When the Lexington Legends posted their 2018 roster to begin the season, there were five nineteen-year old players coming to the South Atlantic League and full-season ball.
Arguably drawing the most attention were 1B Nick Pratto and RF Seuly Matias, the #3 and #8 prospects in our preseason Prospect Guide. While much of the talk revolved around these two players, there are quite a few other talented prospects on this roster, many of whom are not often discussed outside of Royals-focused sites or message boards. The question is, where does one start?
From top to bottom, the Legends can boast of at least six or seven noteworthy talents among their hitters, alone. We’ll start with the four players selected for the South Atlantic League All-Star Game:
Seuly Matias, RF
2018: .242/.317/.635 in 199 PA, 159 wRC+, 8.0% BB, 36.7% K
Matias, for obvious reasons, was selected to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game in the Southern Division this year. Considering his age, he’s certainly had his ups and downs; consider what has, thus far, been a career-normal K percentage, but also consider his 20 homers, 37 RBI, and 37 runs scored. He now has 14 singles and 29 XBH, a greater than 2:1 ratio and a result of prodigious power combined with youthful inexperience. His fly-ball rate (45.4%) and HR/FB rate (45.4%) paint a picture of a young man just coming into his own, in terms of game-time power. Matias jumps on fat pitches but struggles vs. higher-quality off-speed offerings, also not surprising considering his age and inexperience.
In the field, Matias has a tremendous arm and at least average range. He can make throws to home virtually flat-footed from straightaway right, and gun down runners at third with relative ease.
Matias takes a lot of pleasure in playing the game, and seems to keep his teammates loose, especially during pre-game warmups. He does not appear at all fazed by either his status as a high-end prospect or as a teenager in full-season ball.
His swing does get a little big, from time to time, and he may never hit for greater than a .250-.260 average, but with all the other tools he possesses, it hardly matters. Barring serious injury or divine intervention, Matias is a ML-level right-fielder in the making.
Nick Pratto, 1B
2018: .245/.292/.386 in 236 PA, 92 wRC+, 5.9% BB, 30.5% K
Pratto is another multi-talented prospect, one who has drawn comps to Mark Grace and Mark Teixeira. The truth may be somewhere in-between, but make no mistake: Pratto has a bright future. While the offense has slacked off, he has a smooth swing with a slight uppercut that is geared more for power than contact at this stage. Pratto often finishes very high in his follow-through, and his home-run power has been pull-side for the most part (53.3 pull %).
He typically stays through the ball well, but sometimes sells out for the homer and it does cost him, from time to time. His K % is much higher than I expected, even at this early stage in his career, but I expect his BB/K ratio to balance out closer to 0.6, give or take, as he matures as a hitter.
In the field, Pratto is quick and fluid on his feet, picks the low throw and hot grounders with equally-soft hands, and makes stronger throws than the typical first baseman. He’s about as fast (or as slow) as one would expect a first baseman to be, but a smart baserunner nevertheless. He’s even 17-21 in steals over 103 career games in the minors. Along those lines, he’s also grounded into a grand total of two double plays over that same span of time.
Pratto is another prospect who seems to be destined for the big leagues. He doesn’t turn 20 years old until October 6th, but already seems very much at ease as a pro, and could be a strong clubhouse presence in the future.
MJ Melendez, C
2018: .256/.315/.522 in 197 PA, 131 wRC+, 7.6% BB, 30.5% K
Surprise! Another excellent prospect, and an exciting player to watch, Melendez is even younger than Pratto; he won’t turn 20 until November 29th. Exceedingly athletic, especially for a catcher, Melendez’s defense and arm both stand out as plus. He makes quick lateral movements and blocks well on pitches in the dirt. Much of his defensive work looks to come naturally to him; indeed, his father Mervyl is currently the head coach at Florida International, and MJ grew up around the game. He makes quick, strong throws to second, calls a game well, and engenders trust in his pitching staff. His 10 errors in 28 games is, in my opinion, not a reflection of defensive shortcomings, but more likely due to adjusting to a faster game and better pitches. He’s thrown out 31.4% of basestealers, thus far, and will improve on that percentage as he becomes more accustomed to higher levels of competition.
At the plate, Melendez is quick to the pitch but has a follow-through that can get big and long, reflected in his averaging a strikeout every three ABs (60 K in 180 AB). His FB % has increased since 2017 (36.8 vs. 31.7), and his HR % (20.9) and improving opposite-field pop (43% pull, 29.8% oppo) point to more power to come. On defensive potential, alone, Melendez’s floor is as a ML backup. Anything less would be both surprising and disappointing.
Sebastian Rivero, C
2018: .259/.293/.395 in 159 PA, 93 wRC+, 4.4% BB, 19.5% K
Rivero was also selected for the All-Star Game, marking the rare occurrence of two catchers from the same team on the same All-Star team. Often, with Melendez behind the dish, Rivero has started at DH, and vice versa. It’s a strategy that has paid dividends, as it has helped to keep the bats of both catchers fresh. As much defensive potential as Melendez has, Rivero may be farther along in some regards. Considered a glove-first prospect coming into this season, Rivero has had little difficulty with the bat this year, while performing as well as anticipated behind the plate (37.9% CS rate, 3 errors, 1 passed ball). Rivero, like Melendez, is more athletic than the average catcher, which is another plus especially for a position that takes such a beating throughout the year. I would expect him to develop decent doubles power as he matures, and he should be able to maintain above-average contact rates as he advances.
Next, we take a look at a number of other Legends who have stood out for various reasons, in 2018. Believe me when I say, there are plenty others on this team who deserve attention.
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