September baseball is lurking around the corner, allowing the Royals to expand the roster to add two more players and get a look at some more prospects. The Royals can reward players that have excelled this year, but one consideration will be the 40-man roster. The Royals have a full roster right now, but may begin shuffling it up to get players they need to protect from the Rule 5 draft this winter.
Players must be protected after four seasons if they signed at age 19 or later, or after five seasons if they signed younger than age 19. That means this year, the college draftees from 2019 become eligible, while all signees from 2018 and before are eligible. There was no MLB Rule 5 draft last year due to the lockout.
Here are the players the Royals will consider adding to the 40-man roster this off-eason.
The locks to be protected
The 24-year-old right-hander has really struggled this year following a humerus stress reaction and arm fatigue, limiting him to just six games in 2021. The former second-round pick has an ugly 7.63 ERA in 94 1⁄3 innings for Double-A Northwest Arkansas with a high walk rate and over a fifth of all his flyballs allowed leaving the ballpark. On the other hand, he has a strikeout rate of 12.3 per-nine-innings that would lead the Texas League if he wasn’t a few innings shy of qualifying. He’s a pitcher whose stuff has played better than the results, which could lead to him being snatched up, so the Royals would be wise to stash him on the roster.
The former first-round pick out of Mizzou was acquired mid-season from the Yankees in the Andrew Benintendi trade. He had missed all of last season with a lat injury, but returned to strike out 54 hitters in 36 1⁄3 innings with a 2.48 ERA in High-A ball for the Yankees. The Royals promoted him to Double-A where his numbers overall have regressed a bit in a small sample size of five starts. The 24-year-old lefty has a low-to-mid-90s fastball with good secondary pitches and different arm angles that could make him an attractive bullpen option, so the Royals are likely to protect him.
Likely to be protected
The fact that Parrish is a good bet to be protected speaks to the lack of pitching depth in the upper minors for the Royals. With so many pitchers regressing this year, his 2.13 ERA in 10 starts for Northwest Arkansas looks fantastic. But he struggled after a promotion to Omaha with a 5.13 ERA and nearly as many walks as strikeouts in 59 2⁄3 innings. The 24-year old lefty has a fastball that sits in the low-90s, so if he’s not showing plus control, he could have problems. Lefty pitchers are among the most coveted players in the Rule 5 draft and Parrish has a plus spin rate, so expect him to be protected.
Taylor was acquired from the Blue Jays for Whit Merrifield this summer and has a chance to be Whit Merrifield-lite as a good base stealer who can play second base or outfield. Taylor was surprisingly left unprotected last year despite a career season, and had the Rule 5 draft not been canceled, he may have been selected. His offensive number did decline this year, particularly in the power potential, and he missed the entire second half due to injury, so the likelihood of him getting drafted is not as high this year. But he just turned 24 years old, put up solid numbers in Triple-A, and has plus speed and positional versatility that would make him useful.
The 24-year-old lefty was second among all High-A pitchers in strikeouts last year, but regressed badly this year with a 6.36 ERA and 5.5 walks-per-nine innings for Northwest Arkansas. His strikeout rate has gone down and he leads the Texas League in home run rate. Still, he’s a 6’5’’ lefty that throws 94 mph with some good movement, and may benefit from a move to the bullpen.
Could be protected
The lefty was a sixth-round pick in 2019 out of Penn State and has been serviceable as a starter in Double-A. In 83 2⁄3 innings for the Naturals, he has a 4.09 ERA and over a strikeout-per-inning, but a walk rate of 5.8 per-nine-innings. Biasi was known to hit 95 mph on the radar gun on occasion as a starter and could benefit from a move to the pen for a velocity bump.
The lefty was once considered a top ten prospect, but has seen his strikeout rates plummet in the upper minors. He struck out just 5.7 hitters-per-nine-innings in Omaha this year with a lackluster walk rate and a 4.56 ERA. Neither MLB Pipeline nor Baseball America has him in their top 30 prospect list anymore, but perhaps another team could get more from the 25-year-old.
The son of Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto, Jonah is a 25-year-old right-hander who posted a solid 3.56 ERA in 55 2⁄3 innings as a reliever for Northwest Arkansas. He can certainly miss bats, striking out 12-per-nine innings this year, but he also walks a ton. He throws a sinker with a lot of run and is finally pain-free after pitching with an elbow issue last year.
Dye is a 25-year-old lefty who can throw strikes, with a walk rate of 2.1 per-nine-innings for Omaha. He has pitched effectively, mostly out of the pen, with a 3.42 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 52 2⁄3 innings. The Royals left him unprotected last year after an impressive season in Double-A, so they may not fear losing him, but a 6’5’’ lefty that throws from a lower arm angle could be a potential reliever for another club.
Hicklen spent a few games with the Royals but is not on the 40-man roster because he came up to replace players on the restricted list. Hicklen has put together a fantastic season in Omaha, hitting .258/.363/.522 with 25 home runs and 28 steals. He has long had a great power/speed combo but also strikes out a lot and is already 26 years old. A team could look to swipe him as outfield depth, so the Royals may consider protecting him.
The 24-year-old right-hander was acquired from the Braves last year for Jorge Soler. He has pitched well as a reliever in High-A ball with a 2.65 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 34 innings, but his walk rate has been pretty high this year. He is pretty old for High-A competition, and he struggled in his outings in the upper minors this year, but he doesn’t give up many hits and could be a useful reliever.
The slugger with 80-grade power went undrafted back in December of 2020, but that was when he was just 21 years old and coming off a disastrous 2019 season. His 2021 season showed some promise, although he was limited to just 64 games due to injuries. In Double-A this year, he has hit 15 home runs in 85 games and a line of .218/.320/.429. He still strikes out a third of the time, and he will be 24 years old by the time of the draft, so the odds of him being selected are not high. But a team may be enticed by his power and take a gamble.
A lefty-hitting outfielder out of Illinois State, Rave has followed up a solid 2021 season with a line of .266/.366/.427 with 13 home runs and 21 steals in 96 games for Northwest Arkansas although he has struggled a bit upon a promotion to Triple-A. Rave has one of the better walk rates in the organization, with a solid power-speed combination. He has played mostly center field in his career, and has a strong enough arm to play all three outfield positions. Rave doesn’t excel in any one area, but doesn’t seem to have any weaknesses either, which could make him a useful fourth or fifth outfielder.
Long shots to be protected
Alexander is a left-handed third baseman that was part of the trade with the Braves for Drew Waters. Offensively, Alexander doesn’t see too many pitches he doesn’t like - he has more home runs (24) than walks (20) this year. He can swipe some bases, but doesn’t get on base enough with a .292 OBA. He’s already 26 years old and has yet to play in Triple-A, and guys that swing at everything tend to get exposed at higher levels.
Blanco has some MLB experience, rare for a Rule 5 candidate, and he has held his own at Triple-A with a line of .247/.325/.412 this year, so if a team is looking for a useful reserve outfielder, Blanco could be selected. He is old at age 29, but he also didn’t begin his pro career stateside until age 25 after defecting from Cuba. Blanco brings terrific speed and has developed some modest power, and could be a late bloomer like former Royals outfielder Paulo Orlando.
Yefri del Rosario
The former Braves prospect went unprotected by the Royals last year and his development has seemed to stall out in the upper minors. His ERA improved in a second tour of Double-A this year to 4.84 as he became a full-time reliever, but his strikeouts fell considerably to just 6.8 per-nine-innings. The right-hander turns 23 next month, so there is still time for him to get his career back on track, but he’s not the coveted arm he once was.
Dungan has a lot of positional versatility for a lefty bat - he has played everywhere but first base and catcher in his minor league career. But after some solid numbers in Double-A last year, he regressed in Triple-A, hitting just .217/.310/.343. He has some power, can steal bases, and has shown some plate discipline, but at age 26, there isn’t much upside there.
The 23-year-old lefty has great stuff, but it hasn’t translated into results. He has struggled as a starter in A ball this year with a combined ERA of 5.24 with 4.9 walks and 10.1 strikeouts-per-nine innings between Columbia and Quad Cities. He has “astronomical spin rates” but his velocity has been erratic and he has yet to pitch as high as Double-A.
Murdock is another great stuff guy that has had disappointing numbers, although some of his slow development is attributable to injuries. Standing at 6’8’’, the right-hander out of Virginia has a fastball that can run in the mid-to-high 90s, but he has walked 5.6 per-nine-innings this year with an ugly ERA of 6.91 in 70 1⁄3 innings between High-A and Double-A, and is nowhere close to ready for the big leagues.
The 27-year-old has hit at every level, and has put up a career-best walk rate of 17.6 percent this year, tops in the entire organization. He has some power to boot, with 11 home runs in 94 games and an overall line of .291/.427/.459 in Double-A and Triple-A combined. Porter is a right-handed bat who has spent a lot of time at catcher and can play some first and third as well, so he might be a hidden jewel in the draft that could turn into a useful bench piece, or teams may see him as a Quad-A player.
Tolbert is a 24-year-old infielder hitting .219/.313/.336 with little power so there is basically no chance he is protected or drafted, but I just wanted to point out he is 56-for-56 in stolen base attempts after going 55-for-57 last year. He can play defense and walk a little bit too, so if this was 1985, he would probably start at shortstop for the Royals, but in this day and age, he will toil in the minors.
Talented, but will not be selected
McConnell was a former second-round pick in 2019 after playing for the Florida Gators, but he has played in just 70 professional games since then. He brings good power for a potential middle infielder with an ability to play the outfield, but suffered a strained tendon in spring training and had Tommy John surgery this summer, bringing doubt as to whether he’ll be ready for the start of next year.
The smooth-fielding shortstop was the prize of the Royals’ 2018 international signing class with a bonus of $847,500 out of the Dominican Republic. He began this year in Low-A Columbia but seemed overmatched offensively and was erratic defensively, and was sent back to the Arizona complex. Just 20 years old, the switch-hitter could still have a bright future, but no team will take him in the Rule 5.
Collins was signed out of The Netherlands as a teenage outfielder with a sweet left-handed swing. He has yet to develop any kind of power, but he has been able to hit otherwise, and has shown a very good eye with more walks than strikeouts for Low-A Columbia. Collins has some speed and still has potential, particularly if that power ever develops, but the 20-year-old is much too far from the big leagues for any team to plop him on an MLB roster.