The new Class A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, the Legends of 2013 were a bit of a mystery.
While there was certainly a significant amount of talent on this team, the numbers didn’t quite measure up to the potential. However, what’s important to remember about minor-league teams and players is that ‘numbers’ aren’t really the biggest concern. It’s all about development. As long as players continue to grow, that’s what matters.
Having said that, here’s a little bit on the more prominent hitters from this year’s roster:
Michael Antonio, 3B
97 games, 378 PA, 19 R, 15 2B, 5 HR, 35 RBI, .191/.263/.284
Antonio isn’t exactly a free-swinger, but he did have a lot of AB in which he swung for the fences. He’s got some pop, but it was off-set by infrequent contact. He was 21 this year, so he’s got time to work on that. I do think that he will be able to make some of that aggressiveness work for him, though it will still hinder his contact somewhat. I believe that his power will continue to develop, and that he will spend the bulk of his time at third in 2014 (along with occasional games at first).
Humberto Arteaga, 2B-SS
61 games, 251 PA, 17 R, 5 2B, 13 RBI, .188/.214/.225
Arteaga showed a great deal of range at both short and second, but his better position is second base. Teaming with Raul Mondesi at short, the 19 year-old infielder played with confidence that belied his years. He did have difficulty at the plate as nearly every pitcher he faced was older and more experienced than he, but he is certainly the type of player you want to have on your roster for his glove alone. I expect that he will continue to develop along the lines of a slap-hitting middle infielder, eventually working at third in the coming years as he gets older.
Ethan Chapman, OF
62 games, 224 PA, 25 R, 6 2B, 13 RBI, 18 SB, .238/.332/.280 (at Lexington)
130 games, 480 PA, 55 R, 12 2B, 29 RBI, 32 SB, .245/.330/.279
-Promoted to High-A Wilmington on June 13th
Chapman is one of my favorites from this year’s roster. He’s an ‘energy’ player; his presence in the batting order seems to make the hitters around him a little better, and he was never one to slack off on the field. He hustled after every fly ball, he hustled down the first base line (and was aggressive about taking the extra base, when the chance presented itself)…what I’m saying here is, he’s a hustler. His batting average actually picked up slightly once he got to the Carolina League, and he put up nearly the same numbers in all other categories. It will be interesting to watch his development in 2014; he’ll be under the radar as a 30th round pick, but if he keeps it up it won’t be for long.
Kenny Diekroger, IF
99 games, 363 PA, 19 R, 3 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 22 RBI, 129 SO, .165/.212/.221
A 22 year-old infielder who started the year in Wilmington, Diekroger struggled with both contact and power. He went down on strikes in one out of every three at-bats, and managed only 9 XBH in 99 games. He isn’t a base-stealer, either. He does give you versatility in the field, but unless he can turn his bat around in ’14 he could be destined for a future as a utility glove-man off the bench. A 2nd round pick of Tampa Bay in 2009 out of Menlo High (Atherton, CA), then a 4th round pick in 2012 for the Royals out of Stanford, Diekroger has good size for a middle infielder and projects to gain a little bit of size, so if he can cut down drastically on his Ks then the pop might come along naturally.
Mark Donato, 1B-DH
75 games, 302 PA, 23 R, 12 2B, 7 HR, 36 RBI, .238/.281/.356
Drafted in the 26th round in 2012 out of Indian River Community College (Ft. Pierce, FL), Donato has shown early signs of what should become above-average pop. At 6’2”, 225, the size is already there. He takes a smooth stroke at the plate, with quick hands and power from left-center to right field, and he plays a strong defensive game as well. If he maintains his mobility, I expect him to develop into a steady glove-and-bat man with at least average ML power. Watch this guy.
Hunter Dozier, 3B
69 games, 317 PA, 49 R, 30 2B, 7 HR, 52 RBI, .308/.397/.495
I mention Dozier because:
A) He did play 15 games with Lexington, and
B) He’s one of KC’s top prospects, now.
Drafted in the 1st round this past June out of Stephen F. Austin State University (Nacogdoches, TX), Dozier is a prototypical slugging third baseman. At 6’4”, 220, Dozier has virtually no physical projectability left, which means that his advancement will essentially be gauged by his progress with the glove. Popping 30 doubles and 7 homers in 69 games, along with driving in 52 runs in his first year in pro ball, answers the questions about his bat (at least, for now). I can’t imagine he’ll really have much of a problem adjusting to pro pitching until he reaches Double-A. However, as high as I am on this kid, it’s important to remember that 24 of his 30 doubles came in Rookie-League Idaho Falls, along with all of his homers, and he made 10 errors at third in his 50 games at the position. I expect him to move to first as he advances up the chain. He likely will start 2014 at High-A Wilmington; I’m guessing Donato will be there to start the year as well, however, so Dozier could remain at third for now.
Yowill Espinal, SS-2B
67 games, 225 PA, 21 R, 6 2B, 9 RBI, 6 SB, 61 SO, .160/.240/.215
Espinal is similar to Arteaga in terms of his versatility and his bat, though Arteaga would probably have a slightly stronger bat at his peak. A six-year pro, Espinal spent most of his games in 2013 at second, committing 6 errors in only 29 games at the keystone. He has above-average range and will make miscues on some balls which other infielders might not reach, so that has to be considered as well. His ability to play multiple positions is his greatest strength; any offense would be a bonus.
Fred Ford, RF
126 games, 482 PA, 47 R, 19 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 43 RBI, 5 SB, 166 SO, .193/.288/.350
Ford is a rangy OF with a good deal of projection remaining (6’5”, 200), and already demonstrates a lot of pop. Inconsistency and holes in his swing are a problem, but I expect he’ll be able to cut down on the Ks and make more consistent contact. He generates natural power from the leverage his size and strength creates, and he will likely add around 20-25 pounds within the next 2-3 years. He also plays a competent first base, but with Donato and Dozier already likely to occupy that spot at the higher levels he will remain in right for the time being. Not an issue; he covers ground with little effort, and has a plus arm even for RF. I saw some throws from him this year that made me stand up and take notice, that’s for sure.
Cam Gallagher, C
66 games, 256 PA, 15 2B, 2 HR, 18 RBI, .212/.302/.306
This poor kid…
The story here was the same as it was with many Legends, this year: injuries. He took a pitch off his hand vs. Asheville on April 24th (courtesy of RHP Shane Broyles in Cam’s 1st and only AB), which landed him on the DL. He didn’t return until June 11th, batting .193 from that point until the end of the season. Oddly enough, his BA in away games was over 100 points higher than his home average (.159 at home, .261 on the road). I’d say the same about Cam as I have said about Starling: this is a young player (20 years old), and as such has plenty of time to develop. The minor leagues are not about putting up numbers so much as they are simply about progressing and working on becoming a better player. Give him time, and I think you’ll be surprised.
Terrance Gore, LF
128 games, 541 PA, 76 R, 24 RBI, 68 SB, 62 BB, 120 SO
And now we get to one of the fastest players in all of pro baseball. Look around, and you’ll see that I’m not alone in that assessment. After so many times watching a hitter clock around 3.7-3.8 to first (or better), you sort of stop keeping track. While only 5’7”, Gore is in outstanding shape. Our throwback-style jerseys hide the fact that he’s 165 pounds of solid muscle, and his athleticism is off the charts. This was his first year in full-season pro ball, and he had his struggles like most of the players in our lineup. Batting .215 with a handful of XBH, he drew enough walks to post an OBP 119 points higher (.334) and in the process scored 76 runs and swiped 68 bags on top of that. Making consistent, solid contact would put him around 90 runs and 80 SB, I would think. He’s not a power hitter, but he could register double-digit doubles and triples annually at his peak. Definitely one to watch.
Raul Mondesi, SS
125 games, 536 PA, 61 R, 13 2B, 7 3B, 7 HR, 47 RBI, 24 SB, .261/.311/.361
Holy cow, what a player. At 17 years old, Mondesi covered short like he owned it. His plus-plus range and powerful arm made him a real treat to see on the diamond, though his youthful exuberance would sometimes lead to errant throws. He even vacuumed up grounders on the right side of 2B, on occasion. There’s not a lot to add to this. He played 125 games in A-Ball as a seventeen year-old kid, and handled it better than some players who are much older and more experienced. It will be fascinating to watch him develop into what I believe will be an All-Star-caliber shortstop at the higher levels, and likely in the Majors as well.
Bubba Starling, CF
125 games, 498 PA, 51 R, 21 2B, 13 HR, 63 RBI, 22 SB, .241/.329/.398
There’s a lot of doubt out there about Starling, who had what most baseball pundits called a disastrous season. I respectfully disagree with that assessment. Starling lost at least a month to vision problems (which were treated in May), during which he seemed to have issues tracking pitches. I may be wrong about this, but it seemed that he had a tougher time batting at night. After batting no higher than .250 in any month through July, he started turning it around in August, batting .322 for the month. There’s no doubt that Starling is a talented player, but he seemed stiff in his actions both at bat and at times in the field, and if you weren’t familiar with him as a player you might think he wasn’t going to progress too far. But just like Gallagher, Starling was 20 this season. He has true natural power and covers lots of ground in center. It may be more about being relaxed on the field than anything else; his frustrations often boiled over and he was rarely hesitant to express them. Class A parks are not all that big. You hear a lot of what players say on the field.
In fairness, he has a lot of pressure on him because of his draft position and his outstanding performances as an amateur (both in football and baseball). If for some reason he doesn’t make it as a baseball player, I would not be surprised if he went to college and was drafted as a football player. Much of his development, I think, will depend on his being able to stand the pressure and perform within his ability. Baseball is 90% mental, after all.
Mark Threlkeld, 1B
72 games, 298 PA, 31 R, 25 2B, 5 HR, 36 RBI, .249/.333/.405
Yes, I understand that he was 23 years old and just slightly older than the average Class-A player. But I don’t think that matters; it’s not like he’s a 30 year-old ex-Major Leaguer.
Anyway, Threlkeld was, to me, a very good all-around player; 25 doubles in 72 games impresses me at any level. He showed above-average range at 1B, on several occasions diving into foul territory for a hot grounder. He did struggle vs. LHP, batting an anemic .138 in 67 PA, but batted a solid .281 vs. righties. He’s another player who I believe will out-perform his draft position, but as a first baseman he will be blocked at the higher levels (see Dozier, Donato et al).
So there’s a little bit about our batters in Lexington. Some good, some bad, but I still think that there will be plenty of promise to come in these bats.