FEB 11th, 2014-While there can be a number of reasons for a player to repeat a level in the minors, often those reasons have to do with age and inexperience. Those two go hand-in-hand, when you're working up from the lower rungs. Last year, Lexington's average age for position players was 20.8, which is awfully young even for the South Atlantic League. Indeed, only the Hickory Crawdads and Lakewood BlueClaws could boast a younger group, even though the average difference was no more than half a year.
In Class A, which is the first full-season level in the minors, you usually see players who haven't been in the game longer than a couple of years. Two exceptions to that are non-drafted free agent signings who entered pro ball at 16 or 17, or players who may have stepped back as part of a rehab assignment. SS Raul (Adalberto) Mondesi was only 17 when he spent last year in Lexington and performed well beyond his years. With a .261 BA, 13 doubles, 7 triples and 7 homers to go with 47 RBI and 24 steals, Mondesi was actually one of the core run producers in the lineup. He had the sort of struggles at the plate you'd expect from a teenager in Class A (118 strikeouts), but he rarely looked out-of-place in the field. Yes, he did make 30 errors at short in 108 games, but many of those were on balls that most infielders would never have reached in the first place. One could argue that Mondesi could jump two levels on his glove alone. It hardly matters; he could make a career in the Majors without even swinging a bat, as far as I'm concerned. He's got as much range and plays as fluid and natural at short as I've ever seen. So to recap: great glove, great range, great arm, speedster, switch-hitter. There's a lot to like, and we'll be liking it from the stands when he comes back for a return engagement.
Catcher Chad Johnson made it to Lexington for only 4 games last year, playing 38 in rookie-level Burlington. The view on him so far is “strong arm, good glove, possible average or above-average pop at catcher”, and I can't argue with that (mainly because, hey, 4 games at Lexington). He did throw out 30% of would-be base-thieves in the Appy League, which isn't bad, but hasn't yet demonstrated any semblance of power at the plate. If he can start to turn some of those groundballs into line-shots, you'll probably see good doubles power from him. He's going to need more time here at The Bank in order to make that happen, so expect him to return.
IF Humberto Arteaga spent a difficult 61 games in Lexington (.188 BA, 13 RBI, 0 SB in 61 games) before going back down to rookie-level Idaho Falls and turning into an RBI machine. He was only nineteen, himself, so a bit young for Class A. Once he hit the Pioneer League (literally), he lit up for 15 doubles, an unreal 58 RBI and 56 runs scored to go with his .280 BA in his 69 games there. Arteaga is 6'1”. 160, so there's a lot of projectability there, and he could add some pop as he fills out. As it stands now, he's got the versatility to play second and short, though second base is probably the best fit. He also has a great deal of range for either position, and a middle infield with Mondesi and Arteaga makes it a tough go for anyone putting the ball on the ground. He should return for 2014.
Ah, Bubba Starling...the name seems to encourage lively debate amongst prospect enthusiasts. The physical tools are most certainly there; there's no arguing against that. Whether he can develop them to their fullest is up for discussion. Starling's got a great arm, covers all sorts of ground in center with little effort, and runs the bases far better than you'd expect for someone who's 6'4”. Not a lot of tall basestealers around. He struggled for much of the season offensively, though a good portion of that can be written off to vision problems which (I believe) were corrected. He did bat .322 in August, a dramatic improvement over the high of .250 he had in June. Couple this with an overall .298 with 2 outs and runners in scoring position and you can see a small part of why he was a 1st-round pick. There were moments when he let his youth and inexperience shine through in less-than-positive ways (ahem), but that could be a result of having so much pressure on him as a 5th-overall pick mixed with having to develop while playing against more-experienced players. Being a two-sport star does have its disadvantages, after all. Starling has the tools and size to become a middle-of-the-order run producer who could swipe 20-25 bags a year. The way I see it, most of that hinges on his mental approach and maturity; he can be what he wills himself to be. Coaching aside, the bulk of his future production lies with this factor. If Kansas City wants to handle his development the right way, he should come back to Class A for at least the first part of the season.
Cam Gallagher, who had 66 games in Lexington between injury issues, is another well-regarded talent in the Royals system. Gallagher calls a good game, commits few miscues and has a better arm than his 29% caught-stealing rate would suggest. I expect that he could develop enough power to move to 1st, if needed, especially if he splits his time between there and behind the plate. He's 6'3”, so a move might be best for him (and his legs) in the long run. It's awfully soon to tell just how well he'll turn out, but he's a legit prospect and has yet to show us what he can do. Returning to Lexington would be the best thing for Cam; he needs to establish that he can make it through a full year of ball.
OF-1B Fred Ford has pop (definitely) and filled in at first base as well as RF, though he did make 8 errors at first (47 games) and 6 in right (74 games). Keep in mind He'd be at least average defensively at either position, but I like his arm in RF. The downside of being 6'5” is that your strike zone is the size of a Buick, and Ford's 166 Ks in 126 games is testament to that. He'll have to shorten his swing if he's going to cut those Ks down to a manageable number, and he did show that he's working on that in the games I saw him in. Still, if he can make more frequent contact he could produce 20 homers by accident. That .193 average is troubling, but he did draw 52 walks as well. Even with the talent he has and his relative youth (22 on April 10th), he's at a crossroads. He has to come back.
-3B Hunter Dozier was last year's 1st round pick for the Royals. 24 doubles in 54 games for Idaho Falls, along with a .303 BA, .403 OBP, 7 HR and 43 RBI. He played 15 games with the Legends, notching 6 more doubles and 9 RBI with his .327 BA (55 AB). At 6'4”, 220, he'll either end up starring at third or at first. But he'll star somewhere.
Pitchers up, next. Also, more of the players who could be paying us a visit for the 1st time in 2014.