In 2014, however, the Royals' dedication to developing other prospects is evident as they jump to sixth place with four players in the Top 100 -- pitchers Kyle Zimmer and Yordano Ventura, shortstop Raul Adalberto Mondesi and outfielder Jorge Bonifacio.
Club standings are determined by "prospects points" assigned to players in descending order of their position in the 100 and are not intended to be overall rankings of Minor League systems. The Royals' 215 points put them behind the No. 1 Astros, who had 439 points, as well as the Red Sox, Cubs, Pirates and Twins in that order.
The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talent is assembled by MLBPipeline.com Draft and prospect experts Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis , who compile input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, proximity to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLBPipeline.com's Prospect Watch , only includes players with rookie status in 2014.
No. 25-ranked Zimmer, 22, while deemed a fast riser, spent most of last year with Class A Wilmington and went 4-8 with a 4.82 ERA in 18 starts for the Blue Rocks. But, promoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas late in the season, he had a 1.93 ERA and a 2-1 mark in four games along with a blazing 27 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings.
J.J. Picollo, the Royals' assistant general manager of scouting and player development, said officials considered placing Zimmer in Double-A at the start of the season but is glad they didn't.
"He wasn't locating well, he wasn't executing pitches the way he's capable of doing," Picollo said. "He went through a learning curve there. Out of the stretch, he wasn't having as much success as he was out of the windup, so he was able to work on some things at Wilmington and once he hit stride . . . it was time for him to go to Double-A. And he was probably better in Double-A than he was in A ball."
Zimmer was shut down about three weeks early because of tendinitis in his right arm but tests showed no structural damage. In his 108 1/3 innings for the two teams, Zimmer piled up 140 strikeouts against just 36 walks.
"I think that's going to be kind of a snapshot of what he's going to be, he's going to be able to strike guys out," Picollo said. "He's got two breaking balls, the slider and the curveball, and I don't know that one's better than the other but they're both swing-and-miss pitches so his strikeout totals, as long as he's able to get ahead of hitters, are going to be high. The command will continue to get better."
It might be rushing things to expect Zimmer to make the Royals rotation out of Spring Training but he'll be a candidate. And the club figures he might climb to the Majors at some point in 2014 because of his outstanding stuff and mound maturity.
Ventura, also 22 and ranked 35th in the Top 100, might make the Kansas City roster before Zimmer. He's already been there, making three starts last September, including his debut against the Indians as the Royals were making a Wild Card bid in an electric, playoff-like atmosphere at Kauffman Stadium. He left in the sixth inning with a 3-1 lead.
"There was a lot on the line and the way he didn't vibrate out there and kept his calm and put our club in a great position to win the ballgame [was impressive]," Picollo said. "It was an unusual night and a rare occasion and our bullpen didn't hold it down but you couldn't ask for more from a starting pitcher, whether it's a Major League debut or a 10-year veteran in a game like that."
Ventura's fastball was clocked at 102.8 mph that night but the Royals feel that he's learned he can operate efficiently in the 95-96-mph range with good fastball command. His next-best pitches are the curveball and the changeup; he's also working on a slider.
Ventura, 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA last year for Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha, amassed 155 strikeouts against 53 walks in 134 2/3 innings. His other two starts for KC also were solid and he had a 3.52 ERA in three games.
"So, in his mind, he should come into camp like, 'It's my job to lose.' Somebody's going to have to take it from him or he's going to have to give it away," Picollo said. "But I do think he's in a great position to win a spot in that rotation and I do think he's ready for it at this point."
Mondesi is just 18 and, known previously by his middle name of Adalberto, now apparently prefers to go by Raul. His father Raul Mondesi gained fame as the 1994 National League Rookie of the Year for the Dodgers and had a 13-year career.
By any name, as the 38th-ranked prospect nationally, he's already in select company. Last year the switch-hitting Mondesi batted .261 for Class A Lexington and is likely to move up to Advanced A Wilmington. Very promising defensively, Picollo expects him to slice his 30 errors of last year perhaps in half.
"I think our overall feeling is that he's going to be a guy that's going to bat leadoff because he's going to have the speed to do it and be a leadoff hitter that's got a little pop," Picollo said.
Bonifacio, 20 and brother of Royals utilityman Emilio Bonifacio, is ranked 91st. A right fielder, he missed six weeks of last season with a broken bone in his hand. In 88 games, he hit .298 for three teams including .301 for Northwest Arkansas. A right-handed batter, he ripped lefties for a .373 average.
"He's probably our most consistent upper-level hitter that we have right now," Picollo said. "Swing is very consistent, doesn't get beat by fastballs and doesn't chase breaking balls. [Those are[ the two things you get most concerned with in a hitter, he handles them both very well. Really mature. Just being around his brother now, I think there are a lot of similarities in the way they treat their teammates, the way they are in the clubhouse."
Outfielder Bubba Starling, ranked 26th last year, fell out of the Top 100 after an up-and-down season for Lexington. He's been working on his hitting this winter in Arizona and Picollo sees progress.
"I think he's going to take off," Picollo said. "There are still very few games you see him play that he doesn't do something that catches your eye."