RFR’s 2022 Preseason Royals Prospect Rankings: 15-11

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.

2018:
1) Nick Pratto
2) Khalil Lee
3) Seuly Matias
4) Hunter Dozier
5) MJ Melendez

2019:
1) MJ Melendez
2) Brady Singer
3) Daniel Lynch
4) Khalil Lee
5) Nicky Lopez

2020:
1) Bobby Witt Jr.
2) Jackson Kowar
3) Daniel Lynch
4) Brady Singer
5) Erick Pena

2021:
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 16-50 below. Now it’s time to get into the top 15! Enjoy!

#15: Jon Heasley, RHP

  • Age: 25
  • B/T: R/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 3″ 225′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
  • Acquired: 2018 MLB Draft, Round 13
  • 2021 Stats (AA): 105.1 IP, 3.33 ERA, 4.59 FIP, 27.7% K%, 7.9% BB%, 1.22 WHIP

Jon Heasley had one of my favorite seasons of any minor leaguer in the system last year. In a year that was plagued with pitchers dealing with injuries and soreness after having no season in 2020, Heasley went out there every sixth day and finished second in the organization in IP (first, really, if you count his big league innings). He didn’t lead the league in any major categories, he didn’t even really have that great of a statistical season. He just went out there and grinded out innings for his team every single time they called on him.

Heasley is kind of a weird case for me. He’s the poster boy for analytics meets scouting in my opinion. He doesn’t really do anything that you would consider to be elite. He walks more guys than you’d like for a righty that doesn’t throw all that hard. He gives up more HR than you’d like for a guy that doesn’t strike out the world. And yet…here we are talking about him having a shot at the big league rotation in 2022 because of what I’d describe as an elite “feel to pitch.” He’s a legitimately good athlete on the mound, mixes his pitches well, and has a hammer for a curveball that will be his best pitch moving forward.

Having a 60-grade curveball is great, but typically when you have a guy that doesn’t throw in the upper-90’s and has to lean on his curveball that heavily, you’re talking about a reliever long-term. I don’t want to put that tag on Heasley just yet, because I actually believe he’s good enough to hold down the back end of a big league rotation, but he’s going to have to make an adjustment or two to be anything more than a swingman in my opinion. I don’t want this to sound all negative though. Keep in mind, I think Coleman and Klein are both legitimate options to be closers in the big leagues and here we are with Heasley ranked ahead of both them. I think Heasley’s breaking ball and pitch mix makes him an excellent option in a big league bullpen if he can’t start long-term, but the ~25% chance he can start long-term was enough to push him into our top 15 here. 2022 should be a big year for Heasley in Kansas City.

#14: Maikel Garcia, SS

  • Age: 22
  • B/T: R/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 0″ 145′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
  • Acquired: International Free Agent
  • 2021 Stats (A-/A+): .291/.380/.405/.785, 4 HR, 32 XBH, 35 SB, 12.9% BB%, 15.2% K%, 119 wRC+

Maikel Garcia (he and the next guy on this list) might be the best Royals prospect(s) that no one talks about. There were 192 hitters age 21 or younger that got at least 250 PA between Low-A and High-A in 2021. Garcia ranked:
– 28th in OBP
– 27th in BA
– 7th in BB/K
– 6th in SB
– 5th in SwStr%

Garcia doesn’t hit for much power at present, which drug down his overall offensive production a little bit, but his bat-to-ball skills and overall plate discipline is borderline elite for a player his age and at that level. Add that in to the fact that Garcia is a plus defender at SS and a plus runner on the bases, and you have the beginnings of what might be the Royals next SS. The Royals thought enough of Garcia to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft this past offseason by adding him to their 40-man roster. A soon-to-be 22-year old that’s never taken a single at bat in AA. This isn’t exactly the typical profile of a position player taken in the Rule 5 Draft, but that ought to tell you quite a bit about what the Royals think of Maikel Garcia’s potential.

There’s one thing I don’t love about Garcia. His swing is…well…not exactly what you’d expect from someone who hits for very little present power. There’s a term scouts use known as “stepping in the bucket” and Maikel Garcia is the poster boy for that. Essentially, his lead leg ends up moving backwards, away from home plate, before he swings. This is not an inherently bad thing! Khris Davis mashed 40 HR a year with a similar mechanic. That’s just not at all what Garcia is offensively. It hasn’t affected him at all so far in his professional career, but I kind of wonder if it’s not actually zapping some of his present power, specifically to RCF, and if the issue won’t be made more of an issue at the upper levels against better breaking balls.

Anyway. In a down year, maybe even by the end of 2022, Garcia would be a great candidate for the top 10 in this system. There’s just so much depth that the Royals have at the top of their list right now. Assuming that Angel Zerpa, Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, and Nick Pratto all graduate in 2022, I full expect Maikel Garcia to be in our top 10 next preseason with a good chance to be top 5 if he has a good year between AA and AAA.

#13: Darryl Collins, OF

  • Age: 20
  • B/T: L/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 2″ 185′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2022
  • Acquired: International Free Agent
  • 2021 Stats (A-): .246/.367/.338/.705, 5 HR, 16 XBH, 15 SB, 13.6% BB%, 14.4% K%, 103 wRC+

For my money, Collins and Garcia are fairly similar in terms of overall prospect value. Neither hit for much power at present, both have elite bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline traits, but what separates the two is where Garcia has some extreme defensive value potential, Collins has some extreme power potential. That might sound funny if you look at Collins’ numbers. “How can a kid with an .091 ISO in Low-A have some extreme power potential?” This, my friends, is where analytics meet scouting. Collins only hit 16 total XBH in over 380 PA in 2021, yes, but he also posted one of the lowest GB% rates in the organization last year and posted one of the best “max exit velocities” in the organization as well. He hit at least one ball over 113 mph, which rivals guys like Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto, and Vinnie Pasquantino for the hardest hit ball in the system last summer.

So how do we evaluate this? Sure the kid hit a couple of baseballs harder than most guys are capable, what about the other 380 PA? And to that I say, fair enough. Let me give you this though. Over the last 16 years, here is a list of teenagers to play in Low-A or High-A with a better BB/K, wRC+, AND SwStr% than Darryl Collins had last year (0.95 BB/K, 103 wRC+, 7.0% SwStr%):
– Wander Franco, 2019
– Luis Urias, 2016

That’s it. That’s the list. The ability to put the bat on the ball, the plate discipline, and overall offensive production that Collins showed last year with Low-A Columbia is almost completely unprecedented for a teenager playing full-season ball. The one thing that Collins doesn’t have going for him that those two do is that he’s almost certainly going to be a LF-only defender, and he’ll probably never be a guy that steals more than 10 bases or so in the big leagues. He’s just not that kind of athlete. He is, however, the best offensive prospect that the Royals have under the age of 21 right now. He’s going to have to show us some of that untapped power to surpass guys like Erick Pena, Frank Mozzicato, Ben Kudrna, and other youngsters on this list, but if Collins even comes close to finding a way to hack into that 113 mph exit velocity more often, he will almost certainly be a top-100 prospect this time next year.

#12: Erick Pena, OF

  • Age: 19
  • B/T: L/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 3″ 205′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2023
  • Acquired: International Free Agent
  • 2021 Stats (AZ): .161/.256/.314/.570, 3 HR, 14 XBH, 4 SB, 9.6% BB%, 36.5% K%, 52 wRC+

If you’ve been reading these write ups, you may recall a comment I made in Wilmin Candelario’s write up about how I’ve had a couple different people tell me to pay no mind to Arizona Complex League stats from 2021. Essentially, the thought seems to be that the pitching quality was so bad throughout the league that it was almost impossible to get a good look at any of the hitters on a nightly basis. I didn’t see a single game myself, COVID has prevented a lot in that regard, but I tend to trust the people that know more about it than I do.

I say all of that to set up this…don’t pay too much attention to Erick Pena’s stats last summer. There are some things we can take away, sure, but don’t take it as gospel. There was some concern that Pena may struggle with swing and miss issues and I think we can acknowledge that a bit through his K%. There was also hope that he would have tremendous upside with legitimate power output and I can tell you from the limited video we did get that there is some serious pop in his bat. Despite the overall poor numbers, there were 457 hitters to take at least 10 at bats in Arizona last summer and Pena finished 22nd in doubles with 10. We know Pena moves well on the bases and in the outfield, we know he’s going to drive the ball authority when he makes contact, the biggest question on Pena entering 2021 was going to be his contact rate and I don’t think it’s fair to judge him too much just yet because of the reports we have out of Arizona.

Pena legitimately has some of the better hands I’ve seen on a teenager. He still hasn’t turned 19 years old and has some valuable experience already having appeared in a big league Spring Training game and having an entire summer in Arizona. The tools speak for themselves. The record signing bonus speaks for itself. The makeup is off the charts. Legitimately the only concern moving forward is going to be his plate discipline and contact skills. Sound familiar? This is basically the same report folks had for Bobby Witt Jr. before he solidified himself as one of baseball’s top three prospects. Not that Pena is quite as good as Witt Jr., but you get the point. He’s got tremendous upside if he can make more contact. If he goes to Columbia this spring and hits as a 19-year old, he’s going to get his fair share of discussion for mid-season top 100 lists. I know it’s been a couple of years since he signed, but remember, he’s still 18! Keep that holding pattern for just a few more months.

#11: Frank Mozzicato, LHP

  • Age: 18
  • B/T: L/L
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 3″ 175′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2025
  • Acquired: 2021 MLB Draft, Round 1
  • 2021 Stats: N/A

Here we are, one spot away from our preseason top-10, and we have the #7 overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft. It would be fair to ask why we would have the 7th overall pick of the MLB Draft ranked 11th overall on the Royals preseason list. To that, I would remind folks that the MLB Draft does not work like the NFL Draft. A player’s draft position means much less than their signing bonus from a pure talent/evaluation perspective. Mozzicato, despite being drafted 7th overall, signed for nearly $1.5M less than the player drafted right after him at #8 overall. His $3.55M signing bonus is just $550,000 more than the Royals signed Ben Kudrna for, and Kudrna was drafted 43rd overall. Kudrna’s $3M signing bonus at #43 was over $2M more expensive than the player drafted BEFORE him at #38 overall. See why this gets confusing?

Anyway, just keep in mind that Mozzicato’s ranking on this list is in NO WAY an indictment on the player. If you’ve been following this list closely, you probably already have a good idea of how our top 10 will break down, so let’s analyze this quickly. In no particular order…
– Kurdrna
– Marsh
– Melendez
– Pasquantino
– Pratto
– Witt Jr.
– Bowlan
– Loftin
– Lacy
– Zerpa

On that list of players ranked ahead of Mozzicato, you have:
– same draft class, similar signing bonus
– struck out nearly 40% of hitters at AA
– MJ Melendez
– same number of K, XBH, and BB at A+/AA last year
– Nick Pratto
– Bobby Witt Jr.
– former first round pick with success at A+
– Asa Lacy
– 22-year old that’s already debuted in the big leagues

Again…this is in no way an indictment on Mozzicato. This system runs DEEP. The only player I’d even consider bumping from our top 10 for Mozzicato is Kudrna, and we’ve had Kudrna over Mozzicato since before the draft last summer. We love Ben Kudrna, and we love Frank Mozzicato. Mozzicato is legit. This just has way more to do with the Royals being loaded than it does with Mozzicato.

ANYWAY.

Mozzicato is a really fascinating pitching prospect. The tall, lanky lefty already throws 92-94 and has plenty of projection left as he grows and matures. He throws his curveball with borderline elite spin rates, something you can’t really teach a young pitcher. There have been folks to go as far as to compare his curveball to Barry Zito and, while I’m not there yet, it’s certainly a great pitch and should be his best secondary offering as he moves through the minor leagues.

Five or six years ago, there’s not much chance I’d be confident in the Royals developing Mozzicato into a big league pitcher. But if you read my write up on Ben Hernandez, you know that I’m really excited about this group of young arms because I think Royals fans are going to witness a complete overhaul in the organization’s pitching development philosophy. Already this offseason we’ve seen several videos of guys pulling down triple digits in their preseason work. This isn’t something that would’ve happened ten years ago. The Royals were sort of infamous for micromanaging young arms and just, frankly, being behind the 8-ball when it came to developing young arms.

I don’t believe this to be the case anymore. I really think the Royals have made a massive step in the right direction and I think John Sherman will have a bigger impact than some may realize. Sherman comes from Cleveland where they’ve been turning pitchers into Cy Young candidates like it’s normal lately. Not that I in anyway expect KC to catch Cleveland or anything, but if you told me that Mozzicato would be a good big league starter for KC, I would absolutely buy that, where I may not have had much hope not too long ago. Royals fans should be really excited about the future of this ball club, because they’re not just oozing with talent, they’ve not got the system in place to develop them as well.

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