The Kansas City Royals have to be all-in this year, with seemingly half the team departing for free agency five days after the 2017 World Series. Unfortunately there are no significant reinforcements that are close enough to help. There are some promising prospects, but they are nearly all years away.
This is a dynasty league list, with an emphasis on potential and performance. We have the luxury to not have to worry about who is going to pitch the sixth inning, a potential 14th inning or who backs up shortstop.
A word about process – the most important information for any hitting prospect is age/level. Then performance (I prefer wRC+ for hitters and cFIP for pitchers) blended with pedigree – how a guy was acquired, and how the team is treating him. Pitchers are always tougher to judge – I rely heavier on the scouts/evaluators opinions of arms to weigh future performance.
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 high likelihood of making the majors but providing minimal impact (e.g. middle reliever, low-ceiling UT guys)
Tier 5: Players who are worth keeping an eye on, but likely to never make a team’s 40-man roster
Tier 1: None
- Matt Strahm LHP
Age: 26 (DOB 11/12/91)
Made to the Kauffman bullpen from AA in 2016, and is going into Spring Training with a chance to win the fifth starter job. Projects to be a #3 starter and has a chance to get there this year. Also stands a good chance of making the Royals 2012 draft the Matt Strahm draft, as his current competition is Stumpf, Triggs, and Mills.
- Hunter Dozier 3B
Age: 25 (DOB 8/22/91)
Will forever be associated with ‘The Manaea Gambit’, but had a nice rebound year of his own. In the 2013 MLB draft, the Royals had picks 8 and 34. They surprised the world taking Dozier at 8, but when Manaea fell due to injury concerns to 34 they pounced. This story has never made any sense to me, as they could have easily signed Manaea for say $4M at #8 (well over slot and more than the 3.55 it took at 34), and grabbed Dozier at 34 for slot, and saved money for later in the draft.
Regardless, after a couple rough years Dozier made it to KC in time for a Sept. call-up. He had an ISO of .230 across AA/AAA and a combined 68 XBH on the year. He doesn’t really have a spot on the 2017 team without another deal coming through. The Royals preferred Cuthburt’s defense at 3B, and Dozier looked awkward at best for his few innings in RF. The acquisition of Jorge Soler would seem to push him to a rotating DH role in KC, or back to Omaha.
If the rebound sticks Dozier projects as an average (with the bat) 3B, or below average corner OF/1B. He is 25 in 2017 so the future is now.
- Nuke LaLoosh, er,Josh Staumont RHP
Age: 23 (DOB 12/21/93)
The good: hits triple-digits consistently, struck out 12.2/9 across two levels, with a 0.36 HR/9, threw almost 150 IP counting the AFL. The bad: wee bit of a control problem, 7.5 BB/9 doesn’t play. Has a chance to become Kansas City’s second sports hero from Azusa Pacific [Nigerian Nightmare] if he can tighten up the command a grade or so out the pen. The upside is tremendous, much higher than anyone else in the system, while the floor is used car salesman in his hometown.
- Pete O’Brien OF/1B
Age: 26 (DOB 7/15/90)
O’Brien was designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks before Christmas, and traded to the Royals for non-Top 50 reliever Sam Lewis. He has spent the last two seasons split between Arizona and Reno (AAA). When he could make contact, the ball went far – O’Brien hit 57 2B, 56 HR and struck out 303 times in 970 combined AB in 2015 and 2016. As the team is currently constructed, O’Brien would seem to be battling Hunter Dozier and Cheslor Cuthbert for Kauffman Stadium DH ABs in 2017. He could see significant playing time for the power-starved Royals in 2017. Long-term, it is doubtful he is going to make enough contact to be an impact player.
- Jorge Bonifacio OF
Age: 23 (DOB 6/4/93)
Going into his age 24 season, so it only seems like he has been around forever. Signed for 135k in 2009, has been on prospect lists since. Had a nice debut in AAA after two years in AA, and has a chance to be an almost average big league hitter in an OF corner, ready now. Brother Emilio is about done, so it should be a fierce contest over who wins the career WAR race at Mama Bonifacio’s.
- Samir Duenez OF/1B/DH
Age: 20 (DOB 6/11/96)
Made it to the 40-man as a twenty-year old. Vaulted across three minor league levels in 2016, from Lo A to AA. Had 51 XBH with a great strikeout rate, stole 26 out of 30 bases as well. Should be more power to come. The downside is he doesn’t really have a position. May hit enough that it doesn’t matter. This would be my first Royals selection if I was drafting for a new dynasty league in 2017.
- Alec Mills RHP
Age: 25 (DOB 11/30/91)
Had a nice year across AA/AAA, has a chance to pitch at Kauffman this year. Pretty good shot at being a #4 SP by 2018. Was the first Tennesse-Martin Skyhawk player to make the majors with his 3 IP last September.
- Ryan Patrick O’Hearn 1B
Age: 23 (DOB 7/26/93)
Every team has a late single-digit round college first baseman in the mid-minors. Usually they don’t hit enough to make it. Ryan Patrick, 8th rounder in 2014, was 22 in AA, with a .180 ISO. That probably isn’t enough to make it. There is clearly an opening at 1B in 2018, but I don’t think O’Hearn is the answer.
- Chase Vallot C
Age: 20 (DOB 8/21/96)
There is quite a bit going on here: missed a chunk of time after taking a pitch to the face; defensive questions; 33 XBH in 272 AB as a teenager in the Sally League is awesome! – 118 K is not.
He’s hitterish enough that the position may not matter, but the K rate is too much, and that doesn’t usually improve as it gets harder on the way up the ladder.
- Meibrys Viloria C
Age: 19 (DOB 2/15/97)
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2016 Pioneer League MVP! After recording 0 XBH at Appy League Burlington in 2015, exploded for a 376/436/606 line for the Chukars.
Now, the bad news: it is a long, long way from Idaho Falls to MLB. Here is a list of this century’s Pioneer MVPs:
Ryan O’Hearn (uh)
Michael Ratterree (what)
David Dahl (better!)
Roberto Lopez (urp)
Clint Robinson (hi Clint!)
Now, the next two names for 1999 and 1998 are Lyle Overbay and John Gibbons, and they had good MLB careers, but that is… not an inspiring list. The good news is that Viloria was a teenager, which shortens the list to Diaz, Dahl, Lindsay, Salome, Sean Rodriguez and Jesus Cota. Should enter 2017 as a 20 year old at Lexington, and if the 2016 breakthrough verifies he’ll be on Top 100 lists for 2018.
- Khalil Lee OF
Age: 18 (DOB 6/26/98)
This is what you want to see from a rookie league debut. He was only 17 when drafted out of a Virginia high school, where many teams preferred him as a LHP. Slashed 269/396/484, good for a wRC+ of 149, third in the league. He also led the league in triples and had a nice BB/K showing. It will be interesting to see where the Royals assign him for 2017 – I’m guessing Lexington at the beginning of the year, with the possibility of a move down a level once the short seasons start.
- Seuly Matias OF
Age: 18 (DOB 9/4/98)
Had a tremendous stateside debut. Was 9th in AZL with a wRC+ of 131 as a 17 year old. Tied for league lead with 8 HR with guys a year or two older. Slash line of 250/348/477 with 77 K in 172 AB justifies some concern over hit tool and contact ability.
Here we go, your official ‘don’t scout the stat line’ specials:
- Xavier Fernandez C
Age: 21 (DOB 7/15/95)
- Gabriel Cancel 2B
Age: 20 (DOB 12/8/96)
- Manny Olloque 3B
Age: 20 (DOB 5/11/96)
These guys all had sneaky-nice years at age-appropriate levels, and are so far unheralded. Keep them in mind if your league rosters hundreds of minor leaguers, and roster them before the likes of the sixth starter/sixth inning arm parade that follows shortly. They probably won’t make it, but have a better chance to move the needle for your team then random reliever types.
I’m going to guess everyone calls Fernandez ‘X’ – he was drafted out of Puerto Rico in the 11th round in 2013. X had a nice year as a 20 year old in Lo A, was a slightly better than league average hitter with a solid BB/KK ratio. He is a catcher which limits his value, but he is also one-two steps closer to MLB then the other two guys listed.
Cancel hit 291/346/494 in age-appropriate Burlington, for a 129 wRC+. That mark was good for 11th in the League, but critically only one of the players above him was also a teenager (Lewin Diaz) – and that guy’s a first basemen. It would be nice if the Royals bumped him to Lexington but most likely Cancel is going to crush the Pioneer League in 2017. He was also drafted out of Puerto Rico in the 7th round of the 2015 draft.
Olloque made the Pioneer League All-Star team, and missed most of 2015 with a thumb injury. That’s all Google has, but he’s put up well above-average wRC+ numbers in his two full seasons, at age-appropriate levels. He was drafted in the 16th round in 2014 from a California high school.
- Corey Toups 2B
Age: 23 (DOB 2/12/93)
Needs to keep swinging the bat. Hit 54 XBH across HiA/AA, for a combined slash of 268/356/440. That isn’t good enough, despite nice wRC+ of 133 in AA.
Blast from the past: this Royals 2B prospect hit 322/395/460 at AA as a 22 year old with a 61:67 BB/K (Toups was 58:131) for a wRC+ of 139
Yeah, that’s Johnny Giavotella in 2010. Toups is a year old than Johnny G then, and didn’t hit as well.
- AJ Puckett RHP
Age: 21 (DOB 5/27/95)
An amazing story to even get drafted, Puckett survived a medically induced coma after a head injury in high school. He made it to Pepperdine, where the Royals selected him with their first remaining pick (67th overall), after losing a first rounder for signing Ian Kennedy. Feel-good story aside, in the best-case scenario Puckett is a third starter-type in 2019/2020. Had a ‘blah’ debut, but threw almost 60 IP in LoA after his college season. Full name is Austin Joseph, fun fact: every boy born in the 90s has to have Austin, Dakota, or Cody in his name.
- Kyle Zimmer RHP
Age: 25 (DOB 9/13/91)
<shrug emoji> Who the hell knows. Future philosophers will debate whether Kyle Zimmer actually existed, or was a collective delusion. The unicorns are winning, for now. Best case scenario seems to be a fast-track reliever, but he has to actually pitch at least a little bit for that to come about.
- Bubba Starling OF
Age: 24 (DOB 8/3/92)
2016 was brutal for all of us, but wow did Starling have a bad year. Hitting .185 at AA mid-summer, the Royals gave Bubba a ‘gentlemen’s pass’ to AAA, where he then hit .181. Starling was the 5th overall pick in the 2011 draft from a suburban KC high school. Adults eventually realize that you can do the right thing, follow all the rules, and still take it in the shorts in the end. That is a tough lesson for a 24 year old kid though. Bubba: the work is its own reward. I’m sorry.
He could still pull it together and be something, but right now it seems more likely he’ll find success by going the Chris Weinke route.
Not so fun fact: with the new CBA, absent a radical future revision, Starling’s 7.5 M draft bonus is going to be the largest in Royals history for a long time.
- Cam Gallagher C
Age: 24 (DOB 12/6/92)
Catcher-first catcher, had an slightly above-average wRC+ last year in AA due to good walk rate. He’s the third catcher on the 40-man, and I suspect he’s at least as good a hitter as Butera is now. Yes, that is officially damning with faint praise. Fewer hair flips though.
- Scott Blewett RHP
Age: 20 (DOB 4/10/96)
Bad pitcher name. Second round pick in 2014 from a New York high school. Listed at 6-6. Repeated LoA last year and did averagish, young enough that that is OK. Chance to be a backend starter.
- Eric Skoglund LHP
Age: 24 (DOB 10/26/92)
Tall (6-7) lefty, still starting after OK year in AA, 3:1 K/BB ratio is good, though gave up too many homers. Probably not a starter.
- Nicky Lopez SS
Age: 21 (DOB 3/13/95)
Had a great start to his pro career with the bat, and is supposed to be a solid SS with the caveat that he was too old/advanced for Burlington. The Royals have an annoying habit of hyper-aggressively promoting their youngest players, and letting the college guys fill the in the gaps. So 19 year old Marten Gasparini struggled all year in Lexington after struggling the year before in Idaho Falls, and Lopez knocks the cover off the ball in the Appy League. They did the same with some pitchers yet to come on this list, and it is frustrating from here: don’t draft a guy in the fifth round if you don’t think he’s going to be worth promoting to an appropriate level.
- Zach Lovvorn RHP
Age: 22 (DOB 5/26/94)
You know the stat/scout wars are truly over when the Royals anoint a guy that went 2-15 at a level as the pitcher of the year. Lovvorn has been slowly ratcheting up the levels one year at a time, and pitched OK for Wilmington.
- Corey Ray RHP
Age: 24 (DOB 12/15/92)
One of this guy and the Brewers OF is going to be the ‘other’ Corey Ray. The Royals version pitched well across two levels (LoA/HiA) and has a chance to position himself before the younger upstart can make it. Proud member of Carson Cistulli’s Fringe Five in September.
- Garrett Davila LHP
Age: 19 (DOB 1/19/97)
Solid start to his career, but FIP isn’t buying into his year – I’m guessing because he was hit lucky and the K rate was just OK. 2:1 K/BB and 2 HR in 65 IP works.
- Jeison Guzman SS
Age: 18 (DOB 10/8/98)
Supposed to be a true SS, was average with the bat while debuting stateside with Matias in the rookie league as a 17 year old.
- Esteury Ruiz 2B
Age: 17 (DOB 2/15/99)
100k signing crushed the DSL, finishing with a 158 wRC+ good for 8th among teenagers on the island. It might be worth a trip to watch if Lee, Matias, Guzman and Ruiz all play at the same level next year.
- Pedro Fernandez RHP
Age: 22 (DOB 5/25/94)
Was Almonte light when that was a thing. Results haven’t really backed the hype, only a year younger than the real Miguel and just reached AA.
Here come a string of guys I’m listing because they are on the 40-man roster and figure to appear in a Royals box score in 2017. These are the run-of-the-mill 6th starter/middle reliever types that are essential for teams to ‘create’ out of each draft and take their turn to pitch, but end up as useless from a dynasty league perspective. One of these guys may end up pitching close enough to the back end of the Kauffman bullpen at some point in the future to get a hold a week. I would rather take my 5% chances with guys that still have a chance to become a #3 SP or a rookie ball lottery ticket. Sparkman was a Rule 5 picks, but may be back.
- Glenn Sparkman RHP
Age: 24 (DOB 5/11/92)
Rule 5 pick by Toronto, probably will be back but projects well as a reliever.
- Kevin McCarthy RHP
Age: 24 (DOB 2/22/92)
Solid winter ball campaign. Likely to pitch in KC in 2017.
- Jake Junis RHP
Age: 24 (DOB 9/16/92)
750k bonus in the 29th Round of the 2011 draft with Binford in the the 30th. Will pitch in the big league, nice find by the Royals.
- Andrew Edwards RHP
Age: 25 (DOB 10/7/91)
I keep thinking its Anthony. Have a ton of lame jokes, but then disappointedly realize its Andrew.
The guys that follow are all outstanding humans, great baseball players, help old ladies cross the street, and are unlikely to help any dynasty league team. But, you know, Top 50.
- DJ Burt 2B
Age: 21 (DOB 10/13/95)
Here’s another guy that struggled at Lexington while Nicky Lopez cooled his heels in the Appy League. 43 SB with 17 CS, with a 98 wRC+ mainly fueled by his 51 BB in 525 PA
- Jared Ruxer RHP
Age: 24 (DOB 7/29/92)
The Brooks Pounder bounty when the Royals decided they would rather have the 40-Man spot than the big fella. Survived pitching in the Cal League, which is admirable. If he gets lucky he may have Brooks Pounder’s career.
- Frank Schwindel 1B
Age: 24 (DOB 6/29/92)
All the stuff written about Ryan O’Hearn applies, except that Schwindel is older and didn’t hit as well in AA.
- Anderson Miller OF
Age: 22 (DOB 5/6/94)
Athletic college OF, needs to hit in AA this year to have a chance, was great in Lexington but struggled in promotion to Wilmington.
- Roman Collins OF
Age: 22 (DOB 6/17/94)
Pea-in-a-pod with Miller. Made Australian League All-Star team this winter, and was described as ‘an intriguing power/speed combination’ in the Baseball America Prospect Report on Dec 19th.
- Yeison Melo OF
Age: 21 (DOB 7/30/95)
Pioneer League All-Star! wRC+ 108, pretty good chance he makes it to Lexington next year, which is neat & awesome for Yeison. Has hit at each stop so far.
- Foster Griffin LHP
Age: 21 (DOB 7/27/95)
- Nolan Watson RHP
Age: 19 (DOB 1/25/97)
- Travis Eckert RHP
Age: 23 (12/28/93)
Griffin and Watson were absolutely lit up in full-season ball (Nolan, despite the great pitcher name, had to be a Sally League HACKING MASS All-Star with a Boeing-like 7.57 ERA). Meanwhile, down in Burlington, you guessed it, a college pitcher drafted in the 7th round wasted his time with the kiddos. Blewett was average in his second attempt at Lexington, so Griffin and Watson of course still have a chance.
- Ramon Torres IF
Age: 23 (DOB 1/23/93)
- Miguel Almonte RHP
Age: 23 (DOB 4/4/93)
Both these fellas are on the 40-man, so could appear in a box score for the Royals this year. Torres is the ‘break glass in case Escobar or Mondesi break’ guy. He’ll struggle to hit, has no power, but might steal a base a week for your team.
Almonte has had a rough ride. It hasn’t worked, and last year he was lit up wherever he pitched. According to Baseball America, he was ranked the #10, #5, #6, and #4 prospect for the Royals from 2012-2015. Some of that was due to a shallow system, but mostly because his fastball/cambio combo was deadly, then, suddenly, it wasn’t. His potential has always been ahead of his results, but 2016 was simply dreadful. If he isn’t hurt this ranking is too low.
- Emmanuel Rivera 3B
Age: 20 (DOB 6/29/96)
Unheralded 19th Rounder, had an OK year at Burlington, capped off by a great campaign in the Puerto Rico Winter League where he finished second in the league in BA and first in OBP, ahead of MLB types like Ivan de Jesus, Rey Navarro, Ruben Gotay, Reymond Fuentes, Hector Olivera, and Kennys Vargas.
- Ricky Aracena SS
Age: 19 (DOB 10/2/97)
Tiny, hasn’t hit a lick yet, still a teenager. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: teenage infielder struggles in advanced league while Nicky Lopez hangs out in Burlington.
- Alfredo Escalera OF
Age: 21 (DOB 2/17/95)
This is what happens to those teenagers pushed through the system: they make it to AA at 21, having not really hit. Phenomdesi made it to the World Series, so why the hell not, I guess. Sent to Arizona Fall League, where he (Surprise!) was terrible.
- Cal Jones OF
Age: 19 (DOB 9/16/97)
wRC+ of 90 in professional debut, high school athlete from Alabama the Royals will try to mold into a ball player. Usually it doesn’t work, butyouneverknow.
- Travis Maezes 3B
Age: 23 (DOB 12/10/93)
Signed for above slot in the 13th round in 2015, this is a fun stat line – .213 ISO, wRC+ 101, 10th in the Sally League in HR while only playing two-thirds of the season. The downside – hit .196, struck out 37% of the time. That will get you ranked 49th.
- Richard Lovelady LHP
Age: 21 (7/7/95)
Picked him for 50 b/c he’ll probably make it as a LOOGY, and then I can gloat. Also, my 12 year old self demands I imagine Rusty Kuntz visiting Dick Lovelady on the mound and he can all giggle like Beavis and Butthead.
Honorable Mentions for the gluttons:
Christian Binford RHP – overslot 30th rounder
Chris DeVito 1B – College 1B
Brandon Downes OF – 0.160 ISO, 33% K rate, hit .230 as a 23 year old in HiA
Amalani Fukofuka OF – all name team, young enough to repeat loA. 56 wRC+
Gerson Garabito RHP – made it to LoA at 20, struggled
Marten Gasparini SS – He’s from Italy, fun! Can’t hit. Ciao!
Logan Gray 3B – Was in BA Top 200 for 2016 draft, cratered at Burlington.
Elier Hernandez OF – 2011 was just a bad year: Starling at 7.5 M, Brickhouse 1.5 M, Elier 3M
Ashe Russell RHP – Has thrown 38 IP since being the Royals 2015 first rounder. Still only 20 in 2017, so who knows.
Cristhian Vasquez OF – Can’t hit
KC Shankland lives in Maple Valley, Washington. His Royals fandom runs from the Royals/Yankees blood feud of the ‘70s to Hosmer’s mad dash home.
‘People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. Obsess over prospects.’