The Royals have improved their play this summer by relying on the emergence of young prospects promoted to the big leagues, but there may not be another wave of talent for awhile, if recent farm system rankings are any indication. Baseball America released their updated organizational rankings after the draft and trade deadline and ranked the Royals dead last in baseball.
The Royals have graduated Bobby Witt Jr., M.J. Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino, Kyle Isbel and several others from their preseason Top 30. Eight of the nine players in the Royals lineup on many nights are homegrown, several of whom should be fixtures for the rest of the 2020s. So it’s not that the Royals have failed to produce big leaguers. But now that that impressive wave of prospects has reached the majors, Kansas City needs to get pitching prospects like Asa Lacy, Frank Mozzicato and Jonathan Bowlan on track to provide follow-on help.
Baseball America ranked the Royals at #5 before the season. Their updated top 100 prospect list has just one Royals prospect - Nick Pratto, who is now the starting first baseman in Kansas City. The Orioles, who are enjoying a winning record this year after years of rebuilding, are ranked the top system in baseball followed by the Dodgers, Guardians, Diamondbacks, and Reds. The Royals come in just ahead of the Braves (#28) and Angels (#29).
It is not just Baseball America that is down on the Royals farm system. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel also gave his organizational rankings following the trade deadline and ranked the Royals 22nd, down from a pre-season ranking of 12th. He listed no Royals in his mid-season top 50 prospect list. Fangraphs, which compiles the Future Value ratings from before the season for prospects, also ranks the Royals at #22.
Graduating a large number of prospects will surely cause the farm system to tumble a bit. However back in 2011, when the Royals graduated Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, and Danny Duffy, they still had a top five-ranked farm system for the next two years (#2 in 2012 and #5 in 2013).
The Royals had a chance this summer to replenish their farm system at the draft and the trade deadline, and while players like Gavin Cross, Cayden Wallace, Austin Charles, and Drew Waters may bear fruit, it doesn’t appear to be enough to lift the Royals’ farm system rankings.
That’s not to say there isn’t talent in the organization. First-round pick Gavin Cross is off to a terrific start for Columbia and is ranked the #75 prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline. Wallace is also off to a good start and Waters has been on a tear since the Royals acquired him from the Braves. Tyler Gentry and Tucker Bradley show promise as outfielders, and 2021 draft picks Ben Kudrna and Carter Jensen have shown promise in the low minors.
But many prospects have taken a step backward this year. Asa Lacy, the fourth overall pick in 2020, has walked 24 hitters in 19 innings for Northwest Arkansas. Lefty Frank Mozzicato, their first-round pick from 2021, has had mixed results, including a high walk rate of 7.1 per-nine innings. Outfielder Erick Pena has looked overmatched in Columbia at age 19 with a line of .150/.259/.288.
Things can change a lot in a year, particularly if the Royals continue to acquire more minor league talent. But a small market team needs a steady pipeline of homegrown talent, it isn’t enough to depend on the young players they have now. Prospects have a high attrition rate and while some will succeed, many others won’t cut it at the big league level. If the opinion of outside talent evaluators means anything, the minor league development staff has their work cut out for them.