As the season winds down, Royals fans can be forgiven for trying to put this season behind them and looking to the future. After what was supposed to be an evaluation season, the Royals will need to shuffle the roster and determine which players are part of the future, and which can be jettisoned.
That will require managing the 40-man roster, which currently has one open spot, although the Royals will need to add Jake Brentz, Kris Bubic, and Vinnie Pasquantino from the 60-day Injured List (Brad Keller is also on the 60-day Injured List, but he will be a free agent). Free agents Zack Greinke and Matt Duffy will come off the roster, opening up two spots. But the Royals may need to open up additional spots to add players eligible for the Rule 5 draft this winter.
The Rule 5 draft allows teams to select players from other organizations that are eligible and have not been added to the 40-man roster and thus “protected.” Players are eligible after four seasons in the minors if they signed at age 19 or later, or after five seasons if they signed younger than age 19. That means this year, the college draftees from 2020 become eligible, while all signees from 2019 and before are eligible. Here’s who the Royals will have to make decisions on this off-season.
Locks to be protected
Gentry’s numbers are down from his monster 2022 season, but he still shows a terrific eye with a 12.9 percent walk rate at Triple-A Omaha and a solid .353 on-base percentage. His power has gone down this year, with 13 home runs compared to 21 last year. That makes him profile as more of a fourth outfielder, but with so many outfield spots at the MLB level up for grabs, Gentry could have a chance to start next year when he turns 25.
Klein was having a pretty terrific season until about three weeks ago, but with the team in such dire need of bullpen depth, the hard-throwing Klein is sure to be added to the roster. Klein throws in the upper-90s and has struck out 82 hitters in 56 1⁄3 innings across Double-A and Triple-A. His control is well below-average, but his stuff is good enough to compete for a spot in next year’s bullpen.
Loftin is a former first-round pick and is ranked as the #5 prospect in the system by MLB Pipeline. He has hit .266/.331/.441 with improved power this year at Triple-A and offers positional versatility with an ability to play all over the infield and outfield. He will certainly be added to the 40-man roster, possibly before the end of this season, and should compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Could be added
Avila is a right-hander signed out of Venezuela in 2018. He became a dependable starter for Low-A Columbia last year and has improved on his numbers at High-A Quad Cities this year with a 4.23 ERA and 8.8 strikeouts-per-nine innings. He has jumped onto the prospect radar with MLB Pipeline ranking him #28 in the farm system, writing he “attacks hitters with a 92-95 mph fastball that cuts and has some ride to it.” The big leagues would be a big jump up for the 22-year-old, so he’s unlikely to be protected, but the pitching-starved Royals may not want to risk it.
The 25-year old outfielder doesn’t have any major holes to his game, showing good plate discipline, a bit of power, some speed, and solid defense. That profiles as a fourth outfielder, but with him turning 26 in May, the Royals may risk exposing him. If he goes unselected, he could still be a factor for the Royals next year in their outfield as a left-handed bat.
The former fourth round pick has battled injuries and control issues, but had a terrific season at Double-A Northwest Arkansas with a 1.99 ERA and 13.9 strikeouts-per-nine innings out of the bullpen. He was promoted to Omaha in July and struggled initially, although he has pitched better recently. He has a mid-90s fastball and could provide bullpen depth soon, so the Royals could be reluctant to expose him.
The 24-year-old right-hander was acquired from the Twins last off-season in the Michael A. Taylor trade. He features a high-90s fastball that can hit triple digits, but has struggled to throw strikes. He pitched well at Double-A with a 2.20 ERA, earning a promotion to Omaha. He had two big blowup outings with the Storm Chasers, but otherwise has pitched well, albeit with high walk totals. He could be worth protecting as a project for Brian Sweeney and a team desperate for bullpen help.
The Royals acquired Mann this summer from the Dodgers in the Ryan Yarbrough deal. He’s a bit old for someone that has yet to make their MLB debut - he’ll be 27 in February. But he has raked in Triple-A, batting .286/.386/.513 with 17 home runs in 105 games. He is versatile enough to play corner infield spots and the outfield, possibly even filling in at second, so he could be a useful bench player at the MLB level next year.
The former fifth round pick has had a nice season across Double-A and Triple-A, hitting .264/.360/.406. He’s similar to Bradley in that he doesn’t have a single tool that stands out and he’s already 25, profiling as a left-handed bench bat. His overall numbers are similar to Bradley if you are comparing the two, but Rave hasn’t performed as well at Triple-A. [Note: A previous version of this article indicated Rave had been demoted, but is incorrect.]
Veneziano has bounced back from an awful 2022 season to dominate Double-A, then become Omaha’s best starting pitcher. Overall he has a 3.43 ERA with 111 strikeouts in 110 1⁄3 innings and has skyrocketed up to #4 on Baseball America’s ranking of Royals prospects. The lefty has significantly improved his strike-throwing, and could challenge for a spot on the pitching staff next year, so expect him to be protected.
The former seventh-round pick has always had good stuff, but it took a full-time move to the bullpen to get good strikeout numbers from him. The 6’8’’ right-hander has 71 strikeouts in 59 1⁄3 innings, but a 4.70 ERA and a high walk rate, so the 25-year old may be left unprotected.
Juan Carlos Negret
The Cuban outfielder had a solid season in High-A last year, but the Royals had him repeat the level for some reason and he has put up nearly identical numbers. He has hit 18 home runs in 96 games, but with a low average and walk rate. He is also very old for the level - he turned 24 in June. A team could select him thinking he’s ready for more advanced levels, but he doesn’t have any tools that really stand out.
Noriega missed all of 2022 after Tommy John surgery, but has bounced back with a solid season at High-A Quad Cities with a 3.42 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 55 1⁄3 innings. His fastball sat at 94 mph before surgery, and his strikeout totals aren’t high this year, making him unlikely to be selected. He’ll be 26 this fall, so he’s not young either, although some team may decide he is mature enough to make a big jump up to the big leagues if they like his stuff.
The Royals always seem to protect a long-shot prospect, and this year it could be Ramirez. He’s a left-handed hitting outfielder, who enjoyed a terrific season at Low-A Columbia, hitting .298/.374/.407 with 28 steals. He was just promoted to High-A, so the likelihood of a team selecting him and jumping him up to the big leagues seems slim. But he has good speed, so perhaps a team stashes him on their bench if they like his tools.
The former first round pick out of Mizzou has seen his stock fall significantly, and a trade from the Yankees in the Benintendi deal did not revive his career. The lefty has a 6.19 ERA in 64 innings at Double-A as a long reliever with a poor strikeout-to-walk ratio. He could be the kind of pitcher another organization feels they can tweak to get that first-round talent out of him, but the 25-year-old is running out of chances.
The speedster was a darling in spring training playing in MLB camp as a non-roster invitee. He responded with the best offensive season of his career, hitting .271/.331/.411 with 43 steals in 50 attempts at Double-A. Tolbert can play shortstop or outfield, and his speed could be an asset other teams covet. The right-handed hitter turns 26 in January, which may be too old for some teams.
Way was acquired from the Yankees last summer in the Andrew Benintendi deal. He was solid last year in High-A for the Royals after the trade, but has been a disaster this year in Double-A with a 6.61 ERA and 50 walks in 65 1⁄3 innings. He throws in the mid-to-upper 90s with control issues, so a full-time move to the bullpen may be in order. The right-hander just turned 24 so perhaps a team sees a good arm they can tweak to make a jump to the big leagues.
Others unlikely to get selected
CJ Alexander - Great power, but never walks and is a poor defender. Likely a AAAA player.
Dante Biasi - Good strikeout numbers as a reliever in Double-A, but high walk totals, and he’ll be 26 in December.
Asa Lacy - Former first round pick but he hasn’t pitched this year and his career seems to be in jeopardy due to an inability to throw strikes.
Erick Peña - Another high pedigree prospect who has put up disastrous numbers in the minors. The 20-year old outfielder has struck out 52 percent of the time this year in Low-A ball.
Logan Porter - His numbers took a dip this year, but he still has a 14 percent walk rate. He has been catching more this year, but he is now 28 years old and should be eligible for minor league free agency this fall.
Leonel Valera - Shortstop with good power/speed seasons in the lower minors, but was released by the Dodgers and Nationals before the Royals picked him up. He’s just 24 years old and seems to be working back from an injury this year.