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Following today’s release of our new Royals Top 10, Bill Mitchell answered questions below.
Bill Mitchell: Welcome to the annual Royals prospect chat. This is the fifth year that I’ve covered their prospects, with their system having improved considerably in that time. It’s been very interesting watching their growth from one of the lower ranked systems in baseball to now one of the best.
Bill Mitchell: Before we start, I’m reminding everyone to pre-order your Prospect Handbook so that you’ll be the first in your neighborhood to get this voluminous book covering all 30 farm systems. Extra bonus for Royals fans will be having Bobby Witt Jr. on the cover!
Michael S (Rochester NY):
- How close was Michael Massey to the top 10? He seems like a prospect to watch. What are you hearing about him and does he project as an everyday MLB player, or is there a higher ceiling even than that? Thanks for the chat!
Bill Mitchell: Using Michael S. from Rochester as our opener today. Massey had a breakout season this year, jumping from outside the top 30 to a spot in the teens. The key factor was that he was finally healthy, free of the back woes that started when he was still in college. The power emerged and he had a strong season for the High-A Central champions Quad Cities. Like many of the Royals prospects that we will talk about today, the makeup is outstanding and he has a solid approach at the plate.
Kyle Weatherly (Timmonsville, South Carolina):
- Chances that Witt, Melendez, & Pratto all reach the show in 2022?
Bill Mitchell: Kyle, I’ll say there’s a very good chance that all three get to Kansas City at some point in 2022, with the odds favoring Witt and Pratto. Melendez still needs plenty of reps, so it may be better for him to get regular at-bats in Omaha rather than backing up Salvador Perez. But even then, a late season callup would still be likely. The Royals need to stabilize the first base position, so the opportunity is there for Pratto. And Witt is Witt —- his talent will get him there sooner rather than later.
Michael S (Rochester NY):
- Surprised to see Lacy at # 2 after such a mixed season. Is his stuff so good that there is no concern about his control and poor numbers last year? What are you hearing? Thanks for the chat!
Bill Mitchell: Michael, you nailed it when you said “stuff so good that there is no concern about his control and poor numbers last year.” Of course, there will continue to be concern about the walk numbers, but I talked to a lot of scouts about Lacy as I roamed around the backfields during instructional league and through the stadium concourses during Arizona Fall League. Everyone I talked to said the same thing. It’s top-of-the-rotation stuff, so give him time to iron out the control issues. The one name that came up regarding taking time to iron out the control was Robbie Ray. Teams were patient with him while he was posting high walk rates (most teams, at least), and then he goes out and gets a Cy Young Award this year. The Royals will be just as patient with Lacy.
- Hey – Thanks for the chat – Has Erick Pena shown any progress with his development? What does he need to work on? Thanks –
Bill Mitchell: Sam, thanks for asking about Erick Pena. Royals fans have been used to seeing Pena’s name on the Top 10 list for the last couple of years. With added depth in the system, it was time to pump the breaks just a little on Pena’s ranking, but he’s still highly regarded and remains in the Top 30. As the body grew stronger he developed some swing issues that put him into a downward spiral during the Arizona League season. Rather then having Pena play games during instructs, the Royals hitting development staff instead focused on having him refine his swing in batting cage and on-field BP sessions, with positive results being reported. I go into more detail on what he fixed in the report that will show up in the Prospect Handbook. Don’t give up on Pena — he’s determined to break camp next year with the Low-A team, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him do it. He’s still got a very high ceiling.
- I’ve read some concerns about the strikeouts for both Pratto and Witt. Do you have thoughts about how that will translate in the big leagues?
Bill Mitchell: Pratto and Witt both made huge improvements in 2021 and will continue to refine their swings and approaches at the plate. How they perform in the big leagues is still TBD. There will be swing-and-miss, and they will continue to grow even once they make it to Kansas City. I can’t project what their strikeout rates will be at that next level, but the ability to make adjustments has been impressive and I think they will both figure it out.
- In your projected 2025 lineup you have Witt sliding to 3rd while Lopez stays at SS. What is your reasoning for sliding Witt to 3rd and not just replacing Lopez, and then move Lopez to being util/bench bat.
Bill Mitchell: Collin, the projected lineups four years out is a fun exercise that readers like, but since trades and free agency aren’t considered it is what I called it — a fun exercise. Witt has the athleticism and aptitude to play just about anywhere on the diamond, but for this exercise there was a hole at the hot corner so we had him fill it.
- Given that Pratto is the heir apparent at 1B and Pasquantino didn’t make you 2025 lineup, do you think he will be a trade candidate as the Royals move out of their rebuild? If so, given that you call Pasquantino the best hitter for average int he system, could this be a mistake?
Bill Mitchell: ZP, thanks for asking about Vinnie Pasquantino. It’s not a mistake calling him the best hitter for average. The analytics support it. To put it simply, the dude can hit and is going to keep hitting. See my comments above about the 2025 projected lineups. At one point I considered putting Pratto in right field, Isbel in center, and Vinnie at first base just to get all three of those Top 10 prospects on the projected lineup. Vinnie could also turn into a DH someday, but for that lineup I needed a spot for Salvy as he matures into his mid-30s. There are lots and lots of possibilities.
Austin Earl (Kansas City):
- Dylan Coleman had an insane K/9 rate in the minors, and flashed a lot of potential in his debut in the majors this year. Could he become a real back-of-the-bullpen type option for the Royals going forward?
Bill Mitchell: Austin, thanks for bringing up Dylan Coleman, who the Royals acquired as the PTBNL in the Trevor Rosenthal deal. His career had stalled in the Padres system and he really needed a change of scenery. Credit to the Royals pro scouting staff for seeing something in him. Coleman actually started to get his velo back while pitching in a semi-pro league during the pandemic. In 2021 he got back to regularly throwing in the high-90s and into triple digits, and also added some velocity to his slider. I’ll be surprised if he isn’t in the Royals bullpen on opening day and staying there the whole season. Needless to say, he’s in their Top 30.
- Can we expect a .285 30HR 25 SB type seasons from Witt Jr in his prime? For comparison the so called great but HIGHLY overrated Carlos Correa career averages are .272 20HR and basically Zero SB and with slightly above average defense…. Is Witt Jr going to be a stud?
Bill Mitchell: Brad, if it all comes together for Witt (and there’s no reason to think it won’t), that .285/30/25 line is a reasonable expectation for a good MLB season for him. He might exceed those numbers in some years … maybe. I don’t want to start comparing him to someone like Correa until he actually starts performing in the big leagues, so file away that “stud” label for now.
- Thanks for the chat! Is there hope for highly touted prospect Erick Pena?
Bill Mitchell: John, see my previous answer about Pena and the swing adjustments that he’s working on. I’ll just add that the kid’s got great makeup and determination to get better at his craft. A possible breakout candidate for 2022? Perhaps.
- What am I missing on Asa Lacy? The ERA was rough against not so great competition, but is it the K to inning ratio which suggests his stuff is better than people think?
Bill Mitchell: John, I talked about Lacy a few questions ago, but you bring up the point that he’s got unhittable stuff and gets plenty of strikeouts. One theory that came up in discussions is that his pitches have so much late movement that he sometimes loses called strikes because the calls are missed by umpires with less experience. Sure, that just sounds like an excuse and I’m not dissing umpires at the lower levels, but it’s something to think about as he gets to Double-A next year. Will he get more called strikes the higher he goes in the system?
- Is Pratto going to be a legit power hitting 1B, or is he going to be more like former Royal Hosmer, who BA and KLAW said had light tower power and was a lock for 40HR?
Bill Mitchell: Pratto’s power outburst came just this last season, so we will want to see it again before labeling him as a big-time power source. His work ethic and willingness to continually make adjustments is a favorable sign. As for comparing him to Hosmer, I’ve seen him comped to the former Royals former first baseman before. It’s too soon to tell how similar to Hosmer he becomes.
- How would you rank pitchers who have graduated the system such as K. Bubic, C. Hernandez, D. Lynch ? What is their ceiling and will they all stick as starters in MLB ?
Bill Mitchell: Keefths, none of these pitchers still qualified for the Royals current prospect list, all having graduated after being ranked highly last year. I’ll go with this order right now: Lynch, Bubic, Hernandez. This is future projection, not how they performed in 2021. Just because of the depth of pitching in the organization, I think that Hernandez winds up in the backend of the Royals bullpen.
Ken (Lakewood CA):
- Melendez led the minors in HR in 2021. At the same time he hit no lower than .285 at AA & AAA, with admirable BB to K ratio. Yet his hit rating by you is a 45? I don’t get to see him play but his stats say he is a better hitter than that? Was his 2021 performance not enough to raise his hit rating in your eyes and those of the scouts? You can say I’m surprised. But I am just a reader. Further explanation/more info please. Thanks.
Bill Mitchell: Ken, that 45 is a conservative grade because he still has work to do. While he cut the strikeout totals considerably, there’s still growth in the hit tool ahead for him. He’s always going to be a power over hit type of hitter, and will need to keep making adjustments as he faces more advanced pitching looking to expose his weaknesses. Let’s revisit this again next year, because you may be right that he’s really a 50 hitter or better.
- What is the health status of Alec Marsh, Noah Murdock, and Christian Chamberlain? All three missed significant time last year. Any other pitchers that you are particularly looking forward to seeing back in action next spring?
Bill Mitchell: Jim, thanks for bringing up the names of three very interesting pitching prospects. Marsh ranks just outside the Top 10 despite getting only six starts in 2021. His issue was more related to arm fatigue and nothing structural. Murdock had two different injuries last year, with the second one being his hamstring; I could see him eventually transitioning to a bullpen role, especially in this deep system. Chamberlain barely pitched this year but the Royals staff is still high on him, with a big fastball coming from a small frame. Two sleepers to watch for next year are a pair of lefthanders with big fastballs: Anthony Veneziano and AJ Block. Check the strikeout rates from both of those southpaws. A complete report on Veneziano can be found in the upcoming Prospect Handbook.
Ken (Lakewood CA):
- Looking at Pasquantino ranked as the #10 Prospect for KC, am I wrong to take him more serious as a potential future MLB player? Part of this is because KC has a lot of minor league talent and depth in their organization. I realize as a guy who plays 1B, much relies on his bat. Yet he has hit at every level he’s played. Plus you talk about his attitude and love for the game plus character. BB to K ration a big plus as a power hitter. Maybe he’d rank higher in some other organziations? Maybe I am rushing to judgment, but he seems to have a lot going for him – no?
Bill Mitchell: Ken, you can get excited about Pasquantino. As I said in an earlier question, the dude will hit. He would be outside the Top 10 in some systems, but I could find at least a handful of other organizations in which he’d rank highly. Yes, you are right — he has a lot going for him. The biggest caution is that he’s going to be limited to a 1B/DH role, as there’s no chance he could play elsewhere. That puts even more pressure on the bat.
- Massey and Loftin in 2021 were a terrific combination at Quad City. What are your projections for them in 2022? How close were they to the top 10? Odds of making it in big leagues?
Bill Mitchell: Dave, I talked about Massey in the first chat question and mentioned that he’ll be in the 11-20 range. To learn more about him, check this article I wrote earlier this fall — https://www.baseballamerica.com/stories/michael-massey-embraces-new-game-plan/. Loftin is just outside the Top 10. He’s another one who plays above his tools and grinds out solid at-bats, and is athletic enough to handle multiple positions. Massey and Loftin will move up to Double-A together, likely manning the middle infield every night for Northwest Arkansas.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Let’s go down deep in the minors – name a sleeper position prospect from the AZL Royals (blue or gold) or low A Columbia.
Bill Mitchell: Good question, Karl. I always like to talk about rookie ball players since that league is my summer passion. Perhaps he’s not a sleeper since he was a 3rd round pick, but Carter Jensen had a strong instructional league and has staked a claim on the Royals Top 20. A lefthanded-hitting catcher with power is a valuable commodity, thus Jensen is one to watch. I heard some lofty comps for Jensen from scouts. Like just about every catcher drafted out of high school, he has plenty of work ahead of him to improve his defensive skills behind the plate, but at just 18 he has time on his side. Just to toss one more name at you from rookie ball — outfielder Jaswel De Los Santos. He’s athletic with power and showing the makings of good plate discipline.
John (New Jersey):
- Very early but it appears Carter Jensen’s bat is the real deal. How does he look behind the plate? Do you think he stays there?
Bill Mitchell: Perfect timing with your question, John, since I just revealed Jensen’s name in the previous question. Like many young catchers with an advanced hit tool, there is always the temptation to move them out from behind the plate to allow the bat to develop faster (the Royals did it with Wil Myers many years ago). To the best of my knowledge, the Royals plan on Jensen staying behind the plate and will continue developing him there. He’s got many positive attributes, with athleticism, flexibility, strong hands and above-average arm. He just needs reps and plenty of instruction.
- How close were Daniel Vasquez and Junior Marin to top 10?
Bill Mitchell: Adam, thanks for diving into Dominican Summer League prospects for the chat. Daniel Vazquez was the Royals top international signing in 2021. Don’t put too much stock in his DSL stats, because scouts were intrigued when he made it to instructional league in October. He certainly looks the part, with good actions, soft hands and arm strength at shortstop. The hit tool is further behind, but he showed good rhythm and timing in his swing. He just needs to get a lot stronger before we know what kind of hitter he’ll become, but he already projects as a plus defender at shortstop. Vazquez will show up in the Prospect Handbook. As for Marin, he put up good numbers in the DSL but didn’t come stateside for instructs. He’s a name to file away to watch for in the Arizona League next year.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Of the pitchers not named Mozzicato, Kudrna, and Panzini who are your favorites of the guys moving from the Arizona complex to full season ball?
Bill Mitchell: Karl, do you remember the name Isaiah Henry? Toolsy outfielder with plus-plus (perhaps even 80 grade) speed, drafted by the Royals in the 14th round in 2017. The hit tool never developed, but he had attracted interest in high school as a pitcher. The Royals moved Henry to the mound this year and he’s turned into an interesting bullpen arm to watch. With a fastball up to 99 and a promising changeup, Henry got into only five rookie ball games but he fanned 10 batters in only 5.1 innings. Small sample, I realize, but he’s an intriguing under-the-radar dude. He could even be a dual role type of player — bullpen arm and occasional pinch-runner.
Nick (Castro Valley, CA):
- It’s exciting to see the 60 hit / 60 power grade on Pasquantino. Do you typically grade on a harder scale for a 1B/DH profile such as his since the hitting standard is higher?
Bill Mitchell: Nick, the 60 grade is what it is regardless of what position the player plays. Obviously, a 60 hitter at shortstop or behind the plate has more potential value than a 1B/DH, but they are all 60 hitters regardless of where they play.
John (New Jersey):
- Were you surprised that Austin Cox and Zach Haake were not protected from the Rule 5 Draft? What are the odds either gets selected whenever it happens?
Bill Mitchell: John, thanks for the question since I was closely monitoring the Royals 40-man adds prior to submitting my full list. Cox and Haake both went backwards a bit this year, and both are more likely relievers rather than starters. I gave up years ago projecting who could be taken in the Rule 5 draft, although JJ Cooper has turned himself into THE expert in the field. I could see a team taking a chance on Cox with the hopes that he’ll be healthy and get his velo back up to where it was before, and even ticking up if he’s pitching one- or two-inning stints out of the bullpen. I could say the same about Haake, but he’s had more injury issues.
Quad CIty fan (Quad City Iowa):
- Mike Massey won the MiLB Gold Glove at 2b (he also won a Gold Glove while in college) , bats left handed with good pop (21 HR & 50 XBH in 100 games), stole a dozen bases and has very good bat to ball skills. Great makeup so I’m not sure why he keeps getting passed over on these lists?
Bill Mitchell: Hey QC fan, check my response to the first question in this chat. Now that he’s healthy and put up a strong season in your city (or cities, I guess) Massey has put himself pretty far up the list.
- Is Drew Parrish in the top 30? Where does he rank among Royals pitching prospects and what is his upside?
Bill Mitchell: David, Drew Parrish, a smaller lefty from Florida State, is just outside the Top 30. Depending on how everything shakes out at the end just before the Handbook goes to the publisher, Parrish should get a mention in the 31-40 range of prospects. His 90-92 mph fastball is his best pitch, with reports on the secondary pitches being more fringy offerings. Scouts see Parrish as a bullpen arm and are waiting to see how he handles higher levels, but he’s one that the organization has said could be a surprise guy this next season.
Jimmy (Covid basement):
- Can Staumont be a closer, or do you like the young kid in the 2025 projection more??
Bill Mitchell: Jimmy, hope you are surviving well in the COVID basement. Staumont hasn’t been on prospect lists since he made the big leagues, so I haven’t been following him as closely as the current prospects. The caveat here is that I’ve always been more in favor of teams have closers by committee, but that’s just me. Regardless of who is the closer in 2025, the Royals certainly should have plenty of premium velocity arms in Staumont, Carlos Hernandez, and Dylan Coleman. Add one more name from their current prospect list in Will Klein.
- Curious how Witt’s power graded 70, yet Melendez was selected as having the best in the system with a 60?
Bill Mitchell: The grades are future projected grades. Right now I’d put Melendez as having more power, but with the idea that there may be more coming from Witt. It’s an inexact science.
John (New Jersey):
- Did you get a look at Mozzicato, Kudrna and Panzini in Instructs? What were your takeaways? Do you think they all start 2022 in Columbia or could they be held back in Arizona for Extended Spring Training?
Bill Mitchell: John, I got to see all three of those kids on two different occasions during instructs. They always pitched on the same day, always in the order of where they were drafted. They are all high school pitchers with plenty to learn, which is what instructs is all about. I liked how Mozzicato didn’t get rattled in his very first one-inning outing when another of my favorite prospects, Brayan Rocchio (Indians), took him deep. It was a nice prospect battle. The Royals plan to keep Mozzicato, Kudrna and Panzini together as they develop. The plan is for them to all go to Columbia, but I could certainly see them stay behind in extended spring training for a while in order to manage their innings this early in their careers.
- Which lower level Latin American pitching prospects should we be keeping an eye on? Samuel Valerio, perhaps? Any others?
Bill Mitchell: Jim, I am a Samuel Valerio fan, but I want to see him get healthy and stay healthy. He got into only four games in the Arizona League before being shut down. Triple digit velocity is always enticing, so I’ll be watching his progress next spring.
James Welch (North Carolina):
- How is Ben Hernandez developing as a pitcher. I remember reading he had the “best change-up” in the 2020 draft, but haven’t seen much mention of him.
Bill Mitchell: James, I was waiting for someone to ask about Hernandez. While he missed part of his debut season with arm fatigue, he finished strong with a good instructional league. He’s maintaining his hold on his mid-teens slot on the Royals prospect list and likely jumping up a position or two from last year. The changeup is still a plus pitch. The difference maker this year for Hernandez was the improvement of his curveball, which before was just kind of a ‘get it over’ pitch. He started pitching it more aggressively and going right at hitters with it.
John (New Jersey):
- I like Will Klein a lot. Do you think the Royals will develop him as a starter going forward or will they keep him in the bullpen?
Bill Mitchell: I just threw out a mention of Klein, the 2020 5th round pick from Eastern Illinois, in the question about possible Royals bullpen arms in 2025. He’s one of the big pop-up prospects this year, going from way off the list to likely making the Top 20. His fastball sits 96-97 mph and frequently touches 100. The Royals took away his slider/cutter so that he could focus on improvement of the curveball. He’s got unhittable stuff but with relatively high walk rates. I believe he’s going to be a reliever for the rest of his career, but with a chance to be a pretty good one.
- How does the royals system look now compared to 2011 or so when they had the top ranked system in all of baseball?
Bill Mitchell: Jeff, that’s a good question. I wasn’t covering the Royals org back then, although I recall it as being a very good system. I’m guessing that the 2021/2022 version could be just about as strong, but I’d have to do some serious research before answering. That would be a good question for JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36 on TWitter), as he was doing the KC report back then. I’m certain he would be glad to answer your question, as well as throwing in a few facts on military aircraft.
- Not the most exciting prospect but what are the expectations for Emmanuel Rivera next season? Will he be given another shot at the starting 3B job? If I remember correctly he has a pretty solid glove, would just need to prove himself more at the plate. Thanks
Bill Mitchell: Both Erik from Chicago and Charlie from Portland are asking about Emmanuel Rivera, who will likely return to the Top 30 after missing out for a few years. The big thing with Rivera was how much power came out in Triple-A this past year, and he also made his big league debut in 2021. The most notable number is the .306 ISO, almost double what he ever posted in a minor league season to date. It doesn’t surprise me because I saw him hit a home run in a major league spring training game that was one of the most impressive ones all spring — it got out of the ballpark very quickly. My thought at the time was that I had never seen that kind of power from Rivera, and wondered whether he would keep it up during the regular season. I’m sure he would slot in somewhere on the Royals third base depth chart if that type of useful information hadn’t been erased from all MLB websites because of the lockout, but I could see him contending for playing time there in 2022.
- Hi Bill, thanks for the chat today! I was wondering what you thought of Vinnie Pasquantino and his future in the Majors. Does he have all-star 1B level upside or is he more of just a solid bat? Where would you see him hitting in a lineup, Top 4 or 5-7?
Bill Mitchell: I’ve now been at this for over 2 1/2 hours and will need to extract my body from this office chair soon while I can still move my legs, but I want to finish with a little more info on Vinnie Pasquantino since there were so many questions about the Royals 10th ranked prospect. Vinnie’s got a major league future but more likely as a solid bat instead of an all-star caliber player. Depending on the composition of the rest of the lineup, I could see him hitting anywhere from 4-7. As to how far he’s behind Pratto in the system, the ranking says it. Pratto is a more well-rounded player, a plus defender with the ability to steal a few bases here and there. SCJH from Denver asked why Vinnie was ranked as low as 10th despite 60 grades on his hit and power — it’s a deep system and Pasquantino has his limits defensively and especially with his speed, where the 30 grade we gave him is seen by some observers as generous. But I said it before in the chat — the dude will hit.
Bill Mitchell: That’s it for today’s Royals chat. Thanks to all who participated. I didn’t get to all questions, but the ones left in the queue are topics that I covered earlier in the chat. If you have more questions, feel free to check in with me on Twitter at @billazbbphotog. And please, please, please … be sure to pre-order your Prospect Handbook from the Baseball America store so that you can get it early. It will be worth your investment. Thanks again to all. I’ll be back in this seat on Friday when I’ll be chatting about the White Sox system.