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The 2016 Kansas City Royals Top 10 Prospects

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And for those wondering what CALs are, here’s an article on the Comparison And Likeness program I designed.

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1. Miguel Almonte, RHP                                               
Born: 04/04/93 Age: 23 Bats: R Top CALs: Richard Castillo, Tyler Herron,

Ryan Searle, Allen Webster, James Parr

Height: 6-2 Weight: 180 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 20 A 130.7 6 9 3.10 3.04 9.09 2.48 24.7% 6.7% 0.41 70.2%
2014 21 A+ 110.3 6 8 4.49 3.92 8.24 2.61 21.8% 6.9% 0.73 65.5%
2015 22 AA 67.0 4 4 4.03 4.00 7.39 3.63 18.8% 9.2% 0.54 73.1%
2015 22 AAA 36.7 2 2 5.40 3.90 10.06 3.68 26.5% 9.7% 0.74 57.7%

Background: Following in the footsteps of another hard-throwing Dominican-born hurler (Yordano Ventura) Almonte’s rapid ascension over the past three-plus seasons culminated with a September call-up to help reinforce the eventual World Champion’s bullpen. Almonte, a lean 6-foot-2, 180-pound right-hander, has been making waves since his age-19 season when he combined to throw 77.0 inning between the Dominican and Arizona Summer Leagues, fanning 74 and walking just 13. Since then, he’s torched the South Atlantic League (130.2 IP, 132 K, 36 BB), breezed through High Class A (110.0 IP, 101 K, 32 BB), and looked at ease between his stint with Northwest Arkansas and Omaha last season. Almonte began the year as one of the youngest hurlers in the Texas League in 2015, though you wouldn’t know it by his level of production. In 17 starts and 67.0 innings with the Naturals, he fanned 55, walked 27, and posted a decent 4.00 FIP. Kansas City pushed the young hurler up to the PCL in early July, and after seven mostly favorable starts – he posted a 38-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32.2 innings of work – Almonte got pushed into a late-inning relief role to prep him for the big league club’s stretch run. He would finish his minor league season with 103.2 combined innings, with 96 punch outs and 42 walks. As for his time in Kansas City, well, let’s just say the long ball proved to be too much to overcome; he surrendered four dingers in 8.2 innings.

Projection: Almonte has shown the not-too-common combination of swing-and-miss ability with low walk totals. For his career, he’s averaged 8.6 strikeouts and just 2.7 walks per nine innings. He showed a dominant mid- to upper-90s fastball during his brief – and admittedly disappointing – stint in Kansas City. He complemented with a curveball and hard, low-90s changeup. The Royals are chock full of pitching at the big league level, with the rotation currently featuring Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, Kris Medlen, Danny Duffy, and Chris Young, and the bullpen is ridiculously deep with power arms; so Almonte probably won’t see a whole lot of action unless a rash of injuries break out. I’m a big, big fan of the burgeoning right-hander – a power arsenal with the ability to maximize his potential as a mid- to upper-half of the rotation starter.

Ceiling: 3.0-win player

Risk: Low to Moderate

MLB ETA: Debuted in 2015

 

2. Kyle Zimmer, RHP                                                   
Born: 09/13/91 Age: 24 Bats: R Top CALs:   Sean Nolin, Aaron Blair,

Johnny Cueto, Jharel Cotton, Justin Garcia

Height: 6-3 Weight: 215 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 21 A+ 89.7 4 8 4.82 3.27 11.34 3.11 29.8% 8.2% 0.90 59.2%
2013 21 AA 18.7 2 1 1.93 2.68 13.02 2.41 36.0% 6.7% 0.96 92.1%
2014 22 R 4.7 0 0 1.93 4.46 9.64 7.71 21.7% 17.4% 0.00 88.9%
2015 23 A 16.0 1 0 1.13 2.80 11.81 3.38 32.8% 9.4% 0.56 89.7%
2015 23 AA 48.0 2 5 2.81 3.13 9.56 2.63 25.9% 7.1% 0.75 71.4%

Background: And this is why there are no such things as pitching prospects. A couple years ago – prior to his string of rather serious injuries – I would have taken the former San Francisco stud ahead of nearly any arm in the minor leagues. Then the former fifth overall pick got smacked upside the head with the injury stick. He’s suffered through numerous setbacks on nearly every major part of a pitcher’s body – elbow tendonitis, shoulder surgery to repair damaged tissue in his labrum and rotator cuff, bicep issues, and a latssimusi dorsi strain that forced him to miss the majority of 2014. Quite frankly, it’s a surprise he hasn’t spontaneously combusted at this time. But after throwing just 4.2 innings with Idaho Falls and another 9.2 in the Arizona Fall League two years ago, Zimmer looked healthy – and dominant – for the first time in long while last season.

After a quick nine-game tune-up with Lexington in the Sally, Zimmer got pushed back up to the Texas League for his 15 games. He would throw 48.0 innings with the Naturals, fanning 51 and walking only 14 to go along with a 2.81 ERA and 3.13 FIP. And just to put this whole thing into some perspective consider this: despite being limited to 152.2 innings between 2012 and 2014, Zimmer’s strikeout-to-walk percentage in Class AA last season ranked 11th among all Texas League hurlers with 40+ innings.

Projection: Here’s what I wrote about Zimmer in my first book two years ago:

“The very definition of outpitching one’s ERA. Zimmer, who posted an unsustainably low strand rate in High Class A, showed tremendous swing-and-miss ability and strong control en route to posting a combined 2.56 Skill Independent ERA. True ace potential and one of the top pitching prospects in the minors, Zimmer also has a relatively fresh arm, lacking the typical wear-and-tear of the normal collegiate hurler.”

Well, he did lack the typical wear-and-tear of many early 20s hurlers. But now his body and arm have the equivalent age of your Aunt Ida. But here’s what we know (minus the lengthy injury history): Zimmer still has an incredibly high, albeit risky, ceiling; he showcases an above-average- to plus-fastball and a matching ability to miss sticks. If he can stay healthy – and that’s an iceberg-sized if – Zimmer still looks like a potential ace. Keep your fingers crossed.

One final thought: CAL still remains rather optimistic, tying him to Aaron Blair and Johnny Cueto.

Ceiling: 3.5- to 4.0-win player

Risk: High

MLB ETA: 2017

 

3. Raul Mondesi, SS                                                     
Born: 07/27/95 Age: 20 Bats: B Top CALs: Junior Lake, Elvis Andrus,

Danny Santana, Jonathan Villar, Chris Owings

Height: 6-1 Weight: 185 Throws: R
 

Season Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2013 17 A 536 13 7 7 0.261 0.311 0.361 0.100 6.3% 22.0% 94
2014 18 A+ 472 14 12 8 0.211 0.256 0.354 0.143 5.1% 25.8% 68
2015 19 AA 338 11 5 6 0.243 0.279 0.372 0.128 5.0% 26.0% 77

Background: I’ve previously mentioned this on numerous occasions, but I find it so fascinating I think it’s worth repeating: Mondesi’s old man, who also goes by the same name, spent 13 seasons in the big leagues, hitting .273/.331/.485 with 319 doubles, 49 triples, 271 homeruns, and 229 stolen bases; he was also named the 1994 strike-shortened Rookie of the Year, beating out such dignitaries as Ryan Klesko, Javy Lopez, and Cliff Floyd; the elder Mondesi was also named to an All-Star squad, slugged 30 homeruns in a season three times, mashed 20 or more another six times, and played on teams with Gary Sheffield , Mike Piazza, Eric Karros, Charles Johnson, a young Adrian Beltre, and Eric Young among others during his peak seasons. But he never topped 100 RBI in a season, at any point in his career. You know who’s accomplished that feat? Guys like Jeff King, John Jaha, and Jay Bell.

Anyway, the younger Mondesi also made some headlines this year, though in a much more positive light: the then-19-year-old shortstop became the first player in modern history, which dates back to 1903 by the way, to make his big league debut in the World Series.

Prior to his historic showing, Mondesi had spent the entire year – albeit injury-shortened – 2015 season with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. Unsurprisingly, he was the only teenage prospect to receive at least 10 plate appearances in the Texas League and one of just two teenagers to match that feat in any Class AA level.

Mondesi batted a disappointing .243/.279/.372 with 11 doubles, five triples, six homeruns, and 19 stolen bases in 81 games. His overall production, per Weighted Runs Created Plus, was 23% below the Texas League average. For his career, he’s sporting a .246/.293/.365 triple-slash line, though that’s exclusively come against significantly older competition.

Projection: Despite the paltry triple-slash line, Mondesi did offer up flashes of promising offensive production during the year. Mondesi, who missed five or six weeks after injuring his back in his first game, slugged .270/.289/.426 in his first 31 games and posted a .309/.330/.457 line in the month of August. The problem: his production in July, .178/.238/.274, wrecked his yearly stats. The switch-hitting shortstop, who profiles as an above-average defender, has turned in two back-to-back showings of surprising power which could develop into 15-homer territory down the line. Above-average or better speed, his lone downfall – at least what’s going to limit his ultimate ceiling – is his in ability to take a free pass.

Ceiling: 3.0- to 3.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: Debuted in 2015

 

4. Ashe Russell, RHP                                                  
Born: 08/28/96 Age: 19 Bats: R Top CALs: Ryan Warner, Joel Pierce,

Kazuya Takano, John Gant, Jose Calero

Height: 6-4 Weight: 201 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2015 18 R 36.3 0 3 4.21 6.22 5.94 3.22 16.0% 8.7% 1.98 80.5%

Background: Dipping back into the prep ranks for another high ceiling youngster, the Royals selected the 6-foot-4, 201-pound right-hander with the 21st overall pick last June. Russell, hailing from Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, IN, tossed 36.1 innings with Burlington during his debut, fanned 24 and walking 13.

Projection: Per the usual, the sample size is incredibly limited, but one thing that should be noted was his propensity for giving up the long ball; Russell surrendered eight dingers in 36.1 innings – or just about two per nine innings. And his low K-rate picked up as he got his professional feet underneath him. He fanned 21 over his final 26.1 innings of work.

Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell

Risk: N/A

MLB ETA: N/A

 

5. Pedro Fernandez, RHP                                            
Born: 05/25/94 Age: 22 Bats: R Top CALs: Victor Capellan, David Baker,

Ivan Pineyro, Myles Jaye, Shane Dawson

Height: 6-0 Weight: 175 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 19 R 12.0 0 0 0.75 1.34 11.25 2.25 34.9% 7.0% 0.00 87.5%
2013 19 R 34.7 0 1 1.82 3.63 9.87 2.08 27.3% 5.8% 0.78 81.8%
2014 20 A 61.3 1 8 4.99 4.71 8.80 4.84 22.6% 12.5% 0.88 64.9%
2015 21 A 78.0 6 2 3.12 2.65 10.27 3.12 28.8% 8.7% 0.23 64.4%
2015 21 A+ 32.7 0 6 8.82 3.35 6.89 2.20 15.4% 4.9% 0.55 49.8%

Background: Kansas City has been, uncharacteristically so, slowly developing the hard-throwing Dominican-born right-hander since signing him in 2011. Fernandez spent his debut season in the Dominican Summer League. He then followed that up by splitting his time between the DSL and Arizona Summer League the next year. Finally taking the training wheels off a bit, Fernandez got pushed up to Lexington in the South Atlantic League two years ago, and he responded by averaging nearly a punch out per inning with some wavering control. The front office had the 6-foot, 175-pound right-hander repeat Low Class A for the first part of 2015; he averaged a remarkable 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings with much improved control. Fernandez got bumped up to Wilmington in early August, making another seven – largely disappointing – starts. Overall, he finished the year with 114 strikeouts and 35 walks in 110.2 innings of work.

Projection: One of the more underrated and overlooked arms in the entire system, Fernandez is a ticking time bomb of potential – you just have to ignore some unsightly ERAs to realize that though. Among hurlers with 70 or more innings thrown at any Low Class A level last season, Fernandez’s strikeout percentage, 28.8%, ranks first and his strikeout-to-walk percentage, 20.1%, ranks sixth. Granted, he was repeating the level after making 16 appearances there two years ago, but that’s an impressive amount of punch outs either way.

Fernandez has always shown the propensity to miss bats – he’s fanned nearly a quarter of the hitters he’s faced in his career – with incredible control. He’s likely headed back to High Class A in 2016, but he should be up to Northwest Arkansas by the middle of the season. In terms of ultimate ceiling, Fernandez has a mid-rotation-caliber ceiling with the floor of a dominant relief arm. Assuming, of course, that he stays healthy.

Ceiling: 2.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2017

 

6. Alec Mills, RHP                                             
Born: 11/30/91 Age: 24 Bats: R Top CALs: Terance Marin, Austin Voth,

Tyson Corley, Ben Pfinsgraff, Nathaniel Kilcrease

Height: 6-4 Weight: 185 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 21 A 45.3 2 3 1.59 2.42 9.33 1.79 26.9% 5.1% 0.20 74.5%
2014 22 R 19.3 2 2 4.66 3.51 6.52 1.86 17.3% 4.9% 0.00 53.9%
2014 22 A 38.0 2 1 1.18 2.72 7.82 2.37 23.6% 7.1% 0.00 83.3%
2015 23 A+ 113.3 7 7 3.02 2.09 8.81 1.11 23.5% 3.0% 0.24 72.0%

Background: A recipient of the all-too-common Tommy John surgery, Mills missed most of the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The injury, unfortunately for the 6-foot-4 hurler, interrupted his breakout, coming-of-age 2013 campaign; in 45.2 innings he fanned 47, walked only nine, and posted a video game-esque 1.59 ERA. Mills spent the majority of the 2014 season getting back up to speed, but he looked as strong as ever with Wilmington in the Carolina League last season. With the reins eased, Mills throw a career best 113.1 innings while fanning 111 and walking only 14 to go along with another video game-esque 2.09 FIP. For his career, the big right-hander has issued just 54 free passes, fanned 255, and owns a 2.94 ERA.

Projection: Just to add some perspective to Mills’ resurgence, consider the following:

  • The former late round pick out of University of Tennessee at Martin finished the year with a 2.09 FIP. His closest competitor in the Carolina League, the soon to be 27-year-old Seth Webster, tallied a 2.51 mark.
  • Among all Carolina League hurlers with 100+ innings, Mills’ strikeout-to-walk percentage, 20.6%, also ranked first. His closest competitor, again, was Seth Webster, who finished the year with a 16.9% K/BB percentage.
  • Among all High Class A hurlers with 100+ innings, Mills’ 2.09 FIP ranked first and his strikeout-to-walk percentage was topped by only one other hurler, Martin Agosta.
  • Finally, here’s where his FIP and K/BB percentage stacks up against any hurler with at least 100+ innings at any level: first and tenth

Needless to say, Mills is ready for the minors’ biggest test: Class AA. He has a solid to above-average ability to miss bats, some of the system’s finest control, and he generates a tremendous amount of action on the ground as well. Last season he finished with a groundball rate just north of 49%; the year before that it was 56.8%; and before that it was 60.9%. Mills has the potential to be a mid-rotation arm, but he needs to prove that he can handle Class AA first.

Ceiling: 2.0-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2017

 

7. Scott Blewett, RHP                                                    
Born: 04/10/96 Age: 20 Bats: R Top CALs: Doug Salinas, Brandon Barrow,

Justin Edwards, Rigoberto Garcia, Juan Perez

Height: 6-6 Weight: 210 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 18 R 28.0 1 2 4.82 4.82 9.32 4.82 23.0% 11.9% 0.96 71.1%
2015 19 A 81.3 3 5 5.20 3.96 6.64 2.66 17.0% 6.8% 0.66 60.0%

Background: The club’s second round pick in 2014, Blewett spent the year as one of just eight 19-year-old hurlers to throw at least 80 innings in the South Atlantic League last season. And among those baby faced hurlers, Blewett’s strikeout percentage, 17.0%, ranked fifth. He finished the year with a 3.96 FIP and a 60-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 81.1 innings of work.

Projection: Despite spending parts of two seasons in the minors the data is still rather limited for Blewett; he’s thrown just 109.1 innings of work. And while he didn’t dominate the Sally, the massive 6-foot-6, 210-pound right-hander didn’t look overwhelmed at any point either. He also flashed some glimpses of dominance as well: he fanned eight in four innings against Greenville in his first start and fanned seven in five innings a couple weeks later against Greensboro. It’s still too early to accurately gauge his ceiling, but he’s certainly promising.

Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell

Risk: N/A

MLB ETA: N/A

 

8. Reymond Fuentes, LF/CF                                      
Born: 02/12/91 Age: 25 Bats: L Top CALs: Kevin Kiermaier, Anthony Webster,

Eury Perez, Lorenzo Cain, Julio Borbon

Height: 6-0 Weight: 160 Throws: L
 

Season Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2013 22 AA 403 21 2 6 0.316 0.396 0.441 0.125 10.2% 17.6% 139
2014 23 AA 194 6 2 4 0.324 0.386 0.453 0.129 8.2% 19.1% 142
2014 23 AAA 178 9 3 1 0.261 0.337 0.376 0.115 9.6% 15.2% 88
2015 24 AAA 445 10 4 9 0.308 0.360 0.422 0.114 6.7% 16.2% 110

Background: Passed around a bit throughout his career, Fuentes, who was sent by Boston as part of the Adrian Gonzalez deal in 2010 and then shipped by the Padres to the Royals for Kyle Bartsch, has seemingly found a home on the Royals’ 40-man roster. The former first round pick in 2009 – 28th overall – spent last season with the Storm Chasers, his third stop in Class AAA, hitting a solid .308/.360/.422.

Projection: Here’s what I wrote in my first book two years ago:

“He might have a shot to carve out a couple seasons of fringy league average production, maybe better depending upon his defense. Above-average walk rates and speed. Doubles power. [He] struggles against southpaws a bit.”

I further commented in last year’s book by writing:

“The platoon splits are still an issue – he’s batted .278/.354/.390 vs. RHs and .264/.338/.326 against LHs in his career. But CAL remains pretty optimistic, linking him to two underrated MLB’ers: Jon Jay and Kevin Kiermaier. Fuentes is more of a quality fourth outfielder now. Very, very savvy move by the defending AL Champs.”

Well, his production against southpaws came roaring back in a big way last season; he batted .342/.373/.400 in 131 plate appearances against them. CAL remains equally optimistic as well, linking him to Kevin Kiermaier (again) and Lorenzo Cain. He could be one of those late-blooming guys that flashes a solid year or two before retreating back into a backup role.

Ceiling: 1.5-win player

Risk: Low to Moderate

MLB ETA: Debuted in 2013

 

9. Foster Griffin, LHP                                                 
Born: 07/27/95 Age: 20 Bats: R Top CALs: Jose Molina, Jose Torres,

Raul Batis, Tyree Hayes, Victor Gonzalez

Height: 6-3 Weight: 200 Throws: L
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 18 R 28.0 0 2 3.21 4.53 6.11 3.86 16.5% 10.4% 0.64 75.3%
2015 19 A 102.7 4 6 5.44 4.22 6.22 3.07 15.5% 7.6% 0.70 58.7%

Background: Griffin teamed with fellow 2014 draft pick Scott Blewett to give Lexington a pair of potentially high-ceiling teenaged arms in their rotation. Griffin, like his draft-mate, took some lumps in his first exposure in the Sally as he posted a 5.44 ERA with a 71-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Projection: Griffin got past some early season struggles to finish strong. After posting an ERA north of 7.00 through his first 14 starts, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound southpaw out of The First Academy posted a 27-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio with a 3.22 ERA over his final eight games (spanning 44.2 innings). Griffin hasn’t missed a whole lot of bats at any point in his young career, including his 28.0-inning stint in the Appalachian League two years ago, so that’s a bit worrisome. He could be a decent backend starter as it stands now.

Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2018

 

10. Matthew Strahm, LHP                                     
Born: 11/12/91 Age: 24 Bats: R Top CALs: Brennan Garr, Bryce Bandilla,

Evan Rutckyj, Christopher Perry, Richie Lentz

Height: 6-4 Weight: 180 Throws: L
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 22 R 19.7 1 0 2.29 3.62 12.36 4.58 34.2% 12.7% 0.46 76.5%
2015 23 A 26.0 2 1 2.08 2.68 13.15 4.15 38.0% 12.0% 0.35 77.2%
2015 23 A+ 68.0 1 6 2.78 3.21 10.99 2.51 30.2% 6.9% 0.93 75.6%

Background: Hailing from little Neosho County Community College in Chanute, Kansas, Strahm became just the fifteenth player taken since 1974 in the school’s history. And only of the previous 14, southpaw Paul Lindblad, made it to the big leagues, though he did manage to spend 14 years there. Anyway, Strahm was a late, late round gem unearthed in the 21st round in 2012. After a solid debut in the Pioneer League that season – he fanned 42 in 30.1 innings with control issues – the 6-foot-4, 180-pound lefty missed all of the 2013 and the majority of 2014 recovering from Tommy John surgery. But Strahm certainly made up for all the lost time last season. As the club began to stretch out the budding hurler in Lexington last season, Strahm fanned a remarkable 38 batters in just 26.0 innings of work. And he continued to dominate with Wilmington upon his promotion to High Class A as well: 68.0 IP, 83 K, 19 BB. Overall, he finished the year with 121 strikeouts, 31 walks, and a combined 2.59 ERA in 94.0 innings of work.

Projection: The lanky lefty is a definite candidate for Breakout Prospect of the Year in 2016. Despite missing so much time due to the injury and subsequent rehab work, Strahm looked like a potential mid- to back-of-the-rotation caliber arm. He missed a ton of bats, showed much improved control – especially when the club moved him back into the rotation – and he was able to grab the ball every fifth day without any signs of slowing down.

And here’s just a glimpse of his 2015 dominance: In his first five appearances with the Blue Rocks, Strahm fanned 36 in just 21.1 innings, or just about 15.2 K/9. At the very least he looks like a taller version of Tim Collins. But Strahm’s ultimate ceiling is quite higher.

Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2017

 

 

Author’s Note: All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.com.

 



About

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.


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