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Royals fans have endured rebuilds before. At least this time the front office has a track record of success as a proof of concept.
The top three prospects in this system—Nick Pratto, Khalil Lee and Seuly Matias--all have the potential to be impact bats in a few years. They’re all many years away, but provide tantalizing glimpses of hope for a strong future in Kansas City.
The top arms in this system, Eric Skoglund and Josh Staumont, have struggled with their command. Staumont in particular took a step back, walking nearly 8 batters per nine innings in 2017. They’ve also had a very rough run in the draft, with their top picks from 2011 through 2016 struggling with either performance or injuries. Two of those picks—lefty Brandon Finnegan and righty A.J. Puckett--have already been traded. Their top pick in 2015, righty Ashe Russell, has taken a leave of absence from baseball after early struggles in his pro career.
Notable Graduations: OF Jorge Bonifacio (9).
Track Record: The Royals used the 14th overall pick in the 2017 draft to select Southern California high school first baseman Pratto. Nine years earlier, they had selected 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) serving as other recent examples. Pratto first burst on the scene as part of the winning California team at the 2011 Little League World Series in which he delivered the game-winning hit against Japan. He played with USA Baseball's18U 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 lefthanded 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. Scouting Report: 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 base 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. The Future: 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 Pratto's extra work and experience against more advanced pitchers in 2017 will help him make that next step. His upside is as a first-division first baseman at the big league level.
Track Record: After a solid pro debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2016, Lee skipped ahead to low Class A Lexington in 2017. Despite a .237 average and elevated strikeout rate, he turned in an encouraging first full season in which he showed power, patience and speed. Scouting Report: Lee's high strikeout rate is less of a concern because of his advanced knowledge of the strike zone, which allowed him to walk 12 percent of the time in 2017. He projects to be an average hitter with more power to emerge with experience and strength. Some scouts don't like his setup at the plate and he frequently struggles to get his foot down, but his hands are lightning quick and give him plus bat speed and good barrel control. Lee 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 and has plus arm strength. His his premium athleticism will let him handle center field. He moves well in the outfield and takes good routes. He will be at least an above-average runner, even as he gets bigger. The Future: Lee projects as a starting outfielder capable of handling all three positions. He heads to high Class A Wilmington in 2018.
Track Record: Matias was the jewel of the Royals' 2015 international class and signed for $2.25 million. He reached the Rookie-level Arizona League at age 17 in his pro debut season in 2016 and tied for the AZL lead with eight home runs. He hit seven more homers in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 2017 after wowing scouts at extended spring training with long home runs and impressive exit velocities. Scouting Report: Scouts like to say that Matias 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 handled breaking balls better in 2017 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 him 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. The Future: While he'll still be a teenager in 2018, Matias will likely break camp with low Class A Lexington, where he'll be challenged by better pitchers. He has prototype right field tools--but also a long way to go.
Track Record: Ranked as the Royals' top prospect a year ago, Staumont continued to frustrate in 2017 because his inconsistent command and control sabotaged his premium velocity and top-end breaking ball. He struck out 10 batters per nine innings in 2017--but he also walked seven per nine. Staumont started 2017 at Triple-A Omaha before being demoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas on July 13 to find a more consistent release point. Scouting Report: Staumont has top-of-the-rotation stuff, and he dominates hitters when he's repeating his delivery and commanding his pitches. He has a plus-plus four-seamer that touches triple digits. His out pitch is a power curveball, thrown from a high three-quarters slot at 78-82 mph with depth and 11-to-5 tilt. It's an above-average pitch now and could be a plus offering with more consistent command. He is also developing a changeup. The Future: The key to Staumont's success will be developing consistent control and not trying to be too fine. While some observers point to a future as a setup reliever, Staumont won't need more than below-average control and a fringe changeup to work as a starter.
Track Record: Skoglund made his big league debut in 2017, four years after being drafted in the third round in 2014 out of Central Florida. The bulk of the lean, lanky southpaw's season was spent at Triple-A Omaha, where he put up a 4.11 ERA in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League while fanning 103 in 104 innings. Scouting Report: Skoglund battled through a lat issue early in 2017 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. His heater gets good four-seam ride and armside tail, coming in late on righthanded batters. A solid-average curveball with good shape delivered at 80 mph is his best secondary pitch, 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 a work in progress. The Future: Skoglund profiles as a No. 4 starter and will head to spring training looking to earn a shot in the 2018 big league rotation.
Track Record: Melendez comes from a baseball family. His father currently is the head coach at Florida International. The Royals made him a 2017 second-rounder, knowing that it would take an over-slot bonus to lure him away from the chance of playing college ball for his dad at FIU. 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. Scouting Report: 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. He's an average or better runner now. Melendez's calling card is his defense behind the plate. He's athletic with quick feet, good lateral mobility and good hands. He's got at least a plus arm with sub-2.0 seconds pop times on throws to second base. 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. The Future: Melendez projects as a first-division catcher. He could begin 2018 at low Class A Lexington.
Track Record: The Royals were thrilled to get Lopez with their fifth-round pick in a 2016 draft that was short on college shortstops. Their enthusiasm for the Creighton product showed when he made it to Double-A Northwest Arkansas by the middle of 2017 and finished the year in the Arizona Fall League. Scouting Report: Lopez is a line drive 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 a plus hitter but with below-average power. He's a plus runner with good baserunning instincts. Lopez is an average defender now at both shortstop and second base, projecting as an above-average defender. He's not flashy, but with good range and instincts, Lopez gets to the ball and makes plays. He has enough arm for shortstop and a strong internal clock. He has at least an average arm now but could develop an above-average one with added strength. The Future: Lopez's reliability could play in a utility infield role in the not-too-distant future. With Raul A. Mondesi the Royals' presumptive shortstop, Lopez could work his way into the picture at second base.
Track Record: After a subpar 2015 season in Double-A that saw his prospect status begin to dim, Dozier's strong 2016 performance at Triple-A Omaha, in which he shortened his swing and improved his bat path, refurbished his status and led to his big league debut that September. An oblique injury sidelined Dozier early in 2017, then he missed two months with a broken hamate. Though healthy late in the season, he did not receive a September callup. Scouting Report: At Triple-A in 2017, Dozier built on the swing improvements he made the previous season, though he hit just .226 in 24 games and will have to hit to provide value to a big league team. He's a below-average runner and fringe-average defender at his natural position of third base. He continued to see time in right field and projects as a second-division regular or bench bat capable of filling in at all four corner positions. The Future: Dozier struggled in the Mexican Pacific League after the 2017 season. He will be 26 in 2018, when he has a good shot to make the big club because regulars Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas were poised to depart as free agents.
Track Record: One of two Royals first-round picks in 2014, Griffin struggled in 2015 and 2016 as his velocity dipped. After finishing the 2016 season at high Class A Wilmington with a 6.23 ERA, Griffin returned to the Carolina League in 2017 as a different pitcher. With an uptick in velocity and more aggression on the mound, Griffin pitched better off his fastball, missed more bats (7.9 strikeouts per nine innings) and improved his breaking ball to post a 2.86 ERA in 10 starts before moving up to Double-A Northwest Arkansas on May 30. Scouting Report: Griffin achieved better arm speed in 2017, which allowed him to make more quality pitches down in the zone. His fastball sits 88-92 mph, which was up a tick from before, and he located it better. His two-seamer has tail while his four-seam fastball has cut. He sharpened his 11-to-5 curveball as well. 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. The Future: After 18 starts at Double-A, Griffin may be ready to move up to Triple-A Omaha in 2018, when he will pitch at age 22. He has the upside of a No. 5 starter.
Track Record: Since being picked in the second round of the 2014 draft, Blewett's career has always been more about projection than production, and he continued trending in the right direction in 2017 with a solid season at high Class A Wilmington. 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 mound aggression. Scouting Report: Blewett's fastball sits in the 92-93 mph range and touches 96 at its best. It's a relatively straight pitch but is heavy down in the zone and induces a lot of ground balls. 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. The pitch has good action, but its mid-80s velocity doesn't provide enough separation from his fastball. The Future: Blewett will face his toughest challenge yet when he moves to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2018. If it all comes together for him, he projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
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