2018 Record: 76-60
South Atlantic League Champions
Championships are fun. The 2018 Lexington Legends learned that after defeating the Asheville Tourists (what a mascot!) back in September. That team was carried by the talented prospect wave consisting of Matias, Pratto, Melendez, Hicklen, Lynch, Kowar, del Rosario, and Hernandez. Hardware earns promotions, which leaves the locker room in Lexington with a lot of vacancies. RFR received the anticipated Lexington roster last week, and the official roster was announced yesterday. Only 6 players on the 2019 roster saw time in a Legends uniform in 2018 (Guzman, Morales, Gigliotti, Martinez, Neuweiler, Duarte). So there are plenty of fresh faces to get to know. The roster consists of nine guys in the Royals Farm Report Top 75 and Alex Duvall successfully predicted twelve of the twenty-five players back in February.
Catchers: Freddy Fermin, Nick Hutchins, Chase Vallot
Infield: Nathan Eaton, Jeison Guzman, Rubendy Jaquez, Matt Morales, Reed Rohlman
Outfield: Eric Cole, Michael Gigliotti, Jackson Lueck, Juan Carlos Negret
Pitchers: Jonathan Bowlan, Kris Bubic, Austin Cox, Josh Dye, Yerelmy Garcia, Tyler Gray, Zach Haake, Jon Heasley, Kyle Hinton, Daniel James, Austin Lambright, Marcelo Martinez, Charlie Neuweiler
The story here is Chase Vallot. We’ve been talking about him since 2014. This might be his “make or break” year but he is still just 22 years old and is the youngest catcher on this roster. His raw power is undeniable, but so is his inability to make contact consistently. The last time we saw him in A ball, he put up a 140 wRC+, so we could see him rebuild his confidence and get back on the prospect radar. Orrrrrr we could see more of his 40%+ K rate and he could be doomed to Indy ball.
Fermin and Hutchins, both 23 years old, are probably not big leaguers at the end of the day, but they both could provide solid offensive numbers and org depth. Fermin has solid walk rates in his 3 seasons of Rookie ball while Hutchins put up 124 wRC+ last year in Rookie ball.
The biggest thing to watch here is Jeison Guzman. Royals Farm Report ranked him as the #28 best prospect in the system. Guzman was promoted to Lexington last year after bouncing back from a rough 2017. He slashed .239/.312/.349 while playing solid defense at SS. This year he will looked to build upon that showing to continue to climb the prospect rankings.
Otherwise, there are some other interesting guys playing in the dirt with Guzman. Nathan Eaton posted a 153 wRC+ in Rookie ball while playing second base, third base, and the outfield as a 22 year old. Rubendy Jaquez is 20 years old with a strong bat from both sides of the plate. He plays first base, second base, and third base so he is versatile as well. Reed Rohlman is one of two 24 year old’s on the roster. He had a .849 OPS in Rookie ball last year, bolstered by a .384 OBP.
This group could be really interesting. I think the big player here is Michael Gigliotti. He has the highest prospect pedigree on this roster (RFR has him at #9) and probably would have started 2019 in A+ ball had it not been for a torn ACL that shortened his 2018 season. Gigliotti does just about everything outside of hitting a lot of dingers. His plate approach, speed, and fielding tools are all projected to be above average and we could see him roaming center field at Kauffman by 2021.
Juan Carlos Negret could turn a lot of heads this year. He’s only 19 years old and could develop into a true 5 tool guy. Coming into the season, RFR ranked him as the #42 best prospect but he could really start to sky rocket with a good season in Lexington. Jackson Lueck is a 22 year old switch hitter with great plate discipline who made it to A+ last year but faltered a bit. He will look to rebound in 2019.
The projected rotation might be the most intriguing group, in my opinion. I think it’ll consist of four top 50 organizational prospects in Cox (14), Bubic (16), Neuweiler (24), Bowlan (47), and also Lexington repeater, Marcelo Martinez.
Austin Cox could be headed for a breakout year that sees his prospect status sky rocket. He has a 5 pitch arsenal with multiple plus pitches that lead to a big number of strikeouts. Last year in Rookie ball, the southpaw had a 13.77 K/9 rate. He’ll look to carry that over with his promotion.
Kris Bubic is a 21 year old lefty from the Ivy League that could also start moving through the minor leagues quickly. He too had a strong K rate in Rookie ball (12.55) and is sporting one of the better change ups in the organization.
Charlie Neuweiler is one of the Lexington repeats but is also the youngest guy in this staff. His biggest detriment in the bad numbers was his BB/9 rate of 4.14. If he gets that down, he (and his curve ball) could be something. Jonathan Bowlan was one of the college arms drafted last year and his heavy sinker leads to a lot of ground balls, which this org loves. Marcelo Martinez is a lefty that put up a 3.09 xFIP prior to his promotion to the Legends.
I think the most interesting names here are Hinton, Lambright, and Haake. Hinton held a 13.50 K/9 and a 3.54 xFIP last year but allowed 5.28 BB/9 last year. Lambright is the other 24 year old on this roster, but he posted a 12.49 K/9 in Rookie ball but a staggering 10.88 BB/9 rate in 22.1IP. Zach Haake has put up strong numbers in a small sample size with his great fastball and solid slider and change.
The big wave might have gone on past Lexington, but there are still plenty of reasons to watch the Legends. Even if their entire roster consisted of 25 me’s, they’d still have some of the best uniforms in the league.