Position Rankings – Starting Pitchers
(Photo Miguel Almonte via Bill Mitchell)
In past years Iâ€™ve ranked the Royals minor league prospects by position but this year I thought Iâ€™d change things up. Iâ€™ve already got my Top Prospects List out so it’s pretty apparent where I value each guy but I will be taking an open mind to Arizona with me from March 16-21. During that time the Royals have and off day and two night games so I will have ample time to take in the minor league fields and games and give you a Top 40 prior to the start of the minor league season on April 3rd.
Feb. 7 Bullpen
Feb. 14 Starters
Feb. 21 Corner Infield
Feb. 28 Outfield
Mar. 7 Catchers
Mar. 14 Middle Infield
We Â continue to wait for the Royals to develop a starting pitcher in the major leagues in what will begin Dayton’s seventh complete season at the helm. Â Considering the luck with Tommy John surgeries and other holes that needed filled within the org it isn’t nearly as bad as we often make it out to be. Â Prospects with high expectations didn’t succeed, that happens everyday in this game. Â The good thing for the Royals is that they currently have four arms in the system that have just as high of expectations as Montgomery, Duffy, Lamb and others had previously. Â Even better still is the development staff isn’t quite as rigid in their thinking as before and a couple of the prospects are pretty close to being ready right now.
1. Kyle Zimmer -Â If you listen to the org talk you would be sold on this power righty and why not after his outstanding finish to 2013. Â After starting slowly Zimmer made an adjustment to close things up and took off finishing his last six starts allowing six runs over 29.2 innings while striking out 50 against just 6 walks. Â Unfortunately Zimmer was shut down with shoulder stiffness limiting his season to 108.1 total innings. Â That stiffness combined with bone spurs in his elbow after college and leg problems his senior year should lead to anyone to have concerns about his longterm durability even if his body leads one to thinking otherwise.
Without an average change up Zimmer is likely going to need to continue to develop his curveball and slider but luckily both have flashed plus to go with his plus fastball that has touched 100. Â The best pitch that I saw at A ball was a fastball that he could manipulate and run in on right-handed hitters or away from lefties but worked in the low 90’s. Â Overall Zimmer’s mechanics are pretty clean but the ball is easy to find in his hand which is why I liked the moving fastball at the lower velocity than the one he can run in the upper 90’s. Â Without Ventura in our rankings though he’s an easy number one and with a few tweaks I think he could become a number one starter in the bigs.
Yordano Ventura (Again we here at PTP take away prospect status once they have played in the majors) – I’d take Zimmer over Ventura if we did things differently but the margin would be very thin with a possibility of flip-flopping them prior to the start to the season. Â Weird as it sounds I like Ventura’s durability more than Zimmer’s at this point because he has a fairly easy delivery for the amount of velocity that he brings. Â Still the command needs to improve as does the change up but I think both are possible and like Zimmer he could become a #1 if everything clicks. Â The thing I like about Ventura more than Zimmer is his feel for the baseball and his ability to manipulate it and come up with new forms of pitches if he stays in the rotation. Â If you read the recent Fox Sports piece with Jeff Flanagan then you know he’s already working on his cutter, that’s the pitch combined with his change up that I believe will end up being the difference maker for him to be a top notch starter.
2. Miguel AlmonteÂ - The love affair of mine for Miguel Almonte continues. Â It is the second such love affair of mine for a Royals Dominican pitcher the first of which started some six years ago when I first saw Kelvin Herrera. Â That fastball-change combination was ridiculous from such a young pitcher and the reason I thought he as good as any Royals pitching prospect at the time. Â We know what happened with Herrera’s injuries but we also saw what that combo can do to major league hitters at times. Â The sequel in the Royals system now is better than Herrera in that his mechanics are more sound for a starter and there is a little more size which should bring durability. Â Still the fastball-change up combination is there from Almonte as well as a growing feel in how to pitch. Â He dominates lefties and if the curveball continues to develop the way it was flashing at the end of the year then the Royals have a front of the rotation starter.
Rate it like this in my book I’ll place Zimmer and Ventura ahead for now but if they aren’t firmly in the rotation by the end of the year then I’m 90% sure my top pitching prospect next year will be Almonte.
3. Sean Manaea -Â There is plenty to like here when you look at a lefty that measures in at 6’5 and 235 lbs with a mid 90’s fastball and a wipeout slider. Â His low 3/4 arm delivery reminds some of Chris Sale but he is a bit more physical and athletic with less feel for his pitches. Â The step up to High A could be more difficult than we think as seen by the results Zimmer and Aaron Crow showed in their stops there. Â The fastball-slider combo combined with a favorable home park should allow him to succeed to an extent but if he is to become what the Royals believe they drafted he’ll need to improve his change up.
4. Jason Adam -Â I like Jason quite a bit and there is no player in the system I root for more but the drop off from Manaea to Adam is pretty big. Â It doesn’t mean Jason can’t become a valuable starter to the Royals rotation in the future I just don’t see a top of the rotation starter. Â There are still refinements that need to be made from him with his offspeed pitches as he needs to find his change up and curve or slider during more starts. Â The one thing you can’t fault about Adam is his ability to stack up innings, throwing 173 last year between AA and Arizona Fall League. Â On the surface that 5.13 ERA doesn’t look pretty but consider he had a 3.95 FIP, 4.06 SIERA and pitched quite strong after a disastrous April (12.84 ERA). Â Tossing that April ERA and adding in the Arizona numbers showed Jason with a sub 4 ERA. Â That late season surge was lead by a tightened curveball that appears more like a slider, a pitch that was easily his best when he was throwing it his first season in Single A. Â That pitch was transformed the past year to a bigger bender but he moved it back at the end of this season. Â It is harder with tons of late bite that is extremely difficult on hitters. Â Like the curve his fastball started to pop some more velocity flashing into the mid 90’s. Â That velo is even tougher on hitters when you consider the extension Jason gets from the rubber as reported by Trackman adds 2 mph to his fastball due to his release point meaning a 93 mph fastball from Jason actually plays like a 95 mph pitch to hitters Â A refined change up could lead to a maximum of a Jeremy Guthrie ceiling for Adam with a low side of a Blake Wood like reliever.
Chris Dwyer -Â The stuff Dwyer showed last season is that of a fringe starter but more likely that of a reliever. Â IF his fastball velo can tick back into the low 90’s along while keeping his improved change up and big breaking curve then he has a shot to be a back of the rotation starter. Â On top of showing solid pitch ability last season Dwyer tossed a career high 171+ innings between the regular season, playoffs a brief appearance in KC.
5. Christian Binford -Â A big body kid who can get into the mid 90’s in spurts but pitches mostly in the low 90’s currently. Â Both the change and breaking ball need to improve but his low 3/4 arm angle combined with good control allows him to control right-handed hitters. Â He’ll need to improve the offspeed stuff significantly while throwing at a higher velocity if he wants to win at upper levels.
6. Sam Selman -Â Untouchable and uncontrollable are the best ways to describe Crazy Legs as he’s shown in two seasons that hitters have an extremely hard time squaring his pitches up (.193 BAA). Â Unfortunately teams are able to score on him when he is giving them free base runners by the bushel (6.1 BB/9). Â If this continues he’ll likely be a reliever more along the lines of Tim Collins or Donnie Joseph as a lefty that can get both sides of the plate out but walks a few too many to be a closer. Â There is still plenty to dream on as a starter here and a couple more years to work on it as a lefty with a low to mid 90’s fastball combined with a wipeout slider and an improving change up shouldn’t be moved until last resort. Â The lefty finished extremely strong tossing no hits over 8 innings in his second to last start and 2 hits in 5 innings of his last start while striking out 19 against 3 walks.
7. Cody Reed -Â Power lefty with low to mid 90’s stuff and a wipeout slider when drafted didn’t quite show that with Idaho Falls as he also had problems walking hitters. Â Could end up being a bullpen lefty in the same line as Selman.
8. Bryan Brickhouse -Â Power right hander with a power breaking ball that’s coming off TJ. Â Needs to improve command/control while learning how to improve his offspeed stuff.
9. Pedro Fernandez – Probably should be ranked ahead of Reed and Brickhouse and likely will if I see the stuff in spring that I expect to. Â Low to mid 90’s fastball with the makings of a decent slider and change. Â Interesting note that a pitcher so young is working with a slider considering how the Royals didn’t allow that during previous regimes, that’s a positive sign. Â If you’re going to bet on a young pitcher developing in the Royals system then you can never go wrong betting on one discovered by the Latin America scouting crew the Royals have assembled. Â They have signed Herrera, Ventura and Almonte all for bonuses well under $100K and Fernandez is no different signing for $45K.
Others to Watch:
Aaron Brooks – Avg stuff across the board but like Adam can really eat up innings will need something to tick up even after a solid AA performance.
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