Even though the real strength of the Royals minor league system lies within it’s pitching ranks, the OF isn’t far behind it in terms of potential. And given the Royals major league outfielder’s performances last season, this talented list becomes that much better. Here’s my top 10 OFers for 2012. Enjoy with a healthy side enthusiasm!
10. David Lough (Omaha) age 26
Up until now, some of you may have never heard of David Lough. For those of you who fall into that category, here is a glimpse at what David Lough is:
-11th round selection in 2007 draft, Mercyhurst College
-5 Minor League seasons, career .299/.354/.468, 52 HR, 38 3B, 65 SB, 1.93:1 K:BB ratio, .980 Fld%, all the while logging significant innings at all 3 OF positions.
David has spent the past two seasons in Triple A Omaha, biding his time until his name is called. He’s been nothing but consistent, both in the field and in the batter’s box. So why hasn’t Lough seen any time in Kansas City?
Grade: C+. I actually really like Lough. He draws a lot of comparisons to David DeJesus but with much better speed. As a Royals fan, that’s great news to me. Now if he could only pry that 4th OF spot away from the likes of Mitch Maier and Jarrod Dyson. This guy will get his shot sometime soon, but not necessarily in Kansas City.
9. Jorge Bonifacio (Burlington-Rookie) age 18
Jorge Bonifacio is still extremely young and a relatively unpolished prospect. But from what scouts have seen from him so far, they have no doubt that he will be an impact bat in the middle of the Royals’ lineup one day. He is projected to have terrific power and will play above-average defense while possessing good speed. He still needs to work on his pitch recognition, as he often finds himself out ahead of breaking pitches. But he’s got quick hands and a projectable body that will add mass in time, and mass+quick hands= power.
Grade: B. I can’t wait to see what he can do with a full season of work under his belt. His position isn’t set as of now, but he’ll be either a LF or a RF.
8. Jarrod Dyson (Omaha/Kansas City) age 27
We all know what Jarrod Dyson is: speed. If he makes the opening day roster, it will be for that reason, and for that reason only. His speed literally changes the game. He can turn a sac bunt into a single, a walk into a double, and a lazily played double into a triple.
He won’t ever really hit for average in the majors without consistent playing time due to the fact the he generally enters the game in low-success situations (sacrifices/bunt single attempts), or he enters as a pinch runner. He doesn’t get relatively great jumps on fly balls, nor does he run great routes. And his arm has never and will never be there. But his speed more than makes up for it.
Grade: C. Dyson is “Juan Pierre-lite” at his best, and “Joey Gathright-lite” at his worst. His speed will keep him in/around the majors for years to come, whether it be in Kansas City or anywhere else. There’s no denying the fact the he simply changes games.
7. Elier Hernandez (Instructional) age 17
The Royals signed Elier Hernandez this past summer out of the Dominican for a $3.05 mil. bonus, setting a club record for the International signing period. As of now, Hernandez is still relatively unknown. But at 6’4″ and 200 lbs at the tender age of 17, he’s already got the body of a big leaguer. At that size, scouts project him to be a corner OF, most likely RF due to the fact that he will probably slow a bit as he adds on weight and muscle mass. Because that’s all 17 year olds do. He’s described as a “quick-twitch athlete” and “a high-risk, high-reward type”.
Grade: B. Note- I’m handing out this grade without Hernandez ever playing in a professional game. His power potential is though the roof, and he could work his way into the Royals’ list of top 10 prospects by season’s end. Keep this in mind: Hernandez is just 17 years old. The Royals are going to give him as much time as he needs to fully develop on and off the field, so don’t expect to see him in Kansas City until at least 2016-2017.
6. Brett Eibner (Kane County) age 23
Eibner, now primarily a CF, was a two-way player at the University of Arkansas, leading many to believe that he could have been drafted as either an OF or a pitcher. If he were to enter the draft as a pitcher, he would have most likely gone in the 1st round, mostly due to his 97 mph fastball. But luckily for the Royals, he chose to hit, and fell right into their lap in the 2nd round.
Thus far, Eibner has been bitten by the injury bug, hampering his ability to really show the plus-power that he possesses at the plate. He’s known as a bit of a free swinger, and that may never go away. But he does show the ability to take a walk, evidenced by his 90:48 K:BB ratio and his .340 OBP in 2011, despite his .213 AVG in 76 games. He did manage to flash some of his God given power by sailing 12 balls over the fence. He also has a solid glove (.994 Fld% / 1 error) to go with the gun attached to his right shoulder.
Grade: B. He needs to evade the DL this coming season if he wants to progress quickly through the ranks. He’s a great athlete who has the ability to stick at CF, but may be more likely to end up in RF because of his extremely strong arm. If he sticks at CF though, he could be on the fast track to supplant Lorenzo Cain within 2 years.
5. Lorenzo Cain (Omaha/Kansas City) age 25
Another piece of the Zack Greinke/Yunibomber trade, Cain may have outperformed all of the former Brewers that came along with him to the Royals, with an inspiring slash line of .312/.380/.497, with 16 HR, 28 2B, 7 3B, 81 RBI, 16 SB, 40 BB, 102 K in 128 games in Omaha, all the while hitting for the cycle and leading the Storm Chasers to the PCL championship. So why was Lorenzo just another September call-up?
Because the Royals’ outfield last year was just that damn good.
Gordon, Melky, and Frenchy all revitalized their careers. Many saw Melky and Frenchy as guys whom Dayton should have flipped at the July 31 trade deadline, and he very well could have. Just dealing one of them would have paved the way for Cain to Kauffman. But GMDM decided to keep the record setting group together for the rest of the season. So save for a cup of coffee at the big league level as a September call-up, Lorenzo was just plain old blocked. But with the trade of the Melkman to San Francisco, the way has been cleared for Cain.
Grade: B-. Cain is probably a better athlete than he is a baseball player. But he has the potential to be a Gold Glove-caliber CF who can steal 25+ bases and eventually become the leadoff hitter, moving Alex to the middle of the lineup where he belongs. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Cain can do at the K this summer.
4. Jeff Francoeur (Kansas City) age 28
I couldn’t wait to put this picture up…
To say Fenchy surpassed all of our expectations last season is an understatement. He blew them out of the freaking water.
Nobody was surprised last winter when GMDM inked the former Atlanta Brave to a one-year deal. We all, Dayton included, believed this to be another one-year, low-risk signings that the Royals would flip at the deadline for future puzzle pieces a la Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel. Afterall, Frenchy’s career appeared to be on a downward slope at the ripe age of 26. He was traded from his hometown Braves in 2009 to the Mets for Ryan Church, a career backup OF. He was with the Mets through the first half of 2010 before they shipped him off to Texas in exchange for Joaquin Arias, another underachieving former top prospect. He platooned while with the Rangers, getting most of his playing time against lefties, earning him 6 AB’s in the World Series.
Dayton Moore snatched him up that winter, and the rest is history.
Frenchy tore it up last season, hitting .285/.329/.476, 20 HR, 47 2B(career high), 87 RBI, 22 SB (career high), becoming the Royals first 20/20 player since Carlos Beltran. He also formed 1/3 of arguably the best OF in all of baseball last season, contributing 16 OF assists (and a handful of ridiculous plays – see bottom) while only committing 5 errors. Not to mention, the guy is a bonafide leader in the clubhouse as well as a total media darling.
Grade: B-. Frenchy is just an all-around great guy. He’ll always be a hard-hacking, homerun-hitting, low-walks kind of guy who will give his team everything he’s got on any given day. His 3 year extension this offseason came as a surprise, given he could regress to his old ways. But with Wil Myers presumably waiting in the wings in Omaha (just like Hosmer did last year), be assured that Jeff will be on his game in 2012.
3. Bubba Starling ( Instructional) age 19
Everyone in Kansas City already knows the name Bubba Starling. The local two-way high school super star took Royals Nation by storm last summer, when he dangled Kansas City by a string while he attended summer football workouts at Nebraska. In the end (a few seconds before the signing deadline, to be exact), Bubba decided to take his talents to Kansas City.
This kid is a freak athlete. He has all of the intangibles to become a top-tier major leaguer. And given the fact that he’s a CF, and projects to stay there, his stock is ever rising within baseball circles. He is a legitimate 5-tool guy and could become the face of the franchise before his first major league at-bat.
Grade: A. I really debated between him and Wil Myers for the number2 and 3 spots on this list. Ultimately, I put Starling at 3 just because he doesn’t have any professional experience yet. But ask me again tomorrow and I may flip these two. Think Matt Kemp-level talent. Can’t wait.
2. Wil Myers (Northwest Arkansas) age 21
To me, Wil is the top prospect in the Royals system right now, and he’ll get a chance to show off his talents this coming season for the good folks of Omaha, Nebraska.
To accelerate Wil’s timetable to the bigs, the Royals converted Myers from catcher to RF. And with Sal Perez in Kansas City already, that decision looks like it will pay off. Possibly as soon as this summer.
Myers is one of the top hitting prospects in all of the minors given his ability to hit whatever is thrown at him with authority. He’ll hit for average and power and will get on base at an above-average clip. He has the arm strength and athleticism to stick in RF and become a potential star.
Grade: A-. Can you imagine this OF in 5 years? Gordon, Starling, Myers. That could be a lethal threesome. Combine them with Hosmer, Moose/Cuthbert, Butler, and Perez, and you have the best lineup in the AL in 2017. Screw the Yankees.
1. Alex Gordon (Kansas City) age 28
Alex was arguably the best player in the entire Royals organization last season, breaking out to the tune of .303/23 HR/87 RBI. Oh yeah and he also won a Gold Glove. So there’s that. In his first 3+ seasons in Kansas City, to say Alex struggled would be putting it nicely. ’07 and ’08 were decent (.247/15/60, including a Royals rookie record of 34 2Bs, and .260/16/59). The 2008 season ended with Alex taking a groundball off the schnoz; and he was never the same at 3B after that.
His real struggles begain in 2009. He struggled to begin the season, then tore labral cartilage in his right hip, forcing him to spend 12 weeks on the DL. A month after he recovered, he was demoted to Omaha where he would stay until the annual September call-ups. Final: 49 games, .232 AVG, 6 HR
During Spring Training 2010, Gordo suffered another set back by breaking his thumb, causing him to miss the first few weeks of the season. In May, he was again demoted to Omaha. But this demotion was diferent. Alex was sent to Omaha to get work in LF. After mashing in Triple A, Gordon was reinstated to the big league roster in July to replace former Royals great David DeJesus. Alex seemed to be right at home in LF, thus making a seemless transition to the OF.
And in 2011, Alex just went off (see first sentence). On his way to winning the AL LF Gold Glove, he lead the lead the league with 20 outfield assists (which also broke the Royals’ highest single season marks set by Jermaine Dye and Mark Teahen). Now Alex is in the midst of the arbitration process. The Royals need to handle this situation by locking Gordo up for the next 3-5 years.
Grade: A-. Alex has become the complete player that the Royals hoped he would be after selecting him 2nd overall in 2005. He’s a legit 4 to 5 tool player who can hit anywhere in the lineup, given his ability to get on base, hit in the gaps, hit for power (both pull and oppo), and steal a base. Just as everyone in KC (myself included) was ready to cut their ties with him, he pulls himself together and has a terrific, and more importantly consistent, season. Bravo, Gordo.
Other names to consider: Mitch Maier, Terrance Gore, Yem Prades, Brian Fletcher, Whit Merrifield, Derrick Robinson, Tim Smith, D’Andre Toney