If you read this blog regularly (or any Royals-related blog, really) you know about the top prospects in the Royals organization. Names like Kyle Zimmer, Yordano Ventura, and Raul Mondesi have been discussed quite a bit in this space, and rightfully so. They’re among the top 30 or 40 prospects in all of baseball, and their potential obviously merits recognition. However, an organization’s farm system is made up of more than just its top three prospects, so I thought I’d cover a few of the players with perhaps a lower ceiling, but who could still make an impact in the big leagues at some point. In the next week or two, I’ll break down a few of these prospects to keep an eye on in 2014. Today, I’ll start with the player Baseball America tabbed as the 10th best prospect in the organization, Christian Binford.
Binford was drafted in the 30th round of the 2011 draft out of Mercersburg Academy. In 2009, Binford had undergone Tommy John surgery, so the injury, combined with his young age, led the Royals to bring him along slowly. He debuted in 2012, but only pitched 40 innings for the rookie-level Burlington Royals. But those 40 innings were quite impressive. Binford struck out 31 batters and walked only 4 in that small sample. The right-hander then followed that up with another very solid season in 2013, in which he threw 135 innings with a 2.67 ERA, 8.7 K/9, and just 1.7 BB/9 while pitching for Low-A Lexington. His excellent walk numbers have resulted in Baseball America giving Binford the title of “Best Control” in the system.
In addition to limiting walks, Binford has been able to induce a lot of ground balls – last season, he had a ground ball rate of 57.1%. Solid strikeout numbers, very low walk numbers, and lots of ground balls is a sound strategy for success as a pitcher.
Standing at 6’6”, one would expect Binford to be a flamethrower. On the contrary, Binford’s fastball tops out at around 93, but normally sits closer to 90 MPH. Binford’s height does allow him to create some downward plane with his fastball, but he gets by primarily with pinpoint command because his pure stuff isn’t quite good enough. Reports suggest his changeup can flash plus potential at times, but his curveball isn’t very reliable. That’s not to say Binford can’t improve on his secondary pitches, of course. He just turned 21, so he definitely has time to work on his game. And if Binford has any hope of being a meaningful contributor in the major leagues, he’s going to need quite a bit of work. A 90 MPH fastball can get out a lot of minor league hitters, but he has to have something else to lean on against big league guys. As it stands right now, his ceiling is probably that of a borderline mid-rotation starter.
So why am I giving Binford attention as a prospect to watch in 2014?
Much like in the real estate business, it’s all about location, location, location.
This season, Binford is probably going to be pitching for High-A Wilmington, which is home to one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in all of the minor leagues. Frawley Stadium can turn just about any middling prospect into a superstar on the mound, and 2014 could be Binford’s time to shine. In his 175 professional innings, he’s only allowed 8 home runs, so Binford has a tendency to limit the long ball. As the numbers above prove, he’s also a strike-throwing machine. Those two qualities should help Binford to put up some excellent statistics this year. He’s already receiving some pub, as shown by the ranking from Baseball America, and that coverage should increase if Binford performs as expected in 2014.
I don’t think Binford is a future ace, and he may not even turn out to be a number 3 starter. Sure, he could develop his changeup and curveball enough to really make some moves in prospect lists, and he could even add some velocity if he fills out his slender frame. More than likely, however, Binford projects to be a back of the rotation-type of pitcher in the major leagues. There’s value in that, of course, but he doesn’t have the sparkling allure of guys like Zimmer and Ventura. Still, I do think fans should keep an eye on Binford in 2014, since his skillset and his probable home ballpark should result in a terrific season for the young righty.