The upper levels of the Kansas City Royals system is pretty thin depth-wise but the club has some interesting prospects in the lower minors, which should make things very interesting in the next two to three years when they’re ready to compete for Major League spots. The club had one of the best drafts in 2008.
Daniel Cortes, 21, has improved more so than just about any prospect in the system in the past two years. He was stolen from the White Sox in a trade for reliever Mike MacDougal. Cortes’ improvements can be tied to a fastball that has jumped into the mid-90s range, as well as the development of a curveball that is now a plus pitch. The right-hander’s change-up, though, is lacking and he could be facing a move to the bullpen where he could become a dominating eighth- or ninth-inning pitcher. He posted a 3.48 ERA (but 4.40 FIP) at Double-A in 2008 and allowed 103 hits in 116.2 innings. Cortes posted a high walk rate of 4.24 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 8.41 K/9, which should be higher given his stuff.
For whatever reason, the Royals organization just does not seem to believe in Kila Ka’aihue. This comes even after the first baseman slugged 38 home runs between three levels in 2008, including the Majors. The 24-year-old prospect also hit more than .300 at every stop but the Majors, where he hit .286 in 12 games. There is reason to be cautious with Ka’aihue, given that this was by far the best season of his career, but the power is for real – even if he may hit closer to .260. The Royals are going to pay Mike Jacobs a lot of money to do what Ka’aihue can probably do for a league-minimum salary – and the youngster also has much better plate discipline (107 walks in 2008, compared to Jacobs’ 36 free passes).
Carlos Rosa is a hard-throwing right-hander who has been working as a starter in the minors, but projects better as a reliever due to his lack of a third pitch. He throws a mid-90s fastball, as well as a slider that has plus potential. Rosa suffered a forearm strain in 2008 that was bad enough that it nixed a trade with the Marlins in the off-season.
Blake Wood, 23, is a big, strong pitcher and a former third-round pick out of Georgia Tech. He has the stuff to be successful (low-to-mid-90s fastball, good curveball, OK change-up) but he struggles with consistency and has battled injuries. Wood split 2008 between High-A and Double-A but struggled at the higher level. His ERA rose from 2.67 to 5.30 but he moved to a much better hitter’s park. His walk rate rose from 2.35 to 3.32 BB/9, while the strikeout rate dropped from 9.89 to 7.89 K/9. Overall, Wood allowed 128 hits in 144 innings.
Mike Moustakas, the second overall pick of the 2007 draft, had a solid first full pro season in 2008. In A-ball, the infielder hit .272/.337/.468 with a .196 ISO in 496 at-bats. His numbers are even more impressive considering the fact he hit just .190/.253/.226 in April. Defensively, Moustakas played shortstop in high school but moved to third base as a pro. He has a strong arm (He can hit the mid-90s on the mound) but his range is limited at shortstop. Moustakas will begin 2009 in High-A ball and could see Double-A in the second half of the season.
Danny Duffy, 20, posted some impressive numbers in 2008 with just 56 hits allowed in 81.2 innings at A-ball. He also posted rates of 2.76 BB/9 and 11.24 K/9. As he moves up the organizational ladder, though, Duffy’s strikeout rates should drop as his fastball is average at 88-92 mph and his secondary pitches are currently inconsistent, although the curve has plus potential. The southpaw projects as a No. 3 starter, but the shoulder woes he suffered in 2008 – and caused him to miss that last month of the season – are worrisome.
Danny Gutierrez came out of nowhere in 2008. The right-hander was in his third pro season after signing as a draft-and-follow in 2006. Gutierrez received a jump in velocity prior to the 2008 season, which helped him allow just 83 hits in 90 innings. He also posted rates of 2.50 BB/9 and 10.40 K/9. The 21-year-old prospect suffered a hairline fracture of his elbow and missed a month of the season early on, but he is healthy now and could move quickly with three pitches (89-94 mph fastball, curve, change).
Eric Hosmer was the most potent high school bat in the 2008 draft and could be an absolute offensive stud in the years to come. His bat is also extremely advanced for a high school player and he could take a similar path to the Majors as Toronto’s Travis Snider, who made it to the Majors in under three years. Hosmer appeared in just three pro games after signing late and he also got caught up in the contract dispute that Pedro Alvarez had with the Pirates. Regardless, he should open 2009 in A-ball and could see High-A ball in the second half of the year.
Catcher Jose Bonilla was one of the top prospects in rookie ball after hitting .357/.405/.625 in 112 at-bats. He needs to show a little more patience at the plate (4.3 BB%). Defensively, Bonilla has a strong arm (He threw out more than 40 percent of base stealers) and is at least average in all other facets of the position.
Johnny Giavotella got a lot of attention after being taken in the second round of the 2008 draft and hitting well in his debut at A-ball. He posted a line of .299/.355/.421 with an ISO of .122. The 21-year-old second baseman is a hard worker who will probably top out as a utility player, but he could put up solid numbers as a regular at the MLB level for a few seasons.
The Royals drafted three promising young high school pitchers in 2008, including Tim Melville, Mike Montgomery and Tyler Sample. Melville has the highest ceiling despite being taken in the fourth round (His bonus demands dropped him out of first-round consideration). He has a mid-90s fastball and solid curveball. Montgomery posted a 1.69 ERA (3.13 FIP) in 42.2 rookie ball innings in 2008. The southpaw has three solid pitches, although he does not throw as hard as Melville. Sample towers above opponents at 6’7” but the third-round pick had a rude introduction to pro ball with a 9.00 ERA in 27 rookie ball innings.
Up Next: The Chicago Cubs
These lists do not include all the talented prospects in each system – just a snap shot. Some players have been left out because I have covered them recently and not much has changed (You can link to the older posts from each player’s FanGraphs page) or I am planning a separate post on them in the very near future.