the 2011 Futures Game and in his brief stint in the Majors. But once the 21 year old refines his command he could become a lock down late inning reliever, with the potential to close at the big league level.
Herrera’s Opening Day destination will be decided in spring training, but if he shows progress with his command and pitchability he could break camp with the big league club and slot in as a 7th inning reliever in front of Jonathan Broxton and Joakim Soria.
7. 2B/SS Christian Colon - Baseball-reference player profile
Perfect Game got its first look at the Puerto Rican born Christian Rodriguez (who later chose to go by Colon for family reasons) in 2003, when the switch hitting freshman held his own against older competition at the Underclass World Championship. After spurning the Padres who made him a 10th round pick out of high school in 2007, Colon went on to become an All-American at Cal State Fullerton before being tabbed as the fourth overall pick by the Royals in 2010. Colon quickly signed for a slot recommended bonus of $2.75 Million. After a 60 game professional debut at High-A Wilmington, Colon seemed to be on the fast track to the Majors, opening 2011 at AA Northwest Arkansas with high expectations.
Colon gave up switch hitting in college to concentrate on hitting from his natural (right), where he has developed some pop. A highly polished player, Colon’s hit tool is above average, while everything else is average across the board. However, his aggressive high energy approach to the game allows him to play a notch above his physical tools. His defensive tools suggest he can be an adequate defender at shortstop at the Major League level, though the presence of Alcides Escobar in Kansas City caused the Royals to move him to second during the 2011 Arizona Fall League, where he handled the transition well. In his short pro career Colon has not shown the on-base skills that he displayed in college, though his contact skills have lived up to expectations, suggesting that his .257 average in 2011 was due, at least in part, to bad luck. His strong showing in the AFL is reassuring and there is still plenty of reason to be optimistic about Colon's potential.
Colon will have an outside shot at winning the 2B job at some point, though he is likely ticketed to open the year on the farm again while the Royals audition Johnny Giavotella. Colon profiles as an above average everyday 2B, capable of posting a solid OBP and playing solid up-the-middle defense. He has a chance to reach the majors at some point in 2012. Though the re-signing of Yunieski Betancourt reduces the number of MIF positions available, meaning that the Royals are likely to carry either Giavotella or Colon on the 25-man roster, not both.
8. LHP John Lamb - Baseball-reference player profile
Lamb appeared to be on the fast track to the Majors before leaving his eighth start of the year in June with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. An elbow injury sustained in a car accident as a senior in high school caused Lamb to slip into the fifth round after being a very projectable pitching prospect who generally topped out in the upper 80s with good all around pitching ability. Lamb’s development as a professional was very encouraging, as he zoomed through two levels in his first year of pro ball in 2009 and followed with three levels in 2010 to finish in AA as a 19 year old.
In 2010 Lamb’s fastball reached 95 mph at times and generally sat in the low 90s. In 2011 his velocity was down, usually working in the upper 80s, which in hindsight, may have been a symptom of his elbow injury. Lamb has shown good command of his fastball throughout his career, with an ability to work ahead at every level. His above average changeup features good fade and deception and helps keep hitters honest. He locates his low-mid 70s curveball very well, though it lacks the power to be a true swing and miss pitch at the big league level. He hides the ball well in his slow smooth delivery with good lower half mechanics.
The typical recovery and rehab time for Tommy John Surgery is approximately one full year, which would put Lamb on pace to return to action sometime around June. How well and how quickly he recovers will dictate the pace of his development, it is impossible to accurately predict a timeline at this point. His presence in the top 10 of such a deep system in spite of the injury concerns is a testament to his ability. The lack of a true out pitch and finesse approach give Lamb a mid-rotation profile with an ability to induce ground balls and eat innings.
9. OF Brett Eibner - Baseball-reference player profile
The Astros made Eibner a fourth round pick out of The Woodlands (TX) High School in 2007. Houston drafted him as a RHP, but he turned them down and went on to become a two-way star at Arkansas. Scouts were split on his future position heading into the 2010 draft, the Royals selected as an OF in second round and signed him for a $1.25 Million bonus. His first professional season got off to a great start, homering in his first at bat for Low-A Kane County. It didn’t last long though, as he suffered a thumb injury while diving for a fly ball in his second game. The injury cost Eibner the first half of the season.
Eibner has the raw tools to be an intriguing prospect, as he shows above average power, a plus arm, and above average speed. His long sweeping swing creates good bat speed and very hard contact, but also leads to a lot of swing and miss. He will need to improve his contact skills and hit offspeed pitches better if he is to become an impact hitter at the Major League level. Defensively Eibner can handle any position in the outfield, his good routes and reads give him enough range to handle CF for as long as he is able to maintain his athleticism, and his plus arm will play anywhere on the diamond (including the mound). Relatively raw for a 24-year old college product, Eibner has solid upside but has developed slowly to this point, in large part due to inexperience and injury. If he is unable to develop as a hitter he has pitching to fall back on, though his offensive tools give him enough upside that the Royals want to find out what they have.
A healthy season in 2012 will give a much clearer picture of how far away Eibner is at this point, but he could hit his way to AA. If he regresses offensively it will be tempting to move him to the mound. Though he is far from a sure thing, Eibner's upside makes him an interesting prospect.
10. RHP Jason Adam - Baseball-reference player profile
A Kansas City product, Adam slipped to the fifth round of the 2010 draft due to signability concerns. But the hometown Royals managed to sign him away from a University of Missouri commitment with an $800,000 bonus at the August 15 deadline.
Adam drew rave reviews after reportedly touching 98 mph during instructs that fall. As a starter in his first pro season with Low-A Kane County in 2011 he generally worked in the low 90s, occasionally climbing to the mid 90s. Adam is a very athletic pitcher at 6-foot-4 with a fast arm and good downhill plane. Adam showed good fastball command in his first season, though his secondary stuff lagged behind. His curveball is a bit slurvy but flashes hard spin and good depth, and his changeup is still a work in progress. Unsurprisingly he posted low strikeout and walk rates at Kane County, though his aversion to the base on balls was encouraging. Adam is young and raw but has the physical ability to develop into a high level pitching prospect.
Adam should move up to High-A Wilmington in 2012 during his first full season, and is several years away reaching the Major Leagues.
Others in the conversation (listed alphabetically): LHP Noel Arguelles, RHP Bryan Brickhouse, LHP Chris Dwyer, C Cam Gallagher, OF Elier Hernandez, RHP Jeremy Jeffress, RHP Kyle Smith, RHP Yordano Ventura