The development of minor league prospects is of vital importance to this franchise as they try to bounce back from a 100-loss season. The Arizona Fall League is considered the top developmental off-season league for prospects, and this year featured some of the best in the game such as Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Forrest Whitley, and Bo Bichette. The short season has just wrapped up, so let’s look at how some Royals prospects fared in the AFL. Of course, you can’t take too much from the performances here - it is just a handful of at-bats in the desert after a long season. But certainly you’d rather these prospects play well against top competition than not.
Catcher Meibrys Viloria
Viloria’s stock skyrocketed this year with a solid season in Wilmington and a cup of coffee in Kansas City. Alex Duvall wrote that Meibrys was a player to look for this fall due to a terrific second-half performance. Viloria did draw raves for his defense, which the Royals are sure to love.
@royalsreview Meibrys Viloria has really impressed me tonight behind the dish in the AFL Stars game. Holds every ball in frame waiting expectantly for the ump to call a strike and just made a fine throw to nail a runner trying to steal third.— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) November 4, 2018
Viloria hit just .225 in 40 at-bats, but he did draw 12 walks with 9 strikeouts. He was named an All-Star, and had the game-winning hit in the All-Star Game with an epic bat flip.
Outfielder Khalil Lee
Lee is considered the top position player prospect in the system by many, but he had an underwhelming performance in Arizona. He hit just .157 in 83 at-bats, and his lack of power in the regular season carried over into Arizona, as he hit just four extra-base hits, including one home run.
The team wants him to cut down on his whiffs, but he struck out 27 times in 21 games.
He isn't hitting a lick. I'm trying to determine for myself if he's overrated. Perhaps. He may be tired, but his bat looks very slow to me. He's hitting only .151. I think there is some small reason for concern. Spring training becomes very important for him now.— Bernie Pleskoff (@BerniePleskoff) November 14, 2018
He flashed a good arm and showed capabilities to stay in center, but also misplayed a ball. Lee’s struggles shouldn’t be cause for too much concern, however. The Royals want him to be challenged against competition better than what he is used to.
“The more you can get them to face competition a little above what they’re ready for, it tends to speed up their learning curve,” said Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo. “That’s the intention for Khalil.”
Outfielder Nick Heath
The Royals may have gotten an underwhelming performance from one outfielder, but their other outfielder in the AFL dazzled in his time in Arizona. Speedster Nick Heath hit .338/.427/.442 in 77 at-bats, leading the league with 13 steals in 17 attempts. Heath had some strikeouts as well, whiffing 20 times, but he also drew 11 walks.
Nick Heath got picked off. Nick Heath still made it. pic.twitter.com/rC1knFm5XB— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) October 12, 2018
The whiffs may be a result of Heath trying to be aggressive at the plate, although he did strikeout 27% of the time last season.
”I’m trying to be a little more aggressive at the plate, less timid. I’m trying not to be as selective as I have been in the past. I think right now, my biggest thing is attacking the fastball early in the count when I know guys aren’t going to try to slip me anything. Just learning what pitchers do, how defenses play me. It’s all helping.”
Heath reached AA last year with a breakout season. He turns 25 next week and you could see him in Kansas City before long as another option for center field.
I think you can get excited about Heath. He's a player. He has outstanding baseball instincts and uses his speed well. He made a great, great catch this week. I really like him.— Bernie Pleskoff (@BerniePleskoff) November 14, 2018
Pitcher Scott Blewett
The Royals had high hopes for Blewett after making him a second-round pick out of high school in 2014, but his minor league track record was a bit underwhelming. Blewett may have put himself back on the radar a bit with his performance in the AFL. The 22-year old right-hander wowed with a 2.49 ERA and was named AFL Player of the Week during his time there. He struck out 21 hitters in 25 1⁄3 innings with eight walks.
Josh Norris at Baseball America wrote Blewett “stymied hitters with a promising arsenal that includes a nasty, low 70s CB and a low-90s FB.” John Eshleman at 2080 Baseball still projects him as a swingman, not quite rotation material, but hopefully Blewett can build upon his performance and impress next year in the upper minors.
Pitcher Grant Gavin
Gavin has never been a hyped prospect, but the Kansas City native has gotten good results at each level as a reliever. His AFL performance was mixed - the 1.50 ERA looks great, but he gave up five unearned runs, walking five in 12 innings of work. Gavin had a 3.19 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 53 2⁄3 innings across High A and AA and you could see the 23-year old right hander make his Major League debut if he continues his performance.
Pitcher Arnaldo Hernandez
Hernandez had mediocre numbers this year, but finished strong with a 2.18 ERA over his last five starts for the AAA Omaha Storm Chasers. He carried that strong finish into the AFL, leading the league in ERA at 1.10. His peripherals were less impressive with eight walks and nine strikeouts in 16 1⁄3 innings, and his strong showing may be why the Royals decided to add him to the 40-man roster.
Pitcher Walker Sheller
Sheller was limited to just 4 2⁄3 innings, giving up five runs. The former ninth-round pick has found success as a reliver since being taken in the ninth round in 2016, posting a 3.30 ERA in 57 1⁄3 innings across High-A and AA last year, although with just 5.2 strikeouts-per-nine innings. I haven’t heard any reports on why he was limited in the AFL, but hopefully it is nothing serious.