Royals fans are getting a taste of the future with Brady Singer and Kris Bubic reaching the big leagues and Daniel Lynch and Kyle Isbel reaching the big leagues already this year. The most anticipated debut will by Bobby Witt, Jr. which could possibly come this summer.
Lynch, who made his MLB debut this week, was ranked #21 by Baseball America, the highest rankings for a Royals pitching prospect in that publication in over a decade. Baseball America is the industry leader in evaluating prospects, and they have ranked the top 100 prospects in the game every year since 1988. I wanted to take a look back and see how Lynch and Witt stack up against some of the other highest-ranked prospects in club history.
10. Angel Berroa #15, 2002
Berroa was the prized prospect in the Johnny Damon trade, coming over from the A’s organization. At first, he made the trade look good for the Royals, hitting .304/.377/.495 with 14 home runs and 25 steals across High-A Wilmington and Double-A Wichita in 2001. Baseball America ranked him as the #15 prospect baseball, and the second-best shortstop prospect, behind only Braves shortstop Wilson Betimet, and ahead of shortstops like Brandon Phillips, Jose Reyes, and Miguel Cabrera (yep, he was a shortstop). Berroa would struggle in 2002 in Triple-A, but would justify his prospect ranking in 2003 by hitting .287./338/.451 with 17 home runs and 21 steals, earning Rookie of the Year honors. Unfortunately, he would never come close to those numbers again, and the Royals traded him to the Dodgers in 2008.
8. (tie) Carlos Beltran #14, 1999
Beltrán was a second-round pick who had five-tool talent, but his early numbers in the minors didn’t show any signs of the Hall of Fame-level numbers he would later put up. He didn’t hit for much power early on, and really struggled in a season in High-A Wilmington, a place where most hitters struggle. But by 1998 he exploded, hitting .276/.364/.427 in Wilmington before going to Double-A Wichita and going on a tear, hitting .352 with 14 home runs in 47 games. Baseball America saw that as proof his skills could translate into results and ranked him #14, although that was still ten spots behind future Royals pitcher Bruce Chen. Beltrán would go on to become the first rookie since Ted Williams to score 100 runs and drive in 100 runs, winning Rookie of the Year honors.
8. (tie) Zack Greinke #14, 2004
The Royals reportedly came close to selecting Prince Fielder with the sixth-overall pick of the 2002 draft, but instead went with a high school pitcher from Florida, who some thought might actually be better as a shortstop. Greinke absolutely dominated minor league hitters in his first full season in 2003, with a 1.93 ERA and just 18 walks in 23 starts across High-A and Double-A. Baseball America would rank him #14, four spots behind Fielder, but 17 years later it is Greinke still putting up numbers in what looks like a Hall of Famer career.
7. Bobby Witt #13, 2021
The Royals have had a top-two pick four times in the draft, most recently in 2019 when they selected a high school shortstop from Texas named Bobby Witt, Jr. The son of a former big league pitcher, Witt has five-tool talent, with Baseball America writing he “projects to be a solid shortstop with elite hands, a good first step, and good body control, rounding out the package with a plus, accurate arm.” He had an underwhelming start to his professional career, hitting just .262/.317/.354 with one home run in 37 games in the Arizona Summer League in 2019. But he impressed coaches and teammates in camp last summer and this spring to the point that some were calling for him to make the big league roster. Baseball Prospectus and MLB Pipeline already have him as a top ten prospect, and Baseball America will certainly follow suit, unless Witt has already graduated to the big leagues.
6. Dee Brown #11, 2000
Dee Brown was a first-round pick who had five-tool talent. He could hit, run, hit for average, even draw walks. He put it all together in 1999 for what might be one of the best minor league hitting seasons in franchise history. He began the season in High-A Wilmington and destroyed the Carolina League, hitting .308/.431/.548 with 13 home runs and 20 steals in 61 games. The Double-A Texas League did not prove to be any more challenging, and he hit .353/.440/.591 with 12 home runs for Double-A Wichita. Brown seemed destined for stardom.
But there were whispers he was lazy, that he was difficult. The Royals didn’t help in the way they handled him. Joe Posnanski once quoted a former Royals employee as saying “I’ve never seen any organization (bleep) with a player the way the Royals did with Dee Brown. They ruined him.” Injuries also took their toll, and Brown would play just 271 games at the big league level.
4. (tie) Johnny Damon #9, 1995
Johnny Damon was touted as the future of the franchise, an outfielder capable of winning batting titles and leading the league in steals. The Royals even put him in an ad wrestling the remote control away from the legendary George Brett, a not-so-subtle metaphor on what the Royals expected from him.
The 1995 prospect class was pretty loaded, with Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, and Erek Jeter at the top of the list, three Hall of Fame-calibre players. Damon was ranked #9 by Baseball America, behind Blue Jays shortstop Alex Gonzalez and ahead of future Rookie of the Year Ben Grieve, an outfielder with the Athletics. Damon struggled his first two seasons in Kansas City, but eventually came around, but by the time he had emerged as the best leadoff hitter in the game, the Royals felt they had to trade him before he hit free agency. They dealt him to Oakland with infield prospect Mark Ellis in a three-team trade that netted reliever Roberto Hernandez, shortstop Angel Berroa, and catcher A.J. Hinch.
4. (tie) Mike Moustakas #9, 2011
Bryce Harper and Mike Trout were two of the biggest-hyped prospects of the last 20 years, and they topped the 2011 prospect class. But the Royals had numbers on their side with three prospects in the top ten - Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Wil Myers. Moustakas, the second-overall pick in the 2007 draft, absolutely destroyed the minor leagues in 2010. Splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A, he hit .322/.369/.630 with 36 home runs. The Royals would send him back to Triple-A to begin the 2011 season, but after 55 games, he was up in June.
3. Eric Hosmer #8, 2011
Just ahead of Moose in the rankings was his infield partner, Eric Hosmer. Baseball America ranked Hosmer as the best hitter for average in the farm system, while Moustakas was the best power hitter. Hosmer would hit .338/.406/.571 with 20 home runs between High-A Wilmington and Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2010, but would spend just 26 games in Triple-A in 2011 before the Royals brought him up for good. He hit .293/.334/.465 with 19 home runs in 128 games the rest of the season, finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting.
2. Wil Myers #4, 2013
Myers ranked below Moustakas in 2011, but by 2013 he was considered the fourth-best prospect in baseball. Tragically, two of the top five prospects died early in their career - Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras and Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez. Myers had hit .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs across Double-A and Triple-A in 2012, earning Minor League Player of the Year honors. But a future with the Royals wasn’t in the cards. Needing an ace pitcher to anchor their staff and get them over the hump, Dayton Moore traded Myers with three other prospects in a blockbuster deal for Rays pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis. Myers would go on to win American League Rookie of the Year.
1. Alex Gordon #2, 2007
After a decade in the wilderness, the Royals were searching for someone to lead them back to respectability. Gordon seemed like he was right out of central casting. A Midwestern kid whose family would drive in from Nebraska to watch Royals games, Gordon became the top collegiate player in the country with the Cornhuskers. The Royals made him the #2 overall pick in 2005, and sent him to Double-A Wichita for his first full professional season. He hit .325/.427/.588 with 29 home runs and was named Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America. They also named him the #2 prospect in baseball, behind only Japanese free agent pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. That April, the two would face each other, and after some initial struggles, Gordon would rebound to hit .2467/.314/.411 with 15 home runs.