This Saturday, the Kansas City Royals will be represented by promising young outfielder Jorge Bonifacio in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game. Jorge, now 20 years old, has proven himself offensively at every level he’s reached in the Royals’ farm system. His older brother, Emilio Bonifacio, plays in the Royals’ infield and would love to see Jorge make the leap to the big leagues to play along with him. Will Jorge be ready to contribute at the major league level as early as 2014?
Jorge started his Royals career in style when he played 48 games with the Royals’ affiliate in the Dominican Summer League. At 17 years old, Bonifacio hit .335/.429/.476 with an OPS above .900. From there, he climbed the ranks of the farm system from Rookie Ball in 2010 to the Double-A team last year. In 25 games at the Double-A level, Jorge still continued to succeed, recording a .301/.371/.441 line and keeping his OPS above .800. That’s a quick, steady progression through the farm system that should conjure excitement from any Royals fans paying attention to him so far.
Although his offensive numbers show considerable promise, there are several factors that will affect his chances that Bonifacio can’t control. The current Royals roster lists Lorenzo Cain as the starter in right field, but he’ll almost certainly spend some of his time in center, which will often leave right field open for platoon time between Justin Maxwell and David Lough. Maxwell arrived late in the season and hit .268 with five home runs and 17 RBI in just 35 games with KC, with starts in center and right field. Lough played in 96 games and finished the year with a .286 average and a special knack for being clutch; Lough’s average rose to .291 with runners in scoring position, .306 with two outs and .333 in late/close game situations.
It would seem that Bonifacio has to do an awful lot in the minors to get a look at the big leagues in 2014. The Royals have multiple options at that position, and an upgrade at right field may be coming soon. Still, the roster is far from solidified and the position is up in the air, especially until KC decides on how to spend their money in the offseason.
Jorge may not have enough time to make the big league roster out of Spring Training, but the Royals will keep a close eye on his progression at the Triple-A level. If he shows that he can consistently hit pitching at that stage, the Royals could give him a look at the MLB level in the latter half of the season. This could put Bonifacio smack dab in the middle of a race for the playoffs, but starting a rookie player in that context would mean he’d have earned some serious trust. Since they’re looking at a high-ceiling player with an entire career of improvement ahead of him, Kansas City should value Jorge’s MLB at-bats more highly than they would with other, older players like Lough (27) and Maxwell (29).
Bonifacio’s chances at MLB playing time will be influenced by a lot of things that are out of his control, but he still has a say in the kind of offensive production he displays to start the year. A successful start to the season could force Kansas City’s hand, especially if no one else has stepped up to solidify that role on the major league roster. If he has a monstrous year in the minors, the Royals won’t have any choice but to give him a shot soon.