It’s a long way from Lexington to Kansas City – especially if you go through Delaware, Arkansas and Nebraska -- but the path is getting a little busier each year.
The Lexington Legends recently finished their third season as a Kansas City Royals’ affiliate, and some former Legends are arriving at the top, with more on the way soon. As the Royals celebrate the 2015 World Series championship, the minor league players are looking forward to moving up the ladder in 2016.
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For minor leaguers, the route from Lexington to KC usually includes stops in Wilmington, Delaware, Springdale, Arkansas and Omaha, Nebraska. That’s where the Royals’ minor league affiliates with higher classifications than Lexington are located, so it takes some time for former Legends to get to the big league club. Three players who were with the Legends as Royals’ minor leaguers have seen time in the majors with Kansas City – outfielder Terrance Gore, pitcher Miguel Almonte and shortstop Raul Mondesi.
As the Legends begin to build some history with the Royals, more former Legends will reach the top. MLB.com ranks the top 30 prospects in each major league organization, and four of the Royals’ top five and seven of the top 10 have played for the Legends, including Mondesi, who is rated as the Royals’ top prospect, and Almonte, who is ranked fourth.
Mondesi was added to the Royals roster for the 2015 World Series, replacing Gore, who was with the Royals for the Division Series and the American League Championship Series. When Mondesi appeared as a pinch-hitter in game three, he became the first player ever to make his major league debut in a World Series game. Mondesi batted .261 with 7 homers, 47 runs batted in and 24 stolen bases for Lexington in 2013.
A 2013 Legend, Almonte was a September 2015 callup by the Royals. At age 20, he was 6-9 for Lexington, but had a 3.10 earned run average and struck out 132 batters in 130 innings.
Others in the top five who have worn the Legends uniform include:
Right-handed pitcher Kyle Zimmer (ranked as #3 KC prospect) – The Royals’ first-round pick and fifth overall choice in 2012 was with the Legends for a few weeks in 2015 as he worked his way back from shoulder surgery in late 2014. Zimmer, who had reached double-A in 2013, dominated South Atlantic League hitters in his nine appearances as a Legend. He was 1-0 with a 1.13 earned run average, and struck out 21 batters in 16 innings.
Outfielder Bubba Starling (#5) – Another 2013 Legend, Starling is probably the most-followed prospect by Royals’ fans. The first-round, fifth overall pick in 2011, Starling was a high school standout in baseball, football and basketball in Gardner, Kansas, just 30 miles from Kansas City, and had a football scholarship offer from Nebraska before signing with the Royals for $7.5 million. He’s had his struggles, particularly with strikeouts, as he focused on baseball full time as a professional, but continues to show great potential at the plate and already has outstanding defensive skills. As a Legend, he batted .241 with 13 homers and 63 runs batted in, and stole 22 bases in 25 attempts. He hit one of the longest home runs in Legends’ history, a 450-foot shot at Whitaker Bank Ballpark August 9, 2013. In that same game, he also robbed a Hagerstown hitter of a homer with a great catch in center field.
Right-handed pitcher Scott Blewett (ranked #7), left-handed pitcher Foster Griffin (#8) and catcher Chase Vallot (#9) all played for the Legends in 2015, and all could return for at least part of the season in 2016. Vallot hit 13 home runs for Lexington, including five in his last 10 games.
In addition, the second-ranked prospect in the organization, right-handed pitcher Ashe Russell, the Royals’ first round pick in 2015, could move up to Lexington in 2016 after spending his first professional season with Burlington of the Appalachian League.