RFR’s 2022 Preseason Royals Prospect Rankings: 40-31

Welcome back. Another year is upon us which means it’s time to break out another edition of the Royals Farm Report preseason prospect rankings. As always, these rankings are a cumulation of what is now seven different lists compiled by the guys on staff here. Jared Perkins, a new member of our staff, was able to get involved this year adding a new angle to our list. A couple of things to remember about prospect lists:
– They DO NOT MATTER. This is a list from a group of bloggers that love the Royals. We watch as many games as possible, do as much digging as possible, and try like hell to get you the best list possible so you can have an idea of what the Royals have coming through the minor league system. We love what we do and we love sharing that love with you. There’s no reason to be upset about a list. I promise you JJ Piccolo and the Royals front office aren’t using this list in their evaluations. So, enjoy the list, but please don’t take it too seriously.
– This list is a combination of seven individual lists. There’s no one person responsible for the placement of the prospects on this list.
– This list won’t be perfect. There will certainly be someone we rank way too low that makes us look silly in a couple of years. We do what we can, but understand that this is more for record keeping than “player #14 is better than player #15.” Pay more attention to tiers, and groups of prospects, rather than each individual ranking.

Alright, that should cover most of our bases. Thank you all so much for getting this far. We appreciate all of you for your support over the years. This will be our fourth annual preseason prospect rankings here at Royals Farm Report. Just for funsies, here’s a quick look at the top 5 prospects on each of our previous preseason lists.

1) Nick Pratto
2) Khalil Lee
3) Seuly Matias
4) Hunter Dozier
5) MJ Melendez

1) MJ Melendez
2) Brady Singer
3) Daniel Lynch
4) Khalil Lee
5) Nicky Lopez

1) Bobby Witt Jr.
2) Jackson Kowar
3) Daniel Lynch
4) Brady Singer
5) Erick Pena

1) Bobby Witt Jr.
2) Daniel Lynch
3) Asa Lacy
4) Jackson Kowar
5) Erick Pena

A couple of those names from 2021 might look pretty similar this year, but there’s gonna be some new faces in there too. I’m excited to get this going. Thank you, again, very much for enjoying this with us. You can read about the 23 players we listed as “Honorable Mention” below. Now it’s time we get into the top 50. Thanks again so much for reading. Enjoy!

#40: Josh Dye, LHP

  • Age: 25
  • B/T: L/L
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 5″ 180′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2021
  • Acquired: 2018 MLB Draft, Round 23
  • 2021 Stats (AA/AAA): 65.2 IP, 2.60 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 27.1% K%, 7.1% BB%, 1.16 WHIP

It took me a little bit, but I’ve come around on Dye as a big league relief prospect. The funky delivery, the long and lanky frame, some folks will be reminded of a guy like Tim Hill and there’s some similar intrigue here in my mind. Unlike Tim Hill, however, Josh Dye was not protected from the Rule 5 Draft this offseason, so he may not even get a chance to throw another pitch for the Royals if another team thinks he can get big leaguers out in 2022.

There’s a lot of things Dye does really well. He does a great job of keeping the ball down in the zone. He does a great job of not giving the opposing team free bases. Despite a fastball that tops out in the low-90’s, he’s able to generate a ton of swings and misses because he’s got one of the most unique deliveries that you’ll see. At this point in his career, Dye’s development is centered mostly around dominating left-handed hitters and keeping righties from elevating the baseball. His stuff combined with his delivery is going to make him hard to hit without much of an uptick in his raw “stuff.” Like I mentioned, the Royals didn’t seem to feel like they had room for Dye on their 40-man roster this offseason, so his future is up in the air at the moment, but he could offer a very unique look in a big league bullpen as soon as 2022.

#39: Zach Haake, RHP

  • Age: 25
  • B/T: R/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 4″ 190′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2021
  • Acquired: 2018 MLB Draft, Round 6
  • 2021 Stats (A+): 45.2 IP, 3.74 ERA, 5.79 FIP, 24.5% K%, 11.5% BB%, 1.25 WHIP

If you read the writeups in the 50-41 article, I mentioned that there were five relief prospects all ranked 48-44 that were pretty much interchangeable in terms of ranking. Well, Haake and Dye are in a pretty similar situations here. Haake and Dye were both drafted in 2018, neither were protected from the Rule 5 Draft this offseason, both have had some success in the minors, both offer unique qualities that could thrive in a big league bullpen, and both still have plenty to prove to make their way onto the 40-man roster.

The difference between Dye and Haake is that Haake has a little more of a traditional profile. He’s a big righty that throws the ball hard and has some wicked breaking stuff that he also throws pretty hard. Haake has had a fair bit of success in the lower minors, and frankly looked pretty good in the Arizona Fall League as well, but he’s just not been healthy enough to warrant moving up this list for me. That could all change. There aren’t a ton of guys with his ability to throw the baseball. For now, this is about as high as I could justify ranking him, but he’s got plenty of ability to jump into our mid-season top 30 if he can prove he’s healthy at AA Northwest Arkansas this spring.

#38: Eric Cerantola, RHP

  • Age: 21
  • B/T: R/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 5″ 225′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2024
  • Acquired: 2021 MLB Draft, Round 5
  • 2021 Stats (AZ): 4.2 IP, 9 K, 7 BB, 1 H

Here’s a little snippet from the guys at MLB Pipeline before the draft last year:

“During fall (2020) practice, Cerantola pushed his electric fastball to 98 mph and his curveball up to 87 mph with an astounding 3,300 RPM. He averaged 95 mph and hit 100 mph with his heater this spring, but he struggled to throw it for strikes and it got hit when he dialed it back to find the zone.”

So there ya go. Kind of like John McMillon earlier in our rankings, Cerantola’s appearance on this list is purely projection of some of the best raw stuff in the entire organization. Cerantola had some issues at Mississippi State last spring that wound up in him getting left off of the College World Series roster, but I haven’t heard of their being any issues since joining the Royals. His fastball/breaking ball combo give him one of the most mouth-watering arsenals in the org., and if he gets the ball over the plate more often he is going to move quickly through the lower minors.

#37: Shane Panzini, RHP

  • Age: 20
  • B/T: R/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 3″ 200′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2025
  • Acquired: 2021 MLB Draft, Round 4
  • 2021 Stats: N/A

A bit of an older kid for a high school draftee, Panzini is a big kid with a big fastball that has some pretty good projection moving forward. Panzini’s fastball already sits around 95 mph and has been up as high as 97 with good spin rates as well. Based solely on his age, size, and athleticism, it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if Panzini was capable of sitting 96-98 as a starter in a couple of years, flirting with triple digits.

We don’t have any kind of a professional track record to go off of for Panzini just yet as none of the prep arms the Royals drafted last summer got any innings in official games in Arizona. Most of his being ranked here is basic projection combined with scouting reports we’ve put together. I love the fastball, I love the way he moves on the mound, now it’s just a waiting game to see if the Royals development team (which I am infinitely higher on now, even on the pitching side, than I was two years ago) can help Panzini put the rest of the pieces together. There’s a chance that Panzini could jump as high as 15 on our mid-season list with a good showing in Low-A Columbia next spring.

#36: Rylan Kaufman, LHP

  • Age: 22
  • B/T: L/L
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 4″ 225′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2022
  • Acquired: 2018 MLB Draft, Round 12
  • 2021 Stats (A-): 81.2 IP, 5.07 ERA, 4.83 FIP, 26.7% K%, 10.5% BB%, 1.30 WHIP

Panzini and Kaufman are another example of pretty interchangeable rankings here. Kaufman is left-handed, has a 3,000+ RPM curveball that you just can’t teach, and a little bit of a professional track record to go off of, so he gets the nod here. Like Panzini, Kaufman has a ton of upside left to work with that will depend on the Royals development team to achieve. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid-90’s and tops around 97, but based on his body and athleticism on the mound, there’s reason to believe he could get into the upper-90’s with regularity if he continues to develop.

Kaufman’s career with the Royals has been a wild ride. He was drafted out of San Jacinto JC back in 2018 when he was still just 18 years old. Over the next two seasons he threw just 15 innings in affiliated ball and just couldn’t seem to stay on the field long enough for anyone to get an extended look at him. In his first outing with Columbia in 2021, he allowed 8 runs and did not record a single out (which is why I removed that outing from his stats listed above). Over the next month, Kaufman threw 23.2 IP in 6 outings, struck out 30, walked just 8, and had an ERA of just 1.90. From mid-June through the end of the season, Kaufman’s ERA ballooned to 6.36 and his BB% went to 11%.

So we have something of a predicament. Kaufman, like Panzini, has the tools to jump into the top 20 of our rankings if he can be in the zone more consistently AND stay healthy. He’s a legitimate SP prospect with some pretty good upside. There’s also a lot of reasons for caution along with the excitement for the upside. Kaufman will technically be entering his age-23 season this spring, but if he can get his way to Northwest Arkansas by the end of the season, the Royals will be incentivized to protect him from next winter’s Rule 5 Draft which makes things really interesting for Kaufman. There aren’t two other “under-the-radar” type of prospects in this system worth watching more than Kaufman in 2022.

#35: Tucker Bradley, OF

  • Age: 23
  • B/T: L/L
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 0″ 205′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2023
  • Acquired: Undrafted Free Agent, 2020
  • 2021 Stats (A-/A+): .285/.380/.427/.807, 6 HR, 30 XBH, 12 SB, 11.8% BB%, 20.5% K%, 125 wRC+

Tucker Bradley. Professional Hitter.

Seriously, all this guy does is hit. It is so much fun watching his plate appearances. Bradley isn’t up there looking for walks, yet he’s got a great plan in place and takes some of the most “professional” at bats in the organization. I don’t anticipate there are any scenarios where Bradley doesn’t start the year with AA Northwest Arkansas, and, theoretically, we’re talking about him being in AAA Omaha by Opening Day of 2023 when he’ll still be just 24 years old.

Bradley’s offensive floor is about as high as it gets. Great discipline, no real swing and miss issues to speak of, good enough power to have some impact, good enough runner to get by…I just don’t know what kind of ceiling he has. He doesn’t have any real elite tools. He’s a fine corner outfielder but you wouldn’t expect him to win any Gold Gloves. He’s not gonna hit 20 HR or steal 20 bases. I’m really not sure what kind of player comparison to throw on him. Can he hit enough to be like an Andrew Benintendi lite? Maybe Alex Verdugo ish? Slightly above league average hitter with just enough power to start? I’m not entirely sure what his long-term role is, but his floor is high enough that he’ll continue to get a shot for the foreseeable future.

The one thing that Bradley has going for him is that, even at #36, there’s only four other outfielders ahead of him on this list. Two are highly volatile types, and two are teenagers below him in the org. Andrew Benintendi is a free agent after 2022. Kyle Isbel can only play one of the three outfield spots. In the event that Bradley hits his way to AAA Omaha in 2022, there’s a real chance the Royals could need him in some capacity in 2023.

#34: Clay Dungan, 2B

  • Age: 25
  • B/T: L/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 1″ 190′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2022
  • Acquired: 2019 MLB Draft, Round 9
  • 2021 Stats (AA): .288/.357/.405/.762, 9 HR, 30 XBH, 28 SB, 8.0% BB%, 14.6% K%, 107 wRC+

I was fired up when Clay Dungan started his season .306 with a 122 wRC+ through his first 249 PA. His max exit velocity in that time was over 109 mph and it legitimately looked like he’d added some needed power to be considered a legitimate big league prospect. Dungan surprised many, including myself, when he was getting run with some of KC’s top prospects last Spring Training. He looked every bit the part and then came out of the gate showing off in the leadoff spot in a lineup that also consisted of MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto, and Bobby Witt Jr.

Then, whatever happened after July 11th, Dungan’s power was absolutely zapped. His ISO dropped down to .093 and his wRC+ down the stretch dropped to 93. His BB/K actually improved, his BABIP remained a steady .307, he just stopped hitting for any kind of meaningful power. It’s not the end of the world, because even if Dungan’s power never returned he could have some Nicky Lopez-lite type value at second base, but Dungan doesn’t have the elite bat-to-ball skills that Lopez does. Dungan’s ability to keep up with a guy like Nicky Lopez was going to come from that added power. Add in the fact that Dungan is already entering his age-26 season, and he’s kind of in a predicament as far as prospect status goes.

Maybe Dungan can carve out a role similar to Whit Merrifield eventually. He’s an excellent defender on the infield, he runs the bases really well, and he’s legitimately got a great approach at the plate. He’s either going to have to cut down on what’s already a low K% or find that power stroke he had in the first half of the 2021 season, but I actually think there’s a legitimate chance he does one of those two things. Dungan’s biggest issue, in my opinion, is going to be finding a place to play in what appears to be a loaded infield for Kansas City.

#33: Brewer Hicklen, OF

  • Age: 26
  • B/T: R/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 2″ 210′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2021
  • Acquired: 2017 MLB Draft, Round 7
  • 2021 Stats (AA): .243/.346/.434/.780, 16 HR, 34 XBH, 40 SB, 12.3% BB%, 31.3% K%, 110 wRC+

You talk about prospects that are almost entirely interchangeable, it’s sort of funny how similar Hicklen and Dungan are in terms of “value” in my mind. What Dungan lacks in ceiling, Hicklen lacks in floor, but they’re otherwise fairly similar prospects:

  • + Defender at a non-premium position (COF/2B)
  • Could probably hold it down at a premium position if necessary (CF/SS)
  • Runs well on the base paths
  • Some tools offensively but enough concerns that probably prevent them from being starters long-term

For Hicklen, you’re talking about a guy that’s stolen 130 bases and hit 52 career HR in 375 career games. He’s got four legitimate tools that you want in a prospect, he just doesn’t have the one that matters most: the hit tool. The best K% Hicklen has posted in a full MiLB season is 28.2%. That can work if you’re a younger kid hitting 20+ HR with regularity, but Hicklen has been a little bit older than the league throughout his career and just hasn’t been able to cut down on the strikeouts no matter where he’s been. A former WR at UAB, Hicklen has plenty of raw power and speed on the base paths to make an impact at the big leagues. He’s a great defender in the corner outfield and has looked more than serviceable in CF at times. He’s crushed LHP in his career and that could be his calling card as a bench bat should he reach the big leagues.

Like the aforementioned Haake and Dye, the Royals didn’t feel the need to protect Hicklen from the Rule 5 Draft this offseason despite having a black hole in CF throughout their organization. From July 23rd through the end of the season, Hicklen hit .298/.415/.571/.986, posted a 162 wRC+ in 195 PA, and got his K% down under 27%. I kind of wondered if that wouldn’t be enough for the Royals to add their three-time MiLB champion to the 40-man roster in December, but they declined. I still think it’s likely that Hicklen reaches the big leagues in some capacity, and the tools are there to dream on if you want to, there’s just a few too many question marks surrounding him at the moment to get him back into our top 30.

#32: Austin Cox, LHP

  • Age: 25
  • B/T: L/L
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 4″ 235′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2021
  • Acquired: 2018 MLB Draft, Round 5
  • 2021 Stats (AA): 63 IP, 3.00 ERA, 4.54 FIP, 21.5% K%, 9.6% BB%, 1.25 WHIP

Despite being drafted in the fifth round back in 2018, the Royals had more of a second round grade on Cox and were reportedly thrilled that he fell in their lap in the fifth. Cox is a mountain of a man and throws from a really high release point from the left side, giving hitters something of a unique look. Because he throws so over the top, his curveball (that I’d grade out as a 60/65 at times) as a true 12-6 look to it and gives both righties and lefties fits. If you remove his two AAA starts last fall, here are Cox’s career numbers in the minors since being drafted:

  • 227 IP
  • 236 K
  • 78 BB
  • 2.97 ERA
  • 3.67 FIP
  • 0.79 HR/9
  • 25.2% K%
  • 8.3% BB%

He’s legitimately been one of the most productive pitchers in the organization for the last few seasons. He was promoted from Low-A to High-A in his first full professional season in 2019 and didn’t miss a beat. He was a key cog in that 2019 Carolina League (A+) championship team with MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto, Seuly Matias, etc. He got off to a slow start last summer, as he didn’t break camp with the Naturals, but once he got settled in he posted an ERA of 1.91 with a 3.95 FIP over his last 11 starts (47 innings) in NWA. Despite all that, the Royals chose not to add Cox to the 40-man roster this offseason, exposing him to the Rule 5 Draft if there is one.

There’s some good justification for this too. Cox saw a dip in his velocity this summer, down 3-4 mph from where we last saw him in 2019. His strikeout rates have continued to drop as he’s risen through the minor leagues and he just doesn’t seem to have the same giddy up on any of his pitches at the moment. I’ve tried to subscribe more to the idea that the org usually knows best with their guys, especially with as good as the Royals have been on internal evaluations under GMDM. That accounts for a good bit of the reason Cox is no longer in our top 30. I still like him a lot. If he gets his velo back into the mid-90’s with regularity he’s absolutely a top 20 guy in this system. I’m a little worried about the Royals leaving him off the roster…but Cox is prime for a rebound in 2022 if he’s completely healthy.

#31: Tyler Gentry, OF

  • Age: 23
  • B/T: R/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 2″ 210′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2023
  • Acquired: 2020 MLB Draft, Round 3
  • 2021 Stats (A+): .259/.395/.449/.844, 6 HR, 16 XBH, 4 SB, 15.6% BB%, 29.6% K%, 135 wRC+

Yet another guy that had his 2021 season cut short due to an injury. In 124 PA from May 19th through June 24th, Gentry hit .283 with a 153 wRC+ and was looking like he might be a steal of a third round pick. A few days later he took his last at bat of the season. The strikeouts were a little elevated but not overly concerning considering this was Gentry’s first bout with professional pitchers. Save for the strikeouts, Gentry was doing EVERYTHING the Royals had hoped he’d do for them when they drafted him. He was walking a ton. He was hitting for power. He ran the bases well. Hell he even looked really good in left field. Then his season was cut short and we never got to find out if he would make the necessary adjustments to move to AA.

If Gentry is healthy in 2022, he’s got the talent to be a top 15 prospect in this system. He’ll need to prove that he can cut down on the strikeouts at AA, but I loved what I saw from the Crimson Tide product early last summer. Gentry was tearing up college pitching in 2020 before the season was shut down, and he didn’t seem to have missed a beat against professional pitching in 2021. We’ll see how the Royals choose to handle him this year, but Gentry has some huge helium potential for that mid-season list.

Photo Credits: Ryan Griffith (@ryanrgriffith)

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