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Which Royals prospects are going to make their big league debut this year?

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Who’s gonna get their ticket to The Show?

Jackson Kowar #37 of the Kansas City Royals poses during Kansas City Royals Photo Day on February 20, 2020 in Surprise, Arizona.
Jackson Kowar #37 of the Kansas City Royals poses during Kansas City Royals Photo Day on February 20, 2020 in Surprise, Arizona.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Kansas City Royals are going to play baseball! Well, probably. Covid might nuke the whole thing. But if it doesn’t, we will have Major League Baseball.

Next week, Summer Camp, or Spring Training 2—whatever you want to call it—will start. This year, roster rules are different, as one might expect. MLB teams will have a 30-player active roster to begin the season when it kicks off on July 24. While the 40-man roster will be unchanged, big league teams will have a slightly different set of players to pull from after that due to the cancellation of the minor league season.

Essentially, each team will have a group of 60 total players to pull from, all of whom will begin summer camp. Those not on the active roster will be on a “satellite squad,” which for the Royals will practice here in Kansas City. Their 60-man pool is as follows:

Ideally, a team would assemble the 60-man squad from players who are MLB-ready and ready to contribute, with younger prospects honing their skills elsewhere. But no minor league season means that there’s no way for prospects to play ball, thereby making the 60-man squad the only real place where they can continue their development. As such, the Royals’ 60-man squad is more prospect-heavy than you might otherwise expect.

The next question is a natural follow-up: which of these players has a shot at playing in one of the 60 big league games this year? And which ones are there for the development? I’ve sorted them into tiers below.

Almost Certain

  • Brady Singer
  • Tyler Zuber
  • Daniel Tillo
  • Nick Heath
  • Foster Griffin

Two things separate this group from the next one: every player in this tier was either still in the big league Spring Training camp when the season was suspended or is already on the 40-man roster. Heath and Griffin are in the latter camp; if they don’t make the 30-man roster out of the gate, they will likely be among the first outfielders and starting pitchers up if only because their presence on the 40-man means that no other cuts or roster changes are necessary.

Singer, Zuber, and Tillo are probably the three most polished arms among legit prospects (though Zuber and Tillo are bullpen guys), and their callups will depend on how aggressive the Royals want to be this year. It will also depend on how bad the incumbent pitchers are from the past two years. Either way, though, the Royals are high on them, so they’ll probably try to work them into an expanded active roster at some point.

Somewhat Likely

  • Jackson Kowar
  • Daniel Lynch
  • Kris Bubic
  • Kyle Isbel

This tier features the following three selections after Singer in what will either be a famous or infamous 2018 Royals draft class. Considering that the Royals already have four spots in the starting rotation locked up by Danny Duffy, Mike Montgomery, Jake Junis, and Brad Keller, that Singer is clearly ahead of them in the pecking order, and that Griffin is already on the 40-man, it will probably take at least two injuries or benchings to get to them. Still; injuries happen, as does poor performance (read: all of 2018 and 2019 for the Royals pitching staff).

Isbel is an interesting case. While he has yet to ascend beyond High-A Wilmington, he was still in camp when the season closed. That he’s been added to the 60-man at all when there are other outfield options is a testament to how much the Royals like him. I have no special insight here; I’m just reading the tea leaves.

Unlikely, Barring Injuries

  • Kris Bubic
  • Khalil Lee
  • Austin Cox
  • MJ Melendez
  • Sebastian Rivero

Every one of these players is currently behind multiple others in the pecking order. Unless there’s a rash of injuries or sicknesses, it seems unlikely they will make their debuts. Bubic and Cox are behind the Big Three, and Lee is behind Heath and Isbel (though if you wanted to swap Isbel and Lee to each other’s tiers, that’s a reasonable move).

Why, then, are Melendez and Rivero on this tier as opposed to the one below it? Simple: they’re catchers. While you can put infielders and outfielders in unfamiliar positions and fake it, there’s no faking the specialization required of catchers.

Not Gonna Happen

  • Bobby Witt, Jr.
  • Seuly Matias
  • Nick Pratto

These three prospects—headed by Witt, arguably the top prospect in the entire system—are on the 60-man for one reason: skill development. All three are at a crossroads of sorts where the additional development time is vital to their future success. Witt has yet to play full season ball, Matias is coming off an injury-plagued season, and Pratto took a giant step backward last year. By playing against top-notch talent in a positive environment, they’ll be able to work on their game in ways they simply couldn’t otherwise.