When Dayton Moore took over as general manager of the woeful Kansas City Royals, he inherited the worst 25-man roster in the big leagues and an organization almost completely devoid of pitching. But the cupboard wasn't bare, as the Royals had two impact bats already in the barn in Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. Butler is promising because he can hit, but Gordon has star potential because he also plays a skill position.
Gordon is something of a left-handed Lance Berkman. He has a compact swing and has plus power, partly a function of his swing and partly a function of his raw strength. He uses the whole field well, with excellent plate discipline and plate coverage. His peak should approach Mike Sweeney's, and perhaps even surpass it in the power department. He jumped directly from college to Double-A, unusual even for top college players, and didn't miss a beat, hitting for average and power while showing good patience and even some baserunning skills.
Gordon is also a capable third baseman, good enough that the Royals are planning to move Mark Teahen -- who hit like he's never hit before in the second half of 2006, perhaps sensing someone charging up behind him -- to right field. Gordon will be the best player to man the hot corner in Kansas City since George Brett, and as a sort-of local product (he attended the University of Nebraska and was born in Lincoln), he should become a quick fan favorite as well.
With him, Butler (a masher who's likely to end up as a designated hitter), and left fielder Chris Lubanski in their 2008 lineup and a few more arms in the system, the Royals look like they're on a quick path toward respectability, with contention just a little bit further down the line.
Other prospects who are heating up:
• Fernando Martinez (Mets): No prospect shone more brightly in the Arizona Fall League; Martinez's ability and demeanor fit in perfectly with players five or more years his senior.
• Philip Hughes (Yankees) and Homer Bailey (Reds): The top two pitching prospects in the minors, both of whom will make their major league debuts in 2007. Take your pick: Hughes' polish or Bailey's power.
• Evan Longoria (Devil Rays): Drafted in June, mashed his way to Double-A by August, hitting for significantly more power than his line-drive swing generated in college.
• Bryce Cox (Red Sox): Another June 2006 draftee and a good bet to be the first pitcher from that draft to show up in the majors, Cox changed his arm action a few weeks before the draft and suddenly became a strike-throwing ground ball machine.