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The 2019 Royals top 20 prospects

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Get to know the future of this franchise.

Kansas City Royals v Colorado Rockies Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Here it is, my belated list. I considered not doing the prototypical pre-season one this year because I just did one in August, and I wasn’t sure if things had changed enough to warrant a new list. I think at a minimum though, even if they haven’t changed much, I do have thoughts on players. So even if you don’t want to call this a proper list (I’ll have players still ranked ordinally, so it is), then at least consider this space as the definitive source of my thoughts.

Here are my prior lists

Midseason 2018

Preseason 2018

Midseason 2017

Preseason 2017

Midseason 2016

Preseason 2016

Midseason 2015

Preseason 2015

Midseason 2014

Preseason 2014

Nothing has really changed since the August iteration on how I think about and value prospects. I use the same risk-adjusted approach ideal and think ranking players require two questions to be answered: who is most likely to be a successful MLB player and then who has the highest potential.

You cannot rank a player with only one of those answers. Both need to be dependent on each other to place a rank on a player. Potential upside tells you nothing and probability of success doesn’t tell you enough. Together those two questions have to interact to get the full picture on a player.

We are also added by the fact that those two questions can be answered in part both through statistics and analytics. Probability of success is quantitative leaning, whereas higher upside is qualitative leaning.

1) Daniel Lynch, left-handed pitcher

I mention often how much better Lynch was as the spring of his draft year went on, as he started going away from Virginia’s one-size-fits-all approach and towards his own. Lynch falling to the Royals was a blessing, given that I can’t imagine the Royals expected him to still be there at 34th overall. On a re-draft, he’d obviously go higher, which is a sign of his stuff once he started moving away from Virginia’s mold and then how well he pitched in his pro debut. He was dominant in A-Ball Lexington, as you’d expect a college pitcher from a power conference would be against teenagers.

We don’t really know ceiling, it’s more a distribution of probable outcomes, and Lynch’s distribution is probably something like 50% #3/4 starter and 25% #2 or #5. He’s a good stuff lefty that while he doesn’t have a true elite pitch, just does a bit of everything and has enough command to not go off the rails.

If the Royals have a top 100 prospect, it is Lynch, I think.

2) Khalil Lee, right field

I admittedly go back-and-forth on Lee between a guy who might figure out contact, get into his power, and maybe play a few seasons in center vs tweener-ish profile. The bull case is what I just laid out: moves the hit tool up to a 50, gets into his 60 raw, and plays center well enough to stick. The bear case is that the hit tool never comes around and he gets demoted to right field, where power-over-hit guys are ubiquitous.

Best-ish case he could be a Curtis Granderson-type (which would be a great outcome), a below-average defender in center with good power and some OBP but never hitting for a high average. Worst-ish case (assuming he makes the majors) is some sort of Aaron Altherr/Justin Maxwell/Steven Souza Jr type of decent OBP, poor average/strikeouts, power, and average defense in right.

3) Michael Gigliotti, center field

The biggest question with “Gigs” is how he’d return from an ACL injury that sidelined him basically all of 2018. The answer: so far pretty good. The other day he tracked down a ball in right-center he had no business getting to, showing that his speed seems to be fine. He has hit incredibly well too so far (.353/.476/.559 203 wRC+) and is 5-for-5 on steals in just under 10 games (further providing that his speed is fine).

I can get the hesitancy towards someone like Gigliotti, as the power is limited, but that’s only if you are looking at home runs and completely ignoring doubles and triples (which takes some power to drive a ball). Gigliotti has posted a career minor league ISO of .151, backed by 25 home runs and triples combined, or a 32% XBH%. That’s a similar XBH% to what Jose Altuve, Whit Merrifield, Howie Kendrick, Michael Brantley, and Brett Gardner have done since 2016.

Plus defending, plus running centerfielders with a good approach at the plate is a good player type, and guys like Ender Inciarte, Mallex Smith, Lorenzo Cain, Denard Span, and Kevin Pillar have shown that profile can work.

4) Nicky Lopez, shortstop

I go very much back and forth between Lopez, and it’s nothing really to do with Lopez himself, who has has a great approach at the plate and is a good defender, but how to value low-power, contact-first, middle infielders. In reality, a player like Lopez should be an everyday guy, as he isn’t going to get destroyed at the plate and can play multiple positions. The problem is that that role isn’t one that’s going to win any awards and it’s like picking up little pennies to make up overall value. Lopez has some role with the future of the big league club, we’ve just got to wait and see what it is.

5) Kyle Isbel, center field

Isbel is the kind of guy who will probably be underrated throughout the minors because he’ll just have to hit at each level to prove he belongs. We’ve seen these types of hitters come and go, sometimes they turn into guys like Jackie Bradley Jr. or Tommy Pham. Isbel will have to continue that trend to “get his due” but he’s done it so far.

Really, I think it’s a bit interchangeable for the next handful of players and spots, but Isbel at least is my preference right now (rankings are a snapshot in time) even if he’s still in the “prove it” phase. You don’t have to squint to see a bunch of 50s across the board and he’ll likely get better in centerfield with more reps. Most likely, he is going to have a 45 hit tool and the rest 50s, but there is the making of an everyday player here.

6) Brady Singer, right-handed pitcher

I somewhat reluctantly put Singer here. I’m not an overall fan of his stuff and profile, but we’ve reached the point where his high probability of pitching in the majors for a few years warrants it. And I don’t mean just because he was an early pick he’ll get MLB time, but because he has enough stuff to stick around, like Jake Junis.

I like Singer’s fastball a bit due to the movement and delivery angle but his curveball looks a bit too predictable and not enough sharpness to it. He made the Mudcats looks a bit silly the other night, chasing after his fastball up and changeup down, adding to the idea that he’ll be drastically better against right-handed batters than left-handed ones (which I suppose given the choice is what you want).

7) Jackson Kowar, right-handed pitcher

Kowar has always been to me a bit more of a thrower than a pitcher. He can bump it up to 98 MPH (one of the highest in the system) but of the big three taken (Lynch, Singer, and Kowar) he has the worst command. He and Kris Bubic fight for the best changeup in the system, but Kowar has a much better fastball, whereas Bubic has the better curveball given it’s spin.

8) MJ Melendez, catcher

Another sort of “reluctant” ranking, where I don’t really believe in Melendez as a future big leaguer mostly, but he’s about even on MLB probability as most the guys in this area and his upside is probably the highest.

Melendez blew up over the past year physically:

I wouldn’t have called him scrawny or small to begin with but now he is certainly added on size. This probably hurts his athleticism a bit, which can have adverse effects behind the plate that might not be an issue at other positions.

My biggest issue with Melendez is his strikeouts and lack of elite power. You can live with the high-K’s if he’s hitting 450 foot shots and getting into it in games. Melendez...doesn’t really do that. The power is more above-average (enough to be dangerous) but not elite and the path to MLB catcher for prepsters is incredibly long and winding. There is a path to the MLB for Melendez, and while it might not be paved in gold, it’s realistic to see him as some sort of backup catcher/bench bat ala Kelly Shoppach/J.P. Arencibia or maybe even a more everyday regular like Mike Zunino.

9) Kris Bubic, left-handed pitcher

Bubic has mostly mowed down the hitters he’s faced so far in pro ball, what you would expect a more polished power conference pitcher to do against unrefined low minors hitters. Bubic is more of a pitcher than a thrower like Kowar, whereas Kowar has more lively stuff, Bubic’s fastball sits several ticks lower. I can see the argument for Bubic having the better changeup and his spin rates beat out Kowar by a mile.

10) Seuly Matias, right field

Matias is basically MJ Melendez without defensive value but with more power (so maybe he isn’t Melendez?). The path to him making the majors is solely dependent on how much contact he makes. If he continues on his current path, he isn’t a major leaguer.

The correlation between minor league strikeout rate and major league strikeout rate is fairly strong. Here is the list of every MLB player since 2000 who had a career minor league strikeout rate greater than or equal to 29%:

Matias is at 34% for his MiLB career.

It’s just...a tough profile to have any MLB success on if he’s going to run modest to below average walk rates.

11) Kelvin Gutierrez, third base

Gutierrez has come on a bit hot this year, but that doesn’t really factor into my ranking here (as one or two weeks of play shouldn’t). He’s an above average fielder at third with a decent approach at the plate and some contact skills. He’s not of diminutive size and he could turn his mostly average raw power into game power potentially.

12) Gabriel Cancel, second base

One of “my guys” Cancel doesn’t have flashy tools but he’s a bit like a middle infield version of Cheslor Cuthbert (yes I know the irony here of me liking a Cheslor Cuthbert-esque player). Stocky, hit well at a young age, has some innate power, and some bat control. He takes some big cuts every so often, which he’ll have to tone back on, but there is the makings of some sort of big leaguer here.

13) Carlos Hernandez, right handed pitcher

Hernandez has the best fastball spin rate in the org (one TrackMan source said he was up to the mid-2550’s which would put him in the top 20 of all MLB pitchers) and it’s clear it is his best pitch.

14) Nick Pratto, first base

I wouldn’t call Pratto a non-prospect but I can’t see how his stock hasn’t done anything but take a big hit. Out of the draft he was thought to be a contact first hitter who will grow into more power and was a potential plus defender at the cold corner.

Now he’s gone on to strike out in 27% of his career MiLB plate appearances and post a modest .159 ISO. One of those has to give, as you can live with the okay power if he’s making good contact and not striking out; he’s not, and his career MiLB wRC+ is 115.

Now he’s in hitters hell that is Wilmington, which means we can adjust his numbers up a bit this year just as we can adjust downwards his numbers from hitters heaven that is Lexington (note: minor league wRC+ only adjusts for league, not park).

15) Daniel Tillo, left handed pitcher

Tillo’s results might take away from his stuff, which is decent across the board, but hasn’t really translated to strikeouts or run supression.

16) Emmanuel Rivera, third base

Pretty similar overall to Gutierrez, whereas Kelvin is a bit further up the metaphorical ladder.

17) Yefri Del Rosario, right handed pitcher

Del Rosario did pretty well as an 18-year old in Lexington (a hitters park) over the span of ~80 innings. He’s already a bit filled out despite his age so it’s tough to see him tacking on more velocity but it could be 50s across the board.

18) Gerson Garabito, right handed pitcher

Higher spin fastball and curveball but with dizzying and inconsistent results.

19 Austin Cox, left handed pitcher

Cox might have had some of the worst college numbers you’ve ever seen for someone who wen relatively early in the draft (5th round) and didn’t get a senior signing bonus (overslotted at $447K) but he’s got a decent fastball and a curveball that might play up a bit given his arm angle.

20) Blake Perkins, center field

I don’t think Perkins ever hits enough to be a threat in any lineup, but he’s a very good defender in center which gives him a baseline to work with.