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Dozier's powerful bat leads Royals hopefuls

O'Hearn, Toups, Viloria, Lee make quick strides in Kansas City system
Hunter Dozier hit .296 with 68 extra-base hits across two levels before he was promoted to Kansas City. Michael Spomer/AP
November 11, 2016

This offseason, will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball.

After erasing a 30-year championship drought in 2015 with a large cadre of homegrown talent, Kansas City missed the playoffs for the first time in three seasons this year. But the Royals appear to be in prime position to continue as one of baseball's upper echelon teams moving forward.

The seven Kansas City affiliates combined for a 342-414 record in 2016, but Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Rookie-level Burlington reached their respective league Finals. That, coupled with both expected and surprise successes across the system leaves the club's Director of Minor League Operations Ronnie Richardson confident in the organization's direction.

Royals Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Meibrys Viloria, Idaho Falls (58 games): Viloria took home the Ralph Nelles Award as the Pioneer League's MVP after he slashed .376/.436/.606 in 58 games with the Rookie-level Chukars, leading the circuit in average and RBIs with 55. Viloria hit safely in 31 of his first 34 games, which included a 20-game hitting streak from July 7-Aug. 7. The 19-year-old was elected to the league's midseason and end-of-season All-Star teams and participated in the Home Run Derby.

"He got off to a great start and never let up," Richardson said. "He paced the league in hitting from start to finish and won a well-deserved MVP. Meibrys matured at the plate and helped lead the pitching staff effectively while playing with high energy throughout. He's got a lot of upside and we're excited about his development."

First baseman -- Samir Duenez, Northwest Arkansas (14 games), Wilmington (56 games), Lexington (68 games): Although he won't turn 21 until next June, Duenez climbed all the way to Double-A, appearing in 14 games for the Naturals. Signed out of Venezuela as an undrafted free agent in 2012, the first baseman has carved out a .277 average in five seasons.

"Samir had the opportunity to compete at three levels this year," Richardson said. "He continued to grow offensively, took a big step forward with his overall approach at the plate and played better every step of the way."

In 138 games with Class A Lexington, Class A Advanced Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas, Duenez hit .284 with 51 extra-base hits, 26 stolen bases and 100 RBIs. He was one of just eight Minor Leaguers to drive in 100 runs and the youngest to do so in 2016.

Second baseman -- Corey Toups, Wilmington (41 games), Northwest Arkansas (86 games): Selected in the 15th round of the 2014 Draft out of Sam Houston State University, the 23-year-old batted .306 with 65 extra-base hits and 38 stolen bases in 159 games during his first two professional seasons. Although his final numbers in 2016 weren't quite as gaudy, the Royals' 30th-ranked prospect managed a .268/.356/.440 slash line while swiping 22 bases in 26 attempts with Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas.

"Corey was our player of the year in Double-A, his second such honor in as many years within our system," Richardson said. "Offensively, he's a top-of-the-order hitter with a good approach and a catalyst who plays with great energy. He has good patience, a keen ability to get on base and doubles-type power with strong stolen-base skills."

Third baseman -- Hunter Dozier, Northwest Arkansas (26 games), Omaha (103 games), Kansas City (eight games): Kansas City's top prospect solidified that status during his breakout year. After blasting eight homers in his first 26 games with the Naturals, Dozier slashed .294/.357/.506 with 15 jacks and 54 RBIs in 103 games with the Triple-A Storm Chasers. Between the two levels, the 25-year-old batted .296 and set career highs with 23 home runs, 68 extra-base hits and 75 RBIs. Dozier made his Major League debut for the Royals on Sep. 12 and hit .211 with one double and one RBI in eight games.

"Hunter really broke through this season for us and was very consistent from start to finish," Richardson said. "He's one of the hardest working players you'll ever see and participated in the [2016 All-Star] Futures Game. He's got tremendous makeup and his versatility playing third and the outfield is a nice bonus. With his ability to hit in the middle of the lineup and play great defense at multiple positions, we're really excited to see what he can do moving forward."

Video: Dozier goes deep for Omaha

Shortstop -- Nicky Lopez, Burlington (62 games): Just 62 games into his professional career, Lopez has entrenched himself as a player to keep an eye on among Royals prospects. Kansas City's fifth-round pick in this year's Draft introduced himself to pro ball with a slash line of .281/.393/.429 while stealing 24 bases in Rookie-level Appalachian League. Standing only 5-foot-11 and weighing 175 pounds, the Creighton University product amassed 17 extra-base hits, including six home runs.


Jorge Bonifacio, Omaha (134 games): Signed by the Royals as an undrafted free agent in 2009, Bonifacio excelled in his first taste of Triple-A. The 23-year-old hit. 277 with 19 homers and 86 RBIs -- both career highs -- for the Storm Chasers. After belting 26 home runs in his first five seasons, the Royals' No. 2 prospect has lofted 36 while driving in 150 runs over the past two years.

"Like Hunter, Jorge also repped us at the Futures Game," Richardson said. "He plays with such great energy and enthusiasm. He drives the ball with authority and is also an above-average defender who we see as a corner outfielder for us in the very near future."

Khalil Lee, AZL Royals (49 games): Kansas City's third-round pick in June hit the ground running in the Rookie-level Arizona League, producing a slash line of .269/.393/.484 only weeks after graduating high school. Lee showed advanced plate discipline, walking 33 times -- second-most in the circuit -- while his six homers tied for third. Despite the small sample size, Richardson can't help but gush about Kansas City's No. 18 prospect.

"He was near the top of several categories out in Arizona," Richardson said. "He's very athletic, intelligent and hard-working. Our scouts did a tremendous job targeting him and it's easy to see why. Khalil is an above-average defender who can run and has the ability to hit for average while keeping great discipline. He's a very competitive young man and it was very impressive to do what he did at that level coming out of high school."

Kort Peterson, Burlington (49 games): Another of Kansas City's 2016 Draft picks that quickly opened eyes around the organization, the 23rd-round pick amassed a .347 average in his pro debut. The 22-year-old added 21 extra-base hits, 35 RBIs and 29 runs scored from the heart of the Burlington lineup.

"We took Kort out of UCLA," Richardson said. "A lefty-hitting outfielder that finished second in the Appy League in batting and near the top in several other categories. Overall, his plate discipline is great and our scouts did a terrific job in identifying him. He was a key cog in helping Burlington to the best record in the league, and we're excited to see where he goes from here."

Utility player -- Ryan O'Hearn, Wilmington (22 games), Northwest Arkansas (112 games): The Sam Houston State product has quickly developed into one of the top power-hitting prospects in the Minors. Through his first three seasons, O'Hearn has homered 62 times, including 22 with the Blue Rocks and Naturals in 2016. Overall, Kansas City's No. 7 prospect batted .275 with 78 RBIs and 56 extra-base hits last year, helping Northwest Arkansas reach the Texas League Finals. O'Hearn didn't let up in the postseason, hitting .364 with three home runs and eight RBIs during the Naturals' playoff run.

"Ryan had a great year and he's carried that over to the Arizona Fall League, where he's near the top in hitting," Richardson said. "He's continued that approach in the AFL and we're really excited for the left-handed power he possesses. With 20 homers in each of the last two years, he's really gotten off to an impressive start in his career from a power standpoint."

Right-handed starter -- Jake Junis, Omaha (six games), Northwest Arkansas (21 games): Near the top of Kansas City's pitching list of prized arms sits the Royals No. 9 prospect, who reached Triple-A for the first time in 2016. While the 25-year-old struggled in his brief tenure with Omaha, his overall numbers added up to 10 wins, a 4.05 ERA and an impressive 143-to-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 149 innings.

Video: Omaha's Junis whiffs seventh batter

"Jake's a very athletic pitcher with a three-pitch mix," Richardson said. "A former amateur basketball player, he's got a good fastball, curve and change and has continued to get better each step of the way. His strikeouts continue to rise, and we think he has the ability to be a solid right-hander starter at the Major League level in the near future."

Left-handed starter -- Matt Strahm, Northwest Arkansas (22 games), Kansas City (21 games): Although he only recorded wins in three of 11 decisions, Strahm opened eyes in the Texas League. The Royals promoted their No. 3 prospect directly to the Majors on July 31, completely bypassing Triple-A in the process.

Strahm struck out 107 batters while amassing a 3.43 ERA over 102 1/3 innings in 22 appearances. He pitched exclusively out of the bullpen during his time in the Majors and proved to be nearly unhittable, fanning 30 with a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings.

"We saw him as a starter at Double-A and he continued to get better," Richardson said. "Given the opportunity to make his big league debut in the bullpen, he dominated from the left side. We still feel he has the potential to be a starter and one with a bright future at that. He commands his fastball well in the zone and has multiple pitches to work with. We were thrilled to see what he was able to accomplish this past season."

More Organization All-Stars

Relief pitcher -- Jake Kalish, Lexington (five games), Wilmington (18 games): Only a year removed from his selection in the 32nd round out of George Mason University, Kalish appears to be on the organization's fast track. Pitching exclusively out of the bullpen, the 25-year-old sported a 2.45 ERA and struck out 48 batters in 47 2/3 innings. Through his first 37 appearances as a pro, Kalish held opponents to a .196 batting average with a 0.91 WHIP.

Michael Avallone is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB.