Well, it’s certainly been a shi…crappy week in the Kansas City sports universe. Hopefully we can help to add a silver lining to the week by reminding you that while 2021 may not go down as the best in Royals history, the future is absolutely looking up. The Royals have three legitimate, All-Star-caliber not far away from the big leagues and a couple more lurking right behind them. While we don’t have a 2020 MiLB season to go off of, we did get some snippets from summer camp and reports from within the organization to adjust our rankings ever so slightly. While this list will certainly look a lot like our mid-season list last summer, there will be some new info for you in here along with a slight adjustment in our overall rankings. This list will surely look vastly different come July if all goes well and we get a MiLB season, but I wanted to refresh your memories of where things stood seven months ago as we approach Spring Training.
A few things really quickly:
1. This is just our opinion. It bears no weight in reality. Please do not get upset with our staff because your favorite player was slighted. It’s for fun, and nothing else.
2. Players with significant MLB time (Singer, Bubic, Staumont, Zuber, etc.) will not be included.
3. You won’t see any of the recent “J2” signings on here. Simply haven’t had any time to evaluate any of them yet. Daniel Vasquez, the 16-year old SS from the DR, is the big name to know at the moment.
Without further ado, your 2021 preseason prospect rankings:
– Adam Lukas, RHP, 100 mph fastball
– John Rave, CF, toolsy, needs to hit
– Grant Gavin, RHP, ++ spin, lots of K’s, lots of BB’s
– Omar Hernandez, C, up and coming stud
#50: Emmanuel Rivera, 3B
I’ve been waiting a long time to see Emmanuel Rivera put it all together. He still hasn’t done that, but he appears to have made an adjustment or two that could help. He’s solid around the bag at 3B and has a great hit tool, he just doesn’t hit for enough power at present for it to matter. He has a bunch of raw power, he just struggles to get to it in games in a meaningful capacity. Should be a big year for the 24-year old.
#49: Tyler Gentry, OF
Tyler Gentry is a 6′ 2″ 210 lb. outfielder from the University of Alabama entering what will be his first professional season with the Royals in 2021. Gentry, still just 22 years old, was on his way to a very impressive junior season with the Crimson Tide, hitting .429/.554/.750/1.304 with 10 XBG in just 17 games last spring. After a monster freshman campaign (1.181 OPS with 18 HR in 64 G), Gentry saw his production dip a bit as a sophomore (.930 OPS with 13 HR in 56 G). The Royals took a chance on the slugging outfielder’s rise in production during his junior campaign by drafting him in the 3rd round of last summer’s (shortened) June draft. I would anticipate Gentry to get a go at Low-A with the Royals new affiliate, the Columbia (SC) Fireflies this spring. Having not seen Gentry play in almost a full season, I’m not really carrying any expectations for him into 2021.
#48: Omar Florentino, SS
Omar Florentino was kind of seen as “the other SS” in the Royals 2018 J2 signing class, alongside Wilmin Candelario. Florentino had a good 2019 campaign hitting in the DSL, posting a 96 wRC+, but still has a ways to go before he sniffs the upper levels of MiLB. I’d expect to see him in the AZL this summer, however that league looks, and we’ll go from there with him at the end of the year. Tons of talent here, just haven’t seen a lot from him just yet.
#47: Samuel Valerio, RHP
Per Baseball America, “Valerio’s heater sits 96-99 mph with downhill plane, heavy sink and weight in the zone. His power curveball is a downer at 79-81 mph. It is inconsistent but has the makings of a wipeout pitch. His high-80s changeup is a more recent addition and needs separation.” A fastball that sits 96-99 and touches 102 from a 6′ 4″ 220 lb. 19-year old ought to catch your eye, eh? Valerio struck out 31 batters in 25.1 IP in the DSL in 2019, and while he’s still a ways from the upper minors, any fastball like that from a kid his size certainly deserves recognition on this list.
#46: Anderson Paulino, RHP
No two pitchers are exactly alike, but when comparing the prospect value of Anderson Paulino to anyone else, go ahead and just reread Samuel Valerio’s bio. Paulino hasn’t been quite as good statistically as Valerio was in 2019, and he’s a bit older (22), but we also have a little bit more of a track record for him. Anderson’s fastball has reportedly topped out at 101, giving him a shot at the big leagues with no other information. He and Valerio are pretty interchangeable on this list.
#45: Grant Gambrell, RHP
Ignore the ERA, and Gambrell had a pretty impressive first shot at pro ball after being drafted out of Oregon State in 2019. Gambrell is a big kid, standing 6′ 4″ 225′, with an outstanding fastball/curveball combo. They are both probably 50-grade pitches alone, but the combination as a tandem is a 55/60-grade offering. Legitimate shot to contribute in the big leagues.
#44: Adrian Alcantara, RHP
Call me an Alcantara stan if you want, but I love this kid. Doesn’t have the same flash as some of the pitchers we’ve already listed, but he’s got a great arsenal and phenomenal “pitchability.” We’ll see where Alcantara gets going this spring, I’d guess Low-A Columbia if you made me, but I really think this kid will pop a little bit in 2021. I could also be horribly wrong.
#43: Evan Steele, LHP
One of these days, Evan Steele is either going to get healthy and wind up in the top 20 of this list or he’s…not. I’ll put it this way, there’s no way this dude reaches the big leagues without some excitement. He is absolutely filthy on the mound. 6′ 5″ 210 lb. LHP with some funk in his delivery and a mid-90’s fastball. If he ever keeps it together for a full season…there will be fireworks attached.
#42: John McMillon, RHP
A big time signing for GMDM and company after the 2020 draft concluded, John “The Whammer” McMillon is nicknamed such because he can hit 101 mph with his fastball and has an absolute “whammer” for a curveball. McMillon struck out 20 batters in 9.1 IP last spring at Texas Tech and was well on his way to a dominant senior season. He’s a definite bullpen piece moving forward, and he’s got to prove himself at the professional level, but I expect him to move quickly.
#41: Ismael Aquino, RHP
Another big kid with a big arm, Aquino strikes out a lot of hitters. Aquino came over to KC in the Jake Diekman trade, and while he’s got some kinks to work out, I love what the Royals acquired here. We’ll see how he looks this summer, but there’s some potential here if he keeps making the appropriate strides.
#40: Rylan Kaufman, LHP
Kaufman is talented enough to be in the top 30 on this list, but we’ve got to see him pitch first. Before being injured, Kaufman sat 92-95 with an absolute haaaaaaaaammer of a curveball. I mean the thing is filthy, registering over 3,000 RPMs. You can’t teach that. We need to get Kaufman on a professional mound, something we haven’t seen much of, but the talent is absurd when this kid is healthy.
#39: Charlie Neuweiler, RHP
Still waiting for that velo bump to come from Neuweiler. Among all of the pitchers that KC drafted out of high school or otherwise signed as a teenager, Neuweiler almost certainly has the best pitchability among the ranks. Neuweiler is still just 22 years old so there’s still plenty of time for him to add some velo, but it’s really difficult for pitchers to live 89-92 and topping at 93-94 in today’s game. The good news for Neuweiler is that he’s a bull dog on the mound with a disgusting curveball that he can vary in shape and speed on command. We’ve been stanning Neuweiler on this account for a while, but we’re going to need to see some physical improvement from the arm in order to get him back into our top 30 by midseason.
#38: Jon Heasley, RHP
Jon Heasley tore it up at Low-A Lexington in 2019. A 3.12 ERA and 120 K in 112.2 IP had me thinking he might get promoted to High-A Wilmington by the end of the year, and while a brief IL stint and a log-jam at Wilmington slowed him down, Heasley still dominated his competition in Lexington. Heasley should begin 2021 either in the rotation at High-A Quad City or potentially in the bullpen at AA Northwest Arkansas. I think he’s probably a bullpen piece long-term, but he’s got a great fastball/curveball combo that could carry him to the big leagues.
#37: Ben Hernandez, RHP
If you’ve read any thing on this site before then you know how we feel about elite changeups. then you already know we love some Ben Hernandez. He may have had the best changeup in the 2020 draft class and, combined with a mid-90’s fastball, got himself drafted in the 2nd round. The only reason Hernandez doesn’t find himself higher on this list is that I’m still not entirely sure how much I trust the Royals to develop prep pitchers and Hernandez really doesn’t have a curveball. Like any prep pitcher, Hernandez is gonna need some work, and I probably would’ve trusted a college coaching staff more than the Royals at this point. The Royals have made huge strides recently in their pitching development, but a lot of that surrounds already advanced college pitchers. We’ll see how this experiment goes, but the best news is that Hernandez is plenty talented to move up the ranks quickly.
#36: Delvin Capellan, RHP
Another pitcher signed as a teenager, Capellan tore it up in the DSL, making a name for himself among Royals prospect fans. Capellan has continued to post good strikeout numbers as he’s progressed through the minors and I’m excited to see what he can do with a more experienced defense as he moves toward the upper levels of MiLB.
#35: Noah Murdock, RHP
Noah Murdock was dominant in his only professional campaign back in 2019. He posted a 2.17 ERA with 43 K in 37.1 IP in rookie ball. He’s still just 22 and stands 6′ 8″ on the mound, giving him phenomenal tilt on his fastball/curveball combo. Murdock is a guy who could have some serious helium in his prospect value if he dominates in Low-A the way he did in rookie ball.
#34: Christian Chamberlain, LHP
Chamberlain is another 2020 draftee with some fire to him. I’ve never seen a kid compete quite like he does on the mound. He and Charlie Neuweiler are like two peas in a pod in that regard. Chamberlain doesn’t quite have the levers that guys like Murdock have, but he has a complete arsenal and works every part of the zone efficiently. He should move quickly through the lower levels of the minors, but the real test will come when he gets to AA. Easy kid to root for.
#33: Drew Parrish, LHP
Like Christian Chamberlain, but different. Parrish was an 8th round pick out of Florida State back in 2019 and totally dominated rookie ball. 14.04 K/9, 1.44 BB/9, and a 2.52 ERA in his first 25 professional innings. Parrish’s fastball leaves quite a bit to be desired, but his curveball and changeup are a step above Chamberlain, giving him the slight edge here. Kind of like I mentioned with Valerio and Paulino earlier, no two pitchers are exactly alike, but Chamberlain and Parrish are similarly interchangeable here.
#32: Michael Massey, 2B
Finally, another hitter. Massey is a great hitter out of Illinois and should defend well enough to stay at 2B long-term. He’s a good athlete with a good hit tool and a great amount of raw power for the middle infield. He posted a 105 wRC+ in Burlington after being drafted in 2019 and should make his way to Low-A Columbia to begin 2021. In a system that needs big bats, Massey has a chance to really work his way up this list with a good campaign this year.
#31: Tucker Bradley, OF
Tucker Bradley was an awesome pick up for the Royals after the 2020 draft. He returned to Georgia for his senior season after missing almost his entire junior campaign back in 2019. Bradley came out on fire in 2020, hitting .393/.525/.738/1.263 with 6 HR and 8 SB in Georgia’s first 18 games. Had he continued hitting like that, he would’ve certainly been drafted at some point in the 2020 draft. Instead, he fell out of the draft and the Royals got an absolute steal in the free agency portion of last summer. We’ll see what 2021 has in store but I’d be willing to bet this kid is a borderline household name for diehard Royals fans at the end of the year.
#30: Angel Zerpa, LHP
I’m not ready to crown Zerpa as the next “guy” just yet, but he is certainly impressive. The lefty can flash mid to upper-90’s with his fastball and has a hard breaking ball to go with it. The Royals added him to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft this past offseason, and it’s easy to understand why. Zerpa was really good in rookie ball last year and should move pretty quickly through the lower levels of MiLB.
#29: Vinnie Pasquantino, 1B
Call me crazy or call me for dinner, but we couldn’t possibly be higher on Pasquantino than we are at present. The two biggest things we look for in a hitting prospect are production and likelihood for future production. Well, Pasquantino posted a 152 wRC+ in his first bout with professional baseball in 2019. There’s your production. On the future production side, Pasquantino has a very short swing, great hands, and backs that with an immense amount of raw power. If Pasquantino had a better track record or came from a better college, no one would question this. There’s always a chance we’re dead wrong and Pasquantino is out of pro ball by the end of 2022. I have a feeling that won’t be the case.
#28: Sebastian Rivero, C
Reports out of Royals camp on Rivero’s development have been very promising. Rivero has apparently reworked his swing to make it easier for him to drive the ball in the gap which would be a huge step in the right direction for him. We all know about Rivero’s defensive prowess. He’s more than capable of catching in the big leagues. Now all he has to do is be serviceable at the plate. Should be a big year for him in 2021.
#27: Wilmin Candelario, SS
The Royals talented SS prospect should make his stateside debut in 2021. Whether he’s in Arizona or full-season ball is yet to be determined, but the kid has a ton of talent and should stick at SS long-term. He’s got some thunder in his smaller frame and should hit enough to keep pushing his way through the minors. We’ll have to wait a few years to see how far he can go but there’s a ton of potential here.
#26: Jeison Guzman, SS
The Royals added Jeison Guzman to the 40-man season last offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft and, to be honest, I was a bit surprised. He’s a crazy good raw athlete but just hasn’t put it together in games yet. He’s gifted at SS but makes way too many errors, and he has a great swing but still hasn’t had a great offensive season yet. I’m going to be looking or Guzman to make or break at AA in 2021.
#25: Brady McConnell, SS
McConnell is a phenomenal athlete and probably left the University of Florida a year too early, but it’s a good thing KC snagged him in the 2nd round when they could because one more year at Florida could’ve put McConnell at the top of the first round in the 2020 draft (before we knew what 2020 would look like). We’ll see how McConnell does working out the K-rates, but there’s a crazy amount of athleticism here.
#24: Brewer Hicklen, OF
Hicklen, a former college WR at UAB, is an elite athlete with a great skill set. It’s translated to results every step of the way thus far but I have one concern with the hit tool. Will it be good enough for him to access his raw power at the upper levels of MiLB? If so, he can definitely be a 4th OF type in the big leagues.
#23: Nick Pratto, 1B
You know the story by now. Elite defender at 1B, former first round pick, great year in Low-A, didn’t hit anything at all at High-A. The Royals have helped him adjust his swing but will it translate to games?
#22: Maikel Garcia, SS
Garcia is a fine athlete at 20 years old and has a great approach at the plate. As he grows into his frame, he’ll develop more power and could be a top 10 prospect in the system at the beginning of the 2023 season.
#21: Nick Heath, OF
The title of “fastest 4th outfielder” in baseball lies firmly in Kansas City. Heath can absolutely fly and ought to have a prominent role on KC’s bench sometime in the near future.
#20: Kale Emshoff, C
The gem of the 2020 undrafted free agent class, Emshoff could very well be the Royals best catching prospect by the end of the MiLB season. He’s a legitimate 50-grade defender and if the bat holds up, could easily provide average production for a catcher at the plate. Emshoff had a 1.327 OPS and 7 HR in his first 17 games of 2020 and was well on his way to being a top 3 round pick in the draft had he played an entire season. That KC got him after the draft had ended is absolute theft and ought to pay big dividends for the Royals moving forward.
#19: Yefri Del Rosario, RHP
I’ve still got plenty of faith in this kid’s stuff. He is a monster on the mound when healthy, but it’s going to be important for the Royals to keep him healthy this year as he missed all of 2019 and then consequentially 2020 as well. The last time we saw Del Rosario he was a 19-year old tearing up full-season ball. We’ll see how he can recover in 2021.
#18: Darryl Collins, OF
I didn’t want to put the 19-year old who has never played in full-season ball ahead of Del Rosario, but he’s healthy and also very good. Collins tore up the AZL as a 17-year old in 2019 to the tune of a 132 wRC+. He should get a shot at Low-A this year and I am beyond excited to see how he progresses.
#17: MJ Melendez, C
Melendez is an elite defender behind the plate. He has as much raw power as anyone in the system not named Seuly Matias. If he can cut down on the K% even a little bit he will earn every bit of a top 12 or so designation in this system. We just have to see it first.
#16: Zach Haake, RHP
Haake had some wicked stuff coming out of Kentucky in 2018 he just didn’t seem to be able to put it all together in college. He was tearing up Low-A in 2019 and looked to be ready to make a huge step in 2020 before the season ended. He’s got a legitimate 60-grade fastball to go with a wicked slider. If he can not walk over 4 batters per inning, he’ll have a chance to start all the way through the minors.
#15: Daniel Tillo, LHP
TURBO SINKERS INBOUND IN 2021. We were robbed of seeing Tillo work in the Royals bullpen in 2020 thanks to Tommy John Surgery, but just you wait until this kid arrives sometime this year. He’s going to be a ton of fun to watch in the big leagues.
#14: Yohanse Morel, RHP
Still young and raw, but this kid has arm talent like no one else in the system. He can run his fastball into the upper-90’s and has some crazy life to his changeup and slider. If this kid goes into Wilmington and pitches well, we’re going to be talking about him in the same breath as Lynch and Lacy by the end of the year.
#13: Will Klein, RHP
You want a bold take? Here it is. Will Klein has impressed the hell out of me since being drafted by Kansas City in 2020. Immediately after the draft I honestly kind of though that I might have Emshoff or Bradley ahead of Klein at this point in time, but no. Oh no. Klein’s fastball is able to reach triple digits and his curveball is filthy, but he’s developing a changeup as well and repeats his mechanics enough to continue starting as well. You want a surprise kind of guy that can shoot up into top 100 lists by the beginning of next season? Here’s your guy.
#12: Carlos Hernandez, RHP
I’m not the highest on Hernandez, but you can see why the Royals would be after his big league debut in 2020. He’s got a legitimate arsenal and the ability to run his fastball into the upper-90’s. I worry about the spin and the extension but there is a ton of pure “stuff” here to bank on being in a big league rotation long-term.
#11: Nick Loftin, SS/UTIL
A surprise first round selection by KC in 2020, Loftin does a ton of stuff that intrigues a team like KC. He has a knack for being on base, he makes good contact, and he can play a lot of positions on the field well. Rumors suggested that GMDM and company may have considered Loftin at #4 overall had the cards been played right, which suggests they like him even more than we may realize. I’ll be excited to see how he hits in pro ball.
#10: Seuly Matias, OF
You give up on him if you want, I refuse.
#9: Jonathan Bowlan, RHP
Big kid, good arsenal, elite command, former second round pick. I’ll be looking to see how he handles AA this year.
#8: Alec Marsh, RHP
Mark my words, Alec Marsh is going to take OFF in 2021. The 2019 first round pick has a sick breaking ball and has recently got his fastball up to 97 mph. He won’t be too far behind the “Fab 5” getting to Kansas City.
#7: Austin Cox, LHP
ANOTHER ARM. Cox is wildly under rated even among national prospect writers. I won’t keep harassing you about all of the pitching that Kansas City has. Cox stands 6′ 4″ and gets every inch out of his delivery to create a great downhill angle for his wonderful fastball/curveball combo. You’re right to be excited about the Fab 5, but Cox and Marsh and Bowlan and Klein are all legitimately incredible as well.
#6: Kyle Isbel, OF
Andrew Benintendi throws a small wrench in things BUT I would expect Kyle Isbel to be ready to compete for a big league job by the end of 2021. He reminds me a little bit of Andrew Benintendi ironically. Not quite the hitter but a better and more versatile defender. The kid is a legitimate big league outfielder if he keeps putting it all together.
#5: Erick Pena, OF
He’s yet to play in a professional game, but the 2019 J2 signee is a freak and is going to be a top 100 prospect very soon. He’s got incredible hands for a 17-year old and I couldn’t be more excited to see this kid get going live.
#4: Jackson Kowar, RHP
Jackson Kowar is 6′ 5″, can reach 99 on the fastball, and has a 70-grade offering in his changeup. Any more questions?
#3: Asa Lacy, LHP
The Royals 4th overall pick in 2020 absolutely dominated college baseball before the season was ended prematurely. He’s going to be special in Royal blue. I don’t think we’ll see him in Kansas City before September of 2021, but then again, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him in June either.
#2: Daniel Lynch, LHP
The reports coming out of the Royals camp on Lynch are too loud to keep ignoring. This is borderline “you should see Mahomes at practice” in 2017 kind of stuff. I haven’t personally seen anything from Lynch to change my mind about having Kowar over him, but at some point you’ve just gotta listen to the people who have. I wouldn’t want to have been wrong about Mahomes heading into 2018, so I won’t miss this ship before it heads to the moon in 2021.
#1: Bobby Witt Jr., SS
I’ve got nothing to add that you don’t already know here. Boy Wonder. $7.5M. #2 overall pick. 5-tool player. Can not WAIT to see this kid in full-season ball. I think even the most optimistic fans of Bobby Witt Jr. will be surprised at how good this kid really is.
Photo Credits: Doc Riddle (@TheGrandOldGame)