Occasionally during the daily Rumblings on the site I’ll give some thoughts about Royals minor leaguers, their performance, and what I’m looking for going forward. I’m of course not a scout, not even close, and even if I wanted to learn the craft I could never let it overtake my analytical side of player evaluation. However I do at least enjoy talking about prospects and of course particularly the Royals prospects. So in that light, I figure on the occasional Thursday morning I’ll have some thoughts about guys that I like, am liking, didn’t like, and am not liking any more. I’ll probably pepper in some draft stuff too with that coming up as well as a small section on non-Royals guys that you can skip over if it isn’t your thing.
Ryan O’Hearn, first baseman, Omaha (AAA)
You know I’ve been trying to get everyone on the O’Hearn train since 2014. I’ve been a big fan of his power and all fields ability to access that power. He started off strong to begin the year but has slowed down a bit. He’s doing fair enough (113 wRC+) but you’d like a first base only guy to do pretty damn well. The strikeout drop is a strong positive sign and he hasn’t lost any power. I’d like to see those walks get back to where they were but he should spend the rest of the year in AAA to cook a bit more.
Donnie Dewees, outfielder, Northwest Arkansas (AA)
I thought maybe Dewees early season little power spurt was a sign of things to come, but he eventually fell back towards his career norm (funny how that happens...). A new found power tool would have made him a very good prospect (easily a top 100 guy). Even though it didn’t last, I still like the profile and what he’s doing.
He’s walking more than he’s striking out (which I’m expecting the Royals to eventually correct or cut him) and he has a bonkers swinging strike rate. The triple slash line doesn’t look good on the surface (.228/.339/.366) but it’s a 101 wRC+ and is being dragged down by a .250 BABIP. That BABIP won’t last as Dewees has great contact skills and decent speed.
I’m willing to have the argument that he’s the best prospect in the system if you aren’t sold on Chase Vallot staying at catcher and are concerned about O’Hearn striking out too much.
Foster Griffin, starting pither, Wilmington (High A)
Despite being a young guy I kind of gave up on, Griffin has been decent this year. Command has still been a bit of a bug and I haven’t heard much on the velocity (it was really uninspiring last year). He’s repeating A+ and it’s Wilmington/Carolina League, so I’m not really willing to jump on board until AA.
Elier Hernandez, outfielder, Wilmington (High A)
I’ve hopped on the Hernandez train in the past but it derailed on me. Thankfully I’m like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable. He’s doing well in Wilmington and it’s not like he’s an older prospect or anything, but he’s been in Wilmington since 2015 (873 PA so far). It’s hard to be enticed about a guy who’s been so bad in the past and is now doing well as a 22-year old in a lower minors league he’s seen a lot of (not to mention the .395 BABIP). The strikeouts are up too and the walk rate remains Alcides Escobar-esque.
Chase Vallot, catcher, Wilmington (High A)
Obviously I was high on Chase Vallot as I ranked him the #1 guy in the org based on his superb raw power that he can get to in games and the chance that he’ll be a catcher. The whiffs were a concern and always will be but he counteracts that by walking in like 15% of his plate appearances. He isn’t going to be Buster Posey but if he’s Mike Napoli-lite (bad catcher, lot of strikeouts, big power, nice walk rate) that’s a great outcome and one likely better than anyone else in the current system.
Vallot struggled to begin the year but has raised his wRC+ over 100 - to 101 - excluding last night's game. The strikeouts are up but the swinging strike rate is more manageable. Also he’s player in both Wilmington and the Carolina League - hitter’s hell. Despite that, his ISO is on par with prior years.
The increase in strikeouts and slow start aren’t great indicators but the fact that he’s 20 years old and kept him walk rate and power in A+ is a good counterbalance.
Chris DeVito, first baseman, Lexington (low A)
I didn’t care much for DeVito going into the year really. He’s a 1B/DH only kind of guy (heard really bad things about his defense at first in college) and he’s not a masher in the Kyle Schwarber mold. Rather his game relies upon grip-it and rip-it, selling out for power. The strong start to the year is nice, but he’s also 22 years old, a college guy, and in A-Ball. He should be doing pretty well.
The strikeouts aren’t unmanageable so far, the swinging strike rate looks good so far, and he’s not straight pulling everything. If he keeps this up he’s worth keeping an eye on, but I don’t think we can make any decision on him unless he does well in AA.
Below is a snippit from Eric Longehagen at FanGraphs chat from Tuesday (there will be a few more of these in this post)
Is there anything to make out of the hot start by Chris DeVito? Have you seen him? What are your thoughts?
Eric A Longenhagen: 1B/DH-only, has 55 or better raw power but probably a bit too much swing and miss for that kind of defensive profile
Khalil Lee, outfielder, Lexington (Low A ball)
Lee is definitely opening some eyes with his full season debut. He’s doing better than I had expected as I thought the strikeouts were going to be a big issue and he doesn’t have the power that Vallot has. Instead he’s hit for power, walked a bunch, and dropped his swinging strike rate. The BABIP isn’t crazy either, particularly for someone with speed like Lee. On the negative side the strikeouts have taken a jump - he has a 28% strikeout rate - but that’s not necessarily unruly for a prep hitter in his full season debut.
His approach is very DeVito-esque but hard to complain with what he’s done so far.
Does Khalil Lee‘s ability to draw walks at a crazy rate make you feel any better about his swing and miss problems? The power seems real and he has tools, but obviously k-rate is the number to watch with him right now.
Eric A Longenhagen: It does, he has a great idea of the zone.
Kort Peterson, outfielder, Lexington (Low A ball)
I thought Peterson was just an okay prospect, one of those guys that you could target as a throw in piece of a major trade or the main return for a seventh inning reliever. He probably has a “fourth outfielder ceiling” but he has impressive size, speed, and contact ability where you could convince me he’s a starter on a non-competing team (he just seems like an outfielder for the Angels). The power remains unimpressive but he’s hit well. That should be expected for a 23 year old in A-Ball (some of his teammates are 19). I could see him skip A+ and go straight to AA just for the Royals to see what he has. There’s not much of a reason I don’t think (except for costing a legit prospect playing time) for him to go to Wilmington really.
Marten Gasparini, shortstop, Lexington (Low A)
I get a lot of flack sometimes for labeling a 19/20 year old a fourth outfielder or saying that they’ll never hit enough. I was willing to be patient with Gasparini as he transitioned to American baseball from European baseball, which is something equivalent to travel league ball vs. the MLB. I’m willing to buy that you should wait a bit longer, but Gasp is now 20 (he was signed at 16) and hasn’t made it past A-Ball. Not only that, but he hasn’t even shown a glimpse of hitting. He’s the owner of a career .214/.280/.319 line and a 32% strikeout rate. If the story wasn’t unique then he would have been given up on a bit ago perhaps, but at some point we need more than a back story.
I’m not sure I’m going to be able to provide the same level of coverage of the draft this year as I did the past few years due to studying. Normally I’ll have a few posts who the Royals might take, 25-30 guys you need to know for the draft, and then a draft board. I’m not positive I’ll be able to supply all of those this year but I’m sure I’ll do something on guys the Royals might take.
Their strategy this year should be pretty straight forward, just take the best player available. Having said that, I implore them to not take a prep pitcher.
A few mock drafts I’ve seen has them in on prep pitchers, and particularly raw prep pitchers like Shane Baz and Trevor Rogers. There aren’t a lot of polished prep pitchers necessarily, but they seem to still love the arm speed guys with mechanical changes need and development (or creation) of a third pitch. This. Has. Not. Worked.
I was a big fan of both Forrest Wall and Ian Happ. It’s outside the box to take a second baseman in the first round (typically the thought is that they’ll end up centerfielders - like Mookie Betts and Billy Hamilton, though Hamilton was a shortstop), especially prep second basemen. Happ has destroyed minor league pitching and two years after being drafted he looks ready for the majors. Wall stumbled a bit last year after strong prior seasons but has rebounded since. I think second basemen could be undervalued in the draft, mainly because they are seen as lesser than their shortstop counterparts. However I don’t like second bsemen guys for their glove, but because those dudes can usually hit (Happ and Wall both had great hit tools). There is a similar hitter in the draft this year out of U.C. Irvine in Keston Hiura.
Hiura can hit, and if he were an outfielder or third basemen he’d be in consideration I think to go in the top 5-10 of the draft. Unfortunately he is a second baseman only and to make matters worse some feel he will need Tommy John surgery. Teams have been more willing to take pitchers who need or have recently had TJS, so why not a second baseman perhaps? Regardless of the pending surgery, I think nabbing him at #14 overall, letting him get his feet wet in Advanced Rookie ball (Idaho Falls), and then having him have the surgery during the winter would make sense. He’s hit extremely well this year so far, so there might be a chance he isn’t at #14 when the Royals pick, but if he’s there, the Royals may finally have a player that can solidify second base for them some day.