RFR’s 2022 Preseason Royals Prospect Rankings: 30-26

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” and players 31-50 below. Now it’s time to get into the top 30! Enjoy!

#30: Nate Eaton, 2B/3B

  • Age: 25
  • B/T: R/R
  • Ht/Wt: 5′ 11″ 185′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2021
  • Acquired: 2018 MLB Draft, Round 21
  • 2021 Stats (A+): .243/.344/.371/.715, 6 HR, 20 XBH, 23 SB, 11.5% BB%, 23.4% K%, 102 wRC+

For the first time since being drafted back in 2018, Nate Eaton has cracked our top 30 Royals prospect rankings. Eaton missed a chunk of the 2021 season due to an injury, and between the injury and the lack of power (.127 ISO) he showed as a 24-year old in High-A, I admittedly forgot to rank him in our mid-season list last year. That was an egregious oversight, as I didn’t mean to totally leave him off our list, but he wouldn’t have been in the top 30 regardless.

No, it was sometime during the Arizona Fall League that I really came around on Eaton. Eaton started off “prospect finishing school” by hitting .400 for the first couple of weeks. He wound up hitting .317 with an .815 OPS in 20 games, but it was somewhere in the middle that I really started looking a little deeper at the Royals super-utility infielder. The swing is beautiful. The kid has one of the best arms of any infielder in the system. He handles the hot corner like a big leaguer and I really think he could probably play second base in The Show as well. He’s stolen 64 bases in 282 professional games. The power hasn’t come around just yet, but he was one of just 20 players in the High-A Central with a SwStr% below 10%, so his bat-to-ball skills have been plenty good in the minor leagues.

It’s hard to describe a player that just does everything well. A jack of all trades. A swiss army knife. A well-rounded player. A ball player! Eaton just does every thing well on the baseball field. He doesn’t have any truly elite traits. He doesn’t have Nicky Lopez’ hit tool. He doesn’t have MJ Melendez’ power. He doesn’t field as well as Nick Loftin. He doesn’t run as well as Bobby Witt Jr. He just does a little bit of EVERYTHING and the only real weakness he may have is that he’s a little bit older than the rest of the guys he’s playing against. He’ll enter 2022 as a 25-year old presumably bound for AA, which is ironically the same age Whit Merrifield was when he left AA Northwest Arkansas for AAA Omaha. If Eaton can get to Omaha by the end of the season, I don’t see why he wouldn’t have plenty of time left to carve himself out a big league role similarly as Merrifield did (not saying he’s that good, just that he’s not crazy old or anything).

Anyway. That’s a lot of words to basically say that I really like Nate Eaton as a big league infield prospect, even if he may never be a superstar or anything. It was awesome to see him healthy in the Arizona Fall League against some of the best arms in the minors. 2022 will be a big test for the former VMI draftee. If he hits well in AA, there’s a pretty good chance the Royals could add him to the 40-man roster next winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.

#29: Omar Hernandez, C

  • Age: 20
  • B/T: R/R
  • Ht/Wt: 5′ 11″ 170′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2022
  • Acquired: International Free Agent
  • 2021 Stats (A-): .174/.233/.274/.507, 3 HR, 16 XBH, 3 SB, 6.4% BB%, 25.8% K%, 40 wRC+

So, I probably already know what you’re thinking, and I get it. That line from Hernandez in 2021 is bad. Hell, it’s awful. The 19-year old Cuban backstop looked like he was in over his head at the plate at times a bit last year and it showed in probably 164 of his 264 PA. Offensively, Hernandez had a rough year and there’s no way of sugarcoating that.

However, Hernandez may have had the best defensive season of any prospect in the Royals system. As a 19-year old whose only prior professional experience came two years ago in the Arizona Summer League when he was just 17, Hernandez handled the pitching staff in Columbia last summer like a seasoned veteran. Some of you may remember Sebastian Rivero, whom we ranked higher on this list than his offensive stat line ever justified. Rivero was known for his defensive prowess and even made his big league debut last year to fill in for an injured Cam Gallagher. Omar Hernandez is legitimately every bit as good defensively and may even be better on account of the fact that I think Hernandez will have the better arm eventually.

That kind of defensive ability will carry a player through the minor leagues. We have already seen it with guys like Sebastian Rivero, Humberto Arteaga, and even Bubba Starling to a lesser extent. I would bet you money that Omar Hernandez will appear in the big leagues at some point in his career, which is worthy of a top-30 ranking in and of itself. If you’re concerned about the bat impacting his ceiling, I get it, but there was actually a lot to like about Hernandez’ bat at times last year. He didn’t hit even half as many HR as Rivero hit in Low-A, but a couple of the HR Hernandez did hit were absolutely hammered. Hernandez didn’t get to his power very often, but I really believe he’s got some raw power that he didn’t get to show off last year. He’s got a sweet, simple swing that should allow him to make contact as he moves up the ranks, and the approach should naturally improve with time. I’m going to stop trying to justify the ranking now. Just keep in mind that Hernandez is one of the best defenders in the entire organization and, while he was bad at the plate in 2021, I really believe there’s room for growth in there that could allow him to even be a starter in the big leagues eventually.

#28: Daniel Vazquez, SS

  • Age: 18
  • B/T: R/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 0″ 150′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2025
  • Acquired: International Free Agent
  • 2021 Stats (DSL): .186/.280/.265/.544, 1 HR, 5 XBH, 4 SB, 11.9% BB%, 26.3% K%, 62 wRC+

The prize of the Royals 2021 (2020? Idk. He was signed last January.) international free agent class, Vazquez is an uber-athletic shortstop with a beautiful swing and plenty of room to grow into some power. I mentioned this last time we ranked an international free agent this high (Erick Pena), but a lot of this is projection and leaning on the Royals scouting staff. The Royals wouldn’t have handed Vazquez $1.5M at the age of 17 if they didn’t think he was worth the money. For comparison, the 49th pick in the 2021 MLB Draft had a slot value of $1.51M, so Vazquez basically got the same amount of money as a late 2nd round pick in last year’s draft when he signed.

Vazquez didn’t have the best statistical season in the DSL last summer, but he missed some time due to an injury and is still just 17 years old. His stats are hardly worth mentioning and I almost didn’t include them for that reason. If you just evaluate the tools, Vazquez is one of the most exciting athletes in the entire system. So much so that Baseball America had him listed as the Royals 14th best prospect last season. I’m a little hesitant to rank him above some guys with more of a track record, but it should give you an idea of the upside that Vazquez possesses if he can prove to handle himself in the Arizona Complex League next summer. This is a kid with top-100 potential if it all works out in the Royals favor.

#27: Yefri Del Rosario, RHP

  • Age: 22
  • B/T: R/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 2″ 180′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2021
  • Acquired: Minor League Free Agent (Braves fiasco)
  • 2021 Stats (AA): 70.2 IP, 5.99 ERA, 5.22 FIP, 24.0% K%, 10.8% BB%, 1.61 WHIP

Before you look at the ERA and balk at him being here on our rankings, keep a few things in mind:
1. Yefri Del Rosario was one of the five youngest pitchers in all of AA last season
2. Del Rosario had not appeared in a professional baseball game since 2018 due to an injury in 2019 and then COVID in 2020
3. There were only 38 pitchers at AA last year aged 23 or younger to throw at least 70 innings, and Del Rosario had the 18th best K/9
4. The difference between Del Rosario’s FIP and xFIP was the 6th highest among those 38 pitchers, suggesting he was probably getting a little unlucky despite the obviously high FIP

I’m honestly not trying to sugarcoat what was an objectively disappointing statistical season last year, I’m just asking you to overlook it for the bigger picture. Del Rosario is still just a 22-year old with an electric fastball and absolute hammer for a curveball. In 2018, Del Rosario posted a 3.19 ERA with Low-A Lexington, becoming one of just six 18-year olds to post an ERA below 3.50 between Low-A and High-A since 2014 (min. 70 IP). The other pitchers on that list:
– Julio Urias (2014)
– Mike Soroka (2016)
– Sixto Sanchez (2017)
– Luis Patino (2019)
– Eury Perez (2021)

That’s a list made up entirely of top 100 prospects. I’m not going to try to convince you that Del Rosario would for sure be a top 100 prospect right now had he stayed healthy, but I’m telling you that the odds would certainly have been in his favor. Battling an ulnar nerve issue like Del Rosario had is no joke (speaking from experience) and can take a while to get the full feeling and strength back in your hand and wrist. Having the 2020 season off to heal and get stronger may have been a blessing in disguise for the young RHP, as he was able to pitch what was mostly a full season for Northwest Arkansas in 2021.

I’m going to choose to look at the fact that Del Rosario was able to throw 70+ innings for NWA in 2021 as a qualifying success for the entire season despite the poor ERA and FIP. He’s still so young that the Royals could probably afford to send him back to AA this spring and not have to worry about it. I was honestly shocked they sent him straight to AA in 2021, but that ought to tell you what they think of this kid and his arm if they were willing to throw him into a AA rotation where he was the youngest pitcher in the league two and a half years since pitching last. I’m taking that as a vote of confidence, and I’m still confident this kid is going to be a really good big league reliever for the Royals. (This, of course, assumes he doesn’t get poached in the Rule 5 Draft if they wind up having it.)

#26: Carter Jensen, C

  • Age: 18
  • B/T: L/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 1″ 210′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2025
  • Acquired: 2021 MLB Draft, Round 3
  • 2021 Stats (AZ): .281/.388/.404/.792, 1 HR, 4 XBH, 4 SB, 14.9% BB%, 29.9% K%, 115 wRC+

If I thought Jensen would be a catcher long-term, he’d probably be a little higher on this list. It’s not that I don’t think he CAN catch long-term, he’s certainly got the arm for it and I think he moves pretty well behind home plate, I just don’t think that he WILL. The Royals are absolutely loaded with talented backstops. I actually think it would be in their best interest to move Jensen out from behind home plate and just let him focus on hitting. I’ve seen the kid play the corner infield and I think there’s enough there to get him through the minors while his bat carries a majority of the freight.

Jensen legitimately hits the ball as hard or harder than any high school kid I’ve ever seen. In one game in particular last spring I watched him hit a line drive off the fence in RCF that never got more than about 10 feet off the ground. With a wood bat. His HR totals haven’t shown up yet, but part of that is the attack angle with which he approaches the baseball. If he can tweak his swing ever so slightly to create a little more lift, he’ll be a 20+ HR hitter every year. The power is legit. It’s not quite Seuly Matias or MJ Melendez power, but he is firmly in that second tier of power hitters in this organization. Add that in with a lightning quick, level swing, and he shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping the swings and misses down either.

Jensen is going to be a lot of fun to watch for the next couple of years. The Park Hill High School graduate grew up around Kansas City and should be an easy guy for Royals fans to root for should he make the big leagues. The bat is certainly going to be his carrying tool and if he ever reaches potential, he could remind some of a guy like Kyle Schwarber at the plate. There’s a ton of upside here, and while high school catchers are historically a bad investment, I don’t think that will be an issue here by the time Jensen reaches AA. I’m stoked to see if he can break camp with the Low-A squad so we can get an extended look at him.

Photo Credits: Doc Riddle (@TheGrandOldGame)

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