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, 2-1.
#2: Jackson Kowar, RHP
- Age: 22 (October 4, 1996)
- Birthplace: Weddington, NC
- Bats/Throws: R/R
- Ht: 6′ 5″ Wt: 180
- Acquired: 2018 MLB Draft
- 2019 stats (NWA): 74.1 IP, 3.51 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 9.44 K/9, 2.54 BB/9, 0.97 HR/9
I mentioned this in the write up about Daniel Lynch, but at this point you could sell me on any of Kowar, Lynch, or Brady Singer as the Royals best pitching prospect. Maybe even Kris Bubic after a few Dr. Pepper’s. Point is, don’t pay too much attention to Kowar leaping Lynch in our preseason rankings because it could easily be the other way around by July.
With that said, Jackson Kowar has been my favorite pitching prospect in this system since the day he was drafted. Part of this is some admitted inherent bias. I love elite changeups. They are a rare sight in today’s game, but because they’re so rare they give pitchers something of an inflated floor. Changeups give opposite handed hitters fits, which is usually a concern for pitching prospects (for example, there are some people who are concerned about Brady Singer’s splits vs LHH).
When you begin to describe Kowar’s changeup, elite ought to be the first word that comes to mind. It’s a legitimate 70-grade offering that MLB Pipeline recently graded as the best off-speed pitch in the Royals farm system. It’s not just that Kowar throws an elite level changeup, but one of the biggest benefits of a good changeup is that it makes a fastball look faster. Hitters get so geared up for an 85 mph pitch with a 2 foot drop, and then they have no chance of catching up to 97 up in the zone, which is exactly what Kowar has working for him.
The biggest knock against Kowar at this point in his career is the lack of a developed breaking ball. While it’s fair to say that Kowar doesn’t have a great breaking offering, I’ve seen some pretty significant strides from the 6′ 5″ righty that have me really excited for the potential usefulness of a breaking ball in the near future. Kowar is throwing his curveball a little harder than he used to, and while it’s always had great shape, it’s finally forming up a little bit to the point that Kowar can use it in more than as a “get me over strike” pitch.
If the biggest concern you have for a pitching prospect is the lack of a third pitch, and that pitcher is showing marked improvement in that particular category, you ought to be buying stock in that pitcher. I’ve never been higher on Kowar than I am right now. I saw him throw a bit in Arizona while I was there for opening weekend and he appears to have put on some muscle. He’s probably going to get a chance to pitch in the big leagues at some point in 2020, at which point I fully expect him to show evaluators that left him off of their top 100 lists that they made a mistake.
#1: Bobby Witt Jr., SS
- Age: 19 (June 14, 2000)
- Birthplace: Colleyville, TX
- Bats/Throws: R/R
- Ht: 6′ 1″ Wt: 190
- Acquired: 2019 MLB Draft
- 2019 stats (AZL): 180 PA, .262/.317/.354/.670, 1 HR, 8 XBH, 9 SB, 0.37 BB/K, 85 wRC+
It’s kind of hard to express just how important Bobby Witt Jr. is to this Royals rebuild. The Royals broke records signing Bobby Witt Jr. last summer with the #2 overall pick. We’ve seen them do this before, and we all know how that worked out when that didn’t work out…
Needless to say, if Bobby Witt Jr. becomes the next Bubba Starling, the future of this team is going to look worlds different than if he becomes Francisco Lindor. Generally when looking at draft picks, any kind of major league production would be considered a success. Even first rounders at times. As long as you hit big once in a while and consistently hit at some level, you’re not going to get every draft pick to the big leagues. That is not the case, however, when you give a teenager over $7M.
The Royals invested their future into Bobby Witt Jr. because they believe he’s going to be a star at the big league level, and you can’t really blame them for it. Bobby Witt Jr. flashes plus-plus tools all over the baseball field. He’s a potentially Gold Glove defender at SS, he has a cannon for an arm, he’s a 60-grade runner, and he has an immense amount of raw power at the plate. Some people question Witt’s hit tool, fearing he may strike out a little too much in the long run, but he held his K% under 20% in his first go at professional baseball, and recorded some of the highest exit velos in all of MiLB in the process.
Only time will tell what the future holds for the Royals top prospect. Bobby Witt Jr. had a chaotic 2019 season and should find some stability as we get into 2020. I’d expect him to begin his season in Lexington, but if he keeps hitting 93 mph missiles all over the place I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Wilmington before the season ends. Much of the future of the Kansas City Royals is riding on the back of this kid, and he seems like he’s up for the task.
Photo Credits: Ryan Griffith (@ryanrgriffith)