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2017 Royals Midseason Top 30 Prospects

Evaluating at the half

SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Halfway through the MLB season is a few weeks past the MiLB season as even though we just saw the MLB All-Star Game, the minor league All Star Games have been played a few weeks ago already. However for the sake of this particular article, we’ll call this the midway point for the minors as well.

You can find all the past lists I’ve been wrong about below:

Pre-season 2017

Mid-season 2016

Pre-season 2016

Mid-season 2015

Pre-season 2015

Mid-season 2014

Pre-season 2014

State of the Farm

I’m not really sure much has changed from when I wrote about the system a few months ago. Several midseason lists have come out covering the better prospects in baseball and the Royals came up empty on them. Partially due to their “blue chip” prospect Raul Mondesi no longer being eligible, and because of the long standing drafting woes the front offense has had over the past half decade. At this point, I’d be surprised if anyone currently in the system appears on a top 100 list this next winter. It’s possible for someone to crack the back half I suppose, but barring any huge breakout (like Foster Griffin finding six MPH on his fastball one morning), there aren’t going to be any slam dunk top 100 guys like in the glory days of the system.

I don’t think it’s crazy to say ether that some of the higher pieces took some hits too, with Zimmer being hurt, Staumont throwing the ball into the dugout, and Jake Junis/Eric Skoglund being promoted.

This was pretty tough update. Some guys jumped up but no one took the bull by the horns. Instead some guys will move up or down some slots just because of attrition or small changes, and I wouldn’t read too much into anyone past like #5 being a few slots higher or lower than another guy. When the system is weak, minor differences in profile can make large differences in rank.

#1 Chase Vallot - Catcher, A+ 20 years old (Preseason: #1)

What I wrote:

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.

Vallot is in some way stuck in #1 overall limbo hell, if that’s a thing. He’s been good this season, but not so good that he’s destroying the league but he’s not been bad that he warrants to be moved based off just a few months.

I just wrote about Vallot a few weeks ago, so go read that for more on my thoughts but as long as he keeps walking, hitting for power, is super young for his level, and is in theory a catcher, he’ll be high on my lists.

#2 Donnie Dewees - OF, AA 23 years old (Preseason: #3)

What I wrote:

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.

Dewees 101 wRC+ as a 23 year old in AA isn’t inspiring but he’s getting hammered by BABIP and has been a lot better over the past two months.

April: 86 wRC+ .233 BABIP

May: 74 wRC+ .253 BABIP

June: 166 wRC+ .365 BABIP

He’s not a 166 wRC+ hitter but he has way too much speed and contact skills to run a sub-.250 BABIP, and since May he’s run a more normal .305 BABIP for a 106 wRC+.

Clay Davenport has Dewees as a +5 defender in centerfield (equivalent to what Alex Gordon has done in LF this year), so he’s good enough to continue to stick there.

#3 Ryan O’Hearn - 1B, AAA 23 years old (Preseason: #2)

What I wrote:

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.

Even though I’m a notorious O’Hearn fan, I had to bump him down a spot. He got off to a strong start but has just kinda floated around since having bright spots and dark spots. He’s still hitting for power, and he might break his single season record for homers but he’s walking a bit less. The strikeouts aren’t glaringly concerning (he’s actually dropped his rate) either, neither is the swinging strike rate (also dropped).

He hasn’t gotten many reps in the OF this year either but that may be due to how crowded it is there.

#4 Scott Blewett - SP, A+ 21 years old (Preseason: #6)

What I wrote:

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.

Blewett gets a bit of a bump because of some other guys movement, but he’s been fine in A+ and ceteris paribus I would have kept him at #6 probably. Peripherals have remained the same but suddenly he’s been dinged by the homer bug, which is strange for a pitcher in the Carolina League.

#5 Seuly Matias - OF, Rookie League 18 years old (Preseason: #7)

What I wrote:

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.

I didn’t even take a few months for him to be impressively sized:

He’s the same height as Nelson Cruz now, and although the he’s still crazy raw, you can see the tools oozing out of his veins

. I don’t love Matias, but with the system this thin, his tools stand out, even if he’s like a half-decade away.

#6 Richard Lovelady - RP, AA 21 years old (Preseason: #39)

What I wrote:

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.

***Choo chooooo***

That’s the Richard Lovelady express train, and tickets are cheap right now. I hopped on it, and while I’m not the conductor (a “source” really brought him to my eyes), I’m happy to be like assistant conductor or whatever the railway equivalent of a first mate is (semi-conductor?).

In my preseason list I said 5th was about as high as I can rank a reliever, so it’s not a knock to Lovelady (even if he ends up being Kenley Jansen), it’s just how do you put a relief only guy higher?

We’ll see how Lovelady does at the upper levels and/or majors against right handers with his delivery (low arm angle screams LOOGY) but he’s got the stuff to be a dominant LOOGY if that’s all that comes out of him.

#7 Nick Pratto - 1B, Rookie League 18 years old (Preseason: N/A)

I wrote a bunch about Pratto in the draft recap so read that for my full thoughts. He’s a 1B only kinda guy with a decent hit tool and questionable power at the moment. That power decides if he’s an average or better player or a bench bat.

#8 Kyle Zimmer - SP/RP, AAA 25 years old (Preseason: #4)

What I wrote:

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.

Sigh. I don’t know if a players ever made me sadder. I’ve been writing about Zimmer for years and it’s only gone downhill with each list. He’s a reliever now and he hasn’t even been okay doing that this year.

I won’t call Zimmer a bad pick, because “fresh arm” is a double-edged sword (fewer mileage is good but it also means the arm isn’t used to pitching) and he was a fine selection there. However he’s probably inching very close to bust territory.

#9 Josh Staumont - RP, AAA 23 years old (Preseason: #5)

What I wrote:

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 command not only didn’t take a step forward, it took a step backwards, and he’s been demoted to AA. I’m not sure what you can fix here other than telling him to not worry about going further than 3 outs and pound the zone.

#10 Nicky Lopez - SS, AA 22 years old (Preseason: #24)

What I wrote:

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.

I’m still not much of a Lopez fan but he deserves to be ranked higher than I had him just based on the fact that he’s in AA and has hit fairly well this year. There is still zero power to his game, but he’s walked a bit and put the ball in play. Sometimes that profile works out, but usually it’s just a utility ceiling.

#11 Khalil Lee - OF, A 19 years old (Preseason: #11)

What I wrote:

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.

Granted, I control the lists so I could put Lee wherever I want, but I think his season has just been fair. He’s hit a little better than Chase Vallot, but he’s at a lower level, a season-year older than Vallot was when he debuted in Lexington, and isn’t a catcher. Lee has some of the same issues as Vallot (32% K% and 12% SwStrk%) but has less power (though more speed). I can’t see how you can put him higher based on production, but I could see an argument for them right near each other.

#12 AJ Puckett - SP, A+ 22 years old (Preseason: #9)

What I wrote:

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.

I preferred the Royals take a lottery pick with their first pick last year and Puckett has kinda just been meh in A+ (where he should be doing well given his age and the league). The strikeouts are up a bit, which is encouraging, but I’m not really going to consider his stats until he gets to AA where college pitchers actually start getting challenged.

#13 Samir Duenez - 1B, AA 21 years old (Preseason: #14)

What I wrote:

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.

Still just about the same thoughts there but his body has gotten a bit out of control to where he’s a 1B only with a bullet for me and at age 21 he might grow a little more outwards. He’s hit fine but an unathletic 1B only guy with just modest power is a hard profile to love.

#14 Gabriel Cancel - 2B, A 20 years old (Preseason: #23)

What I wrote:

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.

His debut to full season ball has been good and he’s hitting for power. When he turns on a ball it goes really far and defensively he’s a bit choppy at 2B but I really don’t care that much about defense there unless you are just god awful (like Cuthbert would be there).

Consider me also on the Cancel bandwagon, even if the tools aren’t explosive.

#15 Esteury Ruiz - 2B, Rookie League 18 years old (Preseason: #27)

What I wrote:

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...).

Ruiz is doing well in Rookie League but he’s still super raw. I haven’t gotten a look at him as he’s still in the Arizona League, but he’s a long ways away so there’s time to see how the body grows.

#16 Michael Gigliotti - OF, Rookie League 20 years old (Preseason: N/A)

Follow that link under Nick Pratto for more thoughts on Gigliotti. I like him decently, and let’s see how he does in full season ball to really see what we have. He could be ten spots higher or lower this time next year.

#17 Meibrys Viloria - C, A 20 years old (Preseason: #12)

What I wrote:

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.

Surprise surprise, Viloria has run a bit cold this year. The power is back to where it was in 2014 and the power spike last year seems like the outlier I felt like it was.

#18 Foster Griffin - SP, AA 21 years old (Preseason: #57)

What I wrote:

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.

Some folks will have Griffin higher than this, but moving him up 40 spots is a superlative in my mind. I’m still not sold on him because the strikeout numbers still are underwhelming and so is the stuff:

Command only guys (if Griffin is even that) have a very fine line they must walk to be successful, and we saw what happened to Christian Binford who arguably had better results than Griffin.

#19 Chris DeVito - 1B, A+ 22 years old (Preseason: #21)

What I wrote:

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.

I’m really just gonna hold still on DeVito (who has moved up due to attrition) until he gets to AA where I think the swing will be exposed.

#20 MJ Melendez - C, Rookie League 18 years old (Preseason: N/A)

See comments under: Gigliotti, Michael

The rest below you can ask me specific questions about them in the comments if you are interested in hearing my thoughts about them more.

#21 Jeison Guzman - SS, Rookie League 18 years old (Preseason: #15)

#22 Corey Toups - 2B, AAA 24 years old (Preseason: #13)

#23 Bubba Starling - OF, AAA 24 years old (Preseason: #17)

#24 Anderson Miller - OF, AA, 23 years old (Preseason: #30)

#25 Oli Nunez - SS, Rookie League 22 years old (Preseason: #41)

#26 Brandon Downes - OF, A+ (injury) 24 years old (Preseason: #28)

#27 Zach Lovvorn - SP, AA 23 years old (Preseason: 29)

#28 Nick Dini - C, AA 23 years old (Preseason: #58)

#29 Cristian Castillo - SP, A+ 22 years old (Preseason: #36)

#30 Evan Steele - SP, Unassigned 21 years old (Preseason: N/A)

Of course, if you have any other questions about anyone else in the system, leave them in the comments below.

Midseason Top 30.csv

Rank Player Position Preseason
Rank Player Position Preseason
1 Chase Vallot C 1
2 Donnie Dewees OF 3
3 Ryan O'Hearn 1B 2
4 Scott Blewett SP 6
5 Seuly Matias OF 7
6 Richard Lovelady RP 39
7 Nick Pratto 1B N/A
8 Kyle Zimmer SP/RP 4
9 Josh Staumont RP 5
10 Nicky Lopez SS 24
11 Khalil Lee OF 11
12 AJ Puckett SP 9
13 Samir Duenez 1B 14
14 Gabriel Cancel 2B 23
15 Esteury Ruiz OF 27
16 Michael Gigliotti OF N/A
17 Meibrys Viloria C 12
18 Foster Griffin SP 57
19 Chris DeVito 1B 21
20 MJ Melendez C N/A
21 Jeison Guzman SS 15
22 Corey Toups 2B 13
23 Bubba Starling OF 17
24 Anderson Miller OF 30
25 Oli Nunez SS 41
26 Brandon Downes OF 28
27 Zach Lovvorn SP 29
28 Nick Dini C 58
29 Cristian Castillo SP 36
30 Evan Steele LHP N/A