It may seem like we just started, but we are already in the last month of the baseball season. In just four weeks we’ll be in the off-season, which means the Royals will have some interesting 40-man roster decisions to make.
The club currently has a full 40-man roster, although they have four players that will be eligible for free agency following the season - outfielder Alex Gordon and pitchers Ian Kennedy, Matt Harvey, and Greg Holland. The Royals will also have five players currently on the 60-day Injured List that are not on the 40-man roster that will have to be added back on following the season - third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez, outfielder Franchy Cordero, and pitchers Mike Montgomery, Foster Griffin, and Glenn Sparkman.
It is very possible MLB changes the rules for Rule 5 eligibility this winter after minor leaguers missed the entire season. However, assuming the rules are the same, here are the players eligible for the Rule 5 draft this winter that the Royals may consider protecting by adding to the 40-man roster.
Outfielder Khalil Lee
Lee is a lock to be added, and you may even see him get a call up to the big leagues this month if they can find room for him. Lee is one of the top hitting prospects in the organization, hitting .264/.363/.372 with eight home runs in Double-A last year, and finishing second in all of the minors with 53 steals. He is one of the more patient hitters in the organization and has a good power/speed combo that should allow him to compete for a starting outfield job in 2021.
Pitcher Daniel Tillo
Tillo was actually a candidate to pitch in the big leagues this year, but a left elbow injury required Tommy John surgery and the left-hander will likely miss all of the 2021 season. That may actually make it easier to keep him, as the Royals can keep him on the 60-day Injured List and off the 40-man for the regular season. Tillo had a 3.72 ERA in 130 2⁄3 innings last year, but found an increase in velocity once he pitched from the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League and he could be a factor in the pen in 2022.
Pitcher Yefri del Rosario
The 20-year old right-hander has never pitched about low-A ball, making him a risky proposition to jump all the way to the big leagues as a Rule 5 pick. He missed the entire 2019 season and has been out so long the Royals could perhaps risk him not being selected this December. But he has a live arm that can hit 97 mph on the radar gun with a decent breaking ball that could be an asset. The Royals faced a similar situation with Carlos Hernandez, an oft-injured pitcher that was a long way from the big leagues, but they added him to the roster last winter, and I think they’ll do the same with del Rosario.
Pitcher Evan Steele
Steele suffered a setback in 2018, missing the entire season with shoulder injuries. He returned in 2019 to strike out 56 hitters in 49 innings with a 2.39 ERA in Low-A ball. The South Atlantic League is a long way from the big leagues, so Steele would be a risky pick, but he’s a 6’6’ lefty who can throw 95 mph, which could be enticing to some club.
Outfielder Seuly Matias
Matias went unprotected last year after hitting just .148 in High-A Wilmington, but he also battled a hand injury and may be healthier now. Matias brings 80-grade power that could be very enticing to a lot of clubs. He has never played above A-ball and has a very high strikeout rate, but Matias is still just 21-years old and could have major upside if a team wants to take a big gamble.
If you hear any fireworks it's just Seuly Matias absolutely crushing baseballs. pic.twitter.com/zDlznGyJMU— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) July 5, 2020
Infielder Kevin Merrell
The Royals got Merrell from the Athletics last summer in exchange for Homer Bailey, but he had a disappointing season, hitting .242/.287/.330 with two home runs and 22 steals in Double-A. The former first-round pick has failed to develop any power and profiles more as a utility guy with a left-handed bat who brings good speed an ability to play infield and outfield. That may not be valuable enough to protect in the Rule 5 draft, but teams may have interest in him as a versatile role player.
Outfielder Brewer Hicklen
Hicklen was as seventh-round pick in 2017 out of the University of Alabama-Birmingham where he was also on the football team. He brings a good blend of power and speed, swiping 39 bases for High-A Wilmington in 2019 to go with a line of .263/.363/.427 and 14 home runs. He is already 24, and tends to strike out a lot, so there may not be a lot of interest in him in the Rule 5 draft, but there is enough talent there that the Royals may not want to risk it.
Outfielder Michael Gigliotti
Gigliotti brings the tools needed for a lead off hitter - good eye at the plate (11.8 percent walk rate in the minors) and good speed (36 steals in 2019). Unfortunately, an ACL injury in 2018 hurt his development, although he bounced back well in 2019 to hit .309/.394/.411 in Low-A ball but struggled upon his promotion to High-A Wilmington. Gigliotti will be 25 by next Opening Day, and he has never played above A-ball, but a team looking for speed might take a gamble on him.
Pitcher Stephen Woods, Jr.
Woods was left unprotected last year and was selected by the Royals, who worked out a deal with the Rays to keep him without having him on the big league roster all year. He missed all of 2018 with an injury and pitched 86 1⁄3 innings in 2019 with a 1.88 ERA in High-A ball. He’ll be 26 next June, so he is no spring chicken, and after missing so much time, he likely won’t be a big risk to be drafted.
Pitcher J.C. Cloney
Cloney is a strike-thrower who was walked just 1.9 per-nine innings in his minor league career. He fits the definition of a crafty lefty with a fastball that barely breaks 90 mph but has good sink, a slider, and a changeup. he has pitched in the upper minors, posting a 3.74 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 101 innings with Double-A Arkansas last season. He is already 26, so his upside isn’t great, but the jump to the big leagues is not that great, and some team may like him as a long reliever or fifth starter.
Players that went unprotected last year:
Catcher Sebastian Rivero is a glove-first backstop who hit .212/.7270/.278 in the tough hitting environment of Wilmington last year.
Second baseman Gabriel Cancel has a good stick, smacking 18 home runs in Double-A last year, but strikes out a lot.
Third baseman Emmanuel Rivera has not developed the power needed from third base and slumped overall at the plate in Double-A last year.
Outfielder Blake Perkins has good speed and can draw a walk, but doesn’t hit enough to be a threat.
Pitcher Grant Gavin is a local kid who has put up good numbers at each level as a right-handed reliever but has struggled with walks a bit.