Kansas City entered 2011 with the undisputed best minor league system in baseball. A year later the landscape has chanced somewhat thanks to promotions (Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Tim Collins, etc.) and injuries. The organization is not as deep as it once was but it still has some impressive talent and is easily in the Top 10, if not the Top 5, when discussing the best minor league systems.
1. Wil Myers, OF
BORN: Dec. 10, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 3rd round, North Carolina HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 3rd
Drafted as a prep catcher, the organization made the difficult decision to move Myers to right field so his defensive development would not hold him back and would allow his potentially-plus bat to dictate his movement through the system. After a dominating performance in A-ball in 2010, Myers struggled at double-A and was merely “average” according to his wRC+ of .104. He continued to show patience (12.5 BB%) but his strikeout rate rose to almost 21 K% and his average slipped to .254. His power output also dipped considerably with his isolated power rate hitting .138. A knee infection knocked Myers out from mid-May until early June and could be somewhat to blame for his struggles; his best power displays came in April and August. Perhaps feeling that he had something to prove, Myers lit the Arizona Fall League on fire after being assigned there for the fall. He hit .360 with 14 extra base hits in 23 games (wRC+ of 178). With the strong showing in the AFL, Myers will likely move up to triple-A for 2012 and could reach Kansas City before the end of the year.
2. Mike Montgomery, LHP
BORN: July 1, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 supplemental 1st round, California HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 4th
There was some hope that Montgomery would already be anchored in the Royals’ starting rotation but injuries and ineffectiveness have slowed his ascent. The good news is that the left-hander was able to provide 150 innings of work at triple-A in 2011. The bad news is that he floated a high ERA for much of the year and eventually got it down to 5.32 (4.30 FIP). His walk rate was a career high at 4.12 BB/9 and he allowed more than nine hits per nine innings, also the highest of his time in pro ball. Despite his issues Montgomery has the makings of a No. 2 starter and his repertoire includes a low-90s fastball that can touch 95 mph, a potentially-plus changeup and a developing curveball. Although there have been no direct correlations, Montgomery hasn’t been as sharp since he suffered a strained forearm in 2010 and missed almost two months. If he truly is back on solid ground in 2012 Montgomery should not need much more seasoning in the minors and could be up for good by midseason.
3. Bubba Starling, OF
BORN: Aug. 3, 1992
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round (5th overall), Kansas HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA
Entering the 2011 high school season it appeared as though Starling’s future would include playing quarterback at the University of Nebraska and, possibly, the National Football League. However, his baseball skills showed a noticeable improvement, enough so that he quickly became a no-brainer Top 10 prospect for the draft and reportedly even received some consideration for the first overall pick. He ended up going fifth overall and signed with Kansas City for more than $7 million. Starling has the potential to hit for both average and power. His athleticism suggests that he could develop into an above-average defensive right fielder with a plus arm. Starling currently has above-average speed and will begin his career playing center field. The organization hasn’t shied away from starting high-ceiling prep hitters in low-a ball during their first full season so that’s where Starling will likely find himself in April.
4. Jake Odorizzi, RHP
BORN: March 27, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 supplemental 1st round, Illinois HS (by Brewers)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 6th
It’s never easy to trade a successful young pitcher but the Royals organization did a decent job of acquiring value back from the Milwaukee Brewers in the Zack Greinke deal of 2010. Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, and Jeremy Jeffress have all made their presences known in Kansas City but the best may be yet to come. Odorizzi doesn’t have a huge ceiling but he has a chance to settle in as a solid No. 3 starter in the American League. The right-hander has a four-pitch mix that includes a low-90s fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. Odorizzi may be better off if he were to ditch the slider and focus on his other three pitches. He shows good control but he struggled during a mid-season promotion to double-A in 2011 because he needs to improve the command of his secondary pitches. He’ll likely return to double-A to begin 2012 but could taste the Majors at some point this season.
5. Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B
BORN: Nov. 16, 1992
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 17th
Cuthbert made some headlines when he signed out of Big Corn Island in ’09 but then all but disappeared in 2010. He stormed back onto the prospect landscape with a solid showing in 2011. Just 19, Cuthbert received an assignment to low-A to begin last season – after opening his career in Rookie ball in ’10 – and he showed impressive skills. The third baseman showcased an advanced approach at the plate by using the entire field and displaying glimpses of raw power. He also exhibited patience by walking 10% of the time and did a nice job of making contact and keeping the strikeouts down. In the field he may ultimately lack the range to stay at third base but he has a strong arm and good actions. Cuthbert will move up to high-A to begin 2012 but, if all goes well, he could reach double-A at some point in the second half of the season.
6. John Lamb, LHP
BORN: July 10, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 5th round, California HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 5th
Only injuries have been able to slow down Lamb. The southpaw rose quickly through the minor league system until an oblique strain followed by Tommy John surgery ruined his dreams of reaching the Majors in 2011 or ’12. Lamb will miss much of the season rehabbing his elbow but could see some time on the mound in competitive action in the mid-to-late summer. When he’s right, the lefty shows an 89-95 mph fastball, potentially-plus changeup and a developing breaking ball. He has good control for his age and flashed the ability to induce an above-average number of ground balls. Still just 21 time is on his side as he rehabs his injury.
7. Yordano Ventura, RHP
BORN: June 3, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 10th
Ventura, 20, isn’t your typical hard-throwing right-hander. He can touch triple digits with his heater but he stands just 5’10” and is a slight 150 lbs. His delivery has effort to it and he’s far from smooth with his mechanics so there is a fair bit of work to be done to ensure he holds up physically and can display the command necessary to succeed at higher levels. In 2011 Ventura posted a strikeout rate of 9.39 K/9 and a walk rate of 2.56 BB/9. His numbers improved as the season progressed and he showed definite improvement although he remains raw. He has also done a nice job of inducing more ground-ball outs. Despite modest numbers in low-A ball Ventura should move up to high-A ball in 2012 where he’ll look to break the 100-inning barrier for the first time in his career.
8. Christian Colon, SS/2B
BORN: May 14, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 1st round, Cal State Fullerton
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 8th
Colon’s prospect standing has taken a big hit over the past year – something Kansas City fans don’t want to hear after the organization invested in him with its fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft. The club passed up the likes of Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, Matt Harvey, and Michael Choice to sign the college infielder. Despite modest numbers Colon has been pushed through the minors posting a wRC+ of just 80 at double-A during his first full season in pro ball. With gold glove candidate Alcides Escobar already manning shortstop in Kansas City, Colon has started to see time at the keystone position. As it was there were scouts that questioned the Royals prospect’s ability to remain at shortstop long term. Colon’s bat will have to wake up soon if he’s going to be taken seriously as a potential every day player at the MLB level.
9. Kelvin Herrera, RHP
BORN: Dec. 31, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2006 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off
To some it will seem as though Herrera appeared out of thin air and landed on the Top 15 list. To others, who follow the system closely, this ranking will be an affirmation of the organization’s commitment to an injury-prone pitcher who has always been loaded with potential. Herrera, now 22, was originally signed in 2006 but pitched fewer than 110 innings between 2008 and 2010 while working out of the starting rotation – thanks to elbow issues. Moved to the bullpen for ’11, the right-hander flew through the minors after starting out in high-A ball. Herrera ended the year in the Majors, although it was a bumpy two appearances. The reliever has an explosive repertoire and could become the Royals’ closer in the not-too-distant future. His fastball sits in the mid-to-high 90s and can touch triple digits. He also has a good curveball and a solid changeup.
10. Bryan Brickhouse, RHP
BORN: June 6, 1992
ACQUIRED: 2011 3rd round, Texas HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA
Despite a lack of pro experience Brickhouse slides onto the back end of my list because he was one of my favorite post-first-round draft picks from 2011. He signed for $1.5 million in the third round and turned down the opportunity to pitch for the University of North Carolina. The Texas hurler throws in the low 90s and can touch 95 mph at times. His second best pitch is a curveball and he’s working to learn a changeup. If he can develop a third pitch then he has a chance to stick in the starting rotation and could develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter. He also has a chance to be a solid high-leverage reliever, which could lessen some of the concern over the effort in his delivery. Brickhouse will open 2012 in extended spring training before moving on to Rookie ball in June.
11. Chris Dwyer, LHP: The right-hander entered pro ball with a fair bit of fanfare but he’s struggled to reach his potential due to command and control problems – as well as some mechanical issues. His stuff has also taken a bit of a step backward too. In reality a move to the bullpen might be the best thing for Dwyer, who could then focus on developing his two best pitches: an 89-94 mph fastball and either his changeup or curveball.
12. Elier Hernandez, OF: The organization’s big ticket international signing of 2011, Hernandez is a raw baseball player but he has a strong, mature body and could develop plus power over time thanks to his plus bat speed. Currently he possesses good line-drive potential. Hernandez should develop into a solid right fielder with a good arm and average range.
13. Jorge Bonifacio, OF: Just 18, Bonifacio already has two years of pro experience under his belt and could open 2012 in low-A ball if the organization is feeling frisky. The outfielder has shown good pop throughout his career, including an isolated power rate of .208 in 2011. Bonifacio has a lot of work to do, though, if he’s going to hit or average because he struggles with pitch recognition and swings-and-misses too much.
14. Jason Adam, RHP: The only prep pitcher signed from Kansas City’s 2010 draft crop, Adam has a chance to develop into a solid No. 3 innings-eater thanks to his solid repertoire and strong frame. Signed away from a commitment to the University of Missouri, Adam can touch the mid-90s and has shown a good curveball. He has also made strides with his changeup. He was challenged with an assignment to low-A ball in his first pro season and did OK although improved command should help him improve upon his 6.56 strikeout rate.
15. Brett Eibner, OF: A two-way player in college, some teams preferred Eibner on the mound but he wanted to play everyday and Kansas City was willing to accommodate him. As a result of his time on the mound he’s more raw than the average college-groomed (highly-drafted) hitter and injuries in 2011 also slowed his development. On the plus side, Eibner displays plus raw power at the plate and strong athleticism and a strong arm in the outfield.
SLEEPER ALERT: Humberto Arteaga, SS: Signed for just over $1 million in 2010 Arteaga is a strong defender with good range, hands and actions. He also has a solid arm. He doesn’t project to hit for power and he isn’t a stolen base threat so his offensive value will be tied up in his ability to hit for a decent average. He recently turned 18 and may spend another season in extended spring training before and assignment to short-season ball.