Our method for determining our top 100 Royals prospects came from an aggregate of three separate top 100 lists. These lists were compiled by three members of our writing staff: Patrick Brennan, Alex Duvall, and Drew Osborne.
10. Gabriel Cancel, 2B
Levels Played, 2017: Low-A
Acquired: 7th Round of the 2015 MLB Draft
2017 Stats: .277/.324/.466/.790, 14 HR, 49 RBI, 30 2B, 9 SB, 22.9% K%, 5.3% BB%, .190 ISO, 401 AB
Bursting onto the prospect scene in 2016, Gabriel Cancel made a name for himself with the rookie league Burlington Royals last season. Posting an OPS of .840 with 5 HR in 172 AB, Cancel found himself on Royals prospect lists for the first time in his career. Now, after destroying the baseball with the Lexington Legends in 2017, the slugging second basemen finds himself at number 10 in our rankings.
Second basemen that can hit, and hit well, are a nice commodity for baseball teams. Generally thought of as a defense-first position, guys like Robinson Cano and Ian Kinsler have changed the game for second basemen as hitters, and Gabriel Cancel fits the bill.
The biggest concern I have for Cancel is his declining walk rate. In 2016, during his .840 OPS season, Cancel walked at a rate of 7.9%. This season in Lexington, Cancel’s walk rate dropped down to 5.3% and his OBP dropped 22 points. As of right now, I’m probably going to chalk this one up to moving up a level and playing full-season A-ball at the age of 20. But Cancel turns 21 today (happy birthday) and will probably spend the 2018 season with High-A Wilmington, a league that is not so friendly to hitters. If Cancel wants to produce similar numbers in 2018 as he did in 2017, it would do him some good to take an extra walk or two.
My favorite part about Cancel, however, is his increasing power and FB%. In 2015, Cancel’s ground ball percentage (GB%) was 48.8%. In 2016 it was 47%, and this past season it dropped all the way down to 40.6%. Cancel appears to have joined in on the fly-ball revolution, which should produce good results as he continues to add power to his swing. If Cancel can manage to hit well enough in Wilmington next summer to get himself some AA at bats before the end of 2018, I will be more than ecstatic for the future of this slugging second baseman.
9. Richard Lovelady, LHP
Levels Played, 2017: High-A, AA
Acquired: 10th Round of the 2016 MLB Draft
2017 Stats (combined): 1.62 ERA, 2.10 FIP, 2.51 xFIP, 0.95 WHIP, 77 K, 17 BB, 1 HR, 66.2 IP
One of Kansas City’s most beloved prospects, Richard Lovelady has been flat out dominant since being drafted in June of 2016. In 91.2 career innings out of the bullpen, Lovelady owns an ERA of 1.67, a WHIP of 0.94 (!!!), and a K:BB ratio of 107:26. The kid has been outrageously good, and has given KC fans hope for the future at closer.
Lovelady has become something of a friend of our website, doing multiple interviews with us and constantly answering questions we ask him about his performances. He’s a big Tennessee Vols fan (sorry about that) and a guy that all of Kansas City will find easy to root for when he finally makes his MLB debut.
My favorite thing about Lovelady as a prospect is that the kid is still developing. Yes, he’s been absolutely dominant and it seems that there may not be a ton of room left for improvement. That’s where you would be wrong.
Lovelady doesn’t walk many, and his fastball runs up into the upper 90’s with regularity from a funky, lefty delivery. The best part about his success so far is that his wipe-out slider still has room to improve. We’ve asked Richard about his slider last summer and he said he’s as comfortable throwing his slider as he is with his fastball. This is excellent news for those of us hoping to see Lovelady in KC ASAP.
At this point, really the only thing keeping Lovelady out of KC is the front office. We’ll see how he fares against AAA hitters early on next spring, though I don’t anticipate the young lefty from Kennesaw State to run into too many issues. If the Royals wind up moving on from Kelvin Herrera or Joakim Soria, you may see Lovelady’s trip to the Kansas City bullpen expedited.
8. Nicky Lopez, SS/2B
Levels Played, 2017: High-A, AA
Acquired: 5th Round of the 2016 MLB Draft
2017 Stats (combined): .279/.348/.356/.704, 2 HR, 38 RBI, 21 SB, 52 K, 52 BB, 517 AB
Nicky Lopez had Royals fans drooling at the mouth with his performance in the Arizona Fall League this fall, as he slashed .383/.433/.568(!!!)/1.001 with 2 HR in 90 PA with the Surprise Saguaros. Following a campaign with High-A Wilmington this past summer where he hit .295 (including a .327 month of May), Nicky Lopez has earned his number 8 spot in our rankings.
Lopez is a guy who does a ton of things really well, but seems to lack one great trait. Think of Whit Merrifield, if you will (although Merrifield did lead the AL in SB last year). He gets on base, he hits for average, he plays above average defense on the middle infield, he runs well, the only tool that he’s really lacking would be a power stroke (8 career HR in 748 AB).
The reason that we have Lopez listed as a SS/2B, is due to the fact that he’s probably only the 3rd best defensive SS in the Royals organization. Last season with AA Northwest Arkansas, the Royals moved Lopez to 2B to allow defensive wizard Humberto Arteaga to man SS. Don’t get me wrong, Lopez plays the SS position very well, and could probably even be an MLB SS, but he is not quite as good as Mondesi or Arteaga at the position, meaning he’ll probably need to move to 2B in order to start in the MLB every day (barring some catastrophic down-fall of Mondesi’s bat).
I have Lopez tentatively scheduled to make his MLB debut in 2019. Despite the phenomenal performances in High-A and the Arizona Fall League in 2017, Lopez’ numbers suffered a bit when he made the move to AA. I expect Lopez to probably start the season with AA Northwest Arkansas again, although a good Spring Training may see his development expedited straight to AAA Omaha. Either way, Lopez’ future looks as bright as ever for the Kansas City Royals, and Royals fans ought to be ecstatic about his performance in “Prospect Finishing School” this past fall.
7. Donnie Dewees Jr., OF
Levels Played, 2017: AA
Acquired: Trade with the Chicago Cubs for RHP Alec Mills
2017 Stats: .272/.340/.407/.748, 9 HR, 52 RBI, 24 2B, 20 SB, 15.5% K%, 8.8% BB%, 109 wRC+, 464 AB
When the Kansas City Royals decided to trade one of their better SP prospects (in an organization that doesn’t have many good SP prospects) for an outfielder that only had 149 at bats at High-A, I figured that GM Dayton Moore must’ve really liked what he saw from the young speedster.
Like always, GMDM may have been on to something. After starting the season off rather slow (.211 BA in April, .222 in May), Dewees caught fire in June, slashing .354/.368/.626/.994. It became very clear early on that Dewees had only received the aforementioned 149 High-A at bats, but it also became very clear in June why the Royals front office felt comfortable with Dewees at AA.
Dewees’ best tool is probably his speed. The kid can absolutely fly. At a game I saw last August, there was a ball hit into the RCF gap that I thought was a sure-fire double off of Foster Griffin. As I looked down (from admiring this missile off the bat), Dewees was camped underneath the baseball. He had been shading the opposing hitter into LCF, and somehow was still able to make the catch. The kid can flat out run, and his speed/defense in CF gives him an incredibly high floor as a 4th outfielder at the MLB level.
6. Foster Griffin, LHP
Levels Played, 2017: High-A, AA
Acquired: 1st Round of the 2014 MLB Draft
- High-A: 2.86 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 1.11 WHIP, 60 K, 56.2 IP, 10 starts
- AA: 3.61 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 1.36 WHIP, 81 K, 104.2 IP, 18 starts
In an organization that is desperate for promising young SPs, Foster Griffin stands above the rest. The lanky lefty does not throw particularly hard, nor does he have a devastating, wipe-out breaking ball. But Foster Griffin has mastered the art of pitching in a way that not many people his age have.
Foster Griffin does a lot of things very well. He throw strikes (2.92 BB/9 at AA), he induces his fair share of ground balls (44.4% GB% at AA), he works rather quickly, he works efficiently (only threw 100 pitches in 4/28 starts in 2017), and does a good job of inducing weak contact (22.5% LD% at AA, 18.9% at High-A).
The reason that Foster Griffin finds himself at number 6 in our rankings is fairly simple: his floor is probably a back-of-the-rotation starter. If I had to guess, Griffin probably makes a nice career for himself as a middle-of-the-rotation starter that is incredibly serviceable and consistently adequate.
But the reason that I am more bullish on Griffin than some others is that I think there’s still a chance that he becomes a legitimate number 2 in a big-league rotation. When I saw Griffin pitch this past August, he had one pitch working for him: his fastball. Stuck throwing mostly fastballs, Griffin still found a way to induce relatively weak contact and work his way through the Springfield Cardinals lineup. When/if Griffin masters the ability to consistently have all three pitches working for him on any given night, he could become a well-above average big-league starter, despite the lack of velocity.
I fully expect Griffin to begin the year with AAA Omaha in 2018, and barring any injuries, very well could make his way to Kansas City before the end of next season.
Photo Credits: Alex Trautwig—Getty Images