Every week until the start of the season I will go through what I consider to be the top 5 prospects at each position in the Royals farm system. Catchers. 1st Base.
#1 – Johnny Giavotella
5’8 – 185 lbs.
After a solid three year career with the New Orleans Privateers (Sun Belt Conference), Giavotella was selected by the Royals in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft. In his final season with the Privateers he helped his team earn their second straight NCAA bid and finished the season hitting .354 with twelve home runs and fifty six RBI’s in sixty three games. This performance earned him a third team All American selection by Baseball America.
Giavotella joined the Burlington Bees (Low A) after signing a contract with a $787k bonus. He hit second for the Bees and finished with the following line - .299 AVG / .355 OBP / .776 OPS in sixty games. He also hit four home runs, had twenty six RBI’s, crossed the plate fifty times and stole ten bases. It is readily apparent that Giavotella has some work to do to improve his righty-lefty splits as he hit .313 vs. RHP and .250 vs. LHP, but he continued to show good discipline at the plate striking out only 12% of his at bats.
Due to his size and stature, Giavotella has already drawn comparisons to the 2008 AL MVP winner, Dustin Pedroia. With a quick bat Giovetella projects to be a singles hitter with gap power that will provide an occasional home run. It has been reported that one aspect of his game that he needs to improve upon is his fielding as he has limited range and an inconsistent glove. With Burlington, he finished with a .955 fielding percentage with thirteen errors in two hundred and ninety chances. Giavotella does have some speed but needs to improve on his base running skills as he was caught seven times in seventeen chances with the Bees and didn’t posses a much better percentage in college.
Although Giavotella missed out on Baseball America’s top 10 prospect rankings they projected him to be the Royals 2nd baseman in their 2012 lineup. I really like Giavotella, who will turn 22 in July, at the top of any line-up and expect to see him join Mike Moustakas in the Wilmington Blue Rocks infield for the 2009 season.
#2 – Kurt Mertins
6’0 – 175 lbs.
Mertins, selected in the 13th round of the 2006 amateur draft after finishing a two year career with JUCO College of the Dessert, began his professional career in the Pioneer League with the Idaho Falls Chukars where he hit .338 with a .395 OBP. While there, he quickly showed that his speed is the greatest tool in his arsenal as he stole twenty five bases and was only caught four times.
The Midwest League was not as kind to Mertins in 2007 as his numbers were not nearly as impressive as the year before as he finished with the following line - .249 AVG / .335 OBP / .668 OPS. His speed was once again evident as he stole thirty bases, good enough for eighth in the league, on thirty eight attempts. However, Mertin’s strikeout rate played a big factor in his decline at the plate as he struck out nearly 22% of his at bats but his walk rate also grew (10%) leading him to carry a decent OBP considering his average. He finished the season with four home runs, thirty nine RBI’s and also crossed the plate seventy times.
A promotion to Wilmington in 2008 served Mertins quite well as he improved his average thirty three points to .282 and also saw increases in his OBP (..335 to .351) and doubles (fifteen to twenty-seven). Mertins continued to be a demon on the basepath stealing twenty eight bags in thirty three attempts but his strikeout rate remained the same (21% of his at-bats) and his walks rate fell (8% of the time).
Even though Mertins has played around the diamond it appears as though he is most comfortable at 2b. In 2007 he played the majority of the games at 2nd with a .977 FPCT but also played at 3rd (.885 FPCT) and SS (.937 FPCT). This past season with the Blue Rocks his numbers were once again better at 2nd (.977 FPCT) then 3rd (.929 FPCT).
Mertins was selected to play in the Hawaii Winter League to end the year where he struggled at the plate with the North Shore Honu hitting only .218 in twenty four games. He did however steal five bases and got two home runs and sixteen RBI’s. I expect to see Mertins, who will turn 23 in April, advance to Double A in 2009 where he could possibly split time again with Jeff Bianchi.
#3 - Marc Maddox
5’11 – 185 lbs.
After a solid four year career with the Southern Miss Golden Eagles where he averaged a .331 average along with thirteen home runs and fifty three RBI’s, Maddox was selected by the Royals in the 9th round of the 2006 amateur draft. Due to his four years in college the Royals deemed him ready to play with the Idaho Falls Chukars, the highest level rookie league team in their system, to end the 2006 season. While there Maddox earned Player of the Year honors thanks in part to his .336 average and .438 on base percentage. He also sprinkled in three home runs and forty one RBI’s in sixty two games. After playing primarily 3rd and 1st while with the Golden Eagles he predominantly played at 2nd with the Chukars where he finished with a .986 FPCT.
To start the 2007 season, Maddox was moved back to 3rd base with the Burlington Bees. The move to his original position didn’t seem to bother him as he continued to post solid numbers - .301 AVG / .376 OBP / .801 in twenty one games in the Midwest League. He again showed a decent amount of power with three home runs and also added seventeen RBI’s. Maddox then got promoted to the High A Wilmington club where the Royals moved him once again, this time back to 2b. While with the Blue Rocks, Maddox struggled for the first time in his professional career hitting just .259. His walk rate went down significantly as well, as he only walked 6.5% of his at bats compared to a 12.5% rate the previous season. Maddox did not hit a home run while with the Blue Rocks and had forty four RBI’s in one hundred and one games.
After the season was complete the Royals invited him to compete in the Arizona Fall League, which is largely dominated by players that just finished playing Double A ball. Impressively, Maddox did not seem intimated by his surroundings as he finished the fall with a .321 average (which was good enough to finish 9th in the league) and a .398 on base percentage. This performance led to another promotion to start the 2008 season with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in the Double A Texas League. After a rough start to the season, Maddox really put it together in the summer where he hit over .300 for three consecutive months before hitting .233 in August. In one hundred and twenty seven games with the Naturals he finished with a .283 average with four home runs and thirty RBI’s. With a full season at 2nd under his belt he ended up with a .983 FPCT turning eighty nine double plays and had just ten errors.
With limited power potential it’s obvious that second base is the best position for Maddox. He won’t hurt you at the plate and will provide a decent glove thus I believe the 25 year old will continue to ascend through the Royals system beginning the 2009 season in Omaha.
#4 – Jeff Bianchi
6’0 – 175 lbs.
Injuries have derailed many promising careers of young prospects and this could easily describe Bianchi’s career up to this point after the Royals drafted him in the 2nd round of the 2005 amateur draft. According to Baseball America, team officials believed that he had the best offensive approach they had ever seen out of a high school player. The Pennsylvania product quickly made the Royals scouting department look like geniuses as he put together an amazing campaign with the Surprise Royals in 2005 showing great contact and power at the plate. He finished hitting .408 and had an OBP of .484 while also smacking out five balls and driving in thirty three runs in just twenty eight games earning him an AZL all star selection.
Bianchi had labrum surgery leading him to miss most of the 2006 season, but he did see action in twelve games in the AZL where he hit .429 with two home runs and six RBI’s. To hold him back from the cold weather the Royals kept Bianchi in extended spring training before sending him to the Midwest League to begin the 2007 season. While with the Bees, he hit .247 with an OBP of .296 where he had only two home runs and thirty six RBI’s in ninety nine games. Bianchi also showed a penchant for striking out by getting K’ed seventy two times (nearly 20% of his at bats). To the pleasure of many, he finished the season with a flourish hitting .330 in his final ninety one at bats. Bianchi culminated the 2007 season in the Hawaii Winter Baseball league.
In 2008, Bianchi struggled with the promotion to the High A Wilmington team as he hit just .136 in April. He put together some decent numbers during the summer but his strikeouts (ninety five in one hundred and four games) continued to grow while his walks (just 5% of his at bats) diminished. The biggest change for Bianchi wasn’t at the plate, it was in the field as he moved over from his primary position at SS to 2nd base. While at 2nd he posted a fantastic .994 FPCT and only had two errors in one hundred and thirty nine games. Though he finished with a .255 AVG and a .290 OBP it was good to see that he came on again at the end of the season hitting .297 in August with four of his ten home runs coming in that month as well.
It will be interesting to see what the Royals do with Bianchi, 22, leading into the 2009 season. Giovetella will deserve the vast majority of the playing time at 2nd in Wilmington and I don’t know if the numbers he posted in 2008 merit a promotion. At this point, his K/BB walk rate needs a lot of improvement and one can see that his injuries have sapped most of his power.
#5 - Deivy Batista
5’11 – 150 lbs.
Batista made his professional debut in 2007 in the Dominican Summer League where he did not post scintillating numbers hitting only .243 in sixty two games. He did however provide a good OBP (.382) and also stole eight bases (he also got caught five times) before coming to the states to continue his career.
Under the tutelage of former Royals prospect, Justin Gemoll, Batista had a very solid year with the Surprise Royals in 2008. He finished the year as a AZL all star with the following line - .317 AVG / .382 OBP / .854 OPS. His average was the sevent best in the league, and Batista again flashed some speed stealing eight bases but showed that his base running skills need to improve as he was also caught eight times.
At 20 years old, Batista is certainly a work in progress and it will be interesting to see if he can carry his numbers over to a higher level rookie league later this summer. Hopefully by the time he reports to Burlington or Idaho Falls this summer he will have had a few meals as well increasing his weight.