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The Royals used the 14th overall pick in the 2017 draft to select Southern California high school first baseman Pratto, nine years after taking Eric Hosmer third overall in 2008. Prep first basemen are a rare commodity in the first round, with only Josh Naylor (Marlins, 2015) and Dominic Smith (Mets, 2013) being other recent examples. Pratto first bust on the scene as part of the winning California team in the 2011 Little League World Series in which he delivered the game-winning hit against Japan. He played with Team USA's 18U national team for two summers, bringing home world championships in both 2015 and 2016. A two-way player throughout his amateur career, Pratto drew draft interest as a southpaw pitcher, and would have both pitched and hit had he honored his commitment to Southern California. Instead, he signed with the Royals for $3.45 million shortly after the draft and began his pro career in the Rookie-level Arizona League, where he ranked as that circuit's No. 9 prospect. He hit .247/.330/.414 in the AZL with four home runs, coming on strong in August when he cut down on strikeouts and put more balls in play. Pratto profiles as a middle-of-the-order hitter thanks to a low-maintenance swing, above-average bat speed and the ability to use the whole field. His loose wrists and advanced approach allow Pratto to adjust to pitches late. He's still learning how to get to his power, but he drives balls to all fields and will add strength to an already powerful frame. Pratto is already a plus defender at first with good footwork and instincts. He's not flashy but knows how to play. His above-average arm and athleticism would allow him to handle a corner outfield position, but for now he's a first baseman. Pratto is a below-average runner but with good instincts that should get him double-digit steals at least early in his career. He takes a solid attitude and demeanor to the field, maintains an even keel and is competitive by nature. Pratto has enough baseball savvy and experience for his age that he could likely handle a jump to full-season ball in 2018 with a possible assignment to low Class A Lexington. The Royals have a longer instructional league period than most other Arizona-based teams, so the extra work and experience against more advanced pitching will help Pratto make that next step. His upside is as a starting first baseman at the big league level.
After a solid first pro season in 2016, Lee skipped a level by heading off to low Class A Lexington in 2017. It was an encouraging first full season for the Royals' 2016 third-round pick, despite the lower batting average and tendency to swing and miss. Lee's high strikeout totals are less of a concern because of his advanced knowledge of the strike zone, which allowed him to walk in 12 percent of his plate appearances. He projects to be an average hitter with more power to emerge with experience and strength. There is a concern about how he sets up his hands at the plate and struggles to get his foot down, but his hands are lightning quick and give him plus bat speed and good barrel control. He has above-average raw power to all fields with a swing that helps him put the ball in the air. Lee could have also been drafted as a pitcher, so his plus arm strength is for real and will be more than enough for right field, and premium athleticism will let him handle center field. He moves well in the outfield and takes good routes. He's close to a plus runner now and will at least be above-average as he gets bigger. Lee projects as a starting outfielder capable of handling all three positions. He'll head to high Class A Wilmington in 2018.
Matias was the jewel of Kansas City's 2015 international class, signing for $2.25 million. Skipping over the Dominican Summer League, Matias made his pro debut in the Arizona League at 17 where he tied for the league lead in home runs and ranked as the league's eighth-best prospect. After an extended spring training season in which reports of his long home runs and impressive exit speeds made the rounds among scouts, Matias headed to Burlington of the Appalachian League for his second pro season. The common statement about Matias is that he passes the eye test. He's an impressive physical specimen with twitchy athleticism and raw strength. He flashes explosive power to all fields with plus bat speed and a swing plane built for carry on fly balls. While still plenty raw at the plate, Matias improved in handling breaking balls this year and didn't chase as many pitches in the dirt. He still swings at fastballs up in the zone but has shown an ability to adjust. His plus arm makes Matias a natural fit for right field, his most likely position. He's an above-average runner but may slow down a tick as he ages. While he'll still be a teenager next spring, Matias will likely break camp with low Class A Lexington, where he'll be challenged by better pitching. He's a prototypical right fielder with an explosive power bat.
Ranked as the Royals' top prospect a year ago, Staumont continued to frustrate with his combination of premium velocity and the chance for two plus pitches playing down due to inconsistent command and control. He regularly strikes out well over a batter per inning, but his 7.6 walks per nine innings indicates that he's still got plenty of work to do. The Royals' second-round pick in 2015, Staumont started the year with an aggressive assignment to Triple-A Omaha before heading back down to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in mid-July to work on using a more consistent release point. Staumont has top-of-the-rotation stuff, and he dominates hitters when he's repeating his delivery and commanding his pitches. It's very easy upper-90s velocity, a plus-plus four-seamer that touches triple digits. A power curveball is his out pitch, thrown from a high three-quarters slot at 78-82 mph with depth and 11-5 tilt; it's an above-average pitch now with the potential of being a plus offering. Rounding out his arsenal is a changeup that is developing into an average pitch as the Royals encourage him to use it more effectively. The key to Staumont's success is developing consistency of his control and not trying to be too fine with his pitches. While some observers point to a future as an eighth-inning reliever, his stuff plays up as a starter and the Royals will keep him in that role for now.
Skoglund made his major league debut in Kansas City in just his third full season since being drafted in the third round in 2014 out of Central Florida, getting into seven games in two different stints with the Royals. The bulk of the lean, lanky southpaw's season was spent with Triple-A Omaha, where he put up a 4.11 ERA in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League while fanning just over one batter per inning. Skoglund battled through a lat issue early in the season but showed no ill effects. He gets lots of leverage and good plane from his 6-foot-7 frame. An above-average 90-95 mph fastball, which he elevates with two strikes, gets good movement and plenty of swings and misses. The heater gets good four-seam ride and arm-side tail, coming in late on righthanded batters. A solid-average curveball with good shape delivered at 80 mph is his best secondary, followed by an 85 mph changeup with cut action he uses infrequently. Skoglund also mixes in an 87 mph slider that resembles a cutter, but it's still a work in progress. His stuff plays up because he commands it well. Skoglund profiles as a No. 4 starter or better and will head to spring training looking to earn a shot in the Royals' 2018 rotation.
Melendez comes from a baseball family, with his father currently the head coach at Florida International. The Royals took him in the second round, knowing that it would take an over-slot bonus to lure him away from the chance of playing college ball for his dad. After signing for $2,097,500, Melendez began his pro career in the Rookie-level Arizona League where he ranked as the 13th best prospect. Melendez brings a lot of tools and athleticism to the field, an advanced player for his age. At the plate, Melendez gets good carry off the bat with power to all fields, albeit with some swing and miss. He tends to get rotational in the batter's box with a deep barrel dip and gets his weight out in front, so improvements to his swing will help. He's an average or better runner now, which is good speed for a catcher. Melendez' calling card is his defense behind the plate. He's athletic with quick feet, good lateral mobility and good hands. Melendez is a smart game-caller and being bilingual gives him an edge in working with his pitchers. He's got at least a plus arm with sub-2.0 pop times, although some scouts put a plus-plus grade on his arm strength. He gets rid of the ball quickly and can throw from his knees, and while his arm stroke is a little long he makes up for it with arm strength and explosiveness from the crouch. Melendez projects as a first-division regular catcher at the big league level. He may be advanced enough to tag along with draftmate Pratto, heading to low Class A Lexington to start the 2018 season.
The Royals were thrilled to get Lopez with their fifth-round pick in a 2016 draft that was weak in college shortstops, and their enthusiasm for the Creighton product showed when he made it to Double-A Northwest Arkansas by the middle of his first full year. Lopez was a Carolina League all-star in his first full pro season. Lopez is an instinctive leader on the field with a high baseball IQ, a gamer with a lithe build and athleticism who will consistently play above his tools. He's a line-drive, base-hit type of hitter who takes good at-bats and gets on base with his good understanding of the strike zone and patient approach. He strokes balls gap-to-gap with a good feel for hitting, projecting as an above-average hitter but with well below-average power. He's a plus runner with good baserunning instincts. Lopez is an average defender now at both middle infield positions and could end up above-average at second. He's not flashy, but with good range and instincts Lopez gets to the ball and makes the plays. He has enough arm for shortstop and knows just how much to use to get runners out. It's at least an average arm now and projects to be above-average with added strength. Lopez has a high floor as a utility infielder but with the chance to grow into an everyday shortstop or second baseman. His lack of power does limit his ceiling, but he also knows he's not a power hitter and does a good job of getting on base and playing a small ball game. Raul A. Mondesi, the heir apparent at shortstop now that Alcides Escobar has become a free agent, has much louder tools than Lopez. But Lopez has impressive feel and reliability that could work into a utility role in the not-too-distant future. And if Mondesi stumbles against offensively, he could move into an even larger role.
After Dozier's prospect status began to dim with a subpar 2015 season at Double-A, he shortened his swing and improved his bat path to produce a strong 2016. After making his major league debut at the end of 2016, Dozier ranked as the Royals' No. 3 prospect. But 2017 turned out to be a lost season for Dozier. He was first sidelined early in the year with an oblique injury and then later missed two months with a broken hamate. Dozier rounded back into form after returning to Triple-A Omaha in 2017. He compiled a strong August in which he hit .260/.351/.560, while building off swing improvements he made the previous season. He's a fringe-average defender who played as much in the outfield in 2017 as his more natural third base. He also saw time at first base. He may project best as a bat off the bench capable of filling in at all four corner positions. Dozier headed to the Mexican Pacific League after the 2017 season to make up for lost time, but he hit just .211/.298/.368 in a month of winter ball action before coming home. With the Royals' 2018 lineup in a state of flux because of the free agency of several key regulars, Dozier has a good shot at earning at least a reserve role out of spring training.
One of two first-round picks by Kansas City in 2014 when the Florida native was one of the top high school arms in that draft class, Griffin struggled in his first two full seasons coinciding with a drop in his velocity. After finishing the 2016 season at high Class A Wilmington with a 6.23 ERA, Griffin returned the next year as a different pitcher. With an uptick in velocity and a more aggressive nature on the mound, Griffin pitched better off of his fastball, missed more bats and improved his breaking ball to post a 2.86 ERA in 10 starts back at Wilmington before moving up to Double-A Northwest Arkansas. His combined total of 15 wins was among the best in that category in the minor leagues. Griffin took more of a bulldog mentality to the mound in 2017, speeding up the game and getting better arm speed, which allowed him to make more quality pitches down in the zone. His fastball sits 88-92 mph, up a tick from before, and he located it better. His two-seamer has tail while his four-seam fastball has cut to it. He sharpened his 11-5 curveball, getting more shape to it and allowing him to be more aggressive with the pitch. Griffin uses his changeup to keep hitters off balance; it's a below-average pitch now but projects as an average or above-average offering. He sequences his pitches well and showed the ability to change speeds in and out. Griffin is credited with having good makeup and focus on the mound. After 18 starts at Double-A, Griffin may be ready to move on to Triple-A Omaha although he'll still be only 22 in the spring. He has the upside of a No. 4 starter.
Since being picked in the second round of the 2014 draft, Blewett's career has always been more about projection than production, and he continues trending in the right direction after a solid season with high Class A Wilmington at the age of 21. It took him two years to get out of low Class A, but after a rough 2015 season, Blewett bounced back in 2016 when he regained some fluidity in his delivery and his velocity ticked upward. He continued that trend in 2017 with added strength and got better at attacking hitters. Blewett's fastball sits in the 92-93 mph range, touching 96 at its best. It's a relatively straight pitch but is a heavy fastball down in the zone that gets a lot of ground balls. He challenges batters with that fastball and throws it for strikes. Blewett's 75-77 mph curveball has good depth and was sharper in 2017; it is now an average pitch. His below-average changeup is still in development, with the Royals encouraging him to use it more often. It has good action but its mid-80s velocity doesn't provide enough separation from his fastball. It's an average pitch now but projects to be above-average in time. Blewett will face his toughest challenge yet when he moves up to Double-A in 2018. If it all comes together for him, he projects as a mid-rotation starter.
Almonte got back on track in 2017 after a couple of rough years--at least when he was on the mound and not on the disabled list. He missed time due to arm discomfort but was impressive when he pitched, posting sub-2.00 ERAs in limited time at both Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha. The gem of Almonte's arsenal is a fastball--both a two-seamer and four-seamer--with plus velocity that was up to 98 mph, sitting 93-97. The pitch has natural sinking action with arm-side run. His changeup is a plus pitch that at 90 mph is thrown hard, with slight arm-side fade and natural sink. His breaking ball has gotten better but doesn't have a lot of depth. He gets 12-6 movement from his curveball/slider hybrid, ranging from 83 for the curveball to 87 mph for the slider. He had more separation between the breaking balls this year, giving him four average or better pitches. Almonte will go to spring training looking to break camp with the Royals. While some observers see him as more of a reliever, his diverse repertoire points to rotation potential for the Dominican righthander.
Possessing as much raw power as anyone in the Royals system, Vallot is a bit of a polarizing prospect among observers. Some scouts don't believe the Louisiana native possesses the skills necessary to stay behind the plate nor the hit tool to go with his above-average power. Vallot has missed valuable development time due to injury in each of the last two years in full-season ball, with his 2017 season ending on July 27 due to a low-back muscle strain. But he just turned 21 in August and has been young for every level at which he's played. Vallot will always hit for a lower batting average, but he's gotten better at handling offspeed pitches, knows the strike zone and consistently draws a fair share of walks. Vallot has the best raw power in the system. There's still plenty of swing and miss in his game, and he fanned in 36 percent of his at-bats in 2017 compared to 33 percent the previous year. Vallot is still a work in progress behind the plate, but his receiving has gotten better and he works well with pitchers. He has above-average arm strength, but inconsistent footwork affects the accuracy of his throw and he threw out just under 18 percent of base tealers at Wilmington. Vallot won't turn 22 until August, so he may return to Wilmington to start the 2018 season before tackling Double-A.
Duenez has been one of the younger players in every league in which he's played since starting his pro career at 17 in the Arizona League. He spent the entire 2017 season with Double-A Northwest Arkansas despite not turning 21 until mid-season. A career-high 17 home runs signaled the emergence of long-awaited power. Duenez projects to be an impact power bat from the left side as he continues to refine his approach, projecting to have above-average power to go with an above-average hit tool in time. He hits the ball with authority and a sharp line-drive plane, but he needs to manage the zone better. While his speed is a tick below average, Duenez is an opportunistic, instinctive baserunner who has recorded double-digit steals in each of his three full seasons. After spending some time in the outfield in the past, he's now a full-time first baseman where he's an average defender. Duenez may be ready for Triple-A ball in 2018, where he'll again be one of the youngest players there, although he may return to Double-A if there's a logjam in the Omaha lineup.
Del Rosario originally signed with the Braves for $1 million as part of that organization's deep 2016 international class. After making his pro debut in 2017, Del Rosario was declared a free agent as part of Major League Baseball's sanctions for the Braves circumvention of international signing rules from 2015 to 2017, and the Royals signed him for an additional $665,000. One of the top pitchers in the 2016 international class, del Rosario's stock has risen as his velocity and stuff have gone up. After two games in the Dominican Summer League, del Rosario pitched for the Braves' Gulf Coast League affiliate where he ranked as the 16th best prospect. His fastball generates sink and arm-side run, sitting 89-92 mph and touching 95, and he projects to add more velocity because of his build and arm speed. He uses his potential plus curveball with sharp, late break to miss bats and doesn't hesitate to throw it in any count. Rounding out his repertoire is a solid changeup that should improve with experience. There's some concern that del Rosario's crossfire delivery with effort signals a bullpen future, but he's athletic and does a good job in getting himself back online to the plate with the ability to throw strikes.
Being sent down a level during the season is usually looked at as a negative, but O'Hearn's move from Omaha after 114 games in Triple-A was done just to keep him getting consistent at-bats while making room for more experienced players at the Triple-A level. Regardless, it was a solid year in which he hit 22 homeruns for the second straight season. His hand strength and average or better bat speed allow O'Hearn to get to his plus raw power in games, and he isn't baffled by lefthanded pitching. He gets too much weight transfer to his front side at times and struggles with his timing, and he needs to improve his consistency of contact to reach his projection of at least an average hitter. He's an adequate defender at first base, with average hands but below-average range. O'Hearn occasionally takes a turn in a corner outfield spot, but his well-below-average speed makes him a subpar defender there. O'Hearn has a high floor as a big league power bat, but h
Garabito returned to low Class A Lexington for a second try there after a rocky 2016 season. He pitched much better in his return to the Legends rotation despite missing time to injury. Garabito has a sturdy build for his size with some weight through his lower half. He pitches with deception and feel, delivering his 89-94 mph fastball with good arm speed and fade, distinct cut and sinking action. What stands out for Garabito is the plus command of his pitches coming from a smooth, online delivery. He has a larger arm swing, finishing firm and across the body. He locates a 76-79 mph curveball with good depth and action, and he has good feel for an improving 83-87 mph changeup. Garabito shows composure and good mound presence, and his athleticism allows him to make plays off the mound. He should be ready to move on to high Class A Wilmington in 2018. Garabito's got the repertoire to remain in the rotation as a No. 4 or 5 starter, but his fastball/curveball combo could make him a solid bullpen piece in the future.
Most organizations have at least one pop-up prospect every year, that guy who no one knows about--at least not yet. Hernandez may be that player in the Royals organization. Signed for $15,000 in 2016 when he was already 19 years old, Hernandez made his pro debut in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. Hernandez's numbers weren't anything special--a 5.49 ERA, albeit with a strikeout per inning--but Hernandez has as much upside as any pitcher in the system. Already flashing a plus fastball at 94-97 mph with late glove-side life and late cut showing heavy depth, Hernandez's large, meaty frame and whippy arm strength suggest that 100 mph velo is not far away. He has feel for a fringe-average 79-80 mph curveball with 11-5 two-plane depth, but his best secondary pitch is an average changeup from 84-87 that could develop into a plus offering. Improving his changeup was a priority during instructional league, and he made good progress with the pitch. Hernandez has the upside of a mid- to top-of-the rotation starter, and at 21 will likely get his first crack at full-season ball in 2018.
Steele pitched infrequently at Vanderbilt in 2016 before heading to Chipola (Fla.) JC for his sophomore year, where he posted a 5-0, 2.01 record in 10 starts, striking out 58 in 40.1 innings. Selected by the Royals with the 73rd overall pick in 2017, Steele saw limited innings in his pro debut, not getting on the mound in the Rookie-level Arizona League until mid-August. Steele has a good frame and squared shoulders, getting plenty of arm speed using an abbreviated windup from the first-base side of the rubber. He gets good plane and deception on his pitches, utilizing a 91-94 mph fastball with tail and arm-side sink. He has feel for an above-average changeup at 85-87 mph. While he didn't throw his breaking ball much in rookie ball or instructional league, he shows confidence in an 82-84 mph slider, backfooting it to righthanded hitters. His pitches play up because of the deception in his delivery. Projecting as a No. 4 starter, Steele may get a low Class A assignment to start the 2018 season.
Tillo was first drafted by the Twins in 2015 in the 39th round from his Sioux City, Iowa high school where he was better known for his basketball exploits, having been named Iowa's Mr. Basketball in his senior year. He pitched briefly at Kentucky before heading to Iowa Western Community College. Tillo is a fresh-armed pitcher with little history on the mound but with a clean delivery and more pitchability than expected from his experience level. Tillo got into 10 games in his first pro season split between the Rookie-level Arizona League and the Royals' Appalachian League affiliate in Burlington, N.C. Tillo has a sturdy body, using a compact delivery with a loose, easy arm. He delivers a 91-94 mph fastball to both sides of the plate with late tail and sink, and it bores in on lefthanded batters. His 82-85 mph slider is a below-average pitch now, but it's short, hard and has good three-quarters tilt. His changeup, working at 87-88 mph with moderate tumble, is a fringy pitch. Scouts got a limited look at Tillo during instructional league but gave favorable reports, projecting both his fastball and slider as plus pitches. Tillo will likely join draftmate Evan Steele with an assignment to low Class A Lexington.
A down year in his junior season at Lipscomb may have hurt Gigliotti's draft stock, with talent evaluators concerned that he had become a too patient hitter. The Royals grabbled the lefthanded hitting center fielder in the fourth round, signing him for $397,500 and assigning him to advanced-rookie Burlington to start his career. Gigliotti made it to low Class A Lexington for the last month of the regular season, posting a combined slash line of .320/.420/.456 with 22 stolen bases. While his patient approach concerned amateur scouts, the Royals see his plate discipline as an elite tool, noting his advanced knowledge of the strike zone allows him to focus on contact and work counts. Gigliotti has a strong frame and quick hands, profiling as a top-of-the order hitter with an efficient bat path and advanced feel at the plate but with below-average power. He's a plus-plus runner who gets good reads on fly balls, and his average arm is playable in center field. With some time at low Class A behind him, Gigliotti may be able to jump right to high Class A Wilmington in 2018. He projects as a starting center fielder and leadoff hitter at the major league level.
Smith made it to the big leagues with the Padres in 2013 in just his second full season after being drafted from Oklahoma in 2011 and signing for $250,000. Persistent injuries and eventually Tommy John surgery kept him out of action for much of the next three years. During his time on the sidelines Smith was included in a late 2014 three-team deal to the Rays and didn't get back on the mound with Tampa Bay until 2017, when he pitched at three minor league levels. He wrapped up the year with a successful stint in the Arizona Fall League before the Royals picked him up in the 2017 Rule 5 draft, purchasing his rights from the Mets, who took him sixth overall. Smith has a starter's frame with a sturdy body and strong lower half, and he shows advanced command of all of his pitches and changes speeds well. His fastball sits 94-97 mph with some run and natural cut, and he complements his heater with an 11-to-5 curveball with two-plane depth that comes in at 74-76 mph. His best secondary pitch is a plus, swing-and-miss 79-81 mph changeup that has good tumble. Smith could fill the role of back-end starter or seventh-inning reliever, with a move to the bullpen the more likely role because of his injury history.
For the third consecutive season, Keller took the ball just about every fifth day and chewed up innings. By the end of 2017 he started producing the stuff and results that led some in the D-backs organization to believe a breakout might be on the horizon. The Royals apparently agreed, because they purchased the rights to the Rule 5 pick after the Reds selected him third overall in 2017. Keller was a lightly-scouted eighth-round high school pick in 2013 who moved slowly but steadily through Arizona system. He commands his fastball well and has the ability to either cut or sink it. He is capable of filling the zone with strikes, though he did see his walk rate rise to 3.9 per nine innings in 2017. Regardless, Keller took a step forward late in the season, when his fastball suddenly jumped and he gained a better understanding of how to finish off hitters. Over his final month, Keller sat 93-94 mph and topped out at 97. He throws an average to above-average changeup and a slider that coaches said improved as the year progressed. If his late-year run carries over to 2018, Keller could become a back-of-the-rotation starter. If not, he could wind up being a power arm out of the bullpen.
Dewees was acquired by the Royals prior to the start of the 2017 season in a straight-up swap for pitcher Alec Mills. The North Florida product was Chicago's second-round pick in 2015, rising to the high Class A level with his former organization. Dewees is a high-energy gamer and a hard worker with a good feel for the game. He is a top-of-the-order hitter with above-average strike zone judgment, barreling balls with above-average bat speed. The biggest improvement from 2016 to 2017 was an increase in walk rate from 6.8 percent to 8.8 percent, and his strike-zone judgment grades as above-average. An above-average runner, he's already got 70 stolen bases in his two-and-a-half-year minor league career and became a more efficient baserunner as the 2017 season progressed. He takes good jumps and routes in the outfield, allowing him to stay in center, but a below-average arm will keep him out of right. Dewees should head to Triple-A and looks to be a backup outfielder in Kansas City before long.
In 2016, Viloria led the Pioneer League in hitting and earned MVP honors. The native Colombian didn't make the same kind of impact in the Sally League, but he registered a good season as one of the younger catchers in the league. Viloria has a good feel for hitting, more of a gap-to-gap, line-drive hitter with plenty of bat speed. He should continue to gain strength, which will allow him to drive more balls out of the park–although perhaps not many more than the eight homers he hit with Lexington. He's an aggressive hitter who will need to improve his below-average plate discipline to get on base more often. Most concerning is that Viloria's walk rate has declined each year while his strikeouts jumped from 13.9 percent in 2016 to 19.8 percent. Viloria's real value comes from his ability to catch and handle a pitching staff. He plays with passion and energy, and speaks both English and Spanish. He frames well and moves adequately behind the plate, and while not always accurate, his plus arm allowed him to throw out nearly 40 percent of basestealers. Most scouts see Viloria as a future MLB backup. He'll move on to high Class A in 2018.
It took Machado a long time to make it to full-season ball after signing with the Royals in 2010 for $13,000. The Venezuelan righthander spent five seasons in short-season plus one year on the sidelines recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he made it all the way to the major leagues by the end of his first full-season experience. Machado flashes plus velocity with his four-seamer, ranging from 93 to 98 mph. It's a hard and heavy fastball with rising action that he locates well. His 88-89 mph changeup with some backspin is an above-average pitch now and could be plus before long. His third pitch is a slider at 83-86 with 12-6 movement. He throws with a long, full arm stroke from a three-quarters slot. Machado is still listed at his earlier weight of175 pounds, but he now has a mature look with thickening in the middle of the body. Machado will head to spring training in 2018 with a shot at the Kansas City rotation, but he more likely profiles best as a seventh-inning reliever.
Barlow has always had an enticing arsenal of pitches and solid pitcher's frame since being drafted by the Dodgers in the sixth round in 2011, but staying healthy has been his biggest challenge. Barlow pitched just 1.2 innings combined in his first two pro seasons, recovering slowly from Tommy John surgery. He enjoyed a few solid seasons as a Dodgers farmhand, but wasn't perceived as valuable enough to avoid becoming a minor league free agent after the 2017 season. The Royals subsequently signed Barlow to a one-year major league contract with the Royals worth $900,000. He's coming off an outstanding season at Double-A Tulsa in which he posted a 3.29 ERA and stuck out 160 batters in 139.2 innings before struggling in seven starts at Triple-A Oklahoma City. Barlow thrives by mixing his pitches and locating them. His fastball sits 91-93 mph, touches 96, and plays up because of the elite extension he gets. His best secondary pitch is an average slider at 78-82 mph with cutting action and armside run, and he complements it with a slow 76-80 mph curveball that has a hump on it. Barlow gets good movement on a power 84-86 mph changeup that plays well off his fastball in going down in the other direction. Barlow profiles as a back-end starter, but some observers believe his stuff could tick up in shorter stints in the bullpen.
One of the biggest improvements in the Royals system came from Rivera, who followed a .330/.393/.413 line and a rookie of the year performance in the Puerto Rican League by winning the South Atlantic League batting title in 2017. Kansas City's 19th-round pick in 2015 significantly improved his numbers in his first full season, batting .310 at low Class A Lexington after posting .174 and .249 averages in his first two seasons in rookie ball. Rivera has a good feel for hitting and uses all fields but with some length in his swing. He has above-average raw power now and should get stronger, but he'll need to get more loft in his swing to tap into that power. It's not expected that any newfound power will come at the expense of batting average. He's a below-average runner. Rivera projects as an above-average defender at the hot corner with a plus arm. After his fine low Class A season, Rivera will be ready for his next challenge with an assignment to high Class A Wilmington.
The most intriguing storyline among Royals prospects in 2017 was the development of Lovelady, the Royals' 10th pick from Kennesaw State just one year earlier. The lean southpaw with a funky delivery jumped a level with his first full-season assignment at high Class A Wilmington, and by mid-season he was bumped up to Double-A. Lovelady possesses electric stuff, with a dominating plus fastball from 93-97 mph that he throws with deception and a lot of movement. The heater has hard tailing action with sink. He locates it well both arm-side and glove-side, but he needs to improve his command of the pitch. Because of the dominance of his fastball, Lovelady seldom needed to use his offspeed stuff, but when he did batters saw an average or better slider at 88 mph. He only occasionally went to his 88-90 mph changeup, which now is a below-average pitch. Lovelady is locked in and focused on the mound. He profiles as a setup man and not strictly as a left-on-left reliever. It wouldn't be surprising to see Lovelady in the Royals bullpen in 2018, perhaps sooner rather than later.
Gallagher made it to the big leagues for 13 games six years after the Royals drafted the Pennsylvania native in the 2nd round. Since signing for a $750,000 bonus, Gallagher has moved steadily through the Royals system. Profiling as at least a reliable second catcher, Gallagher has been blocked at the major league level by the presence of venerable catcher Salvador Perez and reliable backup Drew Butera. Gallagher is a gap-to-gap hitter who doesn't strike out that often (12 percent of plate appearances through his minor league career) with plate discipline that ranks among the best in the system. His bat has improved as he's progressed through the system and he has a very good approach at the plate. He doesn't get to his average raw power in games, with the six home runs Gallagher hit in 2017 marking his career high. He works well with pitchers, keeping them in the game, and his above-average, accurate arm threw out 33 percent of PCL runners in 2017. Gallagher will head to spring training with a chance to earn a job with the parent club, but he most likely will be back in Omaha as a valuable insurance to the Royals' big league catching corps.
Zimmer is unquestionably the best pitching prospect in the Royals organization--when he's healthy. The problem is that since being selected as the 5th overall pick in 2012 Zimmer has experienced a litany of injuries (labrum, thoracic outlet syndrome, arm fatigue) that have sapped his arm strength and put his career outlook in a fog as thick as nights in his native San Francisco. Zimmer has pitched 100 innings just once in a season since turning pro and was limited to 36.2 innings in 2017. He worked mostly in a relief role with Triple-A Omaha, mostly to build up his innings. His fastball velocity was down earlier in the season, but later it was back up to 94-97 mph. When right, his fastball has natural sinking action, and he gets good bite and 12-6 movement on a 77 mph curveball that grades as plus. But Zimmer's stuff generally hasn't been the same, and his consistency and ability to bounce back from appearances remains a big question. Expectations for 2018 and beyond are uncertain.
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