If you asked me which Royals minor league team should I follow the most this year, my answer would be easy. The Lexington Legends. Put onto scale with the organization, this team will be booming with talent.
Team, Level: Lexington Legends, Low-A
Ballpark: Whitaker Bank Ballpark
2017 Record: 62-75
Manager: Scott Thorman
Royals Farm Report Top 100 Prospects: 1B Nick Pratto (#1), OF Seuly Matias (#3), C MJ Melendez (#5), OF Michael Gigliotti (#19), LHP Daniel Tillo (#26), C Sebastian Rivero (#31), RHP Sal Biasi (#32), LHP Garrett Davila (#34), RHP Tyler Zuber (#36), SS Jeison Guzman (#52), 3B Oliver Nunez (#53), OF Marten Gasparini (#54), 1B Dennicher Carrasco (#58), OF Travis Jones (#60), LHP Holden Capp (#64), RHP Andrew Beckwith (#71), SS Julio Gonzalez (#88), RHP Nolan Watson (#91), RHP Carlos Hernandez (#99)
Rivaling with Wilmington for the best catching group in the organization, the Legends will feature two promising backstops in MJ Melendez and Sebastian Rivero. The Royals didn’t shy away from pushing 2017 second round pick MJ Melendez into full season ball, ignoring the 30.3% K% he posted in the AZL, rather looking at the impressive 121 wRC+. Melendez figures to spend most of the season in Low-A, but his development throughout the course of the season is definitely something to keep an eye on, being one of the higher-ceiling prospects in the whole organization. If he continues to slug like he did in his pro debut, a possible appearance on a top 100 list isn’t out of the question.
Melendez will get most of the talk in Lexington, but Sebastian Rivero should not be overlooked. Like his fellow catching peer, Rivero also possesses a high-ceiling. The big money signing still has yet for the bat to come around (78 wRC+ in Burlington last year), but his raw skills and fine plate approach are starting points for him as a prospect. With his defensive skills behind the plate, if he starts to hit a stride offensively, he could fly up the rankings still being only 19-years-old.
Similar with the catching group, there is also a ton to talk about with the infielders on this team. Let’s start off big with first baseman Nick Pratto, arguably the Royals top prospect. The Royals first selection in last summer’s amateur draft, Pratto had an adequate, yet not flashy, pro debut with the AZL Royals, owning a 103 wRC+ on the year. There were some encouraging signs with his 2017 campaign though, such as a 10.4% BB% and 0.74 GB/FB ratio.
Running the double play combo will likely be Julio Gonzalez and Jeison Guzman to start the season. Starting with Guzman, he looks to regain some of his prospect status after a disastrous 2017 season with Burlington, in which he slashed .207/.286/.249. This is a big season coming up for the toolsy infielder. 2017 17th round pick Julio Gonzalez takes on the characteristics of a sleeper prospect, owning a very sound approach at the plate (15.2% BB% and 12.6% K% in Idaho Falls last year).
Manning the hot corner to start the season will likely be utility man Travis Jones. The Texas product tore the cover off the ball last season, slashing .364/.445/.541 across three levels. Expect to see him also get some reps at first base and the outfield too. A pair of Burlington fringe prospects in Dennicher Carrasco and Oliver Nunez will likely get their fair share of time at third base too.
The outfield in Lexington will feature two of the more highly-regarded prospects in the organization in Seuly Matias and Michael Gigliotti. There might not be a prospect in the system with a higher ceiling than Matias, so seeing how he performs in his first full season of professional baseball should be plenty interesting. Already getting some love from major publications, a hot start to his 2018 season could lead to more top 100 appearances for the Dominican signing.
My guess is Michael Gigliotti doesn’t play too many more games in Low-A. I was a bit surprised to see him end up repeating Lexington again (hit .302/.378/.419 in 22 games last year), so don’t be shocked if he’s with Wilmington very quickly.
Vance Vizcaino and Marten Gasparnini seem to be the odd men out on playing time, but expect them to consistently find themselves in an outfield rotation with others. This will Gasparini’s third go around in Lexington, so if he hits well early he could be another guy that ends up in Wilmington quickly in what could be a make-or-break season for him.
Highlighting the starting rotation for Lexington is a pair of 2017 draft picks, third rounder Daniel Tillo and 11th rounder Sal Biasi. Both had superb debuts in 2017, with Tillo striking out 32 and walking six in 36.2 innings and Biasi posting a 2.41 ERA in 56 innings. Getting their innings stretched out will be a challenge, as both spent the majority of the season with short-season Burlington last year.
Heading back to Lexington for the third straight season will be 2015 first rounder Nolan Watson. The righty arm struggled to pick up any sort of momentum last year, owning an abysmal 7.87 ERA in 84.2 innings. Watson has flown right off the prospect radar after three sub par seasons to start his professional career.
Assuming a back-end bullpen role will be 2017 sixth rounder Tyler Zuber. The righty had a fantastic pro debut last year, posting a 2.16 ERA in 25 innings with Burlington, striking out 38 and walking seven.
2017 eigth round selection Holden Capps, 2017 12th rounder Collin Snider, 2017 22nd rounder Josh Mitchell, former College World Series MVP and 2017 32nd rounder Andrew Beckwith, 2016 17th rounder Dillon Drabble, 2015 fourth rounder Garrett Davila, along with international signings Carlos Hernandez, Julio Pinto, and Andres Sotillet, will round out the rest of the pitching staff. Also seeing time out of the bullpen will be 2013 third rounder Carter Hope, who made his return to professional baseball in 2017 after taking a brief leave of absence, appearing in eight games between the AZL Royals and Idaho Falls.
Photo Credits: Brian McLeod—MiLB.com