Nine of Baseball America's top 30 Royals prospects for the 2017 season have worn a Storm Chasers jersey in their careers, while several others are sure to arrive at Werner Park during the upcoming season. In addition, several members of that top 30 group could very well arrive in Omaha at some point this year.
23-year-old right-hander Josh Staumont has been rated as the top prospect in Kansas City's system, and if he does not begin this year in Omaha may likely pitch for the Storm Chasers at some point this year. Along with his top billing, Baseball America also rates his fastball as the best in the Royals organization, with the ability to reach triple digits.
The righty began the 2016 campaign with High-A Wilmington before finishing with Double-A Northwest Arkansas as part of the club's Texas League Championship Series run, and ranked second among all minor leaguers in strikeouts (167). In 11 outings with the Naturals he posted a 2-1 mark and 3.04 ERA. He was selected by the Royals in the second round of the 2015 MLB Draft out of Azusa Pacific University in California. This week he was reassigned to minor league camp by the Royals along with eight other players.
Southpaw Eric Skoglund, rated the fourth-best prospect in the Royals organization by Baseball America, is "ready for Triple-A" according to the publication. The 24-year-old compiled a 7-10 record and 3.45 ERA in 27 outings with Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2016, adding 134 strikeouts.
He also possesses the "Best Control" among Royals farmhands per Baseball America, and is a tall presence on the mound with a six foot seven inch frame.The lefty was picked by the Royals in the third round of the 2014 MLB Draft out of the University of Central Florida, and was reassigned to minor league camp by the club earlier this week.
Another prospect in the Royals' top ten likely to see time in Omaha in 2017 is infielder Ryan O'Hearn, tabbed the eighth-best prospect in the organization. He is also considered the "Best Power Hitter" in Kansas City's farm system after launching 22 longballs between High-A Wilmington and Double-A Northwest Arkansas. If/when he arrives in Omaha, he will likely enjoy the hitter's haven that is Werner Park.
O'Hearn was selected by the Royals in the eighth round of the 2014 MLB Draft out of Sam Houston State. According to Baseball America, O'Hearn's "plus raw power plays in games...giving him a chance to hi 25 home runs in an everyday big league role".
Leading the nine Storm Chasers alums in Baseball America's top 30 Royals prospects list is infielder/outfielder Hunter Dozier (No. 3). 2016 marked a breakout campaign for the 2016 Omaha Player of the Year, smashing 44 doubles between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Omaha. That included 36 two-baggers in 103 contests with the Storm Chasers, good for second in the Pacific Coast League despite playing the first month of the year in the Texas League.
Dozier made his Major League debut with the Royals as well in 2016 as a September call-up, batting .211 (4-19) with four runs, one double and one RBI in eight contests. He was selected by Kansas City in the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of Stephen F. Austin University.
Outfielder Jorge Bonifacio ranks next among the former Omaha players as the ninth-best Royals farmhand per Baseball America. The 23-year-old paced all Storm Chasers players with 19 home runs last season, recording a .277 average (137-495) along with 86 RBI. He also ranked second in the Pacific Coast League with 17 outfield assists.
He was signed by the Royals as a non-drafted free agent on December 9, 2009 out of the Dominican Republic. He is also the younger brother of Major League veteran Emilio Bonifacio.
Right-hander Kyle Zimmer is the next ranked Storm Chasers alum, tabbed the tenth-best Royals prospect by Baseball America. The 25-year-old's professional career has been injury-plaqued so far, but still show flashes that made him a first round pick of the Royals in the 2012 MLB Draft. After making just three starts last season, he underwent surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and is expected to be healthy for the 2017 campaign.
"If Zimmer is healthy, he still has better stuff than almost anyone in the Royals system and could pitch in the big leagues in 2017," proclaims Baseball America. He was the fifth overall selection by Kansas City in the 2012 draft ouf of the University San Francisco, and pitched for the Storm Chasers during the club's 2013 postseason run. Earlier this week he was optioned by Kansas City to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, and will presumably begin 2017 there.
Another right-hander in 24-year-old Jake Junis made the top 30 list, checking in as the 15th-best Royals farmhand. He begn last season with Double-A Northwest Arkansas, accumulating a 9-7 clip and 3.25 ERA in 21 outings to earn a promotion to Omaha. He tallied a 1-3 mark and 7.20 ERA in his six outings with the Storm Chasers.
A 29th round pick out of Rock Falls High School (Ill.) in 2011, Junis "always has had above-average control and excellent durability, but thanks to the better arm speed, his curveball, slider and changeup all got sharper" in 2016. Baseball America projects him to return to Omaha for the 2017 campaign.
(Photo courtesy of David Calvert)
2016 Triple-A All-Star reliever Andrew Edwards is next on the list of former Storm Chasers players as the 20th-best Royals prospect per Baseball America. After a sensational ten-outing stint to begin the year at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, the right-hander was promoted to Omaha and posted an 0-1 record and 5.40 ERA, adding 51 strikeouts in 43 innings of work.
"Edwards sits 96-97 mph and has touched 100, and his slider now earns some above-average grades," as described by the publication. The 25-year-old was selected by the Royals in the 19th round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of Western Kentucky University.
2016 Omaha infielder Ramon Torres earned a spot as the 24th-best Royals farmhand coming into the 2017 season. He spent the majority of last year with the Storm Chasers, recording a .259 average (77-297), along with 35 runs, 12 doubles, one triple, two homers and 21 RBI in 73 matchups.
The 23-year-old is "a well-rounded and versatile middle infielder" per Baseball America, "and is a plus defender, but he's also above-average at shortstop thanks in part to his plus arm". The switch-hitter was signed by Kansas City as a non-drafted free agent on July 13, 2009.
Right-handed reliever Kevin McCarthy is considered the 28th-best Royals prospect entering 2017 by Baseball America. After splitting the year between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Omaha, McCarthy made his Major League debut in September and accrued a 1-0 tally and 6.48 ERA in ten Big League outings. In 25 appearances with Omaha he recorded a 2-4 mark and 2.97 ERA with 30 punchouts.
He "makes his living working down in the zone with plenty of two-seam fastballs" according to the publication, with his "92-95 mph sinker generating plenty of ground balls". He was selected out of Marist University by the Royals in the 16th round of the 2013 MLB Draft.
Rounding out Baseball America's top 30 Royals prospect list as the 30th-best farmhand in the organization is outfielder Bubba Starling. He struggled with the bat last season between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Omaha, combining for a .183 average (73-399) with 42 runs, 23 doubles, one triple, seven homers and 40 RBI in 109 contests.
The publication views Starling as the "Best Defensive Outfielder" in the Kansas City organization, saying he is a "plus-plus defender in center field with an above-average arm and above-average speed". Originally committed to play for the Nebraska Cornhuskers in football and baseball, he signed with the Royals after being picked as a fifth overall selection in the 2011 MLB Draft out of Gardner High School in Kansas.
It will certainly be interesting to see how Spring Training plays out, with the preliminary Storm Chasers roster expected to be know at the beginning of April. Omaha's season begins on Thursday, April 6 in Colorado Springs, with Opening Night at Werner Park on Tuesday, April 11. Single-game tickets for all 71 Storm Chasers home games will go on sale beginning on Wednesday, March 15.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.