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Royals minor league prospects to watch for 2018

This will be an important year for these farmhands.

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

The Royals minor league system lays in a state of disrepair, lacking high end prospects and also many potential high ceiling guys (there are some of course). Still, the system has some interesting players who could see their stock rise various levels.

Two years ago I profiled some prospects in the Royals system that could break out (which I think I didn’t do so well on besides Jake Junis), and while I wouldn’t call this particular article as the same idea, it’s somewhat close. Instead, think of this as interesting seasons to watch from several players.

Foster Griffin in AAA

In my top 60 list last year, I ranked Griffin the Royals 57th prospect. He proceeded to put up one of his best seasons, but I’m still not quite on the train yet for various reasons that I’ll go into in my list this season. Griffin though inarguably boosted his stock and is now some sort of prospect, different than he may have been this time last year. Griffin could return to AA, but it seems likely he’ll head to AAA if not immediately then soon after the start of the season. By some opinions, he’s the best pitching prospect in the system, so his possible success in AAA could cement that idea for those opinionators.

Josh Staumont in AAA

I’ve long been a Staumont fan, and I think I’ve been “in” on him before others, but he’s not without his warts. I think he’s a reliever, and that’s fine because his stuff is so good, but it’s likely he get one final season to prove me wrong. It’s possible he starts in AA, where he finished the season last year after being demoted, but he should be bound for AAA again. Staumont had perhaps his worst season in 2017, but the stuff is so bonkers that he still remains intriguing. I don’t know where he’ll end up on my list for 2018, but it should be in the first dozen or so names.

Seuly Matias in full season ball

Matias, one of the two players the Royals busted their international bonus pool on and went into the penalty box for in 2015, is likely to make his full season debut in Lexington. 2016 was a good year for him, but 2017 was a step back from his pro debut. He remains arguably the most tooled-up player in the system and he matured physically over the past year and a half to an impressive size (weird thing for a 28-year old man to say about a 19 year old).

Chase Vallot in AA

Did you really think I wasn’t going to mention Vallot? In all seriousness though, Vallot put up one of the most intriguing seasons not just in the org, but in all the minors last year. He’s a semi-sabermetric darling (in my opinion at least) and I think he’s one of the most interesting prospects out there with a wide range of potential outcomes. What I’m looking forward to though is two things:

  1. The jump from A+ to AA is likely the second biggest jump in all of professional baseball level-to-level
  2. Wilmington, where Vallot played half of his games last year, is one of the worst parks for both power and its right handed accompaniment. Also, the Carolina League is a rain soaked hitters nightmare. Vallot will be taking his considerable raw power from the hell that is the Carolina League to the more friendlier confines of Arvest Ballpark (the Royals AA affiliate Northwest Arkansas Naturals home field) and the Texas League. Arvest Ballpark is one of the hitter friendliest parks in the minors.

Donnie Dewees, AAA, and BABIP

I’m one of the bigger Donnie Dewees fans out there, and I think he’s one of the safer bets in the Royals system to be a major leaguer (excluding relievers). He’s not tools laden, but he puts the ball in play, walks just a bit, can play centerfield, has some speed, and has hit well everywhere. Last year through his first 60 games he got crushed to death by BABIP (.245 through May). From June to the end of the season it rebounded, if not outperformed, to .347 and Dewees posted a 125 wRC+. In the end, his 109 wRC+ for the year in AA was pedestrian for a 23 year old in AA. I think he rebounds this year, and would be even more impressed if he could cut down on the outrageous in field fly balls (20%+ for his career).

Richard Lovelady in the majors

Lovelady might have seen his stock rise the most in the system. I had a source early in 2017 tell me to wake up and look at him more, and I got on full board quickly after. There is a strong chance we get to see Lovelady in the majors this year assuming he performs well in AAA as he has in all the other levels, and though he might be only a LOOGY (he didn’t have trouble against righties but his arm slot and pitch mix hints at that) the lefty funk is fun to watch.

Bubba Starling’s final year

While it might not literally be Starling’s final year in baseball, it will almost certainly be his final year to remain a prospect. At 25 years old and several seasons removed from any optimistic performance over a continued series of time, Starling is on the cliff of being solely a non-prospect. To his credit, he’s stuck around and tried everything he can to blow away the dark cloud above him (he could have quit years ago after he received his final payment of his $7.5M bonus if he was just fulfilling his obligation). A thousand swing changes later, nothing is still working, but he remains a good enough defender and baserunner that a modest improvement in his hitting could make him a cromulent major league bench player.

Nicky Lopez

Lopez reached AA in his full season debut (I’m not sure who the last Royals position player to do that was but it is probably going to be an underwhelming answer), and while he hit poorly in his half season in AA, he raised some eyebrows during his time in the AFL this past fall. Lopez is probably going back to AA, but he’s making himself known as the heir apparent to the second base job for the major league club (though I disagree with that).

Kyle Zimmer doing....something

I got to thinking the other day, and I think Zimmer is my favorite prospect in the system ever. I once said that as long as Kyle Zimmer’s arm is attached to his body (someone please check to make sure it still is), he’s going to be on my top prospect list. Zimmer had the best stuff to come through the organization perhaps ever (he had a 70 fastball, 60 slider & curve, a 50 changeup, and 60 control - seriously, he was so good) but injuries man... Even though he might not be able to pitch more than 50 innings in a season and every winter we hear how he’s fully healed and changed, he’s still shown good stuff when he is on the mound. We have no clue what his 2018 will look like, where he’ll pitch, how he’ll pitch, or how long he’ll pitch for, but I haven’t seen any reports that his arm has been removed so he’s still intriguing.

Ashe Russell

Last July, Russell took a leave of absence from baseball due to a “mental block” and just not being happy doing what he was doing. Obviously, this is exactly what Russell should have done (no one needs to be doing something they don’t get enjoyment from, sports or not), and I’m glad he didn’t force himself through it.

While there has been no mention of Russell returning, the former first round pick is worth always keeping an eye on to see if he’s coming back anytime soon. I hope he takes as long as he needs and finds whatever it is he is looking for, even if that ultimately means he never returns to the mound.