Media Day brings us the first look at each year’s newest edition of the Legends, and this year certainly didn’t disappoint. After following the Astros’ minor leaguers since 2010, it was somewhat bittersweet to join the Kansas City Royals as their newest affiliate, but that’s the nature of minor league baseball. Affiliations can change, technically, every two years. You don’t usually see that happening, but it can. Anyway, our Player Development Contract expired, Houston declined to renew it, and life goes on.I’ll miss our players far more than I’ll miss the Astros. Hope that makes sense.
Anyway, Kansas City is well-known for drafting some excellent talent, and from what I’ve seen they certainly seem to know how to handle them. Regardless of the record at the ML level over recent years, I think the results speak for themselves. Kansas City has a LOAD of talent at the top level, with only the starting rotation seeming to be a bit weak in recent times. With the trade for James Shields and Wade Davis (I see Davis as a starter, in the long run), they’ve addressed that concern rather well.But I digress. Back to the subject at hand, learning more about the new Legends, starting with infielders:
Geez, where do I begin? This infield is locked down. First things first…at first. Base. Yeah.
2012 (@ Burlington):
62 games, 240 PA, 37 runs, 62 hits, 18 doubles, 10 HR, 40 RBI, 15 BB, 40 SO, .283 BA, .333 OBP, .863 OPS
2012 (@ Idaho Falls Chukars):
66 games, 288 PA, 44 R, 69 H, 12 2B, 8 3B, 3 HR, 43 RBI, 9-11 SB, 33 BB, 68 SO, .280 BA, .376 OBP, .807 OPS
First off, we’ve got Mark Threlkeld and Nicholas Cuckovich at first. Both are adept with the glove, with Threlkeld showing a plus arm for a first baseman. I have quick rundowns on both of these guys on my blog @ The Grand Old Game.
From what I saw of these two, I like the footwork, they position themselves well, and they both have a good arm for their position (Threlkeld has the edge here, thus far).
It should be noted that Cuckovich is listed as a third baseman and left fielder on the Legends roster, and is likely just filling in at first for now. He did struggle mightily at third in 2012, with 15 errors in 43 games, but there’s lots to like about him. He’s going to be versatile as he can cover left (avg-plus speed), third (as he becomes more accustomed to the glovework) and now first (with which he should have no problem at all). He’s got a good eye already, as demonstrated by his .376 OBP last year in Idaho Falls, and he also popped 23 extra-base hits in 66 games. His developing gap power, combined with his speed, could make him especially valuable if he ends up sticking at third. Whatever happens, Cuckovich is a valuable addition to this or any roster, in my opinion.
As for Threlkeld, I’m pretty high on this kid. This is especially so when you consider that he was a 25th round pick. Granted, that was in 2011, and he turns 23 in May, but I don’t put a ton of stock in that whole “old for his level” business. At least, not as much as others do. For now, he’s just a shade old for the level (we’re talking a matter of months, basically), but don’t let that dissuade you. In 62 games at Rookie-League Burlington last year, he batted .283 with 10 homers, 40 RBI, and 18 doubles. He certainly squared the ball up in BP, and spread it around like fertilizer on a flower bed. I see him as the starting first baseman, when whatever happened to him in the first game (HBP, left game, no updates yet) is resolved. So to summarize: strong D, avg-plus power, frequent contact, low strikeouts thus far in his career.Now, to the middle of the diamond. Man, oh man:
2012 (@ Idaho Falls Chukars):
50 games, 232 PA, 35 runs, 60 hits, 7 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 30 RBI, 11-13 SB .290 BA, .346 OBP
58 games, 262 PA, 40 runs, 64 hits, 13 doubles, 2 HR, 29 RBI, 7 SB, .274 BA, .694 OPS
These two play the middle like they were born to play it together. They came out of the womb and turned two.
They’re just that good.
I’m known to get excited about prospects, from time to time, and sometimes there’s a bit of the ol’ hyperbole in what I write, but let me just say this: I’d buy a ticket just to watch these two work their magic. That’s a fact.
To begin with, Mondesi has some of the softest hands I’ve ever seen. Anywhere. I’ve seen a few shortstops, in my time. This kid could be one of the best in the Majors, glovewise. His range is already well into “plus” territory, though being as young as he is (SEVENTEEN) he often will chase after balls which he would be better off letting go. He’ll get to the vast majority of the most difficult-to-reach grounders, true, but he then finds himself in poor position to actually complete the play. This will change and improve with time. I was actually surprised that he was bumped up to A ball this year, but the idea seems to be to keep him paired with Arteaga up the chain. In a perfect world, they make it to The Show together and hold down the middle for 15 years. They may very well end up becoming a classic double play combo for many years, sort of in the Trammell-Whitaker mold, but with more glove and less bat.On that subject, Mondesi is wiry-thin but already seems to put a bit of a hurt on the ball. He’s all wrist at the plate, but he’s got a firm, upright base and good balance, with a short swing. He keeps his feet awfully close together, which could lead to him becoming overwhelmed by the better fastballers in the league until he adjusts appropriately. Notably, he drove in 30 runs in Idaho Falls last year on only 12 XBH in 50 games. He also stole 11 bases, which may be more a testament to his advanced baserunning skills than his raw speed.
Arteaga was Burlington’s shortstop in 2012, being bumped over for Mondesi. This is rightly so, though they could be interchangable if the need presented itself and little (if anything) would be lost in terms of defense. Both Arteaga and Mondesi have superior defensive skills, though Arteaga has the advantage on Mondesi at this stage, while Mondesi has the superior range to Arteaga. As an 18-year-old in rookie ball, he hit 13 doubles and drove in 29 in 58 games. Neither Arteaga nor Mondesi could buy a walk, but that may be due more to youthful exuberance than pure selectivity. Arteaga is more of a groundball hitter at this point, but sprays it gap-to-gap and can go opposite-field with ease relative to his age and experience.
He is quite nearly a carbon copy of Mondesi, although he appears to have put on perhaps 10 pounds in the off-season. That would make him 6’1”, 170, which is right about where he will stay for some time. Guys like Mondesi and Arteaga, with slight builds and very small bone structure, do best to keep themselves as near their ideal weight as possible.
2012 (@ Kane County Cougars, Class A, Midwest League):
123 games, 464 AB, 51 runs, 99 hits, 23 doubles, 5 HR, 64 RBI, 32 BB, 79 K, .569 OPS
Antonio is repeating A ball, but was ranked the 16h best prospect in the Royals system as recently as 2012’s preseason. He was also the highest draft pick from NYC’s high schools since 1996. This kid shows good lateral movement in the field, keeps his center of gravity low and stays on top of grounders well. He also shows at least average arm for the position. What stood out for me was the power in BP; sounds like someone’s firing a .22 in the box. He’s aggressive with his swings but he’s not wild or a free-swinger. He hit a couple of bombs in BP, as I remember, and I expect him to be a solid run producer in the Legends lineup this year.
2012 (@ Kane County, 21 games; @ NW Arkansas, 7 games):
28 games, 76 AB, 10 runs, 19 hits, 4 RBI, 23 K
I’m not so sure what to think of this kid. First of all, I don’t expect he’ll ever be a run producer of any great substance, although I’ve been wrong before about guys like this. He’s going to be a ground-ball guy who can run a bit, and if everything goes right for him may end up being a bottom-of-the-order tablesetter. Those guys, I like. And for whatever reason, I honestly feel like he could force his way into a lineup on his glove alone; he can cover third, second, or short, and do so with better-than-average range (despite what John Sickels may think).
2012 (@ Burlington):
31 games, 94 AB, 11 runs, 16 hits, 3 doubles, 1 HR, 8 RBI
A 49th round pick of the Royals in 2011, Morales is notable for being a part of the South Carolina team that won it all in 2010 and 2011. To begin with, this kid is literally built like a brick outhouse. Good Lord, he’s stout. He certainly hasn’t put up huge numbers since advancing beyond the Arizona League, but I suspect there’s some hidden power in his bat. He did put some distance on the ball in BP; I don’t recall if he hit any out, though. Nevertheless, I’m watching him. He’d be a guy I would want to test, to see what’s there. On this team, he may end up being a bat off the bench, and you could do a lot worse. There’s power potential, here.