When Dayton Moore accepted the offer to become the Royals general manager in June of 2006, he arrived knowing that the farm system, his specialty, was one of the most barren in the game. Despite years of picking in the Top 10 of the MLB draft, the Royals ranked just 23rd of the organizational rankings by Baseball America that year. This was an impressive feat because despite that ranking they featured two of the best prospect hitters in the game and two players that would eventually finish their Royals careers inside the Top 20 of offensive rWAR. That ranking spoke not of Alex Gordon and Billy Butler’s talent, but to the lack of organizational depth. The Royals will likely finish in that same region of the rankings by BA this year if not lower, but it will be based on the lack of top end talent this time, instead of the lack of depth, as the front office is once again building depth at the lower ranks with a talented group of players they recently added.
In the final installment of the prospect groupings, this is a look at a group from Rookie Ball and Single-A that should fill the top rankings that you see over the years to come. While currently weak on pitching prospects, there are a handful of players here that have the tools to turn into frontline prospects over time with two or three at the top that could crack some Top 100 list if things break correctly for the Royals. You will notice a couple of omissions in Ashe Russell and Nolan Watson, who the Royals invested heavily in, this is due to lack of information in the case of Russell and results on Watson’s part. These two pitchers could easily change their prospect status next season with better showings wherever they end up in 2017.
Khalil Lee – The Royals draft brass loves athletes, speedy athletes as we know, but in their third round pick in the 2016 draft they took a better than average athlete that, unlike many of their speedsters, brings more than just speed to the table. This lefty-swinging center fielder has a plus-plus arm as evidenced in his low-90s fastball off the mound as a pitcher, but also the speed to stick in center field. The bat speed is plus and should provide average power in the future, despite a smaller frame at 5’10”, 182 lbs. currently. Dream a dream and hopefully the Royals found the next Jackie Bradley Jr. or Mookie Betts, Red Sox prospects who had similar frames and from a similar region as the Royals farmhand, along with similar baseball acumen as the intelligent high baseball IQ Lee.
In the future, I see a plus outfielder who should hit for a solid average while developing a good approach at the plate and some surprising raw power. Don’t be shocked to see him in the Top-3 or maybe even #1 on the Royals list next season with a climb to Lexington coming in the next season.
Seuly Matias – The Royals big dollar 2015 Latin signee has two talents that can’t be taught in his power bat and cannon for an arm. Currently, Matias has the speed to play centerfield in the minors but at 17 and already 6’3″, 211 lbs. it would be easy to see him outgrowing the position and moving over to right field where he can show off the best arm in the organization. The power in this youngster certainly seems real after finishing in a three-way tie for the Arizona summer league lead with eight home runs. He was the youngest of the group to tie for that title and the highest mark by a Royals player in that league since Miguel Vega hit 10 in 2005. As with most teenagers, with that power came with plenty of strikeouts, falling victim to the whiff in 37% of his plate appearances while leading the league in total strikeouts (73) by a comfortable margin. Despite that whiff rate, Matias showed growth during the season. He bettered his OPS numbers month to month until ending August with a .921 OPS and a 25% K-rate. At young ages hitters tend take a yank and crank approach, but Matias showed an ability to drive the ball the opposite way, hitting three of his home runs during the year the other way with that unteachable raw strength. Despite all those strikeouts, Matias showed he’s not adverse to taking a walk (11%) and figuring out a plan as the majority of those 22 walks came in August after he flashed much of his home run power the month prior and pitchers started to work around him. It’s a good sign that his bat speed may not be wasted in the future.
The Royals haven’t added a player with this type of raw power since back to back drafts of Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. Do they assign him to Lexington at 18 or give him an Idaho Falls assignment?
What to Watch for: At a similar age Miguel Sano went from 6’3″, 195 lbs. to 230 lbs. while hitting 7 home runs in 241 plate appearances for the Twins at age 17. The height is similar for Matias, but he’s far more athletic and I doubt he will continue to add the weight that Sano did. Still, the lightning in the bat is real for Matias and it will be interesting to see what the Royals think of his progression at the plate. Will they challenge him with an assignment to Lexington? Or play the safe route at either Burlington or Idaho Falls? Either way, this is a type of bat that the Royals have not had in the organization for quite some time.
Esteury Ruiz – The 2015 international class signed by the Royals is exciting, not just for the top of the class with players like Matias and Jeison Guzman, but for what players with less money look at possibly providing. In Ruiz, the Royals may have found the steal of the international class after signing him for just $100k. With a lot of international talents they are signed off of what they can do in workouts which rarely converts to game action, but in Ruiz the Royals discovered a middle infielder who can take that workout swing and put it in play during games. At just 6′, 150 lbs. Ruiz put up an impressive .198 ISO during the Dominican Summer League season which helped him rank in the Top 10 in the league in OPS. Signed as a shortstop, it is likely that Ruiz will have convert over to the other side of the bag with his advanced bat and the Royals suddenly impressive shortstop spot in the lower levels with the likes of Guzman, Cristian Perez, Nicky Lopez and Ricky Aracena a level ahead. If Esteury can add some more muscle to his frame, the Royals potentially have a breakout performer at the lower levels that might surprise.
To put his season in context, it ranks on par with Jorge Bonifacio’s 2010 season as the best by a 17 year old since the GMDM international era took place.
’10 Bonifacio: .335/.429/.476 16 2b, 2 3b, 1 HR, .406 wOBA, 155 wRC+
’16 Ruiz: .313/.378/.512 18 2b, 5 3b, 5 HR, .430 wOBA, 158 wRC+
Meibrys Viloria – No player had more of a breakout season in the Royals organization than Viloria this past year in the Pioneer League. At just 19 years of old, he dominated enough to win MVP honors despite playing on a squad that missed the playoffs. A gifted left-handed swing that features hand strength and timing, Viloria showed off some ridiculous power at times in the first half of the season while also showing that he can hit to the opposite field, collecting 37 extra base hits in just 58 games played. This was a year after having zero in 45 games at Burlington in the Appy League. Is the power real? Not totally, but the hit tool is legit from the left side in my opinion, and I much prefer his chances of staying behind the dish in the future.
Back there he shows off a solid, plus arm, the feet are quick enough and with time he should be able to improve his lateral movement if he continues to stay in good shape. His short and stocky frame should be able to handle the rigors of the position while his good hands and bat can carry his average future defense. A full season in Lexington will be a good test of the bat for Viloria while he works with a younger pitching staff.
Sebastian Rivero – The last catcher to receive the type of praise that Rivero has from the organization at such a young age was Salvador Perez. A different body than the Royals All-Star catcher, Rivero does many of the same things on the defensive side at a young age and in a leadership role. Currently the offense lags behind as the 6’1″, 190 lbs. backstop needs to add strength to punish the pitches in the zone that he barrels. Still, he did a solid job of adapting to the AZL this past season, finishing the final month with a .345 average. The defense will be the calling card but with most young catchers, time is a plus. Moving level to level which should allow him to add strength, bulk and maybe change his offensive profile over time. An assignment in Idaho Falls or Burlington is likely for the backstop in 2017 who, despite having a weaker bat than Viloria or Vallot, may pass them up in an organization that loves slick fielding defensive catchers.
Chase Vallot – The power is definitely there as the 19 year old once again, connecting on 36 extra base hits in just 92 games in 2016. The catcher ticked up all three slash categories despite multiple injuries, including a ball to the face, that limited his playing time. Even with all that power, I’m lighter on Vallot than as others due to his lack of athleticism behind the plate. The lateral movement is lacking and the footwork is a struggle to get his throws to second base despite a plus throwing arm. The plate approach is solid and the power is plus, but the hit tool is lacking and a TTO hitter playing at the K isn’t that valuable if he can’t be a catcher, which at this time I can’t project. Definitely too young to give up on behind the dish however, at just 19 years old Vallot needs to stay lean to maximize his receiving skills. The Louisiana product will likely take his work to Wilmington where we may discover how good the power really is at the right-handed hitters graveyard which is Frawley field.
Despite the increase in the three slash lines Vallot hit just .189/.323/.384 after his return from being hit in the face and one hopes he’s not leery from such a scary injury.
Jeison Guzman – The second highest paid prospect of the ’15 international signing period for the Royals is a shortstop that plays with intelligence beyond his years. Currently a switch hitter, Guzman’s natural side is his right, but he hit with slightly more power from the left during this past season, hitting his only home run from there. The speed currently is less than average, but his instincts and intelligence along with projection give scouts the idea that he will be able to handle the demanding position in years to come. If that isn’t true then it is likely to show up pretty quickly in Idaho Falls or Burlington this next year, wherever the Royals decide to send him.
While young Guzman’s intelligence for the game along with his soft hands and good arm should allow him to keep his head above water defensively until he adds strength with age. His solid approach at the plate could help his skills develop further there than scouts currently see as his body projection has them perplexed about his future frame.
Garret Davila – Never underestimate a savvy lefty with command and intelligence for pitches which the Royals have here in Davila. The front office took a slow approach with him after selecting him in the fourth round of the ’15 draft, keeping him out of pro ball before assigning him to Burlington this past season. That approach seemed to have worked as Davila had a strong run with the club to help them earn a trip to the championship series. Working his fastball at 90-93 mph to both sides of the plate, along with a change up that is currently average with a chance to be peak plus in the future, Davila has had the strongest pro debut of the Royals ’15 pitching class. Development steps will need to be made with his curveball while refining control and command this next season in Lexington or more advanced hitters will wait on average fastball in the South Atlantic league.
Cal Jones – the fastest of the three outfielders (Lee, Matias) that played primarily in Arizona this past season, Jones has the most staying power in centerfield over the longterm. Also the most raw in terms of his playing skill, Jones will have to convert his athleticism into production on the baseball field. After a slow start to his Arizona season something clicked in Cal’s final 15 games, hitting seven of his nine extra base hits including all four of his home runs.
Anthony Bender – A scout outside the organization told me he had plus stuff and a Top 3 round grade after the draft this past year. Injuries during his college career pushed him into the 20th round where the Royals signed away from his Cal State Northridge commitment. An already strong pro frame at 6’4″, 215 lbs. Bender can reach into the upper 90’s with his fastball while also throwing a strong slider at times. Staying healthy while developing a third pitch could improve his chances at starting in the organization down the road, but even if that doesn’t happen there is a chance that he could work into a relief role with that big fastball.
Gerson Garabito – Features a low to mid 90’s fastball along with an average curveball that on the right days looks like a plus plus pitch. The righty has the makings of a fading change up that he needs to become more comfortable with. When the curveball is right, he can dominate a low level lineup as evidenced by his two starts this past season in which he completed six no-hit innings. Despite the 6’0″ height, Garabito appears to have a frame and mechanics that could handle a starter’s workload. A move to Wilmington might key a breakout season for the 21 year old.
Road splits – sub 1.00 WHIP with a 2.32 ERA in 6 road starts.
All told there is info on 39 Royals prospects in this four part series if you want to checkout the other versions posted in the past weeks that you may have missed. Prospecting the Royals: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
Featured Photo Meibrys Viloria via Jared Ravich milb.com