Kansas City Royals 2021 MLB Prospects Chat
Our new Royals Top 10 is here, which means it's time to chat the state of their farm system.
Bill Mitchell: Let's talk Kansas City Royals prospects. This is my fourth year covering this organization, and the system has gotten stronger and deeper every year. It's an intriguing system to follow. There are already a lot of questions in the queue, so let's get rolling.
- Comparing only their pitching prospects, where do the Royals rank among all MLB teams? Which pitching prospects outside of the Top 30 do you think might move up fast?
Bill Mitchell: Hi Jim, the first part of your question would need some digging into the other 29 prospect lists. But off the top of my head I would say that the Royals would rank in the top ten in a pitching-only organizational ranking. As for the second part of your question, there are at least a dozen very interesting arms that are candidates for the back end of the top 30 and beyond. I'll talk about one that I was eager to see in instructional league and he didn't disappoint. John McMillon was an undrafted senior from Texas Tech, who in a normal year would have probably gone in rounds 6-10. He's got a big, big fastball that touched 100 this fall, sitting 95-97. What kept him from getting drafted was the command and control issues he had in college. I'm eager to see what the Royals pitching development program can do for him, and he was already impressing scouts in instructs. He's also got a potential plus slider when he commands it better. It's a max effort delivery and he's a reliever all the way. Certainly one to keep on the radar.
Jacob (Wilmington, NC):
- Any word from the alt site on Jeison Guzman?
Bill Mitchell: Jacob from Wilmington - I'm assuming you follow the High-A team there and hopefully you will get to see some minor leagues games next summer. Guzman was a switch-hitter as an amateur but started hitting lefthanded only when he joined the Royals organization. The news from the alternate site this summer is that Guzman is giving switch-hitting another try and will continue it into spring training. He still needs to improve his pitch selection and get a little more pop in his bat to reach his ceiling. You'll be able to read more about Jeison when you get your Prospect Handbook early next year.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Getting up in age Jake Kalish has bounced about in the high minors the last few years - does he get a 'cup of coffee' or more with the major league Royals in 2021?
Bill Mitchell: Karl, thanks for checking in with us. Jake Kalish is still on the reliever depth chart, thanks to good velocity from the left side. He's already 29 and spent most of the 2019 season at Triple-A, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see him get a chance with the big league team in 2021.
- Thanks for the chat. What are your thoughts on the Royals giving promotions to Singer/Bubic over Lynch/Kowar? And now with Lacy added, what level do you think each of these pitchers will start at in 2021? (assuming we have a normal year)
Bill Mitchell: Zak, I don't have a definitive answer for the reasons behind the promotions of Singer and Bubic. I've heard that Mike Matheny liked the way Bubic pitched in the spring, especially with his demeanor on the mound and how well he commanded his secondary pitches. Kowar needed to continue working on his curveball during the summer, which he did, and one of the goals for Lynch was to stay healthy, which he did. I could see both Kowar and Lynch making it to KC in 2021.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Speedster Michael Gigliotti was really good at Lexington, but fizzled a bit when promoted - does he, nevertheless, make your top 30 KC prospect list?
Bill Mitchell: Gigliotti was traded to Tampa Bay in September for the rights to keep Rule 5 pick Stephen Woods Jr, so no Royals top 30 for him.
- Beyond Asa Lacy, what were reports on 2020 draft picks or NDFA that grabbed your attention? Did any of those players get on the field after they signed with KC?
Bill Mitchell: Dave, I will stay on the NDFA trail since I talked previously about John McMillon. Another pitcher who impressed scouts in instructs was WAshington State southpaw AJ Block. He was sitting 91-95 with three secondary pitches that could all be average offerings with more consistency. As for the other draft picks, Nick Loftin was in the instructional league program in KC but had a minor injury towards the end that kept him from later playing in Arizona. 2nd round pick Ben Hernandez was in AZ; none of the scouts that I talked with saw him in a game but internal reports on him are good. Tyler Gentry, Christian Chamberlain and Will Klein all played in AZ, with good comments from scouts on all three of them.
- Great list bill! Is it necessarily a knock of Lacy being behind Kowar? Or just praise of kowar? Also, I know the Royals took Nick Loftin with their competitive balance A round pick this past year. Does that mean they will have a competitive balance round b pick this year? I thought I heard that Competitive balance a and b picks alternate each year meaning the royals would have a comp round b this year. Anyways awesome list and looking forward to future work you and BA do!!
Bill Mitchell: Logan, thanks for the compliments. Lacy was ahead of Kowar, so I'm guessing you meant to ask whether it was a knock for him to be behind Lynch. No, it was very close and I originally had Lacy at #2. But Lynch has more of a track record behind him and his stuff ticked up this summer. We really could have ranked them 2-A and 2-B. That's going to be a nice pair of lefties in the Royals rotation in a couple of years. As for the competitive balance picks, I'm not as tuned in on the rules on those so I can't give you the answer on that one.
- MJ Melendez was getting some hype after a stellar 2018 season, but then he had a tough 2019 and a lost 2020 season. Any new reports on him?
Bill Mitchell: Melendez, like the other Wilmington hitters who struggled mightily in 2019, headed to Arizona right after that season to work with the mostly new hitting development coaches. He continued working on those swing and approach changes during the summer and showed progress, especially focusing on reducing the swing-and-miss and cutting down on chasing pitches out of the zone. The defense is still solid, so that counts for a lot. A likely Double-A assignment will be a good test for Melendez in 2021.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Of the pitchers moving from short season teams to full season minors (Lexington? Wilmington? Georgetown ? - just kidding) who are your favorites?
Bill Mitchell: Karl, keep an eye out on both Alec Marsh and Noah Murdock. Both had jumps in velo this summer and fast risers in this system. Another name is Anthony Veneziano, a big, strong lefty with a mid-90s fastball. While Grant Grambrell struggled in his pro debut at Idaho Falls in 2019, I got multiple positive reports on how well he was pitching in instructional league.
- What are a few names of players who might have been under the radar in 2019 that might be poised for breakouts in 2021?
Bill Mitchell: Dave, I just mentioned Alec Marsh in the previous question, but since I live in Tempe and watched him a lot when he was a Sun Devil I'll talk a little more in depth on him. Marsh could be top ten in this system at this time next year if he continues to progress. In addition to the fastball velocity, he also improved the separation of his two breaking balls so that they are now distinct pitches. Other names to watch for breakouts include Wilmin Candelario, Will Klein and Sebastian Rivero.
- How good is Bobby Witt Jr? Is he a potential future face of the Royals? I noticed the comp to Tulo. Thanks for your time!
Bill Mitchell: Jonathan, I just can't put a "potential face of the franchise" tag on someone as young as Witt, especially considering he has not yet played a game above rookie ball. But the reports I got from the Royals alternate training site are that he had a fantastic summer and especially gained from facing pitching much more advanced than he would have gone up against in a regular minor league system. He's so athletic that you could put him at just about any position on the field and he could handle it. He's going to be fun to watch next year.
- What's your scouting report on Angel Zerpa?
Bill Mitchell: Jim, while Zerpa was on my radar I was still not prepared when the Royals added him to the 40-man roster and I had to scramble a bit to get more info on him. He's a pitchability lefthander with plus command and a fastball up to 94. There's not much projection in his body so he'll have to continue to carefully spot his pitches. It's a lower arm slot so he gives hitters a different look.
- With the Royal Top 10 decidedly on the younger age side, which prospects in their Top 30 or so are likely to make their 2021 MLB debut?
Bill Mitchell: Mike from Honolulu, aloha! I previously mentioned that Lynch and Kowar are likely to make it to Kansas City at some point in 2021. As for anyone else in the top 30, there are a handful of pitchers who have already been there but still qualified for our list. I'm not sure anyone else makes a debut in 2021, although Kyle Isbel is a possibility for a late season callup. Maybe Lucius Fox if there's a need for speed and someone to play a super utility role, but his bat needs to come around.
Bill B (Glen Allen, VA):
- Thanks for taking our questions. Bubic finished strongly in his last few starts. Given his college pedigree and success in the low minors - coupled with pretty good performance after jumping from A ball - do you consider him a sleeper to win 12, have a 3.50 or less era, and strike out a batter or inning either this coming season or next? He seems on a great trajectory not to have him be a #3 or better on the KC staff over the next few years.
Bill Mitchell: Bill B, the numbers you gave are certainly in the realm of possibility for Bubic, more likely another season or two down the road. I don't think he profiles as higher than a #4 starter and there is a lot of pitching depth ahead of him in the organization. But he's going to have a nice MLB career, regardless of whether he's a #3, #4 or #5 starter or pitching out of the bullpen.
- What gives Dan Lynch the edge over Asa Lacy? Do you expect them to flip flop at some point or is Lynch really going to be the better pitcher?
Bill Mitchell: Ryan, you probably already saw my answer to a similar question earlier in the chat where I called them 2-A and 2-B. Which of the two will be the better pitcher is to be determined. It's a nice problem for the Royals to have.
- Khalil Lee has always had a tantalizing set of tools. If you took away his hit tool you'd think he's a top 20 prospect in all of baseball. Is there hope within the Royals organization that his hit tool will ever catch up to everything else? Is it reasonable to say that even as a .260 hitter Lee would be quite valuable and have a chance at being a 20/20 guy?
Bill Mitchell: We've got three questions in a row about the ultra-athletic Khalil Lee. The key for Lee is to continue to work on cutting down on the swing-and-miss and he made strides this summer. He's been young for every level at which he's played since being drafted in 2016, so a full year in Triple-A would be beneficial in 2021. Let's look at him again a year from now after he gets that year of seasoning at the top level of the minor leagues.
- Which recent (2018-now) DSL prospects have been generating the most buzz aside from Candelario? What about Heribert Garcia, Olivber Moreno, Diego Maican, Felix Familia, Maikel Garcia, etc.?
Bill Mitchell: Bruce from Pennsylvania (my home state), Instead of the names you mentioned I'll throw another one at you --- Samuel Valerio. He was the talk of Royals instructional league. That'll happen when someone consistently gets his fastball into triple digits, reportedly even touching 102. His secondary pitches are still very much a work-in-progress, but that fastball is electric.
- Don't you think that Kowar's FB velocity is a little misleading with him having such below average extension on the pitch? The perceived velocity is much lower than what comes up on the radar gun in my looks. I'm with you on the CH being by far his best pitch, but I just wonder if he has enough complimenting it in the arsenal to be a #3 SP. My main question is do you see some chance of him ending up in a high leverage bullpen role, especially if the FB command doesn't quite come around?
Bill Mitchell: Travis, thanks for your insightful question. What I'll address is whether he will have a useful pitch other than the fastball and slider. The reports that I got from his work in the alternate training site is that he improved his curveball enough to make it a valuable weapon as his third pitch. Of course, scouts from other orgs couldn't watch him this summer, but a Royals pitching coach who I trust to give me good reports said that it's improved from being a below-average pitch to now be at least average or a tick above. If he can consistently throw the breaking ball for strikes then it will help make the fastball/changeup combo more effective.
- How far off the list was Austin Cox? Anything new to update on him since last spring?
Bill Mitchell: Adam, thanks for asking about Cox. He was at the back of the top ten last year, and moved just outside that range more because of new talent coming into the organization. Cox had a good summer at the alternate training site, pitching to more advanced hitters and getting more competitive in the zone. He also spent a lot of time on improving the changeup and getting more comfortable with it.
- I’ve heard multiple outlets including BA that raved about Pena coming into the year. The write up seemed more mute this year pointing out swing and miss concerns from instructs this year. What type of upside are do you feel Pena has now that you’ve had more chance to evaluate him? Also can you elaborate how his power looked at instructs?
Bill Mitchell: Dan, Pena is still highly regarded in the organization but is young and has not yet played an official game so we went a little more conservative on the tool grades this year. He spent the early part of the fall in Kansas City so scouts didn't get to see him there, and by the time he got to Arizona many of the talent evaluators assigned to follow the Royals had already finished their work. I had a chance to see him one time but it wasn't a good look because a very strong wind was blowing in which was making it tough on all hitters during that game. I'm eager to finally see him in the Arizona League next year, assuming we have something close to a normal minor league season.
- The Royals seem to hold the view that it is not just the quality of their top starting pitching prospects, but it is their pitching prospect depth that is extraordinary. Is that accurate, and do other teams' scouts agree?
Bill Mitchell: Jim, you just stated exactly what I've been saying since starting my deep dive into the Royals system this fall. There are going to be a lot of interesting pitchers who are not going to make the top 30 in the Prospect Handbook. We will have to make some painful cuts at final editing. Speaking of which, be sure to order your Prospect Handbook. You can pre-order it now on the BA site.
- Is Nick Loftin closer to the majors than people realize? He seems to have the profile of a quick yet unspectacular riser.
Bill Mitchell: Ryan, I may steal that phrase from you in talking about Loftin --- "quick yet unspectacular riser." I like that. As I said in his report, he's going to consistently play above his tools. One esteemed scout that I've known and trusted for quite a few years put a Kevin Newman comp on him, but with a little more power.
Rich zink (Baltimore):
- Can Daniel Lynch be a number 1 starter?
Bill Mitchell: Number 1 starter is a lofty projection to put on any pitcher because there aren't many true number 1 aces in the game, but Lynch has the pitch mix to get at least get close to that ranking, especially now that he's improved the changeup.
Keegan (Broken Bow, NE):
- If the Royals move Mondesi to second to make room for Bobby Witt, what do they do with Nicky Lopez? Trade him? Use him as a pinch runner? It doesn't seem like an easy answer.
Bill Mitchell: Keegan, that's a problem that the Royals will be glad to deal with when Witt gets there. Witt could also easily handle third base, but regardless Lopez won't be blocking the prospects moving up from their system. I like Lopez, but by then he may fit better as a backup utility infielder.
Matt Damon (Kansas City):
- How far outside the top 10 was Nick Pratto? Do the Royals still think he can improve his discipline at the plate?
Bill Mitchell: Matt, thanks for asking about Pratto. I'm surprised there haven't been more questions about him. Nick got some consideration for the top ten but will instead be just outside of it. He reportedly worked extremely hard during the quarantine period and then continued into with his time at the alternate training site and the fall instructs at Kauffman Stadium. Like I mentioned about Melendez earlier, Pratto went to work the fall after his difficult 2019 season and continued those swing adjustments this summer. The key was developing a more efficient bat path to better work with his body and hands, and he cut down significantly on his strikeouts and made harder contact. The true test will be next season, likely at Double-A, when he's facing pitchers from other organizations. All eyes will be on him to see if the hard work and perseverance has paid off.
- What is the plan for Royals’ rebuild? When they were last competitive, they had a core of position players developed by the organization or acquired via trade (Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas, Gordon, etc.). They seem to now have a lot of promising arms, but appear to lack potential impact position players (other than Witt Jr. and potentially Peña). With the Royals seemingly unwilling to spend big in free agency, how do they intend to find impact position players? Also, with more analytically inclined teams showing that it might be easier to develop pitching prospects compared to hitters (for example, due to advances in pitch design), have the Royals erred by not trying to draft and develop more hitters with higher picks in the draft?
Bill Mitchell: Chamaco, thanks for your well thought out question. Building a depth of pitching in your system is never a bad idea, and the excess can always be used in trades for hitters if that becomes the need at the big league level. The revamping of their minor league hitting development staff is a sign that the Royals know that developing hitters is just as important. Have they followed the right strategy for their rebuild? I don't know that we will have that answer for another few years, but the fact that their system has improved so much in the last three years is a very positive sign.
- Do you expect a rebound from Brady McConnell? Haven’t heard much about him since his well documented personal struggles.
Bill Mitchell: McConnell had another injury this fall and didn't get much action at instructional league. He needs to stay on the field before the Royals know what they have with him. The only information I can pass on about McConnell is that he's now listed as a center fielder. Check back on him next spring.
- Who has the most intriguing background of the Royals' prospects? The best "makeup?"
Bill Mitchell: Probably the most intriguing background is from young outfield prospect Darryl Collins, who is from The Netherlands. He's a very athletic, strong-built teenager with some bat to ball skills, and is a candidate for the back of the top 30. As far as best makeup, I've got to go with Brewer Hicklen. He gets an 80 grade from sources both inside and outside the Royals organization. He's a born leader.
- Any word on the Royals farm set up? Do you expect them back in Wilmington at the Hi-A level?
Bill Mitchell: Mike, I understand that the final makeup of the minor league system is supposed to be announced any day now. I believe that the Carolina League is supposed to remain a High-A league, while the Cal and Florida leagues move to Low-A. But it's mostly rumor and conjecture so far. BA editor JJ Cooper is the definitive source for the impending minor league reorganization, so follow him on Twitter (@jjcoop36) and read his stuff on the website. And I DO mean Definitive, with a capital D!
- Who out the Royals Top 10 are you particularly excited about? Why?
Bill Mitchell: I can't wait to see Ben Hernandez next year, assuming that he's going to be in the Arizona League or at the very least starting the year in extended spring training. I saw him several times last summer in high showcases, and am intrigued in his fastball/changeup combo.
- Hi Bill! What kind of slash line do you see Kyle Isbel producing in the future? Can he become a plus hitter? Thanks for taking questions and for your great work!
Bill Mitchell: JP, I will pull a few numbers out of the air and say that Isbel in a good season will hit for a slash line of .280/.350/.440, play above-average defense in center field, and steal 20 bases. Let's compare projections --- send me your educated guess on Twitter to @billazbbphotog. As for whether he can be a plus hitter, we put a 55 grade on his hitting so it's not a big reach to say he could turn that into a 60.
Jonathan (Syracuse, NY):
- Have you heard any recent rumblings re: tool grade changes or developmental progress for Maikel Garcia?
Bill Mitchell: Scouts covering the backfields of Arizona have always kind of liked Garcia, a young shortstop from Venezuela, but he needs to add strength before we get too excited about him. He has good mechanics in the infield, an above-average defender with an average arm, and has the ability to handle any infield position. Perhaps he's a future utility infielder if the bat develops with more strength.
- Any thoughts on Yefri Del Rosario or Lucius Fox? Those guys have pretty intriguing skillsets but don’t seem to be top flight prospects.
Bill Mitchell: I briefly mentioned Fox earlier as a possibility to get some MLB time this next year. He's got some tantalizing tools, especially his plus-plus speed and plus defense at shortstop, but the bat just hasn't developed. He lacks the strength to impact the baseball and doesn't have a good routine at the plate. As for Del Rosario, he remains a bit of a mystery since he missed all of 2019 to injury and then had to spend the entire summer in the Dominican Republic because of the pandemic. He's grown stronger in each of the last two years and has shown good stuff in glimpses that scouts got in early spring training sessions. He was not added to the 40-man roster meaning that he's eligible for the Rule 5 draft, but it might be hard for a team to take him since very few scout eyes have seen him for over two years.
- Who has more upside and who more reliever risk, Carlos Hernandez or Jackson Kowar?
Bill Mitchell: Hunter, considering we rank Kowar higher it's easy to say that he has more upside. While Hernandez will continue developing as a starter, there may not be room for him in the big league rotation. I've always been intrigued when I think about him being able to just let go with his 100 mph fastball out of the bullpen, and I really think that's Hernandez's likely role. Carlos Hernandez and Josh Staumont both coming out of the KC pen with premium velocity --- that will be interesting.
- Hey Bill, can you explain the exclusion of Chase Vallot from the top 10?
Bill Mitchell: Shauncore, I look forward every year for your question about Chase Vallot's prospect status. But I think this will be our last time, since Vallot is now a free agent and no longer in the Royals organization. Unless he winds up in the other organization that I cover, I will miss our annual chat about Vallot. Keep in touch.
Franky (Covid basement):
- Do you see Staumont closing this year??
Bill Mitchell: Hi Franky, hope you get out of that COVID basement soon (same as I wish for all of us!). Not a prospect question since Staumont no longer qualifies for the list, but I'm always glad to talk about Josh since I never gave up hope that he would turn into a useful big league reliever. He had a nice year in KC in our COVID-shortened season. I've been focusing on the minor leaguers so I don't know who is the front-runner for the closer role. Jesse Hahn may get a chance at the job. Staumont is likely to see some high-leverage innings. Or it may be some veteran that they pick up in the off-season with the hopes of spinning him off to another team for a prospect or two (see Rosenthal, Trevor).
Bill B (Glen allen, VA):
- 3 years from now... prefer KC starting rotation or DET starting rotation?
Bill Mitchell: Bill B, that's a good question. I'm much more familiar with the Royals potential rotation, but I follow the other orgs enough to know that the Mize/Manning/Skubal triumvirate could be pretty effective. The Tigers guys have more of a head start in getting to the big leagues over the Royals top two, so maybe they are more effective in three years but with the Lynch/Lacy/Singer/Bubic/Kowar group coming on strong. It could be a photo finish.
- If Witt and Loftin make it on the Royals starting roster eventually, does Loftin's 40 arm make him a secondbaseman and Witt the SS? Or do either of them end up at different positions?
Bill Mitchell: That could be a possibility with Witt at SS and Loftin at 2B, but don't forget that Mondesi will still be around then. Witt could also wind up at 3B with Mondesi at SS and Loftin at 2B. Or Mondesi at 2B and Witt at SS. Lots of possibilities, as well as future draft picks that we don't yet know about. Note that in my report on Loftin I mentioned that he's athletic enough to move around the diamond in the same way the Royals have used Whit Merrifield, so he could be wind up taking on that role.
- How many MLB starts do Carlos Hernandez, Jackson Kowar, and Daniel Lynch each make in 2021? Do any of them get added to the regular rotation (say, in 2H 2021)?
Bill Mitchell: I'm betting on Lynch getting into the rotation sooner rather than later, perhaps not out of spring training but before the second half of the season. Depending on needs, Kowar might not get there until later in the year. As I answered in a recent question Hernandez could instead wind up as a power reliever in the bullpen, but keep in mind that other than his five games in KC he still has not pitched above Class A ball. He would certainly benefit from time in either Double-A or Triple-A.
Bill Mitchell: We've been at it for almost three hours, so it's time to close the book on our annual Royals chat. I've answered all questions except for a few duplicates, and I really appreciate the outstanding inquiries from our loyal readers. If you have more questions, you may reach me on Twitter @billazbbphotog. Don't forget to pre-order your Baseball America Prospect Handbook to read 30 reports from all 30 organizations plus bonus content this year. Thanks again, and please stay healthy and sane.