In a couple of fairly significant moves, the Royals traded two projected regulars in Michael A. Taylor and Adalberto Mondesi. Taylor has been worth 5.7 bWAR over the past 2 seasons in KC, and by the three major defensive metrics (DRS, UZR and OAA), is either 1st or 2nd among all MLB outfielders during that time. He’s been sub-replacement level as a hitter, but he’s valuable to Minnesota. This deal brings back two upper minors relievers with upside but command issues. Mondesi’s Achilles’ heel hasn’t been that specific body part but many others, as he’s only had over 300 PAs once since making his debut as a 20-year-old in the 2015 World Series. It might be org depth, but KC had to add a PTBNL alongside Mondesi to acquire a reliever who missed all of 2022 with a serious back strain. That hardly feels like their best possible return. What both deals signal to me is an acceptance of their realistic competitive window, by letting more of the kids play. They get to see what they have in Drew Waters and Kyle Isbel on the grass, Nate Eaton as a swiss army knife, and newly graduated Michael Massey without threat of veterans acting as placeholder or a hindrance to their big league reps.
Lists are subjective by nature, and this is the first Top 50 prospects column of mine published somewhere other than a Google doc for my buddies. Ultimately I had to speculate on a front office that’s in flux, which is clearly the X-factor in determining an order. If they can resolve the issues with their pitching development, I’m far more willing to overlook the troublesome ’22 suffered by many promising young arms.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out below or on Twitter @adamhalpin.
Thanks for reading!
Tier 1: Players with high expectations of both making the majors and playing at an All-Star level for a number of years
Tier 2: Players with an above-average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 3: Players with an average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 4: Players who have the potential of making the majors, or have a high likelihood of making the majors but providing minimal impact (e.g. middle reliever, low-ceiling UT guys)
Tier 5: Players of interest, worth keeping an eye on, who have an outside chance of making their team’s 40-man roster
Levels listed for each player are the highest levels player reached in 2022
1. Gavin Cross, OF, 22, High-A
In the summer of 2021 after 2 impressive seasons at Virginia Tech, Cross solidified himself as a 1st round talent, dominating the intrasquad competition with the US Collegiate National Team. Before the 2022 college baseball season, Cross was listed as the #3 college prospect by Perfect Game, #5 by D1Baseball, #10 by MLB Pipeline and #14 by Baseball America. He then spent his final year in college raking for the ACC title-winning Hokies, slashing .328/.411/.600. He hit 17 home runs and was a perfect 12-for-12 in stolen base attempts. The Royals selected him 9th overall this past July and he received the slot bonus of $5,202,900.
Cross has a large, athletic frame. He’s got great bat-to-ball skills, with fast hands that explode through the zone while maintaining impressive barrel control, despite some length. He hits the ball hard and could end up with plus power, but his contact is also above average at present. He walked nearly 18% of the time and had a 25% K rate in his A-ball debut, so he was aggressive but also unafraid to take a free pass. So, there’s a very exciting fantasy profile here. With his track record of hitting, and continued growth in a system that has helped good hitters improve, Cross could be the occasional All-Star. And because they’ve got Witt and Vinnie P, it wouldn’t be an honorary selection.
He played center field for the first time his final year at VT and with continued advancement at the position, he could stick there even stick as a pro. Most likely though he ends up in right field and is a major player in the Royals’ campaign to competitive relevance, potentially as soon as 2024.
There’s a real chance Cross jumps to a Tier 1 prospect as soon as mid-season if his progress holds against stiffer competition.
2. Tyler Gentry, OF, 24, Double-A
Another well-built, athletic outfielder, Gentry had maybe most impressive statistical season of any player in the org last year, hitting .326/.422/.542 with 21 home runs across High-A and Double-A. And after his mid-June promotion to AA, he had a .234 iso and 146 wRC+. He also cut his K rate by nearly 6 points and maintained a 12.1% BB rate. Similar to Cross, albeit from the right side, Gentry uses the whole field to spray the ball, and like many Royals prospects, he’s patient at the dish. He’s currently an average runner, and on the grass, he projects to be an average glove in a corner with enough arm for right field.
Gentry received a non-roster invite to Spring Training, and with the recent trade of Taylor, that’s one fewer OF blocking Gentry’s path to corner outfield thumping. ZiPS projects a 101 OPS+ for 2023. A mid-late season debut is a very real possibility.
3. Maikel Garcia, SS, 22, MLB
After signing with the Royals as an International Free Agent WAY back in 2016 as a 16-year-old, Garcia has progressed rather smoothly through the minors, ultimately earning a last summer call-up in 2022, where he appeared in 9 games.
Garcia is wiry (but not small) and will likely never hit for much power, but a plus runner and glove at the six, gives him a solid floor as a utility player. However, I think there’s more here. Defensively, he’s quick, fluid and has ample arm strength for the left side. Garcia has also shown an above average hit tool, excellent plate discipline and decent efficacy for stealing bases. Particularly from a fantasy standpoint, this package is more exciting than at first blush. A player that can hit, run and defend will get many chances to succeed. Throw in a bunch of doubles and a few home runs annually (8-10 at peak), and there’s your regular.
ZiPS is bullish on Garcia’s 2023, giving him the sixth-most value for a position player and comping him to mid-late aughts fantasy darling Brian Roberts! If Opening Day isn’t in the cards for Garcia, and an injury befalls one of the infielders, the call should go to the best defensive SS in the organization, who also happens to be Alcides Escobar’s cousin.
4. Nick Loftin, OF/UT, 24, Triple-A
Drafted as a shortstop in the Comp Round A pick in 2020, Loftin was excellent in his pro debut (playing mostly second base and shortstop) at high-A in ’21 where he had a 130 wRC+ and .70 K/BB. He began 2022 in double-A, and got most of his starts in center field along with some second base. And while he’ll need more reps to be polished in center, his speed and instincts could grant him the time to make it work. He was league average (100 wRC+) at the dish over 425 PAs, before getting an aggressive late season promotion to triple-A. His overall 2022, .254/.333/.403 with 17 home runs and 29 steals, was a solid upper minors stat line for his second season in pro ball, but Triple-A was where the offensive performance cratered (.216/.280/.359, K% up 11 points). Upon that promotion he played 24 of 38 games at third base; yet another position! The Royals have another swiss army knife it appears, and for me, he’s more likely to become a regular because this is a 55 hit, 55 run type of player with loads of versatility. Another Spring Training invitee, Loftin is on my short list for potential first half call-ups due to injury or performance, where his best outcome for regular playing time might be center field or perhaps 3B with an underwhelming Hunter Dozier headed for free agency after 2023.
5. Cayden Wallace, 3B, 21, Single-A
The 2022 2nd round selection hit the ground hitting to begin his Royals career with a 130 wRC+ as a 20-year-old in A-ball. He showed patience and excellent zone contact in his debut. Wallace generates a lot of power from his frame and short stroke. He’ll get an opportunity to stay at third base, but he doesn’t move great there, and a shift to right field is a potential landing spot, where his plus arm would play well. 2023 will be great test for Wallace, to see if his contact skills can handle the level jump.
6. Frank Mozzicato, LHP, 19, Single-A
A new tier! One I’ve ordinally ranked with only a modicum of confidence (thanks, underwhelming pitching dev!), composed of a swath of pitchers and a few exciting hitters. I chose Mozzicato to lead this group because of his ceiling, not his results. A surprising pick at 7th overall in 2021, and signed for nearly $2 million under slot, Mozzicato was a projection-type of pick. He can really spin it, his fastball has ideal shape, his delivery is athletic and his arm action is smooth. Unfortunately his velocity hasn’t come up (FB sits 90) and his command has consistently wavered. Turning 20 in June, Mozzicato has plenty of time to figure it out. If 2023 begins to bare the results of the draft scouting reports we’ll soon forget these teenage adjustments, and keep Mozzicato on track to start.
7. Beck Way, RHP, 23, High-A
Maybe my favorite pitcher in this organization, Way came over from the Yankees in the Benintendi deal last summer. Way has a starter’s frame, and his low arm angle creates good extension so that his fastball, which sits 93-96 (touching 99) plays as a plus pitch. His slider which added significant sweep during 2022 flashes plus when commanded and his 3rd pitch is an average mid-80s changeup which he’s used less frequently since his slider has taken off. Way maintaining his progress after coming to KC, even increasing his K rate to over 30%, gives me confidence in his evolution to a #3 starter ceiling. He should begin 2023 in Arkansas, where if his command can improve a half grade, there’s no reason to entertain a move from the rotation. Although, a fallback plan as high leverage reliever is still an exciting floor.
8. Ben Kudrna, RHP, 20, Single-A
Another large-framed hurler, Kudrna’s a local boy, who was the overslot, second round selection in 2021. Unlike Mozzicato in many ways, Kudrna’s right-handed, taller and more polished for his age. His fastball is already sitting mid 90s and his changeup is more advanced than his counterpart. He’s put on good weight since being drafted, and he’s got an easy delivery, but the low K rate (19.6%) and lack of swing-and-miss with his breaking ball is reason I decided to put him at the back of this mini-tier. If he brings up the K rate and finds more movement on his slider, this ranking will look ungenerous come summer time.
9. Carter Jensen, C, 19, Single-A
High school catchers are the riskiest of the lot, but last year (he spent 2021 in the Complex), Jensen put up some rather eye popping numbers as an 18/19-year-old in A-ball. He paired 17% BB with a 21% K rate, and after July 1, had a 148 wRC+ over his final 52 games. Per Fangraphs, Jensen’s peak post-draft exit velos were top five in this system. A wise move by the org was giving Jensen two-thirds of his starts DH, presumably so the teenager could play the full year without breaking down. KC has a talented group of minor league backstops and Jensen could end up the best of the bunch.
10. Angel Zerpa, LHP, 23, MLB
Although he missed the final two months of the season with a small tear in his patellar tendon, Zerpa looked like he belonged with the big club after 3 appearances last year; He went 2-1 with a 1.64 ERA (5.75 FIP). A bulldog on the bump, Zerpa attacks righties and lefties differently with his two fastballs, a slider and changeup. He’s started throughout the minors, as well as in his brief stint in MLB, but Zerpa might better utilized as a multiple inning arm depending upon need and look. He’ll compete for an Opening Day roster spot.
11. Alec Marsh, RHP, 24, Triple-A
156 Ks in 124 innings (yay!) but 6.88 ERA with 28 home runs allowed (ouch!), Marsh was one of many Royals pitchers with rough peripherals in 2022. His full slate of innings can be the positive takeaway here, after just 25 1/3 in 2021, and a pandemic zero in 2020. Obvious, but it bears remembering that hitters get better as you climb levels and mistakes in certain counts will get you into trouble. Marsh’s stuff is impressive but it needs to be better located. Marsh is a prime example of a player whose 2023 will highlight the potential success of their pitching development.
12. Diego Hernandez, OF, 22, Double-A
Recently added to the 40-man, Hernandez reached AA as 21-year old last season despite playing only 79 games above rookie ball in 2021. Hernandez is a double plus runner, a plus glove in center and has significantly improved at the plate. He slashed .284/.347/.407 and swiped 40 bags in 115 games. He sprays the ball gap to gap and his high GB rates aren’t concerning just yet, because he’s such a speed threat. He’s only 6′ but has already added 40 pounds of strength since he signed. Perhaps by mid-season he’ll be the clear heir apparent in center field.
13. Asa Lacy, LHP, 23, Double-A
Back injuries can derail a young pitcher’s development, the same as a shoulder, and in Lacy’s case it’s been both. Most recently it’s been his back that’s compounded his control problems. Lacy walked 28 batters in 20 innings in 2022 between the complex and double-A. Lacy’s fantasy and IRL value has never been lower, but it would also be unwise to just write 2022 off as a lost season. This is a critical juncture for the development of a former 1st round pick. My ranking here is actually rather optimistic – that Lacy can eventually get healthy enough to be a lights out reliever – even one with 40 command.
14. Jonathan Bowlan, RHP, 26, Double-A
Patience is required when expecting positive results after returning from Tommy John surgery, so glancing at Bowlan’s 2022 line doesn’t inspire much confidence. But 2023 should be more of an indication as to whether or not Bowlan can regain his previous skillset, which profiles as a back end starter, workhorse-type, with plus command.
15. Andrew Hoffmann, RHP, 22, Double-A
A 6’5 right hander, Hoffmann was traded from Atlanta (alongside Drew Waters and CJ Alexander for the 35th overall pick in last year’s draft), and has been quite the developmental success so far. After an enigmatic college career and only a 12th round selection in 2021, Hoffmann, in short order, began to produce a solid three-pitch mix. Though his peak velocity is about average (93-95 FB), he’s got a deceptive delivery, an above average slider, and average command. Hoffmann’s numbers took a hit after coming to KC (K% dropped 12 points, BB up 4%) – try to not keep track of how often that’s happened, but note that he’d been immediately promoted to double-A Arkansas after the deal. Because of Hoffmann’s frame and approach on the mound, more velocity and better stuff is possible. He’s a high-probability back-end starter.
16. Lizandro Rodriguez, 2B, 19, Single-A
A debut slash line of 309/.446/.567 over 34 games DSL games demands attention and switch-hitting Rodriguez has continued to produce rather eye-popping statistics. He came stateside in 2022 and through 25 games he had a 159 wRC+ with a realistic .339 BABIP. which earned Rodriguez a promotion to single-A Columbia. For the remaining 18 games, the 19-year-old had an 11/8 K/BB with a 130 wRC+. Most of his gap power comes from the left side, but the splits aren’t egregious either. Rodriguez is an above average runner, although is yet to have base stealing success, and has been given average defensive grades so far at the keystone. He is arguably the most exciting lower-level hitter in the system.
17. Luca Tresh, C, 23, Double-A
A 17th-round pick in 2021. The 23-year-old right-handed backstop hit .269/.360/.468 and 19 home runs across High-A and Double-A in last year, good for a 125 wRC+ and a 2023 invitation to Spring Training. Other than Freddy Fermin, Tresh is next in line to backup Perez, likely in 2024.
18. Austin Charles, SS/RHP, 19, Rookie
19. T.J. Sikkema, LHP, 24, Double-A/AFL
20. Samad Taylor, 2B/UTIL, 24, Triple-A
21. Noah Cameron, LHP, 23, High-A
22. Peyton Wilson, 2B/OF, 23, High-A
23. Tucker Bradley, OF, 24, Double-A
24. Hayden Dunhurst, C, 22, Rookie (ACL)
25. Ben Hernandez, RHP, 21, Single-A
26. Evan Sisk, LHP, 26, Triple-A
27. River Town, OF, 23, High-A
28. Shane Panzini, RHP, 21, Single-A
29. Brennon McNair,3B, 20, Rookie (ACL)
30. David Sandlin, RHP, 22, Rookie (ACL)
31. Max Castillo, RHP, 24, MLB
32. Freddy Fermin, C, 27, Triple-A
A 6’6 shortstop with feel on the mound (touching 94-95), Charles earned a $429,500 bonus as a 20th round selection in ’22. MLB.com reports KC’s preference is to keep him at the six for now because they want him to keep hitting. Sikkema is a 6′ southpaw with a three-pitch mix. Working back from injury, he struggled in AA Northwest Arkansas but looked better in AFL action. Taylor clubbed 16 homers in 374 PAs, alongside his 30 SB, despite a near 30% K rate in 2021. He’s played second base, third, and LF, so with his utility there’s a good chance we see him in Kansas City on Opening Day, albeit as a role player. Raised not far from Kauffman Stadium, Cameron was a 7th rounder in 2021, who had TJS out of the draft. Returning from injury, the southpaw dominated his first season of pro hitters. Wilson struggled after being drafted, but in 2022 he slashed .268/.359/.456, with 14 home runs and 23 steals, which gave him a 128 wRC+ at High-A. He’s got 70 speed, an above-average arm, and is one of many infield utility types coming through the system. Bradley hit .293/.382/.455 at AA with 12 home runs and 19 stolen bases, with a 12% BB. He’s a high-probability 4th OF. One of the best defensive catchers from the ’22 draft class, Dunhurst’s skills behind the dish give him the floor of a big league backup. It’s at least a double plus arm and he’s very athletic. After another season of high walk and moderate K rates (11.4% and 20.3% in ’22, respectively) for Hernandez, his ceiling as a starter is trending downward, but a two-plane changeup with impressive sink and fade should have him ticketed to a major league bullpen eventually. Sisk is a big league ready reliever who came over from Minnesota in the Michael A. Taylor trade. He had a near 30% K rate and a 3.19 FIP between AA and AAA in ’22. Louisville, Baton Rouge, Paris…these are river towns; And so is he! A 15th rounder in 2021, the 80-grade-named River Town had a 124 wRC+ between Columbia and Quad Cities as a 22-year-old. Fermin was added to the 40-man this offseason, and per Roster Resource, is already slated to be Perez’s backup.
33. John Rave, OF, 25, Triple-A
34. Steven Cruz, RHP, 23, Double-A
35. Drew Parrish, LHP, 25, Triple-A
36. Chandler Champlain, RHP, 23, High-A
37. Christian Chamberlain, LHP, 23, Double-A
38. Will Klein, RHP, 23, Double-A
39. Tyler Tolbert, SS/OF, 25, High-A
40. Victor Pena, LHP, 20, Rookie (DSL)
41. Emmanuel Reyes, RHP, 20, Rookie (DSL)
42. Mason Barnett, RHP, 22, Single-A
43. Brewer Hicklen, OF, 27, MLB
44. Javier Vaz, 2B/OF, 22, Single-A
45. Jean Ramirez, OF, 22, Single-A
46. Dairon Blanco, OF, 29, MLB
47. Logan Porter, C/1B, 27, Triple-A
48. Roger Leyton, POS, 20, Rookie (ACL)
49. Zach Haake, RHP, 26, Triple-A
50. Darryl Collins, OF, 21, High-A
51. Junior Marin, OF, 18, Rookie (ACL)
25-year-old left-handed hitter selected in the round 5 of the 2019 Draft, Rave hit .256/.353/.413 with 16 home runs and 23 steals across Double-A and Triple-A in 2022. Cruz is a gargantuan lefty reliever who came over in the Michael A. Taylor trade this offseason. An 8th round pick in 2019, Parrish experienced a velo bump in pro ball, sitting low-90s (touching 95) with a plus changeup. His breaking ball, a 70 MPH curve with high spin rates, acts more like a surprise change-of-pace type. A potential sequel to the Taylor Walsh/Tyler Wade Announcer nightmare, Champlain and Chamberlain are not the same player. The former is a 6’5″ right hander who was the 3rd piece in the Benintendi trade. The latter is a 5’10” lefty (dare I pitch a buddy comedy to ABC?) with 2 pitches that flash plus (FB/CB) and 30 command. Tolbert is an 80 runner who was a perfect 60-for-60 in stolen base attempts in 2022. If the hit tool can be a 40, there’s some real utility. Named to MiLB’s DSL All-Star team, Pena, in 27 innings had nearly 14 K/9 and a BB rate under 2 per 9. The 6′ 18-year-old Reyes dominated the DSL with a 0.96 ERA (2.46 FIP in 49 innings). Hicklen went .248/.348/.502 with 28 home runs and 35 steals for Omaha in 2022. His athleticism and glove should help him get a shot, but his soaring K rate relegates his likely outcome to a 5th OF type for the big club. 2022 15th round pick, Vaz walked more than he struck out during his first pro season at A-ball. Ramirez had a nice statistical season with the Fireflies, including a respectable 15% K rate and 11% BB- albeit with low EVs. The near 30-year-old Cuban defector, Blanco hit .301/.367/.486 with 14 home runs and 45 steals for Omaha last year. He’s an 80-runner and a fun player to watch who got 7 PAs in KC last season. A patient hitter, Porter drew 87 walks and slashed .301/.442/.476 with 13 home runs across Double-A and Triple-A. The 27-year-old right-handed hitter has also spent time at first base. Collins has solid contact ability but has yet to show any game power.
Where would you rank Shervyen Newton?
Newton was on my list of about 75 names, but that K rate as a 23-year-old at high-A terrify me. A risk/reward type, if you wanna be patient, but there are other flyers in this system if you’re looking to speculate in a super deep league.
Also, where is CJ Alexander and Yefri Del Rosario? Alexander was considered a good prospect on the last list and had a good season in 2022. Why did none of these guys make your list?
Alexander wasn’t far off this list, but as tier 5 hitters go, I’d went with ones who have a carrying tool (Tolbert & Blanco speed, Collins bat to ball), are on the brink of the bigs that I like a little more (Hicklen, Porter) or are lower minors sleepers who’ve performed well so far (Vaz, Ramirez, Leyton).
Del Rosario has shifted to relief and has a low leverage ceiling, in my estimation. Could absolutely make a jump to the back end of this list if K rate comes up.
What happened to Erick Pena? A couple years ago, he was a borderline top 100 prospect as a 17 year old, top 5 international FA. Now he’s not even top 50 in his own organization, at 19 years old? has he fallen that far?
Pena’s had nearly 500 professional PAs and has yet to show he can hit. I chose to highlight young hitters who have performed or are closer to a major league roster. I hope 2023 is year of growth for him.
No love for Daniel Vazquez.
I almost chose Vazquez instead of Marin for #51 just to get his name on here. Vazquez, similar to Pena, just hasn’t hit yet and being a glove first shortstop didn’t crack the list as a fantasy commodity. Longenhagen pointed out how projectable Vazquez is, so there’s plenty of time for him to figure it out.