Kansas City Royals

I lost count on how many players the Royals promoted to their big league club.  It was significant and left their minor league system a little down.  But, Royals fans should not be dismayed as several promoted players look like future stars.  The top two players in their system were their top two players drafted last July.  Gavin Cross and Cayden Wallace have the upside of full-time regulars and should move through the system quickly.  They also acquired Drew Waters and Samad Taylor in trades, bringing significant tools to the organization.  Their pitching is not as deep as Asa Lacy had a tough season because of back issues, and while talented, Frank Mozzicato has a long way to go.  Overall, I like what the Royals are doing, and if you’re a fan, you have to love the aggressiveness they’ve shown with their young players.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Gavin Cross
  • Biggest Mover: Samad Taylor
  • Emerging Prospect: Jean Ramirez

1. Gavin Cross (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with upside
  • Tools Summary: He has speed and power with a feel to hit.

The Royals drafted Gavin Cross with the ninth overall pick last July after a standout junior year at Virginia Tech.  He hit for power and showed off solid wheels by stealing 12 for 12 bases.  He looked comfortable in his professional debut, spending most of his time in Low-A, where he hit .293 with seven home runs and four stolen bases.  He did strike out 25% of the time but also walked 22 times in 123 plate appearances.  Net-net, you have speed and power with a feel to hit.  Uhh…I think that’s what fantasy baseball managers are looking for.

2. Cayden Wallace (3B)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 3B
  • Tools Summary: He was an excellent pick in the second round, as he brings a nice swing with power to the equation.

Cayden Wallace got off to a fast start to his professional career after the Royals selected him in the second-round last July.  In 27 games in Low-A, he slashed .294/.369/.468 with two home runs and eight stolen bases.  He also showed a solid approach and limited his strikeouts.  While everyone steals bases in Low-A, Wallace is more of an average runner and should not be a threat to steal bases at the highest level.  But the swing works, and there’s plenty of power to project 20 home runs annually.  Next season, we will see him play against better pitching and can determine a more realistic ceiling.  For now, the upside is first-division third baseman with a fallback of a move to first.

3. Samad Taylor (2B)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 10 2B or Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: The speed has always been his carrying card, but he’s added some pop and a better approach that makes him even more intriguing.

Samad Taylor’s carrying tool has always been his speed, but in 2021 and again in 2022, he showed more power.  He’s also reduced his strikeout rate, and when you combine that with a solid approach, the upside is a full-time regular.  His biggest challenge recently has been that he was blocked in Toronto.  However, with the trade to Kansas City in July, there’s a chance we see him getting full-time at-bats as soon as next season.

4. Drew Waters (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with risk
  • Tools Summary: Intriguing speed-power tools with plenty of swing and miss in his game.

In 2019, everything was going right for Drew Waters.  He was flying through the Braves system and hitting everything in sight along the way.  While the stat line was saying one thing, a casual look at the data told a different story.  His BABIP was over .400, and he was striking out.  In 2021, the correction occurred, and his inability to control the strike zone was exposed.  In 2022, he was traded to the Royals to free up a 40-man roster spot in Atlanta.  While he might not have the upside of a superstar, I believe he can still provide value to a Major League team.  He’s a plus runner with some pop, and if the Royals can work some MJ Melendez magic on his strike zone judgment, he could still be a solid performer in the big leagues.  He’s still only 23, and if somebody has dropped him in a Dynasty League, I would be running out to pick him up.

5. Nick Loftin (OF/2B/3B)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF or Top 10 2B
  • Tools Summary: He has a solid approach with excellent contact skills.  He’s also a plus runner with enough power to hit 8 to 12 home runs annually.

Nick Loftin started the season in Double-A, slashing .270/.354/.422 in 90 games with 12 home runs and 24 stolen bases.  The effort got him an August promotion to Triple-A, where he found the sledding more difficult as he struggled to make his usual excellent contact.  I will chalk the stat line up to a small sample size as the swing is short to the ball, and he’s always shown the ability to control the strike zone.  Defensively, the Royals had him playing all over the diamond.  He spent a lot of time in centerfield before ending the year at third.  Long-term, I think he splits his time between second and center, much like Witt Merrifield.  While he might not have Merrifield’s extreme stolen base potential, it’s a reasonable comparison.  I think he’ll hit with 20+ stolen base potential and 8 to 12 home runs annually.

6. Asa Lacy (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP with upside
  • Tools Summary: It was a lost season for Lacy as he struggled with back issues throughout the season and pitched only 28 innings.

It was a lost season for Asa Lacy.  He was plagued by back problems all year and managed only to pitch 28 innings – and they were bad innings.  He could never find the plate and wound up walking 42 batters.  Yes, a 4 followed by a 2. Additionally, he had shoulder issues in 2021 and struggled mightly to throw strikes in High-A.  It’s not been good, and if you’re a Royals fan or Dynasty League manager, you have to be worried.  The stuff still looks solid, and hopefully, once he’s healthy, he’ll return to the pitcher he was in college that made him the number four overall pick in 2020.

7. Maikel Garcia (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 SS or Top 10 2B
  • Tools Summary: He controls the strike zone with plus speed but limited home run potential.

Maikel Garcia has always been able to hit, and that skill got him a ticket to Kansas City, where he had seven hits in 22 at-bats.  He will never hit for much power, but he’s a plus runner and defender, so at a minimum, he could be a utility player at the highest level.  However, I think he can be more than that, particularly from a fantasy standpoint.  Players that can hit and steal bases are extremely valuable, and that’s what he does.  Throw in a bunch of doubles and a few home runs annually (up to 10), and I think he can be a full-time regular.

8. Jean Ramirez (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025-26 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with risk
  • Tools Summary: Improved his contactability while walking nearly as much as he struck out.

Jean Ramirez had a breakout season in Low-A in 2022.  He cut down his strikeout rate considerably (13.5%) and, given his plate patience, walked nearly as much as he struck out in 53 games in Low-A.  He’s a plus runner stealing 35 bases but was caught ten times.  He needs to get stronger, and his frame suggests that he should be able to put on good weight in the future.  He has a long way to go, but there is much to get excited about.

9. Ben Kudrna (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP
  • Tools Summary: He had a solid season showing a plus arsenal with some control issues.

In 2021, the Royals went back-to-back with high school pitchers.  In the first round, they drafted Frank Mozzicato, and in the second round, they drafted right-hander Ben Kudrna.  While some will argue that Mozzicato has the higher upside, Kudrna throws harder and has better present control.  He can run his fastball up to 97 MPH with a promising slider and change-up.  He has a long way to go, but he pitched the entire season at 19 and came through the season just fine.  The upside is a number three starter.

10. Frank Mozzicato (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025-26 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: Mozzicato has the size and left-handedness that teams want, but he’s physically immature with currently 30-grade control.  He has the draft pedigree but also has a long way to go.

At this point, the Royals should have drafted the other top high school pitcher in the 2021 Draft – Andrew Painter.  While Painter has made the minor leagues look easy, Mozzicato has struggled.  It’s still about projection with him as he needs to fill out to increase his velocity.  Currently, his fastball is sitting in the low 90s, and he’s having trouble throwing strikes (6.5 BB/9 rate).  But he’s athletic and has the size you want in a starter; he needs time to develop.  Will it all come together?  It’s hard to say at this point, but unless a fantasy manager is in it for the long haul, it might be best to say clear until we see some improvement.

11. Angel Zerpa (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Closer
  • Tools Summary: He missed the second half of the season with a knee injury. Before that, he had some success in the Major Leagues as a starter.  Long-term, his size and delivery point to a bullpen role.

Angel Zerpa got the call to the Major Leagues in July and didn’t look out of place.  He won two out of his first three starts and pitched to a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings.  He only struck out three but flashed a solid fastball-slider combination.  He’s only 6 feet and throws from a lower three-quarters slot, so the delivery points to a bullpen over a starting role.

12. Peyton Wilson (2B)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 2B with upside
  • Tools Summary: He is a plus runner but needs to reduce his strikeout rate and continue to get stronger to improve his chances as a full-time regular.

Peyton Wilson had a nice 2022 season where he showed solid offensive tools across the board.  Coming into the season, we knew he was a 70-runner, but I was impressed with how much stronger he’s gotten, and his .468 SLG and 14 home runs tell the tale.  Unfortunately, he strikes out too much, and he’s limited defensively, so I’m not sure how high the ceiling could be.  But it was a solid season with Double-A likely telling the story if he has a chance to be a big leaguer or not.

13. Drew Parrish (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP or Reliever
  • Tools Summary: He throws strikes with a plus change-up.

In a nutshell, Drew Parrish is a change-up guy who throws strikes.  He doesn’t throw his fastball very hard, but it has excellent spin, so there is movement.  He also has an unusual, very slow curveball that he throws in the upper 60s.  If this were a show-me pitch, that would be fine, but as your primary spin offering, it might not work.  But his fastball-change-up is good enough to get guys out; therefore, you can hang a #4 starter profile on him.  If he develops a slider, watch out.

14. TJ Sikkema (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP or Reliever
  • Tools Summary: Command and control over the arsenal.

TJ Sikkema was part of the return when the Royals traded Andrew Benintendi to the Yankees at the trade deadline.  He’s been effective both in college and in the pros because he throws strikes and can locate his fastball.  His fastball is below-average and sits in the low 90s, with his primary out pitch being his slider which grades out at above-average to plus. There is effort in his delivery, and a potential role could be to move him to the bullpen, where his fastball would play up.  The ceiling is a back-of-the-rotation starter or a reliever.

15. Erick Pena (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Unknown
  • Tools Summary: He was paid a huge signing bonus and hasn’t hit – yet.

The Royals spent nearly $4 million to sign Erick Pena in 2019; so far, he has not hit.  In 82 games in Low-A, he hit .161 while striking out 121 times.  Yikes!  I have yet to see him play, but everything I’ve heard makes me believe that the high signing bonus was warranted.  He’s owned in many Dynasty Leagues, and I know managers are anxious.  It’s about patience, but it might be time to move on if he gets off to a rough start in 2023.

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