Revisiting the Royals top prospects: SS

It has been a long time since we’ve had real, actual MiLB to watch. When we released our top 50 Royals prospects list last week, I briefly recapped some of the players on our list, but I wanted to go a little further in-depth and remind everyone how our boys were doing on the farm last time there was MiLB: in the fall of 2019. For the next couple of weeks we’ll take a deeper look at the top prospects at each position for KC, including ETA’s, where we project them to start in 2021, where they are currently ranked on our top 50, where we project them to be ranked before the 2022 season, and their stats from the last season in which they played professional baseball.

To begin this journey, let’s talk shortstops.

#1: Bobby Witt Jr.

  • ETA: 2022
  • Begin 2021: High-A Quad Cities
  • Current ranking: #1
  • Projected ranking in 2022: #1
  • 2019 stats (AZL): 180 PA, .262/.317/.354/.670, 1 HR, 8 XBH, 0.37 BB/K, .091 ISO, 85 wRC+, 9 SB

Don’t let anyone tell you that Bobby Witt Jr.’s 2019 stats mean that much. It certainly would have been fun to see him perform a little better, but it doesn’t actually mean much. The kid was still playing high school baseball when he was drafted on June 3rd and then was back and forth between Arizona and awards ceremonies for part of the summer. The reports that crept out of Kauffman Stadium about the 20-year old phenom during satellite camp last summer were constantly positive. Royals executives made the comment more than once that every single day Witt was doing something impressive on the field. He plays a phenomenal shortstop already, but he even flashed some impressive leather at the hot corner against the Astros:

And gave pitchers fits at the plate:

The idea of Witt having question marks surrounding his hit tool is overblown. His ability to control the barrel of the bat through the zone is impressive and he drives the ball with authority, even if we haven’t seen him unlock his mammoth raw power just yet. Between his potential to be a 25 HR/25 SB stalwart in the middle of a big league lineup, and his ability to play Gold Glove-caliber defense at SS, Bobby Witt Jr. is the future for the Kansas City Royals.

#2: Nick Loftin

  • ETA: 2022
  • Begin 2021: High-A Quad Cities
  • Current ranking: #11
  • Projected ranking in 2022: #6-8
  • 2020 stats (Baylor): 57 AB, .298/.339/.544/.883, 2 HR, 8 XBH, 0.36 BB/K, .246 ISO

A member of the 2020 draft class, we are yet to see what kind of adjustments that Loftin will make when he faces professional pitching. Despite never dominating his competition at the collegiate ranks, Loftin saw an uptick in his power production in 2020 and the Royals thought enough of him to snag him with their first round comp pick in the 2020 draft. Loftin’s high floor as a hitter and defensive versatility were enough for us to put him at #11 on our list heading into 2021, but we’ll definitely want to see some production out of him to keep him here at midseason. Assuming the reports on Loftin are true and he makes a quick rise through the system, I expect to see him in the top 10 by next preseason, approaching a mid-July promotion to the big leagues in what should be a competitive 2022 season for the big league club.

#3: Maikel Garcia

  • ETA: 2023
  • Begin 2021: Low-A Columbia
  • Current ranking: #22
  • Projected ranking in 2022: #10-12
  • 2019 stats (Burlington): 254 PA, .286/.353/.373/.726, .086 ISO, 0.63 BB/K, 103 wRC+, 19 SB

Maikel Garcia does four things really well: put the bat on the ball, run fast, throw the ball, and field his position at SS. Those four tools alone should carry him through the upper levels of the minors in some capacity. The big question for Garcia as he moves along is going to be how he develops power at the plate. He has shown very little, if any, ability to hit for power so far in his professional career, but if he grows into his body and can hit ~10 HR and ~30 doubles at the big league level, he will almost certainly be a top 10 prospect in this system before it is all said and done. He’s a wonderful athlete and he’s got a lot of potential, but he’s actually older than Bobby Witt Jr. and he’s nowhere near the level of Witt just yet, holding him down on our list for now. Look for Garcia to boom in 2021 if he gets a chance to play every day in Columbia.

One more note on Garcia: he is already eligible for the Rule 5 Draft so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a “surprise” addition to the 40-man roster at the end of 2021 and makes a “surprise” debut in 2022 a la Jeison Guzman in 2020.

#4: Brady McConnell

  • ETA: 2023
  • Begin 2021: Low-A Columbia
  • Current ranking: #25
  • Projected ranking in 2022: #18
  • 2019 stats (Idaho Falls): 169 PA, .211/.286/.382/.667, 4 HR, 17 XBH, .171 ISO, .21 BB/K, 76 wRC+, 5 SB

Brady McConnell is a little like Maikel Garcia in terms of prospect value, but wildly different in terms of how they get there. The similarities between McConnell and Garcia are that they are wonderful athletes, they have crazy high ceilings defensively, both have good arms, and both run well. The biggest difference is at the plate. Where Garcia makes his money putting the ball in play but suffers in the power department, McConnell is the polar opposite. McConnell struck out in 39.1% of his PA at Idaho Falls in 2019 but also blasted 5 HR in 40 G between Idaho Falls and Arizona. Unfortunately for Brady, hitting for a bunch of power doesn’t do much for you if you can’t put the ball in play enough for it to matter. That, and he’s nearly two full years older than Garcia and he is two full years older than Witt. McConnell’s athleticism may allow him to move off of SS where there is sure to be a logjam long-term, and could even help him make some strides at the plate by taking pressure off of him defensively. While I think McConnell should bounce back a bit in 2021, I don’t expect him to be listed as a SS on our site by the beginning of 2022.

#5: Jeison Guzman

  • ETA: 2020
  • Begin 2021: AA Northwest Arkansas
  • Current ranking: #26
  • Projected ranking in 2022: #25
  • 2019 stats (Lexington): 490 PA, .253/.296/.373/.669, 7 HR, 35 XBH, .120 ISO, .26 BB/K, 95 wRC+, 15 SB

Everything Jeison Guzman does is loud. He is a wildly gifted athlete and makes some of the most spectacular plays that you’ll see from a kid playing SS. He also made 33 errors in 116 G in Lexington back in 2019 and often makes errant throws to the bag at 1B. When he squares the ball up, he can really do some damage, but he fails to access his raw power in games far too often. The organization seems to think highly of him, evidenced by his addition to the big league roster at one point in 2020 despite having never appeared in High-A, but Guzman has also started to switch hit again recently. Not that there is inherently anything wrong with that…but if we’re grasping at straws now, heading into his 6th professional season, I’m not sure that gives me more confidence in his ability at the plate moving forward. I could see Guzman beginning anywhere from High-A to AAA in 2021, but I think Lucius Fox likely gets the lion’s share of time at SS in Omaha while Bobby Witt Jr. starts his season with Loftin in the Quad Cities. If Guzman can prove to handle higher level pitching at AA, he could easily sky-rocket up this list. I just haven’t seen enough to buy in just yet.

#6: Wilmin Candelario

  • ETA: 2024
  • Begin 2021: Arizona League (R)
  • Current ranking: #27
  • Projected ranking in 2022: #12-15
  • 2019 stats (DR): 213 PA, .315/.396/.505/.902, 4 HR, 19 XBH, .190 ISO, .37 BB/K, 144 wRC+, 11 SB

It may be apparent by my projected ranking for Candelario heading into 2022, but I think he could easily be a top 20 prospect for Kansas City by midseason (assuming there would be a chance for us to see him play). It won’t take much for me to have the still 19-year old ahead of Guzman and/or McConnell with a good stateside showing in 2021. Candelario has a skill set similar to that of Maikel Gacia but hit for a surprising amount of power in 2019. In fact, Candelario’s .190 ISO was the 12th best mark in the DSL in 2019 among kids 17 or younger. His 144 wRC+ was also 12th. Candelario was the gem of the Royals 2018 international signing class, and should have been stateside in 2020. I don’t think there is room for him to jump into things at Low-A Columbia right away in 2021, but I would not be surprised at all if we saw him there at some point. It’s going to be both difficult and important for the Royals front office to find all of these guys consistent at-bats before the year is over, and I think Royals fans will be impressed with what they see in Candelario when his time comes.

#7: Omar Florentino

  • ETA: 2025
  • Begin 2021: Arizona League (R)
  • Current ranking: #48
  • Projected ranking in 2022: #30-35
  • 2019 stats (DR): 219 PA, .227/.344/.335/.679, 2 HR, 13 XBH, .108 ISO, .76 BB/K, 96 wRC+, 14 SB

The “other” SS that Kansas City signed during the 2018 international signing period, Omar Florentino doesn’t quite have the same skill set as Candelario. He’s a bit smaller, also a bit faster, and probably ends up in CF or 2B long-term. We haven’t seen much of Florentino at the professional level yet and I think he’s likely to stay in Arizona for the duration of 2021, but he’s a guy that, with a good showing in 2021, could rise up the board a bit in 2022. I don’t expect the same flash from Florentino as I do Garcia or Candelario, but there’s some ability here if he makes good strides over the next couple of seasons.

#8: Lucius Fox

  • ETA: 2021
  • Begin 2021: AAA Omaha
  • Current ranking: UR
  • Projected ranking in 2022: UR
  • 2019 stats (AA): 431 PA, .230/.340/.342/.682, 3 HR, 27 XBH, .112 ISO, .6 BB/K, 104 wRC+, 37 SB

Even though we left Fox off of our rankings, I did want to mention him here because I think he’s likely going to be the every day guy for Omaha at SS to begin 2021. It’s not that we don’t like Fox, he was a great type of player to get in return for Brett Phillips, I’m just not quite sure what kind of value you’re getting from him in the big leagues. He is not an every day guy at SS. I’m not even entirely sure that’s his best position long-term (think it’s likely he fills a utility role in CF/SS/2B/3B). He’s got the speed to handle the outfield, and the arm to handle 3B, but I don’t think he quite has the lateral range the Royals will want at SS. Beyond that, he’s got Mondesi and Lopez ahead of him, and Bobby Witt Jr. knocking down the door. Fox can really run, and I think it’s likely the Royals will look to carve out some sort of role for him in some capacity at the big league level, eventually…I just don’t think it will be significant enough to warrant putting a 23-year old light-hitting utility type on our rankings.

Photo Credits: Brian Westerholt / Four Seam Images

15 thoughts on “Revisiting the Royals top prospects: SS

  1. Sounds like you’re missing the new signing Vazquez on the list.

    If what Clint is hearing is true, he’s on a near Pena trajectory and should probably be behind just Witt and Loftin on the list.

    The other SS signing, Fernandez, probably fits nicely with Florentino and the other younger LA guys.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I mentioned in our top 50 overall that I wasn’t gonna rank any of the J2 guys just yet. Wanna get at least a few month’s of info under our belts. Hopefully they’ll be on the midseason report. But, generally, I agree with you. Vasquez looks like a very promising signing.

      Like

  2. HI Alex, Thanks for the reports – I appreciated the estimates of where you believe the players will begin the season. SS is one of the KC’s deepest position. Lucius Fox at #8 is a good depth. Wouldn’t be surprised if one of the PTBNL in Benintendi trade comes from the lower end of this group. McConnell shifting to OF would be a blessing for him and organization. KC could use the talent influx in OF and he could handle it well.

    Liked by 1 person

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