November 1, 2015. That was the day the Kansas City Royals were crowned World Series champions for the first time since Dick Howser’s boys took down the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. The Royals won 95 games in that 2015 season, their most in nearly 40 years. Fast forward three seasons and Kansas City could only manage 58 wins, which was the second fewest in baseball behind Baltimore’s 47. The Royals ranked 25th in runs, 26th in home runs, and 29th in ERA. The only thing they really had going for them last season was a top-10 defensive squad. Needless to say, there wasn’t a whole lot to cheer about with the big club, but there certainly is when it comes to the top Royals prospects.
There isn’t a Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Eloy Jimenez, or Forrest Whitley type prospect in this system, but from top to bottom, there’s a ton of depth all around the diamond, especially on the mound. The Royals have focused on pitching over the last few amateur drafts and have really restocked a depleted farm system that graduated most of its top talent around the time Kansas City went on it’s World Series run. None of the top Royals prospects you see below are likely to make an impact in 2019, but expect to see most of these guys come up in the 2020 to 2022 range.
Overall System Grade: C+
Minor League Affiliates
Triple-A: Omaha – Pacific Coast League
Double-A: Northwest Arkansas – Texas League
Single-A (Advanced): Wilmington – Carolina League
Single-A (Full): Lexington – South Atlantic League
Short-season Single-A: None
Rookie: Burlington – Appalachian League, Idaho Falls – Pioneer League, Dominican Summer League (2), Arizona League (1).
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New Top-25 Kansas City Royals Prospects
1. Khalil Lee, OF, Bats: L, DOB: 6/26/98, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (A+/AA): .263/.382/.390/.772, 18 2B, 6 HR, 16 SB, 14.1 BB%, 24.6 K%, 346 AB
A third-round pick in 2016, Khalil Lee has had an interesting minor league career thus far. The 2017 season ended with Lee nearly going 20/20, which at the surface, looks great. But then you see the 32.1% strikeout rate and the 52.6% success rate stealing bases and it doesn’t look as good. Plenty of skills, but plenty of refinement of those skills was needed. Goodbye 2017, hello 2018. Lee cut his strikeout rate 7.5% and was only thrown out on five of his 21 stolen base attempts. His walk rate also rose around two percent. But, and you knew there was a but coming, Lee only hit six dingers, down from the 17 he hit in 2017. That’s not very worrisome in my eyes though as power can often fluctuate during development and be the last thing to fully develop.
And here is some Khalil Lee pic.twitter.com/TFmnOj600P
— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) October 9, 2018
With that being said, Lee is not, and never will be, a masher. While he routinely makes hard contact, he doesn’t generate consistent loft with his swing and only hit around 26% of hit batted balls into the air. The bat path is too linear and he drops his hands down a little before moving forward through the zone. With his hand-eye coordination and improving plate discipline, I can see Lee developing into a .280ish hitter with a strong OBP and homer totals somewhere in the teens, with 20 being his current ceiling. That strong OBP and plus speed should slot him near the top of the order, and if he continues to develop like I believe he can, we’re likely looking at an All-Star caliber outfielder and fantasy darling.
2. Seuly Matias, OF, Bats: R, DOB: 9/4/98, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (A): .231/.303/.550/.853, 13 2B, 31 HR, 6 SB, 6.4 BB%, 34.8 K%, 338 AB
There’s no doubting that Matias is one of the strongest players in the minor leagues. He possesses two 70-grade tools which both have to do with his raw strength. One of them is his cannon arm from right field, while the other is his calling card raw power at the plate. That elite power potential has always been apparent with Matias, but didn’t really show up consistently in games until 2018 when he had one homer every 10.9 at-bats before a season-ending thumb injury caused by slicing his thumb while moving luggage. Seriously.
— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) July 15, 2018
Matias’ swing is certainly built for power with quick wrists, plus bat speed, and a swing path that creates natural loft to all fields. He starts with his weight back, hands highs with moderate load, and explodes through the strike zone with an uppercut swing path. If given 500-600 at-bats, there’s no doubt in my mind that he could hit 35-40 home runs. However, one thing Matias’ swing is not built for is consistent contact. You probably could’ve guessed that from the .231 average and 34.8% strikeout rate. The inconsistent contact and subpar plate approach were the main reasons his game power was suppressed during his first two seasons.
Right now, I’d project him as a 35/70 (hit/power) hitter with the potential to hit around .230-.240 with the power I mentioned in the last paragraph. He’s still got time to improve the hit tool a little bit and he’s got the athleticism and speed to impact the game in other ways as well. Ultimately, we could be looking at a right-handed version of Joey Gallo. Let’s hope the hit tool progresses some to the point where he can hit .250 annually.
3. Brady Singer, RHP, DOB: 8/4/96, ETA 2020
2018 Stats: Did Not Pitch
In a 2018 draft class rich with pitching talent, Brady Singer was one of my favorites. Casey Mize is the lead dog from this draft class, but Singer is right behind him in that next tier with guys like Matthew Liberatore of Tampa Bay and Cole Winn of Texas. He improved as a pitcher each season as a Florida Gator, dropping his walk rate in the process down to 1.75 walks per nine during his final collegiate season.
Singer has yet to throw his first professional pitch, but has a lot of qualities you like to see from a future No. 1 or 2 starter. First, Singer has a durable 6’5 frame with a strong lower half and repeatable mechanics out of a low three-quarter arm slot. That lower arm slot gives him considerable run and sink on his low to mid-90’s heater which is an absolute weapon against right-handed hitters. His best secondary offering is a sharp, low-80’s slider with two-plane tilt and Singer also mixes in a changeup with some fade, but lacks consistency with the pitch.
Even if the changeup remains merely an average pitch for him, Singer has the arsenal, command, and projection to become an innings-eating No. 2 starter with low ratios and more than a strikeout per inning. Expect him up by early-2021 at the absolute latest, with late-2020 a distinct possibility.
4. MJ Melendez, C, Bats: L, DOB: 11/29/98, ETA 2020/2021
2018 Stats (A): .251/.322/.492/.814, 26 2B, 9 3B, 19 HR, 4 SB, 9.1 BB%, 30.3 K%, 419 AB
So, we’ve gone over a high-upside rotation arm, a potential future leadoff hitter, and a slugger so far. How about a catcher? Actually, how about one of the top catching prospects in all of baseball? Melendez brings a little of everything to table with a solid, all-around skill set. He looks like a lock to stick behind the plate with a strong throwing arm, plus receiving skills, and good footwork. And while his offensive game wasn’t as advanced in the beginning, Melendez has made strides and now has the offensive muster to match his defensive prowess.
Above-average raw power is Melendez’s most prominent offensive tool at the time being. He totaled 54 extra-base hits last season for Single-A Lexington, including nine triples. A catcher with nine triples! It’s shocking I know, but just shows how athletic and agile Melendez is. By no means is he a speedster, but with his quickness and high baseball IQ, it wouldn’t shock me if he stole 5-10 bases annually to go along with 20-25 home runs.
The main question I have around Melendez is the hit tool. His swing can get a little long due to a deep hand coil and has led to contact issues and higher strikeout rates. He’s gotten by so far thanks to quick wrists but will need to shorten that swing if he wants to hit for respectable batting averages. He’s a plus athlete and smart player, so I have faith he develops the swing some.
— Lance Brozdowski (@LanceBroz) June 13, 2018
5. Nick Pratto, 1B, Bats: L, DOB: 10/6/98, ETA 2020/2021
2018 Stats (A): .280/.343/.443/.786, 33 2B, 14 HR, 22 SB, 8.4 BB%, 27.9 K%, 485 AB
For the vast majority of the 2018 season, the Single-A Lexington lineup has the trio of Matias, Melendez, and Nick Pratto anchoring it. That’s a damn good trio to have in one minor league lineup. Pratto fits in this system nicely as he’s a plus athlete with some swing and miss tendencies. He’s struck out in 27.1% of his plate appearance since being drafted 14th overall in 2017 but did make more contact during his first season in Single-A as a 19-year-old and finished with an 8.4% walk rate.
Pratto isn’t your typical slugging first baseman. Sure, he has above-average raw power, but doesn’t project as a 30-plus homer type. At least, not right now. I think he can get to the 30-homer area if he makes some minor adjustments at the plate, however. Pratto doesn’t really incorporate his lower half much with minimal load and can get out on his front foot too early at times. He should be able to hit in the .270-.280 range with this swing, however, I’d cap his power projection in the low-20’s for now. Hitting the ball in the air 33.2% of the time doesn’t help matters either. Pratto has some solid speed too, with enough speed for 10-15 steals annually and above-average range at first base.
6. Jackson Kowar, RHP, DOB: 10/4/96, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (A): 26.1 IP, 3.42 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, 7.5 K/9, .200 AVG
Might as well rename this franchise the Kansas City Gators. Wait, I don’t think Alligators are prominent in Missouri, or even there at all. Nevermind. Kowar joined Singer, his Florida Gator rotation buddy, as first-round picks for the Royals this past June. Like Singer, Kowar checks in at 6’5, albeit a little skinnier, and was a workhorse for the University of Florida throughout his three-year career there.
The one thing holding Kowar back from being up with Singer in these rankings is his inconsistent command. He throws a low-90’s fastball with life that he can rev up into the 96-97 range when needed and mixes in a plus fading changeup and an average curveball with some depth, but his command of these pitches isn’t always the best, especially with the curve. There’s No. 2 starter potential here if Kowar can keep his command in check. Developing that curve a little more wouldn’t hurt either.
7. Nicky Lopez, SS/2B, Bats: L, DOB: 3/13/95, ETA 2019
2018 Stats (AA/AAA): .308./.382/.417/.799, 14 2B, 7 3B, 9 HR, 15 SB, 10.3 BB%, 9.0 K%, 504 AB
Quietly, Nicky Lopez has been making a name for himself in prospect circles. A fifth round selection out of Creighton in 2016, Lopez is the best pure hitter in the system with plus contact skills and phenomenal plate coverage. His strikeout rate for his minor league career sits at a stellar 9.3% and he’s walked more than he’s struck out in every season (same amount in 2017).
So, with that advanced plate approach and plus contact skills, why is he not higher on the list? Well, the power and the speed aren’t nearly as prominent. Lopez has a very linear swing and doesn’t drive the ball in the air. His swing is geared for plenty of contact, just more of the ground ball and line drive variety. In fact, he’s never had a groundball rate lower than 51.2% at any level thus far. I can’t see him exceeding 12-15 home runs without a swing adjustment. Lopez is an above-average runner which shows in his defensive range, but he doesn’t run too frequently and is likely capped in the 20-25 steal range. He’s seen time at both shortstop and second base throughout his minor league career and has the tools on both sides of the ball to become an above-average regular at either position.
8. Kyle Isbel, OF, Bats: L, DOB: 3/3/97, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (RK/A): .326/.389/.504/.893, 22 2B, 7 HR, 24 SB, 8.9 BB%, 20.5 K%, 264 AB
The Royals really did well for themselves in the first few rounds of the 2018 amateur draft. In addition to all the pitching talent they grabbed, nabbing Kyle Isbel in the third round was a great under-the-radar pick. When it’s all said and done, Isbel could have two plus offensive tools in his speed and hit tool. The hit tool isn’t quite there yet, though, despite what that .326 average might lead you to think.
Isbel has a quick left-handed stroke and can generate hard contact to all fields. The power is more gap power at the moment, but I can see Isbel settling into the teens annually for home runs with the upside of 20 with a little more loft. Back to the speed, Isbel is a plus runner and is smart on the bases as well, converting 80 percent of his stolen base attempts. In the end, I think we’re looking at a solid defensive outfielder with a .290/20/30 ceiling and .270/10/25 floor.
9. Brewer Hicklen, OF, Bats: R, DOB: 2/9/96, ETA 2021
2018 Stats (A/A+): .289/.357/.504/.864, 22 2B, 18 HR, 35 SB, 6.6 BB%, 29.2 K%, 377 AB
Have yourself a season Brewer Hicklen. If you project his numbers out to 600 at-bats, you’d have 29 homers and 56 steals. But let’s slow down here. Obviously, that’s not a sustainable pace for anyone outside of a 21-year-old Mike Trout. However, there is a lot to like here from an offensive standpoint. Hicklen has a quick right-handed swing with plenty of bat speed and natural loft. There are some swing and miss tendencies that have led to a 28.1% strikeout rate in the minors, but nothing that is overly concerning. There are enough contact skills here to hit in the .260-.270 range with 20-25 home runs to go along with 30-plus steals. Definitely a name to grab in dynasty leagues.
10. Daniel Lynch, LHP, DOB: 11/17/96, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (RK/A): 51.1 IP, 1.58 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 1.4 BB/9, 10.7 K/9, .235 AVG
The third (but not final) pitcher taken in the first round by the Royals, Lynch is another tall hurler (6’6) with a good combination of upside and floor. Lynch operates from a three-quarter arm slot with good extension and repeatable mechanics and throws a total of five pitches – 4S fastball, 2S fastball, curve, slider, changeup. He started using his four-seamer more after being drafted than he did in the college, and as a result, his velocity started creeping up into the mid-90’s, and touched 96-97 at times. His slider and changeup are his two best secondary offerings, both grading as above-average and flash plus at times. While Lynch might not quite have the same upside as Singer and Kowar, his diverse arsenal and solid command give him a high floor as a workhorse mid-rotation starter and potential low-end No. 2 starter.
11. Michael Gigliotti, OF, Bats: L, DOB: 2/14/96, ETA 2021
2018 Stats (A): 4/17, 1 HR, 1 SB, 6 BB, 5 K
The 2018 season was a lost season for Gigliotti after an ACL injury limited him to just a half-dozen games for SIngle-A Lexington. While that was a big blow to his development, it doesn’t take away from the high offensive-upside that Gigliotti has. The power is minimal, but Gigliotti could have three plus tools when he’s done developing. First and foremost, Gigliotti is arguably the fastest player in the system with 30-plus steal upside and plus range in the outfield. From the left side, his swing is clean with plenty of bat speed and hard contact to all fields. He’ll need to get back on track in his development, but the upside here is a top-of-the order speedster. Let’s just hope this ACL injury doesn’t slow him down.
12. Kris Bubic, LHP, DOB: 8/19/97, ETA 2021
2018 Stats (RK): 38.0 IP, 4.03 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 4.5 BB/9, 12.6 K/9, .253 AVG
Now we’ve finally reached the end of the quartet of pitchers the Royals drafted in the first round back in June. That’s four of the top-12 here. Not too shabby Kansas City. Bubic leaves his leg high throughout his delivery, but repeats it well and gets good extension. His fastball sits in the low-90’s with some arm side run from a three-quarter arm slot and Bubic offsets that with a plus fading changeup. Bubic also will throw a fringe curveball, but doesn’t get a ton of depth on the offering and has a tendency to hang it. Looks like a strong mid-rotation starter to me.
— Stanford Baseball (@StanfordBSB) June 23, 2018
13. Carlos Hernandez, RHP, DOB: 3/11/97, ETA 2021
2018 Stats (A): 79.1 IP, 3.29 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9, 9.3 K/9, .236 AVG
A 2016 J2 signing out of Venezuela, Hernandez made solid strides during his second season in the United States, lowering his walk rate from 3.9 to 2.6 and developing his secondary pitches. Hernandez sits in the mid-90’s with life on his fastball and can reach back for more when needed. Both his changeup and curveball have improved over the last year with the changeup flashing plus with good fade. The curve isn’t quite as advanced but should be at least an average offering for Hernandez moving forward.
14. Blake Perkins, OF, Bats: S, DOB: 9/10/96, ETA 2020/2021
2018 Stats (A+): .237/.362/.305/.667, 22 2B, 3 HR, 29 SB, 15.4 BB%, 22.5 K%, 485 AB
A mid-season trade sent Perkins, along with Kelvin Gutierrez and Yohanse Morel, to the Royals from the Washington Nationals in exchange for closer Kelvin Herrera. Perkins is my favorite of that trio due to his plus speed on the bases and in center field, and his stellar walk rate. Yes, that’s a .237 average you see above, but Perkins has more upside than that in his bat. He’s a switch-hitter with a linear swing from both sides of the plate. There’s not a lot of power upside here, but Perkins has the strength to reach double-digit pop to go along with an average that won’t kill you and 25-plus steals. His value in OBP leagues gets a nice little bump.
15. Yefri Del Rosario, RHP, DOB: 9/23/99, ETA 2022
2018 Stats (A): 79.0 IP, 3.19 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 3.3 BB/9, 8.2 K/9, .227 AVG
Del Rosario fits the “Potential for two plus pitches but the command and changeup need work” mold to a freaking T. He sits in the low to mid-90’s with some arm side run and gets good depth on his curveball. Those two pitches should be enough to make him a solid bullpen arm and there’s No. 3 starter upside here if the changeup and command come along.
16. Zach Haake, RHP, DOB: 10/8/96, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (R): 15.1 IP, 1.76 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 8.2 K/9, .170 AVG
A sixth round pick in June out of Kentucky, Haake is a big 6’4 right-hander with a solid three-pitch arsenal. His fastball sits in the 92-95 range with plenty of lift and both his changeup and slider have flashed plus at times, yet lack consistency. With a clean and repeatable delivery and strong frame, Haake has the upside of a No. 3 or 4 starter if he can gain some consistency with his secondary offerings. Definitely a name to monitor in this system.
17. Travis Jones, 1B/3B/OF, Bats: R, DOB: 9/29/95, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (A/A+): .291/.402/.388/.790, 17 2B, 7 HR, 31 SB, 8.9 BB%, 21.2 K%, 433 AB
I’m probably higher than most on Travis Jones, but I like the skill set. At least offensively, anyway. Defensively, Jones has moved around the diamond, playing both corner infield spots and both corner outfield spots. You’re probably thinking future utility type, and that likely could be the case, but Jones’ offensive potential might find him a full-time spot in the lineup. Jones has a quick right-handed stroke with solid plate coverage and above-average contact skills. His average has been slightly inflated by high BABIPs, but there are enough contact skills here to hit .270 or better. While he’s bigger at 6’3, there’s not a ton of power upside due to his high groundball rate and minimal lower half usage. However, what Jones lacks in power he makes up for as a plus runner and projects to steal 20-plus bases annually with a strong ABG/OBP and 10-15 home runs.
18. Kelvin Gutierrez, 3B, Bats: R, DOB: 8/28/94, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (AA): .275/.329/.400/.729, 14 2B, 11 HR, 20 SB, 7.0 BB%, 21.1 K%, 472 AB
Gutierrez falls into the “better in real life than fantasy” category due to his defensive prowess at the hot corner being much more advanced than anything he’s shown at the plate so far. He has a clean swing, average contact skills, and above-average speed, but doesn’t get much loft on his swing and is likely capped at 10-15 homers. Still, his defense will likely give him a chance to start in the Majors.
19. Emmanuel Rivera, 3B, Bats: R, DOB: 6/29/96, ETA 2021
2018 Stats (RK/A+): .274/.326/.416/.742, 25 2B, 7 3B, 6 HR, 3 SB, 6.8 BB%, 14.8 K%, 401
Like Gutierrez, Rivera’s strong defense will likely carry him to the Majors, even with a less than spectacular offensive skill set. Rivera shows a good feel for hitting and average or better contact skills, but the power and speed is capped in the 12-15 range right now.
20. Jeison Guzman, SS, Bats: L, DOB: 10/8/98, ETA 2020/2021
2018 Stats (RK/A): .254/.327/.356/.683, 12 2B, 4 HR, 26 SB, 8.5 BB%, 20.8 K%, 315 AB
Come for the defense and speed, stay for the below-average power and hit tool. Wait a minute. Guzman is a plus runner on the bases with solid range at shortstop and a throwing arm that will play there, but the offensive side of things is a work in progress. His plate discipline isn’t really a problem, it’s the fact that he doesn’t really drive many pitches consistently. If the hit tool progresses, Guzman could turn into a starting caliber middle infielder. If not, he’s Triple-A depth or a backup infielder at best.
21. Jonathan Bowlan, RHP, DOB: 12/1/96, ETA 2021
2018 Stats (R): 35.0 IP, 6.94 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 5.9 K/9, .329 AVG
Hey look, another arm from the 2018 draft in the top-25. Didn’t see this one coming. Bowlan was selected in the 2nd round (58th overall) out of the University of Memphis and got hit hard during his professional debut. Bowlan has added strength and velocity over the last 12-18 months and now sits in the 92-95 range on his fastball and mixes in a potential plus slider with good shape and a serviceable changeup. Upside of a workhorse No. 4 starter.
22. Frank Schwindel, 1B, Bats: Bats: R, DOB: 6/29/92, ETA 2019
2018 Stats (AAA): .286/.336/.506/.842, 38 2B, 24 HR, 2 SB, 6.1 BB%, 12.8 K%, 510 AB
In all likelihood, Schwindel is a Quad-A player or bench power bat, but I’m still holding out hope he might able to get some run as the Royals starting first baseman or DH sometime in the near future. Schwindel has combined for 81 doubles and 47 home runs over the last two seasons, albeit mostly in the hitter-friendly PCL, but has long displayed plus raw power and a good feel for the strike zone.
23. Meibrys Viloria, C, Bats: L, DOB: 2/15/97, ETA Debuted in 2018
2018 Stats (A+): .260/.342/.360/.702, 16 2B, 6 HR, 2 SB, 9.8 BB%, 18.4 K%, 358 AB
When a catcher with a .702 OPS in the Carolina League (A+) gets the call to the Majors, you know the parent club desperately needed a catcher. That’s not to say Viloria doesn’t have the upside to make it to the Majors. I wouldn’t rank him here if he didn’t. Viloria is an above-average defensive backstop with an average hit tool and double-digit pop. He’ll most likely start the season in Double-A, but could be back up in Kansas City later in the season.
24. Austin Cox, LHP, DOB: 3/28/97, ETA 2021
2018 Stats (RK): 33.1 IP, 3.78 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, 13.8 K/9, .228 AVG
I’m going to sneak in one more 2018 arm here. This makes seven in the top-25. Way to draft Kansas City. Cox is a big southpaw at 6’4 and uses a four-pitch assortment with the potential for two above-average to plus pitches in his low to mid-90’s fastball and big breaking curveball. Has the looks of a back-end starter or valuable bullpen arm.
25. Nick Heath, OF, Bats: L, DOB: 11/27/93, ETA 2019
2018 Stats (A+/AA): .274/.376/.358/.734, 11 2B, 2 HR, 39 SB, 13.3 BB%, 27.1 K%, 299 AB
A speedster than ran wild in the Arizona Fall League this year with decent contact skills and plate approach. Future 4th outfielder and pinch runner scenario is likely here, but there is a chance he turns into a Jarrod Dyson type. Maybe.
Others to Monitor
Nick Heath, OF –
D.J. Burt, UTIL – Has taken a long time to develop and still hasn’t made it to Double-A yet. Shows a good feel for hitting with some speed. Future super utility type.
Richard Lovelady, LHP – A solid fastball/slider mix from the left side with above-average control. Should be up in Kansas City’s pen as soon as opening day.
Josh Staumont, RHP – Love the fastball, love the slider, hate the control. A future bullpen arm if he can keep his control in check.
Up – MJ Melendez (C), Elvis Luciano (RHP)
Down – None
Other Team Prospect Reports
Eric Cross is the lead MLB writer and prospect analyst here on FantraxHQ and has been with the site since March 2017. In the past, he wrote for FantasyPros and FanSided. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). For more from Eric, check out his author page and follow him on Twitter @EricCross04.
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