I’ve seen a few comments about this in the past, and I understand that I’m guilty of it to an extent, but we don’t focus much on guys that are underperforming. I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m not going to spend a lot of time harping on kids who are struggling that have never made it to the big leagues in the first place. If they aren’t performing, you’ll have a hint because you won’t see a lot of them on our page. With that said, I understand that you have questions about these guys and, while I want the focus of our site to on celebrating these guys’ successes and helping you stay informed on guys that could help the big league club in the future, I don’t mind talking about underperformers once in a while.
In order to have made this article, guys will have either been a former top 30 prospect, a former top five draft pick, or a former big-money J2 signing (because a 27th round pick that is hitting .190 in Low-A is not worth discussing as an underperformer). So, here ya go:
Photo of Seuly Matias: Doc Riddle (@TheGrandOldGame)
Ashe Russell, RHP
This generation’s Kyle Zimmer (jk, but sort of…). Russell is currently on the ACL Royals Gold roster in the Arizona Complex League as he is recovering from Tommy John Surgery. The 2015 1st round pick is currently 24 years old and has thrown just 38.1 professional innings. If you’re not familiar with Russell’s story, he was drafted 21st overall, had a mediocre professional debut, threw 2 innings in 2016, and has not pitched professionally in five years now. He dealt with some off the field issues as well as now physical injuries, but he is still with the team and as long as his recovery is going okay, I would imagine we’d see him throw a handful of innings in Arizona before this year is over. Another member of his draft class, fellow first rounder Nolan Watson, also had Tommy John last year and is currently in the bullpen at AA so, we’ll see.
Brewer Hicklen, OF
Hicklen is a guy that was on our top 30 coming into the season, but he has struggled mightily to handle upper level pitching to this point. Hicklen, a 7th round pick back in 2017, posted a 131 wRC+ in High-A Wilmington back in 2019 and has absolutely crushed LHP in his MiLB career. I really thought there was a better than good chance that Hicklen could fill in as an adequate 4th OF on a contending team, but his struggles in 2021 make it fair to second guess that. Hicklen is slashing .192/.284/.328/.612 with a 67 wRC+ and 34.8% K% in 141 PA this year as his strikeout questions from the lower levels have haunted him at AA. Hicklen is already 25 years old as he was a bit of an older college draftee back in 2017, and while his age won’t matter much if his ceiling is a 4th OF, any chance Hicklen has of being a big league regular in any capacity is waning in AA.
Brady McConnell, 3B/OF
Brady McConnell has dealt with some stuff off of the field that ought to be counted into the evaluation of his performance, but unfortunately his on field performance hasn’t given us much to be excited about. McConnell is slashing .198/.292/.358/.650 with a wRC+ of 85 and K% of 39.7%. He swings and misses a ton and while he’s flashed moments of great power potential, he hasn’t made nearly enough contact for it to matter. He doesn’t have the type of elite power that Seuly Matias has to keep you hoping and while he’s a little better defensively, he hasn’t played but three games at SS and none recently. He’s been a DH more than he’s played the field and he’s in his age-23 season playing at Low-A. Eric Longenhagen left McConnell off his top 51 Royals prospects list this preseason over at FanGraphs and while I was skeptical early on, I kind of understand it now.
Kyle Isbel, OF
This is a bit of a reach, but Isbel does have the 12th worst wRC+ of any hitter in the system (min. 50 PA) after starting the year on the Royals Opening Day roster, so I went ahead and included him. Isbel isn’t walking a ton (9.0%), isn’t striking out a ton (22.4%), and also isn’t hitting for much power (.136 ISO). However, he’s been great defensively, his batted ball data is more than fine, and while his OPS is currently floating below .700, he’s still just 24 years old and his peripherals have been good enough that you don’t have to totally worry about Isbel bombing out. It sure would be nice if he was destroying AAA pitching so he could get back in a big league outfield, but it looks like Royals fans will need to wait until September or even next April before seeing Isbel again.
Seuly Matias, OF
Seuly is dealing with another injury but had a K% of 34.7% in High-A before being put on the IL. He’s had just 50 total PA all season and one was in a rehab start in Arizona. He didn’t hit a single HR with Quad Cities in 49 PA and just kind of seems to be slipping away from major prospect status. I loved some of the apparent changes he made in Spring Training but we just didn’t get any kind of a look at him before his injury this year. I think everyone will have to adjust accordingly this summer on their prospect rankings lists.
Yohanse Morel, RHP
Seth is not going to like this one. Morel has posted an ERA of 6.04 with a 7.59 FIP in 22.1 IP out of the bullpen for High-A Quad Cities this year. I was pretty confident that his stuff would play up in shorter outings but he is walking the world instead. Morel is still just 20 years old so there’s plenty of time for him to get some things figured out, but he has been a pretty big liability for the River Bandits out of that bullpen so far this year.
Zach Haake, RHP
Yes, the guy that led the no-hitter makes the list. In 40 IP for Quad Cities this year, the 24-year old has a 5.85 FIP and 4.50 BB/9. I really thought we might see Haake take a step forward this year and emerge as a legitimate starting candidate, but it looks more and more likely that he’ll be a reliever long-term. While he’s not exactly striking a ton of dudes out at High-A, his K/9 is in good shape and should get even better in shorter outings as he moves up the organizational ladder. Definitely still a good chance for Haake to reach the big leagues in a relief capacity as his stuff is very good when he’s on.