2018 was a tough year at the Major League level for the Royals, though there was plenty to be excited about on on the farm. This is one of baseball’s most improved systems since mid-2017, as the rise of (#3) Seuly Matias and two strong draft classes have stocked the uppermost portions of this list with a new wave of talent. Kansas City strayed from their usual prep-heavy tendencies in last June’s draft, making a run on collegians and selecting five arms from the college ranks within the first 60 picks. This system finishes near the middle of the pack overall, but that’s a big step forward from where it has been the last few years. Enough of the Royals’ top prospects are below Double-A that it’s safe to say the best days for this system are yet to come.
2018 was a year to remember in Lexington. The Legends made the playoffs by winning their division in the second-half, riding a roster chalk full of prospects to the South Atlantic League championship. (#1) MJ Melendez, (#3) Seuly Matias, and (#5) Nick Pratto formed a “big three” in Lexington’s lineup, and that trio would have been joined by (#11) Michael Gigliotti had he not tore his ACL early in the year. Brewer Hicklen (Pure Projection) had an all-star season and was a catalyst for the Legends, who also added (#10) Kyle Isbel and Jeison Guzman (Pure Projection) to the lineup later in the summer. The talent carried over to the mound, where (#13) Carlos Hernandez made great strides as the year progressed and Janser Lara (Pure Projection) was strong in relief. (#12) Yefri Del Rosario cracked the rotation by mid-season and showed flashes of brilliance down the stretch, and Lexington’s title chances got a huge boost by (#6) Jackson Kowar and (#8) Daniel Lynch joining the roster after the draft. This group will move together to High-A Wilmington in 2019, and if there wasn’t enough talent already, they’ll be joined by (#4) Brady Singer.
After missing on a few high school pitching prospects in recent drafts, the Royals reversed course with a college-heavy class filled with arms. Six of the seven 2018 draftees on this list are pitchers, with the team’s first three picks— (#4) Brady Singer, (#6) Jackson Kowar, and (#8) Daniel Lynch—all placing in the top 15.
–LACKS A TOP-5O PROSPECT
We love the upside that (#1) MJ Melendez and (#3) Seuly Matias bring to the table, also viewing (#2) Khalil Lee as a prospect capable of a long big league career. Even so, none of those three currently rank within the game’s top 50 prospects right now, and it’s tough to put (#4) Brady Singer in that range until he pitches in an official pro game.
Though (#7) Nicky Lopez is on the doorstep of the big leagues, but most of Kansas City’s prime prospects are still over a year away from Kauffman Stadium. Only a few players on this list come with 2019 ETAs, most of them relievers.
TOP 15 PREF LIST
|12||Yefri Del Rosario||RHP||50||Extreme||2022|
CREAM OF THE CROP
(#1) MJ Melendez, C
Ceiling: 60 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: Potential All-Star
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 185 lbs. B/T: L/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 20y, 4m
Video #1 | Video #2 | Video #3 | Spotlight | Report
Melendez exceeded all expectations in his first full pro season, slashing .251/.322/.492 as a 19-year-old in the South Atlantic League. His mix of intangibles and two-way upside at a premium position makes him the Royals’ top prospect in our eyes, and we see him as one of the better catching prospects in baseball. Melendez is a natural behind the plate, able to lead a defense and take charge of a pitching staff with a maturity rare for a player his age. He’s a quiet receiver with a very flexible lower half, able to set low targets and stay mobile. His plus arm is a factor in games and he isn’t afraid to use it, frequently throwing behind runners and able to finish plays from his knees. Offensively, the lefty-swinger has impressive raw power for his age and build, projecting to grow into more as he fills out an athletic frame. As a 30-percent strikeout rate would indicate, he’s still too aggressive at the plate and swings himself into bad counts. Melendez might always get to his power at the expense of strikeouts, but the chance to finish a plus defensive catcher with 20+ home run power gives Melendez star potential. His makeup makes us think he’ll be a big leaguer for a long time.
(#2) Khalil Lee, OF
Lee was among the youngest regulars at every level in 2018, finishing last year in Double-A as a 20-year-old. He missed some time at the end of the year with injury and was sent to Fall League in order to make up the lost reps. Despite a sluggish performance there, Lee still grades out as one of the best prospects in this system and profiles as a long-term big leaguer in our eyes. He shows above-average raw power from the left side, and though that didn’t show up much in games last year, Lee spent most of 2018 in Wilmington’s cavernous ballpark. Perhaps more concerning from a long-term perspective is his issues against secondary stuff, especially versus lefties. Defensively, he’s on the fringes of sticking in CF despite above-average straightaway speed, though he would be an asset on either outfield corner. Lee’s stock is a bit down entering 2019, but we still see the upside of a solid-regular if he’s able to stay in CF. He’ll finish less than that with a move down the defensive spectrum.
(#3) Seuly Matias , OF
Matias was must-watch entertainment in 2018. He electrified the South Atlantic League as a 19-year-old, mashing 31 home runs in just 94 games and pacing the minors in dingers for most of the season before going down with a hand injury in August. He’s a physical specimen, unusually developed for a young player across a chiseled 6-foot-3 frame. Matias’ light-tower raw power is the best in the system, able to send towering fly balls out to all parts of the park. As a 35-percent strikeout rate would indicate, he’s still far from a sure thing and must refine an immensely raw approach. Matias swings through a ton of pitches and doesn’t recognize spin, often chasing junk out of the zone. He’s a good ft in RF, where a 70-grade throwing arm plays as a real weapon. Matias is the most polarizing prospect on this list, a potential 30 home run bat who will fall well short of that if he can’t start making more contact. That upside still easily places him among Kansas City’s best prospects—and potentially in our Top 125 heading into 2019 as well.
(#4) Brady Singer, RHP
Ceiling: 55 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Above-Average Starter (#3 SP)
Ht/Wt: 6’5” / 210 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: DNP Age (as of April 1, 2019): 22y, 7m
Video #1 | Video #2 | Video #3 | Spotlight
After entering his draft spring a consensus top-of-the-draft prospect, Singer was unexpectedly available with the 18th overall pick last year. The Royals jumped on the opportunity to take him, resting Singer down the stretch after a stellar (but high-workload) amateur career at the University of Florida. Singer’s competitive streak and track record of winning give him a chance to move quickly, and he’s polished enough to finish this season at Double-A. His low-90s fastball has above-average sink from a low three-quarters slot, backed up by a sharp slider and changeup that both grade as potential above-average pitches. He’s a good mix of floor and ceiling, coming with the upside of a mid-rotation starter while still possessing the pitchability and arsenal depth to contribute even if he falls short of that projection.
ON THE HORIZON
(#7) Nicky Lopez, SS
Ceiling: 50 Risk: High ETA: 2019 Role Description: Everyday Player
Ht/Wt: 5’11” / 175 lbs. B/T: L/R Highest Level: AAA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 24y, 0m
The gritty Lopez has flat out performed since coming to the Royals in 2016’s fifth round, forcing his way to Triple-A by year’s end and now knocking on the door of the big leagues. Always known for his above-average glovework at SS, Lopez found a new level at the plate last year and now looks like he might hit enough to be a regular. He won’t ever produce much power, but good bat-to-ball skills and a propensity for putting the ball in play could make Lopez a future 50-grade hitter. He’s a safe bet to profile as a solid role player given the defense and speed, but we see the upside for a bit more than that given the offensive developments he showed last season.
(#8) Richard Lovelady, LHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Moderate ETA: 2019 Role Description: Setup Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 175 lbs. B/T: L/L Highest Level: AAA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 8m
Lovelady has found his niche in pro ball, rising quickly in Kansas City’s system as a reliever after being the Royals’ 10th rounder in 2016 from Kennesaw State. He’s coming off an effective full season in Triple-A, pitching to a 2.47 ERA and 1.01 WHIP while holding opponents to a paltry .204 average-against. Lovelady’s fastball sits in the mid-90s and touches 96 mph, coming in from a deceptive low three-quarters slot that’s especially tough for lefties to pick up. A mid-80s slider plays well off the heater from the same release point, breaking late with long lateral slant. Lovelady is knocking on the door to the big leagues and could see Kansas City at some point next season. He projects as a solid lefty setup option, one who will be especially tough for same-side hitters.
(#14) Josh Staumont, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2019 Role Description: Setup Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 200 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AAA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 25y, 3m
The rap has been the same on Staumont since he went pro in 2015: elite raw stuff with serious control and pitchability concerns. He already moved from the rotation to bullpen as a result of his issues throwing strikes, and while Staumont’s triple-digits fastball and power breaker immediately took to a relief role, he still waked nearly 16-percent of batters in Triple-A last season. His stuff fits a 9th inning profile but it’s unlikely Staumont develops the control to be trusted closing games. Realistically, he’s a setup option for the Royals that could surface in Kansas City at some point next year.
Kelvin Gutierrez, 3B
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 215 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 24y, 7m
Gutierrez was one of three prospects the Royals returned from Washington in last season’s trade for Kelvin Herrera. A former shortstop who outgrew the position, Gutierrez is a plus athlete for his size and has surprising quickness in his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame. He’s an above-average defender at the hot corner with a cannon arm, whistling lasers across the infield with a 60-grade hose. Despite his size and visible strength, Gutierrez hits like a smaller player with more contact than game power. His level swing-path is geared more towards line drives than loft, though he’s physical enough to potentially bring out more pop with a simple swing change. He’s athletic enough to try other positions if the Royals want to develop his defensive versatility. Gutierrez will need to find more offensive impact to profile as a regular on a corner, but his wide array of skills could still make him a role player.
Scott Blewett, RHP
Blewett was the Royals’ second-rounder in 2014 from the high school ranks. He has moved one level at a time through the system, added to the 40-Man Roster this November in his first year of Rule 5 eligibility. The 6-foot-6 righty touches 95 mph and sits in the low-90s, mixing a four-seamer with a running two-seam variant. His primary off-speed is a high-70s curve that flashes solid-average upside, showing vertical drop and late action. Blewett’s size and two-pitch mix are impressive, though he has continued to struggle building out his repitore or landing off-seed pitches for strikes. Both a slider and changeup are fringy and could hold up his ability to finish as a true back-rotation starter. There’s a bit more projection here than other pitchers this age given Blewett’s size and background as a cold-weater prep arm.
Meibrys Viloria, C
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 5’11” / 220 lbs. B/T: L/R Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 22y, 1m
The Royals thought highly enough of Viloria to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft after 2017 despite only having reached Class A at that time. Optioned to Wilmington to begin 2018, he got a surprise call to the big leagues straight from the Carolina League. Viloria went to Fall League after last year for more reps against high-level competition. He’s a glove-first catcher with the potential to finish a backup if his bat comes on at all.
Gabriel Cancel, 2B
Cancel is an offensive-minded infielder whose best attribute is his feel to hit. A stocky 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, he’s strong through the wrists and forearms and whips the barrel through the zone with strength. He can square up a fastball and drive the pullside with surprising juice, though Cancel struggles to barrel off-speed at times and can chase outside the zone. His defensive actions are fine at 2B, but limited lower-half agility takes away from his range at the keystone. Cancel probably fits best at 3B defensively, though there’s a lot more pressure on the bat playing on a corner. He’s a bit of a tweener and likely not a future regular as a result, but we see the ceiling as a bat-first role player able to come off the bench. There’s some risk here, however, as Cancel doesn’t have the supplementary tools to provide much value in a part-time role if he doesn’t produce at the plate.
Sam McWilliams, RHP
McWilliams is well-traveled, having been originally drafted by the Phillies before coming to Arizona in a trade. The Diamondbacks shipped him to Tampa Bay last season, who lost McWilliams in the Major League Phase of this off-season’s Rule 5 Draft to the Royals. The extra-tall righty touches the mid-90s with his fastball, getting excellent natural extension from a 6-foot-7 frame. His slider is fringy, lacking depth at times but flashing signs of becoming an average offering. He limits walks well, though his actual in-zone command and third pitch aren’t as sharp. McWilliams could fit into a handful of roles, potentially as a multi-inning reliever at the Major League level next season. As a Rule 5 player, the Royals will have to keep McWlliams on the Major League roster all season to avoid losing him.
Emmanuel Rivera, 3B
Rivera followed up his breakout 2017 campaign with a so-so season in the Carolina League. He missed time with a thumb problem, and if we’re a little light on his power potential, the pop he lost as a result of that injury might be why. He’s a big-bodied 3B who might move off the position despite a strong arm, something that would put even more pressure on his offense. Rivera’s size and strength generate raw pullside loft, though iffy batspeed and holes in the swing result in a questionable hit tool projection. He could reach the big leagues as a bench bat that moves between infield corners, though the lack of defensive value means Rivera will wind up a 4A type fairly quickly if he doesn’t hit enough.
Arnaldo Hernandez, RHP
Ceiling: 40 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Middle Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 175 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AAA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 1m
Hernandez worked as a starter across three levels last year, finishing 2018 in Triple-A. Eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, the Royals sent him to Fall League to get reps out of the ‘pen before deciding whether to protect him. They ultimately did, so Hernandez is on the team’s 40-Man Roster heading into 2019. We like Hernandez more in the ‘pen, where his mid-90s fastball and sharp breaking ball have a chance to play up. He could surface in the big leagues in the next two seasons.
Chris Ellis, RHP
Ceiling: 40 Risk: High ETA: 2019 Role Description: Long Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’5” / 205 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AAA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 26y, 6m
Ellis is well traveled, traded three times and now on his fourth organization. The Rangers selected him in the Major League Phase of this year’s Rule 5 Draft, shipping him to the Royals later that day. As a Rule 5 player, Ellis will have to remain on Kansas City’s roster if the Royals want to keep him, same as Sam McWilliams. It might be tough to retain two Rule 5 restricted arms on the roster all season, so there’s a chance only one sticks. Ellis could fit a long relief or spot-starting role, as he has a long track record in Triple-A and is coming off career-best walk rates in 2018. His fastball sits in the low-90s and is backed by three off-speed pitches (slider, curve, change) that all grade as playable offerings.
Foster Griffin, LHP
Ceiling: 40 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Long Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 200 lbs. B/T: R/L Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 8m
The 28th overall pick in 2014 from the prep ranks, Griffin has struggled to get over the hump at Double-A. His projectable 6-foot-3 frame never grew into that much more velocity and Griffin hasn’t been able to put better hitters away with fringy stuff. He’s able to throw strikes with numerous pitches but is vulnerable to hard contact, allowing a .311 average-against despite a solid six-percent walk rate. Griffin’s prospect star has faded some, and he now looks like a long reliever at best that might wind up stalling in the upper-minors.
D.J. Burt, 2B
Ceiling: 40 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Bench Player
Ht/Wt: 5’9” / 160 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A+ Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 5m
Burt is a slap-and-dash speedster who didn’t have much offensive success until last year. Repeating High-A as a 22-year-old, his .280/.367/.371 slash line was much improved from his 2017 performance in the Carolina League. Blazing speed is what gives Burt a chance at a big league role, and he posted his second straight season with more than 30 steals in 2018. He plays all over the infield (2B, SS, 3B) and even gave LF a try last year. He’s more likely a cup-of-coffee player than a true bench piece, but the ceiling is a late-inning specialist that impacts games with his wheels and is athletic enough to play multiple positions.
Gerson Garabito, RHP
Garabito finished 2018 in High-A as a starting pitcher. He might fit best in the ‘pen long-term, as his fringy velocity doesn’t project to turn over big league lineups. His high-70s curve is a separator, a big league breaking ball with sharp down action that keeps hitters honest. Garabito’s changeup made strides last year and could work as a third pitch in relief. He’s undersized but could add a tick of velocity airing it out in short stints.
(#5) Nick Pratto
Pratto spent his first full pro season hitting in the middle of Class A Lexington’s lineup. The 14th overall pick in 2017 more than held his own against older competition, showing adjustment to the level by slashing .358/.430/.575 over the final month of 2018. Despite the high offensive bar at 1B, Pratto might have the blend of hit, power, and approach to finish an above-average regular at the position. His smooth left-handed stroke makes contact without selling out for power, and he hits with a patient approach that’s unafraid to work counts for a pitch to drive. Despite his 28-percent strikeout rate last year, we see Pratto as a potential above-average hitter who projects to cut down on the whiffs as he climbs the ladder.
(#6) Jackson Kowar, RHP
Kowar lived up to his billing as a polished college arm after signing as the 33rd overall pick last year. He cruised through nine starts with Class A Lexington, giving the team’s rotation a big boost down the stretch and helping get the Legends to the South Atlantic League championship series. His 92-to-97 mph fastball sits in the mid-90s with solid run and plane. A mid-80s changeup grades as his best off-speed pitch, and it baffled low-minors last year while looking like a present Major League offering. Kowar’s sweepy breaking ball comes in at 74-to-78 mph, and while it’s behind the change, the pitch has enough pitches to project at least average down the road. We see him as a potential quick mover, able to finish next season at Double-A with the chance to jump into the FV 55 tier with a strong 2019.
(#8) Daniel Lynch, LHP
Lynch’s velocity ticked up prior to the draft last spring, and he held that newfound heat through a stellar pro debut after signing. The 34th overall pick in 2018, Lynch almost certainly would go higher if the draft was held again today. His fastball now touches 96 mph and works regularly in the mid-90s, backed by a tight one-plane slider that projects to finish at least an average pitch. Lynch’s changeup is behind the fastball and curve, though it shows enough flashes to foresee another potentially average offering to round out the arsenal. He could move up this list with a similar showing in 2019, projecting as a lefty rotation piece with plus stuff or a potential leverage ‘pen arm.
(#10) Kyle Isbel, OF
Isbel was drafted by the Royals in the fifth-round last year, performing well down the stretch in his pro debut. His well-rounded toolset has everyday upside if he’s able to stay in CF, which isn’t a given due to range and closing speed that grade closer to average than above. Isbel’s left-handed swing generates a mix of average and power, though he’s far from a lock to mash enough to fit a regular profile if he moves to an outfield corner. He’s a high-floor prospect that could finish a solid reserve player if the lack of a true plus tool stands in the way him fitting as a regular.
(#11) Michael Gigliotti, OF
Ceiling: 50 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2021 Role Description: Everyday Player
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 180 lbs. B/T: L/L Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 1m
Gigliotti’s premium athleticism and enthusing 2017 pro debut caused expectations to be high for the outfielder entering last year. Unfortunately, 2018 was mostly a lost season for Gigliotti, who missed the majority of last year after tearing his ACL in April. He’s a plus runner who looks the part in CF, able to cover plenty of ground with long, graceful strides. He shows a knack for barreling balls from a fluid left-handed stroke, and there’s reason to project on a bit more power coming on as he fills out a sinewy 6-foot-1 frame. It’s tough to bin Gigliotti exactly right now given his distance from the big leagues and missed time last year. He’s a best-case CF regular with the supplementary tools to wind up a useful fourth outfielder if he falls short of that ceiling.
(#12) Yefri Del Rosario, RHP
Del Rosario pitched half of last season in the South Atlantic League as an 18-year-old, making an adjustment to the level by pitching to a 1.86 ERA from July onward. He’s one of the prospects Atlanta lost once their international violations were discovered in 2017, currently looking like one of the best players from that bunch. Del Rosario’s fastball sits at 94-to-95 mph and reaches as high as 98 mph, and he’s already able to hold that velocity deep into starts. Both his curveball and changeup show promise, the breaker showing potential to finish an above-average pitch. He could move way up this list with continued steps forward in 2019.
(#13) Carlos Hernandez, RHP
Ceiling: 50 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2021 Role Description: League Average Starter (#4/#5 SP)
Ht/Wt: 6’4” / 180 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 22y, 0m
Video #1 | Video #2 | Video #3 | Report
Hernandez is still somewhat of a sleeper in this system despite a breakout 2018, and we’re bullish on the righty’s long-term upside. He’s a physical 6-foot-4 with the imposing fastball to match, touching 97 mph and sitting in the mid-90s with heavy sink. Hernandez made strides with his control and off-speed consistency last year, morphing a hard slurve into a true slider and getting much more comfortable with his mid-80s changeup. He still requires some dreaming but has the best-case ceiling of a back-rotation starter, possessing the size and stuff of a potential ‘pen arm if he falls short of that.
Kris Bubic, LHP
Bubic was among the handful of college arms Kansas City made a run on early in last year’s draft, going 40th overall from Stanford. He’s a big-bodied lefty that knows how to pitch, able to throw strikes and keep hitters off balance with four pitches. Scouts questioned how impactful Bubic’s stuff was, and though he touched the mid-90s leading up to the draft, we still see him finishing with a pitch-to-contact approach. He’s a best-case back-end starter who more realistically profiles as a swingman or low-end #5.
Blake Perkins, OF
Perkins was part of the prospect package the Royals returned from Washington in exchange for Kelvin Herrera. A plus athlete, Perkins’ speed and outfield defense give him tools to contribute in a part-time capacity. The switch-hitter is fairly light with the bat and offers little power, unlikely to hit enough to fit as a regular on a contending team. We see his ceiling as a glove-first fourth outfielder, though Perkins could wind up more of a late-innings specialist if he can’t take steps forward with the bat.
Austin Cox, LHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: Swingman
Ht/Wt: 6’4” / 185 lbs. B/T: L/L Highest Level: R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 22y, 0m
Cox was another one of the college arms the Royals stockpiled in last year’s draft, a fifth-rounder from Mercer. His tools are like fellow 2018 draftee Kris Bubic (Pure Projection), a physical lefty with fair stuff across the board. Cox shined against much less polished competition in the Appalachian League after signing, pitching to a 3.78 ERA with 51 strikeouts across 33.1 innings pitches. There are reports of him touching the 95-to-96 mph range last summer with a sharper curveball. Cox could move up this list once we get a better look at him in full-season ball.
Jeison Guzman, SS
Guzman was one of the gems of Kansas City’s 2015 J2 class, signing alongside (#3) Seuly Matias that period. He started last season in the Appy League before moving up to Class A Lexington for the last two months of the year. Guzman is a physical shortstop with standout athleticism, able to move extremely well for his size in the field and on the bases. We like his chances of sticking at shortstop, and he’s shown enough arm-strength to remain a left-side infielder. Offensively, he’s a contact hitter who doesn’t yet have the strength or approach to provide much home run power. There’s some bat speed, but his crouched stance and level path aren’t geared to lift the ball. An entire year of full-season will be a good test for Guzman, who has the tools of a low-end regular or solid utility piece depending on how his bat develops. He will only be 20-years-old next season and has enough upside to jump up this list with a strong 2019.
Yohanse Morel, RHP
The third prospect in last year’s Kelvin Herrera deal with Washington, finding Morel was a great testament to the Royals’ scouting staff. A little-known international signee of the Nationals who had not pitched in full-season ball, Morel has started filling out and flashed impressive stuff during Instructional League. Listed at 6-foot and 170 pounds, he’s now closer to an impressive 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds. Morel’s fastball touches the mid-90s with good feel for a late-diving changeup. A mid-80s slider shows above-average potential but can be inconsistent, not uncommon for a teenage pitcher. We’re bullish on Morel’s upside, and he’ll be just 18-years-old for most of the 2019 season. He’s trending up and could jump up this list upon reaching full-season ball.
Janser Lara, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2021 Role Description: Setup Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 170 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 22y, 7m
Lara has pitched as a starter and reliever as a pro, but his velocity and undersized frame hint at a future in the ‘pen. His fastball touches the upper-90s with lively late ride that blows past barrels elevated in the strike zone. Lara’s mid-80s slider flashes sharp action and two-plane shape, giving the potential to develop a miss-bat pitch off the heater. He’s a longshot prospect with the raw stuff to profile as a setup reliever.
Zach Haake, RHP
Haake was the Royals’ sixth-rounder last year from the University of Kentucky, though he’s more upside and less polish than most college arms. The 6-foot-4 righty has big raw stuff but battled consistency and control issues as an amateur. He pitched well against less advanced competition in the AZL and Pioneer League after signing, starting games but never pitching more than three innings at a time. Haake’s fastball sits in the mid-90s and touches 98 mph, backed up by a hard slider and developing high-80s changeup. The real test will be Haake versus age-appropriate competition in A-Ball next year, though his pro debut was enthusing. There’s a lot of variance here, but we like the stuff enough to qualify him as a potential setup relief prospect.
Juan Carlos Negret, OF
Like fellow Royals farmhand (#14) Yefri Del Rosario, Negret was originally a Braves prospect but was declared a free agent given Atlanta’s international violations. The 19-year-old outfielder started last year in Extended Spring Training before reporting to the Appy League in June. Negret showed power potential and a strong arm with Burlington while struggling to make contact, batting just .224 on the summer with a 27-percent strikeout rate. He’s a physically mature 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, and that strength allows advanced raw power for his age. His value will ultimately be determined by how much of that juice he gets to in games.
Charlie Neuweiler, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: Swingman
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 205 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 20y, 1m
A fifth-rounder from a Northeast high school in 2017, Neuweiler has some late-bloomer qualities but could be on a lengthy development path. He’s a sturdily built 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, able to work with a four-pitch mix he keeps around the zone. The fastball sits in the 91-to-92 mph range, touching 94 mph on a four-seamer and mixing a 89-to-91 mph two-seam variant. Neuweiler’s best pitch is a sharp mid-80s slider, a separator that projects as a legit big league pitch. He shows similar feel for spinning a curveball, though his changeup lags behind the fastball and both breaking pitches. Neuweiler’s propensity to challenge early in counts with his fastball caused him to get hit hard at times last year with Class A Lexington, and he’ll need to expand his arsenal in order to reach his ceiling. We see him as a potential low-end #5 starter or swingman type, though Neuweiler’s proximity and remaining development grade him out as more of a lotto ticket than a sure-bet prospect at this point.
Brewer Hicklen, OF
Ceiling: 40 Risk: High ETA: 2022 Role Description: Bench Player
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 208 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A+ Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 1m
Hicklen was a two-sport standout in college, splitting his time between baseball and football. The toughness from the gridiron translates to his baseball game, as the gritty outfielder played a do-everything role for Class A Lexington last season. A muscular 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds, Hicklen bopped 18 home runs and swiped 35 bases between two A-Ball levels last year, a nod to his speed and raw power. He’s athletic for his size and played CF in a pinch for the Legends, projecting better on an outfield corner long-term. Hicklen’s hit tool and approach are raw, and despite hitting over .300 in the South Atlantic League, a difficult .211/.263/.310 cameo at High-A underlines the degree he’ll need to improve against better pitchers. We see him as a high-makeup player with the chance to ride the sum-of-parts to a bench role in the big leagues, though Hicklen’s lack of a plus tool could stall him in the high-minors if no one attribute carries the profile.
Tad Ratliff, RHP
Ceiling: 40 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2021 Role Description: Middle Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 240 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 22y, 11m
Ratliff is a good development story, signed as an NDFA in 2017 after Royals’ scouts saw him in a small collegiate summer league after his junior year at Lenoir-Rhyne (NC) University. He played a prominent role in Lexington’s bullpen last season, notching 10 saves and striking out more than a batter per inning en route to a 1.68 ERA in the South Atlantic League. Ratliff’s fastball touches the 97-to-98 mph range and sits comfortably in the mid-90s. Both a firm slider and change grade as fringy-to-playable offerings.