In standard years in late March, I’d be guessing which players will be placed with each affiliate. It’s not a typical season, obviously. Players are scattered about with a few minor leaguers practicing in Columbia, South Carolina, a few in Arizona, where they will stay until the start of the minor league season, and others will be shortly packing their bags to get work in at the alternate site in Arkansas. With a jumbled mess in the minor leagues with still no definite start time, what better time to toss some darts and guess who could have breakout seasons in the minor leagues?
The Spring Breakers
No one has had a bigger spring than first baseman Nick Pratto, showing off power with his retooled hitting ability. The Royals raved about Pratto over the winter, but I had my questions. The main question always came with the power and hitting ability. As a first baseman, his bat has to carry more weight than other infielders, particularly the power element. The average power grade coming out of the draft and the hit tool struggles the first couple of seasons put him in a negative light, but it sounds like he did some great work changing his swing and approach. Leading the alternate site in home runs and trailing only Shohei Ohtani in OPS among AL hitters with 20 or more at-bats is positive. Converting that over into game action still needs to be done, but it’s hard not to have some optimism here.
For Jon Heasley, which role he pitches in isn’t fully known to me, but it shouldn’t matter. The strikeouts will come as his velocity is up to the 97 mph range at times, and the breaking balls are spintastic. Assistant GM J.J. Picollo told me the command and control improved this last season at the alternate site. If those elements are there, he has the stuff to be a mid-rotation astart with his four pitches or a nasty back of the bullpen piece. It should be interesting to see if his Arizona effort lands him at Double-A instead of High-A.
The numbers crunch at the upper levels and the number of bullpen options from the 2019 draft that haven’t got a good look will make for some interesting placements. Pitchers will get left out or placed lower than some may guess, but the number of quality arms in this system makes it a good problem to have.
The Upside Arms
The Royals 2018 division I starters have gotten tons of hype, but there is more from that draft class than people already know. Junior college left-hander Rylan Kaufman should be ready to take the next leap to join the current hyped group. Kaufman went to JUCO baseball powerhouse San Jacinto and has found the mound for just 15 pro innings thus far, but it’s not for lack of talent. When I saw him at instructs in ‘18, his fastball had an average spin rate of 2300+ when he was 90-92 mph. Now in the mid-90s, that fastball and improved command with natural arm-side run should be even nastier. That spin carried over to the curveball, where he had was putting up 2700-2800 rpm on the pitch in the low 70s. Kaufman has the frame, natural feel for spin and movement that even some of the better-known Royals pitching prospects don’t have. If he can match their durability, he has the talent to join them and even pass a few up.
The ‘19 draft appears to have produced the next Royals starting pitching prospect. Taken in the second round of that draft, Alec Marsh looked like a back of the rotation type with four average pitches. At Arizona State, he was a low 90s worker with a dependable slider. The pitcher the Royals currently have throws in the upper 90s with a hard power slider and a changeup approaching his best secondary offering. With his size, control, and workhorse body, if he maintains the velocity, he won’t last long no matter where the Royals place him to start the season.
The Comeback Kid
Injuries and approach have been an issue for Seuly Matias since his 31-home run outburst as a 19-year-old in Lexington. Injuries bit him again last year at the alternate site, but the work he did get in helped cut down his swing some, and in the little work he’s shown in winter leagues and spring training, he exhibited an ability to do more damage with contact. It’s not about Matias’ strikeouts but more about getting to do more damage with slightly more contact. If he touches the ball, it’s going to travel because he’s freakishly strong and can create bat speed. I’m guessing he once again challenges for the minor league home run crown as he cuts down the strikeout rate enough.
Royals prospect Seuly Matias goes over the VERY LONG and VERY TALL centerfield wall pic.twitter.com/Fks7AmYZr5— Baseball.FYI (@baseballFYI) December 11, 2020
Vinnie Pasquantino showed an ability to make contact and hit for power in Burlington. He should be able to duplicate that at Low or High-A.
Christian Chamberlain could be the 2020 draftee that could push himself to the bigs quickly. Think Tim Collins and Brandon Finnegan combined into one pitcher with Collins’ nasty curveball and Finnegan’s aggressive style when he first arrived. It would take the Royals contending and needing a lefty but Chamberlain’s mid 90s fastball and 12-6 curve could create havoc for hitters in the bullpen.
Omar Hernandez will likely get a Low-A assignment at some point this season, and though he may not put up big power numbers, a young catcher that can hit for average and handle the staff at 19 years old should be of note.
Anderson Miller told me something clicked for him last year, and a member of the staff agreed. Is it enough to get him to the bigs? That I don’t know, but he’s athletically exceptionally gifted and has a lot of strength. Don’t be shocked if he has a nice season in Double-A or Triple-A.