Kansas City Royals 2020 Top 10 MLB Prospects Chat
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Bill Mitchell: It's time to start our annual Royals prospect chat. This is my third year in covering this organization, and I've seen the system improve significantly during that time. Plenty of questions already in the queue, so let's get it started.
Drew (Grove, Oklahoma):
- What happened to all the hitting prospects from last year? What's going on with hitting development in the Royals system?
Bill Mitchell: Yes, Drew, it was a rough year for hitting prospects in the Royals organization, especially those at High-A Wilmington. The Royals have revamped their minor league hitting staff, including bringing in some highly regarded hitting coordinators from other organizations. While meandering around the complex in Surprise in October, I watched a lot of their young hitters working out with the staff. It'll be interesting to see what progress is made in 2020.
- Who are some under the radar guys we should be watching for this year?
Bill Mitchell: There are a couple of intriguing pitchers that will likely be at Wilmington in 2020 in Zach Haake and Jon Heasley. Both right-handers took steps forward during their season in Lexington. They're both in the top 30 so you'll be able to read about them when you get your copy of the BA Prospect Handbook. Right-hander Noah Murdock (7th round pick from Virginia) had a strong debut at rookie-level Burlington and will likely open the season in the Lexington rotation. Catcher Omar Hernandez played all of his first pro year in the Arizona League at age 17 and was a favorite of manager Tony Pena Jr.; he's already a plus defender and just needs to improve his hitting to move up prospect lists.
Drew (Grove, Oklahoma):
- As a season ticket holder for NWA, who can I expect to be in the early season rotation?
Bill Mitchell: Drew, you are going to enjoy watching the pitchers passing through Northwest Arkansas this season. Expect Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, Brady Singer and Daniel Tillo to make up the biggest part of your opening day roster, with Jonathan Bowlan, Austin Cox and Kris Bubic getting there later in the season. Carlos Hernandez was impressive in instructional league after missing part of 2019 to injury, so look for him to make it to NWA at some point either in the rotation or as a power arm in the bullpen.
Sean (Virginia Beach):
- Given the depth of the Royals prospect pool. How far are we into this reboot?
Bill Mitchell: Sean, considering how the system looked when I first took over the Royals top 30 report, they've made great strides in improving the system. The pitching development has especially been impressive. If the same type of improvement can be made with the hitting prospects, the system will take another jump forward this next year.
Jirschele Fan (Wisconsin):
- I know Bubba Starling is not a prospect anymore, but does he have a chance to live up to his potential?? What do you think his floor could be this year. Thanks for the chat!!
Bill Mitchell: Bubba now has enough big league time so that he no longer qualifies for the prospect list, but it's been a number of years since he showed up in their top 30. He is what he is at this point, with a 5th outfielder ceiling.
Jacob (Wilmington, NC):
- Odd move for the Royals to add Jeison Guzman to the 40 man? Doubt he would have been selected in the Rule 5 Draft or been able to stick in the majors.
Bill Mitchell: Jacob, thanks for the question. Guzman took a big jump forward this year and regained a spot in the organization top 30. He's a plus defender at shortstop with plenty of development with the bat ahead of him. His defense would have made him easier to hide on a big league roster had he been taken in the Rule 5 draft, but the lack of regular at-bats would likely have hindered his development. He got stronger in 2020 but still is too much of a free swinger.
John (Cham-bana Illinois):
- Does Lynch have front of the rotation potential or is he more of mid-rotation type?
Bill Mitchell: John, number one starters are a rare commodity. Lynch has a good future ahead of him, ,but he projects as a solid number three starter. That's still a good major league asset.
- Does Tyler Zuber land within the top 30?
Bill Mitchell: Chad, thanks for asking about Zuber because I was hoping we could chat about him today. The Arkansas State product had an outstanding season out of the bullpen for both Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas. He's a short right-hander with a big fastball in the mid-90s touching as high as 97 with high spin rates, and with a couple of average to above-average breaking balls. When everything is finalized he probably falls just outside the top 30 but ranking high on the reliever depth chart. He'll be 25 by mid-season so it wouldn't surprise me to see Zuber as a bullpen option in KC before too long.
- Given that Khalil Lee will be one of the youngest prospects in AAA in 2020, if he begins to elevate the ball more and shows improved power does that significantly change his prospect profile? If the bat improves (big if maybe), the tools/age for level seem to say top 100 prospect, no?
Bill Mitchell: There are a lot of Khalil Lee questions in the queue, so I'll bundle my answers here. As the report on him indicates, Lee has been young for every level throughout his career. He still has strong support from most of the scouts that we've talked to about him, but there are adjustments to be made in his approach at the plate to cut down on the strikeouts and to tap into his raw power. Scouts commented that he needs to be more aggressive at the plate and that his swing is a bit stiff. Lee controls the zone and shows good pitch recognition, so the foundation is there to improve. He was part of the group of hitters working out with the new hitting staff at the Surprise complex in October.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Of the pitchers Lexington will have this coming season from the short season leagues - which are your favorites?
Bill Mitchell: Karl, that's a good question. As I started listing the starting pitchers that could break camp with the Lexington team, I came up with an eight-man rotation. Alec Marsh is the one with whom I'm most familiar from his collegiate career at Arizona State, and he had a strong pro debut at Idaho Falls. Oregon State RHP Grant Gambrell struggled in his pro debut as he was making some adjustments to his fastball, using a two-seamer for the first time, but he's got a power arm with a fastball into the mid-90s. I mentioned Noah Murdock in a previous question. Yohanse Morel was young for full-season ball last year so I expect that he'll return to Lexington in 2020.
- Kris Bubec seems doesn't seem to be as highly regarded as Kowar and Singer. What is he missing that the others have? Seems like more strikeouts and a higher K/BB ratio. What am I missing?
Bill Mitchell: Woody, the 2019 season was an outstanding one for Bubic, including him getting to pitch in the Futures Game. He's a major league pitcher in the making. What puts Bubic behind the pitchers ahead of him on the list is his higher maintenance delivery that introduces a little more reliever risk (although his fastball would likely tick up in a bullpen role). It was also noted by observers that he got a lot of strikeouts on pitches out of the zone, an indicator that his strikeout totals could go down when he faces more advanced hitters.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Thinking Idaho Fall's shortstop Clay Dungan was a candidate for the top 30? A valid thought?
Bill Mitchell: Dungan was the Royals 9th round pick from Indiana State, more of an affordable senior sign. He had an outstanding season at advanced-rookie Idaho Falls, although at 23 he was old for the level. With that said, the Royals were very pleased with how Dungan performed at instructional league, especially the way he handled shortstop. He's likely more of an organizational depth piece, but perhaps there's a future utility infielder in the making.
- Thanks for making time to chat. I really appreciate it. I know he’s not a prospect and I know is 2019 was terrible but do you think Ryan Ohearn can be a second division regular at 1b? Or is he more of an up and down type?
Bill Mitchell: Ben, my deep dive into the system only covers eligible prospects although I'm familiar with O'Hearn dating back to his pro debut in the Pioneer League. The last time he showed up on a prospect list he was at best a potential second division regular, but he has not yet shown an ability to hit big league southpaws.
- How close was Jonathan Bowlan to the top 10? Does he project as a bottom of the rotation starter?
Bill Mitchell: Zak, when you receive your Prospect Handbook you will see that Bowlan, who missed the top 30 altogether in his draft year, will rank just outside the top ten. A big-bodied righthander, Bowlan got himself into really good shape in the off-season and put together a very impressive year split between Lexington and Wilmington. What stands out most about Bowlan is his plus command to go with a heavy mid-90s fastball.
Warren (New London):
- What happened to MJ Melendez this year? I was quite impressed with him when I saw him in August 2018. Catcher development is often nonlinear, but you don't usually see a parabola.
Bill Mitchell: Warren, it was a tough year for the trio of young hitters at Wilmington (Pratto and Matias, in addition to Melendez), and it's likely that they all return there to start the 2020 season. Scouts have backed off somewhat on Melendez, not seeing that he has a good plan at the plate and that he needs to use all fields. Obviously, a prospect striking out in over 40 percent is never a positive indicator of future success, but let's see what adjustments he can make next year.
- He signed late, he's been hurt, but he has pretty tantalizing stuff. What should we expect out of Carlos Hernandez moving forward?
Bill Mitchell: Jake, I got to see a lot of Hernandez during instructional league as he was there making up for time lost to a rib injury as well as showing that he was worthy of a 40-man roster spot. He was added to the roster, otherwise he would have been a likely candidate to be grabbed in the Rule 5 draft. He's got an electric fastball that touched up to 101 during instructs with more velocity angle than movement. He needs to improve his secondary pitches and his command to stay in the rotation long-term. With the depth of starting pitching in the system, I'm betting that Hernandez becomes a power arm at the back end of the bullpen. He could thrive in that role, but for now there's plenty of development ahead for Hernandez.
John (New Jersey):
- Are you concerned about the Royals ability to develop hitters with swing and miss tendencies and how that will affect Brady McConnell?
Bill Mitchell: Hi John, I've talked earlier about changes the Royals made to the minor league hitting staff, so instead let's talk about Brady McConnell. He was a tough one to get a handle on since injuries affected a good chunk of his Pioneer League debut and kept him off the field during instructional league. He's interesting because of the plus raw power and the plus speed, with a possible future role of a super-utility type moving around the field similar to how the Royals have used Witt Merrifield. We'll have a better idea on what type of hitter McConnell can be after he gets through a healthy spring training and likely breaks camp with the Lexington team.
Shauncore (Kansas City):
- How close was Chase Vallot to making the top 10? I have him fifth in my rankings.
Bill Mitchell: Shauncore, I believe we covered this in last year's chat. Vallot batted .190 at Lexington, where he had played three years prior, and struck out in nearly 50 percent of his at-bats. His status as a prospect is now a distant memory.
Juan peguero (Rep dom):
- Wilmin candelario is near????
Bill Mitchell: Juan, thanks for asking about Candelario who made it to the states in the fall for the Royals instructional league camp. The switch-hitting infielder played all of the 2019 season in the DSL at 17, posting a solid .902 OPS, and will most likely be in the Arizona League in 2020. He's not yet a top 30 prospect, but one to keep an eye on.
- Do you think Erick Pena has a chance to be one of the elite players from this years J2 class?
Bill Mitchell: Josh, there are a lot of positive reports on Erick Pena. He could turn into a very special talent, but keep in mind that he's still just 16 and has yet to play in an official professional game.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Looks like number 4 is Kyle Isbel - if he hadn't torn up the Arizona League would this have changed his top 10 rating?
Bill Mitchell: Karl, we did not consider Isbel's performance in the Arizona League when he was rehabbing from the two injuries that hit him in 2019. He also performed well in the Arizona Fall League, but regardless Isbel would have ranked in the middle of the Royals top ten based on his tools and ability to hit.
Trevor T (Kansas):
- I’ve seen Brett Gardner comps in regards to Kyle Isbel, do you think that is a fair comparison for Isbel who had an impressive AFL season?
Bill Mitchell: Trevor T comes in with our second straight question on Isbel. I hadn't thought before about a Brett Gardner comp for Isbel, but the Royals would be ecstatic if he has that type of career.
Dwight (Kansas City):
- Between Gutierrez and Rivera who do you see with best chance of settling in at 3rd base in KC?
Bill Mitchell: Dwight, the answer is definitely Kelvin Gutierrez over Emmanuel Rivera. If Gutierrez can tap into his raw power and cut down on the swing-and-miss, he's a starting third baseman as a plus defender with a plus-plus arm.
- Is there any hope left for Sebastian Rivero to be a future major leagues or is he a non-prospect at this point?
Bill Mitchell: Nate, it was a tough year for Rivero at Wilmington, with an unsightly .548 OPS. The kid can still catch and he's got outstanding makeup, so we won't give up on him yet, but he's now behind other catchers on the system depth chart.
- What’s up with Yefri Del Rosario? He was hyped up back in 2018, and nothing in 2019. Injury?
Bill Mitchell: Dan and Dave came in with back to back questions on Del Rosario. Ranked number 11 on last year's list and coming off a strong spring training, Del Rosario missed all of the season with an injury about which we have very few details. If he's healthy in 2020, he'll head to Wilmington and missing last year will be just a small speed bump in his development.
- What is your take on Marklund, closer from Lexington? His numbers were outstanding but his pedigree is far from it.
Bill Mitchell: Dave, thanks for asking about Marklund. While I don't have a ton of info on the British Columbia native, he's got an interesting backstory and was lights out at Lexington. Undrafted after his career at Bryan College, Marklund headed down under to pitch in Australia where he caught the eye of Royals scouts. He's outside the top 30 and will turn 24 before too long into the 2020 season, but he's an interesting one to follow as he advances through the system.
Bill Mitchell: I appreciate the interest in our Royals prospect report and the great questions from our subscribers. I couldn't get to all of the questions, but I believe he covered just about every significant prospect in some level of detail (except no questions about number one prospect Bobby Witt???). Please reach out to me on Twitter @billazbbphotog if there's something that I didn't cover. Please order your Prospect Handbook if you haven't already done so. Thanks again to all, and Happy Holidays!