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Royals Minor League Season in Review: Lexington Legends

The South Atlantic League champs!

The Lexington Legends celebrate the South Atlantic League championship.
Used with permission from the Lexington Legends.

The Lexington Legends were the only Royals’ affiliate to reach the post-season this year, marking their first winning season in six years as a part of the Royals orgainzation. They won the second half with a 39-29 record, going 76-60 overall, sweeping Rome in the semi-finals, and defeating the Lakewood Blue Claws 3-1 in the South Atlantic League Championship Series.

The Legends lead the league in runs scored and stolen bases, but could also score with power, finishing second in home runs. Their roster was loaded with some of the organization’s top prospects, and they featured the youngest roster full of hitters in the league. Many of the hitters had big home/road splits, suggesting Lexington was a very favorable park for hitters this year. They were also big whiffers, with seven hitters striking out at least 28% of the time. The pitching staff was young as well, second-youngest in the league, but was middle-of-the-road in runs allowed, giving up the second-most home runs.

Best player: Brewer Hicklen led the Legends with a .930 OPS and 29 steals despite playing in just 82 games before being promoted to Wilmington. The 22-year old outfielder from the University of Alabama-Birmingham showed a great blend of power and speed, smacking 17 home runs, while hitting .307.

Best pitcher: Yefri del Rosario didn’t even turn 19 until the season was over, but he held his own against much older competition in the South Atlantic League. The right-hander made 15 starts with a 3.19 ERA and 8.2 strikeouts-per-nine innings. He was particularly dominant down the stretch, giving up just three runs over his last six outings with opponents hitting just .173/.239/.228. You could also easily select Carlos Hernandez for this honor, as he had vritually the same runs allowed average, but with a slightly higher strikeout and walk rate.

Best prospect: M.J. Melendez has been renowned for his defensive skills, but he wowed with his impressive power this year. He smacked 19 home runs, the most home runs by a teenage catcher in the league in the last ten years. He still has a high strikeout rate and hit .251/.322/.492 overall, but the 19-year old catcher’s stock should be rising high.

Slugger Seuly Matias had the spotlight much of the year, going on an amazing power surge with 31 home runs, sixth-most in all of affiliated minor league baseball. He hit just .231 and struck out 34% of the time, but his raw power earned him post-season All-Star honors. Brewer Hicklen joined Matias in the outfield, hitting .307/.367/.552 before being promoted in July.

Outfielder Cal Jones got off to a slow start, but hit .295 over his last 53 games and enjoyed the best offensive season of his career. Kyle Isbel, a third-round pick this year out of UNLV, hit .289/.345/.434 with 12 steals in 39 games. Speedy Italian outfielder Marten Gasparini continued to struggle with the bat, hitting just .222 with little power and a 31% strikeout rate.

Former first-round pick Nick Pratto led the team in walks (45) and strikeouts (150), while hitting .280/.343/.443 with 14 home runs. Pratto finished red-hot, batting .379 over his last 30 games with six home runs. Ricky Aracena moved to second base this year from short, but it didn’t help his bat much as he hit .261/.313/.323. Shortstop Cristian Perez put the ball in play a lot, hitting .278/.306/.350 with a 3% walk rate and 12% strikeout rate.

Third baseman Dennicher Carrasco hit 10 home runs in just 62 games, but had a .294 on-base percentage. Travis Jones played everywhere on the field and hit well, .285/.368/.417 batting with 14 steals. Infielder Jeison Guzman and catcher Sebastian Rivero where underwhelming with the bat, each with a sub-.700 OPS.

Carlos Hernandez with his 3.19 ERA and Yefri del Rosario at 3.29 gave the Legends a nice duo at the top of the rotation. Venezuelan right-hander Andres Sotillet posted a 3.93 ERA and struck out ten in a complete game shutout in July, earning him a promotion to Wilmington. Lefty Garrett Davila struggled in his second tour in Lexington, as his walk rate increased. Nolan Watson had two terrible outings that ballooned his overall ERA to 5.81, but he tossed a complete game shutout in June to earn him a ticket to Wilmington.

Daniel Lynch skyrocketed through the system after being drafted out of Virginia in June, ending his season in Lexington with a 1.58 ERA and outstanding peripherals in nine starts. Former Florida Gators pitcher Jackson Kowar was also aggressively promoted and made nine starts for Lexington with a 3.42 ERA. Charlie Neuweiler tossed five shutout innings in his Legends debut after a promotion from Burlington, but struggled much of the season after that. Daniel Tillo, another 2017 draftee, had a 4.35 ERA in seven starts.

Relievers Tyler Zuber and Jacob Congra-Bogan put up eye-popping strikeout-to-walk ratios, 48-to-4 for Zuber and 39-to-2 for Condra-Bogan, who was traded to the Nationals for Brian Goodwin. Janser Lara filled in as a swingman with a 3.41 ERA and over a strikeout-per-inning. Holden Capps, Andrew Beckwith, Garrett Suchey, Robert Garcia, and Tad Ratliff all excelled out of the bullpen, while Collin Snider struggled with a 5.57 ERA. Sal Biasi also posted an ERA over five and was traded to the Brewers.