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2017 Royals top 80 prospects: #1-20

We’ve separated the wheat and the chaff

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

Other rankings: #50-80 & #21-49

Finally we’ve come to an end. I will not say do not weep; for not all tears are an evil. 80 players listed, many of different varieties, but all different in some way. Some more prospects than others, but at least sharing one common tie, that of being a minor leaguer in the Royals system.

#1 Chase Vallot C - 19yo A-Ball

I recognize the risk of ranking a prep catcher, particularly one in the lower levels, first overall in the system. Absolutely a year from now I could be looking like a dumb-dumb. Meanwhile the chances of me looking smart is pretty low but...if you follow me on the Twitter you’ve undoubtedly seen me go from 27-year old man to a 15-year old child, screeching and fawning whenever I fanboy over Vallot.

Vallot suffered a few setbacks this year due to injuries. In June he fell hard on his back, keeping him out for a few weeks and then on his first game back he took a fastball to the face to keep him out for a few more weeks.

When Vallot was on the field he did his usual thing: hit the ball hard and far. I’ve been meaning to update an old table that I used to pull out when talking about Vallot (he is one of the few players with 10+ home runs as a teenager in full season ball). Instead I modified it to switch from home runs to just ISO (isolated slugging). Here is the list of players since 2006 with a walk rate >= 11%, an ISO >=.200 and is a teenager in full season ball:

Giancarlo Stanton. Miguel Sano. Jason Heyward. Justin Upton. Bryce Harper. Byron Buxton. Wil Myers. Jurickson Profar. Not only is Vallot on that list, but he’s the only guy on there twice.

There is a difference between having power and accessing it in games. Vallot does both, which is what makes him bat special from a power standpoint. He doesn’t have the most raw power in the minors, but he accesses his raw power just as well as anyone...when he makes contact.

What keeps Vallot’s bat from being truly special all around is poor hit tool. It’s probably a 30 right now, and at peak it’s tough to see it be anything better than a 45 or a 50 if you really wish. However even a 40-45 hit tool with 60 power will play at catcher.

There is the next point: is he a catcher? If he is for sure a catcher (at least for a few years in the majors), then he’d be much more popular in the rankings (outside of mine). Depending on who you ask he is or isn’t a catcher. Some people think the body is too far gone (he is a big boy to be sure - listed at 6’0” 215lbs and that might be generous) but others say “okay, explain Brayan Pena then...” It’s not just his size though. The arm isn’t great, and he’s rough defensively.

The true test here is if 1) he can bring the hit tool up to the 40’s (something that seems doable, particularly helpful if he keeps walking 12% of the time) and 2) if he can even be below average defensively.

If Vallot were a first base only guy, he drops in my rankings for sure. However as long as the Royals keep running him out as catcher and seeing him there for the foreseeable future, he’ll rank high. There’s a chance he’s a better version of J.P. Arencibia (one who walks alongside the strikeouts - something JPA didn’t do) and there is a chance he’s a David Ross type (15 career fWAR - a great outcome for a baseball player).

Feel free a year or two from now to come rub this ranking in my face if Vallot never makes it above AA. That will likely be because he can’t conquer his strikeouts or his defense never improves. Vallot will be on my lists for a few more years at least as I’d put his MLB ETA at 2020-2021 barring any huge breakout. I think I’m taking a risk here but he’s done two thing really well in his career, walk and hit for power, that make a hitter stand out.

#2 Ryan O’Hearn 1B - 22yo AA

Do you really need me to write more about O’Hearn? I’ve been on his bandwagon since he was drafted and might end up being the under the radar guy I was early on. The cliff notes of what I like about O’Hearn:

Accesses raw power

Good walk rates

Sprays the ball to all fields

Power isn’t just to pull side (several center and oppo home runs)

Not a zero defensively at 1B

If O’Hearn was a true outfielder (he spent time in LF in 2016) then I think he’d be a top 100 prospect easily. Instead with the mainly 1B profile (poor wheels, not great arm, just okay defensively) he’s more of a fringe top 100 guy. That’s still a really good outcome for an 8th round pick where basically getting any MLB playing time that’s better than replacement level is a win.

O’Hearn doesn’t have great bat speed and the power is more from just having pure strength (which is one of the many things that separates him from the eerily similar comparisons to Paul Goldschmidt) and as mentioned the speed/defense is not an asset. He’ll have to keep hitting but thankfully he only really has one more level left to conquer in AAA. It looks like he’ll be in AA this year to start (where he had a 123 wRC+) for a tune up. Hopefully he comes out and tears up the Texas League and sees Omaha (AAA) by May.

#3 Donnie Dewees OF - 22yo A+

When the Royals DFA’d Alec Mills I was really confused. It wasn’t until a few hours later they announced they acquired Dewees for Mills and then I turned my frown upside down.

I had Dewees on my big draft board at #40 in 2015 and wrote:

Donnie Dewees, OF North Florida

Dewees broke his wrist last year and didn't really get the ball rolling in the spring, but over the summer he was outstanding. He's one of the older draft eligible guys and his injury gave him another season of eligibility so if he's not drafted early enough he could theoretically return to North Florida.

Donnie doesn't need a long winded explanation about him unlike Aiken above. He's a plus runner with an awesome approach/swing and a plus hit tool. The frame is smaller and the power is fringey, but he's a potential top of the order hitter who could rise quickly through a clubs system. Think Brett Gardner, who's one of the most underrated players in the past few years.

No wonder the Athletic's are high on this guy.

Not that much has changed with Dewees. He’s still a great runner and defender and puts the ball in play by spraying line drives across all fields.

The power is questionable and truth be told my Brett Gardner comp was a little heavy handed on the power.

This is another aggressive ranking I think but depending on your preference you could slot Dewees anywhere from here to like 10th. Dewees is going to hit but turning all those singles into doubles, triples, and home runs is going to be what separates him from a 4th OF or center fielder who is a little light in the bat to being a 2-3 win player.

#4 Kyle Zimmer SP/RP - 24yo AA

Seriously it feels like I’ve written at this point the unofficial screenplay based on Kyle Zimmer’s life given all the digital ink I’ve spilled on him. Unfortunately this movie is similar to Manchester By the Sea. The audience just feels depressed and sad for this man who has almost everything go wrong in his life and when they leave they try to question what it was they watched. They expected some great, hyped film, but had to sit through viewing a sad tale without any real payoff.

Zimmer has been hurt, again and again and again. In the next life, he’ll likely be hurt too. However he underwent Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery this past winter and this spring he bumped it up to 95.5 MPH and sat 93. That’s similar to his old peak velocities. I’m curious if the Royals tweaked his release point a bit given the data I’ve seen but I haven’t seen him pitch yet.

Peak Zimmer is one of the best pitchers in the minors and the next Zack Greinke. Peak Zimmer though is also a spectral being that tempts us during the day, and haunts us at night.

#5 Josh Staumont SP/RP - 22yo AA

I’ve really liked Staumont for a while and ranked him 11th overall last year. If I recall correctly that was several spots higher than most other (and I don’t say this sarcastically - better & smarter) outlets. Mainly because I cut right through the tall grass and stapled him as a reliever.

The Royals still see him as a starter but I’ve got huge doubts about that. Last year Staumont walked 17.1% of batters he faced.

He made strides as you can see above, but it was still not really close to where he needs to be. Below is the list of qualified starters who walked greater than or equal to 15% (a 2% improvement for Staumont) of batters they faced since 1990:

No one.

Staumont lead the entire minor leagues in BB% last year (among qualified starters) and he beat the next guy by +2.2%. He needs to cut his walk rate down to about 12% to even be tolerable at a Jonathan Sanchez level and that’s a huge jump to sustain on a year-to-year basis.

Part of Staumont’s whole package is the ability to air it out. Unfortunately there isn’t really a mechanical tweak he could make to hone in the control because it’s pretty simple already. There also isn’t much of a third pitch currently with his changeup.

This is about as high as I can rank a reliever unless it’s one with excellent command/control and wipeout stuff. Staumont has the wipeout stuff but is missing the former necessary trait. The Giants just DFA’d Ray Black on Sunday, a similar fireballer (who touched 04 MPH) with little to no control (though Staumont has a bit better).

#6 Scott Blewett SP - 20yo A+

Blewett fell off the radar a bit after a thoroughly meh sophomore season where he failed to strike out Sally League hitters. He went back to Lexington this year were he fared better and wasn’t old for the league now.

I’m projecting Blewett to grow in a few ways. At 20 he can still fill out some perhaps but he’s probably close to maturity there given that’s he a nice sized 6’6”. The other growth is coming with his fastball gaining a bit more heat and leaving the low-90s realm alongside a progressing changeup.

He’s a cold weather guy so he was always going to be a bit behind some of his peers, but the control profile and projection are positive signs for a potential #3 pitcher.

#7 Seuly Matias OF - 17yo Rookie Ball

If you wanna talk about projection, here it is. Matias has the tools to be a legit 3-4 win player and All-Star. I don’t think he stays in center because he’s going to fill out (he’s 17) and lose some speed but the arm is good enough to play in RF.

He’s got the type of body you could see 2-3 years from now being ultra athletic and the perfect mold for an outfielder and he’s already grown since the Royals signed him out of the Dominican Republic.

If he does grow into the size I think he will and the hit tool comes around (it needs a lot of work but he’s of course about as raw as it gets) then he’ll be the future everyday right fielder for the Royals. Give him a few years though...

#8 Jake Junis SP - 23yo AAA

I had Junis among one of my 10 breakout prospects last year and he broke out, posting his best strikeout rate of his career in AA and then keeping up good rates in AAA. It’s more 50’s across the board but it’s a bunch of present 50’s than projections like with Nolan Watson. His changeup could use a small bump but he’s a near ready #4/5 starter.

#9 AJ Puckett SP - 21yo A-Ball

Puckett has a crazy back story I suggest you read more about if you get the chance, but I’m not going to go over it here. I didn’t like the pick as I preferred KC take a little more risk with their late pick but Puckett has enough of a “safe base” that you could see him in the majors a few short years after being drafted.

He wasn’t great in his pro debut and the stuff is just mediocre (particularly for a college pitcher) so the ceiling is more of a #4 than a #3.

#10 Eric Skoglund SP - 23yo AA

We are getting the point where any player could be +/- 3 or 4 slots and I’d be fine with it. Skoglund has had the better results than Puckett with similar-ish stuff, but has had a few more years in the system. His size was once a concern given how lanky he is, but he’s carry a fine workload so far (156 IP last year in AA). It’s the same kinda ceiling as Puckett and both have a similar ETA.

#11 Khalil Lee OF - 18yo Rookie Ball

Truth be told I preferred Akil Badoo over Lee when the Royals pick came around in the third round last June if you wanted to chose a raw tools-laden prep outfielder. Lee put up a 149 wRC+ in his debut while Badoo posted an 81, which goes to show what I know (although Badoo was younger - one of the youngest guys drafted).

Many (most?) teams liked Lee more as a pitcher than a hitter given the raw tools they could play and mold with. The Royals saw him as a hitter all the way (and even announced such when they called his name).

The reason he’s perked up some ears is his growth since even last spring where he was a bit undersized. Now he looks like a young Jose Guillen (a compliment I swear) in size, strength, and tools (plus power, plus arm, RF).

The biggest question mark is absolutely the hit tool where it’s probably a 40-45 at ceiling. He doesn’t have great wheels and if he fills out a lot more then it’ll drop well below the average line.

I need to see more out of Lee to really even think about getting on the bandwagon and I think the chances of him being lower next winter is greater than him still being at #11 or better.

#12 Meibrys Viloria C - 19yo Rookie Ball

Viloria could be the Eric Hosmer of the Royals minors. He’s hot then he’s cold, he’s yes then he’s no, he’s in then he’s out, he’s up then he’s down. This past year he busted out in the Pioneer League (I also had him as one of my ten breakout prospects), putting up a 159 wRC+.

You could probably put equal odds on Viloria and Vallot actually staying at catcher four or five years from now as they are cut from the same #thickbody mold (think Cheslor Cuthbert at catcher).

Though the surface number is eye popping (159 wRC+) there is some detective work needed. In 2015 he had zero (z-e-r-o) extra base hits in 172 plate appearances (all 39 of his hits were singles). The next year he gets promoted to a hitter friendly Pioneer League where he pops off 28 doubles, three triples, and six home runs. That was also fueled by a .418 BABIP, among the highest in all the minors.

There is going to be some discussion between Vallot and Viloria (especially since I’m putting him 11 slots lower) but Vallot is only half a year older, has played and produced in full season ball, and has way more raw power. If they are both at equal chance to be a catcher (or even giving Viloria the slight nod) I still can’t see how you can put Viloria ahead of him.

#13 Corey Toups 2B/SS - 24yo AA

You might see a lot of variation on Toups and admittedly I’m not personally high on him, but I can’t see him behind any of the guys after him really. Toups doesn’t have excellent tools and he’s a Johnny Giavotella-esque guy. No real big time tool but he could be a 45 hit, 45-50 power, 45 run, 50 arm, and 55 speed. That take some squinting but it’s not like I’m suggesting the Royals bat Alcides Escobar lead off or anything crazy like that.

He needs to hit at every level, and he has so far, but he’s starting to reach the edges of being old for his level (likely AAA).

#14 Samir Duenez 1B - 20yo A+

Duenez was added to the Royals 40-man roster this past winter, a moved that surprised me. He hasn’t really been that great at any place and for a first baseman the power just hasn’t appeared. He’s hit over power, which isn’t bad if you aren’t a first baseman, but Duenez is going to be confined to the cold corner sprinkled with some time in LF where he’ll be below average defensively.

#15 Jeison Guzman SS - 17yo Rookie Ball

Guzman was part of the bonus pool breaking spree the Royals went on in 2015 (and found themselves in the penalty box for 2016 and 2017) where he got $1.3M out of the Dominican Republic.

The Royals love their speedy, defensive shortstops and it might be the most common denominator in the overall organization (Mondesi, Lopez, Arteaga, Gasparini, Aracena, and more). Like all of them, Guzman’s bat remains to be seen but I’d take him over any of the other speedy SS’s in the org, mainly on raw projection.

#16 Ramon Torres 2B - 23yo AAA

One of these damn days Torres is finally going to see a MLB game (not from the stands). He’s almost out of options and fits the mold of middle infielder the Royals like. Somewhat speedy, low power, puts the ball in play, and can play all over the infielder. His ceiling is a utility infielder and he could be on the big league roster this time next year.

#17 Bubba Starling OF - 23yo AA

What more is there to say? Largest signing bonus in franchise history, largest signing bonus given to a high schooler, and largest bonus ever given to a hitter (he and Stephen Strasburg got an equal bonus). It’s perhaps more economically beneficial instead of using public money to build a stadium, drop that cash out of a plane over the city instead. The Royals could have done a similar approach and used that money to build a few nice baseball facilities or re-design Sluggerrr’s costume with a jetpack. Instead they gave Starling $7.5M and have gotten a career .232/.308/.382 minor league hitter in return.

The hope is that Starling unlocks whatever tool is in hiding, figures it all out, and brings his hitting in line with his excellent defense/baserunning. If you stay up late enough one night, you might be able to convince yourself in a sleepy haze that Starling could be decent enough of a hitter to match his defense and be a respectable big leaguer. However here is a reminder for you that Lorenzo Cain is the exception, not the example.

#18 Jonathan Dziedzic SP - 25yo AAA

To be frank there isn’t a ton to like about Dziedzic, but I’ve got him this high because he’s had good success in the minors, reached AAA, and I really like his changeup. That’s about the most you can say about him and he’s probably in his final year of being a prospect (he’s 26 now) so if he’s not called up anytime soon, it’ll probably be sunset on his prospectdom.

#19 Travis Maezes 2B/3B - 22yo A-Ball

After sitting out for the rest of the year after the Royals called his name, Maezes got the assignment straight to full season ball (after recovering fully from his injury). He started off really strong with a 156 wRC+ in May and showing the power that’s been prayed for, but he really stalled over the stretch. That’s kind of the opposite of what I wanted to happen as you could at least chalk up the slow start to getting back into game action.

He was strictly a DH for the Legends so it’s unclear where the Royals are going to play him defensively but I expect it to be a split between 2B and 3B with SS in a pinch. The stroke is line drive focused and I think the strikeouts (36%) are indicative of his true talent level. It seems like he sold out contact for power (a lesson Hunter Dozier learned can really kill your output) so a reversion to what made him the everyday SS at Michigan is what might be needed.

#20 Jorge Bonifacio OF - 23yo AAA

We’ve all been waiting on that Bonifacio breakout for years. It happened briefly as a 20 year old in AA for 25 games, but he stumbled when he returned there to start 2014. He was once a hit first outfielder where you hoped the power would come through, and now that it has, it’s cannibalized his ability to make contact. Pair that with mediocre defense (though a strong arm) and I don’t see really anything more than a 5th outfielder from Boni.

So there you go. 80 prospects done and ranked. Below you can find the full list and in the comments feel free to ridicule me or ask any questions.

Top 80

Rank Player Position
Rank Player Position
1 Chase Vallot C
2 Ryan O'Hearn 1B
3 Donnie Dewees OF
4 Kyle Zimmer SP/RP
5 Josh Staumont SP/RP
6 Scott Blewett SP
7 Seuly Matias OF
8 Jake Junis SP
9 AJ Puckett SP
10 Eric Skoglund SP
11 Khalil Lee OF
12 Meibrys Viloria C
13 Corey Toups 2B
14 Samir Duenez 1B
15 Jeison Guzman SS
16 Ramon Torres 2B
17 Bubba Starling OF
18 Jonathan Dziedzic SP
19 Travis Maezes 2B
20 Jorge Bonifacio OF
21 Chris DeVito 1B
22 Ben Johnson OF
23 Gabriel Cancel 3B
24 Nicky Lopez SS
25 Garrett Davila SP
26 Corey Ray RP
27 Esteury Ruiz OF
28 Brandon Downes OF
29 Zach Lovvorn SP
30 Anderson Miller OF
31 Kevin McCarthy RP
32 Kort Peterson OF
33 Pedro Fernandez SP
34 Andrew Edwards RP
35 Nolan Watson SP
36 Cristian Castillo SP
37 Cam Gallagher C
38 Jacob Bodner RP
39 Richard Lovelady RP
40 Anthony Bender RP
41 Oli Nunez SS
42 Manny Olloque 3B
43 Julio Pinto SP
44 Travis Eckert SP
45 Colin Rodgers SP/RP
46 Cody Jones OF
47 Luke Farrell SP/RP
48 DJ Burt 2B
49 Elier Hernandez OF
50 Matt Ditman RP
51 Yeison Melo OF
52 Ashe Russell SP/RP
53 Alfredo Escalera OF
54 Emmanuel Rivera 3B
55 Gerson Garabito SP
56 Logan Gray 3B
57 Foster Griffin Sp
58 Nick Dini C
59 Sebastian Rivero C
60 Xavier Fernandez C
61 Marten Gasparini SS/CF
62 Jared Ruxer SP/RP
63 Roman Collins OF
64 Ricky Aracena SS
65 Christian Binford SP/RP
66 Frank Schwindel 1B
67 Chad Johnson C
68 Cal Jones OF
69 Amalani Fukofuka OF
70 Humberto Arteaga SS
71 Jake Newberry RP
72 Cristhian Vasquez OF
73 Eric Stout RP
74 Malcom Culver RP
75 Yender Caramo SP
76 Bryan Brickhouse RP
77 Zane Evans C/1B
78 Sam Selman RP
79 Yunior Marte SP
80 Joey Markus SP/RP