SURPRISE, Ariz. — While the baseball world focused its attention this week on the divisional playoffs — some day, Royals’ fans — tomorrow’s big-leaguers grinded their way through long days in Arizona and Florida.
The Instructional League (which is pretty much exactly what the name implies) worked into its closing stages in both states.
And the Arizona Fall League, which rightfully bills itself as a finishing school for top prospects, kicked off its six-week schedule here and at other points in the Phoenix suburbs.
It made for a busy time at the Surprise Recreation Campus, where the Royals and Texas Rangers share a year-round complex carved 12 years ago from eight acres of desert.
Not all of the Royals’ top prospects are here. But many are — along with club officials gathered for key organizational meetings to finalize an off-season strategy.
It is, in short, a perfect setting to assess the club’s future. The Kansas City Star’s annual ranking of the organization’s top 30 prospects is scheduled to appear soon.
Here’s a teaser: right-hander Kyle Zimmer, the club’s first-round pick in 2012, is No. 1. Four other pitchers are in our top 10.
Come next October to Arizona, and you can compile your own list from personal observations. Had you been here over the last week, you could have seen:
Jason Adam, a power right-hander with front-of-the rotation potential, pitch the AFL opener on a club that includes outfielder Jorge Bonifacio, shortstop Orlando Calixte and third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert.
Walk a few hundred yards away — fans can do this, too — and the Royals’ advanced Instructional League team ran out a lineup that included four of the club’s top prospects batting two through five:
Shortstop Raul Mondesi, third baseman Hunter Dozier and outfielders Bubba Starling and Elier Hernandez. Yep, all four are also in our upcoming Top 10, too.
The Royals’ regular IL roster, which works out on an adjacent field, included some of the organization’s younger prospects, such as pitcher Cody Reed, shortstop Marten Gasparini and ultra-fleet outfielder Terrance Gore.
This week also saw rehabbing lefty Sean Manaea climb onto a mound for the first time since undergoing hip surgery in June.
Analysts viewed Manaea as a potential first overall pick in the June draft before that injury scared off teams. The Royals grabbed him with their second selection, No. 34 overall, and he now shows signs of a full recovery.
With all of that, and more, we solicited questions on twitter and now offer up our latest interactive exchange:
@zzznickz: Are Royals concerned about Zimmer's ability to stay healthy?
Everyone insists they aren’t concerned. The Royals knew about the bone chips in his elbow, since removed, when they drafted him, and this year they simply shut him down after some minor biceps tendinitis surfaced.
One club official characterized the tendinitis this way:
“He could have kept pitching. He might have missed a start, but that’s all. We just decided to shut him down. It was late in the season. It’s his first full (pro) season. Why take any chance? Just being extra cautious.”
Zimmer, 22, made 22 starts this year in his first pro season and, after a mid-year adjustment, began to show No. 1 potential. I’m told Hi-A Wilmington pitching coach Steve Luebber gets credit for the adjustment.
@christiandr85: Do we have a future superstar in Arizona? Dozier? Mondesi? Starling?
All have that potential, but the guy who draws the most consistent raves inside and outside of the organization is shortstop Raul Mondesi.
@CalebHecker: Will Ventura be in Kansas City to start the year?
That depends, in part, on whether the Royals retain (or how they replace) free-agent starters Ervin Santana and Bruce Chen. But my mid-October guess is Yordano Ventura comes to spring with a job in the rotation…
But he’s no lock; he could pitch his way back to Class AAA Omaha.
@Luvtheroyals: Is the qualifying offer a one time thing? If Erv accepts, does that mean royals can't make another to him next year?
It would be astounding if Santana accepts the offer, which is a one-year deal pegged to the average of the game’s top 125 salaries. The system debuted last year, and every player who got an offer, rejected it.
What the offer does is guarantee the Royals a compensatory draft pick if Santana signs elsewhere. The Royals can continue to negotiate with Santana even if he rejects the offer.
And the Royals would be able to negotiate with him at an advantage to every other club because they wouldn’t lose a draft pick by signing him. Any other team would lose a pick.
If Santana, for whatever reason, did accept the offer, it’s a one-year deal. There’s no restriction (that I know of) that would prevent the Royals from extending another qualifying offer after the 2014 season.
@onholdforgod: value in trading one of our 4 center or right field players for someone? They can't all be there next summer
I’m presuming you’re talking about a possible trade involving Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, David Lough or Justin Maxwell. None are untouchable. It all depends on what you can get in return.
@Jwc6160: Any chance of not signing anyone and putting all funds avail to hiring Cards player personnel guy or whoever drafts for them
I don’t know many people who see the Royals’ recent draft record as a problem. Much of the big-league team is homegrown or acquired in trade for homegrown players.
That said, the Cardinals are on a remarkable run.
@CrusherCyclone: What's the word on Zimmer? Is he expected to be a candidate to make the roster out of Spring Training?June/July callup?
The Royals haven’t released their list of non-roster invites to big-league camp, but I’ll be surprised if Zimmer isn’t on it.
He’s a guy whom many expect to make an appearance next season at some point, and that’s usually the deciding factor in extending such invites.
Again, it depends on what the Royals do in re-signing or replacing Santana and Chen, but I’d expect Zimmer to get a long look in camp and, probably, head back to Class AA Northwest Arkansas to open the season.
That said, everyone I talk to say he’s close. It’s not impossible that he comes to camp and pitches well enough to make the squad.
@mannpt: Any feedback from the players about next years BP Jerseys?
There are some things I didn’t think to ask about. There are some things I don’t care about. And there are some things that fall into both categories.
@todjones: do we find our next big pitching name from FA market or in house as we probably lose Santana.
The in-house option (assuming you’re right, that Santana departs) is the fallback plan. The Royals would like to get another proven big-league arm if Santana signs elsewhere.
It could be a free agent but, if so, it’s unlikely to be a splashy signing. I don’t see the Royals going beyond three years with Santana or anyone.
The profile is a bounce-back candidate on the free-agent market or a trade target for a guy with one or two years left on his contract. I think the Royals would take on a big contract for one or two years.
Last year’s deal to acquire Santana is a good example. He had one year left at $13 million, and the Angels wanted to clear that money off their payroll. The Royals got Santana for a minor-league reliever.
@topcitycowboys: wouldn't Dozier seem to fit better at 2nd with Moose holding down 3rd?
Hunter Dozier’s profile fits better at third base, first base or left field, but I suppose needs might force a reassessment when the Royals consider his bat to be big-league ready. That’s unlikely to be next year, though. Real unlikely.
My guess is Dozier opens next season at Lo-A Lexington. And while he could be moved fast, it’s hard to see him, even in a best-case scenario, advancing beyond Class AA Northwest Arkansas.
@zzznickz: What are the Royals offseason plans for Moose? Clearly he needs to get in better shape and improve hitting.
Mike Moustakas is planning to play winter ball in Venezuela on the team managed by Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol.
@kevinashcraft: Is there any indication which one of Cain, Maxwell, Dyson & Lough is odd man out for '14?
At this point, no. Much depends, of course, on whether the Royals, who are looking to bolster their attack, do so by acquiring a corner outfielder. If not, I’d expect all four to be in the 2014 mix.
@foxxman531: If Duffy & Ventura are in the starting rotation next April, will either be innings-restricted?
There should be no innings-restrictions on either one going into next year, regardless of where they open the season.
@PhilGarver: if the Royals re-sign Santana, will they be finished with free agency?
Retaining or replacing Santana is the top off-season priority, but the Royals have other needs. I’d expect them to explore trade and free-agent possibilities.
As noted above, I’d be surprised if they make a flashy free-agent signing, especially if they succeed in retaining Santana.
@APhiLionel: several Cuban defectors have become available but I never hear #Royals associated. Are they gun shy after Noel Arguelles?
I don’t think so. They’ve looked at those defectors, but either found the price or the fit (or both) not to their liking.
@MikeGrozier: time frame for MLB debut? Possible LF, 1B, 3B? Hos, moose, Gordon gone by the time he makes it? I'm so scared right now Bob.
I’m guessing you mean Hunter Dozier. If so, it’s hard to see him arriving before mid-to-late 2015 even if he continues to exceed expectations.
@ryancrist86: What is more likely, Bonifacio at 2B, or Lough/Maxwell in RF? Which do you think they upgrade?
The Royals, I think, would like to acquire a full-time second baseman and turn Emilio Bonifacio into a utility player. But I’m hearing they don’t consider that a must-need.
I think the Royals, if they don’t find the right fit, are willing to go with Bonifacio as their starter at second base and use someone else, perhaps Pedro Ciriaco, as their utility player.
@dyermike76: any royals interest in David price?
Any team would love to have David Price. If you’re asking whether I see the Royals as a likely trade partner with Tampa Bay in such a deal...no, I don’t.
@PannoneNick: what does the team do with David Lough next year?
Again, it depends on whether the Royals acquire any outfielders in the off-season, but...Lough has options remaining; Jarrod Dyson and Justin Maxwell do not.
@WFweatherman: should Will Smith be part of the 2014 starting rotation conversation?
Should? I don’t know. But if the Royals have to replace Ervin Santana and Bruce Chen with internal options, I’d expect Smith to get a long look as a starter in spring training.
@ClintScoles: is Elier Hernandez making progress? How confident are the #Royals that he can live up to that big intl. potential?
The quick answers are yes and very confident.
They see Hernandez as their top internal candidate as the eventual replacement for left fielder Alex Gordon. (No, Gordon isn’t close to leaving; but Hernandez isn’t close to being ready.)
Royals pushed Hernandez, who doesn’t turn 19 until next month, after signing him as a 16-year-old for $3.05 million in 2011. He didn’t play in the Dominican Summer League or the Arizona Rookie League.
Instead, Hernandez went straight to short-season Idaho Falls in 2012...and struggled against older and more-experienced competition. But he returned this year to Idaho Falls and batted .301 with a .350 on-base percentage.
My guess is Hernandez opens next season at Lo-A Lexington. He’s definitely someone to watch.
@APhiLionel: Royals have bullpen depth, some arb eligible. Who is mostly likely traded?
I think they’re all available, and that includes All-Star closer Greg Holland. The issue — and you know what’s coming — is what the Royals can get in return. Relievers, typically, don’t bring much in straight-up deals.
That said, the Royals have a lot...a lot...of big-league quality relievers. It only makes sense that they look to make a deal or two.
@smichad: will Starling be playing football in 3 years??
That would be 2016. He hasn’t played football since the fall of 2010 at Gardner Edgerton High School unless you count some light workouts the following August at Nebraska. What do you think?
@BHIndepMO: Re: Cheslor Cuthbert, statistically, it seems like his bat is ahead of his glove at 3rd, is he similar to Callaspo?
Cuthbert has more pop potential than Alberto Callaspo. He also profiles as more of a corner player (third, first, left or right). Callaspo ended the season by playing second for Oakland.
@R4GExL34D3R: Bob with the tweets that are coming from Santana do you think it's a sign that he's re-upping with r's
It’s a sign that Ervin Santana likes Kansas City. It might also be a little case of passive-aggressive public negotiating. In the end, though, I don’t think it matters.
It’s a business; I think Santana will go, pretty much, where the market dictates. Personally, I see nothing wrong with that. I don’t think that makes him greedy or a bad guy.
But...I think Santana is very willing to remain with the Royals at the market price. By that, I mean I don’t think the Royals would need to overpay the market to retain him.
That’s a major step forward for this organization. For years, they had to overbid the market to convince free agents to sign.
To the inevitable next question: Do I think the Royals will meet the market price? I’d be surprised if they do.
@ClintScoles: are you going to see Barenaked Ladies tonight?
Well, there’s only one I’m interested in and...I’m always hopeful.
To reach Bob Dutton, send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Royals_Report.