It seems as if I’ve been dethroned from my rule as “guy who has the longest Royals prospect list” when the folks over at Royals Farm Report (shout-out to Drew Osborne and fellow Royals Review writers Patrick Brennan and Alex Duvall) decided to go 100 deep. I built up from 20, to 45, to 60, and then peaking at 80 on last year’s pre-season list. So, in a way, I’m going to take credit for loosening this ketchup bottle for them. For this list, I’m going to go 25 players deep.
You can find my past lists here:
State of the Farm and Organization
I’ve said it quite often (if not on these digital pages then on Twitter) that the Royals weak farm system isn’t a byproduct of their World Series runs, but instead an issue of poor drafting over the past decade or so.
I’ve been a vocal/digital-voice supporter of the work Deric Ladnier did as the Royals scouting director, as he assembled most of the core that lead to the chase in 2014 and the title in 2015. Maybe Ladnier shouldn’t get full credit, and maybe J.J. Picollo and Lonnie Goldberg shouldn’t take the full blame for the run of poor picks.
There has to be though some credit and some fault assigned to each respective party. I fear though that the Royals front office may grow stagnant and that their World Series title cemented their job safety for the foreseeable future during this upcoming rebuild. Even if draft results continue to be poor, will the process change? It seems like it can only really change if the staff changes, and I think all the evidence (at least at this point in time) points to Goldberg and Co. not being strong at drafting/scouting/player development or some mix of all.
I also want to talk about the perception of the Royals farm system having depth. I’ve argued this before on these very pages, but I think it’s worth covering now before I go any further. In order for a system to have depth, they have to have upper talent at the top, too. Depth only exists when genuinely good talent is pushed down by better talent. The Royals don’t have that kind of depth. When you think of the farm systems of Royals past (when they had a dozen top 100 prospects at any given time), that was depth really because in some orgs, that back-end top 100 guy would be the #1 prospect. The Royals depth is in 40/45 FV guys but those types of players are fringe top 100 guys at best, and that’s only a select few of them.
Sure, the system has a few candidates that with big seasons could make a top 100 list, but every system typically has those (your toolsy international or prep player who did okay in rookie ball). I don’t necessarily think the Royals org has more of those guys than any other system.
This year truly was the hardest ranking I’ve had to do, and that’s because there is no slam dunk #1 prospect in the system and some of my favorite prospects in the system didn’t step truly up like I’d hoped they would.
The Royals do have several draft picks coming up, but I’m hesitant to really bank on that as a potential farm game-changer. While the abundance of picks and pool money is nice, remember that the Royals are picking 18th overall, a bit away from where the majority of the top talent (by volume) is in the draft.
There is certainly going to be some talent available, but the high probability players should mostly be gone by pick #18.
Here is a comment I made last month during a discussion about the Royals draft pool:
There are top guys who falls 10 spots, but having a big pool doesn’t matter for them really. The Red Sox didn’t have a large pool when they got Groome. I’m not saying first round talents don’t slip into the second round. I’m talking about the top of the draft talents falling, like Sean Manaea who was a possible 1.1 pick at one point. Who was the last guy like that? Funkhouser? Cameron? Manaea?
Top 10 talents (per BA) past three drafts and their draft spot:
2015: Rodgers #3, Swanson #1, Tate #4, Bregman #2, Cameron #37, Whitley #13, Tucker #5, Benintendi #7, Grisham #15,
2016: Puk #6, Pint #4, Groome #12, Lewis #11, Moniak #1, Senzel #2, Ray #5, Perez #23, Rutherford #18, Garrett #7
2017: Greene #2, Wright #5, McKay #4, Gore #3, Lewis #1, Bukauskas #6, Adell #10, Haseley #8, Beck #6, Faedo #18
Only one top 10 talent has fallen outside the first in Cameron and the Astros had the biggest pool in history (IIRC) at $17M because they had the #2 and #5 pick so they moved Cameron down.
Last years slot values for the picks the Royals have are:
Those total ~$10M, which still leaves them $7M shy of the Astros total pool. The Astros first two picks were worth more than the Royals estimated pool there.If the Royals were a little higher, I think they’d stand a better chance at getting a top 10 talent, but those guys mostly go in the first 10 or so.
Having pool money does help, but the pool money is going good if the talent is there to draft. Thankfully by some reports the draft is expected to be a little deeper (there’s that word again...) than usual but without a Bryce Harper/Stephen Strasburg-esque guy who is the obvious 1.1 candidate a year out.
There’s potential for this draft to help, but I don’t see it being a game-changer. The money is good, but the system of old where a potential top three pick falling to the 50s is long gone. Instead, guys in the 1-10 range typically go there, with some deviation on the guys after. I feel like it’s much more likely the Royals get a couple 20-40 ranked guys rather than a top ten talent. Those guys help, but they aren’t system game-changers. This is without of course considering the Royals drafting struggles overall. Maybe the money will just be set on fire.
Please read this text below before you scroll any further.
Let me talk about my list a bit before we dive into it. The whole point of prospect lists is to identify successful major league players. What success means is both subjective and variable. Our good pal Scott McKinney years ago defined success for a prospect as around 2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Some time soon after this I’ll have my own version of Scott’s study but with a different measure of success that I think is a little more relevant to defining that term. But we can at least informally agree that 2 WAR is a decent benchmark.
So let me ask you before we go any further, who is the current system would you feel the most confident will be a two-win player over their career? You might say Nick Pratto or you might say Ryan O’Hearn. You might say Foster Griffin or you might say Trevor Oaks. You might say M.J. Melendez or you might say Chase Vallot.
It’s not a stretch to say that the Royals current organization has effectively zero top 100 prospects. If, according to Scott’s study, ~70% of top 100 prospects fail, the bust rate for non-top 100 prospects has to be higher, which means any given Royals prospect likelihood of failure is >70%.
In a system with no upper-tier talent, couldn’t an argument for safety be made? Now I’m not making that case in my list necessarily, but given everything we know at this point, couldn’t a case for a player like Richard Lovelady or Trevor Oaks or Ryan O’Hearn (players who have had success in the upper minors) be made over guys like Nick Pratto or Seuly Matias or Khalil Lee (players who have had lesser success perhaps in the lower levels)? This isn’t to discount tools, but if you believe future value/overall future potential includes both tools and risk, players who are closer to the majors and have had success should be less risky than those in Rookie Ball. At some point, tools can’t overcome results. It’s not as simple as that, and just because a player performs well in the upper minors doesn’t mean he necessarily has the tools to succeed in the majors, and all things equal the tools should win out.
Awhile ago one of my favorite baseball analysts ever (Dave Cameron - who has since joined the Padres) wrote about how we probably don’t really know what any players ceiling is. That’s a bit of a simplified statement of Dave’s piece, but if guys like Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve and Paul Goldschmidt can turn into bonafide stars right under our proverbial noses, then we probably don’t have quite the grasp on player ceilings as we may have thought.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about recently with prospects when putting together this list is a fundamental idea of finance: risk-adjusted return (often expressed through the Sharpe Ratio). Without getting too detailed, risk-adjusted return simply sets a minimum bar of return based on the risk (expressed through variance) you take to achieve that return (the formula is return minus risk free rate divided by the standard deviation of the return).
A riskier asset should have a higher variance with a higher return than a less risky asset, with a risk-free asset having minimal return and no variance. If non-top 100 prospects are generally riskier than top 100 prospects, then their variance (and in turn their expected return) should be lower. If ~70% of top-100 prospects fail, the variance on non-top 100 prospects must be higher, so you’d want higher returns (ie: better major league performance) to be compensated for that variance. I suppose you could rig this up in some formula with expected return being something with the bust rate, risk free being some defined type of MLB player (not a replacement level player), and standard deviation being from all prospects.
This is all to say, the required return on lower level prospects without elite tools (basically everyone in the Royals minor leagues) needs to be high, or at least higher than the required return on guys who have hit well in the upper levels. In that idea, you could accept a 2-ish win prospect over a 4-ish win prospect if the risk levels weren’t the same.
I’m sure I’ve lost many of you at this point and you’ve probably just jumped right to the list, but the above paragraphs are essential to how I look at prospects. Players should be ranked by two criteria (not in order):
Highest probability of being a successful major leaguer
Highest possible outcome (ceiling)
If you accept the idea that we don’t really know ceiling, then you’d have to weigh the first option higher. I don’t think I’m necessarily doing that (see: Chase Vallot) and tools certainly matter (otherwise Frank Schwindel would be the best prospect in the system). However I think we do tend to overrate tools. Not every non-top 100 prospect turns into Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, or Jose Altuve, of course not, but in an age where players have more data than ever, are changing their whole approach and launch angles, we’d do well to challenge what we once knew too.
I don’t want this to come off as if I don’t think tools matter or floor is most important. Of course they do, but what good are tools if you don’t have the success to go with them. If tools were all that mattered, Bubba Starling would still be the best prospect in the system. In a system that has no elite players with no elite tools, results should mean more. You can give slack for results if the tools are just so strong, but that type of prospect doesn’t exist in the current system.
Instead of thinking that I prefer high floors (which isn’t the case at all - see: Chase Vallot), think of it that I prefer a prospect to prove their value rather than just have a promise of value. Ceiling matters, but so do results.
Maybe I should ask it this way: which is the most common type of a “bust” for a prospect, the guy with loud tools or the guy with a track record of success? Ideally, you’d like both but given the choice of the two for an answer to “which player will be a successful major leaguer”, which would you chose? The loud tools or the track record of success?
Having said all that, here is my list.
#1 LHP Richard Lovelady
Yes, I’m putting a relief pitcher first overall on this list, but if you are stopping there or dismissing Lovelady because of that then I think you need to reevaluate. If you read my intro, you should be able to understand the logic here.
I read something a few weeks ago that really changed my whole thought process. On their 2018 top prospect list, FanGraphs ranked Cristian Pache the 37th overall prospect. For background, Pache is an 18-year old with underwhelming hitting tools (55 potential hit and 40 game power) who had a 98 wRC+ in A-Ball, but incredible defense. Arguably the best defender in all of baseball at any position. Basically, he seems like a good bet to be Kevin Pillar-esque. Pillar has been worth four wins, three wins, and two wins the past three seasons. If you could be somewhat guaranteed that type of performance from a player, how is he not among the best prospects in baseball? He’d easily be the #1 prospect in the system.
Lovelady won’t likely put up three wins let alone four, but in the entire system, who do you think is most likely to be worth two wins in some future season? If you were betting now, for even odds, would you bet on Lovelady putting up a two win season or Khalil Lee/Nick Pratto? I have a hard time not picking Lovelady.
Lovelady breezed through the low minors, seeing his fastball jump several miles per hour and a slider that can get out right handers, meaning he’s not just a LOOGY. He’s death to left handers (they hit .167/.231/.194 off him in Wilmington and .162/.244/.216 in NWA) but he’s also done well against the other side (.133/.167/.147 in Wilmington and .256/.326/.337 in NWA). He gave up one home run the entire year, had a FIP of 2.10, and just as a sweetener he got groundballs at a 70% rate in Wilmington (50% in AA). Scott Alexander never had a 70% rate in the minors.
The command is going to be something to keep a close eye on, and he’s tweaked his delivery a bit to reign it in. Someone compared him to Greg Holland, and if you could have Greg Holland in this system right now, how would he not be #1?
Lovelady has a good chance of being a decent or better reliever, who should likely be on the MLB team at some point this season, and you don’t have to squint too hard to see him posting 1-2 win seasons on the regular.
#2 C Chase Vallot
Vallot put up one of the most interesting seasons in minor league baseball in 2017. Rank amongst prospects(25 years old and younger - min 300 PA):
3rd in GB%
5th in BB%
6th in FB%
10th in Balls taken
22nd in pitches per PA
37th in Pull%
83rd in wRC+
87th in ISO
Vallot hit for a bunch of power, walked a bunch, and never hit the ball on the ground. That’s an outstanding archetype for a hitter, particularly a power hitter to boot. As you probably know, he struck out 35% of the time (17th highest).
The question is if Vallot’s strikeouts are a plate discipline issue or a contact issue. I think it’s clearly a contact issue (Vallot sees a ton of deep counts and walks, making it unlikely to be a plate discipline problem). So the question is, which is worse and is a contact issue fixable? I’d certainly say a contact issue is better than a plate discipline issue, and it’s possible that as Vallot plays more he could learn to read offspeed pitches better.
You likely know my stance on Vallot by now. He’s a sabermetric enigma, with both outstanding and awful peripherals. His seasons are unique. I have minor league data back to the early-70’s and there has never been a 20-year old season in A+ like Vallot had and for the comparable seasons below I had to use some looser parameters.
Way too long of a thing to explain on Twitter, but here is a long comment from today's site about Vallot and Mondesi pic.twitter.com/kDQmqPcYCb— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) March 2, 2018
Vallot had the best peak adjusted projection (per Clay Davenport) among any Royals player (in the minors or the majors). Guys who walk and hit for power at his age in the minors typically do well.
The other question is if he’s a catcher. Right now he’s a bad catcher, but most importantly he’s still a catcher, if only in name. The day the Royals move him out from behind the plate defensively is the day he drops in my rankings. Maybe that’s coming soon, but Vallot has never played any other defensive position besides catcher in the minors.
He also has had issues staying on the field, but they’ve mostly been freak-ish injuries (collision at home plate and hit in the face with a pitch).
It’s really easy to just look at Vallot’s batting average and say he had a bad season, but he didn’t, at all, and you’ll see below his season (at least offensively) was on par with several top prospects.
#3 RHP Trevor Oaks
I had mixed feelings about the Oaks deal (if we can call it that) initially. The Royals basically traded away Scott Alexander as part of a salary dump for Soria (remember that the only thing that went between the White Sox and Royals was Soria and money - I don’t really buy that the Royals can’t offload Soria without also trading Alexander). I’ll admit I was probably underrating Oaks a bit, but he mostly posted good not great numbers in the minors (career 6.50 K/9 1.60 BB/9 and 3.46 FIP), he wasn’t really young for any level, and his stuff doesn’t really leap out at you (low-90s FB with some sink, decent slider, and medicore changeup).
I think Eric Longenhagen put it pretty accurately:
Oaks is a type of player everyone has seen before, throwing a sinker/slider combination and the occasional changeup vs. lefties. He’s a pitch-to-contact back-end starter.
“Back-end starter” comes with a bit of a negative connotation and pitch to contact doubles that.
But pre-2017 I ranked Junis as the Royals 8th best prospect and in 2016 I put him as one of the Royals possible breakout prospects after ranking him 23rd overall in the system. Junis didn’t really light up the minors either (7.98 K/9 2.05 BB/9 4.01 FIP) and he also wasn’t necessarily young either.
If Junis is the #8 prospect in the system that was either as strong or a bit stronger, Oaks probably deserves to be a bit higher in an equal or weaker system. If you could re-rank Junis today, wouldn’t he be near the top of this list and past lists?
Oaks actually projects to be the Royals second best starter for 2018 (per ZiPS) and it’s not hard to see him filling that back-end profile if he can stay healthy (always questionable for pitchers and Oaks had an oblique injury in July). If we’re living by the “ranking players who are most likely to be successful major leaguers” standard, Oaks deserves to be near the top.
There’s basic pitcher risk in Oaks, coupled with the pitch-to-contact profile, but his craftiness and groundball rates build some sort of foundation.
#4 2B Gabriel Cancel
I don’t like to necessarily play this game, but let me give you two players:
Player A: 20 year old good fielding 2B (moved from SS) who had a 125 wRC+ and .190 ISO in A-Ball
Player B: 22 year old good fielding SS/2B who had a 125 wRC+ (.112 ISO) in A+ but a 75 wRC+ in AA (.034)
The question would be how do you reconcile age and level here, where the older player hit better in A+ but the younger player hit the same in A-Ball at two years younger. There’s also the difference between SS and 2B but the SS was miserable in AA (and also need to mention again the power discrepancy).
You can probably guess Player A is Cancel, so I’ll reveal that Player B is Nicky Lopez.
Even if you discount the positional difference between SS and 2B (which exists but isn’t a big gap - 5 runs) doesn’t the age and power difference offset that? Even if it doesn’t, do that difference account for ~20 spots in ranking between the two on any given list?
Cancel is a super-sleeper in the system, who has now back-to-back 120+ wRC+ seasons with ISOs of .203 and .190. Cancel could make a little more contact at the plate, but his swinging strike rates aren’t egregious and he’s hit for power to offset it.
I think I’m taking a big chance here, even bigger than perhaps Lovelady at #1, but if we truly don’t have that great of a grasp on player ceilings, Cancel fits the bill for a guy who could breakout:
Young for his level
#5 1B/RF Ryan O’Hearn
You can’t deny how impressive O’Hearn’s performance has been as he moved up the ladder. An unheralded college pick (who was somewhat heralded in high school - was on Baseball America’s Second Team All-American), he basically just pounded pitchers as he moved up from Rookie League (where he won the Pioneer League MVP) to AA, where his worst season was a 120 wRC+ in hitters-hell Wilmington.
Like Vallot, the strikeouts are an issue, but he’s had .200+ ISOs at every step, where he’s hit 20+ home runs in every full season. Going into AA this year, O’Hearn was the career owner of a .288/.366/.501 line with a .213 ISO for a 139 wRC+. He was a younger college guy to boot (drafted at age 20).
He climbed up other lists too, going from #25 to #14 to #8 on Baseball America’s Royals list from 2015-2017 (I’ve ranked him 13th, 8th, 7th, 2nd, and 3rd with each update).
O’Hearn started in AA for a tuneup (which he destroyed again) before being promoted to AAA...where he didn’t hit quite as well, compiling a .252/.325/.450 (99 wRC+).
Let’s compare lines:
The ISO, BB%, and K% are all just about the same, but the BABIP drop off is significant, which leads to the lower average/OBP. O’Hearn’s performance seems to be dictated by a drop in linedrives and an increase in infield fly balls. I think both of those things revert back to their normals for him, and he should do better in AAA the second time around.
I still believe in him, but his AAA debut wasn’t as strong as you’d like for a guy who has to hit at each level he sees if he’s going to be first base only. A move to the outfield will help a bit (around five runs), but he’s a bat-first player.
#6 CF Donnie Dewees
I was expecting a bit better season from Dewees but his first foray into AA was reasonable (posted a 109 wRC+), particularly when you see how it was formed.
Dewees was brutal in his first 200 plate appearances, hitting .218/.307/.329 (81 wRC+) to through the end of May, but as the calendar turned over to June, Dewees turned it on and finished the year hitting .303/.360/.452 (125 wRC+) over his final 300 PA. I wanted to see an uptick in power for him, even if only a minor improvement, and it happened over that final stretch. He finished AA posting a similar line to his time in A+ (110 wRC+) and has compiled a .275/.332/.404 (109 wRC+ and .129 ISO) over his career so far.
He’s never going to be someone who lights up the boxscore or is a fantasy baseball target, but he’ll be good enough to play every day in centerfield, bat near the bottom of a lineup, and be a threat on the bases.
PECOTA actually kind likes Dewees too:
If Dewees could develop just a bit more power (which is unlikely) he could move up the lineup a bit and be a bit safer. There is track record of contact oriented guys tapping into power later in the development, but that’s unlikely for Dewees.
#7 RHP Scott Barlow
Barlow kinda crept under my radar when the Royals signed him on a major league deal. When I saw the signing I didn’t think it could be that Scott Barlow that’s been kicking it around the minors since Christian Colon was drafted, but it was.
Barlow has amassed 530 career minor league innings, a red flag in and of itself but some of that is due to missing time due to Tommy John and coming back.
With how much extension he gets, I’d like to see Barlow out of the bullpen than as a starter, where possibly he could get a tick or two velocity on his fastball to touch 97/98 MPH, ditch his changeup and work off a slider and curve as secondaries.
There’s probably an argument for Barlow to maybe be a few spots lower, but I’m looking at him solely as a bullpen guy.
#8 3B Emmanuel Rivera
I’m not sure I’d say Rivera had a breakout season, as there are still questions left unanswered, but he had a very good season with many things to like.
It’s very possible that his 2017 was a BABIP fueled mirage but there are things trending in the right way. He’s now lowered his groundball rate at each level and increased his power while striking out less and swinging and missing less too. One thing trending in the wrong way is the walk rate, which has lowered at each level as well.
What’s interesting about Rivera is that he has above average raw power and there’s some chance he fills out slightly more, maybe giving him a bit more power. The biggest issue tapping into that was his launch angle, and while he maybe hasn’t fixed that completely, 2017 was a great start.
I mentioned with Dewees the track record of contact guys tapping into power later in the minor league careers and Rivera could be just that.
One of the things I loved early on about Ryan O’Hearn (which is why I had him higher than most) was his all fields power, a good identifier of being able to access it at high levels, and River has some of that.
He’s an “eh” defender at third base and there’s some risk he moves to first, but has a really good arm if he does stick. Obviously a move to the other side would be an issue.
#9 CF Michael Gigliotti
The Gigliotti/Jacoby Ellsbury comps are too heavy. Ellsbury was great hitter in college at a higher end D1 program (Oregon State) who hit well in a good Pac-10 Conference. He also grew into more power as he moved up the ranks, and he was probably a faster runner than Gigliotti.
Gigliotti hit well at Lipscomb, but it’s a far cry from the same competition Ellsbury was facing and beating up more.
Gigliotti probably has 30-35 grade power right not, and I’d be shocked if he ever really got much more above that. It may have been a fluke, but remember when Ellsbury hit 32 home runs one season? That’s never going to happen with Gigliotti. Meanwhile Ellsbury posted a .143 ISO through age 30. I suppose that’s possible for Gigliotti, but it would certainly be built on doubles and triples rather than home runs.
I could see perhaps liking Gigliotti over Dewees as Gigliotti is the better defender, but Dewees has hit in A+ and AA where Gigliotti only has 100 PA in A-Ball. I think though that with a good season in A/A+, he could be the #1 prospect in the org.
#10 1B Samir Duenez
Admittedly I’m not a huge Duenez fan, as we’ve always been waiting on the power to break out (which would play extremely well with his bat-to-ball skills). So you may be wondering why I have him higher than fellow 1B prospect (and first round pick) Nick Pratto below? That shows to you how “low” I am on Pratto (low is the wrong term here - I’m not really low on him, he just has only 230 okay plate appearances in Rookie Ball as opposed to Duenez who has hit in AA).
But most importantly, Duenez isn’t that much older than Pratto (2.3 years) and has posted above average results in four different levels.
Let’s go back to Player A/Player B game, and include tools (per Prospect Pipeline at MLB).
Player A: Hit: 55 | Power: 45 | Run: 45 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50
Player B: Hit: 55 | Power: 55 | Run: 40 | Arm: 55 | Field: 60
Both are first basemen, both the same hit tool, both poor runners, both have average or so arms, and are average or better fielders (which first base defense is another issue...). The biggest difference is the power grades really (which I’ll argue that the 45 power grade is light for Player A).
Player A has hit:
17yo 103 wRC+ in Rookie Ball
18yo 78 wRC+ in R/A-Ball
19yo 86 wRC+ in A-Ball
20yo 108 wRC+ in A-Ball
20yo 132 wRC+ in A+
21yo 95 wRC+ in AA
Player B has hit:
18yo 103 wRC+ in Rookie Ball
Player A hit as well as Player B in Rookie Ball at a slightly younger age, and then has also hit well in several levels higher. So let me ask, does the one full grade difference of power trump Player B’s results over the past few years at higher levels? As you can guess, Player A is Duenez and Player B is pratto.
Like I said, I wouldn’t say I’m high on Duenez, but he isn’t tool-less and has had some track record of hitting well at a younger age in higher levels than Pratto, Khalil Lee, and Seuly Matias. The tools of Matias, Lee, and Pratto are what help close the gap between them and Duenez.
#11 RF Khalil Lee
Like with Vallot, just looking at batting average will get you nowhere. Lee had a pretty successful full season debut, even if it was filled with many of the red flags that plague Vallot.
My standing on the discrepancy between the two (and with Lee overall) is that there is a grand canyon size gulf between right field and catcher, where Vallot currently is (if only in name). Lee’s going to fill out some more and likely drop a grade in speed, pushing him down the defensive spectrum to right field (where he spent 45% of his time last year). Lee’s upside is a bit higher if he can stick in center, but I’m going to rule that out right now (at my peril).
It’s fun, tantalizing, and erotic to dream on the upside of Lee, but haven’t we learned a bit at this point to not push all your chips in on a raw outfielder in the low minors? Lee’s the owner over several average or so tools rather than any one elite tool and it’s easy to get sucked in by the highlights and forget about the rest of the game.
There’s a world where Lee is my #1 prospect in the system if he made a little more contact (even if he were just a RF), but I’m waiting to see how he does next year before fulling buying in. I’d rather be a year late on a potential star after being convinced of his results than a year early on a bust-type.
#12 RF Seuly Matias
Matias is the classic “fooled by tools” prospect, where the player is so raw and tooled up you want to dream on his ceiling, and you do so at the disregard of his actual results. Long is the list of toolsy international prospects who set foot in Rookie Ball, and just as long is the list of those same players who didn’t work out. It’s certainly arousing to see how much Matias has grown over even the past year, but there was nothing in his time in professional baseball that you can be optimistic about. You’d simply be blinded by the tools if you thought him to be one of the best players in the system.
Highest ceiling? Perhaps. However I’d argue his tools aren’t really that impressive:
Hit: 45 | Power: 55 | Run: 55 | Arm: 70 | Field: 55 (again per MLB Pipeline)
Strong arm, good runner/fielder with average or so power and average or so hitting. That’s a nice potential player (assuming those tools eventually exist in the major leagues), but do they overcome everything that a guy like Ryan O’Hearn, Donnie Dewees, or Trevor Oaks have done at higher levels? Which would you rather have? Those tools or the track record of those guys mentioned?
I like Matias, I really do, and I thought as I set out to make my list, I’d be higher on him. But as I started narrowing down spots, I just couldn’t reason putting a guy who hit poorly in rookie ball with good but not great tools over others. I’ll take his ceiling over probably anyone else in the system, but I’m also not going to be fooled by betting on just tools unless they are massive.
#13 1B Nick Pratto
There have been and are going to be a lot of bad comparisons made between Nick Pratto and Eric Hosmer, and I only exist right now to dispel them. I think we need to remember how good a prospect Eric Hosmer was and then compare that with Pratto. Hosmer was a highly regard power hitter, who could barely walk because off all the award medals he was wearing during his high school career. He was arguably the best prep hitter in his draft class and was in conversation to go 1.1 during points in the spring. Some draft boards had him above Pedro Alvarez, one of the better college hitters of the past few years.
Pratto was also a well regarded prepster, but no team was considering taking him over Brendan McKay or Pavin Smith, both lesser college hitters than Alvarez. The biggest difference is the power. Hosmer has raw power on par with Mike Moustakas coming out of the draft, where Pratto is going to take some growth to see him get to anywhere above 55-60.
The better comparison to Pratto is Mets first baseman Dominic Smith, another hit over power first baseman who many waited on the power to come. That power has come a bit, now 3-4 years after being drafted. Now Pratto is a much better athlete than Smith, but their plate profiles should be similar. If Pratto can grow into power, he could be an average or so first baseman, with above average being a possibility if he adds more than expected.
*Note - anyone below here is basically interchangeable to some degree*
#14 RHP Josh Staumont
Hoboy, this was quite a season for the Royals prospect with maybe the nastiest stuff in the org. The upper-90’s fastball that can touch 103 MPH and mind bending curveball are two of the best one-two offerings in the minors but Staumont has no idea where either is going once it leaves his hand. There haven’t ever been mechanical issues to fix with Staumont that can just magically solve (or even help) his command, it’s just something he simply doesn’t innately have.
Long has being a reliever been the fallback for Staumont, but that’s even become questionable too, as walking 15-20% of batters as a reliever isn’t going to cut it, even if you strikeout 25% of the others. He had fifteen wild pitches in 2017 and 48 for his career, averaging almost one per start.
I think may have been the high(er) guy on Staumont, assuming he’d reign in his command a bit or a move to the bullpen would help, but he was just so bad this year it’s tough to see him even being effective trying to get three outs let alone 15+ as a starter.
#15 SS/2B Nicky Lopez
Lopez cam from an unheralded baseball college (Creighton) that doesn’t quite get the love it deserves as they’ve had a couple first 10 round picks recently that weren’t just straight senior signs. He hit well in his pro debut then repeated it in his first full seasons as he got pushed right to Wilmington. The Royals pushed him again to AA Northwest Arkansas where he was beaten down a bit by more advanced pitching, but he was also fairly young for the level (at least for a college guy).
Lopez is a good defender at SS, but not a gold glove caliber, and he plays just as well around the infield. Probably more likely that he’s an above average defender at second than one at shortstop, where he’d be more average-ish. Kind of the same side of the coin value wise.
Lopez would probably fit better offensively at SS than 2B. League average shortstops had an 88 wRC+ last year as opposed to the 94 wRC+ by second baseman. Among bonafide Royals prospects (perhaps amongst every in the org), Lopez has some of the lightest (if not the lightest) power. He’s likely to put up sub-100 ISOs in the majors and with his contact and plate discipline he might even post some slugging percentages lower than his OBP. That’s just not a valuable player at all, unless he has an amazing glove.
His career path seems more like Chris Getz than Stephen Drew type. In fact, here’s Getz’s scouting report coming out of the draft:
Getz has an impressive track record with the bat, sandwiching .364 and .389 seasons at Michigan around a .293 summer with wood bats in the Cape Cod League. He makes exceptional contact from the left side of the plate, striking out just 46 times in three college seasons while focusing on staying inside the ball. He gets on base and has basestealing speed once he’s there. Though he has played second base for the Wolverines and as a freshman at Wake Forest, he has the arm, hands and range to play shortstop as a pro and may well get that opportunity. The lone knock on Getz is his power. His size and approach don’t lend themselves to driving the ball. He has just nine extra-base hits (all doubles) this year and had three (all doubles) on the Cape last summer. Scouts say his makeup will allow him to maximize his ability, but his ceiling is more of a Craig Counsell or Mickey Morandini than as a star.
Reads fairly close to what you hear with Lopez (good OBP, some speed, arm/hands/range for SS, plus makeup, low power).
#16 RHP Brad Keller
Keller could probably be a few spots higher, certainly if he’s moved to the bullpen exclusively. He’s well sized to pitch every day and the fastball is a plus pitch with fair secondaries (he couldn’t probably scrap the changeup mostly and just work FB/CB). I bumped him up a few spots when finalizing my list and I like him as a power-arm of sorts with good strikeout numbers that will take a beating every once in awhile when below average command comes out.
#17 RHP Scott Blewett
If there’s a consistent pitchers in the Royals org, it’s Blewett. He goes out to the mound when its his turn, gives up 2-4 runs, strikes out a few guys, walks one or two, and then calls it a day. There’s nothing wrong with that, and Blewett has the makings of a workhorse #5 that you can rely on. I’m still thinking one of these days he’ll add a mile or two more to his fastball and notch up his ceiling.
#18 LHP Foster Griffin
Griffin is a bit like Lopez in a tale of two levels. He did well in A+ (repeating the level), partly due to a suppressed home run rate (saw his HR/9 drop 60% despite returning back to A+). That was enough to bump him to AA where he did well again in his first handful of starts (1.93 ERA/3.15 FIP). From July on he retracted back to his more normal profile, posting a 4.54 ERA/4.68 FIP to end the year. That’s probably more who I think Griffin is than what he did to begin the year.
You’d have to really buy into those middle 94 IP to move him higher.
He entered 2017 with a different mentality and a small bump in his velocity that helped boost his early numbers. I don’t know if he got away from that in AA or hitters just got wise, but it’ll be interesting to see how he does this year back in AA.
#19 C M.J. Melendez
If prep catching prospects are among the most fruitless types of draft prospects, then it’s arguable that defensive first prep catchers are maybe the worst. Catching gives you a pretty high baseline to begin with, but defense only catchers typically become backups instead of starters as opposed to their hit-first counterparts.
When trying to rank Melendez (knowing that just calling him a defensive first catching prospect was putting him a bit too deep into a single bucket), I thought “who was the last defensive first prep catcher to be successful?” Immediately Austin Hedges came to mind, but there are some caveats with him. First, Hedges was a better defender than Melendez and he was also ranked a bit higher on draft boards. Secondly, Hedges didn’t make a top 100 list until he hit well in A-Ball as a nineteen year old. Throughout his minor league career, his bat was always questioned, and he wasn’t really much of a hitter until he revamped his swing completely.
The other successful high school defense first catchers (that I can think of):
Molina found his bat in his late-20’s and Pierzynski carved out a really nice career being a good defender and weaker hitter.
I think Mesoraco is a good career fit, if you want to comp Melendez to someone. It’s not a likely outcome (Mesoraco had essentially only had one good season mixed with continual injuries), but it’s possible.
Melendez is truly interesting overall, and he hit pretty well in his pro debut, but he has a long ways to go.
#20 C Meibrys Viloria
(the only song to listen to while reading about Viloria)
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Viloria over the years, ranking him all over the place. I start fresh each year (shoutout to Keith Law) rather than move players up/down from the prior year.
If Vallot has an interesting profile, so does this other catcher in the Royals org with the last name that starts with a “V”. Viloria just made it out of rookie ball, after a three good seasons mixed with one awful season where he literally (I mean literally here - not figuratively) hit for zero extra base hits:
He hit fine again this year upon his full season debut and defensively he’s gotten better (he was a shortstop when he signed). He’s a good bet to remain a catcher, so the path to the majors will be slow as he copes with learning to catch and hitting. He’s been in the org since 2014 and he’s still several years away (2021 I think at the earliest).
He needs to add some loft to his swing and stop hitting the ball on the ground (you can probably imagine that as a catcher he has limited speed) because there is some raw power there and he’ll grow more.
Let me also mention this: his middle name is John. As in, Meibrys JOHN Viloria. I guess Mr. and Mrs. Viloria used up all their random letters and tough syllables for his first/last name.
#21 RHP Yefri Del Rosario
Royals lucked into Del Rosario after the Braves decided to say “screw it” to following the international signings rules. This was a nice boom for the Royals and I loved the signing. Del Rosario is a lottery ticket-esque arm but doesn’t have wild command or crazy raw stuff. He’s already seen an uptick in his fastball velocity, and while the delivery is pushing full effort, he’s got a long ways to go before he’s moved to the pen.
His pro debut was pretty swell and the Braves liked his stuff enough to push him to a stateside debut instead of just kicking it in the Dominican Summer League for the year.
I don’t know if he’s my guy, but he’s a guy a like a good bit and bet that next year he’s higher (a fate I control myself!).
#22 LHP Evan Steele
Steele and Daniel Tillo below read as similar reports. They are both intriguing from a raw stuff perspective but both have had issues staying on the mound. In Steele’s case, he previously has had a blot clot in his shoulder and was further abused by his coach who decided (or let him) throw 140 pitches on short rest.
Steele gets high marks from me for his size, fastball velocity, and downward plane with a decent change up as a kicker. He gets knocked down though because even Kyle Zimmer’s stuff is useless if he isn’t on the mound pitching.
This might be a case of a long, drawn out “will they/won’t they” date (start), that ultimately ends up with the couple not getting together (moving to the bullpen).
#23 LHP Daniel Tillo
Tillo reads just like Steele, but you can swap a changeup for a slider.
#24 1B/3B Dennicher Carrasco
Okay, so this is a weird one, but Carrasco checks a couple of boxes (good contact skills and hit for power) and he’s pretty well built (5’11” 195lbs - which I’d take the over on both). A 21-year old in Rookie Ball is obviously a bit older, and though he’s played mostly third base, it wouldn’t be surprising if he ends up on the other side of the diamond.
Like I said, anyone below Pratto is somewhat interchangeable, and I can buy that there are other prospects in the org who should be higher than Carrasco. I wanted to put him on this list to get his name on “the radar” as he’s another sleeper type in the system.
He’s way behind the curve, but his size, bat-to-ball skills, and power give an archetype of a young “baseball-age” player who bust out (relative to the Royals system).
#25 CF Bubba Starling
When I opened up Excel to start lining up my top 25, I didn’t think I’d have Starling on the list. He’s been woeful for years and it makes us all sad. To Starling’s credit, he’s still going out there everyday and is very close to making his MLB debut at some point in the near-ish future. He could have quit years ago, but he’s stuck around and grinded out the grueling MiLB schedule.
The reason he’s made my list is because there is a floor of an elite centerfield defender here, and that has some value, even if the bat never plays. I mentioned Cristian Pache above, and there’s some logic with Starling there too.
If you believe Starling is a 60-65 center fielder with a 60-65 arm and 55-60 speed, that’s good enough to be a +5-10 run defender in center, somewhere along the lines of Kevin Pillar.
When you’re dealing with a system this thin, it’s basically heads or tails between several guys, as much as by +/- 5 spots even. I won’t argue if someone wants to bump any player here up or down. That’s fair and my list changed several times. But when I found myself fighting over one or two spots difference, I stopped and just accepted that there is really no clear cut #1 prospect in the org and that #5 vs #8 is basically the same thing currently.