Top 10 Prospects (2019): Kansas City Royals: Finding Value In A Lackluster System

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Labeling the Royals’ system as “questionable” may be being kind, as you could argue that they are among the worst prospect groups in baseball.  That’s not to say that there isn’t potential upside, especially coming out of the 2018 draft, but even Brady Singer (who they handed a $4.2 million bonus to) comes with concerns.  Is there anyone worth targeting in the system?  Let’s take a look:

1) Khalil Lee – Outfielder
Grade – B-
ETA – 2020

Splitting time between High-A and Double-A Lee hit .263 with 6 HR and 16 SB over 346 AB.  While the power number wasn’t impressive, he has more than that (17 HR at Single-A in ’17) and has always profiled as a 20/20 candidate.  His approach/plate discipline has been the biggest question, though he improved significantly last season:

  • Single-A (532 PA) – 32.1% strikeout, 12.2% walk
  • High-A (301 PA) – 24.9% strikeout, 15.9% walk
  • Double-A (118 PA) – 23.7% strikeouts, 9.3% walk

While a 12.2% SwStr% isn’t going to blow you away, it’s at least step in the right direction (12.7% in ’17) despite facing more advanced competition.  Throw in improved efficiency on the bases (16-for-21) and suddenly there’s a little bit more optimism.  He’s still far from a sure thing, but he’s showing signs that we like to see.

2) Kyle Isbel – Outfielder
Grade – B-
ETA – 2021

Selected in the third round of the 2018 draft, Isbel made a strong case to be the team’s best prospect in short order.  While the argument can be made that he was old for Rookie Ball, he didn’t miss a beat after being pushed to Single-A (.289 with 3 HR and 12 SB).  All told he showed an impressive approach, to go along with plenty of speed (24 SB):

  • Strikeout Rate – 20.5%
  • SwStr% – 9.9%
  • Walk Rate – 8.9%

The question is whether or not he’s going to be able to tap into his power or not.  He only hit 7 HR last season, though adding 22 doubles and 2 triples shows promise.  All he needs to do is develop into a 10-12 HR threat, which is very realistic, and with his approach and speed he profiles as a potentially dynamic top of the order bat.  A strong showing early will push his grade into the B/B+ range.

3) Brady Singer – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – B-
ETA – 2020

The Royals’ top selection in 2018, Singer has yet to make his professional debut (he signed later in the period, pitched a lot in college and also was slowed by a hamstring injury) and faces concerns about his delivery potentially leading to injury.  What pitcher doesn’t carry the risk of arm injury in today’s game? 

Throughout his college career he showed strikeouts and control, though reports indicate he needs to improve upon his changeup to truly deliver on the potential.  We’ll have to wait and see if the Royals are able to work with him on his delivery, and if they do and he shows improvements in his changeup he’ll quickly rise into the B/B+ range.

4) Jackson Kowar – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – C+
ETA – 2021

Yet another 2018 selection, Kowar pitched 26.1 innings at Single-A and showed some impressive skills:

  • SwStr% – 13.0%
  • Groundballs – 58.3%

The question here is if he’s going to be able to develop his secondary pitches.  While reports have a big fastball (that could get better) and a plus changeup, he has yet to show a breaking ball that will keep opposing hitters off balance.  If he finds that he could be the better prospect than Singer, if not he could head to the bullpen.

5) Nick Pratto – First Baseman
Grade – C+
ETA – 2021

The team’s 2017 first round selection, Pratto played the year at Single-A hitting .280 with 14 HR and 22 SB.  Don’t be misled by the stolen base total, as it’s hard to imagine him coming close to that mark again (though if he could steal 10 bases annually it would be a nice bonus).  His carrying skill is his power, and having added 33 doubles and 2 triples over 485 AB it’s obviously there.  Can he refine his approach (13.4% SwStr%) in order to consistently tap into it?  Time will tell, but he should be able to.  If he does, a .280/25/10 first baseman could be in there (and that can’t be ignored).

The Rest:

6) Nicky Lopez – Shortstop (Grade – C+)
While many of the Royals’ hitting prospects come with questions about their approach, Lopez is a different animal.  Playing between Double and Triple-A he posted a 5.5% SwStr%, leading to a 9.0% strikeout rate and 10.3% walk rate.  The problem is, what else does he bring to the table?  In 504 AB he hit .308 with 9 HR and 15 SB, and while it’s possible he develops into a 10/20 producer from a middle infield spot that’s not quite a given.  If he gets there he’s going to have some appeal, and that makes him worth monitoring.

7) Daniel Lynch – Left-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C+)
Another 2018 first round selection, Lynch made quite the impression in his first taste of professional baseball as he posted a 1.58 ERA and 1.01 WHIP over 51.1 IP between Rookie Ball and Single-A.  He also had all three skills we look for an full display:

  • Strikeouts – 10.69 K/9 (15.9% SwStr%)
  • Control – 1.40 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 50.8%

At 22-years old there is questions as to whether or not the 6’6” lefty will fill out physically (he’s still listed at just 190 lbs.).  If he doesn’t it will be interesting to see if he can maintain the new velocity he showed after being drafted.  If he does?  He could develop into the team’s best pitching prospect.

8) Seuly Matis – Outfielder (Grade – C)
Playing at Single-A he showed off significant power, slugging 31 HR over 338 AB.  The problem is just how aggressive he was, with a gaudy 22.6% SwStr% leading to a 34.8% strikeout rate (and miniscule 6.4% walk rate).  It’s easy to see the upside potential, with his power and speed, but if he’s going to strikeout this much at Single-A the number could get extremely ugly as he advances further.  He needs to show signs of improvement before we fully buy in.

9) Brewer Hicklen – Outfielder (Grade – C)
If Hicklen hadn’t been promoted to High-A the narrative would be different.  Just look at the numbers:

  • Single-A (306 AB) – .307 with 17 HR and 29 SB
  • High-A (71 AB) – .211 with 1 HR and 6 SB

Of course even at Single-A there were questions about his approach (28.2% strikeout rate, 6.9% walk rate), as he needed a .395 BABIP to get to his strong marks.  You also can argue that he was old for the level, playing as a 22-year old, further clouding the production.  We can’t ignore the potential, but there are questions he needs to answer early in ’19.

10) MJ Melendez – Catcher (Grade – C)
Playing at Single-A he hit .251 with 19 HR over 419 AB.  Of course we can’t overlook the 18.7% SwStr%, leading to a 30.3% strikeout rate.  Considering that the number could rise further as he advances, do the other skills much matter?  He could develop into your typical all power, no contact catcher but time will tell.

Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com, MILB.com, Baseball Reference

Make sure to check out all of our 2019 Top 10 Prospect Lists:

AL EastAL CentralAL West
Baltimore OriolesChicago White SoxHouston Astros
Boston Red SoxCleveland IndiansLos Angeles Angels
New York YankeesDetroit TigersOakland A's
Tampa Bay RaysKansas City RoyalsSeattle Mariners
Toronto Blue JaysMinnesota TwinsTexas Rangers
NL EastNL CentralNL West
Atlanta BravesChicago CubsArizona Diamondbacks
Miami MarlinsCincinnati RedsColorado Rockies
New York MetsMilwaukee BrewersLos Angeles Dodgers
Philadelphia PhilliesPittsburgh PiratesSan Diego Padres
Washington NationalsSt. Louis CardinalsSan Francisco Giants

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