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2017 Royals top 80 prospects: #21-49

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Getting to the good stuff...

Kansas City Royals Photo Day Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images

Previous prospect ranking: #50-80

Okay we’ve gotten some of the... how do I say this... less exciting prospects covered. That doesn’t mean we are quite out of the woods yet. We’ve still got a few dozen more that tip-toe the line between legit prospect and potential organizational filler. Maybe that sounds mean but there are probabilities in everything in this world we have to accept. Eventually though I swear, we’ll get to the good guys you are salivating to read five sentences about.

#21 Chris Devito 1B - 21yo Rookie Ball

Normally I don’t like my first base prospects if they don’t have at least a 45 hit tool. Devito probably doesn’t or ever will, but what he does have is excellent power. This power is generated by his extremely strong swing. It’s mostly strength over any bat speed which dampens the future of the hit tool, but when he does make contact it can go far. Devito caught a bit for New Mexico State in college but he’ll be a DH-only type in the professional leagues. It’s boom or bust for Devito but he managed to limit strikeouts in his debut and hit for power. He’ll have to do that at every level, and this time next year he could be much further down the list (which is more likely than him moving up the list soon).

#22 Ben Johnson OF - 22yo A-Ball

I was hoping for Johnson to follow up his good pro debut with a strong sophomore promotion to a full season league. That wasn’t the case as Johnson struck out way too much and didn’t hit for the power we saw last year. He’s extremely athletic (one of the best in the system) but he needs to find the results from last year to stay relevant.

#23 Gabriel Cancel 2B - 19yo Rookie Ball

Cancel has the body type of Cheslor Cuthbert with some room to grow too. He was once a shortstop but slide to the other side of the bag where he’ll call home for the foreseeable future. It wasn’t a great debut but he followed that up with a strong sophomore seasons and cut down the strikeouts (anti-Ben Johnson). It’s not a great overall profile as he’s not very athletic and he’ll only be at second base, where he isn’t particularly great at either, but he could grow a bit more, develop some more power, and turn into a potential everyday second baseman.

#24 Nicky Lopez SS - 21yo Rookie Ball

Sit down for a moment as I tell you this. Are you sitting? Okay. Someone in the Royals organization walked more than they struck out. Catch your breath before you read the next sentence. That same player was a shortstop. Whew. Are you okay? Good, let me tell you a little more about Lopez now to bring the oxygen back to your brain. Lopez’s pro debut may be a mirage offensively - his frame is small and his swing plane is low - but defensively he’s got the chops to stick at shortstop. He’s quick overall and profiles as a utility infielder.

#25 Garrett Davila SP - 19yo Rookie Ball

Davila was held back after being drafted to add size/strength. I truthfully didn’t get to see any of him this past year to see how he’s grown physically but from what I’ve heard he’s added some velocity to his fastball, a good proxy for growth. I’ve always loved his delivery, even if it’s a novelty, but he’s crafty enough and there’s potential for a good enough changeup to profile as a fourth or fifth starter.

#26 Corey Ray SP/RP - 23yo A+

I would rather the Royals have Louisville product Corey Ray from the Brewers system, but this Corey Ray isn’t nothing. I think he’s better off as a reliever since there isn’t likely to be a third pitch in there but the two he does have - a high-90s fastball and solid changeup - could get MLB hitters out soon. He’s older, as you can see, so it might be best to just stick him in the bullpen, let him pump his fastball full effort, and get him to the high minors ASAP to see what they’ve got.

#27 Esteury Ruiz 2B - 17yo Rookie Ball

The Hudson river isn’t a river once it gets to Manhattan. It’s a tidal estuary since it’s deeper than the body of water it flows into. Esteury Ruiz is my favorite prospect named after a body of water (sorry River Stevens of the Padres) - yes I know it isn’t spelled the same.

Ruiz is a bit lanky but he’s also 17-years-old. He did everything you can really ask for from a prospect in his pro debut. He hit for some power, he walked, he didn’t strike out, got on base, and played well defensively. It was a really good debut - a 158 wRC+ that wasn’t solely BABIP driven. Ruiz needs to fill out which means he could lose a step both defensively and on the bases, but that will lead to growing into some more of his power on his six-foot frame. I like Ruiz a lot more than I should for a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League but I have an obsession with second basemen who can hit (Forrest Wall, Ian Happ, etc...).

#28 Brandon Downs OF - 24yo A+

Downes isn’t a great profile but he’s been okay in centerfield and is athletic with really good wheels. I’m not convinced he’ll hit enough to be an everyday guy given his penchant for striking out, but he’s got a decent shot ceiling at being a Leonys Martin/Colby Ramsus-esque player.

#29 Zach Lovvorn SP/RP - 22yo A+

A “source” I talked to said the organizaion sees Lovvorn as a reliever who could see the Majors in the next two years. First, he’d have to switch to relief, but if so, he’s got enough stuff to profile as a middle-innings guy. He’s built a bit in the Joe Blanton mold body-wise and has an above-average fastball with a slider that’s inconsistent but above average when on.

#30 Anderson Miller OF - 22yo A+

Miller has been an underdog favorite of mine since he was drafted. Contrary to his size (I don’t buy his listed height of 6’3”) he has a lot of power and a swing plane to access it. He’s also a speedy guy and has played centerfield for the Royals. After hitting well in Lexington he wasn’t quite the match for the hitters hell of Wilmington and the pitcher-friendly Carolina League. He struck out 30% of the time but that’s something I don’t think will be a problem at every level. I like him as an Andrew Toles/Mitch Haniger-lite kinda guy but as all underdogs must do, he needs to prove himself at each step.

#31 Kevin McCarthy RP - 24yo AAA/MLB

I know, I know, I said no Major League guys but McCarthy isn’t as obvious of a choice as Strahm or Dozier are (and it’s my list and I’ll cry if I want to). I love McCarthy’s size and he can pump it up to 96-97 MPH, throw an average slider, and a changeup that’s decent on the right night.

#32 Kort Peterson OF - 22yo Rookie Ball

Peterson looks really good in the batters box (how about that non-analytics!) and can make contact but the power profile isn’t quite there for a corner outfielder. Yes, he hit for power in his debut but it was probably BABIP-driven in a small sample. He’s the kind of guy that is the first one to the gym/park, last one to leave, blah blah blah. Hopefully his work ethic translates to the field because right now his ceiling is a fourth outfielder (which is a good outcome for a 23rd rounder). I’d like to see him of course outside of rookie ball given his age and coming from a power conference.

#33 Pedro Fernandez SP - 22yo AA

Fernandez can deliver a wide range of opinions depending on who you ask. Some people think he’s a starter and it’s not out of the realm of possibilities, but given his slow-ish progression and pitch mix, I think at this point a reliever makes the most sense. He’s got a fastball that moves like Jarrod Dyson and a changeup that plays up because of it. I say let the dude air out his fastball and make hitters stumble over the plate whiffing at his changeup instead of spending what could be a few more years in the minors.

#34 Andrew Edwards RP - 24yo AAA

If you thought I liked McCarthy’s body type, then you must think I’m currently turning down the lights and lighting up a candle as I write about Edwards. Listed as 6’5” 260, Edwards’ profile is exactly how you expect someone who is 6’5” 260 to be. He features a fastball that can touch 97 MPH and a slider in the high-80s to low-90s. Like many other people of his ilk, he has some major command issues, so cleaning that up would give him the best shot to be anything.

#35 Nolan Watson SP - 19yo A

Perhaps you notice how big a gap there is between Watson here and his co-Indiana prep first rounder Ashe Russell (#52). Watson hasn’t been that much better than Russell results-wise but I’m more confident in the profile becoming something. He doesn’t have the velocity that Russell does but I think he’ll fill out a bit more that may help live more comfortably in the 92 MPH range. As Eric Longehagen of FanGraphs says “Watson projects to be a mess of 55s and 50s.”

#36 Cristian Castillo SP - 21yo Rookie

The Royals have exclusive rights to all the players with the weird spelling if Christian apparently but what Castillo lacks in correct name spelling, he makes up for with results. Castillo was the Burlington pitcher of the year and he earned it with a 25% strikeout rate and 4.8% BB%. Castillo is a deep sleeper but he might be waking up.

#37 Cam Gallagher C - 23yo AA

When the Royals gave Drew Butera a two-year deal I was a bit apoplectic because I think Gallagher at this point is as good as Butera. Yeah, it’s very little money and a backup catcher but Gallagher is cheap, good behind the plate, and is offensively similar. He’s likely the Royals backup catcher of some possible future.

#38 Jacob Bodner RP - 23yo A+

Bodner is a reliever only and he’s racked up gawdy strikeout rates in his professional career. Control definitely needs some work but a mid-90s fastball and power slider could play at the higher levels.

#39 Richard Lovelady RP - 20yo Rookie Ball

Dick Lovelady has a great name, maybe a top ten Royals prospect name of all time. He’s paired that name with a good fastball and just okay secondary stuff to get good whiffs but just okay walk rates. He’s a relief pitcher-only so the strikeouts will have to continue to happen to get any love...lady.

#40 Anthony Bender RP - 21yo Rookie Ball

Bender unfortunately doesn’t throw a curveball, but instead has a slider to go alongside his above average fastball. He’s another guy with really good size and power. He’s still pretty raw and there is obvious flags for being a JuCo guy who is already a reliever. The Royals will need to mold him a bit and hope his back doesn’t flare up again.

#41 Oli Nunez SS - 21yo Rookie Ball

Nunez was signed as an international guy back in 2013 and has just hit everywhere so far. There is zero power but he’s ran his on-base percentage over .400 and can play anywhere on the infield. He profiles similarly to Nicky Lopez, with Lopez getting the slight nod for being a college guy.

#42 Manny Olloque 3B - 20yo Rookie Ball

Olloque hit well this year in the Pioneer League after being injured in 2015. He doesn’t stand out physically but he’s good enough defensively at third base. Will he hit for enough power there? Unlikely, but we’ll see.

#43 Julio Pinto SP - 20yo A-Ball

Somehow despite being only 20, Pinto was eligible for the Rule 5 draft, but was passed over. The control needs some work but he’s got projectable size, a fastball in the mid-90s that can touch 96 MPH, a decent curveball and a cutter. On stuff and projectability he could be 20 spots higher but on results he gets dinged with a career 12% walk rate.

#44 Travis Eckert SP - 22yo Rookie Ball

Last June, Eckert got about the minimum money a top 10 round pick can get but it’s not just about the money with the former Oregon State Beaver. He beat up a bit on younger competition but had an above-average fastball and changeup with an inconsistent slider.

#45 Colin Rodgers SP/RP - 22yo A+

The most important for Rodgers was just getting back on the mound after Tommy John surgery. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long because - guess what - he went back on the disabled list in August. The results when he was pitching weren’t that great, so his already dimmed star is starting to fade.

#46 Cody Jones OF - 23yo A+

Jones was on my radar last year as an athletic athlet-ey athlete who found some power in a power conference, the Big 12, where he attended TCU. His full season debut went well in Lexington (127 wRC+, .381 OBP, and 10% BB%) but after being dispatched to Wilmington he either was overmatched or fell curse the soggy climates of the Carolina League. My vote is the former as he maintained his strong walk rate and didn’t have a spike in strikeouts. That new power hasn’t populated in pro ball yet but he’s played centerfield well enough that it might not matter. He will be 24-years-old in less than two months, so he needs to see AA this year and do well to stay on the radar.

#47 Luke Farrell SP/RP - 25yo AAA

I’m sure you know the story on Farrell. Son of Red Sox manager John Farrell, grew up around big leaguers, and had a few brain tumors that kept him off the field for an extended time. You can either think “25 year old with meh numbers” or buy into the baseball age given that he hasn’t seen enough time on the field that he may not be fully developed into whatever he will be.

For more on Farrell read here.

#48 DJ Burt 2B - 20yo A-Ball

Imagine a slightly slower Jarrod Dyson but at second and you have Dawon “DJ” Burt. Showing great range and a strong arm, Burt has a penchant for getting on base at profound rates (he had that 68 game on base streak over two seasons). Burt is a freak of an athlete in the quick twitch sense. He made an effort to hit the ball in the air a bit more (something that doesn’t make sense given his profile) but his game is all about finding a way to get on first and go from there, something he’ll do often up the ladder while running into the occasional home run. He has played all over the infield in his pro career so he could carve out a role as a utility guy. I really like him but his limitations exist and his whole game centers around OBP and speed. That’s still a nice thing, but unless he does it at the higher levels, it’s tough to bank on.

#49 Elier Hernandez OF - 21yo A+

Elier Hernandez may be mentioned in the same conversation as Noel Arguelles. He had some of the best raw tools in the system after getting a million dollar bonus but it just never happened for him. He offered some hope in 2015 and I bought into the rebound a bit (ranking him #25 last winter) but High-A ate him alive. It’s just not gonna happen with him, and the $3 million the Royals gave him (the 11th-most ever given to an international free agent) will go to waste. He wasn’t protected this past December for the Rule 5 draft and was passed over.