The Arizona Fall League has typically been seen as a springboard to the big leagues, and if that holds true, the Royals could have some solid Major League contributors soon. Standing out against top competition in the Arizona heat was left-handed pitcher Daniel Lynch, but the Royals may have some other potential prospects ready to jump to the big leagues if their performance this fall was any indication. With the season having concluded, let’s look at how Royals prospects fared in the Arizona Fall League.
Lynch was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball assigned to the Arizona Fall League, and he lived up to the billing. Lynch struck out 19 hitters in 14 innings of work with just four walks allowed and an ERA of 3.86 in the AFL regular season. His fastball was regularly in the mid-90s, hitting 99 on the gun at times.
ESPN’s Keith Law witnessed Lynch first-hand in Arizona at called his fastball “electric” with an above-average changeup and above-average slider, although he though Lynch overused the slider against righties.
Royals lefty Daniel Lynch varying the shape of his knuckle slider. pic.twitter.com/WJw8CeUvKF— FanG-raphs Prospecters (@FG_Prospects) October 14, 2019
He got the start for the Surprise Saguaros in the AFL championship game and tossed three shutout innings, throwing 27 of 36 pitches for strikes and getting top Twins prospect Royce Lewis. Lynch, who missed almost two months this summer with arm soreness, seemed to learn a lot from the experience, telling Jesse Borek at MLB.com, “I think I just learned a little bit more about who I am as a pitcher. There is a little bit less searching going on.”
Isbel also benefitted from AFL play after missing several months this season with various injuries. Isbel excelled in Arizona, batting .315/.429/.438 with four doubles, a triple, and a home run in 21 games. He was successful in six of seven stolen base opportunities, and was second in the AFL with 14 walks.
Like Lynch, outfielder Kyle Isbel was named a “Fall Star” for his impressive performance in Arizona. Isbel punctuated the honor with a home run in the Fall Star Game.
Kyle Isbel— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) October 13, 2019
The #Royals' No. 8 prospect puts the West team on the board with a solo shot (107 mph, 414 feet) in the @MLBazFallLeague Fall Stars Game.
Watch live: https://t.co/1emAs8pbym pic.twitter.com/VHilKr47zG
The performance has gotten the attention of the front office, as Alec Lewis of The Athletic noted.
“It’s been everything we wanted,” said Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo. “From the start of the fall league until now, he’s been one of the most consistent performers. He’s doing things we always believed he could do and has made our decision as far as where he is in his development easier on where to start him next year.
“He’s put himself in a great spot to start at Double-A, having faced the pitching he’s faced out here this fall.”
Tillo was a third-round pick in 2017 draft who has pitched primarily as a starting pitcher, but his performance in the AFL may have the organization considering him as a reliever. The Iowa lefty gave up nine runs in 11 2⁄3 innings of work with seven walks, but he did strike out eleven hitters, and the scouting reports were glowing. Tillo was throwing 95-97 mph in relief, according to Law, the hardest he had ever seen the him throw.
His control is still an issue, but he has three pitches that all seem to come from exactly the same arm slot and release point. He has had no success as a starter in pro ball, not even missing any bats, but I can’t believe he won’t at least strike some guys out if he goes to the pen and throws this way.
The 23-year old outfielder was making a bit of a jump going from A-ball to the Arizona Fall League, and he was a bit overmatched hitting .149/.322/.234 in 13 games, striking out 26 times. He was caught three stealing three times in seven attempts, but did smack a home run and drew eight walks.
Hicklen has been a bit old for his level, so it made sense to see him matched up against more advanced prospects. He athletic skills were still evident, and hopefully he can use the experience to help him advance to higher levels next year.
My time with the @mlbazfallleague has come to an end! Just landed in Alabama to get married in 6 days! This past month has been quite a challenge mentally, but I learned so much and will be better prepared for 2020! Thankful for all the opportunities baseball brings. pic.twitter.com/XqviElQnoB— Brewer Hicklen (@brewerhicklen) October 20, 2019
Ratliff was an undrafted free agent who you won’t find on any prospect lists but he may have put himself on the radar with an impressive AFL performance. The 23-year old right-hander from Lenoir-Rhyne College has put up great numbers in relief the last two seasons in A ball, and continued that in Arizona. Ratliff struck out ten hitters with no walks in ten innings of work, allowing just six walks and an earned run for a 1.08 ERA, not including a scoreless inning of work in the championship game where he added another whiff.
Cancel has been an offense-first infielder, but he struggled to hit much in Arizona. Cancel appeared in just nine games, and hit .094/.147/.188, going 3-for-32 with one home run, ten strikeouts, and two walks.
Jones has kind of been a utility organizational guy, ready to fill in wherever the Royals need him to. He spent most of the season as a first baseman at Northwest Arkansas, although he has played third base and outfield as well in his career. He has generally been a solid bat in the minors, but could not get the offense going in Arizona, hitting .200/.385/.225, although he did draw 11 walks in 12 games. Jones did manage a double, but was caught stealing twice in four attempts, and struck out 20 times in 40 at-bats.
Oaks isn’t really a prospect, he is a 26-year old right-hander with Major League experience who missed the entire 2019 regular season with a hip injury. The Royals sent Oaks to the AFL to get him back in baseball shape and he pitched 12 innings, giving up seven runs, six earned, for a 4.50 ERA. Oaks struck out 11 and walked three, giving up two home runs, and will look to compete for a bullpen role with the Royals next spring.