We continue with our top prospect countdown. Keep in mind that I am not a scout, so I use statistical data, and scouting reports from various publications for my information. Some of these players I have seen play, specifically guys that played in Northwest Arkansas last season.
30. Blaine Hardy LHP
Blaine Hardy first caught my attention when in 2009, when he was one of the most consistent pitchers on the Burlington Bees staff. The Royals obviously impressed by Hardy, elected to push him past Wilmington and straight into the Northwest Arkansas bullpen for 2010.
While in Springdale I was able to see Hardy first hand on several occasions and during the early part of the season it became apparent that he was the top option that manager Brian Poldberg had in his bullpen. According to my research during his time with the Naturals not only did he post an era of 0.69, but he also didn't allow a single inherited runner to score, which could be in part due to a very strong pickoff move. The Royals took notice.
After just 26 innings Hardy was granted a promotion to Omaha, there he continued to pitch in the bullpen until the end of the season when he was asked to fill in for the Omaha rotation. Once there he continued to dazzle and wound up posting a 3.49 era in his time at the highest level of minor league competition.
Hardy was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2008 draft. He has a high 80s fastball with a good slider and curveball. He has good command so he controls the plate during his time in the game. Even though he pitched well as a member of the Omaha rotation, I don't believe that his future lies in the rotation and I see him as a middle relief arm. Nonetheless I believe he is major league ready and with a strong showing in Spring and in the early part of the season he should be in Kansas City sooner rather than later.
29. Jeff Bianchi SS
After finally putting together a healthy season long campaign in 2009 and posting solid offensive numbers and adding a decent year with the glove there was a hope among Royals fans that with a strong Spring Bianchi could force Yu-nasty out of the shortstop spot with the big league club. However, Bianchi suffered a season ending injury just as Spring Training began.
With the tommy john surgery people say that it takes about a year recovery. However, with Aviles we found that it takes more like fifteen months until the player is performing back at his previous level. With this in mind it is unlikely that Bianchi will be fully recovered in time to win a major league job out of camp.
Obviously with the newly acquired Escobar and Colon behind him in case Escobar falters, Bianchi will probably never be granted an opportunity to be an everyday shortstop for the Kansas City Royals. However, I think he would have been stretched a bit as a regular. But I do believe that he could be a top notch utility man down the line.
Bianchi has the defensive tools to be able to play both middle infield positions. Plus with a little work in Omaha I could see him playing a strong third and maybe even be a serviceable player in the outfield. Basically I believe that Bianchi could offer Willie Bloomquist type versatility with a much stronger bat. A player that other team's fan bases look at as a potential trade target because he "isn't being given a fair opportunity on the Royals bench."
Good teams become great teams due to players in that mold and I can see Bianchi being that type of player for the Kansas City Royals.
28. Will Smith LHP
When the Royals acquired Will Smith he wasn't an overly exciting piece from a superficial standpoint, but upon review of his development pattern, two thoughts occured. First, what the hell are the Angels doing? Second, this guy has a bit of potential. At the time we were told his potential was as a back of the rotation starter. But I am going to even go as high as saying that Smith could even one day find himself as a quality #3 at the big league level. (Upon saying that even I thought that I was an idiot, but I'm going to stick with it and if I eat my words later it won't be for going with the grain.)
Smith began the season in the California League, but after some injuries caused the Angels to shift around some pitchers he found himself first in double-A Arkansas, then in triple-A Salt Lake City. At the time he was dealt he hadn't found much success. But the Royals realized what needed to be done and they sent him to Wilmington to find himself.
Upon finally getting some consistent time in High-A the level he should have been the entire time, Smith found his stride. In Wilmington he strike out rate jumped and his walk rate disappeared. Then at the end of the season when the organization was attempting to limit innings on some of the other arms, Smith was called upon to make a couple of playoff starts for the Naturals.
Smith commented at one point as saying he felt totally at home with the group and his numbers would indicate such. Which has become a theme for prospects in that group. Perhaps it is good leadership, or good coaching, or a good atmosphere. Whatever it is prospects are feeding off one another in Kansas City's system right now.
Smith pitched extremely well in the playoffs for the Naturals including garnering the final win that crowned the team champions of the Texas League. Smith has a fastball that hovers around 90 mph with a good curveball that I have read could be a plus pitch. However, his changeup is way behind. If he can turn that change into an average offering he should be ready to go. His command is strong and he pounds the strikezone hard.
Smith hasn't done enough to join the Duffy, Dwyer, Lamb, Montgomery group yet. But him and a few others in the system could do that with a strong 2011 campaing. Smith should begin the 2011 season in the Naturals rotation.
27. Tyler Sample RHP
Tyler Sample was disappointing in 2010. After a good season in 2009 and displaying flashes of improved control, it all fell apart in his first trip to full season ball. Tyler Sample has tremendous upside but there is a strong risk that he flames out before he even makes it into the high minors.
At 6-9 Sample has a massive frame that allows him to dial up his fastball into the mid 90s on a consistent basis. He also has a knucklecuve that at times can be just as devastating. His change lags far behind, and his control is obviously a major concern. Hopefully if he can just become average in this regard his stuff will be dominate enough to carry him into a big league rotation where he can hopefully limit hits against him while logging 200 innings.
If he can't develop the control as a starter the Royals could always give him a shot at reliever. There his stuff could continue to play at a high level and perhaps even in short stints his control can improve. I'm not sure how I feel about Sample. If I was a betting man I'd stay away, but with his upside I feel compelled to continue to put him in the top 30. I expect Sample to start the year in Kane County and hopefully the improved environment can help him find himself.
26. Paulo Orlando OF
Paulo Orlando. Maybe it is because of the way his name was called on the Naturals PA, maybe it was because of his walk up song, maybe it was because of his attempt to be the first Brazilian in the Major Leagues, maybe it is because of his tools, maybe it is because when I watch him I imagine him being this team's Willie Wilson. Whatever the reason Paulo Orlando is one of my personal favorite prospects in the entire organization.
Orlando was formerly a track star in Brazil before he pursued a career in professional baseball. His speed translates to the baseball diamond, not as eye opening speed from home to first, but primarily when he glides into third for a triple or scores from second on a line drive to the rightfielder. I say glide because when Orlando runs it is extremely effortless and doesn't look too high energy, think Willie Wilson/B.J. Upton.
But Orlando has always had his speed, his glove, and his hose. But this season in Springdale he showed two other tools some power with a .480 slug and some contact by hitting over .300 for the first time in his career. His plate discipline is going to need to continue to improve, but he made major strides in the 2010 season.
Throughout his time in the Royals organization Orlando has been playing along side Derrick Robinson and sometimes Jarrod Dyson. Due to this he hadn't been given too many opportunities in centerfield. However, when he started hitting home runs Poldberg was instructed by the organization to play Orlando in centerfield multiple times a week.
I believe that his bat plays better in centerfield but if he plays left he would give the Royals a top notch defensive leftfielder. He is a bit old in age but in baseball experience he is young. Due to this he should continue to develop as he gets reps. I think he will split time between Northwest Arkansas and Omaha this season, and I am going to predict a 20/20 year.