This offseason, MiLB.com is taking a look at the most outstanding campaigns by players in each system across Minor League Baseball and honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization.Two seasons removed from their World Series title, the Royals
This offseason, MiLB.com is taking a look at the most outstanding campaigns by players in each system across Minor League Baseball and honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization.
Two seasons removed from their World Series title, the Royals may lose some cornerstones of that championship squad. First baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and outfielder Lorenzo Cain have hit free agency, but the club may have the horses to improve from within.
Led by a trio of players beyond prospect status but still knocking at the door to the Majors, the season in the Kansas City system was highlighted by players at the higher levels.
Royals Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Nick Dini, Lexington (24 games), Northwest Arkansas (64 games): Over the past two years, Dini showed he can hit for average and made the most of his first full season. The 24-year-old quickly earned a promotion after batting .283/.323/.457 with a pair of homers, 10 doubles and 11 RBIs for the Class A Legends and only got better after being elevated to the Texas League.
"He is the ultimate competitor. He loves to play the game, hard-nosed," said Ronnie Richardson, Royals director of Minor League Operations. "He gives you good at-bats, good idea of the strike zone, doesn't chase and really gives you a competitive at-bat each time at the plate."
Dini posted a .310/.381/.380 line with the Double-A Naturals, homering twice with nine doubles and 25 RBIs. The 14th-round selection in 2015 played 79 games behind the plate, throwing out 34 of 97 would-be base stealers.
First baseman -- Frank Schwindel, Northwest Arkansas (34 games), Omaha (99 games): One of the better hitting seasons in the Minors belonged to the 25-year-old. Schwindel finished with a .329 combined average, tied for 10th-best among all full-season league players while his 23 homers and 97 RBIs topped the others in the top 10.
"[He] really does damage, he really attacks the fastball," Richardson said. "He just competes each and every day. He really put together a very complete season."
Schwindel's initial assignment to Double-A marked his third stint at the level, but he delivered an 80-point improvement on his previous full-season average in the Texas League.
Second baseman -- Gabriel Cancel, Lexington (103 games): The 20-year-old clubbed 46 extra-base hits in his South Atlantic League debut after the two seasons playing Rookie-level ball. The Royals No. 23 prospect batted .277/.324/.466 for the Legends while contributing 14 homers, two triples, a team-leading 30 doubles, 70 runs and 49 RBIs.
"Considering the age and the overall profile at the position and that he's played well the past couple of years, he's got a lot of upside," Richardson said.
Cancel played exclusively at second base defensively this season after bouncing from shortstop and third base the previous two years.
Third baseman -- Emmanuel Rivera, Lexington (122 games): Much like Cancel, the native of Puerto Rico excelled in his first full season after two years in Rookie-level leagues. Kansas City's 16th-ranked prospect won the South Atlantic League batting title, hitting .310/.364/.468 with a league-leading 144 hits and a team-best 72 RBIs. He contributed 12 homers, five triples and 60 runs scored.
"He gave us quality at-bats and really played above-average defense with a plus arm at third base," Richardson said.
Shortstop -- Raul Mondesi, Omaha (85 games): After making his Major League debut last season, the club's former top prospect split time between Kansas City and Triple-A Omaha this year. While he didn't post great numbers in the big leagues, the 22-year-old displayed the same impressive ability at the plate that helped him climb the ladder.
"When you get a chance to see him play on a consistent basis, he can impact the game with his speed, with his defense and with his offense as well, being a switch-hitter from both sides of the plate," Richardson said.
Mondesi batted .305/.340/.539 with 41 extra-base hits -- including 13 homers, eight triples and 20 doubles -- and 52 RBIs.
Outfielders -- Jorge Soler, Omaha (74 games): The 25-year-old burst onto the scene with the Cubs in 2014 and was sent to the Royals in a deal for closer Wade Davis prior to this season.
"He came over here focused and willing to get better each and every day, and I think he has the desire to be great and continue to work hard to accomplish his goals," Richardson said.
Despite Soler's Major League experience, the Royals were cautious with the Cuban outfielder and fans of the Pacific Coast League reaped the rewards. In about half of a full season, Soler clubbed 24 homers and 59 RBIs while batting .267/.388/.564.
Khalil Lee, Lexington (122 games): The 19-year-old proved he was ready for his first full season, showing off a power-speed combination that produced a team-high 17 homers and 20 stolen bases. The second-ranked Royals prospect didn't have the flashiest batting line (.237/.344/.430), but provided six triples and 24 doubles with 71 runs scored and 61 RBIs.
"[He] showed the ability, not only to drive the ball to the gaps, but also be aggressive on the bases as well," Richardson said. "He has the ability to play above-average defense with a plus arm and really what he was able to do as a teenager ... really led that team at the top of the order."
Donald Dewees Jr., Northwest Arkansas (126 games): Another outfielder acquired in a trade with the Cubs, Dewees stood out in his first opportunity at the Double-A level. The club's No. 18 prospect amassed 39 extra-base hits and stole 20 bases while hitting .272/.340/.407 with 67 runs and 52 RBIs.
"He's an energetic-type player that plays with a passion. He's probably one of those players that you just love to watch go play, the way he gets after it each and every day on both sides of the ball," Richardson said.
Designated hitter/Utility -- Ryan O'Hearn, Omaha (114 games), Northwest Arkansas (19 games): In an organization deep with first-base talent -- including Schwindel, top prospect Nick Pratto and No. 13 Samir Dueñez -- 14th-ranked O'Hearn shifted to the outfield and amassed 22 homers and 64 RBIs to earn his third consecutive All-Star nod.
"He can drive the ball out of any part of the ballpark," Richardson said. "He's continued to develop and take strides in his development this year."
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Scott Blewett, Wilmington (27 starts): The 21-year-old New York native carried a heavy workload in his first stint at the Class A Advanced level, pitching 152 2/3 innings for the Blue Rocks.
"He led that rotation from start to finish," Richardson said. "Plus-makeup with the ability to command three pitches and continues to attack the zone."
Kansas City's seventh-ranked prospect went 7-10 with a 4.04 ERA and 129 strikeouts. Blewett set a career high with 12 strikeouts over a six-inning start against Salem on June 22 and then pitched his first shutout, also against the Red Sox, on July 2.
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Foster Griffin, Wilmington (10 starts), Northwest Arkansas (18 starts): The 22-year-old emerged as one of the most promising young arms in the system after putting together a 15-7 campaign with a 3.61 ERA and 141 punchouts over 161 1/3 innings.
"He gets after it, really you saw his curveball improve this year," Richardson said. "Three-pitch mix that really competes and a really, really competitive, intelligent young man that's made strides each year he's been a Minor Leaguer."
The club's sixth-ranked prospect represented Kansas City at the Futures Game and earned Texas League Pitcher of the Week honors in late June, less than three weeks after debuting at the level.
Relief pitcher -- Richard Lovelady, Wilmington (21 games), Northwest Arkansas (21 games): Drafted in the 10th round last year out of Kennesaw State, Lovelady made a name for himself this season with a 1.62 combined ERA with 77 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings.
"Our scouts did a tremendous job," Richardson said. "When you look at the way Richard goes, he has that competitive drive to go out and compete each and every day."
The Royals No. 24 prospect converted 10 out of 14 save opportunities and issued just 17 free passes throughout the season.
Gerard Gilberto is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @GerardGilberto4.