2018 Kansas City Royals Top Prospects Chat
Bill Mitchell: Welcome to the annual Royals prospect chat. This was my first year covering this organization's prospects after JJ Cooper handled the KC kids for so many years, so needless to say I had some big shoes to fill. We already have a lot of questions in the queue, so let's get started a few minutes early.
J.P. (Springfield, IL): Thanks for chatting. How close was Michael Gigliotti to making the top ten? What were scouts' opinions of his pro debut, and which spot in the outfield suits him best? Bill Mitchell: The Royals 4th round pick from Lipscomb U. is a natural center fielder with plus-plus speed and advanced plate discipline. Gigliotti has below-average power, but will hit and get on base enough to bat at the top of the order. After finishing his first season in Low-A, I could see him getting the bump to High-A to start the season and then perhaps to Double-A before the end of 2018. Gigliotti is outside the top 10 but you will be able to read more about him when you get your Prospect Handbook.
Frank (Indianapolis IN): How many of these guys could make the BA 100?
Bill Mitchell: It's very likely that no one from the Royals list will crack the overall top 100. Sorry.
Mike (KC MO): Miguel Almonte, prospect or suspect?
Bill Mitchell: Almonte was on some of the earlier working versions of the top 10 list, so that means he's still a prospect. With a plus fastball (both 2-seam & 4-seam) up to 98 and four average or better pitches, he should be a candidate for the Royals rotation in 2018. Almonte made big strides last year and could be ready to contribute at least as a power reliever in the big league bullpen.
Kyle (Dallas, TX): Between LHPs Dan Tillo and Evan Steele, who has the higher ceiling for you?
Bill Mitchell: The juco lefties were drafted half a round apart (Steele was a 2nd round compensation pick). We ranked them back-to-back on the Royals list with the same future grade, with very similar upsides. They're both big-bodied southpaws with fastballs in the 91-94 mph range. The development of secondary pitches and command will be key for both.
Oscar the Grouch (Sesame Street): Do the Royals honestly believe Staumont's command is salvageable enough for him to remain a starter?
Bill Mitchell: Every conversation I had with observers both inside and outside of the Royals organization started with me asking if Staumont would be better off moving to the bullpen now. The answer was always No, his stuff is potentially too good to not give him every chance as a starter. One scout mentioned a somewhat similar career path as Dbacks starter Robbie Ray, who also struggled with command early on before finally putting it together in 2017. There's certainly no guarantee that Staumont will take the same steps forward as Ray, but give it time. If it clicks for him, he could be a very good starting pitcher.
Ryan (St. Louis, MO): Tell us about Travis Jones - one to watch? Thanks for the chat.
Bill Mitchell: Jones was one of the Royals later round picks, being taken in the 29th round after his college career with the Texas Longhorns . He hit well at three rookie-level affiliates during his pro debut and played all four corner positions, and then spent more time at third base during instructional league. He's fairly athletic for his size and is an average runner. I want to see how the bat handles full-season ball this year, but he's worth keeping an eye on as a possible future utility/ bench bat.
J.P. (Springfield, IL): Does newly signed FA Yefri del Rosario make it into the 11-20 range for you?
Bill Mitchell: del Rosario was one of the international players with the Braves that were granted free agency as part of the MLB sanctions resulting from the organization's circumvention of international signing rules. The young right-hander's stock had gone up with the increase in his fastball velocity since first signing in 2016, and the Royals signed him for a $665,000 bonus. del Rosario touched 95 in the Gulf Coast League last year with more on the way as he adds strength. He's a very intriguing prospect about whom you can read more in the Prospect Handbook.
Josh (Kanasa city): What about relievers, are there any relievers that were close to this list.
Bill Mitchell: There weren't any relievers ranked close to the top 10. One of the more interesting guys in the top 30 is lefty Richard Lovelady, whose stock jumped dramatically in 2017. I could see him in the Royals bullpen at some point this year.
Heath (Council Bluffs): Where would you rank Trevor Oaks and do you think they got enough for Scott Alexander?
Bill Mitchell: I anticipated that there would be questions about this three-team trade as soon as I saw it announced last night, so I did some homework this morning. Based on what I found out so far, I would probably put Oaks just outside the top ten. But one could make a case for him being in with Griffin and Blewett if you think he profiles as a solid back-end starter as opposed to a combo spot starter / long reliever. Moving Joakim Soria's salary was a part of the trade, so it's more complex than just comparing Oaks with Alexander.
Rich (KC): Seems like to me Nicky Lopez could be higher on this list based on performance and AFL. Would you say scouts are still lighter on him as impact bat and staying at short?
Bill Mitchell: First, I am really high on Nicky Lopez. He really grew on me during the AFL season. I try not to let fall league performance change my perception of a player too much as compared to what they did in the regular season, but I will say that what Lopez did in the fall certainly boosted his stock. He still needs to get stronger and continue to improve with the bat, but a top ten ranking is testimonial to how much he improved last year.
Kevin (St. Louis): Is Terrance Gore ever REALLY going to become a big leaguer or is he a high minors player who may get a call up to pinch run a few times?
Bill Mitchell: Gore is 26-years-old with plenty of experience at the upper levels of the system. We've already seen his ceiling and his best role.
Eric Rodriguez (Puerto Rico): How close did Emmanuel Rivera come to breaking the top 10?
Bill Mitchell: I really struggled in completing my report on Rivera, in part because the perception of the young third baseman between scouts and the Royals organization was quite different. After not hitting much in two seasons of rookie ball, he broke out with a good 2016 winter league season and then led the Sally League in hitting. I'm taking a "wait and see" attitude on Rivera and will be eager to see how well he handles High-A pitching in 2018. He'll be in the Prospect Handbook, but not real close to the top ten.
Drew (Neosho, MO): The obligatory Trevor Oaks question. From watching him I would slot him somewhere right behind Griffin and Blewett. Where does he fit into the systerm?
Bill Mitchell: You've probably already seen my previous answer about Oaks, so we are pretty much on the same page. If you really force me to rank him right now, I'd put Oaks at #12 (but don't hold me to that).
Dave (Nebraska): What's your take on Pedro Fernandez and Andres Machado? Will they be able to help KC in 2018 and beyond?
Bill Mitchell: Machado has a chance to make the staff out of spring training, especially since he got to the big leagues last year. I almost overlooked him on my early inventory of the system since he had spent so much time in short-season ball before finally making it full-season in High-A to start 2017. But then he zoomed through the system, getting two relief appearances in Kansas City. He's got a hard and heavy fastball that ranged from 93-98 mph and a potential plus changeup. He's started during much of his minor league career, but probably profiles best as a 7th inning reliever.
Shawn (Overland Park KS): What are the ceilings on Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez? I've heard Joey Votto comps on Pratto, but haven't heard much on Melendez.
Bill Mitchell: Melendez, KC's 2nd round pick in 2017, projects as a big league starting catcher with a left-handed power bat and a good defense. With Salvador Perez entrenched behind the plate in Kansas City for the foreseeable future, the Royals can afford to be patient with Melendez even though his advanced baseball acumen will allow him to move faster then the normal high school draft pick.
Dave (Nebraska): Tillo and Steele - Fasting rising JC pitchers who go to Wilmington for start of year or begin at Lexington? Lots of pitchers competing for rotation for 2018 Legends.
Bill Mitchell: I mentioned earlier that I thought that Steele and Tillo would go to Low-A in 2018, but I could also see them starting out in extended spring training to better manage their innings in their first full seasons. That would give time for the Lexington rotation to shake out.
Samir Duenez (In Limbo): After rocketing to Double-A as a 20yo in 2016, my ascent to prospect stardom seems to have stalled. What does my future with the organization look like? Is there a chance I break camp as the starting 1B in KC?
Bill Mitchell: To the contrary, Duenez's ascent has not stalled, with the long-awaited power emerging at the Double-A level when he hit more homeruns (17) than he had combined in four minor league seasons. He's always been young for every level in which he's played, and will still be only 21 until June. Even if he goes back to Double-A to start 2018, I wouldn't consider that to be a step backwards. Make a note now to order the Prospect Handbook so that you can read more about Duenez, who is ranked pretty highly in the system.
Awz (Grove, Oklahoma): Nicky Lopez really took steps forward and had a great fall. How does he compare to Raul Mondesi?
Bill Mitchell: Mondesi has better overall tools than Lopez and has the higher ceiling of the two. They could make a nice middle infield combo in a few years.
Mark (Kansas): What do you think about Chris Devito? He killed it in Class A full season....but after moving to Class A advanced his average plummeted though his power remained.
Bill Mitchell: I didn't find any supporters to consider DeVito for the list. He doesn't have a position and isn't any more than organizational depth at this point. He's on the first base depth chart but will need to show that he can really hit at higher levels.
Jerry (Wichita): Baseball America has always been bullish on Martin Gasparini. I feel there was progress last season. What do you think?
Bill Mitchell: Gasparini changed positions last year and handled the move to the outfield quite well. He's one of the most athletic players in the system, but scouts don't see the bat developing enough to be more than a defensive replacement. The Royals have always known that it would take a while for the bat to develop and believe that he took a step forward last year. It's a long swing with not a lot of hard contact, so added strength would help. Let's see how he looks in 2018.
Drew (Neosho, MO): Staumont took a step back and Skoglund struggled when he made his debut last year. What can we expect from those two pitchers going forward?
Bill Mitchell: I covered Staumont in a previous question, with improvement of command being the key to his future role. I got such good reports on Skoglund from scouts that made me confident in ranking him #5 in the organization. The lanky left-hander's stuff ticks up because of how well he commands it. If the changeup and slider/cutter improve, he'll have a nice four-pitch mix with an above-average 90-95 mph fastball.
Kyle (Baton Rouge): It seems like the top 3 position prospects have separated themselves from the rest. How close to that tier is MJ Melendez and does he have a chance to get to the top tier?
Bill Mitchell: I covered Melendez in a previous question, but will reiterate that he has a bright future and is in the mix with Pratto, Lee & Matias as the Royals rebuild the farm system.
Mark (STL): Can you tell us more about Keller and Burch Smith? Will they stick? Will the Royals use them out of the pen? It seems like the Royals created space for them last night by moving 2 RPs.
Bill Mitchell: Ah, the Rule 5 draft, JJ Cooper's favorite time of the year. It comes just before the Prospect Handbook goes to press, so every year we scramble to fit in the new acquisitions. Smith is pretty close to a sure thing to stick with the Royals all season, assuming he stays healthy. He was impressive in the AFL and is ready to pitch in a big league bullpen. Keller is less of a sure thing, in part because he's still young. I previously did the Dbacks prospect report and was always one of the high guys on Keller. He's always been a starter but it will probably be easier to retain him for a full season if they use him out of the bullpen. He's still young and I'm not sure that he's ready to start at the major league level. But I really like both of those pickups for KC. Yes, we DID squeeze both of them into the Prospect Handbook.
JayDale (B): What are the Royals going to do with Hunter Dozier? Does he get to play first or third this year?
Bill Mitchell: Dozier will go to spring training with a chance to earn a starting job at some position, but which one is still tbd since we don't know yet what's happening with Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain. Too many questions remain for the Royals before they slot Dozier in anywhere.
Adam (Rincon de guayabitos, mx): Any word on if Ashe Russell will be back in uniform in 2018? He seemed like a great kid, I hope this isn't a Derek grigsby type situation
Bill Mitchell: No word at all, although I would expect the Royals to be keeping any information about Russell very confidential.
Brett L. (Twin Cities): Every so often a supposedly middle of the road prospect comes along that ends up blowing away projections. Nicky Lopez feels like one of those guys. If even 65% of the pop he showcased after switching to a heavier bat in the Arizona Fall League is real, I think he’s capable of being the Royals opening day SS. His leadership, character, work ethic, gritty/competitive nature, & all around make up would seem to make that even more possible. I own him in a dynasty league & am wondering what your thoughts are on him. Thanx!
Bill Mitchell: I talked about Lopez in a previous question, but projecting him as 2018 opening day shortstop is too aggressive. He just finished his first full season and still has plenty of development ahead of him.
Shaun (Kansas City): I love Chase Vallot. Will he ever make it as a catcher or does he change positions? What happens to his prospect status and bat if he has to change positions?
Bill Mitchell: Scouts are plenty skeptical whether Vallot can stay behind the plate, but I'm not sure where else he would fit on the field. He showed some improvement last season and is still only 21. At the plate he has as much raw power as anyone in the system but needs to cut back on the swing-and-miss.
Nick (Brooklyn): What was the feedback on Charlie Neuweiler? BA did that helium article prior to the draft and I am curious how he was in the AZL.
Bill Mitchell: Neuweiler, the 5th round pick in 2017, was a pleasant surprise in his pro debut in the AZL. His pitchability is ahead of his stuff now and there's not a lot of projection to his frame, but the kid can pitch and could jump up the prospects lists next year. He moves the ball around the zone well and keeps balls on the ground. If he learns to command his spike curveball, it could turn into a plus pitch for him.
Timmy (Pittsburgh): Sal Biasi out of Penn State seemed to miss a lot of bats in his first year. Any shot he is in the top 30 prospects?
Bill Mitchell: I just have to answer a question about a player from my home state (useless triva: my hometown is just across a couple of mountain ranges from Penn State). Biasi, the Royals 11th round pick, had a nice debut season split between the AZL and Appy League. He didn't come up in any conversations about possible top 30 guys, but he's on the depth chart that'll be in the Prospect Handbook.
MTt (Va): Do Seuly Matias and Nick Pratto begin the 2018 season in Lexington? And is Mathias a boom or bust type prospect?
Bill Mitchell: That would be my guess for both Pratto and Matias, as well as MJ Melendez. They should be Lexington-bound after spring training. As for Matias, I prefer the label "high risk / high reward" for him instead of "boom or bust."
Awz (Grove, Oklahoma): Assuming the Royals get a comp pick from each of Hosmer, Moustakas, and Cain, where does this system rank on June 7th?
Bill Mitchell: I think it's going to take a couple of years of extra high picks before this system creeps towards the top ten. Patience.
Dan (Augusta, ME): Michael Gigliotti was a top draft prospect entering last year after a brilliant Cape Cod League performance. Some writers were making Jacoby Ellsbury comps. Then he had an awful junior year and he slipped all the way to the 4th rd. Did his performance last year in the minors help restore some of his prospect value?
Bill Mitchell: Interesting question, Dan. I've also read the comments about the "subpar" junior season affecting his draft position, mostly related to the fact that he was being too patient at the plate. I have not talked to any area scouts who saw him in college, but in asking Royals officials about the "being too patient" thing they replied that they see his advanced plate discipline as a tool that they value highly. I know we can't just scout by the numbers, but his OPS in his three years at Lipscomb were practically identical from year to year. Looking ahead, I got good reports from scouts who saw him in Burlington and in instructional league, so he's certainly a prospect and it's likely that the Royals got good value in the 4th round.
Esteury Ruiz (Dominican Rep.): If I was still in the Royals system, where would I have ranked on this list?
Bill Mitchell: If you read my glowing assessment of Esteury Ruiz in the Arizona League prospect report, you'll know that I was on the bandwagon early. I'm pretty sure Ruiz would have ranked in the Royals top ten. The dude can and will continue to hit. Padres fans can look forward to his development.
Brett L. (Twin Cities): What kind & caliber of prospect is Brewer Hicklen? He’s the one guy who has confused me most from 2017 Draft. He was viewed in extremely high regard by nearly every media outlet prior to the Draft. My own video scouting also led to me liking him as well. Then after oddly falling to the 7th, he put up elite numbers that further confirmed he should be viewed as an equal to guys like Gigliotti. Yet, you wouldn’t know he even existed and he’s oddly never talked about. It’s like there’s some secret knock on him. Usually high regarded college bats who excel in their pro debuts get far more pub. What can you tell us about him? Thanx!
Bill Mitchell: Hicklen played football at UAB early in his college life and missed some baseball development time, and then he lost time last summer to injury. He's an interesting prospect because of his above-average to plus speed and very good athleticism. His swing needs a lot of adjustments and he needs to make better contact at the plate. He's got good instincts and the outfield and has an average arm. I think he's one to watch in 2018 as he gets his baseball legs under him and hopefully stays healthy. Good makeup, too.
Jonny (SF): Khalil Lee has tantalizing skills but K'd in over 30% of his PA in Low-A. Is this due to his swing, or his approach? Something else?
Bill Mitchell: We've been going strong on the chat for over two hours and there are still dozens and dozens of questions in the queue, but it's the off-season and I've got nothing better to do today. But I'm going to be jumping to questions on players that we haven't covered much today, starting with Khalil Lee. I think the swing-and-miss comes mostly from lack of experience in the pro game and how he sets his hands at the plate. He draws plenty of walks and hits with power to all fields, so the strikeouts aren't a big concern for now.
Ace (Detroit): How excited should a Royals fan be about the 2018 draft class considering the potential of a few extra higher selections?
Bill Mitchell: If you're a draftnik like me, you should really be excited by having extra picks early in the draft. It'll be a good chance to start restocking the system with potential impact talent.
Steve (Tallahassee): Absent a shocking resigning of Moustakis, does Dozier project well enough defensively to start the season at third base in KC?
Bill Mitchell: Dozier is a fringe-average defender at third base so he'll be able to handle the position. If he's recovered from the injuries that wrecked his 2017 season and he builds on the swing improvements he made in 2016, then he could be the Royals starting third baseman. He's 26 now so it's time for him to show that he can be more than just a bench bat.
Danny V (Hartford, CT): Did Idaho Falls righty Janser Lara fit into the next 10, or too small a sample size? Thanks for the chat!
Bill Mitchell: Janser Lara, a slight right-hander with a heater that touched 100 in 2017, is in the Prospect Handbook. I ranked him on the Pioneer League list and find him to be an intriguing arm, although with plenty of risk because of his size and questionable command. I can't wait to see how he handles full-season ball this year.
Parker (Pleasant Hill, MO): Kyle Zimmer - is there any hope left or have injuries ruined his career?
Bill Mitchell: Finally, a Kyle Zimmer question! But I wish I had an answer for you. I wish someone had an answer for you. When healthy, he was as good of a pitching prospect in the organization, but now we're not sure what he's got left after a litany of injuries that have sapped his stuff and consistency of his velo. I just couldn't bring myself to drop him from the top 30, so you can read about his inconsistent 2017 season and injury history there. I'm still rooting for him ... I think we all are.
Ben (CA): Thanks for chatting with us. I love the opportunity to have specific questions answered by BA writers. I'm curious about Ryan O'hearn. The story seems to be that he had a disappointing year, but if you look at his numbers in AAA they look almost identical to his first exposure to AA in 2016, which looks pretty similar to his first time in High A. In his return to those leagues his numbers improved dramatically (even if the sample size is small). To me he doesn't look all that different a prospect as he did a year ago. Is there something in the scouting reports that isn't reflected in the numbers? About how far has he dropped on the KC list?
Bill Mitchell: I didn't hear any comments that O'Hearn's year was disappointing, and he didn't fall that far out of the org's top ten. He hit 22 home runs for the second straight season and handled Triple-A in his first try there. His move back to Double-A was not performance-based, but rather to get him regular at-bats at a point when the Omaha team had a lot of other 1B/DH types who needed playing time. His profile is about the same as before - a second division regular or bench bat. I was a bit surprised both that he wasn't put on the 40-man roster and also that he wasn't taken in the Rule 5 draft. He'll get a chance for the first base job if Eric Hosmer is gone, but with a more likely return to Omaha.
Jonathan (Syracuse, NY): After the big three, how would you place the remaining guys into tiers? Are there any "just missed" prospects that would fall into the same tier Blewett is in?
Bill Mitchell: I was waiting for a question about "just missed" prospects so that I could talk about RHP Carlos Hernandez, one of the bigger sleepers in the organization. The native Venezuelan didn't sign until he was 19, making his pro debut at Burlington at the age of 20. His numbers weren't anything special there, but scouts and Royals officials alike are enthusiastic about this big kid's upside. He already flashes a plus fastball at 94-97 mph with the projection that he'll hit triple digits before long. His changeup could also be a plus pitch in time. We could be talking about a top ten Royals prospect this time next year, so when you get your Prospect Handbook be sure to jump right to the middle of the Royals section to study Hernandez's report.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Pick a sleeper from the short season teams and NOT a guy who is in the 30 KC prospects profiled in the Handbook.
Bill Mitchell: Two players that we talked about previously --- Charles Neuweiler and Brewer Hicklen. Add Franco Terrero and Yunior Marte to that list. I'm betting that at least three of those four show up in next year's top 30.
John (New Jersey): Is Foster Griffin's breakout real and what clicked for him last season?
Bill Mitchell: Making this one a lightning round question, here's what clicked for Griffin in 2017: an uptick in velocity, more aggressive approach on the mound, better arm speed.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Did catcher Darrell Miller Jr. and shortstop Matt Morales make the Handbook? What do you think of them as prospects?
Bill Mitchell: Miller is organizational depth and perhaps a future coach. He led the Pioneer League in hitting, but was a 23-year-old free agent in rookie ball. Morales was KC's 23rd round pick from Palm Beach State, and is kind of an interesting prospect who can hit and run. Probably a utility profile long-term.
Mike (Omaha): Eric Stout has some good numbers as a lefty reliever, whats his projection, backend, or LOOGY?
Bill Mitchell: One of the scouts I talked with really liked Stout, and thinks he can pitch in MLB. A plus fastball up to 94, gets weak contact, and a decent slider. He's more of a late bloomer. I see him as a 6th or 7th inning guy, more than just a loogy since he can get right-handed batters out.
Ron (New Mexico): Baseball America seems to love a question about a potential sleeper. How do you see 2017 AFL attendee Nick Dini?
Bill Mitchell: Yes, I like sleeper questions and I've always had some kind of attraction to Dini as a lower-level prospect. He's not in the top 30 but I could see him making it to the big leagues as a backup catcher. He's an overachiever who provides leadership behind the plate and has a compact, line drive stroke at the plate. He's on the small side but makes up for it with his baseball smarts.
Ryan (San Diego, CA): Does Gabriel Cancel have the tools to become a first division regular in the infield? What are the chances he makes it that far?
Bill Mitchell: First division regular is a little rich for Cancel. He's more of a second baseman now since his body type no longer suits the shortstop position (Carlos Baerga comps on the body, if that helps you). He could also handle third base with his above-average arm. Cancel is strong and can drive the ball, but needs to improve his plate discipline to hit at higher levels. He was on early versions of the top 30, but may have been one of the prospects dropped off after the Rule 5 acquisitions were added.
Norm Chouinard (Connecticut): Did Meibrys Viloria make an impression with scouts?
Bill Mitchell: The general consensus on Viloria is he probably winds up as a backup catcher with a long career because of his ability to handle a pitching staff and frames well. His offensive projection is a question mark as he needs to improve his plate discipline; his walk rate decreased last year while the strikeout rate went up.
John Lewis (San Diego California): What higher round guys in the 2017 draft is expected to do well ? I know you guys drafted 6’4 LHP Marlin Willis and isiah Henry . What’s the word on those two ?
Bill Mitchell: Marlin Willis intrigues me. I did not get to see him either in AZL or instructs, but was somewhat familiar with him from some high school showcases. He'll be on my radar for spring training. 14th round pick Henry struggled with the bat in his AZL debut, but his strong arm and pitching background make him more interesting as a mound candidate sooner or later.
Tom (KD Mo): Where do I get a prospect handbook?
Bill Mitchell: Check the Store link on the BA site (www.baseballamerica.com) and look for the book with Vladimir Guerrero Jr on the cover. It will also be available from your favorite book sellers, but if you order directly from Baseball America then you get the extra section with a 31st prospect for each organization.
Bobby Witt Jr.: Royals 2021 Minor League Player Of The Year
Witt, the BA Minor League Player of the Year, was not alone in taking a major step forward in 2021. But the breakthrough success of Royals hitters took root with a 2019 decision.
Bill Mitchell: And with that final endorsement for the Prospect Handbook, it's time for me to sign off from this marathon session. I was just told that I look like I've pulled an all-nighter. I'll be back two weeks from today with a chat about the Seattle Mariners organization. Josh Norris will be covering the White Sox org on Monday, so enjoy your weekend and then get ready to chat with good ol' Josh. If I didn't get to your question or you thought of something else, you may hit me up on Twitter @billazbbphotog. Thanks for coming.