And so it begins, easily the biggest task I attempt every year. Last year I ranked 60 prospects, July of 2015 I covered 45, and February 2015 I evaluated 30. As you can see, the list has grown each year and that remains the same for this year too. I can’t promise it will grow next year (I mean...after 80 it gets a bit to be lik spaghetti on the wall) but for now you get twenty additional prospects for free!
State of the Farm
If you want perhaps my overall introduction for the Royals farm system state, you can read this article another time. TLDR - bad drafts have really hurt the organization.
Sometimes I want to live by the Keith Law rule of ranking and wipe the slate clean every year, but I also think rankings are relative. This is particularly so when you are ranking players within the same organization it seems. So I work a little of both but mainly I start clean while also looking a bit at the former list. You can read the Top 60 list from last March to get my view on evaluating prospects, their tools, and results.
Unfortunately this year I was a bit more crunched for time than last year. You can use the much more detailed information I had for each player for a foothold and then pivot off my brief description. Last year I started writing and researching in January for a list that came out in March. This year though I didn’t have quite that prep time so the list will suffer in deep detail, but I put the same effort in the ranking themselves.
Note: Rankings from like 30-80 are somewhat interchangeable, particularly in the 50, 60, and 70s. If you want to prefer #55 over #51, #70 over #65, or even #80 over #65, I won’t argue too hard. These guys are too old for their level, too old in general, too young to be any higher, in low Rookie or DSL, or just hasn’t really performed well. After all, I’m ranking 80 guys so cut me some slack. Baseball America’s team only does 30 those wimps...
Final note - Spoiler alert but Matt Strahm and Hunter Dozier aren’t making the list. I typically avoid including guys who have MLB experience because you probably are familiar with them already and are obvious candidates anyways for the top few spots. Strahm and Dozier would be in the top five if included, but for the sake of excitement I’m leaving them off. Remember this note when the top 20 is posted because someone will ask and they will be ashamed because they didn’t read this.
Ages listed are from the 2016 season.
#50 Matt Ditman RP - 23yo A-Ball
Last year I pegged Ditman as a future late inning guy for the Royals. This year he had strong strikeout and walk rates with good stuff but got bit by home runs. I’d expect to see him in AA or even AAA at some point this year.
UPDATE: Ditman was released by the Royals this week.
#51 Yeison Melo OF - 20yo Rookie Ball
Melo is built like Jorge Bonifacio’s twin brother and their tools are nearly the same (though Bonifacio probably has a better arm). Thick and decent power with good contact skills, Melo has hit at each level so far but moved slowly by the organization. He is a candidate to be much higher in a year or two from now.
#52 Ashe Russell SP/RP - 19yo Rookie
Try to forget that Russell was a first round, top twenty pick just a draft ago and you would be utterly unimpressed with his overall profile. I put a “relief pitcher” on his position because that’s his future, in my opinion, and I’ve thought that since he was drafted. The Royals were completely mum about where the hell he was all year after throwing just two innings. He was throwing in the high-80’s (not a typo) recently and the organizational silence on what he is doing/where he is is a big factor in his low ranking. Russell is the epitome of the risk when it comes to take guys who are all arm speed with command issues, which is why I preferred Joey Wentz over Riley Pint in the battle of local prep guys last year.
#53 Alfredo Escalera OF - 21 AA
Escalera has been super young and had above-average tools overall, but hasn’t quite mastered a level necessarily. The Royals have been a bit aggressive with him but he’s also been around since Luis Mendoza and Chris Getz played for the big club in 2012.
#54 Emmanuel Rivera 3B - 20yo Rookie Ball
Rivera is a really good defender at the hot corner but the bat is the question mark with a bullet. Has inherent good power but hasn’t really translated it to in game.
#55 Gerson Garabito SP - 20yo A-Ball
Garabito is a projectable pitcher with a good fastball/curveball combo but he needs both some more time/innings and also to take a step forward in stuff to remain a starter.
#56 Logan Gray 3B - 21yo Rookie Ball
Gray is from Leawood and went to Rockhurst High School before attending Austin Peay where he was one of the better guys from his conference. He had a poor pro debut and the questions about his long swing were justified. He also will probably move off second base as well at some point, which is why I listed him as third base.
#57 Foster Griffin SP - 20yo A+
Griffin was drafted as an “advanced prep” and is left-handed to boot. The fact he hasn’t risen further by this point means either he was misdiagnosed or the stuff fell backwards. I’m in the camp of the latter as his velocity declined and he struggled with secondary stuff. He just exited his teenage years so he’s still got time but a career 4.35 FIP isn’t going to cut it.
#58 Nick Dini C - 22yo A+
I was a bit more bullish on Dini last year than maybe I should have been but this year he also had an injury in the middle of the year. He did fine when he did play but it was tough to get a grasp on his performance as he was constantly being shuffled to different levels. I am considering this a holding grade for now.
#59 Sebastian Rivero C - 17yo Rookie Ball
Give Rivero two years and he could be a strong bodied catcher with plus skills behind the plate, good contact skills, and power. He could also not gain any size and be Drew Butera-lite. Defensively he’s good, offensively - we’ll see.
#60 Xavier Fernandez C - 20yo A-Ball
Fernandez has hit enough to be intriguing and he’s decent behind the plate to stick there. Unfortunately he doesn’t do any one thing really well.
#61 Marten Gasparini SS - 19yo A-Ball
Fans of Gasparini will say to give the kid a break. He’s a teenager from another country where baseball is behind skiing, body building, and cycling in popularity. He just needs time, time, and time. The not-so-fans of Gasparini say “when is he ever going to hit?” So far for his career he has a 67 wRC+ in 700 PA.
He’s somewhere in the middle in reality.
#62 Jared Ruxer SP/RP - 23yo A+
Ruxer was traded for Brooks Pounders this past year. He had Tommy John in college (where he went to Louisville) and went in the 12th round. I’ve got him more as a reliever but he has some swingman qualities, which I guess is still kind of a reliever.
#63 Roman Collins OF - 22yo A+
I liked Collins last year after a strong debut but he was just okay in A/A+ this year. The tools are still there that made him NJCAA Player of the Year but the fourth outfielder profile ceiling still remains right now.
#64 Rick Aracena SS - 18yo Rookie Ball
Aracena gets some love by other outlets (not that me or Royals Review is comparable to them) but there isn’t much to get excited about. He’s an extreme speedy shortstop with a good glove, but that’s it. He will have to rely on putting the ball in play and beating it out for a hit. If the speed declines even a bit, he’s just organizational depth.
#65 Christian Binford SP/RP - 23yo AAA
Remember three years ago when I wrote about how fun Binford is/was? Fun time has been over for a bit unfortunately, which makes me sad because I liked Mark Christian Binford. He’s walking guys now, the strikeouts have vanished, and his stuff didn’t move at all. He once had a fourth starter profile but now I’d be surprised if he gets more than 30-40 MLB innings, despite being a 23yo in AAA.
#66 Frank Schwindel 1B - 24yo AA
From my 1B state of the farm piece:
Schwindel out-homered O’Hearn in Northwest Arkansas this year (his second season with 20+ home runs) but he’s a few years older. Schwindel used to be a catcher (that seems to have passed) but has moved to 1B decently. He’s allergic to walks and I think the power is just a product of good strength and higher leverage swing rather than hitting skills. He’s not really a prospect but worth mentioning at least because of his production.
#67 Chad Johnson C - 22 A+
From my catcher state of the farm piece:
Johnson had a nice pro debut in 2012 but that was really the extent of his success. Like Chase Vallot below he is passively aggressive. He'll take his walks when pitchers pitch him outside and work counts but he still showed an affinity for strikeouts too. He was a big boy with some power but not that great a defender from my experience with him.
Note - This part of the list was written prior to his release so instead of fixing all the rankings (or renaming it the top 79 prospects) he’ll stay here in remembrance.
#68 Cal Jones OF - 18yo Rookie Ball
Jones is on the shortlist for “players who will be ranked higher next year I bet.” He was a two-way guy in high school, where he was committed to Alabama - for baseball not football. He is quick, athletic, can play center field, with good raw power but is raw at the plate. Hopefully more time focusing on baseball can produce tools into production. He’ll need probably 4-5 more years though.
#69 Amalani Fukofuka OF - 20yo A-Ball
Our dreams of hearing Rex Hudler pronounce his names are likely never coming to fruition. After 1200 plate appearances over four years, Fukofuka has struggled to turn his athletic tools into results and the career 28% K% shows the questions in his lengthy swing and mediocre bat speed.
#70 Humberto Arteaga SS - 22yo AA
I think I’ve said all I’ve had to say about Arteaga over the years. He’s been in the organization since Mission Impossible IV, Bridesmaids, the second Deathly Hallows, and Ryan Reynolds’ first attempt as a superhero. In none of that time has he hit anything close to be considered anything more than a player you want in the weird edition of baseball where all you have to do is field the ball to win.
#71 Jake Newberry RP - 21yo A+
Newberry played in the Arizona Fall League this past October as one of those guys that the organization wants to get a good look at before deciding if they want to protect them in the Rule 5 draft. Newberry also though was 21 years old before the draft. That’s a testament to his slow progression in through the years but also how young he was when he was drafted. There is decent stuff and pretty good results, but cracking A+ four years after being drafted is a big flag. However he’s no longer in the rotation (moved to relief in 2015) so he should move quicker...
#72 Cristhian Vasquez C - 19yo Rookie Ball
In a list of 80 prospects, basically every catcher makes the list because they have a baseline value because of their position. Vasquez is going to stay behind the plate but he’s never going to hit enough to be a viable backup but instead an emergency catcher when your starter and backup catcher get hurt on the same play.
#73 Eric Stout RP - 23yo AA
Stout can bump it into the mid-90s but doesn’t have much beyond that and the command is mediocre. He’s a reliever only but there is enough that he could be a middle-innings guy if you need one in a pinch (or for a double header).
#74 Malcom Culver RP - 26yo AAA
Culver is seven months younger than me, and by that qualification he should be disqualified. But again, this list is 80 deep and he’s on the Royals radar as someone who could pitch in the majors in some capacity. He has been invited to spring training for a few straight years now.
#75 Yender Caramo SP - 24yo AAA
Caramo has decent stuff but with underwhelming results. There is really good command at least. He’s like Christian Binford with a good fastball but the walk rates have carried over instead of collapsed.
#76 Bryan Brickhouse RP - 24 DNP
There is a world where Brickhouse and Kyle Zimmer never get hurt, excel in the minors, and are a powerful punch for the Royals 2017 rotation. Also in that world Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t take four tries to win an Academy Award, I’m a few inches taller, and Mizzou doesn’t lose to Oklahoma in the 2007 Big XII title game. Unfortunately that isn’t this world. Instead both Brickhouse and Zimmer have been perpetually injured, so much so that Bryan didn’t pitch at all in 2016.
He has really good stuff and tools, except for the “don’t get hurt” tool.
#77 Zane Evans C/1B - 24yo AAA
Evans was never great behind the plate so he was required to hit enough to make the bad defense there passable enough. He did just that enough early on in his career but higher velocity/pitchers have found holes in the swing. If he’s not hitting, he needs to be a damn good catcher, and he isn’t.
#78 Sam Selman RP - 25 AA
A few years back I was saying “just wait until the Royals convert him to a reliever fully!” Then they did and it didn’t really matter. Not everyone who goes to the Carlos Marmol School of Pitching can graduate and get a big league job. Selman has walked more than Frodo and Sam combined but he’s struck out just enough batters that it has almost been okay. He’s a reliever, no doubt about it, but he’s not going to be someone you rely upon in close games late.
#79 Yunior Marte SP - 21yo A-Ball
Marte was cast from a pretty good pitchers mold physically, has a good fastball and nice changeup, but hasn’t reigned in his command much. One big season could really put him on the radar and he’s still young.
#80 Joey Markus SP/RP - 20 DNP
I continue to be intrigued by Markus because he’d be one of the tallest players in MLB history if it ever came to that. He was touching 95 MPH in 2015 with not bad secondaries, but he missed all of 2016 with an injury. He his, however, still tall, so there is that.