2013 Kansas City Royals Top Prospects


System Overview: After shipping off three of the team’s top prospects — Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and Patrick Leonard — in the James Shields/Wade Davis trade with Tampa, Kansas City’s system is still surprisingly deep. It does lack any type of significant talent that’s near MLB-ready.

Nearly all of the team’s top talent has yet to make Double-A, with many of the young arms establishing themselves in High-A and the top bats still developing in the rookie levels. After the trade of Myers, the team has one elite-level bat in Bubba Starling, though his strikeout rates will need to be monitored, and several other positional prospects that could develop into above-average everyday players.

The strength of the system is the young arms, which can be dangerous for any rebuilding club (see: John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, Tim Melville, etc…). But what makes this group more intriguing than in the past is the sheer quantity of quality arms. Led by Kyle Zimmer, Kyle Smith, and Yordano Ventura, the lot should likely withstand injuries and regression to allow the system to burp up at least two above-average big leaguers in the coming years.


#1. Kyle Zimmer, Age: 21, Position: RHP

Zimmer was nothing short of impressive in nine starts following his selection in the 2012 draft, fifth overall, averaging 9.5 K/9 to just 1.8 BB/9 and showing a plus-groundball rate (54.1%). And despite the solid ERA, 2.43, he was quite unlucky, posting a .367 BABIP.

Projection: The Royals have been extremely aggressive with high draft pick starting pitchers over the past few years — see Luke Hochevar and Aaron Crow — and Zimmer will likely be on the same path, potentially positioning himself as a late-September call up. There’s not a lot of data to go on as far as his future is concerned — remember, Hochevar posted similar peripherals during his first 20 minor league starts — so 2013 will provide a better picture.

Ceiling: 3.5-win player, a conservative estimate

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate to Above-Average


#2. Bubba Starling, Age: 20, Position: OF

In his debut professional season, Starling proved to be a fairly complete package, hitting .275/.371/.485 with 10 homeruns, 10 stolen bases, a decent walk rate and six assists from center fielder. The lone red flag on an otherwise solid year was his strikeout total: 70 punch outs in 234 plate appearances (30.2%).

Projection: Once the Royals promote Myers — which should have happened some time last season — Starling should take the point as top prospect. Given his ungodly K-rate, it would be prudent for the organization to proceed with caution, at least early in his career. And assuming he can keep them in check in the future, Starling should develop into another middle-of-the-lineup hitter and contributor to both sides of the ball.

Ceiling: 4.0- to 5.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Low to Moderate


#3. Yordano Ventura, Age: 22, Position: RHP

Ventura was dominant during his brief, 16-game stint in high-A, throwing 76.1 innings while averaging more than 11.55 strikeouts and 3.3 walks per nine innings. All of which led to late season cameo in Double-A, where Ventura will likely open the 2013 season.

Despite the small frame — 5-foot-11 and only 140 pounds — Ventura has dominated the lower levels of the minors during his four-year-career, averaging just under 10 K’s per nine innings. But his command in 2012 showed signs of regression, which could ultimately be a blip on the screen given his previously strong track record, or it could suggest that the more advanced hitters he is now beginning to face are showing more patience.

Projection: The data suggests that Ventura could land in the front half of Kansas City’s rotation at some point in the future. But his frame, particularly the weight, almost guarantees that his body probably won’t handle the rigors of 30+ starts in a year. Don’t be surprised if he transitions into a dominant backend option in the pen down the road.

Ceiling: 4.5-win starter pitcher; 1.0-win reliever

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate to Above-Average (Starter); Above-Average to Inevitable (Reliever)

#4. Adalberto Mondesi, Age: 17, Position: SS

As the youngest player in the Pioneer League last season, Mondesi, who’s father Raul is a former All-Star, hit .290/.346/.386 and featured a fairly complete offensive toolkit, though he needs plenty of work defensively.

To go along with above-average speed — he swiped 11 bags in 13 tries — Mondesi’s power came better than advertised and has the potential to become at least league average. And his plate discipline — 8.2% BB-rate — belies his youth. His overall offensive production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, was just 10% below the league average, despite being four years younger than the average hitter in the league.

Defensively, he remains a work in progress, committing 23 errors in just 47 games.

Projection: Mondesi’s far more advanced than his age would suggest. However, the Royals don’t have a low-A affiliate, and the prudent move would be for more seasoning among the organization’s four rookie level ball clubs. Don’t be surprised if he either moves off of shortstop eventually — he’s already 6-foot-1 — or if he makes his big league debut before turning 20.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

#5. Jorge Bonifacio, Age: 20, Position: OF

As a 19-year-old, Bonifacio more than held his own, hitting .282/.336/.432 in the Midwest League with 10 homeruns and six stolen bases; his total offensive production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, was 16% better than the league average.

Bonifacio showed an average-ish eye — 6.7% BB-rate — but it was a modest increase over the year before, despite facing better competition.

Projection: Bonifacio’s tools may not grade out across the board as high as Bubba Starling’s, but the former doesn’t have the glaring red flag — the K-rate — that the latter showed, despite playing against more advanced competition. His power took a modest step back in 2012, which is understandable considering that he was two years younger than the average Midwest hitter, but the fact that he improved not only his walk rate but also his K-rate bodes really well for his future.

Ceiling: 3.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate

#5. Kyle Smith, Age: 20, Position: RHP

While many of the team’s former ballyhooed high school arms have faltered — Mike Montgomery, John Lamb and Tim Melville just to name a few — the likes of Smith and Jason Adam have helped fill the void.

Smith, the club’s fourth round pick in 2011, breezed through his 13-game stint in low-A, averaging more than 11 punch outs and just over 2.5 walks per nine innings. And the dominance helped overcome a fairly significant amount of bad luck as well; his BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, was high, at .349.

Projection: Despite only making one start in rookie ball, the Royals felt the need — and have shown to be justified — by pushing the then 19-year-old to A-ball. And while this comes with the caveat that all young arms come with, Smith has the potential to move quickly through the system, potentially landing as a number 2-type guy in the Royals’ rotation at some point in his future.

Ceiling: 3.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate

#7. Jason Adam, Age: 21, Position: RHP

The organization, which has typically erred on the side of caution when it comes to innings and young arms, almost inexplicably allowed Adam to throw 158 innings in 2012, topping his the previous year’s total by more than 50.

Adam, a fifth rounder in the 2010 draft, certainly looks the part as a durable innings-eater, coming in at 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds. But that’s a lot of innings — only two other 20-year-olds tossed more innings — on a young, promising arm. He spent the entirety of the year in High-A, posting solid peripherals (7.01 K/9 and 2.05 BB/9) in a league where the average pitcher’s age is nearly three years older.

Projection: Adams’ year was solid, not dominating. But he showed a very advanced feel for pitching, walking just 5.6% of batters he faced. And given the numbers of HBPs, 13, it certainly looks like he’s not afraid to challenge hitters on the inside either.  Right now, he profiles as a good mid-rotation starter, maybe a touch better if his K-rates remain stable or improve as he progresses towards the big leagues.

Ceiling: 3.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate

#8. Orlando Calixte, Age: 21, Position: SS

Calixte’s power moved to the forefront in 2012, slugging 14 totals homeruns — 10 in A-ball and four in High-A – which more than quadrupled his previous career total. But the most encouraging sign is that during his repeat time in A-ball, his walk rate improved, his K-rate decline, all while showing the dramatic increase in pop.

Now, to be fair, it regressed close to his 2011 levels once he was promoted. But the potential skill set does seem to be there, at least foundationally.

Projection: Calixte’s bat plays well at the position, maybe even with a ceiling as a .260/.330/.430-type hitter. But the question is to be seen whether or not he remains at the position; in 217 games at the position, he’s made an atrocious 69 errors, 46 in 2012 alone. Given his age and the general weak crop of shortstops in the big leagues, the Royals will likely given him at least another 2 to 3 years to show improvement.

Ceiling: 2.5- to 2.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate to Above-Average

#9. Brooks Pounders, Age: 22, Position: RHP

The ability to properly evaluate an organization’s own talent is overlooked, often leading the unsuccessful — like the Pirates — to not capitalize on a player’s potential fully. And Pounders is just another example.

The 6-foot-4, 270 pound right-hander was Pittsburgh’s second round pick in 2009, out of Temecula Valley High School.  And, almost immediately, the franchise started transitioning Pounders into a fulltime bullpen role, making five relief appearances in 2009, 12 in 2010 and 35 in 2011, his final year in the organization.

Converting 20-year-olds to a bullpen role is meaningless, let alone teenagers that were barely two years removed from being one of the better amateurs in the country.

Kansas City eventually dealt infielder Yamaico Navarro, a midlevel shortstop prospect, for Pounders and Diego Goris and immediately started re-transitioning him back into the rotation, where he started blossoming last season.

Pounders split his time between A-ball and High-A, throwing 134 innings — caution: nearly a 70 inning increase — while punching out just under a batter per inning. His command, which took a large developmental step in his last season in Pittsburgh, improved during the second half of the year in Wilmington, going from 3.4 BB/9 to 2.7 BB/9.

Projection: This likely will end up being a bit of coup for Kansas City in the long term. Pounders has the size and control to become a durable innings-eater in the big leagues, who at the very least could be pushed back into a relief role should he run into issues down the road. He’s like to develop into a mid-rotation-type.

Ceiling: 2.5- to 2.0-win starting pitcher; 0.5-win reliever

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Low to Moderate (Starter); Above-Average (Reliever)


#10. Sam Selman, Age: 22, Position: LHP

Too old for the level — Pioneer League — but Selman, the team’s most recent second rounder, absolutely dominated, averaging 13.3 K/9 and 3.28 BB/9 in 60.1 innings. The left-hander struggled with free passes in college, averaging more than 5 per nine innings, so the initial improvements at the professional level have to be taken with some level of skepticism, especially considering the level of competition.

Projection: Selman clearly overmatched the competition in the rookie league, striking out more than one-third of the total batters faced. And the Royals could conceivably have him skip A-ball and jump straight to Wilmington on 2013. I’m just not sold on Selman’s future in the rotation; he struggled with command issues in college and those could very well return this year against more age-appropriate competition. He does have the tools to become a dominant backend bullpen option, though.

Ceiling: 1.0- to 0.5-win reliever

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Above-Average

#11. Cheslor Cuthbert, Age: 20, Position: 3B

Coming off of a surprising 2011 season, in late March I wrote: “(Cuthbert’s) already solidly built and profiles as having 20+ homerun potential, though he’s still several years away from the big league, three, maybe four.” I capped it off by adding that, “his ceiling is that of a solid, everyday third baseman, perhaps a little better.”

Well, as much of a pleasant surprise 2011 was, the 2012 season was just as equally disappointing, maybe more.

With the Wilmington Blue Rocks in High-A, Cuthbert hit a meager .240/.296/.322 while both his power, .082 ISO, and patience, 7.2% BB-rate, regressed noticeably. He also hit a large amount of groundballs — never a positive sign — too, at 46.6%.

Projection: Cuthbert and Boston Red Sox shortstop wunderkind Xander Bogaerts were the only 19-year-olds in the Carolina League last season. So despite the noticeable drop in production, there’s still plenty of room for optimism. The organization is likely to have him repeat the level where better results are sure to follow. The groundball rate, however, is still troubling.

Ceiling: 2.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Low to Moderate


#12. Cameron Gallagher, Age: 20, Position: C

Kansas City has several promising young catchers filling the lower levels of the system, and Gallagher, the organization’s second round pick in 2011, being the best.

As a 19-year-old in the Appalachian League, Gallagher showed a solid offensive game, walking in 7.2% of the time, with solid contact skills and average power. His overall line is solid, not spectacular, at .276/.331/.425. But it was good enough for 10% better than the league average.

Defensively, he nabbed only six of the would-be 23 base stealers (26%).

Projection: It’s still very early in Gallagher’s development. Unlike his peers in older levels, there’s not a lot of data to analyze yet. Still, his approach seems sound for now, and it’s likely the team bumps him up to A-ball next season, where we’ll get a better picture. The tools seem to be there for him to develop into an offensive-minded catcher, though.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

#13. Chad Johnson, Age: 19, Position: C

One of the benefits for the earlier draft signing deadline is the ability to see that year’s picks perform in a reasonable amount of games, like Johnson, who was nabbed in the fifth round of this year’s draft. Overall, he hit .260/.384/.382 in 150 plate appearances, walking in an incredible 26 of them.

Projection: Very, very limited data is available — obviously. But Johnson has adapted well to the professional game. He’s likely due for a repeat in one of the organization’s rookie leagues in 2013. One of the things to watch for is the groundball rate, which was nearly 50% in 2012.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

#14. Angel Baez, Age: 22, Position: RHP

Over the last year Baez arguably made the largest gains of any prospect in the system. After a dreadful 2011 season — he finished with a 7.09 ERA while averaging nearly six walks every nine innings in the Appalachian League — the 6-foot-3 right-hander dominated at times in A-ball, finishing with 3.49 SIERA while striking out a career high 9.7 K/9 and walking just 3.6 BB/9, the second best total of his career.

Projection: The command still isn’t where you’d like it to be, but the fact that he showed tremendous strides in 2012 bodes well for his future. He doesn’t get many groundballs — only 34% in 2012 – so you have to think that homeruns may become an issue in the future. He does need to improve against left-handers though (6.27 BB/9 and a 4.93 SIERA).

Ceiling: 1.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Low to Moderate

#15.  Wander Franco, Age: 18, Position: 3B

Franco absolutely dominated the Dominican Summer League competition, hitting .311/.431/.434 while showing the potential to be a complete offensive player (13 stolen bases, .123 ISO, 15.3% BB-rate and 10.4 K-rate). His total offensive production was 49% better than the league average, the second best total among players under the age of 18.

Projection: It’s clearly too soon to get a good read on what type of player Franco will eventually develop into, but the early returns are favorable.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

#16. Gregory Billo, Age: 22, Position: RHP

A 28th rounder out of the 2008 draft, Billo underwent Tommy John surgery midseason but finished with year with surprisingly strong overall numbers. In 60 innings in High-A, the 6-foot-4 right-hander posted a strong K-rate (8.4), solid control (3.0 BB/9), and generated a strong number of groundballs (45.5%).

Projection: Billo’s likely out of the majority, if not all, of 2013, costing him a precious year of development. Prior to the injury he profiled as a backend starter so we’ll have to wait and see how he recovers from surgery.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A


After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.