The Royals announced on Thursday that they have invited 16 non-roster players to spring training for when the team reports to Surprise, Arizona next month. Kyle Zimmer headlines a group of 7 pitchers and 9 position players who will get an opportunity to spend time in the big league camp. Zimmer, as you know, is one of the Royals’ top prospects, and could debut in Kansas City at some point this season.
He will be joined in Surprise by pitchers Jason Adam, Aaron Brooks, Cory Wade, P.J. Walters, Sugar Ray Marimon, and Scott Alexander. Adam spent 2013 in Northwest Arkansas, and despite a lofty ERA, he showed improvement in the second half of the season. Brooks split time between A+ and AA last year, and he displayed excellent control, walking 1.2 batters per 9 innings. Wade and Walters were both signed as minor league free agents this winter. Wade spent 2013 in three different organizations at the AAA level, and the 28 year old Walters is coming off an ERA of 4.18 for the Twins’ AAA affiliate. Marimon (who challenges Brooks Pounders for best name in the Royals’ system) put up strong strikeout numbers in a hitter friendly Arvest Ballpark for the Naturals last season, and at 25 years old, could spend most of 2014 in Omaha. Alexander struck out 77 batters in 75 innings last season out of the bullpen across three different levels. It’s unlikely any of the pitchers break camp with the big league squad.
For the position players, newly signed Ramon Hernandez probably has the best chance of being in a Royals’ uniform come Opening Day, since he could be the favorite to win the backup catcher job. However, the star of this group certainly will be Jorge Bonifacio, who will get to play alongside his older brother Emilio in Surprise. Bonifacio the Younger is just 20 years old and is coming off a very strong season in which he put up an .800 OPS in 374 plate appearances.
Joining Hernandez and Bonifacio will be catchers Juan Graterol and Adam Moore, infielders Jason Donald and Brandon Laird, and outfielders Melky Mesa, Paulo Orlando, and Gorkys Hernandez. Graterol doesn’t hit well, but he has caught 38% of would-be basestealers in his 8 year career. Moore spent part of 2013 dealing with a concussion, but has a better reputation than Graterol as a hitter, with an .828 OPS for his career. Donald could potentially step in as a utility player in Kansas City if Bonifacio the Elder is either traded or ineffective, since Donald has seen success at the major league level. Laird has a career .182 ISO in the minors, so he could provide some power as the Storm Chasers’ third baseman. Mesa had a disappointing 2013 with the Yankees’ AAA club, but does have quite a bit of pop and speed, along with some versatility in the outfield. Orlando is an excellent defender at all three outfield positions, but doesn’t offer much in the way of offense. Gorkys Hernandez was once a top prospect in the Braves’ organization, but has essentially become just another speedy, slap-hitting outfielder.
As I mentioned, it’s unlikely anyone other than Ramon Hernandez has a better than 50-50 shot at making the big league club when they break camp at the end of March, but it will still be very interesting to see prospects like Zimmer and Bonifacio match up against some major league talent in spring training. This experience could be quite valuable in their development, and within a year or two, they could become the major league talent that other teams’ top prospects will be matching up against.