KoK Prospect #12: Jeff Bianchi

Jeff Bianchi checks in at #12 on the 2010 Kings of Kauffman prospect list.

Who: Jeff Bianchi
DOB: 10/5/1986  Lancaster, PA
Position: SS/2B
Height: 6’0″
Weight: 175
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Acquired: 2005 Draft (2nd round)

Rankings:
~ Baseball America #11
~ Diamond Futures #14
~ Royals Review #8
~ The Royal Tower #12
~ John Sickels C+
~ Baseball Prospectus #7

Stats:

PA 2B HR SB BB SO BA OBP SLG
2005 AZL Royals (Rk) 122 7 6 5 16 22 0.408 0.484 0.745
2006 AZL Royals (Rk) 54 4 2 1 9 3 0.429 0.537 0.667
2007 Burlington (A) 403 19 2 15 25 72 0.247 0.296 0.315
2008 Wilmington (A+) 431 34 10 13 20 95 0.255 0.290 0.442
2009 Wilmington (A+) 245 12 4 12 20 47 0.300 0.360 0.427
NW Arkansas (AA) 297 17 5 10 19 58 0.315 0.356 0.441

When it comes to having good health as a professional player, Bianchi drew one of the shorter straws.  He missed the end of the 2005 season with a back problem and then lost almost all of 2006 and part of 2007 thanks to a torn labrum in his shoulder.  He missed time in 2008 due to a groin problem, but still managed to play in over 100 games for the first time in his career.  Bianchi avoided the injury bug in 2009 and put up a very nice season that included a promotion to his first taste of Double-A action.  His season also earned him a spot on the Surprise Rafters in the Arizona Fall League where he held his own, hitting 0.265/.329/.412 with 5 XBH, 7 BB and 10 SO.

After playing in 232 games over the last two seasons, the injury concerns about Bianchi’s future have dissipated for the most part.  He scuffled statistically in 2007 at Burlington and 2008 in Wilmington, but the Royals have steadily moved him up the organization chain despite his struggles at the plate and his injuries.  He opened 2009 back with the Blue Rocks, but quickly proved that he was ready to take another step.  He maintained his OBP after the promotion to NW Arkansas and quickly adapted to life in the Texas League.  His Double-A performance just adds to the mountain of evidence that the environment in Wilmington depresses offensive production.

While he will never hit a bunch of home runs, he has shown an increase in his gap power the last two seasons which will be sufficient to man a middle infield spot in the major leagues.   Beyond the possibly average power, there is a lot to like in Bianchi’s offensive game.   He uses the entire field well and makes good use of his average speed on the bases thanks to generally sound baserunning instincts.   Jeff doesn’t draw a ton of walks but he does make consistent, solid contact and has been able to keep his strikeout numbers largely in check as he has progressed.   His 0.308/.358/.435 line between his two stops last season gives all of us hope, but it should be mentioned that those numbers were bolstered by some crazy hot streaks.   He had two stretches last season, one with Wilmington and one with NW Arkansas, where he hit over 0.500 for a two week span.  I’m not pointing this out as a negative.  After all it takes talent to hit 0.500 for two weeks at a time regardless of the level and he did it twice.  That said the streaks bear watching as he gets closer to the majors but, at the same time, his monthly splits suggest a fairly consistent offensive player when looking at larger sample sizes.

Bianchi’s defensive skills reflect his offensive ones in the fact that he is slightly below or slightly above average across the board.  He has sufficient arm strength to play SS at the major league level and couples that with average range.   In the 2010 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, J.J. Cooper wrote that Bianchi is, “the surest-handed fielder in the system and has picture-perfect fundamentals.”   Cooper’s assessment of Bianchi is supported by Jeff’s Total Zone (TZ) numbers the last several years.   Bianchi had a -2 TZ at SS in 2008, a +1 TZ at Wilmington in 2009, and a +5 TZ at NW Arkansas after his June promotion.   After watching Angel Berroa, Tony Pena Jr, Yuniesky Betancourt, Willie Bloomquist, and others butcher the position of SS in recent seasons it would be a treat to watch a Royals SS make all the routine plays actually look routine.   In the spirit of fairness in conversation, we did get a glimpse of what a legitimate major league SS looks like in 2008 thanks to the solid play of Mike Aviles.

Jeff Bianchi, is a fundamentally sound ballplayer who gets the most out of his tools that rate as average or near average across the board.   Triple-A Omaha will be where he gets the bulk of his playing time during the 2010 season, but a mid to late season call-up to Kansas City is not out of the question.   Defensively, he has the upside to be a major league average player with an average, to slightly above average, offensive skill set for the SS position.   If the Royals find a better long-term solution at short, Bianchi also has the ability to play 2B at an above average level.

He doesn’t have the upside or potential of the eleven prospects I have ranked ahead of him, but at this stage of his development, he seems assured of having a solid major league career which is something that cannot be said for the guys yet to be revealed.  The “worst” case scenario for Bianchi is that he will end up being a middle infield bench player while the best case scenario has him playing SS on an everyday basis for many years.

If I redid this list based on the probability of each prospect contributing at the major league level for five or more years, Jeff would probably be ranked number one.  For an organization that has struggled to produce its share of major league talent in recent seasons, Bianchi’s value should not be underestimated, especially given the fact that he is still only 23 years old.

(Wally Fish is the lead blogger for Kings of Kauffman and FanSided’s MLB Director.  Subscribe to his RSS feed and add him on Twitter to follow him daily.)

Topics: AL Central, Baseball, Jeff Bianchi, Kansas City Royals, KC, MLB, Royals

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