Last offseason, much was made about the Royals not having a single top 100 prospect on any list from any publication. In February, Baseball Prospectus added Seuly Matias to their top 100 at number 75. Then just this week, FanGraphs released their updated top 131 and had Seuly ranked at 88. Matias and his 20 HR in 50 games has drawn plenty of attention, but it left many fans asking, “Who’s next?”
Well, I’m here to try to answer that for you today. I’m gonna break down a few Royals prospects that I think have the best chance to run down a top 100 ranking sometime in the near future. I am not going to include Brady Singer or Jackson Kowar in this article because they are both still playing, but for the record, I think Singer has a shot and I think Kowar would miss the cut.
Here’s how we’re going to do this. MLB Pipeline is probably the most popular website in terms of the casual fan, so I’m going to use their top 100 list as a reference. If you don’t like it, sorry, you can feel free to use my method with whichever website you see fit. Let me know what you find.
Because the only Royals prospects with a prayer of making a top 100 list are all position players, we’re going to create an aggregate of the last 5 position player prospects to make MLB Pipeline’s latest top 100 prospect ranking. Here are the prospects:
- #93 C Sean Murphy
- #94 OF Brandon Marsh
- #97 OF DJ Peters
- #99 OF Alex Kirilloff
- #100 SS Andres Gimenez
Those are the last 5 position players to make the list, so naturally, those are the guys that Royals prospects must run down in order to make MLB Pipeline’s next list. Here is the combined average slash line from these 5 players: .293/.365/.494/.859.
Now. The Royals have multiple guys in their system with slash lines that may be in and of themselves more impressive. But we’re going to be realistic here and only consider 4 Royals prospects to compare to those 5: Seuly Matias, Khalil Lee, MJ Melendez, and Nicky Lopez.
As much as I love Nick Pratto, and I’m higher on him than most, I’m leaving him out for two reasons. One, he’s not hit quite as well as some would like just yet and two, he plays first base which is a very low position of value defensively. Don’t read too much into this.
Here are how Matias, Lee, Melendez, and Lopez all fare against the combined average slash line from the bottom 5 players in MLB Pipeline’s top 100 list:
- Seuly Matias: .242/.317/.635/.952 vs. the aggregate .293/.365/.494/.859.
- Khalil Lee: .285/.426/.445/.871 vs. the aggregate .293/.365/.494/.859.
- MJ Melendez: .256/.315/.522/.837 vs. the aggregate .293/.365/.494/.859.
- Nicky Lopez: .324/.398/.387/.785 vs. the aggregate .293/.365/.494/.859.
Now, slash lines are hardly the only thing that matter when evaluating prospects. MJ Melendez projects to be a well above average defensive catcher which is huge. Nicky Lopez and Khalil Lee both project to be good-enough defenders at two of the most prominent positions on the field (SS and CF). Seuly has a 70-grade arm and defends well enough in RF so we’ll call him neutral.
Of MLB Pipeline’s bottom 5 position player prospects, Sean Murphy is a great defensive catcher much like Melendez and Andres Gimenez projects to be a good defender at SS. The other three are all OF who project to be serviceable, so we’re going to consider defense a wash straight across the board (unless I need it later :)).
What about league adjustment factors? Hitting in the Texas League is a whole heck of a lot easier than hitting in the Carolina League after all. Here is the average wRC+ for the MLB Pipeline bottom 5: 132.6. Let’s compare the 4 Royals prospects’ wRC+ to the “bottom 5.”
- Seuly Matias: 159 vs. 132.6
- Khalil Lee: 151 vs 132.6
- MJ Melendez: 131 vs 132.6
- Nicky Lopez: 115 vs. 132.6
Boy, Matias and Lee both have really compelling cases so far. Melendez is not far behind. Unfortunately, Given Nicky Lopez’ age (23) compared to the level he’s playing at (AA), he doesn’t quite compare overall to the “bottom 5.” For the rest of this journey we’re going to leave Nicky Lopez off the list, but you should be encouraged by what we found here. Nicky Lopez may not be a top 100 prospect in baseball, but he is a very good one that the Royals are lucky to have in their system.
Speaking of age compared to level, that’s going to be our next measuring stick for Melendez, Lee, and Matias, who are all 19 years old and playing in some form of A-ball (Lee is in High-A, Melendez and Matias Low-A). Here’s how the bottom 5 stack up to the three remaining Royals prospects:
- Sean Murphy 23 YO, AA
- Brandon Marsh 20 YO, Low-A
- DJ Peters 22 YO, AA
- Alex Kirilloff 20 YO, Low-A
- Andres Gimenez 19 YO, High-A
Interesting. Matias, Lee, and Melendez both still stack up more favorably compared to MLB Pipeline’s bottom 5. Let’s check in on some peripheral numbers to see if the three remaining Royals prospects still hold water. The combined average BB% for the bottom 5 is 7.94%. The combined average K% is 22.82%. Let’s see how our Royals stack up:
- Seuly Matias: 8% BB% and 36.7% K%
- Khalil Lee: 17.5% BB% and 23.5% K%
- MJ Melendez: 7.6% BB% and 30.5% K%
So now we see some statistical separation. MJ Melendez and Seuly Matias both strike out considerably more than the “bottom 5” and neither walk enough to make up for the difference. Still, Matias had a wRC+ that was nearly 27 points higher than the combined average of the bottom 5, so the actual offensive output may make up for a few (a lot) extra K’s.
The remaining three Royals prospects, Seuly Matias, Khalil Lee, and MJ Melendez all make compelling statistical cases to be on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 list. Let’s check in on one more thing, something that is subjective rather than objective: their scouting grades.
According to MLB Pipeline, of the four bat-first prospects in the “bottom 5” (Sean Murphy is a defense-first catcher), the average hit tool grade is 52.5 (on a 20-80 scale). Here are how our three remaining Royals prospects compare to that average:
- Seuly Matias: 45
- Khalil Lee: 50
- MJ Melendez: 45
So the hit tools obviously aren’t quite graded out to be top 100 quality, but remember, these are subjective grades. The average power grade of the four bat-first members of the “bottom 5” is 48.75. Here is how our three remaining Royals prospects compare:
- Seuly Matias: 55
- Khalil Lee: 55
- MJ Melendez: 50
Andres Gimenez really weighed down the average from the bottom 5, but it’s an average nonetheless and all three of our remaining Royals prospects grade out as having better power than the average of the bat-first members of the bottom 5.
Alright. We’ve gone through just about every means of ranking a prospect as we can. Offensive statistics. Defensive value. Scouting grades. Did we actually come up with any solid evidence? Let’s look at the individual cases for the three remaining Royals prospects.
Seuly Matias’ case for MLB Pipeline’s top 100 list is moderately strong. He has a better OPS than the average of the “bottom 5” of the current top 100 list. He has a much better wRC+ that’s weighted for league factors and he is playing at a similar level relative to his age when compared to the bottom 5. He strikes out too often, but he walks at a similar rate to the bottom 5 and hits for more power than just about anyone in all of minor league baseball at the moment. His hit tool is worrisome and he doesn’t get on base much, but he does play a decent RF and his arm is stupid good.
Verdict: Probably should be a top 100 prospect, but don’t be too upset if he doesn’t make the mid-season list. If he keeps crushing the ball all season, it will be hard to leave him off next spring.
Khalil Lee has by far the strongest case of any Royals prospect to be on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 list, and I don’t see any reason that he shouldn’t be on the mid-season list. He’s playing at a very advanced level relative to his age and he’s crushing it. His slash line compares very favorably to that of the “bottom 5” and his wRC+ blows the bottom 5 average out of the water. He has a real chance to stick in CF and has + speed on the base paths as well. His BB% is more than double that of the bottom 5 and his K% compares almost equally. Lee’s power hasn’t quite been the same it was last year, but given the all around uptick in offensive performance, I’m sure the Royals are okay with that for the time being.
Verdict: Khalil Lee is a top 100 prospect in baseball and needs to be on the mid-season list. If it was my list, I’d probably slot him around 75. If he does this all season and makes an appearance in AA, he could be a top 50 guy next spring.
MJ Melendez is an interesting case. Depending on how you value catcher defense, you may value him more than others. MJ’s elite skills behind the plate give him an advantage over prospects who are slightly better hitters but are stuck at 1B or RF/LF. MJ’s K/BB ratio needs improvement, as does his hit tool, but the power has been near elite for his age at his level and his defense is rock solid. His wRC+ is right on par with that of the “bottom 5” and his slash line is nearly on par as well. He may not quite make it on this mid-season list, but if he sees improvements with his bat-to-ball skills, this kid has a chance to be a top 100 prospect very soon.
Verdict: Probably not this summer, but he could be a top 75 guy as well on the 2019 mid-season list. He’s got some things he needs to improve but MJ Melendez is a special talent.