When the KC Royals drafted Sam Bates out of the University of Arkansas in the 28th round of the 2012 MLB Draft, they probably were not sure what they were getting. There is little risk in selecting a player in the later rounds and Bates was a senior (so he had no signing leverage).
Bates played two years at Arkansas, but only hit .237 in 2011 and .240 in 2012 with a metal bat. He showed a little pop his senior season, hitting six home runs (along with six doubles) and driving in 25. His two years as a Razorback were spent primarily as a DH (along with some time in the outfield).
After signing, he played in just five games for rookie level Idaho Falls. In 2013, his offensive numbers took off.
Bates hit .278 with 12 doubles, ten home runs, and 32 RBIs in 51 games for rookie level Burlington to start the season. Obviously his slugging percentage was high (.538), but his walks to strikeouts were not too bad (18/25). The better numbers also came while learning a new position:first base. Upon his promotion to High-A Wilmington, he was leading the Appalachian League in homers (he finished just two back of the eventual HR champ).
In the pitcher-friendly Carolina League, Bates struggled a bit, though five of his 12 hits went for extra bases. He hit .245 through 15 games and struck out 15 times compared to six walks. In fairness to him, he was thrust into the middle of the order of a Blue Rocks team fighting for a playoff spot and desperately searching for some power.
In 41 total games at first base, he committed just three errors. The major downside is that the lefty swinging Bates struggled mightily against left-handed pitching in the Carolina League (.182 but in just 11 at-bats). To stay out of a platoon situation, he will need to get better against lefties.
With all of the DH/1B type players the Royals have in their farm system, I expect Bates to start the 2014 season with Low-A Lexington. He was a favorite of then-Blue Rocks manager Vance Wilson last season for his hard work, so maybe he out works someone that is supposed to be ahead of him and pushes himself onto Wilmington’s roster coming out of spring training.