Happy New Year and welcome back! We have now been writing about the Royals farm system for 18 months and it’s only going to get better from here. We started off our original prospect rankings with 30, expanded to 100, and now we’re coming back to earth a bit. Are there 100 worthy names in the Kansas City Royals system? Absolutely. Are there always 100 names worthy of being on the list…well…
So here we go. The Kansas City Royals top 75 prospects as brought to you by six members of your Royals Farm Report staff. Joel, Drake, Drew, Josh, Pat, and I voted on our top 75 Royals prospects and then ran a collective ranking. We will release five prospects a day, starting with 75, working our way down to #5 where our top 5 prospects will all get their own article. So, without further ado, here we go!
30. Emmanuel Rivera, 3B
DOB: 6/29/1996 (22 YO)
Ht/Wt: 6’2″ 195′
Levels Played, 2018: A+
Acquired: 2015 MLB Draft
2018 Stats: 411 PA, .280/.333/.427/.760, 6 HR, 25 2B, 7.1% BB%, 14.4% K%, 113 wRC+
Projected level to begin 2019: AA
Back in August when FanGraphs released their top 10 Royals prospects list, Emmanuel Rivera made the “Just Missed” category. Rivera found himself ranked 16th on MLB Pipeline’s mid-season Royals top 30 list. Yet, after a season in which Rivera posted a 113 wRC+ as a 22-year old at High-A, we’ve got him at #30 on our list. I’m sure there will be folks that are wondering why.
Depending on who you ask, different qualities of a prospect carry different weight in terms of prospect valuation. You have floor (likelihood of reaching the big leagues), ceiling (likelihood of being an All-Star), and proximity to the big leagues (helps with value accuracy). Emmanuel Rivera is a guy that I would describe as having a very high floor, meaning I think there’s a really good shot that he plays in the big leagues some day. Yet his teammate, Gabriel Cancel, is going to find himself pretty significantly higher on our list than his teammate despite what may be considered a lesser season at the plate. So what gives?
We really like ceiling here at Royals Farm Report, and while Emmanuel Rivera might have a high floor, questions remain about his ceiling. You can pretty well know what to expect from Rivera. Good defense at third base, a great arm, a professional at-bat, and great contact skills. Among 95 hitters to receive at least 250 PA in the Carolina League last year, Rivera ranked 29th in SwStr% at 9.6% (Cancel was right behind him at 10.1%). Pretty good for a third baseman. The problem is that the power isn’t what you’d like it to be for a guy whose future is locked in at 3rd base. The line drive, make lots of contact approach works great in the minor leagues (see: Nicky Lopez), but doesn’t always translate well to big league baseball. During the 2017 season when Rivera posted a 140 wRC+ at Lexington and his prospect status sky-rocketed, he posted a .310 batting average on a .359 BABIP. When that BABIP came back to earth a bit in 2018 at .315, Rivera’s batting average dropped 30 points and his OBP dropped 31.
So here’s the bottom line: if Emmanuel Rivera starts to hit for some real power in 2019, he’s a top 15 prospect in the organization. Otherwise it’ll be difficult to sort out his future on the basis of a contact/line drive minded third baseman in the big leagues.
29. Nick Heath, OF
DOB: 11/27/1993 (25 YO)
Ht/Wt: 6’1″ 187′
Levels Played, 2018: A+, AA
Acquired: 2016 MLB Draft
2018 Stats (A+): 237 PA, .284/.397/.366/.763, 8 2B, 29 SB, 14.8% BB%, 27.4% K%, 125 wRC+
Projected level to begin 2019: AA
Nick Heath will challenge anybody in the Royals system for the title of fastest player. The kid has legitimate 80-grade speed as proofed by his 29 SB 54 games at Wilmington this past summer. The jump from High-A to AA is touted as the toughest jump in all of minor league baseball, and while Heath saw a bit of a decline in offensive production upon arriving in NWA, he held his own by posting an 89 wRC+. He then continued playing in the highly competitive Arizona Fall League (with the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.) where he continued to find tons of success. Heath posted a .338/.420/.442/.862 slash line in 21 games with the Surprise Saguaros and also stole 13 bases in 17 chances.
So why is Heath at #29 on our list and not a top 20 talent? Well, in both his stint with Wilmington and in the Arizona Fall League, Heath’s wild success was propped up a bit by wild BABIPs. A .456 BABIP in Arizona and a .414 BABIP in Wilmington simply are not sustainable in the higher levels of professional baseball (Billy Hamilton’s career BABIP is .369). Despite that, Heath actually profiles pretty similarly as Billy Hamilton and could potentially run BABIPs up into the .350 range at the big league level.
There are a bunch of different factors pulling in opposite directions when it comes to Heath’s prospect status. Some good things are that he has elite speed, plays some hellacious defense in all three outfield spots, and showed a great eye at the plate in 2018. Some bad things are the fact that he just turned 25 and hasn’t had a full season at AA yet, he consistently strikes out in over 20% of his PA, and he hits for very little power. So, can Heath over come the bad to become a regular big league outfielder? I certainly think so, but I’d feel a lot better about his future if he could cut that K% down into the teens in 2019.
28. Jeison Guzman, SS
DOB: 10/8/1998 (20 YO)
Ht/Wt: 6’2″ 180′
Levels Played, 2018: Rookie, A
Acquired: International Free Agent
2018 Stats (Rk): 119 PA, .283/.356/.368/.724, 2 HR, 14 SB, 10.1% BB%, 13.4% K%, 97 wRC+
Projected level to begin 2019: A+
After bursting onto the prospect scene in 2016, Jeison Guzman had a pretty awful 2017, posting a 53 wRC+ in 229 PA with Burlington. Scouts pretty well moved him off their Royals prospects lists and Guzman suffered from some prospect fatigue after being a highly touted international free agent. Guzman struggled mightily to begin 2018, and the Royals were forced to send him back to Burlington to build his confidence back up.
It worked. After finally finding some success at the plate with Burlington, Guzman was sent back to Lexington to finish 2018 where he posted a .260/.357/.360/.717 slash line from July 23rd to September 3rd, good for a 112 wRC+. That’s the type of guy the Royals thought they were getting when they gave Guzman $1.5M as a 16-year old free agent. Guzman plays really good defense at SS, has a tremendous arm, and runs okay for a 6’2″ 20-year old. The bat would be the only thing preventing Guzman from reaching the big leagues one day, and Guzman made huge strides in 2018 after struggling early on.
Guzman’s defense and ability to be on base as a SS could potentially really help his prospect value. The Royals really want him to be the SS with their core in Wilmington alongside the likes of Pratto and Melendez. Should Guzman carry his newfound approach into 2019, he could fly up prospect boards once again.
27. Daniel Tillo, LHP
DOB: 6/13/1996 (22 YO)
Ht/Wt: 6’5″ 215′
Levels Played, 2018: A+
Acquired: 2017 MLB Draft
2018 Stats: 93 IP, 4.94 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 6.68 K/9, 4.94 BB/9, 0.29 HR/9, 58% GB%
Projected level to begin 2019: AA
If you asked me to name the Royals prospect that I thought was the safest bet to be a starter in the big leagues, it would be Daniel Tillo. I don’t think he has the best chance to be an impactful starter, but I think there’s a 75% chance that Tillo is a big league starter in some capacity and you can’t say that about just anyone in this Royals system. Tillo is a big lefty that throws a really heavy sinker and generates a ton of ground balls. His profile reminds me a lot of Zach Britton (in terms of sheer size and heavy sinker from the left side), minus about 5 mph and, you know, the All-Star thing. Tillo does walk way too many hitters to be a contact oriented starting pitcher, but it’s easier to fix command issues with a guy like Tillo than to try to add pitches or create more movement. With the incoming group of pitchers potentially to Wilmington from Lexington (Del Rosario, Lynch, Singer, Kowar, Hernandez, Neuweiler, etc.), I expect the Royals to create some innings by moving Tillo to AA to begin 2019. This could be a huge year for Tillo in terms of his future value.
26. Scott Blewett, RHP
DOB: 4/10/1996 (22 YO)
Ht/Wt: 6’6″ 210′
Levels Played, 2018: AA
Acquired: 2014 MLB Draft
2018 Stats: 148.1 IP, 4.79 ERA, 4.39 FIP, 6.07 K/9, 2.97 BB/9, 0.73 HR/9, 41.2% GB%
Projected level to begin 2019: AAA
Scott Blewett kinda reminds me of right-handed Daniel Tillo. Blewett and Tillo are both huge kids that get great downhill action on their sinkers. Tillo has the better sinker, and the benefit of being left handed, while Blewett has better command of his pitches and a little more velocity.
Blewett’s 2018 was a bit disappointing at AA. He didn’t strike many hitters out at all, he gave up a bunch of runs, and was just generally very “meh”. However, Blewett went down to the Arizona Fall League, AKA “Prospect Finishing School,” and was simply fantastic. He posted a 2.49 ERA and 7.46 K/9 against some of Minor League Baseball’s best offensive prospects, and set himself up for a really good shot at the AAA rotation in 2019, which is where I think he’ll ultimately wind up. The Royals thought enough of Blewett to add him to the 40-man roster and protect him from the Rule 5 Draft this off-season, meaning Blewett is only one step away from the big leagues. Should Blewett’s success in the AZFL transfer to 2019, the Royals could have another very high-floor SP prospect on their hands.