KANSAS CITY -- We continue our Spring Training preview series today with a look at the Royals' top prospects to watch in 2016.
The Royals' 25-man roster is mostly set, and there doesn't appear to be much room for a prospect to break through, but general manager Dayton Moore has said throughout the offseason that he hopes one of his top prospects gets on the big league roster in the second half of 2016.
"We'd love one of them to force our hand," Moore said.
Here are the mostly likely candidates:
SS Raul Mondesi: Royals fans got a glimpse of Mondesi -- the Royals' No. 1 prospect according to MLB.com -- in the World Series last year. They will see much more of him in the near future. Mondesi has an amazing skill set and, as assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said recently, is a "plus" in virtually every aspect of his game. The Royals, in fact, have had a fun internal debate this offseason on whether Mondesi projects as a leadoff hitter or a No. 3 hitter in the big leagues. "He has the speed to lead off and will develop power to be a No. 3 guy," Picollo said.
While Mondesi, 20, has averaged six homers over four Minor League seasons, the Royals believe as his upper body continues to fill out, he could be a 15-20 homer guy. Mondesi likely will replace Alcides Escobar someday at shortstop but, in the meantime, he is getting work at second base in the Minors. Don't be surprised if he competes for the second-base job as early as 2017.
RHP Kyle Zimmer: The No. 65 overall prospect according to MLB.com, Zimmer enjoyed his first healthy season in 2015. He logged 64 innings and 72 strikeouts with a 2.39 ERA in 24 appearances between Class A Lexington and Double-A Northwest Arkansas. When he's on, Zimmer has the best stuff in the organization according to Royals scouts. "He can be dominating," Picollo said. Zimmer, 24, likely will start the season with Northwest Arkansas but look for a quick promotion and a possible callup to the big leagues at some point in 2016 for the Royals' 2012 first-round pick. It will be highly anticipated.
RHP Miguel Almonte: MLB.com has Almonte listed as the organization's No. 4 prospect, and the 22-year-old has impressed manager Ned Yost. "He's got big league stuff," Yost said. Almonte appeared in nine games for the Royals last season, striking out 10 hitters in 8 2/3 innings. Almonte has a fastball that hovers in the 95-97 mph range and possesses a terrific changeup. Almonte actually has a shot to grab a spot in the bullpen out of Spring Training.
OF Bubba Starling: Internally, the Royals expect Starling, 23, to make big strides at the plate in 2016. They already believe Starling would excel defensively in the big leagues right now -- he has a plus arm with fantastic range. "He's just a phenomenal athlete," general manager Dayton Moore said. Starling's biggest issue offensively has been his inability to recognize breaking stuff. But after being promoted to Northwest Arkansas early last season, he hit 10 homers there with a respectable .744 OPS. It is not unthinkable that he could make his big league debut after the All-Star break.
Jeffrey Flanagan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.