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Checking in on the Royals’ top ten prospects so far

How are their best prospects doing?

Kansas City Royals shortstop Maikel Garcia (11) after a single in the third inning of an MLB game between the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals on May 3, 2023 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, MO.
Kansas City Royals shortstop Maikel Garcia (11) after a single in the third inning of an MLB game between the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals on May 3, 2023 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, MO.
Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Royals are in a rebuild—or a “build,” as JJ Picollo likes to call it—which means that what is happening down on the farm is as important and sometimes more important than what you can see on Bally Sports KC or on 610 Sports Radio every evening.

There are dozens of players who play for Royals MiLB affiliates. To narrow things down, let’s take a look at the Royals’ top prospects, as defined by MLBcom. Arte they doing well? Are they doing poorly? What pops out of the stats sheet? Let’s take a look.

Gavin Cross

  • Stock up or down: Down
  • Key stat: 0.31 BB/K

Kansas City selected Cross as the ninth overall selection in last year’s draft, a pleasantly traditional selection of the best remaining college bat on the board. Cross played last year at A-ball with the Columbia Fireflies and tore the league up to the tune of a 174 wRC+.

This year, the Royals started Cross with the High-A Quad Cities River Bandits. It has not gone well. There isn’t a single thing Cross is doing nearly as well as he did last year—his walk rate is down, his strikeout rate is up, his power is down, his BABIP is down. Cross has walked 0.31 times per strikeout; while not often a very talked about stat, higher BB/K numbers indicate better offensive command of a level (look at last year’s top 50 MLB hitters by wRC+, and only six of them had a BB/K at 0.30 or under).

Even great college hitters sometimes flame out or encounter difficulty in the minors—just look at Austin Martin from the 2020 draft—so hopeful Cross can turn it around. Kansas City can’t afford another top ten draft pick whiff.

Ben Kudrna

  • Stock up or down: Neutral
  • Key stat: 23.4 K%

When the Royals drafted Frank Mozzicato, they saved a bunch of money to spend elsewhere in the draft. They spent a lot of it on Ben Kudrna, a Kansas City kid out of Blue Valley Southwest.

Unfortunately, the Royals have a poor track record for developing high school pitching, and Kudrna has not broken the pattern. So far, Kudrna has improved in many ways from last year. He’s striking out nearly four percent more batters, and he’s lasting longer per start. His FIP and xFIP show improvement. However, he’s still in Columbia. You’d expect some improvement repeating a level.

The good thing about Kudrna is that he’s still very young. Born at the end of January in 2003, he’ll be 20 for the rest of the calendar year.

Maikel Garcia

  • Stock up or down: Up
  • Key stat: 93.8 MPH average MLB exit velocity

Maikel Garcia signed with the Royals when he was just 16 years old, much like Salvador Perez did. He made his MLB debut last year and held his own. Recently, Garcia was called up from Omaha, and again he has held his own in the big leagues.

I confess that I have not been particularly smitten by Garcia’s offensive profile, namely because he hasn’t exhibited any power—only once in his entire professional career has he posted an ISO above .118. But this year, he’s hitting the ball much harder, with an average exit velocity that looks more Bobby Witt Jr. than Nicky Lopez. Garcia is a sharp defender with all the tools to succeed at third base or shortstop and he also walks an awful lot.

Nick Loftin

  • Stock up or down: Neutral
  • Key stat: 12.8% strikeout rate

If you are looking for the next Whit Merrifield, Nick Loftin is the best candidate in the Royals farm system. Loftin has played all over the diamond, logging innings at second base, third base, shortstop, left field, and center field in his minor league career. Thus far, his career looks relatively similar to Merrifield, too: big league caliber defense and baserunning with question marks on the offensive front once reaching the upper minors.

At High-A and Double-A, Loftin ran a walk rate of 10.5%; in Triple-A, that figure has dropped by half. This year, results have been mixed—he’s running the lowest walk rate of his career at less than 2%, but he’s putting up the best power numbers of his career while striking out at a career low rate. He’s still just in his age-24 season, and he’ll probably debut with Kansas City this year.

Cayden Wallace

  • Stock up or down: Up
  • Key stat: 147 wRC+

Like his draftmate Cross, Cayden Wallace started in A-ball last year and did well. Unlike Cross, Wallace has gone up to High-A and has done even better. He’s got a 147 wRC+ in over 100 plate appearances because he’s walking like his life depends on it (14% rate) and is hitting for power (with 10 of his 25 hits going for extra bases).

Wallace is a third baseman with a physical build not unlike Alex Bregman, but he may end up having to play a corners role and split time at DH. I’d expect Wallace to be promoted to Double-A in the middle of the year, which puts him in line for a potential MLB debut date next year if he keeps it up.

Drew Waters

  • Stock up or down: Neutral
  • Key stat: N/A

Drew Waters showed a lot of promise last year and had a 125 wRC+ in 109 big league plate appearances. He has not seen the field thus far due to an oblique injury.

Frank Mozzicato

  • Stock up or down: Up
  • Key stat: 25.5% K-BB

Kansas City stunned the world by taking what seemed like a completely random pitcher with the seventh overall selection in the 2021 draft. Frank Mozzicato was mediocre last year at A-ball and walked way too many batters even as the eighth overall selection, fellow high schooler Benny Montgomery, slugged his way through the same level.

Mozzicato still walks too many batters. But he has also shown that he has a deadly arsenal of pitchers and is striking out—as a starter, mind you—over 40% of all batters. Still just 19 years old, Mozzicato seems to have proven that he can get hitters in A ball out and is probably due for a promotion. He’s got a ways to go, but the tools are there.

Tyler Gentry

  • Stock up or down: Neutral
  • Key stat: 0.62 BB/K

Tyler Gentry is an underrated prospected, in this writer’s humble opinion. Gentry was incredibly consistent in his first three years as a pro, which is good in this case when “consistent” means “very good.” He encountered very little resistance at High-A or Double-A and even managed to cut his strikeout rate as he ascended.

If Gentry had continued that trajectory, he’d be in the big leagues already. But he’s encountered some issues in Triple-A for the Omaha Storm Chasers. The good news is that these aren’t huge issues; his walk rate is fine, his strikeout rate is fine, his power is down a bit but not by a huge amount. He’s even posting his best walk-to-strikeout ratio of his career at 0.62. Gentry’s biggest problem is that his BABIP is a career low .247, but there’s not much data to suggest that’s anything but some bad luck.

Gentry just turned 24 in February, and his pro performance thus far has led ZiPS and some other projection systems to think of him in pretty high regard, not unlike Vinnie Pasquantino.

Angel Zerpa

  • Stock up or down: Down
  • Key stat: N/A

In mid-March, the Royals put Angel Zerpa on the 60-day injured list with a left shoulder injury. The 60-day clock began on Opening Day, so the earliest Zerpa could appear this year would be early June.

Carter Jensen

  • Stock up or down: Up
  • Key stat: 27.7% walk rate (lol)

No, that is not a typo: 19-year-old Carter Jensen, who turns 20 in early July, is walking at a Barry Bonds-level 27.7% of the time in High-A. As a catcher. He has a 102 wRC+ with a .205 BABIP because his on base percentage is so high.

I don’t really know what to think of Jensen otherwise; he doesn’t have huge power and he’s basically been a .200 hitter in the minors, which is not a great sign. But he’s been walking at such an absurd rate that none of that matters a whole lot, and besides, he’s a catcher. That’s super valuable! If his hit tool improves even marginally, he’s a surefire top 100 prospect.