Ah, yes, it is that time again. Thank you all very much for following us along the last four years. It was just over a month ago in 2017 when our Founding Father, Patrick Brennan, released our very first top 30 prospects list. And now, in July of 2021, we will have the fifth edition of our mid-season rankings here at Royals Farm Report. Here are the links to the previous years’ mid-season rankings and the first piece of our 2021 rankings:
- 2021: Honorable Mention and 46-50
- 2021: 36-45
- 2021: 31-35
- 2021: 21-30
- 2021: 11-20
- 2021: 6-10
Here are the last 5 players on our 2021 list:
#5: Alec Marsh, RHP
- Acquired: 2019 MLB Draft (2nd Round)
- Bats/Throws: R/R
- Age: 23
- 2021 Stats (AA): 25.1 IP, 4.97 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 14.92 K/9, 4.62 BB/9
Alec Marsh was striking out the world before being shut down in the middle of June with some bicep soreness. I’ve got to be honest, I had Marsh #3 on this list a few minutes ago. This kid is really, really, really good. He was consistently 94-97 earlier this year flashing upper-90’s with regularity to go with what is absolutely a hammer of a breaking ball. Marsh has a case for best stuff in the entire system against Asa Lacy’s but Marsh actually commands the ball a bit better than his BB/9 would suggest and is a lock to start as long as he can stay healthy. It’s been over a month now since we’ve seen him, which is a little noteworthy, but bicep soreness can happen with pitchers and isn’t anything to balk at too hard for now. Especially in a year where we didn’t have a 2020 season. The Royals have been extremely careful with all of their arms so far and I would imagine that part of holding out Marsh for now (if it is indeed still just soreness) is because they know they can send him to the Arizona Fall League after the MiLB season concludes to get some more innings in. Eric Longenhagen over at FanGraphs mentioned that Marsh could be a top 100 prospect before the season ended if he pitched well every 5th day with a fastball that reaches 100 mph at times. We’ve seen Marsh pitch well, now we just need to see him pitch again. If Marsh does indeed return to form this season and pitches well in the Fall League, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him join some of his teammates on these big top 100 lists next preseason.
#4: Jackson Kowar, RHP
- Acquired: 2018 MLB Draft (1st Round, Comp A)
- Bats/Throws: R/R
- Age: 24
- 2021 Stats (AAA): 55 IP, 2.13 ERA, 2.32 FIP, 12.60 K/9, 2.78 BB/9
I put this poll up for a few minutes last night because I legitimately have no idea how to rank these next three guys. Put ’em all in a hat and draw out a name. Put a poll on Twitter. Legitimately don’t care one way or another. Ask me tomorrow and I may have an entirely different order. The reason Kowar finds himself at #4 here and not the #2 spot I had him in 5 minutes ago is because of TINSTAAPP. If you’re unfamiliar with the term: There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect. Bad things can happen to pitching prospects so quickly that it’s sort of dangerous to build your farm system around them…everyone thought the Braves had an entire rotation of guys at AA and AAA ready to roll. Like…two of them have panned out and I’m not sure if any are healthy at the moment. The Oakland A’s had it made in the shade with AJ Puk and Jesus Luzardo. They just traded Luzardo for a rental. Point being, a pitcher has to be definitively better than a hitter for me to rank them higher on these lists and Kowar/Marsh/Melendez/Pratto are all on the same level. So, advantage to the hitters.
Y’all know Kowar by now. Fastball 94-97 t99 with a 60/70-grade changeup and a curveball that shows up enough we remember it but not enough we fall in love. He really doesn’t have command issues to speak of, nothing like what we saw in his brief time in Kansas City, but it’s certainly not an elite trait of his either. He hasn’t walked more than 2 batters in any MiLB start this year, but he also gets a little inefficient with his pitches at times, leading to some long innings and short outings. Think of Blake Snell, or an early Danny Duffy in that regard. I still think Kowar can be a #3 in a big league rotation if everything plays out right. If he’s a good #4 that feels like a very good outcome as well. I figure we’ll see him back in the big leagues again pretty soon with a chance to redeem himself and get his feet under him before 2022 Spring Training.
#3: Nick Pratto, 1B
- Acquired: 2017 MLB Draft (1st Round, 14th Overall)
- Bats/Throws: L/L
- Age: 22
- 2021 Stats (AA + AAA): 311 PA, .271/.402/.572/.973, 18 HR, 39 XBH, 86 K : 51 BB, 7 SB, 160 wRC+
The next two guys on this list wouldn’t have surprised a soul with their presence in our top 3 at the end of 2018. If you would’ve told me they’d be here at the end of 2019 I would have bet my house against it. The turnaround that Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez have made is nothing short of remarkable. I feel like we talk about them all the time so I won’t waste to much time here with the individual players. Pratto is as advertised defensively and I think he’ll be an immediate Gold Glove finalist as soon as he gets to the Big Leagues. The value of good defense at 1B is highly disputed, with more analytical minds not caring for it at all, really, which is why I have Pratto slotted in behind MJ Melendez. Let me refer you to a tweet from last night:
The specifics of that don’t matter too much, but here’s what does matter…In order for Pratto to accrue 3.0 fWAR in a given season, he is going to have to be at least 30% better than league average offensively. JT Realmuto currently has 2.7 fWAR in 80 games and has been just 12% better than league average offensively. We can debate the analytics for eternity, but what is sort of undeniable is that catchers don’t have to hit nearly as much as first basemen to be valuable to their team. First basemen have to hit A TON to be All-Stars. Catchers just have to be pretty good. I truly believe Pratto is going to be a star for the Royals, but if we’re thinking about this in gambling terms, I’m putting my money on the safer bet, seeing as they both have a tremendous amount of upside at the plate. I could truly flip them at any moment.
#2: MJ Melendez, C
- Acquired: 2017 MLB Draft (2nd Round)
- Bats/Throws: L/R
- Age: 22
- 2021 Stats (AA): 303 PA, .294/.376/.630/1.006, 24 HR, 40 XBH, 62 K : 36 BB, 162 wRC+
What more can you say about this kid? A great defender behind home plate. Has thrown out 41.2% of would be base stealers in his MiLB career. He’s allowed just 26 PB in 217 games behind home plate (3 in 43 this year). Baseball Prospectus has given him a positive Framing Runs Above Average grade this year, something he’s improved on tremendously. Steamer currently projects that he could hit for a 95 wRC+ RIGHT NOW in the big leagues (that’s better than Whit Merrifield right now). He’s striking out in just 20.5% of his PA. He’s got a career low SwStr%. I could not be happier for a couple kids than I am for MJ Melendez and Nick Pratto right now. Both have been added to Baseball America’s top 100 list recently. I think Pratto is probably a little more valuable offensively than Melendez in the long run, but Melendez’ value behind home plate, combined with a monstrous bat, is going to be so valuable to this organization some day.
#1: Bobby Witt Jr., SS
- Acquired: 2019 MLB Draft (1st Round, 2nd Overall)
- Bats/Throws: R/R
- Age: 21
- 2021 Stats (AA + AAA): 318 PA, .306/.371/.586/.957, 19 HR, 36 XBH, 74 K : 25 BB, 15 SB, 151 wRC+
This freaking kid, man. What a blessing for an organization. Can we stop complaining about the team being bad in 2018? Totally worth it IMO.
In all seriousness, the Royals haven’t had a prospect this good since Alex Gordon. Steamer already thinks he’d be the 6th best hitter in the Royals lineup if he were called up today. I was sort of skeptical we’d see him in the big leagues this year but my goodness, how can you think we won’t see him now? (The only caveat is if they think the CBA is going to change some things but I’m not sure it’ll matter.) This kid is going to be in Gold Glove conversations at some point in his career at arguably the most important position on the field. He runs borderline elite sprint speeds around the bases. He hits for prodigious power. He swings and misses a bit but he hits the ball so damn hard that I just don’t think it’ll matter too much. The kid is going to be a perennial All-Star if he stays healthy and keeps his head on straight, which by all accounts I think he will. Let’s just pray the Royals find a way to get him a second contract in a few years (maybe we could start a GoFundMe now?).
If you’re still here, thank you so much for everything you do for us here at Royals Farm Report. Whether it’s reading our articles, listening to the podcast, following us on Twitter and Facebook, whatever. Thank you for doing it. We appreciate your support more than you know. Our goal from the jump back in 2017 was to share our love of Royals and Minor League Baseball with you and so that’s what we’ve strived to do. Thank you for allowing us to do that with you. Hopefully this next wave that we’ve been covering for four years now will start to make baseball fun again in Kansas City.