There is no doubt the Royals system is better now than it was three or four months ago. Through adding a couple guys via trade and the several picks in the first round this past June, there has been some talent added. Of course, you’d expect a system to be better when they have four picks in the first forty and then one more before the 60th picks rolls around.
I made it known that I didn’t really agree with how the Royals drafted this past June, focusing on a bit more safety than they should have. I don’t like that they targeted college pitchers exclusively (no I don’t buy that they just coincidentally had all these guys as the best player on their board at each slot). Let me be clear, they got good value on their picks, and didn’t really reach for any of them (except for Bowlan), it’s just not the mix I would have gone with.
If you look at the Royals farm system as a portfolio (which I think is an okay abstract view of how to look at these things), the Royals had a high beta portfolio, filled with high growth tech stocks that could boom or bust in Matias, Melendez, Pratto, and Lee. This past June, they mixed in some consumer staples to lower the portfolio’s variance. The farm system isn’t quite as boom or bust as it once was. That both means lower expected returns but also raises a margin of safety.
There still though remains some high beta in the real bulk of the assets, with the majority of the consensus top talent in the low minors with various red flags.
I at first wasn’t going to do a re-rank (I’m starting from scratch), given that half a season isn’t necessarily always enough of a sample size to change an opinion whole sale of a player. However, I knew I wanted to write about each guy, so I figured I’d go ahead and just do it.
I want to though make a point about lists: I’ve always been someone who was open to discussing both my opinion on my lists/players and peoples opinion of them just as well. If you have a thought on it, I’m more than willing to have a discussion. I’m always updating my way of thinking and how I approach player evaluation, both from a minor league and major league standpoint.
There is an inherent issue with lists though, that leaves one to being open to being wrong or right. If I just said “here is a list of 30 Royals prospects”, you can’t be “wrong” or “right” on a guy, because it’s just a collection of names. You could of course leave off guys, that in some way would make you “wrong” if you called it the list of best prospects in the org, but you aren’t subject to issues of ordinal rankings. Instead, once you assign a number or a ranking to the same collection of players, you open yourself up to criticism. I have no problem accepting constructive criticism, but I’ve been thinking about the dangers of lists overall. How the move from nominal to ordinal rankings change the entire possibility of being right or wrong.
If you have time, go read my primer on how I evaluate guys in full from my rankings this past winter to get a thought on my process I don’t think I could do rightful TL;DR on it, but essentially boils down to:
Maybe we don’t know anyone’s ceiling?
Prospect lists should be to find the highest probability of being a successful MLB player
Rank equal or near probabilities by highest possible upside
A note about minor league numbers
I’m obviously big into using numbers to analyze players, but that isn’t the sole thing I use. I always consider player tools, and I usually blend them 50/50ish. A prospect with a 140 wRC+ and a 40 hit tool isn’t as interesting as a prospect with a 120 wRC+ and a 60 hit tool necessarily.
Speaking of advanced metrics, I want to make a very specific point. I’ve seen some discussion (both with interactions with myself and by others) that things like wRC+ and wOBA aren’t useful for minor leaguers. I know that Keith Law, an author I have extreme respect for, has said he doesn’t use them specifically for MiLB guys. I have no problem with personal preference, but I do have a problem (not specifically with Keith’s personal choice, but in a broad sense) in saying they are not useful.
If we care about OBP, slugging, OPS, and ISO (which I think anybody can universally agree is useful), then why wouldn’t you also care about wRC+ or wOBA? All wOBA does is weight the outcomes properly, so that an OBP built off singles isn’t as valuable as an OBP built off doubles. That way you aren’t thinking Jesse Winker (.405 OBP) is the same as Jose Ramirez (.408 OBP), when Ramirez has Winker beat by 200 points of slugging. Why wouldn’t we want to apply that same logic to the minors? Why do we accept OBP, SLG, and OPS in the minors but disregard an attempt to measure them better? A metric that has been pretty universally accepted in the sabermetric community.
Here are the minor league career wOBA leaders since 2006:
Just looking at the names, it passes the sniff test that guys with high wOBA typically end up being good MLB players.
And you are probably saying “well of course...guys who crush it in the minors usually are good in the majors” and that’s exactly my point. Why we would be satisfied with putting numbers in context, and just looking at the raw versions of them doesn’t make sense.
This further extends to wRC+. I wrote a few weeks ago about how Royals hitters in Wilmington and Lexington have some pretty glaring home/road splits. wRC+ doesn’t correct for a hitters park for minor league guys (wOBA+ does), but it does adjust for the league (it adjusts for both with MLB hitters). We discount prospect performances in the California League but we’d reject a metric that tries to do the work for us? That doesn’t make any sense.
Now, no one is saying only use wRC+ to evaluate a hitter. No, of course not. Prospects should be judged on performance and age/tools. If performance outmatches or underperforms the tools, then maybe we have the tools wrong. But to completely dismiss a metric, while accepting a metric that essentially contains the simpler metric is asinine. I don’t accept a world where it is okay to use OPS or OBP or SLG, but it’s blasphemy to use wOBA to wRC+, when the latter use the same components but weights them accurately.
The rush to being first instead of right
Often times, prospect lists are just a rush to being first to be “in on” a guy or to take credit. I wrote in my pre-season list that “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.” Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs is a good example here. He was shouting from the rooftops practically about Ozzie Albies and how everyone should be higher on him. To his credit, he was supremely right, being in on Albies when he was in like Rookie Ball, well before others came around.
But that isn’t necessarily the point of these lists, even though they all get compared to each other (mine don’t get compared, but I mean in terms of the national analysts). People will draw criticism when they had Player A ranked 3rd and Player B ranked 5th when Player B ends up better than A.
Really, these lists should be about trying to put the organizational talent in some order, where a few slots don’t necessarily matter up or down the list. If you ranked Player B 3rd and Player A 1st, you might be asked “how could you have player A above B!?!” Really though, a few spots don’t typically matter unless the system is one player and an extreme gulf to the rest.
I’d rather be conservatively wrong than aggressively right, I think. I’d rather be convinced on a player than push all my chips in based solely off tools.
The tough history of ranking Royals prospects
One final thing before we get to the list, I want to note how impossible it has been to rank Royals prospects recently and be right. Take a look at the Royals top prospects, per MLB Pipeline, the past few years:
2017: Pratto (stock down), Lee (stock stable), Dozier (stock down), Matias (stock up?), Skoglund (stock down), Griffin (stock down), Blewett (stock down), Almonte (gone/stock down)
2016: Dozier (stock down), Bonifacio (stock down), Strahm (traded), Almonte (gone/stock down), Zimmer (stock down), Vallot (stock down)
2015: Mondesi (stock down), Russell (left baseball for now/stock down), Zimmer (stock down), Almonte (gone/stock down), Starling (stock down), Bonifacio (stock down), Blewett (stock down)
2014: Mondesi (stock down), Zimmer (stock down), Manaea (traded), Dozier (stock down), Almonte (gone/stock down), Finnegan (traded), Bonifacio (stock down), Binford (gone/stock down),
2013: Zimmer (stock down), Ventura (N/A), Starling (stock down), Mondesi (stock down), Bonifacio (stock down), Manaea (traded), Dozier (stock down), Calixte (gone), Cuthbert (stock down), Almonte (gone/stock down)
2012: Starling (stock down), Zimmer (stock down), Ventura (N/A), Cuthbert (stock down), Sulbaran (gone), Lamb (gone), Joseph (gone), Colon (gone), Dwyer (gone)
Since The Best Farm System in the History of Whenever, it’s been basically impossible to rank someone in the top 10 or so and be right. That’s based really on how poor the system has been for awhile.
*Reminder: I don’t include guys with any MLB experience in my lists. I use that instead of some arbitrary number of plate appearances. If they are in the majors you already probably know about them and it’s a bit unfair that we have extra data on them than we do on guys in the minors. What if we could suddenly have 100 major league plate appearances or 50 MLB innings pitched for every prospect. That would drastically change things.
#1 LHP Richard Lovelady - AAA Omaha
Even though I’m starting from scratch, Lovelady still tops my list based on how I look at guys in the minors. There is no one else in the system I don’t think that has the highest probability to be a successful major leaguer at their respective role. There are certainly higher upsides, but when you mix probability and upside, I think Lovelady wins out.
You might watch Lovelady pitch and assume he is a LOOGY only, but he’s never had any issues getting both left and right handed hitters out (RHB are hitting .245/.307/.317 off of him with a 18% K%). He’s primarily faced righties too, accounting for 65% of his total plate appearances.
As of this writing, Lovelady leads all AAA pitchers in deserved run average at 2.72. He got off to a bit of a rough start (4.21/4.67 ERA/FIP through May) but since June has posted a 1.57 ERA and 2.93 FIP. For almost a full month (July 5th to August 2nd) he didn’t allow a run.
Lovelady too isn’t just being used as a three-out closer, but is being often asked to go more than one innings 26 times this year, including a July appearance where he struck out five of the six batters he faced.
He’s teased a bit more velo out of his fastball, touching mid-to-upper-90’s and his good command helps play up the slider that’s already above average. There’s a fringey changeup that Lovelady doesn’t use much, even against right handed batters.
It’s tough to ask anyone to be as good, but there’s a semi-realistic world where Lovelady is Josh Hader-esque. Hader ditched his changeup when he moved to the bullpen and just threw fastballs/sliders, striking out damn near everyone along the way. Lovelady won’t quite do that, but what he might lack in the Hader-esque strikeouts, he’ll make up a bit with better command. Oh... and he’s been getting groundballs at a near Scott Alexander rate sometimes.
#2 LHP Daniel Lynch - A-Ball Lexington
This winter, I’d have avoided the heck out of taking Lynch, a pitcher from Virginia. They have a terrible track record of pitchers due in part to their one-size-fits-all approach of mechanics (dubbed The Cavalier Crouch) and one part overuse. However as the draft approached, I was encouraged by the fact that Lynch decided to ditch what Virginia taught him and go back to his old mechanics.
What you’ll hear from me several times in this list is that you shouldn’t read a ton into a players first appearance after they are drafted, at least statistically, whether they are good or bad. Having said that, Lynch has dominated professional baseball so far to the tune of a 1.53/2.15 ERA/FIP, walking nobody, and striking out everybody.
What’s most encouraging is the velocity Lynch is showing, being clocked in the mid-90’s and touching 97 MPH, with an above average slider and a changeup that wanes a bit. He’s got above average command, so if he finds the changeup (typically an important thing for left handed pitchers if they don’t have a slider - which he does), then his ceiling is possibly a #2.
Ideally I’d maybe like Lynch to put on little more size to help add/maintain the velo, but he’ll probably always be about where he is at. Still, it works and he’s not drastically thin.
#3 RF Khalil Lee - AA Northwest Arkansas
If there is one guy I get the most flack for because of where I ranked him, it’s Khalil Lee, but that also means that the person giving me flack didn’t actually read the list. When I ranked him 11th I said:
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.
And what has Lee done? He’s made more contact, cutting both his swinging strike rate and strikeout rate down as he’s moved up from A-Ball to A+ and then A+ to AA. So why is he not #1?
I said that statement assuming that the power will stay, but like the strikeout rate, the power has dropped too. In fact, it’s dropped at each level.
Rookie League: .214 ISO
A-Ball: .193 ISO
A+: .135 ISO
AA: .108 ISO
Now there is a bit of noise in there this year. Wilmington is awful for power, so seeing a drop is reasonable but is seeing a 60 point drop reasonable? Above average to plus raw power guys like Chase Vallot and Ryan O’Hearn didn’t lose any power really moving from A-Ball to A+. Still, we can note the issue and move on.
It dropped even further upon moving to AA, likely due to him hitting groundballs 60% of the time. So another explanation we have to note.
In the end, there raw power is still there, but it’s concerning at least (even noting to explanations) that it’s continued to drop. A ~.193 ISO for Lee compared to a ~.105 ISO is a game changer that takes him from being Matt Joyce-esque to Daniel Nava-esque (don’t dismiss him, Matt Joyce was a good player).
Lee is a right fielder for me, so the power has to play. The walk rate will be a good fixture for him and he’s more average-ish speed than a plus runner (which is why he is a right fielder for me).
You can’t completely dismiss his time in AA so far, but he’s only 20 years old and it’s probably the hardest jump in the minor leagues, facing pitchers who can do more than just throw hard. That gives him some leeway to just finish out the season (if he comes off the DL beforehand), ignore a bit how he does for the final few weeks, and see how he comes out next year when he’s back in AA.
#4 RHP Jackson Kowar - A-Ball Lexington
I really see Kowar, Lee, and Lynch as semi-interchangeable, so they all could be 2.A, 2B., and 2.C really.
A tale of two different half seasons so far. As good as Lynch has been in Idaho Falls and Lexington, Kowar has been just as bad in Lexington, walking more than he’s struck out and giving up a bunch of homers. Recency bias can work both ways, and while you shouldn’t read too much into a players post-draft debut, Kowar hasn’t done much to make you just blatantly disregard it.
Still, he has the best changeup in the system and I think he might even have the best arsenal of anyone, including Josh Staumont because Kowar can control it better. If Kowar was putting up Lynch’s numbers in his debut, you’d be talking about maybe debuting him in AA next year. Alas, he’s not, but from a pure stuff standpoint (mid-90s fastball, an above average to plus changeup, and an average or so curveball) he still looks good.
I think Kowar has a bit more deviation in him than you might like from a “safe” college pick, if he’s that. He’s got the build of a prototypical work horse pitcher and threw like on at Florida. However, there isn’t a great third pitch and the command isn’t as good as you might like. Of the pitchers in the system, I think he has the highest upside if you can envision his command take a half step forward and the curveball get under control more.
#5 2B Gabriel Cancel - A+ Wilmington
One of “my guys”, Cancel is having another above average hitting season despite a cold April/May:
April: .176/.263/.314 (64 wRC+)
May: .267/.316/.356 (84 wRC+)
June: .333/.380/.478 (141 wRC+)
July: .278/.333/.472 (121 wRC+)
That July slash line is about what you can expect from a higher end outcome for Cancel who does a lot of things well at the plate. He rarely hits grounders, he makes good contact, there is average or so raw power, and the approach is fine. He doesn’t make great contact when he hits the ball, but he can muscle up sometimes when he turns on one.
Defensively he’s...okay. The actions are decent and his arm is fine but his issue is just getting to the ball. He’s an average to below average runner, so when he does get to a ball he’s typically able to handle it. He’ll never be an asset at the keystone, but his defense isn’t so bad that he’s unplayable there like late career Rickie Weeks. Daniel Murphy is hitting enough to make folks forget about him when he’s on the dirt.
Six months ago, I thought he could be a prime candidate for a power breakout if/when he gets to the majors because of the juiced ball, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore now that the ball has been de-juiced.
Admittedly, I think that #5 may be a little rich for Cancel to be ranked, but there isn’t that much of a difference in the Royals org between #5 and, say, #8, #9, or #10. I could live with him being a few spots lower, but he’s got a longer track record than Gigliotti/Bubic and I don’t love Lopez’s tools.
Remember that he’s the same age or younger than a lot of guys just drafted, and he’s hit at each level, knocking on the door for AA next year.
#6 CF Michael Gigliotti - A-Ball Lexington
We got robbed, collectively as Royals fans, of what had the makings of a pretty damn good full year debut of Gigliotti. After hitting well in his pro debut, including in Lexington where he started this year at, he got off to a quick six game start before tearing his ACL.
That injury put him out for the season and makes 2018 a lost season for the man, missing crucial development time. Defensively the ACL injury isn’t expected to move him off center. Kyle Lewis, Mariners 1st round pick in 2016, suffered a similar injury not too long ago. That injury put doubts about whether he’d stay in center, but for him it wasn’t a slam dunk to begin with that he’d stay (Lewis has played CF primarily this year, FWIW). Gigliotti however is an above average to plus defender there with speed grading out the same. He may take some time getting back fully up to speed and being able to trust his legs again, but ACL injuries aren’t typically a long term worry at his age.
In the box, Gigliotti does two things well: make contact and get on base. So far in his minor league career, he’s running a .400+ OBP, and an equal 14.6% strikeout and walk rate. The power will be a concern, and his swing is certainly geared for lower launch angles, so don’t be surprised to see more doubles and triples fill up his slugging percentage than home runs, particularly if he makes it to the grass in Kauffman Stadium.
Gigs will return to Lexington next year to get his feet back on the ground and could maybe make it to AA by years end depending on how long he has to ride the buses of the South Atlantic League.
Really think a year from now he could be my #1 guy in the org.
#7 LHP Kris Bubic - Advanced Rookie Idaho Falls
Bubic and Kowar are pretty close to the same pitcher in repertoire: good fastballs (Kowar’s with a little more thump), average or better changeups, fair command, and in need of the curveball to come forward a bit. I could see an argument for a preference for either one, but I think the argument for Bubic over Kowar is more shaky than the reverse.
It’s not fair really to put a guy in the reliever camp 100% because of his delivery really, unless it completely destroys his command and stuff, but Bubic has the kind of delivery that at least gets that conversation going. There’s a bit of Clayton Kershaw stall in his delivery and if you ever went to hardcore shows as a kid, he looks a bit like he’s moshing at foot plant.
If you knew Bubic would 100% be a starter, he’d be right next to Kowar, with the preference perhaps 50/50. However, with the fog rolling in on that idea, he needs to be discounted a bit.
#8 2B/SS Nicky Lopez - AAA Omaha
Right about here, we are at the point where some guys could be +/- 3 spots and I’d have no complaints.
With Lopez, I like him for what he is (to me), a decent utility option but not sure I see him as an everyday regular. My main issue is the power, which for Lopez is near bottom scale. In an era where shortstops and second basemen are hitting for more power than ever (.150 and .143 ISO respectively), Lopez will struggle to keep up with his middle infield peers (career .108 ISO in the minors). That is what I think prevents him from being an average or better player and more as a high floor everywhere role in the vein of Jose Peraza, Chris Owings, Willie Bloomquist mold. Not bad outcomes, particularly for a 5th round pick.
#9 RF Seuly Matias - A-Ball Lexington
Okay I think we’re starting to get a little weird with it. You have to respect Matia’s raw power, being top of the scale. FanGraphs handed out ~30 players as having 70 or higher raw future power out of all the minors, Matias being one of them (and Chase Vallot as well). That kind of power is semi-rare, and it makes as a good starting point for a player, something that can’t be taught.
On the other hand FanGraphs also handed out around the same number of 20 present, 40 future hit tool grades amongst all their players graded...Matias was one of them (as was Vallot). The power only plays when you can make contact, and while the ball goes far when Matias does make contact, his approach at the plate is miles away.
Career minor league numbers:
Seuly Matias: 7.7% BB% 34.3% K% .251 ISO 117 wRC+
Chase Vallot: 13.4% BB% 36.5% K% .203 ISO 119 wRC+
Defensive differences aside (and the difference between 1B - if Vallot is 100% relegated there - and RF is the difference between catcher and SS), Matias and Vallot are offensively comparable players, broadly. Vallot walks more and Matias gets into more power. There is a big difference though in that Vallot has a better eye at the plate but perhaps a worse approach. Vallot is too patient while Matias needs to learn patience.
The list of big raw power guys with 30%+ strikeout rates in the low minors is a long list (I counted 150 seasons since 2006 with a 30%+ strikeout rate and .200+ ISO in A/A-/A+ since 2006). The list of guys who made that work is smaller (it’s basically Joey Gallo and Marcell Ozuna).
Ozuna is probably the 90th percentile outcome for Matias. Ozuna ran similar extreme strikeout rates in the minors before figuring out once he got to AA. Do we expect that? No, but it’s possible. That’s the bull thesis on Matias, that as he ages he’ll read breaking balls better and cut down on the contact issues. If you want to accept that thesis as likely, then he’s at the top of the Royals system for you.
If you are skeptical of him, then you can’t see the strikeout rate working, even if there is some improvement. The power is superb but he doesn’t walk enough to reach that three true outcome sweet spot like Joey Gallo makes work. Not to mention, Matias is just an okay runner and defender (but with a 70 arm) in RF.
I buy more into the bear thesis that the power won’t play enough to overcome the strikeouts, lack of walks, and the lower spectrum position.
I’ll mention this with most of the Lexington guys, Matias is also getting a nice boost playing at Whitaker Bank Ballpark (.227/.316/.573 at home vs .218/.277/.521 away, a 100 point difference in OPS).
#10 CF Blake Perkins - A+ Wilmington
I had Perkins a few spots lower initially when I started doing research and ranking guys but the more I dig into the reports, the numbers, and the good vibes I’ve gotten as I asked some folks their thoughts, the more I like him.
Average or better fielder in center with good speed, contact skills, and one of the better approaches at the plate in the org. Perkins gives a high floor/low ceiling return to the Kelvin Herrera trade. I would have rather gone for a big upside lottery ticket, but there’s a world where Perkins is an everyday regular of some sort. The power is what will always hold him back, and the defense is more good than great, but he could end up being David DeJesus-lite with less power/more walks/more strikeouts.
#11 RHP Brady Singer - Has not played
Selecting Singer at 18th overall was fair value. Not the pick I would have chosen (I had several other before him - Nolan Gorman, Trevor Larnach, Connor Scott, Brice Turang, Greyson Jenista), but he was generally seen in the range he was taken (14th overall on the aggregate draft board). If you base it off that, Singer didn’t really drop at all, it just so happened that MLB.com and Baseball America (the two sites that were featured on the live draft broadcast) where the two highest on him:
MLB Pipeline: 4th
Keith Law; 20th
Perfect Game: 20th
I think it’s telling that some folks I’ve talked to think Kowar and Lynch have higher ceilings and are better prospects than Singer. The former two have a little more variance, whereas Singer is more of a high floor-ish pick.
The lack of standout stuff is my concern with him, where it’s really just an above average fastball that he can manipulate movement on two give him a variety of it. The slider is too inconsistent and the changeup comes and goes, and even when it’s on it’s not really far above even average.
A hamstring injury is likely to keep him from making his true pro debut this year, but he’ll face some live batters on the backfield of Arizona before making his debut in 2019. This puts him just a bit behind, as he’ll have to jump right to Lexington (A-Ball) as he won’t wait for short season Rookie League to start (where the Royals send a lot of their college picks to debut).
#12 OF Kyle Isbel - A-Ball Lexington
I get several folks saying that Isbel should be one of my guys. He has the ability to play 2B/CF, he makes good contact, draws walks, and hits for some power. Though no standout tools, he does a little bit of everything right.
I’m just not ready to buy in just yet. I want to see how he does in Lexington next year and if the power is legit going to play up a bit due to his hit tool. I’m very excited the Royals are getting him reps in centerfield, where his backup position should be 2B. Either way, that works for me and the profile can work there.
By this time next year, I expect him to be higher on my list, but I’m going to wait and see first.
#13 3B Emmanuel Rivera - A+ Wilmington
Rivera hasn’t quite followed up his great A-Ball season when he’s moved up the ladder to Wilmington. He had a thumb injury which kept him out of action for a month. That can be hard to come back from as a hitter right away and he’s hitting just .274/.321/.390 (99 wRC+) since coming off the DL.
It’s likely that Wilmington has sapped a bit of his innate power (like it did with Khalil Lee I’d imagine) even though it’s not a big tool for him, it’s still in there a bit and plays up because of his hard contact.
Still, the general profile remains: above average defender at 3B with an above average arm, not a liability on the base path, good, hard contact. It’s not a star profile, but it’s a guy in the system that has decent all around tools, a history of some success, and is still fairly young (22 years old).
#14 C MJ Melendez - A-Ball Lexington
I’m not sure much has changed from my preseason notes on 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?”
Melendez hasn’t really settled my issues with his hitting, striking out 30% of the time and posting a sub-.300 OBP. The power is real and he gets to it but it’s at the cost of overswinging and poor breaking ball recognition.
Much like the other Lexington hitters, Melendez has had his line propped up by playing in Whitaker Bank:
His hot start to begin the year has also helped prop up his numbers:
April 5th to May 29th: .275/.331/.577 (163 PA)
June 1st to now: .218/.296/.401 (226 PA)
Obviously the entire season matters, and we can’t just pick out certain timeframes without a good reason, so you could make an argument I suppose that he’s being weighed down by his numbers since June 1st. Either way, I’ve got him as more in the Mike Zunino, Kelly Shoppach, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia mold than an above average player.
Don’t get me wrong, those are still fine outcomes (all of them being 8+ win players in their careers) but he’s a 80-90 wRC+, .200 ISO, 30% K%, .300 OBP guy for me at this point. If he fixes his approach at the plate, he’ll be bumped up accordingly.
#15 1B Nick Pratto - A-Ball Lexington
For all the “flack” I get for being either too high on Chase Vallot or too low on Khalil Lee, it’s pretty crickets for Pratto who I was way below consensus, ranking him 13th in the org. I wrote at the time that Pratto was hit over power at the moment, a tough profile for a first baseman, where power is so essential (or a crazy good walk rate).
Pratto is running a .259/.319/.388 line in Lexington, good for a 102 wRC+. That’s up from where it was even a few weeks ago where he was hitting ~75 wRC+, not only unacceptable for a 1B but for a prospect in general.
The hit over power seems to be questionable now, as he’s struck out 30% of the time this year and a below average contact rate. He’s hit better as of late, but hasn’t really fixed the contact issues.
April to June: .250/.299/.386 (94 wRC+) 6.5% BB% 29.6% K% .079 ISO
July: .258/.352/.366 (110 wRC+) 13.0% K% 26.9% BB% .108 ISO
August: .311/.367/.444 (134 wRC+) 6.1% BB% 28.6% K% .133 ISO
July-August: .275/.357/.391 (117 wRC+) 10.8% BB% 27.4% K% .116 ISO
Typically, things have stayed the same with low power, high strikeouts, and an oscillation between low to decent walk rate.
Pratto’s issue is a mix of secondary pitch recognition (not an uncommon thing for prep hitters from areas that weren’t baseball hotbeds - though he did play often in national showcases) and perhaps being a little too patient at the plate. He’s not overly patient where it may seem to be getting him into deep counts that he can’t get out of, but it’s been enough to get him in trouble where he’s forced to not swing at a pitch he wants. From what I’ve seen, he’s not a bad ball chaser, swinging wildly at pitches in the dirt or off the plate, but he’s being beat on offspeed pitches.
There’s certainly still room for optimism with Pratto, but we are also coming up on 700 pro plate appearances of mediocre results, without any improvements I’ve seen in his tools/pitch recognition.
Pratto has probably the biggest home/road discrepancy you may find in the minors:
#16 RHP Carlos Hernandez - A-Ball Lexington
Hernandez signed as a bit older July 2nd guy than normal but he was extremely cheap ($15,000 bonus) and looks to be a nice find, even if his role is a bit wide.
His stuff is good (plus fastball, above average changeup, some command) but his slider is below average right now and his repertoire altogether is inconsistent. I know I saw a Miguel Almonte comp, and I think that’s fair given that Almonte had good stuff but you could see five different pitch grades on any given day.
Hernandez has gotten good results, is built well, and has a good arsenal. Worst case he looks like some sort of reliever with the possibility of a #3/4 starter if everything irons out. For now he’s facing hitters who are really no match for him, so the real test will come in AA, as I expect him to continue to fare well in A+ next year.
#17 RHP Josh Staumont - AAA Omaha
An argument can be made to have Staumont five spots higher or twenty spots lower. Another year, another non-improvement in his command.
He started out of the bullpen, shifted back to the rotation, and then moved back to the bullpen, but no matter what inning he came in during it just didn’t work.
Three or four years ago you could make an excuse for the command, but now he’s coming close to being 25 and on his fifth year in the minors with basically no improvement. I don’t know how you fix him, and the Royals don’t seem to know either. I suppose your best hope is to run him out in low leverage MLB innings next year and see if he can figure it out. The bullpen should have plenty of spots and the Royals should lose plenty of games next year.
#18 C Meibrys Viloria - A+ Wilmington
Viloria is moving at a turn-the-Titanic-around pace given how young he debuted and the fact that he’s a catcher. He’s hit fine most the time and is just okay-ish behind the plate, so it’s really just getting reps after reps for him. Solid chance at a backup catcher in some capacity ala Cam Gallagher.
#19 3B Kelvin Gutierrez - AA Northwest Arkansas
Doesn’t look like a 3B but plays it well enough and has a good arm. Like Viloria, he’s been around forever, has hit fine most of the time, and is more fringey tools with the capacity to be a decent backup.
#20 LHP Austin Cox - Rookie League Burlington
Cox put up goofy numbers at Mercer and has continued to do so in pro ball. He’s got too good of stuff to be hit by lower level Rookie League hitters, so the jump to Lexington next year will be worth keeping an eye on. Overall the pitches are inconsistent and sometimes hittable but there’s some fun raw stuff there if the fastball is hitting the upper band and his curveball is working. I haven’t heard how much he’s using his changeup, if he is at all, but development of that will be what deems him a starter or reliever. If converted to the ‘pen, he could be lights out.