The Kansas City Royals currently have what is widely thought of as the worst farm system in all of Major League Baseball. It’s interesting, however, because most of the Royals minor league affiliates are going to be a lot of fun to watch this summer, regardless of the perceived lack of talent.
The Surprise Royals of the Arizona Summer League will (probably) consist of players drafted by Kansas City with what is the biggest draft pool in the MLB this June. Also included on the Surprise Royals roster should be the two prospects that the Royals signed after they were made free agents during the Braves debacle: Juan Carlos Negret and Yefri del Rosario. Neither of those guys are confirmed yet, but it’s a likely landing spot for them both. The long-term future of the Kansas City Royals may very well be playing together in Arizona this summer.
The Lexington Legends roster will consists of four of the Royals top prospects to begin the season. Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez, Seuly Matias, and Michael Gigliotti will all be starting their 2018 seasons in Lexington, along with highly praised pitching prospects Sal Biasi, Carlos Hernandez, and Daniel Tillo.
The Northwest Arkansas Naturals will feature the Royals best minor league rotation in Foster Griffin, Scott Blewett, and Glenn Sparkman. They also have Erick Mejia, Nicky Lopez, Donnie Dewees Jr, and Samir Duenez that will be fun to watch on a daily basis.
The Omaha Storm Chasers feature the Royals best bullpen (maybe at any level) with the likes of Richard Lovelady, Josh Staumont, and Kevin Lenik. Add in Adalberto Mondesi, Ryan O’Hearn, Bubba Starling, and Frank Schwindel, and you’ve got plenty to see in Omaha.
But we’re here today to cover the most exciting team in the entire Royals system (in my not-so-humble opinion). The Wilmington Blue Rocks, the Royals High-A affiliate, will contain the Royals #1 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, the Royals most underrated prospect according to me, the best infield of any Royals affiliate, the best catching group (debatably), and a something of a sleeper pitching staff.
Wilmington Blue Rocks, High-A, Carolina League
Managed by Darryl Kennedy
Daniel S. Frawley Stadium
The aforementioned top prospect in the Royals system, according to MLB Pipeline, would be Khalil Lee. Khalil Lee has the best chance of any Royals prospect to crack the MLB Top 100 this season if he has a good performance at High-A. Last year with the Lexington Legends (Low-A), Lee slashed .237/.344/.430 with 17 HR and 20 SB on the campaign. His speed/power combo is probably the best in the organization, and his defense in right field ain’t so shabby either. Lee features what I expect to one day grade as a 65 arm in RF, as the former pitcher loves to let it fly from the outfield.
Arguably the single most underrated prospect in the entire system for Kansas City is centerfielder Rudy Martin. In parts of three professional seasons, Martin has flashed an incredible combination of speed and the ability to be on base. I’m gonna compare two players for you in their first pro seasons in the AZL:
Player A: 21 YO, .273/.358/.373, 0 HR, 19 SB, 9.5% BB%, 15.9% K%, 99 wRC+, 51 GP
Player B: 19 YO, .338/.477/.541, 1 HR, 14 SB, 19.5% BB%, 16.1% K%, 192 wRC+, 40 GP
Player B is Rudy Martin. He absolutely obliterated the AZL as a 19-year old back in 2015. Player A is none other than Jarrod Dyson. Jarrod Dyson posted two separate big league seasons that were worth at least 3 fWAR, and he played no more than 120 games in each of those seasons. If Rudy Martin can ever figure out how to stay healthy, he will fly up the prospect rankings in 2018.
One of the things I’m most looking forward to seeing in Wilmington this summer is the catching situation. Chase Vallot, Meibrys Viloria, and Xavier Fernandez will all begin the season with Wilmington, giving the Blue Rocks the best catching group in the Royals system.
Meibrys Viloria is still something of a sleeper in the Royals farm system, as he slumped a bit in 2017 after winning the Pioneer League MVP award in 2016. Still just 21 years old, Viloria has an outside chance to end the season in AA with Northwest Arkansas, which would be a huge step in the right direction for the young catcher.
Chase Vallot may be the best pure hitter in the Royals system. Unfortunately for Vallot, Viloria, MJ Melendez, Sebastian Rivero, and Xavier Fernandez all project as better catchers in the long run. Vallot may be forced to spend more time as a 1B/DH this season, but given his recent run of injuries, this may not be such a bad thing. Don’t be surprised if Vallot gets on base 36% of the time this season and hits 15-20 HR to boot.
One position group we haven’t mentioned yet is the infielders. The Blue Rocks infield figures to consist of 3B Emmanuel Rivera (21), 2B Gabriel Cancel (21), and 1B Chris DeVito (23) for most of their games to begin the season.
Emmanuel Rivera is an emerging star in the Royals organization that slashed .310/.364/.468 with 12 HR last year for Lexington. Gabriel Cancel is a slugging 2B that slashed .277/.324/.466 last season, also with Lexington, with 14 HR in only 103 games. Chris DeVito struggled mightily in his first stint with Wilmington, after posting a wRC+ of 200(!!) to begin the 2017 season with Lexington. If he can figure out how to handle LHP, he’s going to be a monster.
The pitching staff won’t be the best part of the Blue Rocks roster, but there are some hidden gems on the staff, and given that the Carolina League is a bit of a pitcher’s league anyway, they could have a fair amount of success. Grant Gavin and Cristian Castillo, both repeaters for Wilmington, are two guys that I will have my eyes on the most heading into the season. Gavin has absolutely dominated his competition since being drafted back in 2016, and Castillo might be one of the more underrated starting pitching prospects in the Royals system. Bryan Brickhouse will also be making his return to professional baseball this season.
Photo Credits: MiLB.com