Who are the top prospects in the Royals' organization? Inside, check out RC's 2008 prospect rankings…
RC Scouting Reports: Prospects 1-5
Editor's notes: All player ages are listed as of December 31, 2008. Players who spent significant time in the Major Leagues and/or surpassed 50 innings pitched or 100 at bats were excluded from this year's list. 1. Mike Moustakas, 3B Age: 20 B-T: L-R HT: 6-0 WT: 195 So far, so good for Mike Moustakas, the Royals' top prospect for the second straight year. The Royals' 2007 first rounder joined the Burlington Bees out of camp in 2008 as the club's starting shortstop. However, like the Bees, Moustakas got off to a miserable start, hitting just .190 with one extra base hit in 84 April at bats. Midwest League pitchers were pitching him inside and throwing him a lot of offspeed stuff, and it took Moustakas some time to adjust. He was getting himself out early in counts, but by the time May rolled around, Moustakas started seeing more pitches, and he began sitting back and driving the ball. After two relatively solid months in May and June, he got red hot in July and never cooled off. After the All-Star break, Moustakas hit a blistering .321/.392/.557 with 13 home runs, and it was likely no coincidence that the Bees also started winning games in bunches en route to a second half title. On the season, Moustakas finished with a line of .272/.337/.468 and 22 home runs in 496 at bats. At 19-years old, he became the first teenager to lead the Midwest League in home runs since 1992, and his total was higher than any Bees player since the club affiliated with the Royals in 2001. At the plate, Moustakas has everything an elite hitting prospect should have: great bat speed and a short stroke that generates impressive raw power. The Royals, to their credit, did not use his early struggles to tinker with his swing, preferring instead to let Moustakas make his own adjustments. The Royals were impressed with his maturity, and despite being younger than the vast majority of his teammates in Burlington, Moustakas was a clubhouse leader. He handled the club's decision to move him from shortstop to third base exceptionally well, and he worked hard throughout the season on improving his defense. He will probably never be an above average defender, regardless of what position he ultimately winds up at, but he does have some athleticism and a plus arm. This spring, Moustakas will continue his march to the big leagues with a stop in Wilmington, where it will be interesting to see how he handles the more advanced Carolina League pitching. 2. Eric Hosmer, 1B Age: 19 B-T: L-L HT: 6-4 WT: 215 For the third straight year, the Royals in 2008 used their first pick in the draft to select a client represented by agent Scott Boras. And for the second straight year, the club selected the best high school hitter available, following up their 2007 selection of Mike Moustakas by nabbing first baseman Eric Hosmer with the third overall pick of the 2008 draft. After signing for a club-record $6 million at the deadline, Hosmer was assigned to Idaho Falls. However, he had played in just three games with the Chukars when the commissioner's office ordered the Royals to remove him from the league. A contract squabble between the Pirates and their first round pick, Pedro Alvarez, had entangled Hosmer, and baseball ordered both players to sit out as the validity of their contracts – which arrived in the commissioner's office after the signing deadline expired – was investigated. Ultimately, Hosmer's signing was deemed valid, but it was too late for him to return to the Pioneer League. He participated in fall instructs, where his performance was deemed "outstanding," and he spent the offseason working out and preparing for the upcoming season. Hosmer's potential is off the charts. He produces excellent bat speed, and he possesses perhaps the best raw power potential in the organization. Some scouts even go far enough to claim that he is among the best handful of high school hitters to come out of the draft in the past decade. He is also reportedly advanced defensively, with soft hands and a plus arm, although his speed generates varied opinions. Some think his lack of speed will ultimately limit him to first base, while others believe he has the wheels (and certainly the arm) that could handle a future move to a corner outfield spot. The Royals have no plan to move him off of first base any time soon, but regardless of his ultimate destination, his bat should be able to play anywhere. Hosmer will likely follow the same path as Moustakas, debuting this spring with the Burlington Bees. 3. Dan Cortes, SP Age: 21 B-T: R-R HT: 6-6 WT: 216 When Dan Cortes was traded from the White Sox for Mike MacDougal in July 2006, he entered the Royals' system as, by his own admission, "a skinny, shy kid." In the two and a half years since, he has grown, added strength, and matured into the Royals' top pitching prospect. Originally selected by the White Sox out of Garey High School (CA) in the 7th round of the 2005 draft, Cortes took a couple of seasons to really find his stride. He had his first breakthrough in 2007 at Wilmington, where as a 20-year-old he went 8-8 with a 3.07 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 123.0 innings pitched. During the offseason, Cortes continued to get stronger, putting 15 more pounds of lean muscle on his 6-foot-6 frame. The work paid off, as Cortes had another solid season, going 10-4 with a 3.78 ERA for the NW Arkansas Naturals. In 116.2 innings pitched, he struck out 109 batters while walking 55 and holding opponents to a .241 average. For his efforts, he was named a Texas League postseason All-Star and the Royals Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Cortes doesn't yet have great command of his pitches inside the strike zone, but he does have two pitches that profile at 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. The first is a fastball that sits at 93-94 and tops out around 97 mph. The other is a devastating 12-to-6 curveball that falls off the table. Cortes has yet to show much of a changeup, and that is the one thing that could stall his progress as a starting pitcher. Some scouts, in fact, believe Cortes is probably better suited for the bullpen, where he could pitch at the Major League level right now with his fastball/curveball combo, which is among the best in the minors. The Royals will continue trying to develop the big right-hander as a starter, however, and he will begin 2009 either in Omaha or back in NW Arkansas. Regardless, it seems likely that his long-awaited Major League debut could come at some point this year. 4. Kila Ka'aihue, 1B Age: 24 B-T: L-R HT: 6-3 WT: 221 Last year, Kila Ka'aihue's name was absent from every major top prospect list, including this one. Despite his on-base skills, the big first baseman had the look of a player who was probably running out of chances in the organization, even though he did hit 21 home runs between Wilmington and Wichita in 2007. Late in spring training last year, however, J.J. Picollo told RC that he thought Ka'aihue was going to have a big year. According to Picollo, Ka'aihue was having a great camp: he was hitting breaking balls better, he was taking outside fastballs to left field, he was recognizing pitches better, and he just had a different look in the box. Ka'aihue had spent the offseason working out and getting physically stronger, so he could repeat his swing better. Sure enough, when the season opened, Ka'aihue proceeded to put together one of the best campaigns of any farmhand in Royals history, and by the time it was over, he was in Kansas City for a September cup of coffee. Ka'aihue played 91 games for the Naturals before being promoted to Omaha, where he hit 11 home runs in 33 games. Between the two levels, he hit a combined .314/.456/.628 with 37 home runs, 100 RBIs, and a minor league-best 104 walks. His on-base percentage was also the best in the minors, and his slugging percentage and OPS (1.085) both ranked second behind Rangers prospect Nelson Cruz. For his tremendous season, Ka'aihue picked up some impressive hardware, including the Texas League MVP trophy and the Royals Minor League Player of the Year award. If Ka'aihue were older, it might be easy to write off his 2008 success as a Calvin Pickering or Craig Brazell-type occurrence. However, Ka'aihue won't turn 25 until this spring. He is young and has ideal size and strength along with good bat speed. His pretty swing is complemented by precisely the type of plate discipline that organizations try to teach. He is also very intelligent, keeping a meticulous notebook on the pitchers he faces – what they throw, how they pitched him, how their pitches move, etc. In short, there is much to suggest that Ka'aihue is a legitimately excellent prospect. Because of the logjam at first base in Kansas City, Ka'aihue will begin the 2009 season back in Omaha, but he will almost certainly be back with the Royals at some point this season. 5. Daniel Gutierrez, SP Age: 21 B-T: R-R HT: 6-1 WT: 180 During spring training last year, Royals' farm director J.J. Picollo told us that we might be hearing a lot more about Daniel Gutierrez in the next six months. Indeed, the 6-foot-1 right-hander was the talk of the instructional league in 2007, and he stood poised to establish himself as a top pitching prospect in 2008. Gutierrez did just that, putting together an excellent season capped by two outstanding playoff starts, in which he was 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 12 innings for the Midwest League champion Burlington Bees. Assigned to Burlington out of spring training, Gutierrez got off to a great start, compiling a 2.37 ERA in four April starts with well over a strikeout per inning. However, he soon began experiencing pain and swelling in his right arm behind his triceps, and the Royals shut him down for the entire month of May. The injury was diagnosed as a fractured growth plate in his elbow, which was causing a tendon to swell up. Gutierrez told RC that surgery was not an option, and that even though he still experiences pain occasionally when he pitches, he just has to battle through it and try to keep the swelling down. When Gutierrez returned to the Bees in June, the Royals limited his innings, but it didn't take him long to get back up to speed. He finished the regular season with a 2.70 ERA and 104 strikeouts and 25 walks in 90 innings pitched, and he held opposing hitters to a .246 average. Gutierrez has an ideal pitching frame and a live arm with big league stuff. He throws a fastball that sits at 91-93 mph and tops out in the mid-90s, and he maintains that velocity late into games. He also throws a hammer curveball with late break, and a useful changeup that he hasn't had to throw very often in the low minors. Gutierrez earned praise for his poise on the mound, and his consistency in keeping the ball down and pounding the strike zone. Had it not been for his injury, Gutierrez very likely would have earned a promotion to Wilmington early in the summer. As it stands, he will begin the 2009 season in the Carolina League, and he could move very quickly, provided he stays healthy. Photo Credits: Hosmer photo courtesy of Greg Schaum. All other photos taken by Dave Sanford, Scout.com
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