The Royals could have a pretty important off-season this year as they try to improve on their 74-win season and get closer to contending. With much of their deep draft class from 2018 now eligible for the Rule 5 draft, they’ll have to make some important decisions on who to add to the 40-man roster.
As a reminder, players are eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft if they signed at age 18 or younger and have five years of experience or if they signed at 19 or older and have four years of experience. That could all change if MLB and the union come up with new rules in the next collective bargaining agreement, but for now, we’ll assume the rules remain the same.
How many spots do the Royals have available to add players? Well they have a full 40-man roster now, and will have to activate Brad Keller, Ronald Bolaños, Wade Davis, and Jesse Hahn from the 60-day Injured List. Hahn and Davis will be free agents after the World Series, as will Greg Holland and Ervin Santana. Hanser Alberto and Ryan O’Hearn are non-tender candidates, and the Royals could decide to non-tender pitcher Richard Lovelady and re-sign him to a minor league deal since he will miss all of next season following Tommy John surgery (non-tendering is preferable to designating him for assignment since it won’t expose him to waivers).
That would give them just three open roster spots, but more could be opened up if they decide to take any of the following off the 40-man roster - Scott Blewett, Lucius Fox, and Ryan McBroom, with possibly even Joel Payamps and Tyler Zuber as roster casualties.
With that in mind, let’s look at who could be added.
Nick Pratto - Now considered one of the top prospects in baseball after an amazing career turnaround, Pratto could be in Kansas City next summer. The former first-round pick hit .265/.385/.602 with 36 home runs and 83 walks split between 124 games in Double-A and Triple-A.
MJ Melendez - The catcher led all of minor league baseball with 41 home runs and like Pratto, established himself as one of the top prospects in baseball after a terrible 2019 season. The Royals will have an interesting decision to make on what to do with Melendez, who seems close to MLB-ready, and he could become trade bait if they want to make a big move.
Will probably be added
Jonathan Bowlan - The 2018 second-round pick pitched in just four games this year before going under the knife with Tommy John surgery. He was really solid in 2019 with a 3.14 ERA in A-ball with 150 strikeouts in 146 innings, including a no-hitter. The Royals will want to prevent some team from selecting him in the Rule 5 draft and stashing him on the 60-day Injured List all year.
Austin Cox - The fifth-round pick in 2018, Cox will be 25 by Opening Day, but has generally put up pretty good numbers at each level. He’s a lefty that can throw in the mid-90s, a profile that is usually in demand, so look for the Royals to protect him.
Zack Haake - Haake is already 25 and has yet to get past High-A ball, but he’s the kind of arm that intrigues teams in the Rule 5 draft. He throws in the mid-90s with a plus slider and he got his walks under control this season. He’s looked good in the Arizona Fall League, and I expect the Royals to protect him.
Maikel Garcia - The 21-year old infielder is still a bit raw, but he drew an impressive number of walks, posting a .380 on-base percentage for Quad Cities and Columbia combined this year. He has speed with 35 stolen bases and cut down on his errors this year. The Royals have typically protected toolsy infielders like him in the past, and with Garcia’s good eye at the plate, he may be worth hanging onto.
Dairon Blanco - The outfielder acquired from Oakland in the Jake Diekman trade is already 28, but he got a late start due to defecting from Cuba at age 24. The right-hander hit .277/.350/.441 with 14 home runs and 41 steals at Double-A and Triple-A combined, and could be a useful fourth outfielder.
Yefri del Rosario - The Royals got del Rosario from the Braves after their signing scandal, but the right-hander missed the entire 2019 season with a nerve issue in his elbow. He returned to post a 5.99 ERA in 70 2/3 innings for Double-A Northwest Arkansas with a high strikeout rate, but a high walk rate as well. He is still just 22 years old and perhaps being healthier next year could produce better numbers, so the Royals may see him being worth protecting.
Josh Dye - The 25-year old lefty won’t impress with the radar gun with a sub-90s fastball, but all he does is get results. He has a 2.82 ERA in 169 minor league innings with 10.3 strikeouts-per-nine, including a 2.52 ERA for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He has a tall 6’5’’ frame and uses a deceptive delivery that could make him attractive as a lefty relief specialist.
Grant Gavin - The Kansas City native has gone unprotected and undrafted the last two off-seasons, but he continues to post terrific numbers as a reliever. He had a 4.36 ERA for Omaha, but with 92 strikeouts in 74 1⁄3 innings, but at age 26, isn’t likely to draw much interest as a Rule 5 pick.
Rudy Martin - Martin had drawn comparisons to Jarrod Dyson as a speedy, left-handed hitter from Mississippi, but he was un-Dyson-like this year by breaking out with 11 home runs in 89 games in the high minors. Like Dyson, Martin can draw some walks, and although he’ll be 26 in January, he could be an intriguing roster addition.
Seuly Matias - What a roller coaster career it's been for Matias already. He still has 70-grade power, but his numbers were pretty mixed this year with a line of .213/.309/.511 but 18 home runs in 64 games. He is hitting well in the Arizona Fall League and is still just 23 year old, but the clock is ticking.
Nathan Webb - Another local kid out of Lee’s Summit who doesn’t get much mention but puts up good numbers in the minors as a reliever. The 24-year old right-hander struck out 89 in 59 1/3 innings in A-ball with a high-90s fastball that has hit 100 on occasion, which could draw some interest.
Zach Willeman - The Royals just acquired Willeman from the Dodgers as compensation for Danny Duffy, but they’ll have to decide whether or not they should add him to the 40-man roster. Willeman was a hard-throwing reliever before he had Tommy John surgery, but reportedly had his velocity down after his injury. The 25-year old right-hander had a 3.78 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings in Double-A this year.
Other potential additions: 2B Gabriel Cancel, OF Eric Cole, RHP Christian Cosby, LHP Garrett Davila, OF Brewer Hicklen, IF Rubendy Jaquez, LHP Marcelo Martinez, RHP Yohanse Morel, RHP Charlie Neuweiler, OF Juan Carlos Negret, RHP Andres Nunez, C Logan Porter, RHP Stephen Woods, Jr.