When talking about the Royals minor league system, it begins with Bobby Witt Jr. He has the tools and baseball acumen to be one of the best players in the game and a stud from a fantasy baseball standpoint. He should arrive in the third week of next season to allow the Royals to have seven years of team control. As impressive of a story that Witt Jr. has been this year, MJ Melendez and Nick Pratto’s journeys might have been more impressive. In 2019, both were strikeout machines…striking out well over 30%. I thought as did many, they might not make it. But, they worked on their swings, and both improved, rather dramatically. Melendez cut his strikeout rate in half (almost unheard of) and Pratto by 25%. Both players should join Witt Jr. at some point during the 2022 season.
Prospect Quick Shot
- Top Prospect: Bobby Witt Jr.
- Biggest Mover: MJ Melendez
- Emerging Prospect: Nick Loftin
1. Bobby Witt Jr. (SS)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: First Round Draft Pick
- Tools Summary: Has all the tools to be a star
While many felt Bobby Witt Jr. showed enough in Spring Training to start the year in the big leagues, I was not one of them. Sure, he entered the season ranked number 18 on my pre-season Top 100, but he’d only had 180 plate appearances in Rookie Ball and everyone needs time to develop. After slashing .290/.361/.575 across Double and Triple-A, I think it’s NOW safe to say that Witt Jr. is ready for the ultimate test. The approach is still aggressive, and he strikes out too much (24%) but he makes consistent hard contact with great bat speed and enough loft to hit for 20 plus home runs out of the gate. He’s also a plus runner and could easily steal 20 or more bases annually. Will it come with a .260 batting average? It could, but he’ll walk enough to post a .340 OBP and that should make him a star. Expect to see Witt Jr. in mid-April in Kansas City.
2. MJ Melendez (C/DH)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 Catcher or DH
- Tools Summary: Cut his strikeout rate in half and still hit 37 home runs. He’s not a great receiver but if the strikeout rate is real, he’ll make a fine DH and part-time catcher
Few players in the minor leagues improved their stock more than MJ Melendez. He’s always had the plus raw power but the strikeouts rate was so high, there were serious questions about him being a big leaguer. In 2019, he struck out 40% of the time in High-A. This year…it was a different story. In 123 games across Double and Triple-A, he cut his strikeout rate in half. The remarkable feat was accomplished by not reducing his power. He hit 41 home runs, which led the minor leagues. If that doesn’t make you pause and say WOW…nothing will. Defensively, he’s not great behind home plate. He’s athletic enough but hasn’t improved on his receiving skills to grade out more than average
3. Nick Pratto (1B)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
- Tools Summary: Improved his contact skills in a meaningful way. He’s always had the ceiling to hit 30 home runs and with his contact and ability to walk, could post a .240/.340/.500 with 30 plus home runs
Nick Pratto made meaningful strides in 2021. I saw him back in 2019 and candidly, was concerned he was going to make it. Along with Seuly Matias and MJ Melendez, they formed a trio of strikeout makers. All three struck out well over 30% of the time with Pratto posting a 35% strikeout rate. You rarely see a kid recover from that. He worked on his swing last season to get shorter to the ball and it appears to have worked. In 124 games across Double and Triple-A, the strikeout rate has improved to 28.5%. Granted, not great but when you combine that with plus power, the ability to work a walk, and a little bit of speed, he suddenly has become interesting again. I could see a .240/.340/.500 slash line with 30 home runs and a handful of stolen bases. That’s not Freddie Freeman, but that’s a pretty good fantasy asset.
4. Asa Lacy (LHP)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP with risk
- Tools Summary: Former first-round pick struggled in High-A walking over seven per nine. Shoulder stiffness ended his season early leaving a lot of questions about his ceiling
It wasn’t a good season for Asa Lacy in 2021. He was assigned to High-A to begin the season and given his draft status (pick 4) and significant college experience, I’m sure the Royals thought he would have no trouble. But, he did. While he showed plenty of swing and miss stuff, striking out over 13 per nine, he couldn’t find the plate. In 52 innings, he walked over seven per nine. Then in July, he developed shoulder stiffness and didn’t pitch again. The optimist in me says that Lacy was just rusty and/or hurt for a while and that led to his problems. The pessimist in me says he’s just not that good. The optimist is currently winning and therefore, I’m keeping his ceiling unchanged.
5. Kyle Isbel (OF)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
- Tools Summary: Intriguing power-speed profile who has always shown an ability to make contact
Kyle Isbel continued to show all-around tools during his time in Triple-A in 2021. In 105 games, he slashed .269/.357/.444 with 15 home runs and 22 stolen bases. He also got some time in the Major Leagues, first in early April and then in a September call-up. He was overwhelmed at first but improved as he got more comfortable, striking out 27% of the time with a home run and 2 stolen bases. There are fantasy-friendly skills in the profile and he’s always been able to hit. He’s a perfect candidate to take late in a draft-and-hold format next spring.
6. Vinnie Pasquantino (1B)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
- Tools Summary: Showing great plate coverage with a chance to be an above-average hitter. Power took a step up in 2021 but the ultimate power ceiling is still in question
The Royals selected Vinnie Pasquantino in the 11th round in the 2019 draft and I doubt they ever thought he would be hitting, and hitting for power as he did in 2021. He slashed .291/.384/.565 in 61 games in High-A and then did even better once the Royals promoted him to Double-A. All total, he hit over .300 with nearly a .400 OBP and 24 home runs. So the question is this the new baseline? He has great plate coverage, does not chase pitches, and grinds out at-bats. So, it appears he’s going to hit. He doesn’t have great bat speed but at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, he’s a big dude and you would think 20 home runs would be possible. If you’re looking for a sleeper, here he is.
7. Erick Pena (OF)
- Highest Level: Complex League ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF with extreme risk
- Tools Summary: Toolsy outfielder who was overwhelmed in his professional debut hitting only .164
I bought in hard to Erick Pena, one of the big bonus babies of the 2019 International Draft. I heard nothing but positive reports before the Royals signed him and similar reports at the Alt-Site and Instructs last season. I was anxious to see what he would do against real competition and he got the chance this year. It went poorly. In 156 plate appearances in the Complex League, he was overwhelmed. He hit .161 with a 37% strikeout rate. He did slug .314 with 3 home runs. While it was disappointing, Dynasty League owners shouldn’t panic. The 2019 draft class was impressive, but the missed year hurt. From a tools standpoint, they are still there including the plus bat speed that should lead to significant future home run potential. Unfortunately, there is more work than we thought in his approach and ability to make contact.
8. Frank Mozzicato (LHP)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2025+ Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP with extreme risk
- Tools Summary: He has an intriguing arm but he’s from a cold-weather state with a potential long development cycle to hit his ceiling
I first heard about Frank Mozzicato when I read an article about him throwing four no-hitters last Spring. The Royals liked that and many other things as well and decided to use the seventh overall pick on the left-hander from Connecticut. While I’ve never seen him pitch, it feels like a stretch to take a high school pitcher from a cold-weather state that early in the draft. He does have a good fastball that he can run up to mid-90s with a curveball that shows real promise. Regardless, he’s still an 18-year-old pitcher and that comes with a lot of risks.
9. Jackson Kowar (RHP)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: Difficult Major League debut but the stuff points to better days ahead, assuming he can improve his control and learn to command his pitches
Drafted in the supplemental first-round in 2018, Jackson Kowar got his shot at pitching in the big leagues this season, and to be kind, it was less than stellar. The Royals gave him two starts in early June and he gave up 8 runs in two innings. They brought him back in September and it went a little better (against the Orioles and Cleveland), but against better competition, he struggled. His change-up was his best pitch and missed bats, but his fastball, which had plenty of velocity (95.9 MPH) got hit hard as did his slider. In looking at his scatter plot, command of his pitches is just not there. While he struggled to throw strikes, when he did, they caught too much of the plate. All said, I think he’s better than this…he has to be. I don’t see a star, never did, but I think he can be a solid number four starter.
10. Nick Loftin (SS/2B)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SS or Top 15 2B
- Tools Summary: High floor player who controls the plate well. His secondary skills are adequate but far from impactful
Nick Loftin was the Royals supplemental first-round pick in 2020 and looks to be rounding into form. He’s first and foremost a hitter. In 90 games in High-A, he posted a 15% K/9 ratio and a 10% BB/9 ratio. He’s got average power (10 home runs), maybe slightly more, but his swing path is more level, so assuming he doesn’t add more loft, the power will be more doubles than home runs. He has average-at-best speed (11 stolen bases). It’s the definition of a high-floor player. It might be the guy that the Royals thought Nicky Lopez would become.
11. Jonathan Bowlan (RHP)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP with risk
- Tools Summary: He has the size and big fastball but his secondary pitches have always lagged. Started the year strong, then blew out his elbow in May, and will miss the 2022 season recovering from TJS
Bowlan’s season ended after four starts when he blew out his elbow and had Tommy John Surgery in June. He showed a lot of promise in those four starts, striking out over 13 per nine and walking less than two per nine. He’s got the size at 6-foot-6 and the big fastball to pitch at the front-of-the-rotation but his secondary pitches have always lagged. Unfortunately, we now have to wait until 2023 to see if the arsenal will come together. We will put his ceiling as a number four starter with risk.
12. Ben Kudrna (RHP)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2025+ Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP with extreme risk
- Tools Summary: Projectable right-hander with a big fastball
The Royals went back-to-back in the June draft with high school pitchers. In the first round, they selected Fank Mozzicato and in the second round, they selected 6-foot-3 Ben Kudrna. He’s a tall, thin projectable right-handed pitcher with a big fastball. The Royals kept him at the Complex to work on his delivery and will likely send him out to Fall Instructs to get his first exposure to professional competition.
13. Alec Marsh (RHP)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP or Reliever
- Tools Summary: Power right-hander who doesn’t repeat his delivery
Alec Marsh is a power right-hander with a plus fastball-curveball combination. His change-up is still a work-in-progress. Despite a simple delivery, he doesn’t repeat it well and consequently has below-average control. He only started six games this season in Double-A before hitting the IL with an undisclosed injury. While the size points to a starter, the lack of a third pitch and his ability to repeat his delivery might eventually move him to the bullpen.
14. Darryl Collins (OF)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF
- Tools Summary: Plus hit-tool with some speed but has below-average power and since he’ll likely play left field, that could pressure on him getting full-time at-bats
Collins is a hit-first player whose best position is left field. In Low-A, he walked nearly as much as he struck out and only struck out 14% of the time. He’s also an above-average runner who stole 15 bases as well. Unfortunately, he’s got below-average power and that could put pressure on him getting full-time at-bat at the highest level. Unless he develops power, he might be a tweener and a kid who might not get full-time at-bats.
15. Angel Zerpa (LHP)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: High Leverage Reliever
- Tools Summary: Sinker-slider pitcher that given his size, might work better in the bullpen
Zerpa is a sinker-slider pitcher that spent time between High and Double-A in 2021. In 87 innings, he pitched to a 4.34 ERA, striking out 8 per nine and keeping his walks under three. He’s only 6-feet with a wide-body and while he has the stuff to be a starter, I think he’d work better in the bullpen where his fastball would play up. While sinkers don’t always sink and then can become missiles, Zerpa should be in the Majors next year and if he gets moved to the bullpen, he could have a chance to be in high-leverage situations.
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