Everything within the Royals organization is in flux for what might be the first time since the early years of general manager Dayton Moore’s time in Kansas City.
The depleted farm system is in need of nourishment. The major-league club, which faced considerable turnover after the departures of many key players who won the 2015 World Series, is positioned to take some thumpings. The front office faces a robust challenge.
But it’s nothing Moore hasn’t attempted before.
As they reload their organization for the next run at a Tiffany trophy, the Royals will have some sorting to do. They will need to figure out which of the players in the majors right now will remain in Kansas City and who will be jettisoned for the betterment of the organization.
By Baseball America’s measures, the Royals’ farm system is ranked 29th in baseball. The Royals and Cubs are the only teams who lack a Top 100 prospect.
That’s a steep drop from 2014, when the farm ranked eighth, and it’s an even sharper fall when compared to the 2011 crop that topped the majors and had five players ranked in the Top 20.
Of course, part and parcel of winning a championship is mining talent to secure rings. A small-market team had to utilize its organizational depth to attain the final pieces of that 2015 World Series puzzle.
But now it’s time to form a new championship core. Let’s take a look at the upcoming wave of homegrown Royals.
Prospects with major-league service time
Miguel Almonte, RHP, 24.
Before he began to over-throw his fastball and struggle in 2016, Almonte succeeded in the lower levels by relying on a sinking change-up. The Royals encouraged him to return to the pitch and he saw his numbers improve from a career-worst 5.92 ERA in 2016. Almonte limited hitters to a .244 average and struck out 52 last year. But a strained rotator cuff cut his season to 47 innings, during which he allowed nine runs.
The ability to strike a balance between his change-up and breaking ball gives him the potential to be a major-league starter. But he could help the Royals sooner as a reliever.
Jorge Bonifacio, OF, 24
A rookie in 2017, Bonifacio hit 17 home runs and smacked 16 doubles. The Royals expect that once he gets past his 80-game PED suspension, dealt to him in the spring, he has the potential to continuously go the other way and be a 40-doubles hitter.
Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B, 25
The Royals believe Cuthbert is one of the most consistent players in their organization. His approach at the plate is steady, unfazed by how well or poorly he performed in previous at-bats, and he's a sure-footed defender who can also log time at first base. His level-headed nature could help him successfully navigate a long major-league career.
Hunter Dozier, 3B/1B/OF, 26
Drafted: 2013 (first round)
Dozier's versatility stands out. If not for setbacks caused by a pair of freak accidents and an oblique strain last season, Dozier might have logged enough at-bats at Class AAA Omaha to contend for a 25-man roster spot this spring. His athleticism in the field should help him find a way to stick in the major leagues.
Andres Machado, RHP, 24
Machado has progressed quickly for a pitcher who didn't play a full-season until last year. He went from ending the 2016 season at Rookie-level Idaho Falls to progressing from Hi-A Wilmington to the big leagues in 2017, flashing a fastball that can run up to 98 mph.
His poise and aggressiveness on the mound fit the profile of a reliever. But, like Almonte, the Royals are intrigued by Machado's starting chops.
Adalberto Mondesi, SS/2B, 22
Mondesi could have mailed in the 2017 season, during which he earned an Opening Day start and was demoted within a month. But he put together a solid campaign in Omaha and through 85 games hit .305 with 20 doubles, eight triples, 13 home runs and 52 RBIs. He also stole 21 bases in 24 attempts.
His talent on the field is hard to miss. But he needs to prove to the Royals that he can stay healthy for a full season before he's given the reins at shortstop.
Eric Skoglund, LHP, 25
Drafted: 2014 (third round)
Skoglund's major-league debut, in which he out-dueled former Tigers starter Justin Verlander last season, proved to the Royals that the 6-foot-7 southpaw hasn't reached his ceiling. He already had command of his fastball, which ranges in the low-to-mids 90s, when he was drafted by the Royals. He just needed to continue developing his change-up and curveball, and he’s been able to use those pitches effectively throughout his minor-league career.
Once he can get the tempo of his delivery down by shortening his arm path, Skoglund could find a home in the Royals rotation.
Still in the minor leagues
Scott Blewett, RHP, 21
Drafted: 2014 (second round)
Climbing up the minor-league ladder has been a slow burn for Blewett. But he's at a point in his career where the Royals believe he'll make a breakthrough. His low-90s fastball stays down in the zone and he throws an up-and-coming curveball. Like Foster Griffin, Blewett will need to better command his change-up once he finally breaks into Class AA Northwest Arkansas.
Foster Griffin, LHP, 22
Drafted: 2014 (first round)
Griffin's maturity fast-tracked his development in 2017. He posted a 3.35 ERA over 28 starts and 161 1/3 innings between Wilmington and Class AA Northwest Arkansas and earned a spot in the All-Star Futures Game. With improved command of his fastball and a sharper curveball, Griffin struck out 141 batters.
Khalil Lee, OF, 19
Drafted: 2016 (third round)
Lee was one of the the youngest players in the South Atlantic League last year. He batted .237 and he struck out 171 times in 451 at-bats. But he made the most of his hits, knocking 24 doubles, six triples and 17 home runs. He's aggressive on the base paths, where he was 20 of 38 in stolen bases, and equally so in the outfield. Once considered a pitching prospect, his arm strength makes him one of the most dynamic players in the organization.
Nicky Lopez, SS/2B, 22
Drafted: 2016 (fifth round)
After petering out at the end of his first full season, Lopez returned for the Arizona Fall League at full strength and was named an All-Star there. His approach in the batter's box is more advanced than even the Royals knew. Lopez is able to move runners over and hardly pops up for an out.
He was drafted for defensive depth, as he proved in college that he had above-average instincts for the game and great footwork. But his offensive game is on the come-up.
Richard Lovelady, LHP, 22
Drafted: 2016 (10th round)
A long-time reliever, Lovelady is aggressive with his fastball, which spiked in velocity last season and now hovers between 93 to 97 mph. His funky delivery deceives hitters. But he was so reliant on those two qualities that the Royals bumped him up to Class AA Northwest Arkansas last season so he would be forced to work more on a slider.
The Royals don't want Lovelady to become a lefty specialist. They want him to continue working on his slider and develop his change-up. To accomplish that, they may have to stretch out his appearances in the minors this season.
MJ Melendez, C, 18
Drafted: 2017 (second round)
Melendez has power, arm strength and good hands behind the plate. Those tools will continue to improve as the Royals help him refine his setup technique. He needs to buy into some changes with his swing to eliminate over-rotation in the box. In the long run, Melendez, a left-handed batter, should find himself exploiting gaps and charging home runs.
Nick Pratto, 1B, 18
Drafted: 2017 (first round)
A low-maintenance swing and all-fields power make Pratto a prototypical middle-of-the-order hitter. Like Eric Hosmer before him, he's left-handed and he plays with a similar swagger. The Royals have been impressed by the opposite-field power he's shown during his short time in the organization.
Josh Staumont, RHP, 24
Drafted: 2015 (second round)
With an electric fastball that can touch 102 mph on his best days, Staumont should be a shoo-in for the Royals pitching staff. But he needs to learn to command the fastball and offset it with a curveball and change-up in order to lower his walk rate, which increased to 7.6 per nine innings last year.
Bubba Starling, OF, 25
Drafted: 2011 (first round)
Starling's injuries have added up over the last three seasons. He twice strained his right oblique in 2017, and early this spring was held out of practice because of soreness in his left oblique. He's proven his defensive ability in the outfield but, like Mondesi, he needs to stay healthy. He was limited to just 80 games in Omaha last year. He hit .248 with 14 doubles and seven home runs in that span.
Meibrys Viloria, C, 21
The Royals aren't worried about the 79 times Viloria struck out last year, nor are they concerned by the .259 average he posted at Class A Lexington. Viloria still knocked in 25 doubles in 101 games. His offensive capability will continue to mature. What excites the Royals about Viloria is his defense. His arm strength has allowed him to throw out 51 percent (100 of 195) of basestealers in his career.
Kyle Zimmer, RHP, 26
Drafted: 2012 (first round)
Zimmer is another prospect who needs a complete season to put himself back on the map. When he's healthy, he can deal a mid- to high-90s fastball and mix in a plus-grade curveball. He's only pitched 100 innings once in his career, so he will need to build his stamina back up if he wants to return to starting pitching.