Starling at the plate (Photo: Clinton Riddle)
When Dayton Moore first took over the top job with the KC Royals, he talked of building a prospect pipeline that regularly produced two or three guys a year once the team matured into a contender. The system still looks ready to do that for the next few seasons.
One favorable development has been the resurrection of Bubba Starling. The former no. 5 overall draft pick in 2011, Starling had fallen out of most prospect lists because his hit tool wasn’t progressing. This season he smashed a difficult level (in the Kansas City Royals system) in High A Wilmington with a triple slash of .386/.471/.614. He’s moved onto AA NW Arkansas and put up a .279/.343/.455 line after early adjustment issues. He now looks like he could arrive in 2016.
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The KC Royals also snatched 25-year-old DH/first baseman Balbino Fuenmayor from the independent leagues, and the guy clobbered his way through NW Arkansas and AAA Omaha to the tune of .358/.384/.589 across both levels. While you’d like to see more plate patience, late-blooming success not based on drawing walks suggests he probably isn’t succeeding with “old player’s skills” (as in he doesn’t appear to have Kila Ka’aihue disease: slider bat speed). The former Toronto farmhand worked his way to no. 28 on MLB.com’s Kansas City Royals prospect ranking, and appears ready for a call to The Show.
Unfortunately, Fuenmayor suffered a torn ligament in his left knee and will require four to six months to return—which has undoubtedly cost him a September call-up.
Kyle Zimmer continues to dominate after finally making his debut this season, but injuries have always been his problem. If he can stay healthy, he could challenge for the KC Royals rotation next season. But, with Zimmer, counting on him remaining healthy hasn’t been a very good bet so far in his Kansas City Royals career (drafted no. 5 overall in 2012).
Then there are late-blooming outfielders like 27-year-old Jose Martinez (.373/.435/.565) and 26-year-old Brett Eibner (.306/.370/.539) at AAA Omaha. While neither of them particularly excite anyone due to age, they might contribute to the big club in 2016. At a certain point, you need to at least look at a guy who is hitting .373 (Martinez) in AAA. And Eibner is something of a Bubba Starling lite, a guy with good athleticism, but a weak hit tool. Hitting .306 is a breakthrough for him. Maybe, just maybe, the light has come on for him.
Third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert looked pretty good in a brief call-up this month, but I still think his bat needs work after a .256/.318/.389 first half at AAA Omaha this season. But, following his return from KC, Cuthbert has mashed for a .419/.486/.515 triple slash in 39 at bats, undoubtedly buoyed by the realization that he has the tools to succeed in MLB from his cup of coffee in Kansas City.
So, the Kansas City Royals still have prospects—even good prospects—that can help in the near term. But they don’t necessarily match team needs for 2016, which I will address in the next slide:
Next: Current Prospects Might Not Match KC Royals Needs In 2016