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Kansas City Royals

The Royals have done a great job of quickly rebuilding their farm system.  Bobby Witt Jr. is their best prospect and has all the tools to become one of the best shortstops in the game.  Erick Pena was also one of the exciting International players to be signed in 2019 and everything I’ve heard about him has been positive.  And then there’s pitching.  Daniel Lynch and Asa Lacy have a chance to be one of the best southpaw starting tandem in baseball.  They have great stuff and are close to Majors.  The Royals are still two years away from their window opening, but I like we they are going.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Bobby Witt Jr.
  • Biggest Mover: Erick Pena
  • Emerging Prospect: Danny Vasquez

1. Bobby Witt Jr. (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 10 SS
  • Tools Summary: Big tools both offensively and defensively. 

Bobby Witt Jr. doesn’t get the love that many high draft choices have gotten.  Yeah, there was that thing about his draft age, but after a solid professional debut, there’s got to be something.  I don’t get it.  I’ve seen him play live and he has a ton of tools and the confidence to go with it.  He’s a plus runner with great bat speed and an approach at the plate.  There are some swing and miss in this game, but he should get on base enough to negate some modest swing and miss.  Once he gets to playing competitively again, I think he moves through the system quickly.

2. Daniel Lynch (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP
  • Tools Summary: Premium stuff from the left side with present control.  Assuming health, the upside is significant.

At 6-foot-6 and a premium arsenal from the left side, Lynch has a chance to pitch at the front of a big-league rotation.  While I’m not yet ready to predict ace upside, given his stuff, mechanics, and control, I think he could be a solid number two starter at the highest level.  I’m not going to read too much into the Royals’ decision to hold him back at the Alternate Site when both Kris Bubic and Brady Singer were promoted.  Lynch needed to work on his change-up and I’m sure the Royals didn’t want to start his clock when the team wasn’t going to compete in 2020.

3. Asa Lacy (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP
  • Tools Summary: Premium stuff from the left side with present control.  While I like Daniel Lynch a little more, they are in fact, very close

Asa Lacy was the top pitcher taken in the 2020 MLB Draft (Pick #4) and for good reason.  He has the size (6-foot-4 and 215 pounds) with a fastball that will sit in the low to mid-90s with solid secondary pitches.  Plus, it’s all coming from the left-side.  It’s easy to “Dream on” a rotation that is led by two young power-lefties and that’s exactly what the Royals might have.  Because he’s barely pitched in 2020, I’ve put his arrival date for the 2022 season.

4. Khalil Lee (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 40 OF
  • Tools Summary: He stole 53 bases in 2019 which might be an outlier, but 20-20 is possible.  He needs to make better contact, but there is a lot to like from a fantasy standpoint.

Khalil Lee brings great bat speed and above-average speed to the table and provided he can cut down on his strikeouts, he has a chance to be a significant contributor in the Major Leagues.  I know everyone is excited about his 53 stolen bases in 2019, but I’ve seen him play live and he’s far from a burner.  I think 2019 will be his outlier year.  I do believe 20 stolen bases is possible annually.  While I like the bat speed, he doesn’t have much loft in his swing and hits the ball into the ground far too much.  So there’s work to do, but the ceiling is a 20-20 outfielder.

5. Erick Pena (OF)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2024+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: One of the premier 2019 International signees. Power and hit potential with a little speed early in his career.

Erick Pena was one of the premier International signees in 2019 where he inked a $3.8 million-dollar bonus.  He’s an athletic outfielder with good speed but is already 6-foot-3 and as he fills out, he’ll likely lose some of that speed. He has excellent bat speed and projects to develop plus in-game power as he matures.  The most encouraging aspect is it appears he can hit. 

6. Jackson Kowar (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP
  • Tools Summary: Size and solid stuff across the board gives him a chance for a long Major League career as a mid-rotation starter.

At 6-foot-5 and 180 pounds, Jackson Kowar has the size and stuff to be a number three starter at the highest level.  He has an above-average fastball that sits 92 to 94 that he can throw for strikes with some command.  His money pitch is his change-up and as I’ve said many times, pitches with plus change-ups can have early success in the Major Leagues.  His breaking pitch (slider and a curve) still needs work and if he can improve one of them a grade, it’ll be the difference between a number three starter and a number four starter.

7. Kyle Isbel (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 OF
  • Tools Summary: He’s a plus runner with some pop. 

Kyle Isbel travels under the radar in most prospect circles and given his athleticism, I think there is sleeper potential for Dynasty League managers.  His 2019 was interrupted with multiple injuries and in the end, he never got anything going.  From a tools standpoint though, he has both plus bat speed plus foot speed.  After seeing him in the AFL in 2019, I also liked the swing and think he’ll hit a little as well.  So, I’m bullish and think if he’s on your waiver wire, you should make a bid.

8. Brady McConnell (SS/OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2023+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF
  • Tools Summary: Athleticism with speed and power but with a poor approach and lots of strikeouts. 

Brady McConnell is athletic with excellent bat speed and is a plus runner.  What we are not sure about is his ability to hit.  He was so overmatched in his freshman year at Florida that he only got 22 at-bats.  In his sophomore year, he got full-time at-bats and hit .344 with 15 home runs, but he posted a 23% K/9 and rarely walked.  It was more of the same in his first taste of professional ball.  In 38 games in Low-A, he struck out 39% of the time while walking 8.3% of the time.  Sure, it was a small sample size, but also in-line with what he did in college.

9. Brewer Hicklen (OF)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF
  • Tools Summary: He’s a double-plus runner with some good pop.  Needs to cut down on strikeouts or his upside is a fourth outfielder at the highest level

While pitching continues to dominate their system, the Royals do have a few intriguing hitters with Brewer Hicklen near the top of the list.   His calling card is his double-plus speed.  In 2019 he stole 39 bases in 53 attempts.  He also hit 14 home runs.  What he also did was strikeout too much.  In 125 games, he struck out 28% of the time.  While he did walk 11% of the time, if he can get shorter to the ball, he could be a full-time regular.  If not, he’s likely a fourth outfielder.

10. Jonathan Bowlan (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP or a reliever
  • Tools Summary: Huge physical presence with solid stuff.  A move to the bullpen might allow his stuff to play up a grade.

Jonathan Bowlan’s a big kid at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds and lacks any physical projection.  It might not matter as he can run his fastball up to 94 to 95 MPH, sitting 91 to 93.  The pitch has good sinking action and with his downward plane, the pitch is hard to lift.  His slider has improved since his Florida days but his change-up is still not there.  What makes his stuff play is his ability to throw strikes.  If you add it all up, the upside is a number four starter or a reliever.  I might prefer the reliever role as I think he could add a mile or two to his stuff and with his sinking fastball, he might be a candidate for a late-inning option for the Royals down the road.

11. Nick Loftin (SS)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling:  Middle Infielder
  • Tools Summary: Striking out too much and only showing average power for a first baseman.

After the Royals suffered through strikeout after strikeout in Wilmington in 2019 (their High-A affiliate), I’m wondering if they thought they needed some high contact hitters in their system?  Enter Nick Loftin, the Royals supplemental first-round pick last June.  In his two-plus years in college, he averaged an 8% strikeout rate.  He did slug .525 in his Sophomore and Junior year but only hit five home runs.  He also only stolen a handful of bases.  It’s likely the profile of a utility player but if he can add some loft to his swing, he could profile as a full-time regular.

12. Nick Pratto (1B)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 1B
  • Tools Summary: Striking out too much and only showing average power for a first baseman.

Out of the three Big Ker’s, Nick Pratto has the best chance to have a Major League career.  First, his strikeout rate is the lowest of the three.  He also has the best approach of three and the best swing.  He needs to cut down on expanding the strike zone.  Assuming he can, the next question will be how much power he will have.  While he only has average speed, he’s stolen double-digit bases every year including 17 in 2019.

13. M.J. Melendez (C)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2022+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 Catcher
  • Tools Summary: It’s power over hit but when the strikeout rate is nearly 40%, there is significant worry.

Melendez struggled in 2019.  In 110 games in High-A, he hit .163 with a 39.4% strikeout rate.  Sure, he hit nine home runs and even stole seven bases, but players who strikeout over 30% of the time in the lower minors do not have a good track record of being successful in the big leagues.  In reviewing his swing, he needs to get more compact as his current length is exposing major holes and the results will only get worse as he moves to the upper minors.  He’s a good defender with power and even some speed, so it’s about the hit-tool.  If he can make better contact, I’m interested, if not…

14. Seuly Matias (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2022+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF, but he might not make it.
  • Tools Summary: 80-grade raw power but the strikeout rate is so severe, there are questions as to whether he will make it.

Seuly Matias has double-plus, maybe 80-grade raw power.  His physicality and bat speed are things to dream on.  However, the contact rate is so far from acceptable, it’s going to be an uphill battle for him to make it. But, if he can lower the strikeout rate to around below 30%, the power will play.

15. Daniel Vasquez (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Int’l player expect sign ETA: 2024+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 SS/2B
  • Tools Summary: Another 16-year-old tooled up International signee

After signing one of the most exciting International players in 2019 in Erick Pena, the Royals are inline to sign another tooled up 16-year-old in Daniel Vasquez.  While he’s not as well thought of as Pena, he’s got great bat speed, is a good runner with some semblance of an approach.  For Dynasty League managers, he’s a kid to keep an eye on.

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