The Major League draft will begin on June 4 and the low-ranked Royals’ farm system could look much different once it is completed. The organization has a lot of work to do to replenish a once ripe farm system. But what are the most pressing areas of need? Certainly the Royals should look for the best player available in the first round, and even the next few subsequent rounds, but there will be areas of need in the organization the club should consider addressing.
Heading into the draft, what are the strengths and weakness of the organization, in terms of players that will be part of the rebuild?
I am, admittedly, grading on a curve here. I am not suggesting these are B+ prospects as a whole, just that in relation to the rest of the system, the depth at outfield looks more promising for the Royals than at other positions. If you stacked them up to say, what the Braves had, it would be pretty underwhelming.
But there are reasons to be optimistic for Royals fans. Jorge Soler is finally reaching his potential and is under club control through 2021. It looks like Seuly Matias will finally give the Royals a Baseball America Top 100 prospect next year, and Khalil Lee could join him if he turns on the power, although both are a long way from the big leagues and suffer from high strikeout rates. The ship may be sailing on Bubba Starling, who had a prime opportunity to make his big league debut this year, but was hit with injuries.
Donnie Dewees and Michael Gigliotti have both shown good on-base skills, although Dewees has failed to hit much at higher levels and Gigliotti is out for the year with an ACL injury. Rudy Martin has jumped into the picture and looks like he could be the next Jarrod Dyson with perhaps a better hit tool. Brewer Hicklen is off to a good start, although he is a bit older for his level. Elier Hernandez, Cal Jones, and Kort Peterson are some dark horses who might be able to get on the radar. With this collection of players, the Royals could produce a few outfielders at the big league level soon, and they even be able to cobble together a homegrown outfield one day.
The Royals will have All-Star Salvador Perez locked up through 2021, although there has been some talk of him eventually moving to first base. If there is an heir apparent, it is M.J. Melendez, their second-round pick last year. He has gotten off to a sensational start to his professional career, and could make some top prospect lists for the Royals. The 19-year old has been lauded for his quick defense, but has also hit for some prodigious power already in low A Lexington.
His teammate, Sebastian Rivero, may also have a future and has hit well in limited action this year. Cam Gallagher got a cup of coffee with the club this year, but looks like he could stick as a backup to Salvy for a few years. Xavier Fernandez and Nick Dini have hit well this year, although they both profile as lower-upside backup types.
The decision to add Meibrys Viloria to the 40-man roster is looking like a mistake, as he has struggled in Wilmington, although he has hit before and is still just 21. I don’t think the club still sees Chase Vallot as a catcher, seeing as he hasn’t played there at all this year, and after a very tough start to the year, they have assigned him to extended spring training.
It is difficult to project who might end up in future Royals bullpens, since so many relievers begin as failed starters. For now, we’ll stick with guys who are already pitching out of the pen. The current bullpen has a few arms that could stick in Kansas City for awhile like Tim Hill, Burch Smith, Kevin McCarthy, and Jason Adam, although the upside seems pretty limited on them. The highest upside reliever in the system is probably lefty Richard Lovelady, who has pitched well in Omaha. Teammate Josh Staumont has been bringing the heat with his 100 mph fastball, but has an absurd amount of walks that won’t play at the big league level.
Jake Newberry has been a surprise this year with an eye-popping strikeout-to-walk ratio of 26-4 for AA Northwest Arkansas. Teammate Yunior Marte is an intriguing live arm who can throw in the high-90s, although he needs better command. Lexington pitchers Holden Capps and Tyler Zuber have also put up eye-popping strikeout-to-walk numbers, but are old for their level. Bryan Brickhouse has come back from Tommy John surgery to become a reliever to keep an eye on and local kid Grant Gavin continues to perform well at each level.
First basemen: C+
The upside at this position rests mostly on the back of 2017 first-round pick Nick Pratto. Pratto has developed more power than I expected, at least thus far, although he has struck out more than anticipated. He’s a good athlete and still quite young at age 19, so the upside could be pretty high for him if this power is for real.
Ryan O’Hearn can still draw walks for Omaha, and while his power is a bit underwhelming this year, he did hit for some pop there last year. O’Hearn turns 25 this summer, so he could be a decent stop-gap until Pratto is ready. Frank Schwindel is looking like a free-swinging AAA player who runs into a fair amount of home runs. Samir Duenez seems to be well-liked by scouts, but without above-average power or plate discipline, it seems difficult for him to make it as a first baseman. Chris Devito has slumped badly in Wilmington.
Middle infielders: C+
We forget about Adalberto Mondesi, and although he’s no longer considered a “prospect”, he may still have the best chance out of anyone in the minors of being an impact player. He has hit well in limited action this year, but still has two big red flags he has not put to rest this year - durability concerns and poor plate discipline. Nicky Lopez has drawn high praise for his work ethic, and he has excelled at the plate this month, which could earn him a promotion to AAA soon. His ceiling may be a bit limited, but his ability to draw walks and make contact makes him intriguing.
Gabriel Cancel had a solid season last year but has struggled this year and doesn’t show much ability to draw walks. D.J. Burt has speed and a walk rate to at least keep an eye on. Jeisson Guzman and Ricky Aracena were both large bonus signings out of Latin America, but neither has hit much in the lower minors. Erick Mejia, acquired last year from the Dodgers, has hit well and could be a future utility player.
Third basemen: D+
The Royals brough back Mike Moustakas this year, which may have cost them a chance to get a long look at Cheslor Cuthbert. Still, he has over 800 plate appearances at the big league level, and his OPS+ is just 82. Coupled with subpar defense, he may not have much of a future at third for the Royals. If the Royals still consider Hunter Dozier a third baseman, he could get a shot as well, although his career hit a few stumbling blocks last year with injuries, and he is already 26 years old.
There just aren’t many full-time third basemen in the minor league system at all right now. Aside from Emmanuel Rivera and Dennicher Carrasco, most of the other third basemen in the system are journeymen or guys who are sliding over to third to get more playing time. Rivera had a solid season last year in Lexington, and his numbers have predictably taken a hit in Wilmington. Carrasco has performed well, but as a 22-year old in Lexington, his numbers aren’t eye-popping.
Starting pitchers: F
Dayton Moore famously said that “pitching is the currency of baseball”, but the Royals find themselves with barely a penny to their name. Danny Duffy may want to be buried a Royal, but he may not be part of the long-term plans - if he pitches well, he could be traded, and if he doesn’t pitch well, he won’t last in the rotation. Jake Junis figures to stick around for a bit if he continues to impress, and guys like Trevor Oaks, Eric Skoglund, and Scott Barlow will at least get a shot to prove they are more than an interchangeable fifth starter. Brad Keller, who works out of the bullpen now, could end up in a future Royals rotation as well, although the groundball artist has not missed many bats.
Foster Griffin was considered the best starting pitching prospect, and he has put up underwhelming numbers in his second tour of AA. Right-hander Andres Sotillet has popped up on the radar this year with an impressive 41-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio at Lexington. Former first round pick Nolan Watson has been a disaster and 2015 first-round pick Ashe Russell has only recently returned from an absence from baseball for personal reasons. Older guys like Jonathan Dziedzic and Glenn Sparkman may be able to contribute, but the ceiling is pretty limited. There is still hope a young arm like Garrett Davila, Carlos Hernandez, Evan Steele, or Daniel Tillo rises up rankings, but overall the state of starting pitching is pretty poor for the Royals.