After checking out a few of the higher profile players in the system (here’s Part One and Part Two), now it’s time to review a few others that need to fine tune some things to reach the bigs. These nine guys currently in the system have multiple tools to lean on, but either need to switch roles or tweak things in their current game to take the next step.
Corey Ray – The organization is high on this righty with his mid 90’s fastball and average change up while he continues to refine his curveball. Things started to click for Ray as the season finished, putting away 10.8 hitters per 9 over his final five starts this year, allowing just two runs in that span of 29 innings. The Texas A&M product can run his fastball as high as 96-97 mph, but generally works in the low to mid range with it. The control, which had been fringy, got better during that stretch run, walking six in 29 innings which was considerably better than his 2.9 per 9 over the year. With a frame of 6’4, 175 lbs, he has the body needed to pile up innings in a starter role should he continue to improve his below average curve.
A year of working with Luebber in NW Arkansas is maybe the answer to improving that curveball and keeping Ray in the rotation as a mid to backend starter. Should that not work out he definitely has the fastball needed to become a seventh or eighth inning type reliever.
Pedro Fernandez – On the down low, Fernandez had a pretty solid season when he was on the mound for the Royals affiliates, limiting hitters to a 1.04 WHIP in Wilmington before graduating to the Naturals. Once with NW Arkansas, Fernandez ran into some injury issues that cut his season short and likely gave an idea of what his future looks like. Working with a fastball that ranges 92-94 mph, a solid average change up and developing low 80’s slider, Fernandez is probably too small at 6′ 180 lbs to stay in his starter role. Even still, the control is sound and he’s able to spot his fastball while showing a propensity to miss bats his entire way up the chain. The move to the slider was the added step to help him get more advanced hitters out a second and third time through an order, but a move the pen could free him up to work in the mid to upper 90’s with his fastball, while leaning on the pair of secondary offerings to earn outs.
This is a bargain level Herrera right here with a chance to be the Royals future eighth inning setup man if he can stay healthy.
Brandon Downes – The usual Royals draft strategy is seen with Downes, taking a college hitter with upside in the hopes he finds that that thing that clicks it all together. In Downes, the Royals have an athletic center fielder who can play an average or better outfield while simultaneously adding some power from the right side. Unfortunately, the problems from his Virginia days remain, as Downes continues to struggle making contact, striking out in nearly 32% of his plate appearances in 2016. Things aren’t all bad as Downes provided a .159 ISO rate in Wilmington while playing in a tough hitting park for right-handed hitters, a move to Double-A could show off that power even more.
Long-term, Downes could turn into a Drew Stubbs-like center fielder, working against lefties who he has hit 10 home runs off in 230 AB’s over the past two seasons.
Evan Beal – This South Carolina righty has been a pitcher the Royals have liked since first drafting him in the 8th round of the ’11 draft, before redrafting him in the 21st round of 2014. The control was an issue in college and a struggle at first when he arrived to pro ball, but he’s seemed to correct that problem and had a strong season in ’16 for the NW Arkansas Naturals and Wilmington Blue Rocks while also earning a quick appearance at Omaha in between. A two-pitch pitcher with a fastball that peaks around 96 mph while working mostly in the 92-94 range that pairs well with his slider. Not incredibly overpowering with that mix, the slider operates in the low to mid 80’s has been an effective weapon against both righties and lefties, limiting left-handed bats to just a .208/.298/.396 line this past season.
He doesn’t profile as the elite relievers the Royals have produced in the past, but Beal still has a shot to be a 6th/7th inning type who can take advantage of the spacious K.
Anderson Miller – The Royals third round pick of their rather uninspiring 2015 draft is raw but talented as a former two-way player. At 6’3, 210 pounds, Miller has power in his smooth, but somewhat long swing at times. Still, when short, he has a quick bat and speed that produce results from a corner outfielder with the athleticism to develop into a plus corner defender. A former pitcher in college, Miller could work in the low 90’s from the mound, leaving him with a plus outfield arm. A patient approach at the plate lead Miller and his swing into some bad positions this past season, striking out 101 times in just 340 plate appearances.
A hamate bone injury cost Miller more than a month last summer. Generally a hitter’s power takes a little more than a year to fully return after that type of injury. If I was to pick a hitter off this list to breakout, it would be Miller.
Kyle Bartsch – the Royals liked Bartsch quite a bit after drafting him in the seventh round in 2013, enough that J.J. Picollo picked him as a potential breakout performer that year in my season preview article. Not long after, they traded Bartsch for Reymond Fuentes who earned a brief cup of coffee with the big league club in KC this past season while the lefty was washing out with the Padres. A renewal with the Royals and pitching coach Steve Luebber corrected Bartsch and his good moving low 90’s fastball with three offspeed pitches in his curve, slider and change up all of which can profile as average at times. The profile reads like that as a LOOGY, and that is what I consider him going forward, but it should be noted that righties hit just .162 once he rejoined the Royals org.
The Royals haven’t employed a true LOOGY since Yost took over the manager duties.
Jake Newberry – The Royals have been patient with Newberry after taking him in 2012 in the 37th round, a process that started to show off good results from the bullpen this past season. Working his fastball in the mid 90’s with a power slider, Newberry missed bats this past year at a near 8.4 K/9 clip while allowing just over 1 WHIP. A move to Double-A should challenge Newberry this next season.
Yunior Marte – I’ve been higher on Marte than most in the past with his loose arm, athleticism and change up combined with a solid two-seam fastball. Extending him out as a starter and long man went better in Lexington this past season, but still wasn’t the desired results. Should the Royals move him into a full time one-inning bullpen role he could explode with a fastball that can hit 97 mph and a solid change to go with the two-seam that works in the low 90’s. In that role I believe he could be a dynamic weapon with two good fastballs and an average change up.
Foster Griffin – Taken in the first round of the ’14 draft, Griffin’s fastball hasn’t ticked up as hoped, leaving it in the 88-90 mph range as opposed to the mid 90’s as hoped when they drafted him. The control is lacking with his fastball despite the velocity and it doesn’t move much, his arm lacks speed likely leaving the pitch in this below average rate. The change up can be Griffin’s best pitch with some arm-side fade, but he needs another tick on his fastball to allow it to play up. The lefty tosses a pair of breaking balls with his curve and slider with the curveball being a loopy big pitch that isn’t likely to earn many outs. The slider is a low 80’s breaker with that can come in with late break and earn a bit more weak contact. That pitch combined with the fastball and his plane on some days can earn plenty of groundballs.
The lefty needs more fastball and command to become someone worth watching for the future.
Glenn Sparkman – He would be in this grouping, had he not been picked in the Rule 5 draft. I expect he will be returned to the Royals unless the Blue Jays want to pay the $100k bounty for him.
Feature Photo – Pedro Fernandez via Ken Inness milb.com