I could write up prospect ranking as you see around the web, but is there a point to that other than people like numbers next to player’s names so they can argue about if you were right or wrong? Instead, let’s follow Kyle Glaser’s lead at Baseball America and try to identify the 35 players who will make it to the majors.
Per Glaser, each farm system will have 2-3 All-Stars per system; on average, they will have 10-11 regulars and 35 total players that will reach the big leagues at some point. So instead of breaking down the players 1 to 35, I’ll change it up by putting the players into those buckets. Of course, Kyle Isbel and Jake Brentz have already crossed themselves off that list by cracking the bigs this season when we look back, but 35 other candidates still fit well.
Bobby Witt, Jr. - The Royals haven’t had a player with this much-perceived upside since Alex Gordon and haven’t had one that can play a prime defensive position since Carlos. Beltran. Scouts have mentioned 40 home run potential with Gold Glove defense, comparing him to Rockies shortstop Trevor Story. Coming into the draft, if there was worry, it was built around the hit tool that some said was below-average. It was reported that Witt dominated the Alternate Site last summer. Some may scoff at that, but the Royals front office hasn’t worried about perception in the past if it wasn’t the case. In 2012, the Royals ran a $7 million signee out to rookie ball when he wasn’t ready for Low-A. If Witt wasn’t living up to the billing, I think indications would be there for people to see. According to Alec Lewis of The Athletic, Witt will start at Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
Asa Lacy - Your preference could be either Daniel Lynch or Lacy, but either way, you have a couple of lefties with big stuff and power fastballs. Lacy showed his sophomore year that he could work primarily with fastball/changeup before switching his junior year to a fastball/slider combination. Having comfort with three pitches that all flash plus, already gives him a head start over many pitchers when entering their pro careers. I wouldn’t be shocked if they sent him to Low-A, considering the depth of pitching in the system and his lack of pro experience.
Daniel Lynch - A 6’6 lefty with a fastball that can hit 100 mph, a late biting slider, and a developing changeup sounds like a create-a-player more than the real thing. Since joining the organization, Lyncha has done everything a team wants, averaging over a strikeout per inning, increasing his velocity, and refining his stuff. His stuff can flatten out at times, and the fastball can get hit, as he has shown in the Carolina League and Arizona Fall League. Still, if he can make the final tweaks in command and changeup refinement, he has the stuff to be an upper-half of the rotation starter. His rail-thin body and explosive fastball make me wonder if he could run into an injury, and he did suffer from arm soreness in 2019. Lynch is likely headed to Triple-A Omaha.
Jackson Kowar - I’m a big fan of Kowar with a fastball in the upper 90s and a 70-grade changeup reminiscent of a taller Pedro Martinez. Unfortunately, the fastball profile doesn’t have the desired spin profile most like in today’s game, and the command needs to get more precise with that weakness. The curveball can flash average and is the difference between him being a late-inning reliever and a starter if he can consistently find it, something he hasn’t shown he can do in his pro career. With his release point being lower than 3/4, I wonder if that’s the proper breaking ball for his stuff or if he needs to add a cutter/slider, so he doesn’t have to worry about staying on top of the ball. If he can’t find the consistent breaking ball, he has stuff reminiscent of Kelvin Herrera in the bullpen with a fastball that can hit 100 mph and a nasty changeup that he can throw to hitters on either side of the plate. Of course, it comes from a much different 6’5, 200+ lb. frame than Herrera had.
Jonathan Heasley - I’m likely the high man here you will see, but I shouldn’t be. Heasley has a feel for spin, hitting near 3000 rpm at peak with his slider and curveball while averaging above major league average usually. The right-hander has a darting changeup and a fastball that peaks at 98 mph. He’s a bonafide backend starter to me with a chance to be a nasty bullpen piece with his aggressive mentality. With a thicker frame than some others in the system, his stuff can dip late in outings, but in today’s game, he’s a perfect five-and-dive artist who can pile up the strikeouts before giving way to the bullpen. A scout once comped him to Tanner Roark with a nice four-pitch mix. That mix is still there, but now he has velocity and higher spin, placing that comp in the rearview mirror. If the control and command get to average, then outperforming some above him wouldn’t be a shock. He is likely ticketed for Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
Alec Marsh - We have seen what Jakob Junis has done to his stuff this season, but right-hander Alec Marsh worked out at the same facility and has morphed his game with the work he put in. From a low 90s fastball peaking at 94 mph, Marsh is now working in the upper 90s while hitting 99 mph. The righty believes he’s turned his changeup into his second-best pitch while the mid 80s slider was already a pro-ready pitch. A four-pitch mix combined with above-average control and average command gives him a middle-of-the-rotation starter feel. High-A Quad City is my guess on where he begins this season.
Nick Pratto - I can’t say I’ve been much of a believer in Pratto in the past. His swing looked a tad long. He thought he knew the zone better than umpires, and the power didn’t look like it would be enough for first base. The hitter was considered advanced coming out of high school, but some tinkering put him in the wrong spot. He went to work to change things and appears to have unlocked his power, his hit tool, and his future in the game. The defense will remind fans of Eric Hosmer with a tad more range at the position. The Royals have a free agent DH/RF and a first baseman that should probably be a DH. If Pratto hits like he did last year at KCK and this spring, then he could get a look this season with a chance to compete for the 1b job next spring. He will likely begin the year at Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
Nick Loftin - The Royals invested pretty heavily in Loftin, giving him similar money to what the players chose 7-10 picks ahead of him were getting. One staff member dropped a Mike Bordick comp on Loftin, which seems about right given his college career. His ability to play all over the park, flash sneaky power, and control the zone should allow him to play in the big leagues. Should the power start showing up more often, he could start at second or in the outfield, reminiscent of Whit Merrifield. Expect to see Loftin at High-A Quad City.
Jonathan Bowlan - I think I’ve understated control and command in previous year’s rankings, but I think we’re seeing with Brady Singer how far it can take a player even with just two pitches. One pitcher in the college group that doesn’t lack that trait is Bowlan. When he’s on his game, he’s dominant with his mid 90s fastball and low 80s slider that come from the same path. That control and command stand out because he can repeat his delivery while using his big frame to get the ball downhill. The plus control and command should allow his stuff to play up even if the changeup doesn’t get to average. We’ve seen how pitchers like Brad Keller, Junis, and Singer can survive with a good fastball, slider, and good command. There isn’t much reason to believe Bowlan can’t match that off what he’s highlighted at times in pro ball and college. Should the changeup improve to get to average or better, he can be a 180+ inning starter with some #3 level seasons in there. You could see Bowlan at Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
Christian Chamberlain - He could be a Tim Collins or Brandon Finnegan in 2021. At 5’10 180 lbs, he’s bigger than Collins but has that same nasty curveball while possessing the multiple attacking pitches that Finnegan had coming from the left side. If the Royals hang in the race and I was going to guess on a pitcher we haven’t seen zoom through the system to contribute, I’d pick Chamberlain. The fastball works in the mid-90s, and he has a changeup in the bag as well. It’s a starter repertoire in short bursts from the left side that should have hitters all tangled and tied up from the pen. Look for him at High-A Quad Cities.
On the Fringes
Sebastian Rivero - His defensive skill and just enough power could give him a multiple-year career in the bigs as a backup catcher. His aggressiveness at the dish and lacking hit tool leave him as a backup. Likely ticketed for Omaha.
Emmanuel Rivera - The hit tool is major league average, defensively his hands are average, and the arm is excellent. The range is iffy, as one would think with his size. Can he unlock the power and earn some secondary on-base? With Dozier signed long-term is there room? He’ll provide depth in Omaha.
Daniel Tillo - Pre-injury, he was on the fast track with a mid-90s fastball and a late biting slider that had him positioned to compete for a roster spot. Will the stuff and control return after Tommy John surgery? He’ll begin the summer rehabbing in Arizona.
Austin Cox: At the end of 2019, there may not have been a Royals pitcher who was pitching at the level Cox was. His changeup had improved, his curveball was above average, and he could elevate the fastball to get swings and misses. Perhaps the loss of games hurt his development; it seems like some teammates have passed by him. He needs improvement to his control and command improvements with his low 90s velocity. He will likely head to Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
The High Upside/Big Downside Bunch
Erick Peña - Peña has a big body, considerable power, with solid tools and intelligence. Long levers leave me with some questions about swing maintenance over time. He’ll get his first taste of full-season ball at Low-A Columbia.
Zach Haake - Think Jackson Kowar with a better breaking ball. Unfortunately, injury concerns and control/command issues limit him from achieving his ceiling. Likely headed to High-A Quad City.
Seuly Matias - We saw his light-tower power in spring training, but he has a questionable hit tool. Can he make enough contact, or is he a right-handed Carlos Peguero? He could begin at Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
MJ Melendez - Big arm, immense power with a leg kick that causes timing issues while getting a little too rotational at times with his swing. Expect him at Northwest Arkansas.
Brewer Hicklen - There is 60-grade power here and 60-grade running ability, but pitch recognition and the hit tool lag. Improving both areas enough to make an impact is the question. As a multisport athlete, he didn’t get the reps of a full-time baseball player in high school and college. We’ve seen the Royals have success in developing that type of player in the past. He’ll patrol the outfield for Northwest Arkansas.
Darryl Collins - Hit, hit, and hit that’s what this kid can do. He’s got a thick frame and strength and should develop power. Overall he’s not as toolsy as you usually see in a Royals international prospect, putting pressure on the bat. You could see the Netherlands native in Low-A Columbia.
Noah Murdock - His fastball is up to 100 mph with a high spin rate and his 6’8 frame bring some comparisons to Tyler Glasnow. Does he have old Glasnow control or the 2020 Rays version? The former Virginia Cavalier is an excellent test for the Royals development changes they have implemented. Look for the right-hander at Low-A Columbia.
Anderson Paulino - He features a 100 mph fastball with a ton of life down in the zone. His breaking ball and changeup are coming, and while the Royals are still working him in the rotation, I believe he could move quickly in a bullpen. He’ll start at Columbia.
Samuel Valerio - There are more 19-year-olds are throwing in the 90s than the old days, but not many hit 102 mph like Valerio. Can he control it, develop the secondary slider, curve, and change? Plenty of questions for him. Another high-upside arm for Columbia.
Rylan Kaufman - He has high spin rates, fastball velocity, pitch movement, and the physicality of a major league pitcher. Finding the control and command to be a major leaguer will be the test, but the stuff is there to compete with most in the system. Look for him at Columbia.
Daniel Vasquez - Peña gets all the buzz, but the Royals may have signed a real gem this last international signing period in shortstop Daniel Vasquez. He’s added plenty of muscle from the initial July 2nd period when he was supposed to sign and the date he finally did. Albert Gonzalez, Assistant GM of International Operations put his ceiling as a future 40 home run masher.
Get there group
Lucious Fox - Uber athletic, can play infield and outfield with some patience at the dish.
Jeison Guzman - He might not make the big leagues with the Royals due to the depth in the system. With his power, defense and athleticism, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him on a major league roster elsewhere.
Maikel Garcia - Esky Jr.? He’s related to Alcides Escobar, and his game, size, and athleticism match up pretty well with his cousin.
Omar Hernandez - Advanced catcher with a good hit tool, tools to control the run game.
Dairon Blanco - Fast, some pop, and can flash some defense. In a system thin in the outfield, I could see him getting some run.
Will Klein - Up to 100 mph fastball, hard worker who is improving his slider and changeup dramatically in the offseason.
Adam Lukas - 100 mph with a darting slider, may make it in the bullpen.
Andres Nunez - A funky lower than 3/4 arm angle with low to mid 90s fastball and biting slider could be funky enough to get outs regularly from the pen.
Michael Massey - A middle infielder (second base) who can make contact, has a good approach, and could add some sneaky power.
Francisco Ulloa - A centerfielder in the DSL who has already shown outstanding contact skills in the DSL and can stick at the position. His personality may remind some of Sal.
The system is as deep now as it was in 2011, and the pitching has never been this deep. One could easily write up ten to fifteen more pitchers and pick out a few different position prospects that could crack the big leagues at some point. That previous group didn’t have the tools to develop their games that this group has so we may see better individual results from some players than we did from that group, but that doesn’t mean they will bring home the hardware that Hos, Moose, and the others did.