Well, the minor league season is mostly over. Some leagues are having playoffs, including a few Royals teams, but even that will soon come to an end. The only thing to hold us over until spring comes around again is the Arizona Fall League, which while isn’t a canonical league, it will feature several Royals prospects.
So we can call this award season, so we’ll be handing out our minor league full season affiliate hitter of the year for each level and then following up with the pitcher accompaniment.
AAA Omaha Storm Chasers - OF Brett Phillips
.240/.378/.505, 112 wRC+, 18 HR, 22 stolen bases
It’s a bit hard to give a minor league award to a player currently in the majors, but AAA players being in the majors is typically an eventuality. So while Phillips is with the big club, he still spent the majority of his season (414 PA) in Omaha, where he started off slowly but then came around due to a swing change (though those results haven’t carried over to the MLB).
Through May 31st: .190/.343/.359 (78 wRC+)
After: .277/.404/.613 (138 wRC+)
What has carried over from the minors is his ridiculous defense. Minor league defensive data is spotty, but Phillips posted a +9 fielding runs above average in AAA this year and has already been worth +4.8 fielding runs above average in his short time in the MLB this year.
Right now he’s a sure fire fourth outfielder that any team would roster, but his hitting is going to determine if he’s more than that.
AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals - 2B Gabriel Cancel
.246/.308/.427, 104 wRC+, 18 HR, 15 stolen bases
It’s easy to just give the award to the best prospect at that level who hit well. That would make Khalil Lee the choice, as he ranks a few spots higher in the organizational rankings than Cancel.
However Cancel led the Naturals in doubles, home runs, and isolated slugging while spending time up the middle between 2B and SS.
Cancel’s Texas League rankings (min. 400 PA):
A+ Wilmington Blue Rock - OF Brewer Hicklen
.263/.363/.427, 131 wRC+, 14 HR, 39 stolen bases
Hicklen led all of the Royals minor leagues in wRC+ (min. 300 PA) and did so by a fair bit.
Hicklen gained a lot of buzz after destroying Rookie Ball and then A-Ball Lexington but struggled in his first appearance in Wilmington last year. He returned to the level again and after a slow start, turned it on over the final few months. He’s still not quite on your typical prospect randar for guys who are budging near a top 100 list, but he’s got the potential for four average or better tools (power, speed, fielding, arm) but needs to make more contact. However the quality of contact when he does connect is good. He should get the promotion to AA at the outset of next year.
A Lexington Legends - OF Michael Gigliotti
.309/.394/.411, 138 wRC+, 1 HR, 29 stolen bases
It feels a little cheap giving an award to one of “my guys” but Gigs earned it here I think. He set aside a lot of my worries about bouncing back from his ACL injury as he was tracking down balls in the outfield like a surface-to-air missile and stealing bases. He racked up 29 steals in just 59 games at the level, leading all of A-Ball in steals per game.
He finally got out of A-Ball, where he made his first appearance in all the way back in 2017 (2017 - cup of coffee there after he was drafted, 2018 started there and injured in game 6, 2019 back from injury). However like a lot of hitters, Wilmington and the A-Ball to A+ jump wasn’t kind to him and he struggled to get anything going in his brief 24 games there.
Gigliotti should attempt to climb Mt. Frawley when he returns to A+ next year (though I wouldn’t rule out him going straight to AA) and he’s hit well everywhere prior (career .296/.392/.407 131 wRC+ hitter in the minors).