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Better know a prospect: Wilmin Candelario

There are high hopes for the 18-year-old infielder

Kansas City Royals v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Under general manager Dayton Moore, the Royals have always viewed speed and defense as effective tools to win championships at the major league level. The 2015 Kansas City Royals were above league average in defense efficiency, fielding percentage, and second in baseball in defensive runs saved. From 2014-2015, the Royals swiped 257 stolen bases (128.5 per season). So when the club inked one of the top defensive shortstops in the 2018 international class, it came as no shock that the kid could fly as well.

Kansas City signed 17-year-old shortstop Wilmin Candelario out of Peravia, Dominican Republic during the 2018 international signings period for $847,500. Baseball America’s Ben Badler spoke highly of Candelario’s defensive footwork and arm strength.

“{Candelario’s} extremely light on his feet, floating around at shortstop with sweet hands and slick, fluid actions. He gets rid of the ball quickly with a lightning exchange to get to a strong arm and is smooth on the double play pivot. He’s a 45 runner with a chance to develop into a plus or better defensive shortstop.”

His hitting tool, however, lagged a little behind his defensive abilities. But in his first professional season with the Dominican Summer League Royals, the switch-hitter put some of that doubt to rest. In 213 plate appearances over 49 games, Candelario slashed .315/.396/.505 with four home runs, 27 RBIs, eight triples, seven doubles, and 11 stolen bases. The only glaring issue was his strikeout numbers, as he posted a strikeout percentage of 29.1% and walked only 10.8% of the time.

Balder referenced a lot of swing and miss in Candelario’s plate approach prior to the 2019 season.

“He still has a wiry build, but he now looks like he has more strength projection than what he showed as an amateur. Candelario is a switch-hitter who showed a high swing-and-miss rate that he will have to cut down by shortening up, with a more advanced stroke from the left side.”

What came as a bit of a surprise in Candelario’s first season was the power numbers he displayed in comparison to his team. The 17-year-old led the DSL Royals in slugging percentage (.505), was second in OPS (.902), third in home runs (4), and fifth in doubles (7). Maybe some of that pop can be attributed to former Royal and league MVP Miguel Tejada, who Candelario worked with before he joined Kansas City’s organization.

As Badler stated in his scouting report of Candelario, the middle infielder excels from the left-side of the plate as opposed to the right. That observation proved to be astoundingly correct in the 2019 Summer League season. Against right-handed pitching, Candelario slashed .336/.402/.530 and collected 50 of his 58 hits and 22 of his 27 RBIs. On the other side of the plate, he only managed to hit .216 with two home runs and five RBIs.

Candelario also came through more often than not in tight situations. With two outs and runners in scoring position, the 17-year-old was 14 for 35 (.400) with five extra base hits and 13 RBIs. Additionally, his slugging percentage was almost 200 points higher at .686 and his batting average on balls in play was well over .400 at .450.

Fangraphs ranks Candelario as the 18th best prospect in the Royals system ahead of names such as Nick Pratto, Jeison Guzman, Ryan McBroom, and Brewer Hicklen. His scouting grade favors his raw power (45/50), speed (60/55), and arm (60/60). Overall he grades out at 40 in future value with an estimated major league debut of 2024.

The Royals have found success with position players in the international market in past seasons, but recently the majority haven’t quite panned out. If Candelario can lower his K-rate, there’s a strong possibility his name will be flying up ranks sooner rather than later.