The Kansas City Royals kicked off the MLB trade season last week, trading away reliever Aroldis Chapman for two players from the Texas Rangers. Cole Ragans, a former first-round pick, was assigned to Triple-A Omaha and will reportedly be stretched out as a starter. He was named the 2022 Nolan Ryan Pitcher of the Year, given to the Rangers' best minor league pitcher each season. He peaked as high as number four on the Rangers' top prospect list, according to MLB Pipeline in 2018.
Roni Cabrera, the second player acquired in the deal with Texas, is a 17-year-old outfielder currently dominating in the Dominican Summer League (DSL). He serves as a clarification to Kansas City’s trade strategy this summer. A piece earlier this season in the Kansas City Star highlighted the front office’s desire to acquire “major-league ready or close to major-league ready” players at the deadline. That quote doesn’t tell the full story, and Cabrera is evidence of that. A team official I spoke with quoted General Manager J.J. Picollo on the team’s deadline strategy.
“[The Royals] are after the best haul, and the partner team’s system will help determine whether that means big league ready or lower levels. Different systems have different strengths, and [the Royals] want the best return.”
Cabrera has a robust .320/.469/.620 slash line through his first 15 games in the DSL this season. His walk rate is an impressive 18.8% in that span. That becomes even more impressive when you consider his 10.9% strikeout rate. It will take time for the player to pan out. He may not reach the United States until next season, which would mean he may not even reach Low-A until 2025. However, it’s a nice addition to the farm system and to an increasingly impressive group of players already playing for the Dominican Royals.
Here’s some footage of newly acquired OF Roni Cabrera, courtesy of JDB Baseball (https://t.co/24jOA7BZEj)— Preston Farr (@royalsminors) July 1, 2023
6-1 frame, probably an average arm with good speed. He’s 5 for 5 on SB through 15 games so far. Looks more like line drive gap power than stuff that’ll clear fences, for now. pic.twitter.com/RmxAG2mX7H
Emmanuel Reyes was named the Royals' 2022 DSL Pitcher of the Year after dominating with an 0.91 ERA. He notched an impressive 54 strikeouts against just four walks. He’s now excelling in the Arizona Complex League this season, but the Royals have filled his slot with plenty of other promising young arms. A 20-year-old lefty, Victor Pena, has 16 strikeouts and just two walks through his first 10.1IP this season with a microscopic 0.84 ERA. Another promising young arm, Marwys Jorge was ranked as the no. 49 international prospect on this year’s top 50 and spends time training with former Royal, Edinson Volquez. He has good command and throws a fastball, curveball, and changeup.
As far as performances at the plate, the Dominican Royals have even more to offer. Outfielder Tony Ruiz — the team’s top signee in the 2022-23 class — has had a strong start to the year despite an extremely high strikeout rate. Fellow outfielders Asbel Gonzalez and Daniel Lopez have been opening eyes as well.
Royals 2023 DSL Standouts
For the Royals, it’s a welcome sign after a few years of lessened international returns. Sure, there are many current Royals that joined the organization from abroad, including Salvador Perez, Maikel Garcia, and Carlos Hernandez. However, there are other “not-so-success” stories such as Seuly Matias, Elier Hernandez, and Erick Peña. First, it’s important to examine how the Royals have gotten where we are now. The story behind the Royals’ recent lack of success on the international stage starts with the 2015 signing class.
That year, the Royals exceeded their bonus pool by more than 15% when they signed Seuly Matias, Esteury Ruiz, Sebastian Rivero, Jeison Guzman, and others. As a result of exceeding their bonus pool, the team was penalized by Major League Baseball and could not sign any international prospects for more than $300,000 over the following two signing periods. That penalty hindered the team’s ability to restock their farm system with international prospects.
Since 2018 when that penalty was lifted, the team has fared somewhat better but of late, they’ve amplified those efforts abroad. The Royals shifted their approach, signaled by the 2021-22 signing class — the largest in team history, with 28 players. The team signed 30 more international free agents as part of the 2022-23 signing period. This front office has been much more active on the world stage in the past two years and by early returns, it seems to be paying off.
Many of those players mentioned above — Emmanuel Reyes, Daniel Lopez, Tony Ruiz, Asbel Gonzalez, and Marwys Jorge — have injected an impressive amount of talent into the low minors for Kansas City. That talent may prove to be key in turning around the farm system as a whole. We’ve seen the Tampa Bay Rays re-invent themselves by finding better success in the international market. If this trend continues, it looks like the Royals may be well on their way to accomplishing the same thing.