Welcome back to our official Royals Farm Report. So far in our reports we’ve covered the catchers, outfielders, speed demons, and middle infielders. In this piece, I’ll be covering the corner infielders in the Royals farm system. There are some talented young men at both corners that ought to have Royals fans excited for both the near and distant future. Let’s take a quick look back at our Top 100 to get an idea of who is on the farm:
1. Nick Pratto, 1B
Levels Played, 2017: Rookie (AZL)
Acquired: 2017 MLB Draft, 1st Round
2017 Stats: 52 G, .247/.330/.414, 49 H, 15 2B, 3 3B, 4 HR, 25 R, 34 RBI, 10 SB (AZL)
This June, the Royals picked up their number one prospect with the fourteenth overall selection in the MLB Draft. Quite possibly the best high school hitter in the draft, the Royals were appealed to the above-average athleticism, power potential, and great swing that Pratto holds.
A two-way star in high school, Pratto was considered a legit pitching prospect to go along with his high-profiled bat, as the lefty could reach 90 MPH with his fastball. But as the draft drew closer, it was clear Pratto was going to embark on a professional career in the field. Landing with the Royals in the draft, he was easily lured away from his commitment to USC, signing for $3.75 million.
Heading into the draft, I was a strong believer that Pratto was the best high school bat available, so I was pretty satisfied when the Royals called his name. I just loved everything about him at the plate. The swing, the discipline, the potential for power, the bat speed. Once the bat matures at the professional level, the Royals will have themselves one great hitting prospect.
With a minimal lift in the leg, Pratto uses strength from his hips and back leg combined with an ideal bat-path to generate a high amount of fly balls (43.6% FB% ranked near the top of the AZL). Though it’s not quite there yet, many seem to think there is potential for power in this bat. If he builds a bit on his 6’0″ 200 lbs frame, we could see a serious uptick in the home run department. Of the current power he does have, most of it is to the pull-side.
Even though Pratto didn’t have the greatest professional debut (103 wRC+), he stilled flashed some good. Twenty-two of his 49 hits went for extra-bases, as he often found the gaps. The BB% was also impressive for a player jumping from high school to professional ball, standing at a 10.4% mark.
For a first baseman, Pratto is athletically gifted. The speed and range could be better, but he flashes an elite arm for first and some nice glove-work. All in all, he is above-average defensively.
With as advanced a profile that Pratto has, I’d expect the Royals to be aggressive with his development, maybe sending him to Lexington for his first full professional season. I’m excited to see how it play out. The Royals could have possibly found themselves a first baseman with All-Star potential here.
4. Hunter Dozier, 3B/OF
Levels Played, 2017: A+ (Wilmington), AA (Northwest Arkansas), AAA (Omaha)
Acquired: 2013 MLB Draft, 1st Round
2017 Stats: 24 G, .226/.313/.464, 19 H, 6 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 11 R, 12 RBI, 1 SB (Omaha), 6 G, .250/.400/.313, 4 H, 1 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 4 R, 0 RBI, 0 SB (Northwest Arkansas), 3 G, .364/.462/.455, 3 H, 1 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 1 R, 1 RBI, 0 SB (Wilmington)
Time might be running out on one of the better hitters in the Royals minor league system. The 2017 season was not ideal for the 2013 1st round pick, crawling throughout most of the year with numerous injuries. In limited time, Dozier was inconsistent with the bat, but still flashed that prospect status in him. The stat that matters here is in August, the only full month that Dozier played in the 2017 season, he hit a stellar .258/.364/.500 in 20 games. This might suggest that maybe there wasn’t much lost during his injury-riddled season.
After a rollercoaster start to his minor league career, Dozier finally cemented himself among the Royals top prospects in 2016 when he slashed .296/.366/.533 in 129 games between AA and AAA.
The main key to his successful 2016 were some changes he made to his overall approach. After a 2015 season that saw him hit an ugly .213/281/.349 in 128 AA games, Dozier decided to put in the work over the offseason. He looked to simplify his stance more, work on changing his leg kick, and tried an overall more simplified approach, rather than trying to crush the ball 750 feet every time. As shown above, with an improved timing in his approach, the slashline dramatically improved, but the underlying plate discipline factors really told the story.
- 28.9% K% in 2015, 22.6% K% in 2016
- 8.6% BB% in 2015, 9.9% BB% in 2016
The swing is one of the prettier strokes in all of the system, as he combines a nice compact swing with his strength to allow power to all fields. Something that has clearly improved since he altered his approach at the plate after a disastrous 2015 campaign.
This can also be shown in form of GIF, using his strength to crush a ball to the opposite field.
Along with his strength, Dozier possesses great athletic capabilities all over the diamond. Dating back to his college career, Dozier has seen significant time at 3B, SS, 1B, RF, and LF. At the major league level, I’d expect him to at least adequately contribute at the corner infield and corner outfield positions, showing a good arm and decent speed and range.
There’s a great chance we see Hunter Dozier playing some type of role on the major league club in 2018, whether it be at third base, first base, outfield, or DH. He’ll be one of the more important players to watch next season, especially early on. He should get his fair shot of an opportunity come March.
16. Ryan O’Hearn 1B
Levels Played, 2017: AA (Northwest Arkansas), AAA (Omaha)
Acquired: 2014 MLB Draft, 8th Round
2017 Stats: 114 G, .252/.325/.450, 104 H, 26 2B, 1 3B, 18 HR, 48 R, 53 RBI, 1 SB (Omaha), 19 G, .259/.355/.485, 11 H, 1 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 7 R, 11 RBI, 0 SB (Northwest Arkansas)
Ryan O’Hearn was probably one of the more disappointing Royals prospects in 2017. Playing in the PCL, I expected some big offensive numbers from him this past season, possibly propelling himself to a role on the major league team. That wasn’t the case though, as O’Hearn saw a decrease in both the power and plate discipline department, leading to ugly 99 wRC+, especially for a first baseman.
Scout’s opinions really vary on O’Hearn. Some think he’ll be a consistent 25 home run bat, while some think he’ll his long swing will be exposed at the next level. Hopefully this year was just an outlier, but he needs to seriously improve his mechanics at the plate.
His lower-half is pretty awkward in his swing, but what I do love is how quickly he drops the bathead for some elite pull-power.
Holding a pretty good frame for a first baseman, O’Hearn is adequate with the glove and could probably turn into a serviceable corner outfielder with more reps.
With O’Hearn being available for selection at the upcoming Rule 5 Draft, I wouldn’t be overly concerned at the possibility of him getting plucked away from the Royals. First baseman tend to be hard to hide on a 25-man roster and I really don’t think teams are getting overly excited at a first baseman that just his for a .199 ISO with a 25.7% K% in AAA. We’ll see.
19. Samir Duenez, 1B
Levels Played, 2017: AA
Acquired: International Free Agent
2017 Stats: .252/.304/.402/.705, 17 HR, 75 RBI, 23 2B, 20.5% K%, 6.5% BB%, 523 AB
Samir Duenez is one of my favorite prospects in this organization, despite a bit of a rough 2017 at AA. The 21-year old has been among the youngest players at every level he’s played in since he debuted as a professional back in 2013. Here’s a little bit from our very own Patrick Brennan:
- At age 17 in the Rookie League, where the average age is 19.4, Duenez posted a 103 wRC+.
- At age 20 in Low-A, where the average age is 21.2, Duenez posted a 108 wRC+.
- At age 20 in High-A, where the average age is 22.4, Duenez posted a 132 wRC+.
- At age 21 in AA, where the average age is 23.8, Duenez posted a 95 wRC+.
Despite his slight dip in 2017, the most encouraging thing I saw from Duenez this past season was the continued development of his power stroke. In his five professional seasons, Duenez has tallied 0 HR, 1 HR, 1 HR, 13 HR, and 17 HR. As he gets older and more mature, Duenez gets more and more powerful with the bat, which will be important if he wants to stick at 1B.
Another encouraging number to point to for Duenez is his BABIP. Duenez’ BABIP in 2017 was .293, a slightly unfavorable number that I would expect to improve just a tick moving forward. His walk rate was also down a bit from 2016, and if he can walk a little more in 2018 than he did in 2017, Duenez could be set for a really nice 2018. I expect him to start the year in AA again, but with a touch more success in 2018, he should end the year with AAA Omaha, putting him one step away from Kansas City.
23. Emmanuel Rivera, 3B
Levels Played, 2017: Low-A
Acquired: 19th Round of the 2015 MLB Draft
2017 Stats: .310/.364/.468/.832, 12 HR, 72 RBI, 27 2B, 17.1% K%, 6.1% BB%, 464 AB
Finally bursting onto the prospect scene in 2017, Rivera made huge strides at the plate with the Lexington Legends. Getting progressively better each year, Rivera has improved his OPS by at least 142 points in each of the last two seasons. In addition, after hitting only 2 HR in his first 2 seasons, Rivera hit 12 this year in what was his breakout campaign.
Rivera, still only 21 years old from Puerto Rico, showed a ton of promise and progress at the plate in 2017. A decent-enough defender as well, Rivera has all the tools it will take to get him to the big leagues so long as he continues to progress.
The one concern that I have for Rivera is that his offensive success may have been propped up by favorable peripherals in 2017. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .359, up from an unfavorable .299 in 2016. He’s also begun walking less and less as his career goes on, but he’s struck out less and less as well. He still hits a ton of ground balls (52.4%), and I’d like to see him get the ball in the air more in 2018. If Rivera can do that, you may see him in the Royals top 15 at the end of next season.
52. Oliver Nunez, 3B
DOB: February 21, 1995
Levels Played, 2017: Rookie (Burlington)
Acquired: International Free Agent Signing
2017 Stats: .321/.389/.421/.809, 2 HR, 20 RBI, 10 2B, 19 SB, 221 AB
Had Nunez not been a 22-year old in rookie ball last summer, his numbers would probably far more impressive. Yet here we are after yet another good season from the young third baseman and he only registers at 46 on the Royals prospect list because his age sort of devalues his success.
However, if Nunez can bypass Low-A next year and make the jump to High-A Wilmington, he has a chance to jump up the prospect rankings in 2018. The numbers are undeniable. The age is a bit of a concern. If the soon-to-be 23-year old can climb through the system next year, he may climb the rankings as well.
54. Chris DeVito, 1B
DOB: December 1, 1994
Levels Played, 2017: Low-A, High-A
Acquired: 8th Round of the 2016 MLB Draft
Low-A: .347/.374/.702/1.077, 11 HR, 38 RBI, 10 2B, 121 AB
High-A: .240/.287/.382/.670, 10 HR, 53 RBI, 21 2B, 387 AB
It was a season full of splits for Chris DeVito Carrying what may well be the most powerful bat in the Royals system, the young first baseman had an up and down year in 2017. DeVito lit the world on fire early in the year at Low-A, and was promptly promoted to High-A where the results simply didn’t translate.
The other mega-split for DeVito in 2017 were his righty/lefty splits. Here’s how DeVito faded against righties in his time with High-A Wilmington: .304/.353/.486/.840 with 8 HR in 247 AB. Against lefties: .129/.164/.200/.364 with 2 HR in 140 AB.
DeVito clearly has some work to do against lefties, but if he can just figure out how to hit .200 against LHP, he could very well have a major league career ahead of him.
57. Dennicher Carrasco, 1B
Levels Played, 2017: Rookie (Burlington)
Acquired: Free Agent, Dominican Republic
2017 Stats: 61 G, .288/.322/.500, 68 H, 14 2B, 3 3B, 10 HR, 34 R, 41 RBI, 1 SB (Burlington)
One of my sleeper prospects in the organization. Signed out of the Dominican Republic at an older age, Carrasco is still behind in his development, but the corner infielder has shown some early success. He started his career off with a bang, hitting seven home runs for the DSL Royals in 2016 (that’s a high number for the DSL), hitting .263/.365/.406 overall on the year.
I like to say he took on a Mike Moustakas approach in 2017 (great power, good contact, low BB%), seeing his average raise to .288, but significantly lowering his BB% (12.5% in 2016, 4.7% in 2017).
I’m excited to see how his power develops. The more aggressive approach saw him add some pop (increased ISO from .143 to .212), knocking 27 of his 68 hits for extra bases. Not to mention, he still hasn’t grown fully into his frame, suggesting there could be more to come.
He can play first and third both well, posting above-average speed for the respected positions.
62. Frank Schwindel, 1B
Levels Played, 2017: AA (Northwest Arkansas), AAA (Omaha)
Acquired: 2013 MLB Draft, 18th Round
2017 Stats: 99 G, .321/.340/.528, 126 H, 30 2B, 0 3B, 17 HR, 51 R, 72 RBI, 0 SB (Omaha), 34 G, .350/.374/.577, 13 2B, 0 3B, 6 HR, 17 R, 25 RBI, 0 SB (Northwest Arkansas)
Tons of people got excited over the slugging rampage Frank Schwindel went on in Omaha, slashing .321/.340/.528 in 99 games after his promotion from AA. Schwindel flashes some serious in-game power, knocking 66 extra-base hits this year.
I wouldn’t expect a guy with Schwindel’s peripherals to really sustain a high batting average. A ridiculous .353 BABIP in Omaha this year really aided his offensive production, but don’t expect that from year to year. His approach really won’t even play in the majors (low 2.5% BB% in Omaha). Considering he just reached Omaha at age 25 and posted the second worst BB/K ratio out of 124 hitters with 300 plate appearances in the PCL, I wouldn’t hold my breath for offensive success at the big league level.
As you can see, there’s quite a bit of high-end talent at the corners in the minor league system. Guys like Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn are either already knocking at the big league door, or will be very soon. Nick Pratto, Samir Duenez, and Emmanuel Rivera are a still a few years away from sniffing the big leagues, but both show plenty of promise as prospects.
The problem is, once you get past those 4-5 guys, there’s not much to speak of in the system. The Royals are pretty well set for the future at first base with the likes of Nick Pratto, but Hunter Dozier is already 26 and Emmanuel Rivera has really only had one big season as a prospect. If Erick Mejia can come in and play some third, that would certainly help the Royals depth at the hot corner. Otherwise, they’re looking a little thin at third with Emmanuel Rivera as the only third baseman in the Royals top 30 who hasn’t already seen major league at bats.
Having Nick Pratto in the system certainly makes the future of the Royals corner infield pretty bright. Emmanuel Rivera had a big year in 2017 and if he can have another big year in 2018, the Royals future infield may be looking very, very bright with Raul Mondesi Jr. and Nicky Lopez already approaching the big leagues.