2019-20 MLB International Reviews: Kansas City Royals
The Royals signed one of the elite players in the 2019 class, adding 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Erick Peña for $3,897,500, the fourth-highest signing bonus for a 2019 player. If everything clicks, he has a chance to develop into an impact bat in the middle of a lineup, with an exciting balance of hitting ability, power and baseball smarts.
Peña trained with John Carmona and grew up playing in La Javilla little league, and his extensive game background shows in his instincts on both sides of the ball. He consistently performed well in games as an amateur, both against players his age and older competition. For his size (6-foot-3, 180 pounds), Peña has a relatively compact lefthanded swing, keeping his hands inside the ball well and his bat path through the hitting zone for a long time with good extension. He has a good eye for the strike zone with a swing and approach that enable him to drive the ball well in the air to all fields in games. Peña barrels balls at a high rate in games and already shows a knack for hanging in well against both lefties and righties. He has strong hands and a ton of space to add muscle to his projectable frame, with flashes of above-average raw power that should only spike, giving him a chance to become a plus or better hitter with 30-plus homers.
Peña's offensive upside profiles well in an outfield corner, which is his most likely landing spot, though the Royals are going to develop him as a center fielder. He moves well for his size and got faster leading up to July 2, showing average speed underway. That's not ideal speed for center field and he may slow down as he fills out, but his fielding instincts are advanced for his age. He's a diligent worker on his defense and it shows in his reads and routes. With a solid-average arm, Peña has the ingredients to develop into a plus defender in right field. Off the field, seemingly everyone who interacts with Peña raves about him, whether it's his peers, older players or baseball lifers. A fluent English speaker, he's extremely poised and mature for his age, a leader other players gravitate toward with an outgoing yet even-keeled personality. Peña came over to Arizona after signing and stayed for instructional league, where he was roommates with Bobby Witt Jr., and he's expected to be back there for his pro debut next year in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
Mario Melendez is a 16-year-old Venezuelan catcher the Royals signed in July. He has a stocky, compact build (5-foot-10, 180 pounds), a high baseball IQ and projects to stick behind the plate. He has good catch-and-throw skills, receiving the ball well and throwing with an average arm, while also drawing praise for his ability to handle a pitching staff. He shows solid contact skills from the right side of the plate with doubles power. Melendez trained with Ivan Suarez.
Another Venezuelan signing, 17-year-old Luis Echenique, is a quick-twitch, athletic center fielder who trained with Carlos Yanez. He's a speed-oriented player with strength to his sleek, athletic frame (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) and projects to stay in center field. He has plus speed and an easy gait, gliding around center field with good range and a fringe-average arm. He's a lefty with good swing path and bat-to-ball skills, with flashes of better than gap power, but taking a line-drive approach in games with the ability to go the other way.
Ethan de Cuba was born in Miami but grew up in Aruba, where the Royals scouted him and signed him for $222,500. He's a 16-year-old switch-hitter with a thin, long-limbed frame (6 feet, 145 pounds) that he's still growing into, but while he lacks strength right now, his instincts for the game are advanced, playing in a lot of games and tournaments growing up. As an amateur in Aruba, he showed the ability to make consistent contact in games, with a line-drive approach now but with a slight uppercut and good extension for more extra-base hits to come once he adds strength. It's most likely a hit-over-power profile, with fringe-average speed that most likely will land him in an outfield corner. He trained with Juan Rivera.
Outfielder Roger Leyton got the third-highest bonus this year for a player from Nicaragua when he signed with the Royals for $207,500. Leyton doesn't immediately jump out for his tools, but he grows on scouts the more they see him, showing better skills in games than he does in a workout. A wiry, athletic 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Leyton is a 16-year-old righthanded hitter who has a mix of tools that are average or project to be average, with a contact-oriented approach and gap power. He's an average runner, and while he isn't a burner, he has a chance to stay in center field because of his defensive instincts.
Another outfielder, Marino Castillo, signed with the Royals out of Venezuela. Castillo, 17, is a hard-nosed, smaller-framed (5-foot-10, 150 pounds) hitter with good bat control from the left side. He has a slap approach with a short swing and keeps the barrel on plane for a long time. Castillo doesn't project to have much power, but he has good plate discipline and hand-eye coordination, which helps him put the ball in play at a high rate. He's athletic and a solid-average runner, giving him a chance to play center field. He trained with Robert Fuentes.
German Duarte is a large-framed catcher the Royals signed out of Mexico for $115,000. Despite being bigger than the typical catcher, Duarte stays compact being the plate with good catch-and-throw skills, drawing praise for his receiving and a slightly above-average arm. He has shown solid contact skills in games with gap power.