KANSAS CITY -- There was some skepticism and criticism raised when the Royals dug into their Minor League system for four prospects they traded to the Tampa Bay Rays last winter.
The deal netted starting pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis and utility man Elliot Johnson at the cost of outfielder Wil Myers, pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard. All four were highly regarded, and Myers was considered the top hitter and Odorizzi the top pitcher among the organization's near-ready prospects.
where to watch
|3||Yordano Ventura||NW Arkansas||AA|
|4||Orlando Calixte||NW Arkansas||AA|
|11||Jason Adam||NW Arkansas||AA|
|17||Brian Fletcher||NW Arkansas||AA|
|18||Elier Hernandez||Extended ST|
|19||JC Sulbaran||NW Arkansas||AA|
But that's precisely one reason that general manager Dayton Moore began building up the farm system in 2006 -- so the Royals eventually would have enough talent that some could be dealt in return for Major League players who could be immediately helpful. That day has come. Still, some Royals watchers fretted that the deal depleted the organization.
Scott Sharp, Kansas City's director of player development, takes issue with that.
"I think we have a lot of depth," Sharp said. "When you lose four guys, no matter how good they are -- and they were all good players -- and that depletes your system, I don't think you had much of a system to begin with."
A look at the players on MLB.com's Top 20 Prospects list for the Royals has to make fans feel pretty good. Top-rated outfielder Bubba Starling is a power hitter on the rise with Class A Lexington. Pitcher Kyle Zimmer, assigned to Class A Wilmington, is ranked No. 2 and is projected to be on a fast track. They were the team's two first-round picks in the First-Year Player Draft in 2011 and '12, respectively.
Third-ranked Yordano Ventura, on the Double-A Northwest Arkansas roster, made such a pitching splash in Spring Training that he could reach the Majors sometime this year. So could left-handed reliever Donnie Joseph, another training camp standout who is ranked No. 7 and is on the Triple-A Omaha roster.
Minor League Baseball is under way, and you can keep track of the Royals' top prospects throughout the season on MLBPipeline.com and Prospect Watch. Get scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more for all of Kansas City's Minor League teams on MLBPipeline.com/Royals.
With Kansas City expected to contend this season, the Omaha Storm Chasers are stocked with more veteran players who could be called up from Triple-A and perform at the Major League level at any time. The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are a younger-than-normal Double-A club.
"Usually you have more repeaters at that level. We've got a lot of guys there in their first year of Double-A -- Angel Franco, Jason Adam, Orlando Calixte, Brett Eibner. Brian Fletcher was there for a little bit last year. So it's a young Double-A team," Sharp said.
But dedicated Minor League aficionados should look to the Wilmington Blue Rocks and the Lexington Legends.
"Our two A-ball teams are really deep teams," Sharp said. "Top to bottom -- pitching and offense."
Wilmington features prized pitching prospects such as Zimmer, John Lamb, Kyle Smith, Sam Selman and Angel Baez. There's also outfielder Jorge Bonifacio and third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert, ranked eighth and ninth among the Royals' Top 20 prospects.
Lexington not only has pitching strength in Miguel Almonte and Bryan Brickhouse -- plus Starling in the outfield -- but also a top catching prospect in Cameron Gallagher. Two shortstop prospects, Raul Mondesi and Humberto Arteaga, share the middle of the infield. When both play, Arteaga will be at second.
"It's a good issue to have when you have multiple good shortstops," Sharp said. "But you have to find a place for them to play."
Debuts and Draftees
Zimmer pitched just nine games after signing last year. He'll be a focus of the Wilmington pitching staff along with left-hander Selman, the second-round pick in 2012. Selman worked in 13 games last season for the Rookie-level Idaho Falls Chukars and went 5-4 with a 2.09 ERA. The third-round pick, left-hander Colin Rogers, is with Lexington after going 3-1 with a 2.05 ERA last year for the Rookie-level Burlington Royals.
Among the international signees being promoted from the Dominican Academy to the Rookie-level Surprise Royals is Cesar Gonzalez, who, like Salvador Perez, is a tall catcher from Venezuela with batting potential and a strong arm. First baseman Samir Duenez, a strong left-handed-hitting first baseman from Venezuela, is also headed for Surprise for his first pro season. Julio Pinto, a highly regarded 17-year-old pitcher from Venezuela, will start his career at the Dominican Academy.
Teams on TV
Omaha, Northwest Arkansas, Lexington and Idaho Falls are Kansas City affiliates that are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2013 MiLB.TV package will include more than 3,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.