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A Minor Review of ’09: Kansas City Royals

Prospect ranking season is here. Top 10 lists will be arriving shortly and in preparation for that, we present an intro series looking at some of the players who deserve mentioning but probably will not be appearing on their teams’ Top 10 lists. The series is back for a second year.

Kansas City Royals

The Graduate: Mitch Maier, OF
I’ve been a big fan of Maier since his college days, so I was happy to see him finally get an extended opportunity in KC in ’09. The former college catcher had a modest rookie season with a line of .243/.333/.331. He struggles to hit consistently because he expands the strike zone too much, but he has value to the club because of his versatility, willingness to walk and speed. Maier’s best position is center field, although he can play all three. He’s also played infield positions in the minors and can serve as a third-string catcher. As much as it pains me to say it, Maier will need to show improvement if he hopes to stick around the Majors with KC, especially with the likes of Jordan Parraz and Tim Smith on the way.

The Riser: Jordan Parraz, OF
The acquisitions of players like Parraz could very well help turn the organization around, more so than picking up the Mike Jacobs and Yuniesky Betancourts of the world. Grabbed from Houston prior to the ’09 season, Parraz was a player with some intriguing abilities but things were just not clicking in the Astros system. The outfielder missed some time this past season due to injury, but he hit .358/.451/.553 in 226 double-A at-bats. He also earned a 13-game trial in triple-A. Parraz has the ability to hit a few homers and steal a few bases while getting on base at a respectable rate. Now 25, the Royals prospect has a shot at spending time in Kansas City in 2010, likely as a backup outfielder.

The Tumbler: Johnny Giavotella, 2B
Giavotella did not have a terrible season, but he failed to build on the success he had in his debut season in ’08. The second baseman hit a modest .258/.351/.380 in 476 high-A at-bats… and he was victimized by a .281 BABIP. At 5’8” he won’t generate a ton of power, but he gets on base (12.2 BB%) and he doesn’t strike out much (1.22 BB/K). He needs to improve against right-handed pitchers after hitting just .243/.340/.344. Giavotella also has some speed with 26 steals in 35 attempts in ’09. Defensively at second base, he made 21 errors and showed average range at best.

The ’10 Sleeper: Tim Smith, OF
Smith was obtained late in the ’09 season from Texas, along with Manny Pina, in exchange for disgruntled pitcher Danny Gutierrez. The Canadian outfielder swings a good stick, with a career batting average above .300. Despite battling injuries in ’09, Smith hit .333/.413/.475 in 120 high-A at-bats, and .309/.380/.439 in 139 double-A at-bats. The left-handed hitter batted .279/.346/.397 against southpaws and .337/.409/.490 versus right-handers. He’s not a speed-burner but he’s good on the bases, having stolen 21 in ’08 and 15 (in 17 attempts) in ’09. Smith, 23, does not project to be a star, but he could be a modest everyday player, or a solid fourth outfielder.

Bonus: Jose Bonilla, C
Bonilla was highlighted in the ’08 series as the Royals’ sleeper prospect for 2009. However, things did not go as hoped for the catcher in ’09 as he struggled with the bat in his first taste of full-season ball. Bonilla’s averaged dropped from .357 in rookie ball to .217 in low-A ball, in part because his BABIP went from .412 to .280. The prospect has modest power (.094 ISO), but he struck out at a disappointing rate: 26.2 K%. On the plus side, Bonilla’s walk rate rose from 4.3 to 7.6 BB%. A right-handed hitter, he batted just .178/.219/.256 against southpaws. Defensively, he still allows too many passed balls and his success rate at throwing out runners dropped from 43% in ’08 to 34% in ’09.