clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Top Royals minor league performances in 2023

As the season winds down, a look back at the highlights

San Diego Padres v Kansas City Royals minor leaguers Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Another minor league season is nearly in the books, and for the Kansas City Royals, the season could be taken a variety of ways. For one, the pitching development took clear strides forward this season, as evidenced by improvements in strikeouts on the farm. The process on the mound was different and that process is starting to create results. The minor league hitters weren’t so successful this season, as offense seemed down throughout the system. Some big-name prospects like Gavin Cross struggled immensely.

The season has already wrapped up for the Low-A Columbia Fireflies (66-65) and High-A Quad Cities River Bandits (55-77). Both affiliates ranked near the bottom of their respective leagues in runs scored. Quad Cities allowed 668 runs to score this year, second only to Beloit for the most in the Midwest League. Northwest Arkansas finishes its regular season schedule on September 17 and is within striking distance of earning a playoff spot for its second-half record. As for Triple-A Omaha, they finish up the season a bit later on September 24. They’re already officially eliminated from postseason play.

Each season, the Royals organization awards the George Brett Hitter of the Year Award to the best minor league hitter. They also award the Paul Splittorff Award each season to the best minor league pitcher in the organization. Last season, those awards were given to outfielder Tyler Gentry and pitcher Ben Kudrna. Here are my choices for the standout hitters and pitchers from each affiliate this season, as well as recognition for the top overall pitcher and hitter.

Low-A Columbia Fireflies

Hitter: 1B Brett Squires, .263/.381/.430

Brett Squires was an undrafted free agent signing by the Royals after the 2022 MLB Draft. He played pretty well in two seasons at Oklahoma — boasting a .925 OPS over 88 games — but broke his hand just before the 2022 College World Series. That injury was a factor in his draft stock and the Royals were happy to sign him and pair him up in Columbia with fellow Sooners, David Sandlin and Chazz Martinez.

Squires played in 122 games this season for the Fireflies, finishing with 15 home runs (second most in Columbia history) and 69 RBI (third most in Columbia history). The Royals should be happy with what they’ve seen this season, but the real test for Squires will be how he performs against stiffer competition. Low-A pitching is not great and even still, there were rough patches for Squires. As a primary first baseman, the Royals will need to see much more from the bat in order to carry value. He did play in six games as a left fielder.

Pitcher: LHP Oscar Rayo, 5-2, 3.15 ERA

Oscar Rayo is just 21 years old and joined the organization as a 19-year-old back in 2021. He’s already pitched quite a bit at Low-A, adding 71.1 innings this season to grow his professional total to 136.0 IP over three seasons. Rayo throws a four-pitch mix featuring a fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup.

He appeared in 23 games for the ‘Flies this year, but toward the end of the year entered the starting rotation with more regularity. He held opponents to a .239 batting average with a 1.08 WHIP, while striking out 66 batters.

High-A Quad Cities River Bandits

Hitter: 3B Cayden Wallace, .261/.341/.431

Cayden Wallace was taken in the second round of last year’s draft. It looked like a great value at the time, and some of that showed up on the diamond this season. Wallace showed off excellent defense at the hot corner this season and started his season hot at the plate as well. He cooled as the season went on, but the Royals still felt good enough about his showing to promote him to Double-A Northwest Arkansas later in the year.

Wallace’s stats don’t exactly jump off the page. They aren’t bad, but they certainly aren’t elite. What shouldn’t be lost though is just how well-rounded and consistent he’s been since turning pro. He walks at a healthy rate while limiting strikeouts. He also has healthy power (13 HR this season) with room to grow and his solid defense gives him a safe floor as he progresses through the minor leagues.

Pitcher: LHP Tyson Guerrero, 2-4, 3.63 ERA

Tyson Guerrero has been in the farm system for a while after being selected in the 12th round of the 2021 MLB Draft. His debut wasn’t stellar, and his first pro season in 2022 was pretty bad. He turned that around in 2023, however. He made 17 starts for the River Bandits with a 3.63 ERA. Perhaps most impressive were his 106 strikeouts in just 84.1 IP. He only walked 29 hitters in that span.

Guerrero has good command and an ability to miss bats in the zone. The Royals rewarded him with a promotion to Double-A in early August. He made three starts for the Naturals with mixed results before landing on the Development List to end his season. Guerrero has a very good slider that he commands with precision at times. He also mixes in a fastball with some good life and a changeup that’s a work in progress.

Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals

Hitter: SS/OF Tyler Tolbert, .275/.335/.419

Tyler Tolbert placed himself on the radar of many fans last season when he went 60-for-60 on stolen base attempts. This year, he’s been fast once again but there are other aspects of his game that have grown as well. Tolbert has 50 stolen bases so far this season, which is a fantastic feat all on its own. At the same time, however, he’s grown his power output with a career-high in home runs (10). He’s also hit 24 doubles and 10 triples this year.

Something clicked for Tolbert in July, when he started swinging more often. His walk rate dropped, but so did the strikeout rate. As a result, he was able to lean more on his speed to leg out those extra bases. Since July 1 this season, he’s slashed .298/.351/.471 with six of his ten home runs. At the same time, he’s also started playing in center field regularly. There’s a lot to like with Tolbert, who will be Rule 5 eligible this winter.

Pitcher: LHP Anthony Veneziano, 5-1, 2.13 ERA

It’s honestly not too easy to find a standout pitcher this season for Northwest Arkansas. Part of that is due to the struggles of the staff, but it’s more a result of so many moves this season. Some of the early standouts — Anthony Veneziano and Alec Marsh — found their way to Omaha pretty quickly this season. Some of the standouts to finish up the year — Chandler Champlain, and Mason Barnett — spent a large portion of their season pitching for High-A Quad Cities.

Veneziano was the best of the bunch in his time for the Naturals this season. Despite moving up to Omaha fairly early, his five wins are still the second most of any Naturals pitcher this season (behind only Yefri del Rosario, recently released). In his 42.1 Double-A innings, Veneziano notched 48 strikeouts and allowed just five walks. The results haven’t been quite as great for the Storm Chasers, but it was a fantastic showing for Veneziano in Springdale, nonetheless.

Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers

Hitter: OF Tyler Gentry, .249/.371/.422

There have been quite a few standout hitters in 2023 for the Storm Chasers. Samad Taylor and Nick Loftin have both been fantastic at Triple-A. However, Taylor played just 79 games there due to his time in Kansas City and Loftin appeared in just 82 between his time on the IL and a recent promotion. Tyler Gentry’s season-long numbers aren’t nearly as pretty as either of those two standouts, but he’s played 119 games there — the most of any Storm Chaser — and it’s really a tale of two halves for Gentry.

Gentry was the Royals 2022 recipient of the George Brett Award. He dominated two levels last season and started this year at Triple-A for the first time. Over the first 77 games this season, Gentry slashed .231/.336/.383. The power seemed to be missing as was his ability to hit for average. Then, after the All-Star Break, it all changed for Gentry. He finally settled in and the results have been phenomenal. Over the 41 games since the break, he has slashed .290/.431/.507 with seven home runs and a sky-high 18.9% walk rate.

Pitcher: Max Castillo, 5-6, 4.71 ERA

Much like pitching in Double-A, it’s pretty tough to find a star performer for the Storm Chasers pitching staff this season. The roster has been in flux for much of the year and has regularly helped to fill slots in the Major League ranks. Max Castillo, who is still surprisingly young at just 24 years old, has spent most of his season pitching for Omaha. He made a brief appearance in some Major League games, but in all has pitched in 20 games (19 starts) for Omaha. Over those 105 IP, he struck out 85 (to lead all Omaha pitchers) and walked 27.

Castillo’s FIP on the season is a not-so-pretty 6.28. So how on earth is he the best we have in Omaha? Well. I mean. That’s the shape of the staff for numerous reasons. There were better performers, but it came over a much smaller sample. Castillo did show some improvements as the year progressed. His best stretch this season came following his first stint in the big leagues. From May 28 through July 7 he made six starts with a 3.52 ERA, 28 strikeouts, and five walks.

Which players might earn organizational honors?

We’ve covered the key standouts for each of the Royals’ four full-season affiliates. Which players have a chance to win yearly awards from the organization? Javier Vaz stood out all year. He started his season with High-A Quad Cities and was later promoted to Northwest Arkansas. Over 499 plate appearances this season, he walked 12.8%, struck out 9.4%, and hit for a 118 wRC+ between the two levels.

On the mound, there are a few standouts at the top that make picking one rather difficult. Chandler Champlain dominated for most of his season. He started his season at High-A Quad Cities where he made 11 starts. Over those starts, he owned a 2.74 ERA. He made his way up to Northwest Arkansas later in the season and, although the results haven’t been as strong, he’s still shown promise. He added a splitter shortly after his promotion. In his start on July 27 for the Naturals he pitched six innings of no-hit baseball, walking one and striking out six.

Royals Minor League Hitter of the Year: INF/OF Samad Taylor, .322/.437/.497

Samad Taylor dominated the International League for most of this season. He played in 62 games from Opening Day to mid-June, slashing .304/.409/.463 with 24 extra-base hits. Taylor showed off a bevy of tools including improved power, blazing speed (34 stolen bases), and a tendency to take walks (14.0%).

That showing earned Taylor a promotion to the big leagues. He made his MLB debut on June 17 against the Angels. His first MLB hit was a walk-off.

After reaching the major leagues, Taylor struggled at times. He also struggled to force his way into the starting lineup and spent time as a depth player at times, for manager Matt Quatraro. In all this season, Taylor has played in 79 games for Omaha with a triple slash of .322/.437/.497. His .933 OPS is the best in the organization among minor leaguers with at least 200 PA this season.

Royals Minor League Pitcher of the Year: RHP Mason Barnett, 5-7, 3.20 ERA

Mason Barnett was a third-round pick by the Royals in last year’s MLB Draft. Much of the attention in the class has surrounded the first two selections, Gavin Cross and Cayden Wallace. Barnett, however under the radar he’s been, has had a wonderful season thus far. Barnett throws a four-pitch mix, including an above-average fastball and slider, an average curveball, and a changeup that’s a work in progress. His fastball sits 94-96 with good life and run up in the zone.

Barnett started his season at High-A. It was his first attempt at the level and he made 16 starts there with a 3.18 ERA. Over 82 IP, he struck out 94 and walked 38. The Royals awarded Barnett with a promotion to Double-A in early August and he somehow looked even better. Over Barnett’s first four starts for the Naturals, he pitched 19 innings with a 1.89 ERA, 25 strikeouts, and just 5 walks allowed.

This season has proven that Barnett is a true prospect in the system and could be a factor in the major league rotation as early as the middle of next season. More likely, he should get a chance to start in the rotation to begin the 2025 season.