It’s baseball season, and people approach that in different ways. Some dive head first into spring training hope. Some ignore it until the regular seasons starts. Some make up increasingly elaborate stories to coverup cheating scandals. To each his own.
I’m starting this spring by thinking about which prospects I want to follow this season. I’ll watch a lot of minor league games this year, and of course, I’ll follow the big-name prospects. But I’ll make sure I’m keeping an eye on these five guys, as well. They are, if nothing else, interesting.
My favorite Little Engine That Could, Govern is a prospect nobody thinks will be anything. And honestly, the chances of him being anything are something near 1 in 10,000. That’s why I’m watching him, that and he has a track record.
Prospects with all the tools and the track record, like Brady Singer and Bobby Witt Jr., are easy to get excited about. I’m more interested in two kinds of prospects. 1) Guys who have plenty of tools but no track record (Jeison Guzman, for example). 2) And guys who don’t have tremendous tools but still seem to perform. More likely than not, both kinds will flame out, but every once in a while, they’ll surprise you.
Govern is the second kind. At 5’11”, 190, he won’t wow anyone with a tremendous set of tools, but he did hit .365/.492/.628 with six homeruns in the Arizona League. From there, he was promoted for emergency duty to AAA Omaha and hit .333/.333/.667 (bless that juiced ball) with two homers in 21 plate appearances.
He’s not a toolsy athlete. He just hits … a lot. He did in college, too, hitting .326/.404/.609 in his senior year at Eastern Illinois while making D1Baseball’s analytics list of the top-100 draft eligible hitters.
This 30th round pick is giving me Rudy vibes. I’m watching him to see if he keeps putting up numbers and inspiring people to turn in their jerseys (as I assume he does).
Cox is getting some heat after a stellar 2019 across low-A Lexington and high-A Wilmington, but most of it’s coming from the RFR twitter chat. Keith Law mentions him as a “sleeper” prospect, which is cool, but for the most part Cox is lost in the shuffle of all the other 2018 college pitchers the Royals drafted.
I’m watching Cox for the obvious reasons. He put up a 2.76 ERA last year with 129 strikeouts in 130.2 IP. He’s got a 60-grade curveball and a fastball that sits 91-93 with late life from the left side. That’ll play.
But I’m also watching Cox because of what he could represent, the sixth starting pitcher at AA or higher for the Royals from that 2018 draft class. It’s so incredibly hard for crops of pitchers to hold their prospect value as they move through the system. Pitching development is a process of attrition. The Royals experienced this themselves when their last crop of pitching prospects started dropping like flies. At one point, Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Danny Duffy, Jake Odorizzi, and Chris Dwyer were set to give the Royals the most dominant rotation in baseball. Injuries sidetracked Lamb while Dwyer just never reached his potential. Montgomery became a serviceable swingman/ backend starter, but he’s never reached his expectations. Out of five, top-100 pitchers, two turned into relatively consistent starting pitchers, which is actually about an average rate for pitching development.
That said, it looks like Singer, Lynch, and Kowar are nearing the horizon beyond which they’ll be contributors in some fashion. Will Cox? Will Kris Bubic? Will Jonathan Bowlan? I don’t know. But I’m watching Cox to see. To me, he’s the highest variance pitcher of this triad so I want to see if he can make the most difficult leap in minor league baseball (from high-A to AA). If he can, and everything else pans out as fans hope it will, the Royals could have a whole lot of the most valuable commodity in baseball, young, cheap starting pitching.
McConnell is my guy. I openly and lavishly praised the Royals front office for drafting him, and now I’m ready to see him unleash in his first full season of pro ball.
McConnell’s pro debut was underwhelming, but it’s never wise to put too much stock into a 40-game stretch after someone’s already played a full college season. Plus, by his own admission, McConnell was going through some personal, mental health issues at the time that he is now managing effectively.
He’s still got those loud tools, though. He’s still got 55-grade raw power (with potential for a tick up in that) and 60-grade speed. I don’t think he’s a shortstop in the long run, but his athleticism will play in centerfield, and if I were the Royals I’d have him make the transition now so he can get used to it.
He’ll probably start in low-A Lexington, but if he comes out of the gate swinging a hot bat, don’t be surprised if he moves quickly to Wilmington. And if he puts up a big 2020, I expect him to get top-100 talk for next year’s prospect lists.
The Thunda from Down Unda! I know he’s not actually from Australia, but I like that nickname for him. This Canadian-born, Australian-discovered relief pitcher is such an oddity because of his story. He went to a college I’ve never heard of (and I applied for jobs at virtually every college in the country a few years ago) and was discovered throwing BBs in the Australian Baseball League. How weird is that?
Marklund’s got a mid-90s fastball and above average slider that worked over Sally League hitters to the tune of a .46 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 39.1 IP. He’s 23 and probably should be moved along a little faster now that he’s a more known quantity. Wilmington is kind to pitchers so I won’t be surprised if he’s in AA by midseason.
The Royals have one example of taking a pitcher from the University of Virginia and turning his prospect status to gold. Maybe they can do it with another.
Murdock was drafted in the seventh round in 2019 and didn’t pitch much in his debut. But in the 37.1 IP he did throw, he was excellent, posting a 2.17 ERA and 43 strikeouts against 11 walks.
What’s most intriguing to me is that Murdock is still only 21 and won’t be 22 until August. He’s extremely tall (6’8”) and skinny (190) with a lot of variance on his fastball. At times, he’ll sit 92-95. At times, it will dip below 90. As his body continues to fill out, I’m curious to see if his fastball firms up to a consistent place (hopefully mid-90s) and his command ticks up, which sometimes happens as tall, lanky pitchers gain muscle and body control. Murdock could especially stand to gain some weight in his lower half, Bowlan style.
He should start at Lexington so if you’ve got an Milb.tv subscription, you will probably be able to see him every fifth day or so.