The 2023 season for the Kansas City Royals was not a very good one, and with difficulty on the major league stage, some attention turned instead to the shape of the team’s farm system. Unfortunately, the shape of the farm system isn’t leaps and bounds better than what we see in the big leagues, which proves problematic for a team looking for a serious turnaround. MLB Pipeline ranked the system 29th in their midseason update back in August. They have their own top 30 prospects list, as do others such as Prospects Live, Future Stars Series, and David Lesky.
My list is compiled using my own observations watching the minor leagues. I have a personal grading system that I use, compiling a player’s tools, position, and age, among other things. The farm system added some good talent in the last two Rule 4 player drafts but has a long way to go in their efforts to build a top-ranked farm system in baseball. Here’s the list:
(1) Frank Mozzicato, LHP
Frank Mozzicato had a bit of a curious year on the mound. He started the year absolutely dominant for the Low-A Columbia Fireflies. Opponents hit just .179 against him there in 2023 and he punched out 36.2% of hitters he faced. He landed on the IL in early June after colliding with teammate Brennon McNair in practice. At that time, his ERA was 2.14 on the season. Upon his return, he made three more starts in Low-A before being promoted to High-A.
The walks are still a serious issue — he walked 8.10 batters per nine innings for the River Bandits this season. However, he worked on a slider last off-season and started throwing it in games this season. The development was clear this year and hopefully, the command will follow as he continues to mature as a pitcher. There’s still ace upside and he’s just 20 years old.
(2) Carson Roccaforte, CF
Roccaforte was the 66th overall pick in this year’s draft and already showed out in the minor leagues. He started his professional career reaching base in his first 20 games. Royals’ Scouting Director, Danny Ontiveros, called Roccaforte a “five-tool player potential” after this year’s draft, and Roccaforte showed us those skills on the Diamond in a short sample to close out the year.
His defense drew rave reviews from folks in Columbia, he walked 15.6% of the time, stole 11 bags in 31 games, and — until a cold spell to end the year — showed a good ability to hit for average. There are questions about the power. He had just a .099 ISO against Low-A pitching which isn’t great. The potential for more is there, however, and being able to stick in center field with excellent defense gives Roccaforte a nice baseline floor.
(3) Cayden Wallace, 3B
It’s hard to find a more well-rounded prospect in the system than Cayden Wallace. Wallace entered the system after the 2022 draft with questions about his defense at the hot corner. He quieted those doubts early this year, showcasing a strong arm and excellent range at third base.
Your scheduled weekly defensive highlight for "Captain Caydo". Cayden Wallace is impressive. pic.twitter.com/Ex6lIa1vUF— Preston Farr (@royalsminors) May 28, 2023
As far as the bat is concerned, Wallace posted a 116 wRC+ in 97 games for the High-A River Bandits this season. He struggled after earning a promotion to Double-A later in the year, but is also still rather young for a college prospect, at just 22 years old. If the power output can rebound some upon his return to Northwest Arkansas next season, then I’ll feel even better about Wallace’s potential ceiling. Right now, he looks like a future everyday third baseman with the glove, with at least a slightly below-league-average bat.
(4) Blake Mitchell, C
Blake Mitchell didn’t debut in affiliated ball this season, but instead spent some time in the Arizona Complex League. The results weren’t fantastic, but he showed off good plate discipline and drew rave reviews for his defensive ability from the Royals’ Director of Hitting Performance, Drew Saylor. He’s getting work in the Instructional League right now and should debut next season in the lower minors, most likely Low-A Columbia. Mitchell was an LSU commit before signing with Kansas City. I spoke with LSU Head Baseball Coach, Jay Johnson, who mentioned that Mitchell has “Joe Mauer qualities on the catching side.”
(5) Ben Kudrna, RHP
The local product, Ben Kudrna out of Overland Park, had yet another firmly solid season in 2023. After pitching to a 3.48 ERA in 2022, he had a 4.22 ERA in 2023 between Low-A and High-A. The strikeouts were up, the walks were down, and he had among the very best swinging strike rates among all qualified pitchers in the minor leagues. He looks to be positioned nicely and in the right place with the Royals’ new pitching development staff. He misses a lot of bats but just needs more work honing his command to become a sound mid-rotation piece someday.
(6) Tyler Gentry, OF
Tyler Gentry was the organization’s 2022 George Brett Hitter of the Year. He spent all season playing for Triple-A Omaha but struggled out of the gate. In the second half, however, Gentry may have positioned himself to compete for the Opening Day big league outfield in 2024. From July 14 through the end of the season, Gentry slashed .289/.422/.483 with a gaudy 17.9% walk rate, 8 home runs, and 9 stolen bases. He plays respectable defense in the corner outfield and has made some flashy plays here or there. If the Royals need outfield help next season, Gentry offers them an in-house option to plug in.
(7) Javier Vaz, 2B/OF
Javier Vaz was relatively unknown in the Royals system prior to this season but quickly shot up prospect lists with his showing this year. He played 199 games between Quad Cities and Northwest Arkansas, slashing .279/.373/.400. Although it was over a smaller sample (33 games), he actually got better upon a mid-season promotion to Double-A. Vaz has an interesting mix of speed and contact, and rarely swings and misses at pitches in the strike zone. He can play a bit all over, as well, from shortstop to second base, as well as all three outfield positions.
(8) Noah Cameron, LHP
Noah Cameron has three above-average pitches. His fastball is the worst of the three, sitting 92-94. There were times this season, however, that he had it up to 95. He’s still working back from Tommy John Surgery back in 2021 and the Royals have been fairly careful taking care of his path back. He took about a month off mid-way through this season, a weird period where he wasn’t on the IL and also wasn’t pitching. He also throws a big, 12-6 curveball and a devastating changeup with excellent fading action.
(9) Chandler Champlain, RHP
Chandler Champlain looks so far like the best of the return for the Royals in the Andrew Benintendi trade from 2022. He has a mid-90s fastball that features good, running action up in the strike zone. He pairs that with a curveball, slider, and a new splitter that he added after reaching Double-A this season. He’s a little bit of an older prospect at 24 years old but could get a chance to pitch in the major leagues as early as next season. He finished 2023 with an 11-8 record and a 3.33 ERA over 135.1 innings pitched.
(10) Gavin Cross, OF
Gavin Cross didn’t have a great 2023 season but missed nearly two months on the injured list with an undisclosed illness. He’s been unable to recapture the promise that he showed in Low-A after being drafted in 2023 and the team has him playing in this year’s Arizona Fall League to get more valuable reps. He struck out a lot this season but I’m optimistic those struggles can be fixed because his swinging strike rate was actually below the MiLB average this season. The power is undeniable but he needs to barrel up the baseball more often to eat into that power.
(11) Nick Loftin, UTIL
Nick Loftin can play all over the diamond, save for maybe at catcher or center field. He’s got a nice, well-rounded skill set at the plate. He bulked up in the 2022 offseason and that led to larger power output in the minor leagues this season. I compare him to Wilmer Flores who was a Swiss Army knife of sorts in New York for many years. Loftin has the potential to hit for a good average with 15-20 home runs every year.
(12) Mason Barnett, RHP
Mason Barnett was awarded the organization’s Paul Splittorff Pitcher of the Year Award for his efforts this season. He’s still rather young, at just 22 years old. He was taken in the third round of last year’s 2022 MLB Draft out of Auburn and looks like a steal thus far. His best pitch is a slider and he pairs that with an above-average fastball, an average curveball, and he also throws a changeup that’s a work in progress. Barnett led the entire Royals’ minor league system with 137 strikeouts this season.
Former @AuburnBaseball hurler Mason Barnett tossed 5 shutout IP, allowing just 1 hit with 7 K's last night as @QCRiverBandits completed 2-0 shutout win.— Raising Royals (@KCRoyalsPD) April 19, 2023
Bandits starters lead Midwest League with 47 strikeouts while issuing a league-low 9 walks.#BanditTogether #RaisingRoyals pic.twitter.com/MYn82B3Pj4
(13) Jared Dickey, OF
Jared Dickey was this year’s token 11th-round selection by the Royals. He — along with David Sandlin and Vinnie Pasquantino — makes up yet another late-round over-slot pick made possible by under-slot draft deals earlier in the draft by Kansas City. He has the upside of 30+ home run potential in the major leagues, but the biggest takeaway from his performance this summer was the plate discipline. Dickey slashed .347/.434/.463 in 28 games for Low-A Columbia. He walked 11 times against just 10 strikeouts.
(14) David Sandlin, RHP
Unfortunately, David Sandlin’s 2023 season ended prematurely when he landed on the injured list back in early July. He throws three above-average pitches — a fastball, splitter, and slider. Sandlin absolutely dominated Low-A hitters this season, blowing them away with his fastball in the upper 90s. He usually sits around 96/97 with it and rarely walks hitters. His BB/9 was just 1.99 over 58.2 IP for the Fireflies this season.
(15) Emmanuel Reyes, RHP
Emmanuel Reyes is maybe the most polished international signing I’ve seen pitch for the Royals. He’s at least the most polished for his age that I’ve seen in the last decade. Between the DSL, Complex League, and Low-A, Reyes has now thrown 119 innings since the start of 2022 with 116 strikeouts and just 20 walks. His command is impressive and he’s still just 19 years old. He throws a fastball, a changeup, and a slider. He’s had some issues with arm fatigue thus far, and some arm slot issues impact his pitch shapes at times. There’s a lot to like here, especially as he continues to mature with age.
(16) Blake Wolters, RHP
Blake Wolters was the second pick by Kansas City in this year’s draft. We haven’t seen him much, as the only real footage we have for him came in the Instructional League this fall. He will likely debut next season in Low-A where fans can get a look at his stuff in affiliated ball. He throws a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, a sweeping slider, and a changeup. His slider is the best offering, and he creates excellent spin rates.
I mentioned Blake Wolters' impressive inning against Milwaukee yesterday. Mid-90s heat and a nasty slider to punch out three hitters, including 2023 first-rounder Brock Wilken. Take a look. pic.twitter.com/P3Yg75Zd6a— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) October 7, 2023
(17) Trevor Werner, 3B
Trevor Werner has been on fire and hit the ground running about as well as you could ask. Among all 2023 draftees thus far, his 8 home runs are the most. He was a two-time Carolina League Player of the Week this season (despite playing in just 31 games for the Fireflies). He was also named the Carolina League Player of the Month for September. Werner has impressive power ability at the plate, something that didn’t really jump out to me when he was taken in the 7th round this year. He also walked 15.5% of the time in his 31 games this season. That combination of patience and power could carry Werner up lists if it continues against stiffer competition next season.
(18) Carter Jensen, C
Carter Jensen is still just 20 years old and will likely start next season at Double-A already. His eye at the plate is better than anyone else in the system, as evidenced by his 17.6% walk rate over the last two seasons combined. He hit 11 home runs this season but again started slow. That slow start hides some of the improvement Jensen made as the season went on. He made a slight tweak to his hands and stance later in the year. From July on, he slashed .246/.365/.425. He could probably stick behind the plate, but with Blake Mitchell and Ramon Ramirez anchoring the position in the system, the Royals should consider moving Jensen to the outfield to let his bat develop a little more quickly.
(19) Peyton Wilson, 2B/OF
Peyton Wilson is such a difficult prospect to tie down. He’s very, very good in spurts but inconsistency plagued him throughout 2023. To end 2022, he was playing center field nearly every day and was blistering the baseball. He hit 14 home runs in 88 games last season but followed that up with just six in 128 games this year. If he could find consistency with his power, Wilson could be a top-five prospect in the system. Without consistent power, Wilson still has an above-average hit tool with plus speed. He played second base pretty exclusively in 2023 and the defense was suspect at times.
(20) Ramon Ramirez, C
Ramon Ramirez is a slightly under-the-radar name to watch for the Royals. He was among the best hitters in the entire Dominican Summer League this season, slashing .344/.440/.615 with 8 home runs in 41 games. Ramirez is still just 18 years old with average tools behind the plate. He profiles similar to Carlos Santana with very good power potential and an advanced eye at the plate. He had more walks (21) than strikeouts (18) this season. The DSL is a rather offensive-happy league, so seeing Ramirez repeat once he reaches affiliated baseball will be key.
(21) Austin Charles, 3B
Austin Charles was a nice surprise this season after being taken in the 20th round of the 2022 MLB Draft. Charles is 6-4, 215 pounds with long, lanky arms. His power potential is impressive, and the power/speed combination he offers with his size is extremely rare. Charles turns 20 years old in November, and his inexperience showed itself this season. He started very hot after a mid-season promotion to Low-A, but never truly found a way to consistently get to his power. The Royals will need to work through some things in his swing to help him barrel the baseball more often and reduce holes. His defense at third base is spotty, but he has a strong arm that could be more suitable for the outfield.
(22) Asbel Gonzalez, OF
FanGraphs calls Asbel Gonzalez a “Goldilocks Zone Prospect,” meaning “one with a chance to add power while staying up the middle of the diamond.” His speed and glove should allow him to stick in center field long-term and he’s still just 17 years old, leaving a lot of room for power output to grow. Still, the power is nothing but potential at this point and the hit tool looked a little bit mediocre in the offense-happy DSL this season. He’s a name to watch, but I’d like to see more before I put too much stock in his potential quite yet.
(23) Tyler Tolbert, SS/CF
Tyler Tolbert will be Rule 5 eligible this winter and may have played his way into a 40-man roster spot this season. The Royals named him the winner of this season’s George Brett Hitter of the Year Award, thanks mostly to a serious awakening at the plate over the second half. Tolbert created more contact this season than we’ve seen in years passed, finishing with 10 3B, 10 HR, and 50 stolen bases. The organization also had him start playing center field regularly by the end of the year. Results at Double-A have to be taken with a grain of salt, especially when a prospect is 25, but it was Tolbert’s first stab at Double-A and he looked fantastic.
(24) Erick Torres, OF
Erick Torres rounds out a list of pretty promising international players acquired by the Royals in recent years. Torres spent all of his 2023 season in the Arizona Complex League, appearing in 36 games and slashing .319/.392/.428. He offers a good mix of discipline, contact, and speed. The power is somewhat lacking, but he’s still very young at just 18 years old. Long-term, he looks likely to become a corner outfielder.
(25) Henry Williams, RHP
Henry Williams was acquired from the Padres as part of the return for Scott Barlow. It’s somewhat rare to see a pitcher traded so early in their professional career, but that was the case for Williams, who pitched in his first pro season in 2023. He was taken in the 3rd round of the 2022 draft There’s some risk here, however, after Williams missed most of two seasons with Tommy John Surgery. His command is somewhat spotty, and his fastball is still lacking velocity. His best pitch is his curveball, and he could become a back-end starter if the Royals can help him re-find his velocity and pepper the strike zone with more regularity.
(26) Hiro Wyatt, RHP
We haven’t seen Hiro Wyatt quite yet, in either game action or in the Instructional League. He was taken in the 3rd round of this season’s MLB Draft and does a great job spinning the baseball. He has mid to upper-90s velocity on his sinking fastball and pairs that with a high-spin slider. His makeup isn’t all too different from someone like Brady Singer, although he’s much younger.
(27) Luinder Avila, RHP
Luinder Avila has pitched a ton over the course of his young MiLB career thus far. He’s still just 21 years old and threw more than 100 innings in each of the last two seasons. Avila throws a fastball, curveball, and changeup. At times, it looks like he throws a slider as well but that could just be the result of arm angle or fatigue in his arm action. He profiles as a back-end starter and could reach that potential if his fastball continues to develop. This season, he started the year throwing in the low 90s but was hitting 95 regularly by the end of the season. If he transitions to a bullpen role, Avila could become an effective single-inning relief pitcher.
(28) Andrew Hoffmann, RHP
Andrew Hoffmann joined the organization in the trade that also brought Drew Waters and CJ Alexander. He throws a sinker, 4-seamer, slider, and changeup. His slider is one of the best pitches in the entire system, creating elite swing and miss when he’s commanding it well. Hoffmann developed very nicely towards the end of 2023, thanks to some tweaks in his delivery and mechanics. The ERA never quite caught up to show how good the improvements made him, but he’s a name to watch who could start next season with great results. He’s right on the cusp of the major leagues and with a good start, could be there quickly.
(29) John Rave, CF
John Rave is a Rule 5 eligible center fielder who took a nice step forward this season. He barreled up the baseball more this season, hitting more line drives, and for much of the season, the difference was clear. He was on fire after a mid-season promotion to Triple-A but cooled over the back half of the season. He’s an older prospect, already 25 years old, and after a tough cold spell to end the year, could once again miss out on a 40-man roster spot. There’s an outside shot he could be taken in this winter’s Rule 5 draft, but he most likely profiles as a 4th outfielder in the Major Leagues.
(30) Darryl Collins, OF
Darryl Collins missed the bulk of 2023 with a shoulder injury. He left the game on June 1st after making a diving attempt in the outfield and landing awkwardly on his shoulder. Collins is still just 22 years old, but the lost season certainly hurts his stock. Entering the season, there was hope he could develop more of his power output at the plate. He’s always been a prospect with impressive plate discipline. If he can get healthy and get back on track next season, there’s still hope for him to become an everyday corner outfielder in the major leagues.