This past spring upon publishing my Royals top 60 list I promised to possibly do 75 players but I left myself room to wait until next winter/spring. I'll have to take myself up on that offer and wait until the next list to expand.
For the most part guys in the 30-60 range probably haven't moved up or down or at least not wholesale enough to warrant a re-ranking. However the spotlight shines a little brighter at the top guys so their improvement/attrition is more noticeable and impactful.
I want to absolutely include players the Royals selected in this past June's draft but giving them more than a few weeks of play to form an opinion on them will only strengthen my ability to rank them.
While last year marked a year of pitching prospects performing better than their hitting peers, it has been the reverse in 2016. It seems like almost every pitcher in the system has taken steps backwards while there are a handful of hitters who are hitting.
The Royals didn't have a pick in the draft this year until late in the second round due to signing Ian Kennedy. I was less than impressed with their selection (which I wrote about here), even with their bonus pool being the second smallest. I've come around a bit more on AJ Puckett the more I've talked to folks but still remain underwhelmed with the overall approach.
To be honest...the system isn't great. In fact this may have been the hardest list for me to produce and it's only ten guys. The weakness of the system means that you could argue any of these guys 3-4 spots higher or lower. If you want to put Raul Mondesi first, I understand or if you think Chase Vallot should be 13th overall then well...that's just like, your opinion, man. I don't mean to say it doesn't matter where these guys are ranked (in life literally almost nothing matters) but putting Chase Vallot ahead of Raul Mondesi is only a slight preference.
Below is my list from early-March. I've learned a few lessons from that list and if I could go back there are absolutely two changes I would make:
- I bought into Bubba Starling's better year a little too much contrary to some voices that advised against it
- I moved Hunter Dozier down too much (though I don't think I was necessarily wrong to do so)
1. C Chase Vallot - A-Ball (.287/.393/.531 161 wRC+)
Vallot impressed me a lot last year as being one of the few 18 year olds to hit double-digit home runs in full season baseball the past ten years (a list that included names like Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper, Jason Heyward). Vallot has only gotten better this year. He turned a 116 wRC+ in Lexington to a 161 wRC+ after coming back to work a bit more on his catching.
There is no question his best tool is his plus raw power and he hits the ball to all spots on the other side of the outfield fence too. The big question with Vallot is his hit tool. You look at the strikeouts (and they are up this year to 34%) and that's a huge red flag no doubt. However it is not due to a mechanical flaw or neurological problem that will ultimately doom him. He has above average bat speed and has a decent idea of the strike zone as well but it's just a matter of getting continuous reps to better identify pitches. The strikeouts are high but so are the walks too.
Behind the plate there is still work to do. His size limits his lateral quickness and blocking but his arm is average to slightly above. Like at the plate, he's still getting reps in and although he isn't going to win a Gold Glove, his bat is what matters really.
Vallot has had some injury setbacks this year. He missed some time due to a play at the plate, coming down hard on his back.
Chase Vallot left the game in the 3rd injury because of a back injury from this play pic.twitter.com/0OnpBmasyM— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) June 2, 2016
Then quickly upon his return he took a fastball to the face that sidelined him for a few more weeks.
He's back now, in the Arizona League, and should finish the year in Lexington likely.
I think this is a bit of a bold ranking. Vallot is one of the furthest guys from the majors but his bat and ability to potentially stay at catcher is hard to pass up.
2. 1B Ryan O'Hearn - AA (.281/.354/.472 134 wRC+)
If putting Vallot at #1 was a bold move, I think putting O'Hearn at #2 is bolder. It is tough to be a first-base prospect and that is what O'Hearn is, for the most part. He's gotten some time in the outfield this year but unfortunately I haven't seen him play there yet this year with my own eyes so I can't really speak to it. He isn't devoid of speed and despite being a lumbering guy he isn't a far below average runner (think like Hunter Renfroe a bit).
When I first wrote about Ryan back in May of 2015 I focused on how impressed I was with his all fields approach in power. Being able to hit home runs to opposite and center field is the best grade of raw power and access to it. O'Hearn has continued to make me proud in AA:
Opposite and centerfield singles, doubles, and home runs, including some deep doubles that look like they were nearly home runs to left.
Looking at PECOTA's comparables for O'Hearn preseason there is a list of names that doesn't look like a great outcome, but at the bottom there is one nice name
Don't kid yourself though. Rizzo was a prep player who struck out less than O'Hearn and hit at a younger age. Also you can slow down on your Paul Goldschmidt comps too. First base prospects don't usually turn out that way...
3. 3B Hunter Dozier - AAA (.341/.392/.550 148 wRC+)
Dozier fell pretty hard in my rankings in March but I don't necessarily think that is a pure fault of mine. After all Dozier had 900 plate appearances in AA (as a not young 22/23 year old) and an 88 wRC+. He also struck out in 28% of his plate appearances and his power wasn't there at all. In my defense I think it was perfectly reasonable to demote him down a prospect list and I wasn't the only one to do it.
Dozier made the Futures Game roster for the US team (though take that accolade with a grain of salt) but only got one plate appearances as a sub (he beat out a double play). He got a fielding chance and couldn't handle a hard grounder in front of him but did good work to at least get some leather on it. I don't just say that as an anecdote because this actually prompted some comments from a few prospect folks about Dozier perhaps not being able to handle third base. While likely not because of that, Dozier has gotten some reps in the outfield.
It is not necessarily all roses this year for Dozier. He has rebounded sharply overall with a 148 wRC+ but he is not young for AAA necessarily. Meanwhile his strikeouts remain at a 23-25% level and his walks are down from previous rates of 13-15%.
4. SS Raul Mondesi - (.259/.331/.448 119 wRC)
I haven't seen many midseason lists for the Royals yet (Baseball America should be releasing theirs soon) but I will bet you that Mondesi is the Royals #1 prospect. Baseball America just ranked him as the 55th best prospect in baseball (down from 29th this winter) and Baseball Prospectus ranked him 20th overall in their list (down just 4 spots).
I usually don't buy into single reports about a player. It is always best to use an aggregate of information to build an opinion. After all, many reports come after only seeing a player for 10-15 plate appearances or 5-6 innings as a pitcher. However I talked to somebody I trust pretty heavily a week or so ago and I just can't shake what they said about Mondesi. I won't dive into the full thing here but reports about his lack of advancement at the plate and inability to recognize pitches. The glove and speed were the same (still plus on both accords) but he/she really raised internal questions with me about if he's ever going to hit at the major league level.
Yes; he's still just twenty years old but here is what other big name SS prospects did as twenty year olds:
Carlos Correa - 226 wRC+ in AA, 107 wRC+ in AAA, 133 wRC+ in the majors
Francisco Lindor - 109 wRC+ in AA, 88 wRC+ in AAA
Corey Seager - 154 wRC+ in AA
J.P. Crawford - 129 wRC+ in AA
Orlando Arcia - 126 wRC+ in AA
Mondesi had an uptick in offense this year as his left handed power showed at Arvest Park (all six of his home runs this year have come from the left side) but in his career in AA he sports an 89 wRC+ and .246/.291/.400 triple slash line. That's a far cry from what other highly ranked shortstops have done at a similar age at a similar level.
While it is probably not any real concern performance wise, Mondesi also has a slight ding on his profile due to a recently failed PED test (if you care about such things - which I don't for the most part, particularly in Mondesi's case).
He has just been promoted to AAA (alongside fellow underwhelming hitter Bubba Starling) so he's now the second youngest player in the Pacific Coast League (after Padres Luis Urias).
5. RHP Josh Staumont - 5.05 ERA 4.44 FIP
Man... there is a Shaun in a different reality on some other plane of dimension that puts Josh Staumont first or second overall. If I had to bet on one sure fire prospect in the system to get three or four full seasons worth of playing time (respective to their position) it might be Staumont in the bullpen. Note: bullpen.
The Royals are still trying Staumont out as a starter but a capsule of his game log with reveal his true Jekyll and Hyde nature:
Random Josh Staumont games this year:— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) July 12, 2016
The epitome of Staumont
To be realistic, even if everything clicks for Staumont in some realistic capacity his control (even if it took a step forward) keeps his ceiling at a #3 starter. That's better than a very good reliever but it is also like the far right tail outcome. What is more likely Staumont is that Staumont doesn't make that much movement in his control, drops his changeup, and fulfills the two-pitch dominant reliever destiny.
The Royals just announced yesterday that he's going to AA.
6. LHP Matt Strahm - AA 3.39 ERA 3.75 FIP
It is pretty telling of your system when arguably the best starting pitching prospect (who isn't hurt) is doing just okay in AA. Strahm dominated A+ hitters last year (in part because of the Carolina League) but hasn't quite been as good this year. The command is still there (he has a 1.84 walk rate) and he's seen a slight bump in his fastball velocity with the always fun curveball.
He's probably the most polished and best pitcher in the Royals system yet has the upside of a #3 at peak.
7. RHP Kyle Zimmer
As long as Zimmer still has brain activity and two arms he's going to show up on my list. Sometimes at night when it's raining and thunder keeps jumping me awake I close my eyes tight and dream of a better world. A world where Israel and Palestine get along, people stop killing other people over their race/sexual preference/religion, and Kyle Zimmer throws 120 innings in a single season. Then the thunder shakes the foundation of my home, my dogs cry, and I wake back up to this world of turmoil and pain.
On the bright side, Kyle Zimmer has pitched this year. In AA as a matter of fact. On the downside that was May 17th...
8. RHP AJ Puckett - A-Ball 1.00 ERA 2.61 FIP
You can read more about my opinions on Puckett in the draft recap article I posted earlier and also here.
My concerns about his commands have been alleviated a bit as I've talked to a few people and he looks like a potential #3 starter. You could make the argument of him over Strahm or Zimmer, but I would like him to get more than sixteen professional innings under his belt.
I do wonder though how the stuff will play at the higher levels and if the strikeouts will be there.
9. LHP Garrett Davila - Low-Rookie 2.08 ERA 4.35 FIP
Davila gained ground mainly due to attrition than domination. He's finally made his professional debut after being held back to gain muscle upon being drafted last year. Davila still has the best delivery in the Royals system aesthetically and just needs to rack up innings at this point.
10. RHP Alec Mills - AA/AAA 2.67 ERA 2.95 FIP
Mills results are a bit stronger because of his performance in AA but he's also had a brief stint in the majors that didn't go so hot. Mills came in against Boston this May in semi-mop up duty, getting two outs while allowing two walks, a hit, and an earned run. Mills isn't flashy but he's durable and could provide innings for years out of the back end of the rotation.
I feel as if I've let you all down with such a short list as I usually pride myself on putting you guys to sleep with 5,000 word articles. This one is just short of 2,500 words so I at least half delivered on my half promise.
Feel free to ask me about anything prospect related in the comments to make up for it.