In order to protect their organization from being pilfered during next month’s Rule 5 draft, the Royals added six players to their 40-man roster, including top prospects Kyle Zimmer and Bubba Starling.
The highly touted duo will be joined on the roster by outfielder Brett Eibner, right-handed pitcher Alec Mills, left-handed pitcher Matthew Strahm and infielder Ramon Torres. To make room on the roster, the team designated pitcher Michael Mariot for assignment.
The 40-man roster is now full, but can be pruned as the team makes additions during the winter.
Both Zimmer and Starling could play a role with the Royals this coming season. Zimmer, the fifth-overall pick in 2012, has long been considered the organization’s most talented arm. But he has been beset by injury troubles for years.
The Royals broke Zimmer, 24, in as a reliever last season in order to get him facing live competition. He responded well and transitioned into a starting role. He completed the season with a clean bill of health and a 2.39 ERA between Class A Lexington and Class AA Northwest Arkansas. He will begin this year as a starter, assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said.
In the opinion of both Royals officials and rival scouts, Starling started to turn a corner with his offensive approach in 2015. The No. 5 pick in 2011, Starling hit 10 homers and 19 doubles with a .744 on-base plus slugging percentage in 91 games for Northwest Arkansas. He has turned in another credible performance this year in the Arizona Fall League. Kansas City officials say Starling can handle the rigors of the big-league outfield right now, but his bat still requires some polishing.
Eibner, who turns 27 next month, turned in the best season of his career in 2015. He hit 19 homers and 23 doubles for Class AAA Omaha with an .878 OPS. The Royals drafted Eibner in the second round of the 2009 draft, and have longed raved about his potential. But Eibner has been ravaged by injuries and ineffectiveness at the plate. If he stays healthy and continues to hit, he’ll make his big-league debut in 2016.
Mills, who turns 24 later this month, posted a 3.34 ERA in 21 starts for Class A Wilmington. He profiles as a command-and-control pitcher who some power upside. He finished the season with a 7.93 strikeout-to-walk ratio for the Blue Rocks. Strahm, 24, struck out 83 batters in 68 innings for Wilmington.
Torres, who turns 23 in January, was retained to maintain the organization’s middle-infield depth. He managed only a .662 OPS between Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas last season, but has played shortstop, second base and third base.