Royals 2016 Full Season Minor League Preview

Mar 8, 2016; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals shortstop Raul Mondesi (27) throws the ball to first base against the Colorado Rockies during the fifth inning at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 8, 2016; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals shortstop Raul Mondesi (27) throws the ball to first base against the Colorado Rockies during the fifth inning at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /
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Royals top prospect Raul Mondesi spent all of 2014 at High-A Wilmington. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

Wilmington Blue Rocks (62-77 overall in 2015, 1st half Carolina League Northern champs, lost in CL Champ. Series)

Top prospects on the roster: OF Elier Hernandez, RH Pedro Fernandez, 1B Ryan O’Hearn,

OF Alfredo Escalera, LH Josh Staumont

Other players to watch: OF Brandon Downes, SS Corey Toups, IF Humberto Arteaga

Like their big brothers in AA, it was a first-to-worst 2015 for the Blue Rocks.

A 6-game-over-.500 record earned them the first half Carolina League Northern title, but then they limped to a 21-games-under-.500 second half. Staying in line with their AA brethren, they regrouped in the playoffs to get past Lynchburg, only to get swept by Myrtle Beach in the Mills Cup Championship Series.

The Rocks do start 2016, however, with their share of the organization’s top prospects as they try to earn another playoff trip, or individually, a promotion to the Texas League. They also start the season with a new manager, former Royals backup C Jamie Quirk, who was a member of the 1985 championship team.

The main returnees for the Rocks are OF Elier Hernandez and 1B Ryan O’Hearn.

O’Hearn (who turns 23 in July) posted a .762 OPS  in partial service at Wilmington after slugging 19 homers in the Sally League. He is the Royals 13th best prospect, according to, and is arguably their best power prospect.

Hernandez was also promising in Lexington to start 2015, but struggled to a .591 OPS in 177 Carolina League ABs. OF Alfredo Escalera shared Hernandez’s struggles in moving to high-A ball in 2015, as he posted an .833 OPS in 64 games in Lexington but hit for only a .577 OPS in 57 games for the Rocks.

Other position players for the Rocks will include OF Brandon Downes, who hit 29 doubles and 19 HR for a .760 OPS but struck out 115 times in 391 ABs for Lexington last season. Returnee SS Humberto Arteaga is one of the most touted defensive prospects in the system, but had issues at the plate for Wilmington with a .561 OPS over 48 games.

IF Corey Toups makes his Wilmington debut in his third pro season after killing the Pioneer League for a .960 OPS in 2014 and then slapping together an .809 OPS at Lexington last season thanks to 39 XBH in 388 ABs. He also swiped 31 bases for the Legends.

Others in the offensive mix: the promising tandem of catchers Luis Villegas (.854 OPS in 26 low-A games in 2015) and Chad Johnson (.802 OPS including .401 OBP for Lexington in 2015); infielders Robert Pehl (.626 OPS for the Rocks in 2015), Austin Bailey (.318 BA, .914 OPS for Lexington in 2015), and Wander Franco (10 HR, .712 OPS for Lexington in 2015); and 2015 5th round outfielder Roman Collins, who is skipping low-A ball after hitting for an .809 OPS and 36 BB with only 34 K’s for Idaho Falls in 2015.

The Rocks’ rotation will be led by righty Pedro Fernandez, who held Sally League batters to a .191 average before moving up to Wilmington in 2015. He met his match in Wilmington, as Carolina League hitters hit .376 off him in 32 2/3 IP.

Righty Josh Staumont, the 2nd round pick for KC in 2015, worked mostly out of the bullpen for Idaho Falls in his first pro season but posted solid numbers of a 3.16 ERA and 1.34 WHIP with 51 K’s and 24 BB in 31 1/3 IP. He is touted as the Royals 18th best prospect.

Righthander Zach Lovvorn returns to the rotation after 12 games (11 starts) of  3.93 ERA ball over 66 1/3 IP. The pitcher out of the pen with the most 2015 saves is lefty Tim Hill, who hurled for a stellar 1.26 ERA, with 8 saves in a short 14 1/3 IP stint in Lexington.

The pitching staff also includes righthander Evan Beal, who saved 5 games for Lexington before ending 2015 with the Rocks, righty Ashton Goudeau (3.26 ERA, 1.14 WHIP,61K/10 BB in 69 IP for Wilmington in 2015), righty Matt Alvarez, righty Derek Gordon (Alex’s brother, as if he probably hasn’t heard that enough already) who struck out 65 batters in 13 Pioneer League starts in 2015, lefty Brennan Henry, lefty Mark McCoy ( 2.17 ERA in 29 IP for rookie-level Burlington in 2015), lefty Colin Rodgers, lefty Matt Tenuta and lefty Ian Tompkins.

The Blue Rocks start their 2016 season at home Thursday with the first of 4 games with the Potomac Nationals (A-Advanced Washington).

Next: Lexington Legends