Hunter Dozier Photo Credit - Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Academy – Minor League Roster Breakdown, Part 1

The major league season is underway and the minor league seasons start later this week. The Royals have been busy assigning players to various clubs in preparation for the upcoming year. Here is a glance at the rosters for the Class-A and Double-A clubs, with a brief note about each player.

Players whose names are in italics are interesting to watch to see if the anticipated step forward this season.

Lexington Legends

This year’s version of the Royals Single-A affiliate are breaking camp with a number of highly thought after pitching prospects on the mound. The bonus money used to piece this triumvirate together might make it the the most well known group of pitching  prospects to pitch at the Single-A level together since Dayton Moore took over as the GM in fact. Former 2014 1st round pick Foster Griffin and 2015 selection Nolan Watson both join the Legends while 2014 2nd round selection Scott Blewett gets his second crack with Lexington. Along with those three highly paid draftpicks, live armed international signees Yunior Marte and Julio Pinto try to gain on their prospect status.

Name – How they were acquired
Scott Blewett – 2014 2nd Rd Pick $1.8M signing bonus – Big RHP throws in mid 90’s
Foster Griffin – 2014 1st Rd $1.925M – LHP works primarily low 90’s needs to polish
Nolan Watson – 2015 1st Rd $1.8252M – RHP w/ 4 pitch mix
Yunior Marte – 2012 IFA $90k – RHP w/ lively arm that reaches upper 90’s in short burst
Julio Pinto – 2012 IFA $375k – Well build RHP w/ low 90’s FB and stong CB
Franco Terrero – 2014 IFA $10k
Torey Deshazier – 2012 Non-Drafted Free agent
Jacob Bodner – 2015 27th Rd Pick
Emilio Ogando – 2014 12th Rd Pick
Nik Stephenson – 2012 Non-Drafted Free agent
Corey Ray – 2014 5th Rd Pick
Jake Newberry – 2012 37th Rd Pick
Kyle Kubat – 2015 Non-Drafted Free agent

The players in the field are less heralded than those on the mound, but there are some intriguing names to watch. One of those players is 2nd baseman DJ Burt, having reached base safely in his last 54 games with Idaho Falls last summer and carrying an 11 game hitting streak into the new season. His double play partner will be highly-rated shortstop Marten Gasparini, the speed demon Italian signee who will enter his third minor league season.

The speed won’t stop in the middle infield as the Royals have selected four highly athletic outfielders to back up their pitchers in Fukofuka, Cody Jones, Anderson Miller and Ben Johnson. All four of the outfielders have in fact played the majority of their games in centerfield, giving manager Omar Ramirez one of the better defending outfields in the league.

While the athleticism are all over the outfield and middle infield, first baseman Brandon Dulin and catcher Chase Vallot will pack the punch having both finished highly in their league’s home run races in 2015.

DJ Burt 2b/INF – 2014 4th Rd $200k – speedy 2b option w/ good plate approach
Samir Duenez 1b – 2012 IFA $425k – 1b who hasn’t shown the pop needed thus far
Brandon Dulin 1b – 2012 13th Rd
Xavier Fernandez C – 2013 11th Rd $100k
Jecksson Flores INF – 2010 IFA
Amalani Fukofuka OF – 2013 5th Rd $175k – got some run in the ST OF after strong ’15
Marten Gasparini SS – 2013 IFA $1.3M – world class speed that he gets from Mom
Michael Hill 3b/OF – 2014 22nd Rd
Ben Johnson OF – 2015 11th Rd $170k
Cody Jones OF – 2015 6th Rd $50k
Anderson Miller OF – 3rd Rd $581k – smooth swinging OF will be a fan fave after playing HS there
Chase Vallot C – 2014 1.5 Rd $1.35M – HR Title?

Since taking over the Lexington affiliate in 2013 the Royals have yet to finish with a winning record in the South Atlantic league, with 2013’s 68-70 record being by far their best in the three seasons. This team has a chance to break that streak if the offense can match what on paper looks to be a good defense along with a solid group of pitchers.

Wilmington Blue Rocks

While the Single-A affiliate strength lies in the pitching and defense this group should pack a tad a more offensive punch with returnees Elier Hernandez, Ryan O’Hearn, Alfredo Escalera and newly added Wander Franco and Corey Toups. At Single-A last year this group of players put together quite a bit of offense prior to the promotions of Hernandez, O’Hearn and Escalera. That threesome will have to prove that they can handle High A pitching after struggling mightily once they received their promotions to the Carolina league. Don’t be shocked if Toups does well as a player who knows his limitations and takes advantage of the spacious outfield of Frawley field.

Ryan O’Hearn 1b – 2014 8th Rd $125k – Can he add a Carolina HR title while playing at Frawley?
Robert Pehl 1b – 2014 11th Rd
Austin Bailey MIF – 2015 21st Rd – Strong ’15 after going back to switch hitting
Humberto Arteaga SS – 2010 IFA $1.1M
Wander Franco 3b – 2011 IFA $120k – RHB struggle in the big Frawley park, can he play gap ball?
Corey Toups MIF – 2014 15th Rd
Louis Villegas C – 2009 IFA
Chad Johnson C – 2012 5th Rd $340k
Brandon Downes CF – 2014 7th Rd $150k
Roman Collins OF – 2015 5th Rd $275k
Elier Hernandez OF – 2011 IFA $3.05M – needs a bounceback after struggling in Carolina league
Alfredo Escalera OF – 2012 8th Rd $50k – ditto

The pitchers are a less heralded group, but a couple position players in Ashton Goudeau and Zach Lovvorn faired well for the Blue Rocks in ’15 both putting up sub 4 ERA’s. In addition to Goudeau and Lovvorn right-handed prospect Pedro Fernandez returns with bullpen pieces Matt Alvarez and hard throwing Evan Beal. The surprise of the pitching group is definitely Josh Staumont who will bring his 97-100 mph fastball all the way from rookie ball to the Carolina league. Perhaps this is a sign that Staumont has started to get his control issues in order, if that is the case LOOKOUT !

Pedro Fernandez – 2011 IFA $45k – Got lit up by Carolina league, can the breaking ball develop?
Ashton Goudeau – 2012 27th Rd
Matt Alvarez – 2013 Non-Drafted Free agent
Evan Beal – 2014 21st Rd
Josh Staumont – 2015 2nd Rd $964k – 97-100 mph w/ not much effort. Has he found control?
Derek Gordon – 2015 Non-Drafted Free agent, brother of Alex
Brennan Henry – 2014 17th Rd
Tim Hill – 2014 32nd Rd
Mark McCoy – 2015 29th Rd
Colin Rodgers – 2012 3rd Rd $700k
Matt Tenuta – 2012 25th Rd $100k
Ian Tompkins – 2014 14th Rd

This is the 22nd season that the Royals will have their High-A affiliate in Wilmington with only a two year gap in High Desert during the 2005 and 2006 seasons. The last time the Rocks won the Carolina league championship was 1999 when Dee Brown and Chris George were on the club at different times during the season.

Northwest Arkansas Naturals

Three of Baseball Prospectus’ top 10 Royals prospects find their way on the Naturals roster to begin the 2016 season as Bubba Starling, Raul Mondesi and Hunter Dozier all repeat the Double-a level to start the season. All three have some refinement to do at the plate considering each struggled at times in the ’15 season. For Mondesi one would hope a year in age will add a year of patience. Dozier hopes to just make more contact. Starling can build on the confidence he gathered in one of his better all around seasons. They will be joined by utility man and sometime shortstop Ramon Torres and a pair of middle infielders turned outfielders in Carlos Garcia and Orlando Calixte. Interesting that both are being moved to the outfield in hopes of gaining versatility so they can try to achieve roles as utility men down the road. The roster is interesting and may lack pop as it features five different players that were signed as shortstops at one point to start their career.

Cam Gallagher C – 2011 2nd Rd $750k – Will getting out of the Carolina league waken the bat?
Zane Evans C – 2013 4th Rd $400k
Frank Schwindel 1b – 2013 18th Rd
Mauricio Ramos IF – 2010 IFA
Raul Mondesi SS – 2011 IFA $2m – Needs to add some patience to his approach/Age no excuse
Ramon Torres 2b – 2009 IFA
Jack Lopez MIF – 2011 16th Rd $750k
Hunter Dozier 3b – 2013 1st Rd $2.2m – 151 K’s in ’15, needs to get back to what he was
Orlando Calixte OF – 2010 IFA $1m
Carlos Garcia OF – 2008 IFA
Bubba Starling CF – 2011 1st Rd $7.5m – Can he build on ’15 and get to KC in ’16?
Logan Moon OF – 2014 6th Rd $5k

Do the math above and you will see the Royals have nearly $15m invested in position players at this level. I’m sure would like to get a return on investment in a couple or more of those guys.

Not to be outdone by the expensive and highly ranked position players there are a few quality pitching prospects for the Naturals. Lefty Matt Strahm, right-hander Alec Mills and former 3rd round pick Erik Skoglund make up a strong starting core. It’s a much less heralded group that features starting pitchers who need to survive on the corners instead of trying to blow hitters away.

Matt Strahm – 2012 21st Rd $100k – Real deal or Carolina mask for this lefty?
Christian Binford – 2011 30th Rd $575k
Erik Skoglund – 2014 3rd Rd $576k
Alec Mills – 2012 22nd Rd – 4 pitch mix enough to get AA hitters out consistently?
Jake Junis – 2011 29th Rd $675k – Late bloomer who is finally getting it?
Eric Stout – 2014 13th Rd
Sam Selman – 2012 2nd Rd $750k – Specialty lefty in the bigs or AA ceiling?
Benino Pruneda – 2007 31st Rd pick of Atlanta Braves 200k
Mark Peterson – 2012 Non-Drafted Free Agent
Kevin McCarthy – 2013 16th Rd
Andrew Edwards – 2013 19th Rd
Estarlin Cordero – 2012 IFA
Yender Caramo – 2010 IFA

Overall, I would rate Low-A Lexington as the most intriguing group of prospects among these three levels as they feature a talented pitching staff along and solid group of position prospects. Those players have time to grow into their talent while the Naturals and the Royals front office would like to see some returns from a group position prospects that they opened the safe for in Dozier, Starling, Mondesi and a pair of backstops.

Checkback Thursday for the preview to the Omaha Storm Chasers season and the players on their roster.

Give me a follow on Twitter @ClintScoles
Feature Photo – Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

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