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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).
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.
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