Yesterday afternoon, hours before Alex Gordon caused Royals fans to make all sorts of weird celebratory noises, the Royals announced which of their top prospects would be headed to the Arizona Fall League following the 2014 season. Raul Mondesi, son of Raul Mondesi and brother of Raul Mondesi, is the team’s best position player prospect, and he’ll be headlining the list of baby Royals set for the AFL. Joining Mondesi will be his current teammate and former super-prospect Bubba Starling, third baseman Hunter Dozier, and pitchers Miguel Almonte, Sam Selman, and Ali Williams.
Mondesi has been hitting the ball with some authority lately, as evidenced by his 6 home runs in August. His overall numbers may not look all that impressive (.218/.262/.365), but remember that he’s playing in a pitcher-friendly park and league, which has suppressed his numbers a bit. Oh, and he just turned 19 years old a month ago, and the average age of players in the Carolina League is around 24. There’s a reason Mondesi is one of the top 30 prospects in baseball, and Royals fans should be extremely excited about his future.
Starling has yet to live up to the insanely high level of hype he received coming out of the draft in 2011, and this season has been quite disappointing. He’s got an OPS of just .652, and he doesn’t have the youth excuse Mondesi has. Starling is 22 years old, and isn’t getting any younger, because that’s how time works. Granted, his defense is good enough to get him to the big leagues, and he could find time as a platoon bat (.925 OPS vs LHP), but the AFL could be an opportunity to get back on track before next season, when he should find himself at Double-A.
Double-A Northwest Arkansas is where Dozier is currently playing, and like Starling, is struggling mightily. The former first round pick is hitting .208/.302/.311 in 242 plate appearances for the Naturals, and it seems like Texas League pitching is giving him fits. He is showing good patience, with an 11.6% walk rate, but he’s struck out in over a quarter of his plate appearances. He’s definitely going to need to step it up in order to present some kind of competition for Mike Moustakas in the next year or two.
As a pitcher in Wilmington, Almonte was expected to have a big year, but he’s dealt with a few struggles. He has an ERA of 4.80, and his strikeout rate has declined in each of the last three months. He’s still only 21 years old, and already has a very good fastball and changeup combination, so hopefully the AFL will allow him to refine his third pitch a bit more. He entered 2014 as a top 50 prospect, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be back there in 2015.
Selman has recently transitioned into a relief role, and he started off well in that position for the Naturals, allowing just 3 runs in 16.2 innings to go along with 18 strikeouts and 7 walks, before being promoted to Triple-A. His experience for the Storm Chasers has gone slightly less well, to put it mildly. Though it’s a very small sample, the lefty known as “Crazy Legs” has allowed 6 runs and an OPS of 1.152 while facing 21 batters. He’s also walked 6 batters and struck out just 4.
As for Williams, he will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this December, so sending him to Arizona will give the organization a chance to see if he’s worth protecting. The 25-year old right hander has impressive strikeout numbers, with 11.7 strikeouts per 9 innings in 2014, and a career strikeout rate of 26.1%, although the 3.9 walks per 9 is a larger number than you’d like to see. Williams has certainly gotten knocked around at Double-A this season, shown by the 5.31 ERA and 8 home runs allowed in 39 innings.
This year’s Arizona Fall League will begin on October 7, and run through November 13. The aforementioned Royals prospects will play for the Peoria Javalinas, and they will be managed by Northwest Arkansas manager Vance Wilson.