Kansas City Royals 2019 Top 30 MLB Prospects Midseason Update
The rebuilding Royals are one of the worst teams in baseball in 2019, much like they were in 2018. A multi-year rebuild was evident in Kansas City, and the season has gone largely as expected, especially after catcher Salvador Perez needed Tommy John surgery during spring training.
The encouraging news is that the Royals’ farm system continues to get stronger, adding shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. to the system with the No. 2 overall pick this June and continuing to add to their strength of solid college pitching prospects and up-the-middle position players.
The Royals will certainly be sellers at the trade deadline, although there aren’t a lot of attractive trade pieces on a roster largely filled by easily replaceable players. Whit Merrifield is an obvious choice as the player who would provide the most return, but the price tag will be deservedly high because of his versatility and record of recent production. Alex Gordon is having a nice bounce back season after several down years, but he’s expressed a desire to stay in Kansas City and has the 10-and-5 rights to veto any deal. Hunter Dozier has also been a pleasant surprise by keeping an OPS above .900 while seeing time at both corner infield spots.
1. Bobby Witt Jr., SS
The son of a 16-year major league righthander, Witt Jr. has been at the top of high school prospects list since early in his prep career due to his size, speed, power and bloodlines. Already 19 years old, Witt projects to stick at shortstop and be a middle-of-the-order hitter, and evaluators expect him to move through the Royals’ system relatively quickly.
2. Jackson Kowar, RHP
One of the Royals’ three first-round picks in 2018, Kowar is on the same path as former Florida teammate Brady Singer, making it to Double-A just two months into the 2019 season. Kowar throws his fastball for strikes, but the jewel of his arsenal is a plus changeup and he’s also gaining more confidence in his curveball.
3. Daniel Lynch, LHP
A 2018 first-round pick out of Virginia, Lynch exceeded expectations in his first pro season and was equally impressive in his first 11 starts at high Class A Myrtle Beach before being shut down as a precautionary measure due to elbow tenderness in early June. Lynch is a polished lefthander with plenty of projection in a lean, lanky frame.
4. Brady Singer, RHP
The Royals’ No. 1 prospect entering 2019, Singer is a fierce competitor with a dynamic fastball-slider combination. He needs his changeup to be more effective, however, especially against lefthanders, who are currently hitting well north of .300 against him.
5. Khalil Lee, OF
Returning to Double-A after a mid-season promotion in 2018, Lee took the lessons learned during his rough Arizona Fall League stint to improve in 2019. He’s finding ways to get the bat on the ball more consistently, driving the ball into the gaps and using his above-average speed and instincts to wreck havoc on the bases.
6. Kyle Isbel, OF
A third-round pick in 2018, Isbel’s first full season was initially interrupted by an early season hamstring injury followed later by a wrist injury. He hit well in 13 games at high Class A Wilmington before going on the injured list for the second time. When healthy, Isbel’s tools all grade out as above-average or better.
7. Kris Bubic, LHP
Bubic excelled in his first nine full-season starts, striking out more than 14 batters per nine innings at low Class A Lexington before moving up a level. He’s a strong, physical southpaw who controls his body well, and his fastball is tough to hit when he keeps it down in the zone.
8. MJ Melendez, C
Melendez has struggled with high Class A Wilmington this year, with a strikeout rate hovering around 38 percent and an inability to consistently catch up to higher velocities. Some scouts view him as a future backup catcher in the big leagues, but Melendez has been better since the beginning of June and may be poised for a stronger second half. There are few concerns about Melendez’s defense and athleticism behind the plate, especially a plus arm that has helped him throw out more than 50 percent of basestealers this season.
9. Brady McConnell, SS
After the run on pitching early in the 2018 draft, the Royals went for middle infielders in the first two rounds this year, taking Witt Jr. and then McConnell, a draft-eligible sophomore who had an up-and-down career at Florida. Whether McConnell sticks are shortstop remains to be seen, but early returns on his hitting have been positive.
10. Nick Pratto, 1B
The Pratto bandwagon has become less crowded as the 2017 first-round pick has struggled mightily at high Class A Wilmington, with his 35 percent strikeout rate being the most concerning statistic. While his swing is mechanically sound, scouts haven’t seen him drive the ball with much impact and worry about his lack of bat speed.
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A draft-eligible sophomore from Oklahoma State, RHP Jon Heasley lasted until the 13th round in 2018. Increased confidence in his fastball and improvement of a now-plus curveball has him shooting up the Royals’ prospect list.
Scouts who saw RHP Jonathan Bowlan in his Pioneer League pro debut questioned why the big-bodied righthander was drafted in the second round in 2018. But he came into the season in better shape this year, flashing a plus slider to go along his mid-90s fastball.
After he missed most of 2018 with a knee injury, there were questions as to how OF Michael Gigliotti would respond from surgery considering his plus-plus speed was a key element to his game. He seems to have recovered nicely, stealing 32 bases during the season’s first half while also showing good feel to hit.
A first-round pick in 2012, RHP Kyle Zimmer looked to be on his way out of baseball as recently as last year. He spent all of 2018 working on getting healthy and shortening his arm stroke, however, and his mid-90s fastball helped him make his long-awaited major league debut in 2019.
Key components to Lexington’s South Atlantic League championship team in 2018, 1B Nick Pratto, C MJ Melendez and OF Seuly Matias are three highly regarded prospects who have struggled with their promotions to high Class A Wilmington. All three players are struggling to get their batting averages above .200, but the positive spin is that they’re just 20 years old playing their home games in a pitcher-friendly ballpark.
RHP Scott Blewett impressed with a favorable 2018 Arizona Fall League assignment, but the promotion this year to the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League has exposed his weaknesses. His fastball doesn’t show a lot of life, which has led to him nibbling around the zone, and he’s struggled to find a consistent out-pitch against lefthanders.
OF Kyle Isbel missed the early part of the season with a hamstring injury and then went back on the injured list with a wrist injury. Now healthy, Isbel returned to the field on July 13.
LHP Daniel Lynch was shut down in early June with minor arm soreness, although the move was apparently more precautionary than anything else and shouldn’t be considered serious.
After a strong spring training, RHP Yefri Del Rosario has yet to pitch during the 2019 regular season due to an undisclosed injury.
RHP Carlos Hernandez suffered a broken rib in spring training that kept him off the mound until a mid-June rehab assignment in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
OF Seuly Matias was trying to play through a hand injury before an X-ray revealed a bone chip, placing him on the injured list on June 13.
RHP Nolan Watson was finally showing progress with a strong spring training four years after being a first-round draft pick, but he had to undergo Tommy John surgery after just one start with high Class A Wilmington.
SS/2B Nicky Lopez continued to defy expectations for an undersized middle infielder, making it to the big leagues in only his third full season. He’s played mostly at second base for the Royals, allowing super-utilityman Whit Merrifield to move around the diamond as needed.