KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The minute the Royals’ trade for James Shields and Wade Davis was announced, a wave of Royals fans, sports talk-show hosts, and bloggers reacted swiftly and harshly.
Their anger was directed at Royals general manager Dayton Moore for allegedly selling out the future because he gave up prospects Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Patrick Leonard and Mike Montgomery.
That anger, of course, stemmed from the belief that the Royals’ minor-league system was now depleted, and simply a vast wasteland of mediocrity.
That’s hardly the case, said J.J. Picollo, Royals assistant general manager of scouting and player development.
“I was just as shocked as anyone by the reaction on the radio,” Picollo told FOXSportsKansasCity.com. “You’d have thought we had given away our last four prospects. I can assure you that our pipeline is still full.
“That’s the way the game works. You have to use your farm system to plug holes on your big-league club. You have prospects for two reasons – to get them to your major-league club or to use them to acquire any gaps you have on your major-league club.
“And you keep feeding and filling up your pipeline all the time. We feel we’ve done that and have been doing that, and will continue to do that.”
Picollo does concede that the top level of the farm system isn’t as thick as it was a couple of years ago.
“But that’s mainly because those players that made it thick are now on the big-league club,” Picollo said. “You have all the guys in our bullpen from Greg Holland to Tim Collins to Aaron Crow, and you have Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas as position players. So, yes, it might be a little thin up top, but it will get thick again with the next wave of players.”
Picollo concedes that losing prospects such as Myers and Odorizzi always hurts.
“But a good farm system reloads all the time,” he said. “We have a lot of young arms down there that are rising quickly and we have some position players who are coming up fast, too.”
Here’s a look at some of the prospects Picollo said fans should keep an eye on, in no specific order:
Kyle Zimmer, RHP: The Royals’ top pick in 2012, Zimmer went 3-3 with a 2.04 ERA in nine starts in rookie ball and Class A before having elbow surgery. But he has recovered completely and will start the season in Class A. Royals expect him to be on the fast track.
Kyle Smith, RHP: A fourth-round pick in 2011, Smith had a solid year at Class A Kane County, striking out 87 hitters in 67 innings and posting a 2.94 ERA. “Really coming on,” Picollo said.
John Lamb, LHP: Now 18 months removed from Tommy John surgery, Lamb was one of the top prospects before the surgery and the Royals believe he’s still a rotation candidate possibly by the end of the season.
Jordano Ventura, RHP: Rose rapidly through the Royals’ system on the strength of his 100-mph fastball. Impressed everyone with his explosive arm in the Future’s Game last July, but slumped once he got back to Double-A. A high-end rotation guy once he finds it.
Jason Adams, RHP: A fifth-round pick in 2010, Adams won’t blow anyone away with his stuff. But he knows how to pitch and should get a promotion after posting a 3.53 ERA in 27 starts at high-A ball.
Sam Selman, LHP: A second-round pick in 2012, Selman impressed everyone away by striking out 89 in 60 innings in rookie ball with a 2.09 ERA. “A lot of people have their eye on this kid,” Picollo said. Miguel Almonte, RHP: Another climber, this 19-year-old, undrafted free-agent signee was 8-2 in rookie ball with a 1.75 ERA. Mid-90s fastball and a great changeup. “He’s got electric stuff,” Picollo said.
Bubba Starling, OF: The Royals’ top pick in 2011, Starling is just 20 years old and learning the pro game. In his first full season in rookie ball, he had a .371 on-base percentage with 10 homers and 10 steals, and showed great defense, according to Picollo.
Jorge Bonifacio, OF: Another undrafted free-agent signee, Bonafacio is a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder with pop. He’s just 19 and starting to develop power, Picollo said. Bonafacio hit 10 homers in Class A last year and could be the guy to make Royals fans forget about Wil Myers – remember that Myers didn’t find his power until last year.
Christian Colon, INF: The Royals’ top pick of the 2010 draft will probably start the season at Triple-A. Fans are hoping Colon eventually claims the second-base spot, and he’s showing signs he may get there – he’s hitting over .300 in winter ball. “We still very much believe he’ll be a factor for us,” Picollo said.
Brett Eibner, OF: A second-round pick in 2010 out of Arkansas, Eibner has struggled with injuries and consistency in the low minors. Hit just .196 last year at Class A Wilmington but hit 15 homers in a pitcher’s park. “He’s really got a chance, believe me,” Picollo said. “As athletic as anyone we have in the system.”
Alexis Rivera, OF: A 10th-round pick last year, Rivera raised a lot of eyebrows in rookie-league ball by hitting .341 with a .477 slugging percentage. Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B: The Royals invested $1.3 million in signing him out of Latin America in 2009, but he slumped badly last year (.240, seven homers, 59 RBIs) at Wilmington. “He’s too good not to bounce back,” Picollo said.
Adalberto Mondesi, SS: The Royals signed him as a 16-year-old in 2011. He’s the son of Raul Mondesi and showed surprising maturity in rookie ball last summer, hitting .290 with three homers and 11 steals. Incredible defensive tools.