Welcome back. This is now the third edition of our preseason prospect rankings here at Royals Farm Report. Before we get into the rankings, there is a lot that has changed here at the site that I want to catch you up on.
First of all, our founding father and fearless leader, Patrick Brennan (@paintingcorner), is now working on the analytics team for Kansas State Baseball. One of our writers, Joel Penfield (@jtpenfield), was picked up by 2080 Baseball doing scouting in the Texas League. Another writer and editor, Joshua Payton (@josh_payton), was hired by Excelsior Leader Sports as their new Director of Baseball Operations.
We’re all busy people, but with the turnover we’ve had recently things are going to be a little different around here. You’ll still see a lot of familiar names writing here, it may just be in different capacities. In any case, we’d like to like to sincerely thank all of you for reading along. As you can tell from above, this website has given our writers access to opportunities bigger and better than we ever could have imagined. We love sharing our love of Minor League Baseball, and of the Royals, with you, and we thank you for allowing us to do so.
Without further ado, here are our 2020 preseason prospect rankings, 10-7.
#10: Austin Cox, LHP
- Age: 22 (March 28, 1997)
- Birthplace: Macon, GA
- Bats/Throws: L/L
- Ht: 6′ 4″ Wt: 185
- Acquired: 2018 MLB Draft
- 2019 stats (WIL): 55.1 IP, 2.77 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 8.46 K/9, 2.60 BB/9, 0.98 HR/9
I have (apparently) finally done enough lobbying amongst our staff to get Austin Cox to an appropriate spot on our organizational rankings. I don’t claim to be the “high man” on Cox or anything, but I was super disappointed when we had him at #22 in the Royals system at midseason last year. It’s easy to lose track of Cox in the shuffle of all the college pitchers that KC drafted back in 2018, but he should absolutely not be over looked. Cox was drafted in the 5th round by KC out of Mercer, but the Royals actually thought of him as closer to a 2nd round pick than a 5th. They obviously took Jonathan Bowlan in the 2nd round, but Cox didn’t sign for too much less money than Bowlan did three rounds later.
Austin Cox looks really funky on the mound, creating a ton of deception for hitters at the plate. He’s listed at 6′ 4″ 185′, but he looks more like 6′ 5″ 205′ in person, and he gets a lot of downhill action from a very much “over-the-top” delivery. His fastball/curveball combo may be the best in the organization and there have been reports about him developing a changeup over the offseason. If Cox can develop a third above average pitch to his repertoire, he’s going to be a borderline top 100 prospect in baseball, as FanGraphs hinted at recently.
Cox has pretty well dominated every level of professional baseball that he’s appeared in so far in his short professional career. He’s more than likely going to begin his 2020 season with AA Northwest Arkansas, where he’ll get a chance to prove himself to the larger prospect community. While Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, and Kris Bubic get a majority of the attention from the 2018 class, don’t overlook Austin Cox as maybe the next-best option to fill out a starting rotation in Kansas City in the near future.
#9: MJ Melendez, C
- Age: 21 (November 29, 1998)
- Birthplace: Daytona Beach, FL
- Bats/Throws: L/R
- Ht: 6′ 1″ Wt: 185
- Acquired: 2017 MLB Draft
- 2019 stats (WIL): 419 PA, .163/.260/.311/.571, 9 HR, 34 XBH, 7 SB, 0.27 BB/K, 67 wRC+
There was a phenomenal article from Alec Lewis of The Athletic that came out recently regarding some of Melendez’ struggles at the plate during the 2019 season. He’s been working on tweaking his swing over the offseason and it paid off a bit on Monday when he sent a baseball flying over the wall in CF. The raw power really has never been an issue for Melendez since joining the professional ranks. Melendez is a really big kid and will probably never have issues driving the baseball. The question lies in his ability to make enough contact for it to matter.
I won’t get into too much detail about Alec Lewis’ recent article about Melendez, because it is behind a pay wall, but Melendez’ father, Mervyl, talked a bit about how MJ said he didn’t feel ready at the plate when he left for Spring Training back in 2019. Hopefully his change in approach this past offseason will pay dividends for the Royals talented young backstop, as the Royals need him to produce at the level that he’s capable. An offensive renaissance by Melendez in 2020 would do wonders for the totality of the Royals farm system. Melendez has an argument for the title as best defender among all Royals prospects, and he’s easily a top 100 prospect if he can show some offensive consistency. That is obviously easier said than done, but Melendez has shown a magnificent work ethic during his pro career and I’m excited to see how all of this hard work pays off for him in 2020.
#8: Kyle Isbel, OF
- Age: 22 (March 3, 1997)
- Bats/Throws: L/R
- Ht: 5′ 11″ Wt: 183
- Acquired: 2018 MLB Draft
- 2019 stats (WIL): 214 PA, .216/.282/.361/.643, 5 HR, 15 XBH, 8 SB, 0.34 BB/K, 86 wRC+
Completely ignore Kyle Isbel’s stats from 2019. The kid was absolutely raking before he was injured early in April, and then was really hitting the ball well again at the very end of the season. Isbel might have the best hit tool among the Royals top 30 prospects and has a really good cumulation of other tools to go with it. He’s got some surprising pop, he can really run, he defends really well in the OF and can play a serviceable CF. Another member of the Royals 2018 draft class, Kyle Isbel may be the safest bet of any of the Royals position prospects not named Bobby Witt Jr. to have an impact in a big league lineup. We’ll have to wait and see how Isbel handles the transition from A-ball to AA in 2020, but I have a feeling this kid is absolutely going to rake wherever the Royals send him. Look for him to begin to appear on some top 100 lists by midseason if he’s hitting the ball well in AA at any point in time.
#7: Khalil Lee, OF
- Age: 21 (June 26, 1998)
- Birthplace: Newark, DE
- Bats/Throws: L/L
- Ht: 5′ 10″ Wt: 170
- Acquired: 2016 MLB Draft
- 2019 stats (NWA): 546 PA, .264/.363/.372/.735, 8 HR, 32 XBH, 53 SB, 0.42 BB/K, 112 wRC+
Khalil Lee may have been the only Royals hitting prospect to have an objectively good season in 2019.
For a guy with as much raw power as Khalil Lee has (60 FV according to FanGraphs), we haven’t really seen that manifest into games consistently yet, but he certainly has it in him to hit 20+ HR.
Khalil Lee might be the most tooled up player in the Royals system (again) not named Bobby Witt Jr. (yes, this is a theme). He kinda suffers from prospect fatigue since he was drafted in 2016, and has appeared on every single one of our Royals prospect lists here at RFR, but it’s important to keep in mind that Khalil Lee is just 21 years old.
Khalil Lee reminds me a lot of Alex Gordon:
- He walks a ton
- He’s not an elite runner, but he has the ability to steal 20+ bases in the big leagues
- He has a ton of raw power, but will probably never hit 30 HR in the big leagues
- He strikes out a little more than you’d like for a guy that won’t hit 30 HR, but it’s not a huge issue
- Great defender in a corner OF spot with an absolute cannon for an arm
There’s obviously some differences in their games, mainly in the SB and K numbers, but the gist remains. I think Khalil Lee gets forgotten about sometimes because of how long he’s been in the system, but the kid is insanely talented and definitely shouldn’t be overlooked as a potential fixture at the top of the Royals lineup in the very near future. Lee possesses the ability to lock down either LF or RF for KC every day beginning in 2021. You know he’ll be on base and defend well, and if the power every comes around like I think he’s capable, this kid could be in a few All-Star Games before his Royals tenure is over.
Photo Credits: Hannah Duvall