#1 - Mario Lisson
6’2 - 210 lbs.
After the Venezuelan prospect was signed by the Royals in 2002, he split the year between the Dominican Summer League and the Gulf Coast League to begin his professional career. The then 18 year old played in just ten games in Florida and split time between playing at first and behind the plate. During his quick stop in Florida he hit .200 in ten at bats, walked four times and also struck out four times.
Lisson spent the entire 2003 season in the Dominican Summer League where he was named the “Salcedo Player of the Year” leading the club with three home runs and twenty nine RBI’s to go along with a .290 average in sixty two games. Although Lisson was signed as a catcher, he made the full time transition to playing in the field with the Idaho Falls Chukars during the 2004 season. While with the Chukars he played at 3b and SS and started to show a little pop (eight home runs) at the plate while also having the ability to carry a decent average (.289) in seventy one games. Along with these numbers he also had forty nine RBI’s and fifteen stolen bases. In a 2004 chat at Baseball America, Will Kimmey made these comments regarding Lisson: “He's got great baseball instincts and is one of a rare group of young hitters to show some nice pop and already sound plate discipline.”
He missed the majority of the 2005 season due to a torn labrum in his left shoulder but did see some time in the Midwest League with the Burlington Bees. While in the MWL he struggled somewhat at the plate hitting only .250 but had an OBP of .386 along with six dingers and twenty three stolen bases in twenty seven chances. He repeated the 2006 season with the Bees where he was named Player of the Year due in large part to his power numbers (thirteen home runs) and speed on the base-path (forty one stolen bases). He led the team in doubles and runs and finished second in the MWL in stolen bases where he was caught eleven times in fifty two attempts.
Another promotion in 2006 showed more promising results for Lisson as at 23 he played for the High A Wilmington club. While with the Blue Rocks, he had the following line .285 AVG / .348 OBP / .756 OPS. He finished in the top ten in the league in hits, runs scored and stolen bases and earned a mid-season and post-season all-star selection.
Lisson continued moving up the Royals farm system in 2008 where he hit somewhat of a wall with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in Double A. In one hundred and thirty games he hit just .225 with an OBP of .284. His power was still evident as he hit fourteen home runs, twenty three doubles and finished with sixty five RBI’s. He also stole thirty one bases in thirty seven attempts. This season also marked a transition to more playing time at the SS position as he played sixty games there with a .958 FPCT. In the previous four years of his career he had played somewhat sparingly at SS.
Unfortunately, Lisson did not have better luck at the plate in the Venezuelan Winter League as he hit just .211 striking out twelve times in twenty two games. Although his power was still prevalent last season, I would like to see Lisson (who will turn 25 in May) start the 2009 season in AAA to see if he can raise his average at a higher level.
#2 - Kyle Martin
6’0 – 175 lbs.
Following a four year college career split between San Diego Mesa College and Texas Tech University the Royals selected the California native in the 29th round of the 2007 amateur player draft. In his senior year with the Red Raiders, Martin had solid but not spectacular numbers at the plate hitting .279 while also knocking out thirteen home runs in fifty three games.
He joined the Burlington Royals in 2007 and had the following line - .242 AVG / .294 OBP / .755 OPS. His power numbers did provide some promise as he hit ten home runs, which was second in the league and also had the tenth best slugging percentage. While in Burlington he primarily played at SS where he had a .960 FPCT but also saw some time at second. Martin received a late season promotion to finish off the year with the Idaho Falls Chukars. As a Chukar he saw action in three games and hit .583 in twelve at bats getting a home run and three RBI’s in the process.
Martin was shipped to Iowa to start the 2008 season where he saw action at every position in the infield. He had a injury marred season which limited him to only fifty six games with the Bees but in that time he produced a .316 AVG and also had nine home runs along with twenty eight RBI’s. The Royals wanted Martin to get more at bats to end the 2008 season so he finished the year in the Hawaii Winter League with the North Shore Honu. While with the Honu he had eerily similar numbers to those he had with the Burlington Royals as he finished with a .245 average to go along with a .274 OBP. He also had six home runs, tying him for first in the league with Roger Kieschnick (another Texas Tech product) and twenty six RBI’s (third in the league). These numbers garnered a post-season all star selection as Martin once again played all over the diamond.
Martin heads into the 2009 as a man without a true position. As he climbs up the organizational ladder he will always be behind Moustakas at third and Giovetella at second. It only makes sense to see if Martin can flash some glove at SS while providing a strong power bat at the plate, he may eventually end up in the OF.
#3 – Chris McConnell
5’11 – 175 lbs.
Upon graduating from Delsea HS in New Jersey, McConnell was selected in the 9th round of the 2004 draft. The Royals scouting department looked like they had a steal in McConnell as he went to Arizona to play with the Surprise Royals where he lit the league on fire hitting .339 with three home runs and eleven RBI’s in thirty seven games.
The Royals promoted the young shortstop to the Pioneer League to start the 2005 season where he continued his hot hitting finishing with a .331 AVG along with six home runs and thirty nine RBI’s. With this performance he earned a post-season All Star selection as well as the Player of the Year award for the Chukars. Going into the 2006 season, McConnell was listed as the sixth best player in the organization by Baseball America, however the promise of McConnell’s career hit stalled somewhat as he started the year out with the Burlington Bees hitting only .172. He was sent back to the Pioneer League for the remainder of the season where he hit .262 to go along with four home runs and thirty five RBI’s.
In 2007, he again began with the Bees where he posted below average numbers - .231 AVG / .311 OBP / .622 OPS, McConnell also stole fourteen bases in sixteen attempts. He received a mid-season promotion to play with the High A Wilmington club where his numbers were pretty much identical as he hit .236 with a .306 OBP. At the end of the season, Baseball America named McConnell the best defensive infielder in the Royals farm system but fell into the 20’s in their organizational prospect rankings.
McConnell spent the entire 2008 season with the Blue Rocks (High A) where he posted the following numbers - .252 AVG / .333 OBP / .658 OPS. He had a career high in stolen bases as he swiped twenty three bags, but he also was caught sixteen times. This rate was not significantly different from other years as he has consistently stolen a handful of bases but has also been caught frequently. McConnell also struggled in the field posting a .950 FPCT and made twenty eight errors.
Each year MLB teams are allowed to send one player below the AA level to the Arizona Fall League; McConnell earned that honor and saw platoon time with the Surprise Rafters. In twenty four games, he hit .204 and had four extra base hits along with three RBI’s. He struck out twenty two times and walked just three times.
It’s obvious that McConnell’s fielding is what will keep him at the forefront of the minds of the Royals front office. However, McConnell must improve markedly on his hitting and patience if he is ever going to play at Kaufman Stadium. With that said, McConnell has played a season and a half in High A so I look for him to advance to the Double A Level in 2009.
#4 - J.D. Alfaro
5’9 – 170 lbs.
Alfaro, a ninth round selection by the Royals in the 2008 draft, left a mark on his amateur career leading Grayson County College to their first JUCO Championship in eight years. He had an amazing run during the tournament where he hit .476 with fourteen RBI’s leading him to be named the tournament MVP. During the season, Alfaro hit third and had seventeen home runs along with seventy six RBI’s and a .366 AVG. Even with these numbers, Pgcrosschecker.com reported that scouts were unimpressed with his style at the plate saying he was a free swinger and had a poor overall approach.
Alfaro began his professional career with the Idaho Falls Chukars where he played in fifty nine games, all at shortstop. He made fifteen errors and finished with a .943 FPCT. At the plate, Alfaro finished with the following line - .266 AVG / .300 OBP / .804. He started the year out on a tear hitting .382 in June before he faced a slump in July batting just .202. Alfaro proceeded to have a good August (.302 AVG) followed by a rough September (.211 AVG). During the summer he hit fifty five RBI’s which was fourth in the Pioneer League and was also in the top ten in total bases and doubles. He also had nine home runs and stole nine bags in eleven attempts. The free swinging style he possessed in college did carry over to the minors as he struck out nearly 30% of his at bats.
It will be interesting to see if Alfaro can develop some consistency in 2009 as I believe he will more than likely be promoted to the Low A Burlington club to start the season. His speed and above average arm strength are his greatest tools but scouts believe he needs to improve on his patience and contact at the plate this season before he can be considered a true prospect.
#5 - Yowilll Espinal
6’0 – 180 lbs.
During the summer of 2007 the Royals made a big splash in International signings and one of those ended up being the then 16 year old out of the Dominican Republic. Espinal, signed for $250k and scouts described him as an average defender with a solid line drive stroke that could lead to a career of smacking around doubles.
The 17 year old saw a lot of action in the AZL this summer but didn’t post awe inspiring numbers showing that his talent is still raw. In fifty games he hit .240, had four home runs and also stole thirteen bases. His K:BB ratio might need some work as it was 21:1, but even with those numbers it was good to see that Espinal put some things together to end the month of August with a .289 AVG to go along with twelve RBI’s.
Espinal was invited to take part in this falls instructional league but unfortunately an injury prevented him from participating. He is expected to remain in Arizona for extended spring training before a promotion to the Appalachian League with the Burlington Royals.