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Fangraphs’ ranking of top Royals prospects is a bit head-scratching

FanGraphs released their updated list on Monday

MLB: Spring Training-Los Angeles Dodgers at Kansas City Royals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, FanGraphs released their latest update to the Kansas City Royals' top 42 prospects. The list, which can be found here, had some names that may surprise many fans. Eric Longenhagen is a fantastic writer and does an exceptional job for FanGraphs. He is responsible for essentially all 30 team systems and for compiling all 30 lists of top prospects. That’s a lot for one person, and that alone could be the largest problem with the list for Kansas City. I personally spend a lot of hours each week following just the Royals’ farm system.

Some days, that means two or three hours devoted to just two or three names that I want to see for that day. Even then, that’s just one glimpse at a player. It’s not a clear representation of a player to see them for just one start or just one game’s worth of plate appearances. To get a real picture of a player’s potential, it’s important to see them often and in a variety of situations. If one person was trying to do the same thing for every single franchise in major league baseball, that’s a mammoth undertaking. To do so and update their top list more than once a calendar year is an immense workload, and for that, I have nothing but praise for Longenhagen.

With that out of the way — this is in no way a condemnation of his ability as a writer or baseball mind — I wanted to take a deeper look at some of the issues I found with the latest update. The newest list has Maikel Garcia at number one, despite the fact that he has more than 200 major league plate appearances. A player is ineligible for prospect status with MLB Pipeline after 130 at-bats, a mark that Garcia is far beyond. Behind Garcia, Nick Loftin, Alec Marsh, Javier Vaz, and Carter Jensen round out the top five. Here’s one quote in the piece regarding the Royals overview as a whole.

“The inability to develop pitching has resulted in many high picks stagnating at their pre-draft skill level. Since 2020, the Royals have spent $9 million in bonus pool space on high school pitching and none of those players have made any kind of leap so far. It’s tough to be confident that the arms with real upside (anyone in the 40 FV tier and above) will actually improve given Kansas City’s recent track record.”

This quote alone takes me to my very first point of emphasis after reviewing the latest list.

At what point do we let dead dogs lie?

The Royals have been bad at developing pitchers for a long, long time. Over the course of the last two decades, you can probably count on one hand the number of good-to-great starting pitchers that they’ve developed to the major leagues. I get it. However, at some point, we have to start grading the Royals for what they’re doing now. Brian Sweeney is in his first year with the franchise and Paul Gibson — Senior Director of Pitching — is in just his second season in the role.

So what are they doing now? Currently, the Royals have two pitchers in the top ten for K-BB%. That is among all minor league pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched this season. They have three more ranked in the top 100 of all arms. If we lower our criteria to 30IP, to capture some relievers, that number in the top 100 grows from five to seven, including John McMillon who ranks second in all of minor league baseball.

If we look instead of swinging strike rate, again with a minimum of 60IP, the Royals have three players ranked in the top 30. For xFIP, they have two pitchers in the top five. The Royals are seeing a very marked improvement in their pitching development this season and that deserves recognition. I have no problem with putting that statement into context — the Royals were among the three worst teams in all of baseball at developing young arms entering this season. However, the results we’ve seen are evidence that they’ve become at least average at developing young arms, which is an impressive jump in just one or two seasons under new leadership.

Peyton Wilson doesn’t deserve this smoke

For two of three months this season, Peyton Wilson has looked the part of a top prospect. In fact, it goes back much longer than that. I took a look at what Peyton Wilson has done since the start of July last season, a sample of 119 games, or 460 plate appearances. The results are fantastic. Since the start of July last season, he’s slashed .291/.380/.454 with an 11.3% BB% and a 20.0% SO%. His wRC+ in that span, between High-A and AA is 129.

Since arriving at Northwest Arkansas this season, he’s seen his walk rate improve versus last season, he’s seen his strikeout rate fall versus last season, and of late he’s started to hit for more power again as well.

Peyton Wilson Monthly Splits

Month Slash wRC+ ISO
Month Slash wRC+ ISO
August 2022 .256/.380/.444 133 0.189
September 2022 .410/.489/.769 241 0.359
April 2023 .351/.407/.468 134 0.117
May 2023 .200/.306/.306 69 0.106
June 2023 .290/.380/.452 122 0.161

On the FanGraphs list, you cannot find the name, Peyton Wilson. He’s unranked. You can find a little bit about him at the bottom, under the “If Only They Could Play Up The Middle” section. It talks a little bit about Wilson and his game:

“Wilson is hitting pretty well and plays defense with a ton of effort, but he isn’t especially skilled.”

Defensively, Wilson is at least above average. He played very well in center field last season, but for whatever reason the Royals haven’t employed him back there this season. He has a strong arm and elite speed, and he plays the game hard.

He’s certainly a volatile prospect and he’s a player that I’ve moved around quite a bit in my own personal list. He’s been as high as a top-five prospect in the system for me, and he’s been as low as 18 this season. One thing he’s never been, however, is off my list entirely. That’s a travesty.

What else do you want from Cayden Wallace?

Cayden Wallace was very young for a college player when he was drafted in the second round, 49th overall, out of Arkansas in last year’s draft. He immediately landed in the Arizona Complex League where he lasted only three games and posted a 169 wRC+. Then, he finished up his 2022 season at Low-A Columbia where he slashed .294/.369/.468 over 27 games as a 20-year-old. Now this season, Wallace has made the jump to High-A Quad Cities and has barely missed a beat.

This year, the third baseman has a .269/.355/.465 slash line. He’s walking at 10.9% and the strikeout rate is pretty good too, at 22.0%. He has 8 HR, a 0.196 ISO, and a nice 132 wRC+. Wallace looks more than up to the task at the plate but defensively is where he’s been perhaps the most surprising this season.

He’s shown off good range, an excellent arm, and just overall good instincts as a third baseman. Before the year, there were some questions about the glove and many thought he’d move to a corner outfield position. FanGraphs does mention some improvement, but I haven’t seen a below-average defender at third base all year.

“He’s still a mixed bag at third base. His hands and range are both below average, but he makes some nice plays with effort and athleticism and has enough arm for third. My pre-draft projections had Wallace in right field, but he’s holding his own enough at third to shift his projection.”

The case laid out above, between the bat and the improvements with the glove seems to me like an easy case for a top-ten talent in the system. With projection (for a still pretty young player), he’s top-five in the system and if it continues into AA, there’s a real case for Wallace to hit MLB Pipeline’s top-100 prospects in the future. Instead, the latest FanGraphs rankings have Wallace at number 15 in the system.

Can you really rank a prospect that hasn’t seen the States?

The final issue I have with the rankings that I want to take a look at here isn’t a knock on Asbel Gonzalez in the least. He’s been an impressive player in the Dominican Summer League (DSL) this season and he drew praise for his defense when the Royals signed him in the most recent international signing period. I like Asbel Gonzalez a lot. It’s more so a knock on the process. FanGraphs has Gonzalez ranked all the way up at number nine in the Royals system.

That’s ahead of Tyler Gentry, the Royals’ 2022 Minor League Player of the Year. It’s ahead of Diego Hernandez, it’s even ahead of current Royal Samad Taylor. That’s a very aggressive ranking for a player that — at 17 years old — has played only 16 professional games in the DSL. He has a .805 OPS and has played good defense, and if I had to pick a player comp he reminds me of Manuel Margot. That’s all a lot of fun, but we don’t have a sample size to speak of on his performance and he hasn’t even reached the Arizona Complex League (ACL) yet.

The Royals have a lot of promise in the DSL and ACL and fans should be watching some of these players. They’re going to eventually land on top prospect lists. Players like Daniel Lopez, Marwys Jorge, Emmanuel Reyes, Tony Ruiz, and Ramon Ramirez are all having fantastic seasons so far. Reyes, especially, is the player most deserving to be ranked that has signed in the last two signing periods. He dominated the DSL last season, with an impressive 52 strikeouts and just 4 walks over 46.2 IP. He’s just 19 and has moved to the ACL this season where he’s pitched to a 1.77 ERA over his first 20.1 IP this season. Is he even mentioned by the FanGraphs list? Nope. Nowhere. He’s not ranked, he’s not even in the honorable mention section.

FanGraphs wasn’t just aggressive with a Royals international prospect, but they also left off perhaps the most impressive international prospect in the system today. That alone highlights the issue with ranking a player so high, so soon. It’s just too early to have a player like Gonzalez ranked in the top ten, before he’s even played in 20 DSL games.

Overall, the FanGraphs piece is a fun look at the system. It’s nice to see what outside voices have to say about the state of your favorite team, and this is no exception. The process is questionable to me, but you can’t say it lacks effort, thought, and value. The Royals still have a long, long way to go in order to gain respect from pundits in regard to their development of young players. The system still deserves to be ranked below average as a whole right now, but there are a lot of things happening that deserve credit and recognition. Those things — such as improvement in pitching development and better success (over a small sample) in international signings — are going to be the foundation of the Royals' attempt to overhaul their franchise.