The Royals are a cushy 1000 games out of first in the AL Central. They’ve been injured, ineffective, and impotent. I feel safe in predicting that they will not make the playoffs for the 26th straight season (not counting 1994).
So, as is the custom with Royals fans, it’s time to once again turn our gaze to the future. With that in mind, I give you five Royals low minor leaguers I’m particularly excited about. Some of them you probably know a lot about. Some of them, maybe not so much. But lately I’ve taken solace tracking their progress to let hope spring eternal in my badly wounded heart. I hope you can do the same.
*These are in no particular order. I just write them as they enter my lunatic mind.
1. Kyle Zimmer - SP
He was recently promoted to Kane County after pitching 10 innings in the Arizona Rookie League. In those 10 innings he gave up one run, struck out 13 and walked zero. That’s right, he hasn’t walked anyone. This type of domination is to be expected from a guy who was facing good college talent very recently and performing well against that talent.
Zimmer excites me so much for a few reasons. He has a very smooth, easy delivery, which could point to his ability to throw upwards of 200 innings a season. He has incredible polish for a guy who’s only been pitching for roughly two seasons. He doesn’t turn 21 until September. And everyone talks about what a great athlete he is, which is a big plus for a number of reasons, including his ability to stay healthy, a problem the Royals have dealt with too much this year.
Zimmer should blow away the Midwest League. His first real challenge will come when he hits Wilmington, but many Royals have found success in Wilmington because it’s a pitcher friendly league. I hope the Royals aren’t too cautious with him and prevent him from making the leap from low A to high A this season if he shows he can handle it.
2. Kyle Smith - SP
Two Kyle’s on the list. This Kyle isn’t quite the flamethrower the other Kyle is, but he’s showing he can deal at low A Kane County. In 28.2 innings, he’s got 39 strikeouts; that’s 12.4 K/9. His ERA is 3.77, which is really good but doesn’t necessarily drop jaws. This could be due to a high number of hits given up (27), which may be due to a small sample size or the free swinging nature of low minors hitters.
Smith is a strikeout pitcher. He doesn’t get too many ground balls, and right now, he walks a few too many. But if he can refine his command a little, he could be an answer to a team that desperately needs starting pitching. It will be a while before he makes it to the big leagues; he’s only 19. But it’s worth watching the box scores to see how Smith progresses.
3. Jorge Bonifacio - OF
This guys is really, really good for as little publicity as he gets. He just turned 19 in June, and like the two Kyle’s currently plays with Kane County. How talented is that team? Though young for his level, he’s hitting .296/.354/.461 with 10 home runs. That’s pretty impressive.
The question I have about Bonifacio is whether or not he’ll develop a distinguishing tool. Is he going to develop more power? Is he going to start hitting at a .330 clip? I’m not sure because I can’t tell the future. If I could I’d be slapping Warren Buffett with a stack of hundred dollar bills while drinking gold flavored chocolate milk. But we know from guys like Rany Jazerilli that players who produce while being young for their level are worth paying attention to.
4. Alexis Rivera - OF/1B
People are already talking about Rivera as a steal in this year’s draft. The Royals picked him up in the 10th round out of Puerto Rico. He just turned 18 in June, and he’s hitting at a very impressive rate in 24 games in Arizona—.411/.454/.537. He’s a big left-handed hitter at 6’2” 225 and already has seven extra base hits and seven steals.
Like many young hitters, Rivera doesn’t walk much, just nine times so far. But plate discipline is often the last thing to develop, and he’s got plenty of time. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of identity he takes on as a player, and he could end up being a good value pick for the Royals.
5. Bubba Starling - OF
I’m going to put Bubba on this list because he’s still very exciting. He just hit his fourth homerun of his career. He’s hitting .288, but the patience and power people thought might take a lot of time to develop is showing nicely. He’s got a .400 OBP and a .513 SLG.
He’s only played in 20 games so there aren’t many numbers to get too excited about. But the word on the super highway is that he takes to coaching very quickly and that his swing has transformed in a very short period of time. So far, it seems he’s been the embodiment of the type of prospect his is, showing flashes of brilliance and a lot of inconsistency; he’s struck out 27 times in those 20 games.
As usual for the Royals, the future looks pretty good. I’m going to remain optimistic, as always, but only because the alternative is pretty dark. If you have the energy, keep track of these guys. They could be the next wave of players you’re cursing and throwing things at.