Image credit: Vinnie Pasquantino (Tracy Proffitt/Four Seam Images)
Had a question about two Royals prospects that I haven’t heard much buzz around but appear to be having solid seasons across multiple levels. Maikel Garcia and Vinnie Pasquantino. I’ve been impressed with their production so far and was wondering if you could shed some light on them?
This has been a very good year for the Royals farm system, especially when it comes to hitters. Shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. has hit his way to Triple-A, and so have fellow Top 10 prospects Nick Pratto and M.J. Melendez.
As an organization, the Royals rank in the top five in winning percentage for their minor league affiliates with three of their four full-season teams above .500.
But it’s not just the most prominent Royals hitting prospects who have had standout years. You asked about two lesser-known Royals prospects, but I’m going to talk about them as well as one other Quad Cities River Bandit.
Garcia and fellow Quad Cities middle infielder Michael Massey have both had productive seasons while Pasquantino has hit his way to Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
Massey fits the profile as a hit-first second baseman with plenty of bat speed. This year he’s shown more power than scouts had expected—he has 15 home runs and has been especially good when the River Bandits hit the road (.303/.356/.579 with 11 home runs in 43 games).
Massey’s double-play partner is a very different player. Garcia’s power is virtually non-existent. He’s very skinny at this point—listed at 145 pounds. While he may be heavier than that, he’s got plenty of room to still fill out. Garcia squares balls up, they just don’t go all that far right now because of his lack of functional strength. His strikeout rate has spiked since he was promoted to High-A, and is worth monitoring.
Defensively, Garcia should have no problem sticking at shortstop thanks to solid actions and good feel. His average to above-average arm fits for the position as well, and could, like his power, improve further as he gets stronger.
At this point Garcia looks more like a utility infielder whose lack of power and offensive impact will keep him from a larger role, but there is projectability left in him, so he could exceed those expectations.
As far as Pasquantino, he has been one of the most productive hitters in the full-season minors this year. He’s hit .301/.385/.561 this year between High-A Quad Cities and Northwest Arkansas. He’s hit for power (46 extra-base hits, including 17 home runs) while rarely striking out (13.6% of plate appearances).
The big (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) first baseman has put himself on the prospect map and ranked 28th on the Royals Top 30 in our Midseason Prospect Update.
But why is there still some skepticism considering his impressive production? Well, past history shows how hard it is to go from great minor league slugger at first base to excellent big leaguer. The Royals have many examples to turn to for this exercise.
Going back to the nadir of the Royals farm system in the mid 2000s, Kila Ka’aihue was one of the few bright spots. In 2008 as a 24-year-old, Ka’aihue hit .314/.456/.628 with 37 home runs between Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha.
Ka’aihue went on to hit 15 home runs in 126 major league games with a .221/.305/.382 slash line over four seasons.
Next up in the line of great Royals minor league first basemen was Clint Robinson. Robinson hit .335/.410/.625 with 29 home runs for Northwest Arkansas in 2010. The next year he hit .326/.399/.533 with 23 home runs for Omaha. Like Pasquantino, Robinson managed to hit for average and power while rarely striking out. But his lack of positional flexibility and the fact that he arrived at a time when Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler were entrenched in Kansas City meant the Royals designated him for assignment after he got four MLB at-bats with Kansas City during the 2012 season. He did eventually get time with the Dodgers and Nationals, hitting 15 home runs with a .257/.336/.384 slash line in 236 MLB games over four seasons.
After Robinson came Balbino Fuenmayor. Fuenmayor had been a big-money signing of the Blue Jays as a 16-year-old coming out of Venezuela, but his power didn’t really develop. He went to the independent leagues, was Baseball America’s Independent Leagues Player of the Year in 2014 and signed with the Royals that offseason. Fuenmayor hit .358/.384/.589 with 17 home runs in an injury-shortened 2015 season split between Northwest Arkansas and Omaha. He also played in the Futures Game that year. Fuenmayor couldn’t replicate that magical 2015 season in a return to Omaha in 2016, and he headed to Mexico to play in 2017.
We’re not done. Frank Schwindel hit .329/.349/.521 with 23 home runs between Northwest Arkansas and Omaha in 2017 as a 24-year-old. He made it to the majors with the Royals in 2019 and has also played for the A’s and Cubs. Currently he has a .212/.235/.348 MLB stat line with two home runs in 23 games.
None of this is to say that Pasquantino can’t buck this trend and become the underrated slugger who does break through. But there’s a lot of past history that spells out just how tough it is to make it as a first base/DH slugger, even if you put up great numbers in the minors.