As the spring training season winds down, it is a good time to try and predict which players may have breakout seasons in the minor league system for the Royals. To start with, it’s always good to look at some of the players who have performed well during the major league portion of spring games and extrapolate if that is a sign of things to come. At times these spring numbers can be a great indicator as it was for Brett Eibner’s breakout 2015. At other times, they can be no help whatsoever, such as during Mike Montgomery’s poor 2011 season after dominating the spring season. Still, it’s worth a shot to toss out a couple names based on these:
Miguel Almonte – After a jump to Triple-A Almonte got his first taste of major league ball last season with some less than stellar results (4 HR in 8.2 IP), still the pitches are there with an average or better fastball, plus change and a curveball that is flashing good results this spring (.200 batting average allowed). At just 23-years old and repeating a level for the first time in his career, Almonte is a great selection to have a breakout performance.
Craig Goldstein BP – Long a favorite of mine, Almonte’s change is less the 70-grade offering it once it hinted at, but is a plus pitch often enough that it’s still a weapon. He’ll run his fastball up into the mid-90s, most often 92-95 with some sink. The breaking ball is the slow-comer, but if he can sharpen it, he’ll have the opportunity to take advantage, as the KC rotation doesn’t have a ton of depth beyond the starting five. He could perform admirably as a mid-rotation option if called upon.
Matt Strahm – It looks as though Strahm is building on his excellent ’15 campaign, more than holding his own in his brief stint of big league camp. The arm angle combined with the fastball/slider combination should continue to lead to dominating results versus lefties at the Double-A level (.382 OPS against him in ’15) while he continues to work on his change up at the higher level. His pace combined with his angle and a slight cross body delivery should give him enough deception to lead to a strong 2016 performance and maybe even a September call-up to the Royals bullpen.
Foster Griffin – Besides the spring stats, another indicator to a possible breakout performance is if a player finished his prior season with a strong performance. One player who struggled for much of ’15 but could be ready for a breakout after a solid August is former 1st round pick Foster Griffin who will likely have the good fortune of pitching in Wilmington’s spacious Frawley Field.
Jim Callis MLB Pipeline – polished lefty with the chance for three solid pitches, like the way he finished strong in 2015, kept battling and threw strikes even when he was struggling early.
Brandon Downes – The experts both agreed that Downes was a player they liked quite a bit, and when one watches him it’s easy to see why. He’s a natural athlete with enough speed and arm strength to play a quality center field while possessing the bat speed to do work on the offensive end.
Craig Goldstein – I know, I know, he’s old for his level and doesn’t make a ton of contact. Maybe I can’t get over the fact that I watched Downes homer off Jeff Hoffman in an ECU/UVA game a couple years ago. He’s got a good glove in the outfield and enough power to matter even if he’s going to swing and miss a bunch, due to his long swing. He’s a good athlete and he dropped in the draft after a rough year due to a hand injury, and hasn’t really gotten back on track. This isn’t a breakout prediction in terms of finding the next star, but I think he’s a useful player who could see an accelerated pace this year if he can start off well.
Jim Callis - Downes needs to show better discipline but has the ability to play CF with average to solid tools across the board.
Playing at spacious Frawley Field in Wilmington will be a big test for Downes who will need to adjust his aggressive approach and try to hit gap to gap instead of looking to take the ball deep.
Besides spring and strong finishes, a good place to look for a breakout is history and the Royals scouting staff’s ability to find a hidden gem from another organization has been impressive over the last few years. One after another, the Royals have been able to find Ryan Madson, Jamie Romak, Balbino Fuenmayor and Matt Fields that contribute at the major or minor league level after most in baseball have given up on them.
One such player that could do that this season and beyond is Jon Denney, a catcher out of the Red Sox organization who ran into legal troubles in ’13 and ’14 and was released this past year. A 2013 3rd round pick Denney had a 1st round profile earlier in the draft process that the Royals were rumored to be coveting prior to the Red Sox selection one pick in front of them. Nearly two and a half years later with possibly his last shot in baseball, Denney should be interested in converting his plus power and catching skills into actual on-field performance.
Chase Vallot – After checking in with the experts, history and spring results, the final choices will be made by my good old gut. At just 18, Vallot held his own at Low-A last year despite being on average 4 years younger than the competition. A repeat of Single A should lead to better overall hitting numbers with less strikeouts while he continues to fine tune the defense and leave the yard plenty. A SALLY league home run title could definitely be in the cards for Vallot after finishing 13th in the league despite playing just 80 games.
Yunior Marte – Athletic with arm speed that generates a plus four seam fastball that can run in the upper 90s as well as a two seam with movement in the high 80s to low 90s should be enough to excel with a repeat at Low-A Lexington or more than hold his own in spacious Frawley Field in Wilmington. Adding strength while refining the change and curveball could set this pitcher off to a new level.
The Royals strength in the farm system lies in Raul Mondesi, Kyle Zimmer and Almonte at the top with some decent depth despite a lack of stars following the big three. A number of players could come forth to push themselves into the Royals Top 10 prior to the end of the 2016 campaign with these names above as just a few that myself and others think as possibilities.
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Feature photo: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports