Now that the extremely successful minor league season has ended for the Royals’ affiliates, I want to take a look at some of the guys who had the best performances this year.
Here is my 2019 Royals All-Prospect Team:
C: Michael Emodi (Idaho Falls)
2019 Stats: 200 PA, .331/.410/.663, 173 wRC+, 12 HR, 3 SB, 26.5 K%, 8.0 BB%
2019 was definitely not a great year for Royals catchers all around. Salvador Perez missed the entire year with an injury, MJ Melendez took a few steps back in his adjustment to High-A, Meibrys Viloria failed to make any positive strides, and Sebastian Rivero continued to be a liability with the bat. Despite this, there were a couple bright spots (quite literally a couple), with the main one being 2nd year catcher Michael Emodi. The 11th round pick from last year out of Creighton returned to rookie ball, where he struggled last year, with a vengeance, showing off big power en route to a 173 wRC+ for Idaho Falls. While he is 23 and still only at rookie ball, this new power (12 HR in 200 PA) is very promising, and his overall performance definitely earns him a spot on this team.
Honorable Mention: Nick Dini (Omaha)
1B: Logan Porter (Burlington)
2019 Stats: 185 PA, .352/.481/.648, 201 wRC+, 9 HR, 0 SB, 18.4 K%, 16.8 BB%
While a 24 year old 1B still playing at rookie ball is definitely expected to dominate, I don’t think anyone is expected to dominate the way that Porter did. Porter led all qualified MiLB players with a 201 wRC+, as he posted a ridiculous 1.129 OPS for Burlington. Porter was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Dixie State last year, but he certainly hasn’t hit like a guy who was passed on by all 30 teams over and over again. While he still hasn’t made it out of rookie ball somehow, his .466 career OBP and 1.041 OPS through his first two short seasons are hard to ignore. It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue to produce as he’s faced with the higher minor leagues.
Honorable Mention: Vinnie Pasquantino (Burlington)
2B: Francis Grullon (DSL Royals)
2019 Stats: 219 PA, .277/.386/.424, 127 wRC+, 4 HR, 15 SB, 8.2 K%, 15.1 BB%
Grullon was one of the Royals bigger signings in 2017, coming in at $200k. Despite being regarded as a polished player for his age, Grullon struggled in his DSL debut last year. He came back in 2019 with a vengeance, improving his stats across the board. Grullon fully showcased his maturity this time around, as he posted a ridiculous 33:18 K:BB ratio, along with a 127 wRC+. He did steal 15 bases as well, although his efficiency wasn’t great. While his overall lack of standout tools limits his potential as a prospect a bit, it’s hard to deny the season he’s had. If this were about 2 months ago then it probably would’ve been Gabriel Cancel, but he really struggled towards the end of the year, so I decided to go with Grullon instead.
Honorable Mention: Gabriel Cancel (Northwest Arkansas)
3B: Jimmy Govern (Arizona/Idaho Falls/Omaha)
2019 Stats: 232 PA, .344/.457/.603, 178 wRC+, 8 HR, 6 SB, 12.9 K%, 14.7 BB%
The first and only 2019 draftee to make this team, Govern was drafted as a senior out of Eastern Illinois in the 30th round. Govern had a great senior year, posting a 1.013 OPS and hitting 16 HR, and he continued that success in his debut as a pro. Govern hit the ground running as a pro, posting a 178 wRC+, walking more than he struck out, and chipping in 30 XBH in only 232 PA. Govern even got a promotion to AAA Omaha at the season’s end to get him a bit more playing time and to fill some holes, and he managed to hit 2 HR in his short 6 game stint.
Honorable Mention: Jake Means (Burlington)
SS: Wilmin Candelario (DSL Royals)
2019 Stats: 213 PA, .315/.396/.505, 144 wRC+, 4 HR, 11 SB, 29.1 K%, 10.8 BB%
The Royals top international signing in 2018 got off to a hot start to his professional career, as his tools were on full display in the DSL. A smooth fielding SS, with potential plus power and speed, Candelario arguably outperformed expectations with his bat, posting a .902 OPS and a 144 wRC+. He also showcased his raw power, hitting 4 HR, 7 2B, and 8 3B, although his baserunning was a bit inefficient, as he went 11/22 on SB. Candelario’s slash line was supported by a .450 BABIP, and although his speed and ability to hit the ball hard both support a high BABIP, this number is definitely unsustainable. His K% was a bit high in his debut, and he’ll need to work on getting those down as he moves up the ladder, but Candelario has one of the highest ceilings in the entire Royals system.
Honorable Mention: Clay Dungan (Idaho Falls)
OF: Brewer Hicklen (Wilmington)
2019 Stats: 494 PA, .263/.363/.427, 131 wRC+, 14 HR, 39 SB, 28.3 K%, 11.1 BB%
I don’t think this statement is even controversial at all: Hicklen was by far the best Royals’ position prospect in 2019. Despite struggling mightily in his introduction to Wilmington last year (as most people do), he came back this year and made the Carolina League his own. While his base statline doesn’t jump off the screen, when you start to dig into the numbers, you realize just how good Hicklen was. His 131 wRC+ ranked 4th in the Carolina League, and that doesn’t even account for how much worse Wilmington is than league average (wRC+ is only league adjusted for lower level minor leagues, not park adjusted). His speed and power potential were both on full display, as he hit 14 HR and stole 39 bases. He also finished the year on an absolute tear, posting a .943 OPS in August. Hicklen needs to cut down on the strikeouts (28.3 K%), but I believe he has the potential to be a 20/30 OF in the MLB.
OF: Darryl Collins
2019 Stats: 208 PA, .320/.401/.436, 132 wRC+, 0 HR, 1 SB, 14.4 K%, 10.6 BB%
Few players can say that they got off to a better start to their American professional baseball careers at 17 years old than Collins did this year. Despite not being a big international signing, Collins got off to a torrid start, posting a .988 OPS (.387/.472/.516) in his first 33 career games. He unfortunately stumbled across the finish line, posting a .501 OPS in his final 15 games, but his overall slash line still looks great, especially for a 17 year old. Collins continued his successful 2019, by making the All-World Team at the U-18 Baseball World Cup last month. Collins turned a lot of heads last year, with Fangraphs already ranking him as the Royals’ 16th best prospect, and giving him 60 FV raw power.
OF: Khalil Lee
2019 Stats: 546 PA, .264/.363/.372, 112 wRC+, 8 HR, 53 SB, 28.2 K%, 11.9 BB%
Lee came into 2019 with both a lot of hype, and a lot of questions. While he performed pretty well in 2018, his power and speed numbers were not quite what they used to be, and he struggled mightily in the AFL. In 2019 he cleared up some of those concerns, but plenty of questions still exist. His overall performance proved that his AFL showing was a fluke, as he handled AA pitching very well. His walk rate went all the way up to an outstanding 11.9%, and he stole 53 bases (2nd to only Nick Heath in MiLB). His overall 112 wRC+ on the year looks very good, but the main issue was the power. He’s been unable to recapture that power which he had in 2017, where he hit 17 HR. Lee’s main issue is that he hits too many GB (59.3 GB%), and it limits his power potential. Lee still did enough to make this team in 2019, but if he starts to elevate the ball more he can be one of the best prospects in baseball.
SP: Kris Bubic (Lexingston/Wilmington)
2019 Stats: 149.1 IP, 2.23 ERA, 2.44 FIP, 32.3 K%, 7.3 BB%, .196 BAA
Not only was Bubic the best pitcher, and the best overall player in the Royals’ system this year, but he also had one of the best years of any pitchers in minor league baseball. Among all pitchers in minor league baseball with at least 100 IP, Bubic ranked 3rd in FIP, 8th in K%-BB%,and 9th in xFIP. Outside of maybe MacKenzie Gore, Tarik Skubal, and Joe Ryan, I don’t think there’s many names you can make an argument for over Bubic for 2019. After dominating in a short stint in Lexington, Bubic continued to do the same following a promotion to Wilmington. Like many names on this list, Bubic finished the season on a tear, posting a 1.39 ERA over his last 10 starts (64.2 IP), including back-to-back 11 K complete games in August. Not too many pitchers have more helium going into 2020 than the 40th overall pick out of Stanford, and it’s easy to see why.
SP: Brady Singer (Wilmington/Northwest Arkansas)
2019 Stats: 148.1 IP, 2.85 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 22.5 K%, 6.4 BB%, .244 BAA
Remember when Singer had a couple of bad starts in his introduction to AA and everyone was ready to give up on him? Ok, so maybe people weren’t giving up on him, but a lot of people were moving him down as far as #8 for Royals prospects, and most were agreeing that he was worse than Kowar and Lynch. I stood pat, keeping him at #3, and he rewarded me by finishing the season with a 2.18 ERA, 65 K, and 16 BB in his last 10 starts (62 IP). Singer’s one real weakness, his breaking ball, is still there, although reports have been more positive recently. Outside of this, he’s one of the most polished pitching prospects in all of baseball. I compared him to Mike Soroka in my top 50 list, and I stand by that statement, and I think he’s also a bit of a Casey Mize-lite.
SP: Jonathan Bowlan (Lexington/Wilmington)
2019 Stats: 146.0 IP, 3.14 ERA, 2.82 FIP, 26.2 K%, 4.0 BB%, .224 BAA
After struggling mightily in his introduction to professional baseball in 2018, Bowlan came back in 2019 with a vengeance. Before 2019, Bowlan’s upside was seen as a back of the rotation innings eater, who would keep a low walk count but also not strike out many guys, similar to a guy like Mike Leake. He changed that this year by adding a few ticks of velocity and just improving his stuff overall, as he looked like a completely different pitcher this year. His K% improved from a putrid 13.9 in 2018 to 26.2 in 2019. This newfound ability to miss bats, combined with his already elite control makes Bowlan a very exciting prospect. I previously compared him to Michael Pineda, and I still think that he fits that mold very well. Bowlan will likely always be a bit hittable (although he wasn’t when he threw a no-hitter on 7/15), but when you combine his K% and BB% with his ability to eat innings, he should have a bright future in Kansas City’s rotation.
SP: Luis De La Rosa (DSL Royals)
2019 Stats: 38.2 IP, 2.33 ERA, 1.49 FIP, 34.7 K%, 4.7 BB%, .196 BAA
If you’ve read my top 50 list, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of De La Rosa. As a converted SS, De La Rosa is a great athlete, but judging by how mature he is you would never guess that he’s new to pitching. Despite just turning 17, he absolutely dominated the DSL, posting an insane 30.0 K%-BB%, and an even more ridiculous 1.49 FIP. He was especially dominant after his first 3 starts, closing the year with a 0.87 ERA, and allowing a .394 OPS against over his last 9 starts (31 IP), in which he struck out 43 and walked 5. The DSL isn’t exactly the greatest hitting league, but what Luis De La Rosa did as a 17 year old was nothing short of phenomenal, and he’s possibly the Royals’ prospect that I’m most excited about coming into next year.
RP: Tyler Zuber (Wilmington/Northwest Arkansas)
2019 Stats: 55.1 IP, 1.79 ERA, 2.51 FIP, 31.6 K%, 7.4 BB%, .174 BAA
If you’ve read my top 50 list, you’ll also know that I’m a big fan of Tyler Zuber. In that article I compare him to Jason Motte and Greg Holland, and I still think both comparisons still fit very well. Despite being undersized he has a great power fastball, and compliments it with a plus changeup. He’s also made great strides with his slider this year, although it could definitely still use a bit more work. This stuff allowed him to put up an impressive 31.6 K%, while keeping his walks at a respectable rate as well. He wasn’t quite as dominant following his promotion to AA, but still looked very comfortable, posting a 2.42 ERA and actually cutting his walks in half in the process. Zuber is a bit old at 24, but I believe he has a future in the back end of the Kansas City bullpen.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Marklund (Lexington)