The Rise of Gabriel Cancel

If you follow us on Twitter, you know all about our love for the current NWA Natural and Royals 2B prospect.

Gabriel Cancel has been one of my favorite fringe prospects for a few seasons now. It all started, for me, when he hit a booming home run while playing for the Lexington Legends back in 2017. Cancel was a blossoming prospect in 2017, coming off of a rather impressive year in 2016 with the Burlington Royals (rookie). As a 20-year old in the South Atlantic League, Cancel hit .277/.324/.466/.790 with 14 HR, 30 doubles, and a 125 wRC+ in 433 PA. His plate discipline wasn’t overly impressive, with just a 0.23 BB/K ratio, but Cancel’s power at such a young age was certainly impressive.

To begin 2018, we had Cancel all the way up to #10 on our Royals prospect ranking list. We were all stoked to see what he’d do in the Carolina League, hoping there was a chance that he could be in AA before year’s end.

It didn’t quite go the way that we wanted. Cancel struggled out of the gate and didn’t really get going for the first month or so. He improved his plate discipline fairly substantially, and while he was young for the level, Cancel’s power seemed to be zapped by the Eastern Seaboard.

To begin 2019, I had Cancel ranked 13th on my personal Royals prospect ranking list. This wasn’t so much a continued knock on Cancel’s power, as he was really good on the road in 2018 away from Wilmington, but a culmination of his defensive ability and plate discipline.

Cancel is doing his best to make me feel dumb for dropping him out of my top 10 list. As a 22-year old playing in the Texas League (AA), Cancel’s power has returned in a big way, and he looks better than ever defensively (in my opinion). Cancel already has 7 HR and 12 doubles through his first 152 PA, and his 0.29 BB/K is better than the mark he posted in the South Atlantic League (A) two years ago. He’s still got some room to grow in the plate discipline department, but for a 22-year old in his first bout at AA (making the toughest jump in MiLB), he’s pretty well held his own early on.

If you look at all of the qualified hitters in all AA leagues in 2019, here is how Cancel ranks in certain categories (out of 214 qualifiers):

  • Doubles: t4th
  • HR: t14th
  • RBI: t3rd
  • ISO: t16th
  • wRC+: t65th
  • BABIP: t95th

If you look at the ages of the people ahead of Cancel in some of these categories, they are either:

  1. Older than Cancel, or…
  2. They are the same age or younger, and a top 100 prospect

Compared to his age, Cancel is in really good company for how well he’s hit the baseball in 2019. If he can start to improve his plate discipline, the Royals could have a very legitimately good hitting prospect on their hands in Northwest Arkansas.

The first question a lot of fans ask us is: “Can Cancel play the outfield?”

I totally understand the question. With the Royals infield seemingly set for the future, with KG, Dozier, Mondesi, Nicky, and O’Hearn already in the big leagues, it doesn’t look there would be a spot for Cancel to play on the Royals infield for, potentially, a very long time. Here’s how I would begin answering the question of what Cancel’s role in the organization could be moving forward:

  1. Cancel is no sure thing yet, despite how impressive he’s been to begin 2019. His plate discipline numbers aren’t terrible, and I think his eye for the zone is much better than the numbers suggest, but there’s a chance that more advanced pitchers create some real problems for Cancel has he moves forward.
  2. There is always the need for a DH, and no one is guaranteed to stick in the big leagues. If Cancel destroys AAA Omaha next year and forces the Royals hand, the Royals will find a way to get him into the big league lineup, just like they did for Nicky Lopez this year.
  3. The Royals need pitching help at the upper levels…
  4. Cancel has served as his team’s reserve SS for the last couple of seasons, meaning the organization is clearly comfortable moving him around the diamond with his athleticism. He will likely never see an inning at SS in the big leagues, but he could be something of a defensive rover if the Royals feel like they need his bat in the lineup.

Royals fans need to become increasingly aware of Gabriel Cancel’s prospect status. The kid can absolutely rake and only has more room to improve. He can move enough on the base paths to be serviceable, he’s good enough defensively to not cause problems on the infield, he’s really quick turning double plays, and he can move around a bit if necessary. You can guarantee yourself he’ll be on my personal top 10 list at mid-season, and I have a pretty good feeling the rest of the site will agree.


Photo Credits: Doc Riddle (@TheGrandOldGame)

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