The Royals system was once the envy of the league, the "Best Farm System in the History of Whatever." Graduations, trades, injuries, and disappointments have caused that system to fall considerably. Not a single Royals player landed in John Sickels’ end-of-the-season Top 100 prospect list, and it is expected the Royals will land in the bottom ten of organizational rankings.
But the organization is not without some bright spots. There are some promising bats on the way that could soon be helping the Royals lineup score more runs. There are some intriguing arms that could give the club the kind of homegrown depth they have been looking for. Today, we honor the best of the organization, perhaps not necessarily the best prospects, but those that had the best minor league season.
Royals Review Minor League Player of the Year - Hunter Dozier
Dozier seems like the obvious choice now, but he didn’t seem so six months ago. The former first round pick was coming off his worst season as a pro, hitting .213/.281/.349 in a baffling season in AA. Now 24 years old, he repeated at AA Northwest Arkansas to begin this season, but with a different approach.
"Mechanically, I've tried to be a guy my whole life who gets his front foot down really early so I can see the pitch," he said. "I thought if I could see the pitch early, then I'm better off. So I was playing around last year, trying to add more rhythm and trying to be more relaxed. The higher you move up, the harder the pitchers, and there's more breaking stuff, so I really felt I needed more rhythm in my swing. But when it wasn't working, I tried to fix it during the season, and mentally, that got me screwed up. That's why I worked on stuff this offseason -- getting to an approach and sticking to it, so I didn't have to go through that again."
The results were phenomenal. He smashed eight home runs over 26 games in AA, hitting .305 before getting promoted to AAA Omaha. In the Pacific Coast League he continued to hit, batting .294/.357/.506 with 15 home runs in 103 games. Overall he smashed 23 home runs and 44 doubles, the fourth-most doubles any minor leaguer hit this year.
The year capped off with a cup of coffee in the big leagues, where he has three hits in 16 plate appearances. Dozier may have to move off third base, his natural position, due to Mike Moustakas. But he has gotten some time in the outfield this year and seems poised to push for a Major League roster spot in 2017.
Honorable mention: Ryan O’Hearn, Chase Vallot, Meirbrys Viloria, Jorge Bonifacio
Royals Review Minor League Pitcher of the Year - Alec Mills
The competition for Royals minor league pitcher of the year was much more competitive. While the Royals may not have any pitchers who will break into top prospect lists, they have been developing a fair amount of pitchers in the upper levels who have the potential to be solid mid-to-back rotation pitchers, which can be quite valuable, particularly for a smaller market club.
You could make a good case for a number of pitchers, but my choice is right-hander Alec Mills. The 24-year old was named Minor League Pitcher of the Year for Wilmington last season, but returned to put up another strong campaign, earning him a cup of coffee in the big leagues. The University of Tennessee-Martin grad dominated the Texas League in 12 starts, posting a 2.39 ERA with a strikeout per inning and just 12 walks. That earned him a promotion to Omaha, and it wasn't long after that that he was called up for a brief stint in the big leagues.
Mills continued to put up a very strong strikeout-to-walk ratio in Omaha, although he gave up a few more runs, with a 4.19 ERA in the Pacific Coast League. Overall, he had a 3.22 ERA and and a 3.66 FIP, with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly four. The 24-year old could be a darkhorse to make the rotation next year, and at the very least should be in Omaha as depth in case another pitcher is needed.
Mills barely beats out Erik Skoglund, who put up a strong season at AA Northwest Arkansas. Jake Junis had very strong season as well, although he struggled a bit upon a promotion to AAA. Matt Strahm is probably the most promising pitching prospect at this point, but a move to the bullpen and promotion to the big leagues gives Mills the edge for Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Honorable mention: Jake Junis, Eric Skoglund, Josh Staumont, Matt Strahm