It’s prospect rankings season!
I thought I might come up with my own prospect list, not because I really know what I’m talking about that much - this is really meant to be a conversation starter. There are experts out there who know a lot more about these players than I do - Baseball America has their Royals prospect list, MLB Pipeline does a top 30 list, and Keith Law will be out with his Royals list tomorrow. You can also read Prospects Live, David Lesky’s top Royals prospect list and Royals Farm Report still has good analysis of Royals prospects. But I thought I’d at least take a stab ranking Royals prospects, and I’m curious about what you think about the state of the Royals’ farm system.
I lean heavily on other lists from those that have actually seen these players. But I made some tweaks based on things I like to see from prospects, and your personal preferences may differ.
1. Gavin Cross, outfielder
The ninth overall pick in last June’s draft, Cross is pretty much the consensus top prospect in the farm system. He had a patient eye at Virginia Tech with good power, and Keith Law reports that his power potential has only increased since joining the Royals. He was terrific in 26 games at Low-A Columbia last year, hitting .293/.423/.596 with seven home runs and 22 walks, with a hitting profile that is not that dissimilar to Vinnie Pasquantino. He has a strong arm and should profile best in right field, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s patrolling Kauffman Stadium by 2024.
2. Maikel Garcia, shortstop
Garcia is the cousin of former Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar, and while they are both above-average defenders, that is probably where the comparisons end. While Esky was a free-swinging “ambush” hitter, Garcia has a walk rate of 10.7 percent in the minors (Garcia has already drawn more walks in 379 minor league games than Esky did in 782 career minor league games). Garcia didn’t have much power in 2021, or in 2022 in Northwest Arkansas, but he suddenly smacked seven home runs in 40 games for Omaha after his mid-season promotion.
The Storm Chasers don’t play in high-altitude bandboxes in the Pacific Coast League anymore, so was this some newfound power or just a fluke? Regardless, Garcia brings a good approach to hitting, has good speed, and is a plus defender, so even without power he could be a solid shortstop.
3. Tyler Gentry, outfielder
I feel like Gentry should be getting a bit more love from prospect lists, but I suppose his age (he’ll turn 24 in February) is likely keeping him from getting more recognition. He destroyed minor league pitching last year, hitting .336/.434/.516 in 35 games at High-A, and actually improved his OPS upon a promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas with 16 home runs in 73 games and a line of .321/.417/.555. He’s athletic and strong with a good walk rate (13 percent last year) and could play either corner outfield position. The Royals should be pretty aggressive in promoting him, as the right-hander has handled every level thus far.
4. Carter Jensen, catcher
There were just four teenage hitters who drew 80+ walks last season - Brainer Bonaci, Harry Ford, Adael Amador, and Carter Jensen. Ford and Amador were ranked as top 100 prospects by Baseball America, and I suspect Jensen - who is younger than the other three - could make the list next year. Jensen was able to draw his free passes without striking out that much - a 21 percent whiff rate. He hit just 11 home runs in 113 games, but again, he was an 18-year-old kid, and he seemed to get better as the season went along.
Jensen is a lefty bat with a mature approach to the plate and power potential, and while I think he moves to the outfield eventually due to his offensive upside, I’ve read good things about his defense behind the plate.
5. Drew Waters, outfielder
Waters should get a shot at a lot of playing time in Kansas City this year, likely in right field. If he sticks as a regular, that will be a huge feather in the cap of J.J. Picollo - who acquired him from the Braves in a creative trade for a draft pick - and the hitting development team led by Alec Zumwalt. Waters has always had tools, but couldn’t figure it out in the Braves system. He came to the Royals and immediately hit, even after joining the big leagues. His impressive line of .240/.324/.479 in 32 games with the Royals comes with the caveat that he struck out 36.7 percent of the time. If he can cut that down without sacrificing too much power, he could stick as a plus defender in the corners who can cover center if need be, or at worst, a fourth outfielder.
6. Frank Mozzicato, pitcher
A lot of Royals fans didn’t like the team reaching for Mozzicato for the #7 pick in the 2021 draft, myself included, but the young lefty out of Connecticut has showed some promise early on. He was one of the youngest pitchers in the Carolina League last year, but struck out 11.61 hitters-per-nine-innings, one of the highest rates in the league. He also used that big curveball to induce a groundball rate north of 50 percent, again one of the top rates in the league. His walk rate is way too high, but the kid has added some velo to sit in the low-90s, and also added a change up to go with his plus curve. He still has a long way to go, but fans shouldn’t write him off just because of his draft position.
7. Ben Kudrna, pitcher
The Royals went underslot with Mozzicato to get Kudrna in the second round, so the two will always be linked in the minds of many fans. Kudrna added 30 pounds to his 6’3’’ frame and has a promising fastball that sits at 95-97 mph with a slider and a change up. That hasn’t resulted in the strikeout rates you’d like to see, but a 3.48 ERA as one of the few teenage pitchers in the Carolina League is still impressive. He will have to get more whiffs, or at least improve his command, but Kudrna has the physical upside to improve.
Kudrna and the hitter were on the same page re: how long they wanted this at-bat to last. Just absolute filth from Ben. pic.twitter.com/Uns5DEEYu7— Josh Keiser (@joshkeiser40) June 15, 2022
8. Cayden Wallace, third base
Wallace played third base last year, but I think his future is in right field, where he can put his rocket arm on display. The 2022 second-round pick got his professional career off to a solid start last year, hitting .294/.369/.468 with 12 walks and eight steals in 27 games. He hit for good power at Arkansas and had some good exit velocity metrics, but hit just two home runs as a pro. He seems to have a mature approach to the plate with a decent amount of walks and very few strikeouts, and many evaluators seem to think he has plus power potential.
9. Angel Zerpa, pitcher
Royals fans have gotten a glimpse of the Venezuelan lefty and he has been impressive as hell with a 1.13 ERA in 16 innings, aggressively throwing strikes without fear. Zerpa is probably a lower-ceiling pitcher, but he has shown an ability to throw strikes, and he did miss bats at Double-A last year with 9.7 strikeouts-per-nine innings. I like the sinking action on Zerpa’s low-90s fastball and he seems to induce a lot of groundballs with his breaking ball and change. If he becomes a lefty fifth starter who throws strikes and gets grounders, the Royals would take that to the bank.
10. Beck Way, pitcher
The prize of the Andrew Benintendi trade last summer, Way struck out 127 hitters in 108 innings in High-A between the Yankees and Royals organization, with a solid 3.75 ERA overall. His control improved significantly last year, although it could still be an issue. Way shows good velocity in the mid-to-upper-90s and has a decent breaking ball, and while I think there’s a decent chance he ends up as a good reliever, he has performed well as a starter in the minors so far.
Royals traded Benintendi to NYY for No. 11 prospect Beck Way in July— Farm To Fame (@FarmToFame_) September 4, 2022
Tonight, Way struck out career-high 10 in 8 no-hit innings in High-A
11. Luca Tresh, catcher
Baseball America had Tresh pegged as a second-round talent, but the Royals scooped him up in the 17th round of the 2021 draft when he fell due to signability concerns. He didn’t play much his first season after signing, and while he mashed with 14 home runs for Quad Cities in 2022, he was a bit old for High-A. Because of that, I think he’s being overlooked a bit, but I’m encouraged by the fact he continued to hit upon a promotion to Double-A, batting .253/.359/.462 with 5 home runs in 24 games. He has good raw power and exit velo numbers, but I’ve read mixed reviews about his defense behind the plate. Still, I like his power potential and his plate discipline, and the 23-year-old could be one to watch this year.
12. Nick Loftin, infielder
I didn’t quite get the selection of Loftin at the end of the first round of the 2020 draft, and I still don’t quite see the upside in him now. He had a solid season in Double-A, hitting .270/.354/.422 with 12 home runs and 24 steals, but struggled after a promotion to Triple-A. He doesn’t seem to have any major flaws in his game, but his plus skills seem to be speed, positional versatility, and intangibles - attributes that were championed by Dayton Moore. I suppose he could become Whit Merrifield, but right now he looks like an okay utility infielder you keep on your bench.
13. Diego Hernandez, outfielder
Hernandez was a bit of a surprise addition to the 40-man roster, but he can absolutely fly, and he held his own as a 21-year-old in Double-A last year. He’s very thin and wiry and is never going to become a power hitter, but pitchers won’t be knocking the bat out of his hands either - he did smack nine home runs last year. He has a plus glove in center and a strong arm, so he can at least provide some defensive utility, but the upside with his bat is likely pretty limited.
14. Asa Lacy, pitcher
I think there is a pretty significant drop-off in prospect quality at this point, with everyone either having some red flags, coming off injury or a poor season, or is so far away from the big leagues it is difficult to project performance. Lacy comes with major red flags at this point, suffering from a complete inability to throw strikes that may be due to a back injury or may be just the yips. If he can figure out his issues, he could be in the big leagues before long - he had great stuff and a polished approach in college and has struck out nearly 30 percent of the hitters he’s faced. But he’s walked 83 batters in 80 minor league innings and allowed 68 runs, those aren’t numbers that will keep you on prospect lists for long.
15. Austin Charles, infielder
Near the end of last year’s draft, the Royals took a gamble they could lure Charles away from college with a large enough bonus and it worked! It was exactly the kind of low-risk, high-reward pick to take late in a draft. Charles is pretty raw as a high school two-way athlete, but the upside here is enormous. He has a rocket for an arm - he was good enough to be considered as a pitcher - and likely profiles at third base long-term. He has some good raw power, but hasn’t faced top competition much. He’s a project for the Royals minor league hitting development team and there’s a high chance he never makes it, but if he pans out, he could be a potential star.
16. Peyton Wilson, second baseman/outfielder
Wilson is your prototypical scrappy gamer who can play all over the field and profiles as a utility infielder. The former second-round pick out of Alabama hit well in his first full pro season last year, with a line of .268/.359/.456 with 14 home runs and 23 steals in 88 games for High-A Quad Cities. He gets good power out of his 5’9’’ frame, and I suppose you can dream and imagine him turning into left-handed version of Dustin Pedroia, but even if he’s a utility player with decent power and speed, that’s valuable to have.
Peyton Wilson hit his 11th home run of the season earlier today. pic.twitter.com/QQSMmEuw2G— Royals Farm Report (@RoyalsFarm) September 4, 2022
17. T.J. Sikkema, pitcher
The Royals acquired the former Mizzou star and first-round pick from the Yankees last summer for Benintendi, but left him unprotected for the Rule 5 draft this past winter. The lefty dominated in High-A, where he was old for his level and struggled upon joining the Royals in Double-A. He could be a lefty reliever who brings a different look, but with his deep arsenal with a variety of arm angles, I think he still has potential as a starter. If he’s healthy, we could see some significant improvement from him and he could move quickly, otherwise, this may be the last season on a prospect list for the 24-year-old.
18. Noah Cameron, pitcher
I don’t really see this guy very high on prospect lists and I have to wonder why. Out of anyone in the Royals’ farm system with at least 50 innings pitched, he led them all in strikeout-to-walk ratio with 99 strikeouts and just 16 walks in 65 2/3 innings. His strikeout and walk rates both improved upon a promotion to High-A. He’s a local kid from St. Joseph who attended Central Arkansas, and his fastball sits in the low-90s, so I guess that doesn’t scream huge upside. But he’s a lefty who has struck out 36.7 percent of all hitters he’s faced, that should count for something.
19. Alec Marsh, pitcher
I was pretty big on Marsh when he was drafted, but the pandemic and injuries have really prevented him from getting off to a good start to his pro career. I probably shouldn’t let that 7.32 ERA in Double-A sour me on him so much - his strikeout rates continue to be very good - but 103 runs (95 earned) allowed in 124 1⁄3 innings is uh....not good. When J.J. Picollo says that minor league pitching development isn’t the problem, Marsh and Lacy are the two pitchers I think of as a point against that. He turns 25 in May, so the clock is ticking on the right-hander.
20. Jonathan Bowlan, pitcher
Bowlan is another guy I was really big on when he was drafted, but Tommy John surgery really derailed his career. He made nine starts in Double-A last year, but the strikeouts weren’t there and his walk rate spiked. Now that he’s another year removed from his injury, perhaps he can get back to being a strike-thrower with a solid 93-95 mph fastball and curve. I think he still has starter potential with his big frame, but he’s already 26 years old and his window is closing.
21. Ben Hernandez, pitcher
Hernandez was drafted as a high school pitcher with a plus change up, and he now couples that with a fastball in the low-90s. His results have been mixed with decent strikeout numbers but high walk totals in Low-A. His breaking ball has been a work in progress, but overall he still has some good potential and could move quickly if he improves his command. His progress has been a bit slow, and he turns 22 this summer, so he really needs to get his career moving.
I’ve been writing my series covering 2022 Kansas City Royals prospects to watch from each level this morning and I can’t get over how nasty Ben Hernandez’s change up is. Keep your on him. Advanced feel on the mound and developing a breaking pitch pic.twitter.com/v0LqdB2mCS— Jared Perkins (@JaredCP1) January 8, 2022
22. Tucker Bradley, outfielder
Bradley is a nice high-floor, low-ceiling outfielder who does a lot of everything well, but doesn’t stand out in any one area. He hit .293/.382/.455 with 12 home runs and 19 steals in 110 games for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. The lefty hitter will turn 25 in May and you could see him as a useful reserve outfielder in Kansas City at some point this year, but I wouldn’t expect much more than that from him.
23. Steven Cruz, pitcher
I don’t know how many pitchers in the organization can hit triple digits on the radar gun, but it can’t be very many. That’s probably why the Royals targeted the right-hander in their trade with the Twins for Michael A. Taylor. The 23-year-old struck out 72 in 56 innings in Double-A last year, but had a high walk rate and a 5.14 ERA. He’ll need to develop better command, but he still has late-inning reliever potential.
24. Samad Taylor, second baseman/outfielder
The Royals got Taylor from the Blue Jays for Whit Merrifield, and in some respects he’s a poor man’s Whit - good speed with positional versatility. He’s not quite the free-swinger Whit was in the minors, and he did smack 16 home runs in 2021, although I’m a bit skeptical of his power. He didn’t play in the second half due to an oblique injury and he was a bit overwhelmed in the Arizona Fall League, but he could be a useful bench player in Triple-A that gets called up a few times this season.
25. Mason Barnett, pitcher
Barnett was the Royals’ third-round pick out of Auburn last year. He has pitched just eight innings in the pros, but has still yet to allow a hit. He’s a fastball/slider pitcher who can get his heater in the mid-to-high-90s. He could move quickly, especially if he is a reliever, where many evaluators think he profiles best.
26. Andrew Hoffman, pitcher
The Royals got Hoffman in the Drew Waters trade with Atlanta, but he really struggled after changing organizations and getting bumped up to Double-A. The Royals were hoping they had acquired a strike-thrower, but his walks spiked significantly after the trade. He has a nice deceptive delivery and a low-to-mid-90s fastball, so if he can get back to throwing strikes, he could be a candidate for the rotation next spring, although his ceiling seems rather limited.
27. Lizandro Rodriguez, second baseman
After dominating the Dominican Summer League last year, the switch-hitter played well in Arizona and held his own as a 19-year-old in 18 games at Low-A. He’s an athlete who can draw a walk on occasion, but is still a bit raw. He has good, but not plus speed, and a good enough to arm to try shortstop or third base.
28. Shane Panzini, pitcher
Panzini was part of that 2021 high school pitcher class, befriending Kudrna and Mozzicato. The right-hander has a fastball in the mid-90s with a decent breaking ball, and had good strikeout numbers as a 20-year-old in Low-A. He’ll need to bring his walk rate down, but he’s a guy that could have some helium with a good season.
29. Freddy Fermín, catcher
Fermín is already 27 years old, really too old for prospect status. But the Royals added him to the 40-man roster for a reason, he won MVP in the Venezuelan Winter League, and he hit a solid .270/.365/.480 with 15 home runs in 87 games for Omaha. He seems capable of at least serving as a backup catcher at the big league level, and he may get that chance thi year.
30. C.J. Alexander, third baseman
Alexander was an afterthought in the Braves trade, but he smacked 25 home runs in 114 games overall last year in Double-A, with 19 steals to boot. He was a bit old for the level - he turned 26 in July - and he hardly draws any walks, but with few third base options, he could force the issue and get a shot at some point.
What do you think? Who should be higher? Lower? Who should have been included? How do you feel about the overall strength of the system?