Royals 2016 Full Season Minor League Preview
The 2016 Royals minor league system will feature players such as Kyle Zimmer, Raul Mondesi, and Ashe Russell.
Omaha Storm Chasers (80-64 in 2015, tied for 2nd in PCL American Northern division)
Top prospects on the roster: RH Miguel Almonte, OF Jorge Bonifacio, 3B Cheslor Cuthbert, OF Brett Eibner
Other players to watch: 1B Balbino Fuenmayor, OF Whit Merrifield, OF Jose Martinez, RH Brooks Pounders
The 2015 Storm Chasers finished 16 games over .500, but still managed to finish 6 games back in the division race to Oklahoma City.
Thanks to the steadiness of the Royals roster, the Chasers didn’t even have to funnel much talent up to the champion club, with only IF Christian Colon, OF Paulo Orlando and 3B Cheslor Cuthbert seeing significant time in both Kansas City and Omaha during 2015. Cuthbert returns to start 2016 with the Chasers but is just an injury away from a chance in Kansas City.
The most notable missing person from the Omaha 25-man roster (the team release specifies it’s the preliminary opening day roster, subject to change) is top pitching prospect Kyle Zimmer, who figures to make his AAA debut at some point soon.
He threw only 64 (albeit exceptional) innings in Lexington and North West Arkansas combined in 2015. In AA, he picked up 3 saves and struck out 51 in 48 IP, while posting a 1.17 WHIP. The big question now is whether the Royals will stick with him as a starter or make the shift to the bullpen based on his injury history.
Despite Zimmer’s presence, pitching is a bit of a question mark for the Chasers. The opening day rotation will be led by another top prospect, righty Miguel Almonte, who celebrated his 23rd birthday Monday. He makes his return to Omaha after posting a 5.40 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in 36 2/3 IP in his first taste of AAA in 2015.
Lefty Jonathan Dziedzic makes the move up to the Omaha rotation from AA, where he won 10 games in 2015, and put up a 3.12 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 93 K and 35 BB in 26 games (25 starts), over 138 1/3 IP.
Righty Brooks Pounders started at four different levels for the organization in 2015 and ended up with a 2.19 ERA and 1.18 WHIP with 32 K/19 BB in 8 starts that spanned 49 1/3 IP in the Texas League.
Filling out the bottom of the rotation, right-hander Luke Ferrell will transition from NW Arkansas, where he started 16 games in 2015. He posted a quality 3.09 ERA over 93 1/3 IP. Alongside him will be journeyman lefty John Lannan, who was brought in to eat innings at the back of the rotation after having a rough 152 IP in Albuquerque in 2015.
The main returnee from an innings-pitched standpoint is soon-to-be 31-year-old righty Clayton Mortensen, who had a 5.40 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 24 G (17 starts) and 106 2/3 IP in 2015, and starts 2016 in the Omaha bullpen. He’s joined by North Central Kansas native lefty Brian Duensing, who spent his last 7 seasons in the majors with the Twins.
Others notables in the bullpen include lefty Brian Flynn, who is fighting his way back from a lateral muscle injury and lefty Scott Alexander, who was steady for Omaha in 2015 with a 2.56 ERA over 63 1/3 IP and will likely be in Kansas City at some point this summer.
David Huff, 37-year-old Peter Moylan, Malcom Culver, Aroni Nina, Andy Ferguson, and Lester Oliveros will round out the Storm Chaser bullpen.
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Shifting to the offense, the biggest returning bat for the Storm Chasers is OF Jose Martinez, the reigning Pacific Coast League batting champ, who hit .384 with a 1.024 OPS in 98 games.
However, the most intriguing offensive returnee may be 1B Balbino Fuenmayor, who came out of nowhere in 2015 to hit for 15 HR and a .977 OPS for NWA before continuing to rake for a .951 OPS in 16 games for Omaha. His season was cut short, however, by an ACL injury.
Unfortunately his path to Kansas City would likely involve something going wrong with Eric Hosmer or Kendrys Morales, but with his performance last year, he has become a fringe prospect.
OF Jorge Bonifacio follows up a career best power year in AA (.240 BA, .721 OPS, 17 HR in 2015) with his Omaha debut, while Cuthbert is back after hitting .277 with a .759 OPS in 104 games in AAA in 2015.
The Omaha outfield is filled out, as Brett Eibner (team leading 19 HR and an .878 OPS for the 2015 Chasers) returns as perhaps the most major-league ready prospect in the system.
Whit Merrifield (.681 OPS in 2015) made a run at the major league roster this spring but, was edged by Reymond Fuentes and Terrance Gore for the last position players on the Royals roster. He struggled in 2015, with just a .681 OPS, but is just a season removed from a .319/.371/.470 slash in 2014, splitting time in AA and AAA. He did play seven different positions for the Chasers in 2015, with the most being 2B (57 games) and LF (39 games).
Fuenmayor, Cuthbert and Merrifield will be joined in the infield by SS Clint Barmes (.633 OPS last season in 98 games in San Diego) and 2B Angel Franco, who posted an .837 OPS in the first half of 2015 in NW Arkansas but hit for only a .537 OPS in 32 AAA games.
3B Dusty Coleman was called up to come off the bench in KC for 4 games last season, but hit for a .742 OPS in 73 games in Omaha and makes his return in 2016. 1B Cody Decker comes to the organization at age 29 after hitting 20+ homers in each of his the last two seasons for the Padres’ AAA team in El Paso, including an .823 OPS in 2015.
Rounding out the 25-man roster is the catching tandem of Tony Cruz (.545 OPS in 69 games as St. Louis’s backup in 2015) and Parker Morin (.836 OPS in 56 AA games in 2015).
Omaha settles into Werner Park to host a 4-game set with the New Orleans Zephyrs (AAA Miami) starting Thursday.
Next: Northwest Arkansas Naturals