Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Prospect Countdown: 45-41

Pressing on as we begin to get into the meat of top system in baseball.

45. Jorge Bonifacio OF

The teams in the Dominican Summer League very rarely have standout offensive performers. However, in 2010 Jorge Bonifacio was just that as a seventeen year old centerfielder. With the DSL Royals Bonifacio posted a .335/.429/.476 slash line, which compared to his team's collective slash of .236/.337/.304 is extremely impressive. Did I mention that Bonifacio was just seventeen and plays a premium position?

It is also rare that a player beginning the year in the DSL gets a promotion to states side baseball. Part of this is because of legal issues concerning visas. Considering Bonifacio did this as a seventeen year old is even more impressive.

In the DSL Bonifacio displayed a strong blend, of contact ability, power potential, and plate discipline by garnering 26 walks compared to 27 strikeouts. However, after his promotion his strikeout rate went thru the roof and his numbers collapsed as a result.

Because of his strong 2010 campaign, Bonifacio is ahead of the curve progression wise. He should spend 2011 in short season ball at either Idaho Falls, or rookie league Arizona. Both of these environments are hitter friendly and could help him gain some confidence. However, if the Royals want to challenge him more they could send him to rookie league Burlington like they did with Yowill Espinal. If Bonifacio has a strong 2011 season, expect him to get his first shot at full season ball in 2012.

44. Manny Pina C

This summer I had the pleasure of watching Manuel Pina first hand for most of the summer and I can attest to the opinion that Pina is a top notch major league ready catcher... defensively. Pina has a strong arm and excellent pitch blocking ability. However, some scouts have questioned his game calling ability. Personally I don't have an opinion on this and I couldn't say one way or another whether Pina does a good job setting up hitters or not, but I do believe that this is often an overvalued trait of catchers that is nearly impossible to statistically find evidence of one way or another.

Like Tim Smith Pina was acquired a season and a half ago for righty Danny Gutierrez. Since the trade Gutierrez has experienced a dip in velocity and has lost much of his luster as a potential top pitching prospect. On the opposite end Smith and Pina returned to the Texas League in 2010 and both basically duplicated their 2009 performances.

Pina's offensive numbers left much to be desired in 2010, but he did have a knack for the timely rbi. Pina's bat isn't good but it isn't awful. With his defensive abilities he will probably have a major league career at some point as a back up catcher. Anything he can do with the bat will just be gravy.

Pina enters 2011 as the third string catcher in the Royals organization. As of right now he is ticketed to be the starter in Omaha for the freshly christened Omaha Storm Chasers. However, with Kendall already on the shelf he will have the opportunity to provide some Spring competition with Lucas May and Brayan Pena, both of which are offensive first catchers.

Given that team's usually prefer to have on offensive oriented and one defensive oriented catcher on the roster Pina could make some noise with a strong Spring. Also, by default if either May or Pena get injured in Spring Pina will begin the 2011 season on the Major League roster.

43. Yowill Espinal 2B

Espinal was a bonus baby for the Royals when Dayton Moore established the Royals on the Latin American market after he took the helm, although now his few hundred thousand dollar bonus seems like chump change compared to the bonuses by top Latin players now. In 2008, Espinal was given an opportunity to prove himself stateside. He struggled, however entering the 2009 season Espinal was considered the #29 prospect for the the Kansas City Royals. He has since disappeared from Baseball America's top 30.

Espinal's biggest problem has been his contact skills, but he has drawn walks at a decent rate. In 2010 he struckout over 1 time per game played. Not good. The potential is there for Espinal with the raw tools that he possesses. But at some point he will need to begin to harness those tools and translate them to game success.

Espinal hasn't necessarily earned it, but I would like to see him given the opportunity to prove himself in full season ball in 2011. Hopefully in a good environment at Kane County he can begin to make the most out of the skills he has.

42. Patrick Keating RHP

The Royals drafted Patrick Keating in the 20th round of the 2009 draft out of the University of Florida. Up to that point Keating had had somewhat of a disappointing collegiate career. At Florida he was a starter and had posted an era of 5.12 for his senior year. The Royals scouting department liked his stuff and with a move to the pen and a small change to his delivery Keating went to Idaho Falls and posted a 1.78 era in 30 innings. Out of nowhere the Royals had suddenly found themselves a very solid relief pitching prospect.

Keating throws a mid 90s four seamer, with a hard slider. Entering the season Keating was getting by primarily on his four seamer, but I saw a good slider at times in Springdale and I think he can one day pitch it consistently enough for it to play as another above average offering. Keating's numbers were strong in his sophomore season and he should begin 2011 as a member of the Storm Chasers bullpen.

If all goes right for Keating he could one day be a setup man. More likely he will be a solid middle relief guy. Keating could reach Kansas City at some point in 2011.

41. Hilton Richardson OF

Entering the 2010 season, I viewed Hilton Richardson as one of the most likely prospects to struggle. This was because of a highly inflated BABIP and the fact that he was moving from a hitter friendly environment to the much more pitcher friendly Midwest League. It probably didn't help Richardson that he had to play in Burlington and on a team that struggled mightily for much of the season.

For the year Richardson posted a line of .204/.272/.316, but even with such a poor year with the bat Richardson was able to post an on base percentage 68 points higher than his batting average and a career high in homers (I am aware that he played about twice as many games as he had in any previous season).

Richardson looks like a ballplayer and possesses the physical tools to put it all together and rise extremely fast through the system. He has a football player's build, a strong arm, and good speed that he translates both on the bases and in centerfield.

I've got my fingers crossed for Richardson, because the potential reward is higher than most hitters in the organization and probably the highest out of all outfield prospects not named Brett Eibner.

Speaking of Eibner it will be interesting to see where they assign him to begin 2011, because if he goes to Kane County, then it will mean that Richardson will have to shift to right in what would be an extremely toolsy outfield. But if Eibner goes to Wilmington Richardson should return to the Midwest League as a centerfielder and leadoff hitter once again. This time though it should be in a much better baseball environment in Kane County.

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