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Talkin’ prospects with Baseball Prospectus Kansas City writer Clint Scoles

His latest prospect guide looks at the farm system.

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-All Star Game Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals appear to be in a rebuild, which means they will need to rely on their farm system to produce the next generation of players. That puts more focus on Royals minor leaguers, some of which have definitely been flying under the radar. Clint Scoles, who writes about prospects for Baseball Prospectus Kansas City, is here to help with the 2018 Prospect Guide, which you can purchase for the very reasonable price of $5.

In his guide, you can find detailed reports on over 60 Royals prospects, and the top-ranked prospect may surprise you. Clint was kind enough to chat with me a bit about the state of the minor leagues.

Royals Review: It seems many outside observers peg the Royals as having a weak farm system. Do you share that view and what are the strengths and weaknesses of the system?

Clint Scoles: Yes, I believe it’s one of the weaker farm systems due to the fact that they’re without a Top 100 player, but much like the Angels farm system, I believe they can quickly turn that around with what should be a rather large draft pool and a trade of one of their two controllable talents.

The strengths of this organization are at the catcher position with Salvador Pérez at the top, Cam Gallagher, a likely long-term backup at Triple-A, Chase Vallot, Meibrys Viloria, M.J. Melendez, and Sebastian Rivero sprinkled at every spot within the system. It’s truly a position of strength even if it is a volatile position to develop players.

In addition to that position, I believe the Royals have built up the pitching that they have at Triple-A to the point that they have legitimately 20 pitchers that deserve a spot on the Omaha roster. None of the 20 are going to be a major league ace but there is value in finding another back-end starter and replacing pitchers in the major league bullpen and I’d bet on their being at least one starter and two to three quality bullpen arms in there.

RR: The Royals have had a few less heralded players like Jake Junis, Whit Merrifield, and Jorge Bonifacio emerge in recent years. What are some sleepers to keep an eye on?

CS: The major league ranks won’t likely see a positional player that they’re unfamiliar with establishing themselves at the major leagues à la Merrifield this year. The best candidates for that role would be guys that have already shown themselves there in Raúl Mondesí, Cheslor Cuthbert or Hunter Dozier. While we won’t likely see a new position player step up I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw multiple pitchers lock themselves onto the staff. I like the chances of Burch Smith fitting into a relief role and even taking over for Kelvin Herrera should he get traded at the deadline. In addition, Trevor Oaks could repeat what Junis did a year ago and while Andres Machado struggled in his first look in the bigs I like his fastball/change combination.

RR: I think Royals fans are eagerly anticipating Richard Lovelady to join the team simply because of his name, but he’s a legit pitcher. Tell us about him and any other prospects you think can make it to Kansas City this year.

CS: No player was brought up by opponents scouts to me more than Lovelady last year for the Royals and I wouldn’t be surprised if multiple teams had asked for him when they were looking to make deals. What sets him aside from most power relievers is the arm angle and his control/command of his upper 90’s fastball. Quite a few pitchers can reach 97-98 mph lately but can they don’t do it from a deceptive arm angle or have the control that he presents. Just look at the power relievers the Pirates acquired the last couple of days in Kyle Crick and Michael Feliz. Both have fastballs with equal to greater velocity but neither can control it in the ballpark at the level Lovelady can. The slider currently is an average pitch but it plays up thanks to the arm angle and the fastball, should he refine it some and get it to tick up to the next grade, then he’s a dynamic reliever who can close or dominate in an 8th inning role.

RR: What did you make of the 2017 draft class for the Royals? Is it their best class under scouting director Lonnie Goldberg?

CS: I like the draft quite a bit and think it’s a nice mix of what they do well. Drafting JUCO pitchers has worked well with Matt Strahm, Cody Reed, and Glenn Sparkman in the past. In addition to those two, the selection of a high floor college up the middle talent like Gigliotti with high on-base skills is almost identical to what they did with Nicky Lopez and represents a nice floor. In addition, I really like the talent upside that the prep arms they took in the 18th round and after. Ultimately though the success will likely ride with the first two picks and despite the volatility of the prep picks at least some of that risk might be mitigated by the pedigree of both.

It’s too early to say it’s the best class, as I would say the ‘13 class is his best class to date. The draft and development of both Sean Manaea and Cody Reed resulted in contributing to a World Series championship while Sparkman, Dozier, Kevin McCarthy, and Jonathan Dziedzic still have chances to contribute at the major league level.

RR: The Royals could have five of the top 50 picks in this June’s draft. What kind of approach will Dayton Moore and Lonnie Goldberg take with those picks?

CS: With the number of picks the Royals could have I expect the draft to look similar to the ‘14 draft with a mix of college and high school guys. Should they end up with top five draft pool allotment available to them, but the 18th pick, expect them to draft a high-dollar prep player who pushes an expensive bonus amount, similarly to what Daz Cameron did in the 2016 draft. I write “high school” because college players don’t push their way down draft boards that far even with large demands.

Many thanks to Clint Scoles for taking the time to talk. You can purchase his book, The 2018 Royals Prospect Guide, here and you can read his work at Baseball Prospectus Kansas City.