We’re about a third of the way into full season minor league baseball, and some Royals farm hands have taken full advantage of their playing time. For those Royals tearing up the Sally and Texas Leagues, it’s time for a new challenge.
Here is a list of players in the Royals system who are ready for a promotion:
*Statistics don’t include June 6 games
Nicky Lopez – SS, Northwest Arkansas Naturals
This is probably the promotion I hear talked about the most. Lopez struggled early in the year before getting boiling-lava hot and raising his slash line to .323/.391/.387. He’s got 25 walks against just 20 strikeouts with six doubles and four triples.
He doesn’t have any home runs, but Lopez is not a power hitter. He’s a middle infielder with good bat-to-ball and on-base skills. If he’s ever going to develop power, it won’t be in the Texas League. It’ll probably be in the major leagues, honestly, as he gets into his prime hitting years. But, really, that’s not his game.
Unfortunately, Lopez is stuck in a bit of a log jam. Adalberto Mondesi plays shortstop in Omaha right now, and Humberto Arteaga and Jack Lopez (no relation to my knowledge) play second and third most of the time. All the infield spots Lopez can play are occupied by actual prospects (however mid-level they may be).
The Royals need to resolve this log jam (maybe cut Escobar and call up Arteaga) and get Lopez to Omaha.
Elier Hernandez – OF, Northwest Arkansas Naturals
As a prospect, Hernandez bugs me. He’s hitting really well at AA Northwest Arkansas, but I see all this power potential in him, and it’s not being realized right now.
But, staying in Arkansas isn’t going to solve that, and Hernandez has certainly hit well enough for a promotion. In 233 plate appearances, he’s hitting .318/.353/.438 with three home runs and 15 doubles.
He seems to struggle at just about every level before figuring it out so he may have to spend significant time in Omaha. But it seems like he’s ready for it.
Jake Newberry – RHP, Northwest Arkansas Naturals
I feel like nobody talks about Newberry, but they should. As a full time reliever, he is tearing up the Texas League this season. In 23 innings, he’s got a 1.57 ERA, 31 strikeouts, and only six walks. That’s a five-to-one strikeout to walk ratio. He’s also got a nice looking 1.087 WHIP.
He’s still young for the level, but he also had a solid year in 50.2 innings last year at AA. He also spent some time in Omaha last season and got knocked around so it’s time for him to go back and try again.
DJ Burt – 2B, Wilmington Blue Rocks
When they send Lopez to Omaha, the Royals can send DJ Burt to Northwest Arkansas to take his place. Burt is probably my favorite Royals prospect. I don’t think he’s the best Royals prospect; he’s just my favorite. I love speed guys who walk a lot and understand their own profiles as hitters. So far, Burt’s been all over that. He’s hitting .308/.405/.377 with 22 walks against 28 strikeouts and 14 stolen bases against three caught stealing.
Burt’s not a power player. He’s all about getting on base and running, which he’s done very well at Wilmington. His defense hasn’t been stellar, but they’ve been moving him all over the diamond. It might be best to keep him in the infield and let him field a ton of ground balls. And fielding ground balls is the same in Arkansas as it is in Delaware.
Bryan Brickhouse – RHP, Wilmington Blue Rocks
This is the most feel-good story of this group. After constant arm troubles and nearly three years away from baseball, Brickhouse has excelled as a reliever at A+ Wilmington. In 18.1 innings as the Blue Rocks’ closer, he has a 1.96 ERA, 26 strikeouts, 16 walks, and a 1.09 WHIP. Not that it matters much, but he also has nine saves.
Brickhouse needs to bring his walk numbers down, but high A hitters won’t force him to do that. His stuff is too good, and Wilmington is too tough a park to hit in. He needs to go to the Texas League where lineups will punish him for walking hitters, forcing him to trust his incredible stuff and throw strikes. It’s time to put him on a plane to Arkansas.
Kort Peterson – RF, Wilmington Blue Rocks
Peterson is too old for the level he’s at. At 24, he’s a year and half older than the average player at A+ ball. But he’s hitting, and he has always hit at every level. He was drafted by the Royals in 2016 out of UCLA, and for some reason, they kept him in Burlington for all of 2016 and then in Lexington for almost all of 2017, even though he hit well at both stops.
At Wilmington this year, he’s hitting .296/.367/.497 with six home runs, 14 doubles, and 2 triples. He’s walked 14 times and struck out 48.
Peterson is a right fielder with pop and an advanced bat. The Royals need to be more aggressive with him to see if he can handle tougher pitching than he faced in college.
Brewer Hicklen – OF, Lexington Legends
Hicklen has been a pleasant surprise this season. Rated outside the top-30 by both MLB Pipeline and Royals Farm Report (though we had him at 35) coming into the season, Hicklen has hit better than any prospect in the entire system so far. In 31 games and 119 plate appearances, Hicklen has a .336/.395/.551 slash line with four home runs, nine doubles, 10 walks, and 40 strikeouts. He’s also stolen nine bases and been caught three times.
Hicklen was a seventh round pick out of Alabama Birmingham so he’s an advanced bat who should be hitting well in the South Atlantic League. At 22 years old, he’s about six months older than league average, which means it’s time to push him to high A Wilmington to see if he keeps hitting.
Travis Jones – OF, 1B, 3B, Lexington Legends
Jones is a lot like Hicklen. He’s an advanced bat who was drafted out of the University of Texas in the 29th round last year. Royals Farm Report ranked him the Royals’ 53rd best prospect before the season.
Jones doesn’t have quite the slugging percentage that Hicklen does, but he’s still crushing baseballs in Lexington to the tune of a .314/.399/.464 slash line. He’s also got five home runs and 12 doubles to go along with 14 stolen bases. He has been caught stealing six times, though. He’s also been playing just about every position on the field for the Legends.
He’s got nothing left to prove at that level. Send him to Wilmington and see if he can become the super utility guy the Royals hope he’ll be.
Tyler Zuber – RHP, Lexington Legends
Zuber’s been a reliever since the day the Royals drafted him in the sixth round out of Arkansas State University. He’s too old (23) and advanced to be hanging around the Sally League, and his numbers support that. In 20.1 innings this year, Zuber has a 2.66 ERA and 34 strikeouts against just three walks. That gives him an impressive 1.082 WHIP.
It looks like Zuber has been bitten by the BABIP bug a little (though he still has an excellent ERA), but his peripherals say “Move this kid up!”.
Honorable Mention: Alex Liddi – 1B, Northwest Arkansas Naturals
Liddi isn’t a prospect anymore. He’s a 29-year-old first baseman at AA Northwest Arkansas. He’s organizational depth … but he’s having a monster year so I felt like he deserved a place on this list. His production (.294/.343/.579) would earn him a promotion if he were still a prospect. But he’s not. His time has passed. He had 61 games in the majors, and he probably won’t ever have any more.
But who knows? Stranger things have happened, and the Royals usually give players longer than most clubs to prove themselves. Either way, let’s acknowledge that Liddi is playing well and deserves credit for it.