For a rebuilding franchise the Royals system is full of questions, and while they do have a few top-end options there is a distinct drop quickly. That doesn’t mean that none of the “questionable” prospects can’t develop, but the hitter side is full of strikeout concerns and the pitcher side faces questions about shifts to the bullpen.
Which prospect has the highest ceiling? Who could emerge as a valuable asset in 2020? Who should be ignored? Let’s take a look:
1) Bobby Witt Jr. – Shortstop
ETA – 2023
Grade – B+
There are a few things we know about Witt thus far:
- He was selected second overall in 2019
- He was arguably the most hyped prospect in the draft class
- He struggled badly with his ability to make contact initially
An “older” high school selection, Witt had 164 AB in Rookie Ball and posted a monstrous 25.6% SwStr%. While that didn’t lead to many strikeouts yet (19.4%), it’s a red flag that needs to be monitored closely. We aren’t going to make a big deal yet, as it was his first professional exposure, and there is the potential for him to develop both power and speed as he matures. He could be the premier prospect in the draft class, but it could take time.
2) Daniel Lynch – Left-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2021
Grade – B+
Selected in the first round of 2018, Lynch missed time due to an arm issue but was able to return and look healthy (including 19 K vs. 4 BB over 14.0 IP in the Arizona Fall League). While the injury does put a small red flag, it’s hardly enough as he showed all the skills over 96.1 IP:
- Strikeouts – 8.97 K/9 (13.9% SwStr%)
- Control – 2.71 BB/9
- Groundballs – 49.6%
At 6’6” it’s a positive to see the control already solid, and it’s possible that he could improve as he continues to mature. Being a southpaw makes it that much better and as he continues to develop his secondary pitches he could emerge as one of the better pitching prospects in the game. Opening the year at Double-A and being healthy, don’t be surprised if Lynch takes that type of step forward in 2020.
3) Jackson Kowar – Right-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2020
Grade – B
What’s interesting with Kowar is that he already has a devastating changeup, which by all reports is his best current pitch. Instead it’s his breaking ball that needs further development, and with any type of improvement there his three-pitch mix could entrench him as a solid starter at the highest level. Selected in the first round of 2018, he split his time equally between High-A and Double-A in 2019 and pitched well at both levels:
- High-A (74.0 IP) – 3.53 ERA, 8.03 K/9, 2.68 BB/9
- Double-A (74.1 IP) – 3.51 ERA, 9.44 K/9, 2.54 BB/9
He showed the same swing and miss stuff at each level (12.9% SwStr%), proving that his stuff plays against upper level hitters. The failure to develop his curveball could lead to a move to the bullpen, though thus far he’s shown enough to think that he’ll ultimately reach his potential.
4) Kyle Isbel – Outfielder
ETA – 2021
Grade – B-
You have to wonder what could’ve been in 2019, after he started off hot before injuries sabotaged his season. Over his first 13 games he was hitting .348 with 2 HR and 5 SB at High-A, but when he returned in July he never rediscovered his timing, hitting .176 with 3 HR and 3 SB over 148 AB. Overall he did have a 10.1% SwStr%, and during his time at High-A it was just 9.2%. That is highly promising, especially given the blend of power (14 HR) and speed (35 SB) he’s shown since being drafted in 2018.
He’s never going to be an elite power hitter, standing 5’11”, but he could be a 15/25 type player at the highest level. As long as the approach stays solid, there’s reason to believe that 2020 could be his breakout campaign.
5) Kris Bubic – Left-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2021
Grade – C+
Bubic is another youngster who has already shown an ability to throw a good changeup, which helps his stuff play up against younger hitters. Pitching at Single-A (47.2 IP) and High-A (101.2 IP) he showed the ability to miss bats (14.6% SwStr%), leading to an 11.15 K/9, and throw strikes (2.53 BB/9). He doesn’t generate many groundballs (43.0%), and that’s going to bring questions in to his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. There are also questions about his velocity, with the initial reports when he was drafted pinning him more as a control pitcher than anything. It will be interesting to see how he develops against more advanced hitting, especially after he struggled against left-handed hitters at High-A:
- LHH – .292
- RHH – .182
The Next Five:
6) Khalil Lee – Outfielder (Grade – C+) – He went 53-for-65 in stolen bases, though it’s hard to figure where that type of number came from. That doesn’t mean he lacks speed, but he needs to prove it’s not an aberration. He pairs it with some power, but also swing and miss as he posted a 12.3% SwStr% in 546 PA at Double-A last season. That will be something to monitor closely, especially as he moves up to Triple-A, as he already carried a 28.2% strikeout rate. The other skills won’t matter if he can’t consistently make contact, so how high his ceiling is remains to be seen.
7) Brady Singer – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C+) – The biggest question facing Singer is whether or not he’ll be able to stick in the rotation, or if his delivery and limited arsenal (he currently is a fastball/sider pitcher) will lead to him shifting to the bullpen. For now the Royals have reason to continue to try and develop him as a starter, as he’s shown he can generate groundballs (50.9%) to go along with strong control (2.37 BB/9). As he continues to move up against more advanced hitters his ultimate upside will be determined, but for now he’s a starting pitcher.
8) Erick Pena – Outfielder (Grade – C+) – The 16-year old was considered one of the prizes of the 2019 International class, and obviously he’s a long ways away from making an impact at the highest level. Expectations currently are for him to develop power and he already brings a solid approach, with a handful of stolen bases (depending on how he physically matures). Time will tell, but he’s a name to keep a close eye on.
9) Jonathan Bowlan – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C) – He’s listed at 6’6” and 262 lbs, so he’s obviously big and has shown the ability to get strikeouts (9.25 K/9) to go along with impressive control (1.42 BB/9). His groundball rate took a step back against more advanced hitters (42.6% at High-A), which will be something to watch, and there’s the potential that his future lies in the bullpen (where his stuff could really play up).
10) Brewer Hicklen – Outfielder (Grade – C) – Playing the year at High-A Hicklen showed an intriguing mix of power (14 HR) and speed (39 SB). His best asset is his wheels, and while he will add some power the question is going to be whether or not he can make enough contact. Considering his 16.6% SwStr% at High-A, that is far from a given. The speed could carry him to the Majors, perhaps has a fourth outfielder, but if he learns to make consistent contact the upside/grade will soar. Considering he will play the year at 24-years old, the time is now for him to take those steps.
Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings: