RFR’s 2022 Preseason Royals Prospect Rankings: 10-6

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 11-50 below. Now it’s time to get into the top 10! Enjoy!

#10: Ben Kudrna, RHP

  • Age: 19
  • B/T: R/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 3″ 175′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2025
  • Acquired: 2021 MLB Draft, Round 2
  • 2021 Stats: N/A

Here’s an excerpt from our writeup on Frank Mozzicato in our 15-11 article:
“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. The point really is that Kudrna shouldn’t be seen as an ordinary second round pick, because his signing bonus suggests he’s got the talent of some of the guys taken in the first round. And, to be honest, he was probably under scouted a bit on a national media level due to being in a less competitive area of Kansas City. Kudrna can absolutely chuck it on the mound. He’s been up to 97 on the bump in game action and we posted a video on Twitter, from his IG, of Kudrna pulling down 103 this offseason. The kid currently sits more like 93-95, but he’s got so much room to grow that I could legitimately see him siting in the upper-90’s flirting with 100 mph when he reaches the upper levels of the minors.

The ceiling on Kudrna is that of a legitimate ace in the big leagues. There is nothing this kid can’t achieve if everything breaks his way. That’s a laundry list of breaks that any pitcher needs to catch, including good health, good development, etc., but Kudrna has every tool a pitcher needs to become an ace. We’ll see if the Royals development staff really has turned over a new leaf, but early results are promising and I seriously could not be more excited to watch Kudrna, Mozzicato, Panzini, and Ben Hernandez next summer. Hopefully we’ll get to see these guys start 2022 with Low-A Columbia, but it will be an anxious couple of months until we find out for sure. There’s always TINSTAAPP to be cautious of, but I’m really optimistic about the future of these young arms.

#9: Alec Marsh, RHP

  • Age: 24
  • B/T: R/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 2″ 220′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2022
  • Acquired: 2019 MLB Draft, Round 2
  • 2021 Stats (AA): 25.1 IP, 4.97 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 39.6% K%, 12.3% BB%, 1.30 WHIP

There were rumors surrounding the idea that Alec Marsh could potentially pitch his way onto top-100 lists last year with a good season between AA and AAA. Marsh was doing just that through his first six starts of the season, but then the injury bug bit him in June and Marsh did not return until he got a couple of innings in the Arizona Fall League. It’s pretty easy to see why we were so excited for Marsh heading into 2021. The fastball was nearing triple digits, the slider was making AA hitters look stupid, and he struck out nearly 40% of the hitters he faced in his first go outside of rookie ball. The walks were a little bit of an issue, but it was his first 25 innings of game action since 2019 so I’m willing to look past that a bit.

Marsh has legitimate top-100 stuff when he’s healthy. Hell, he might have the most advanced repertoire in the system when he’s healthy. In the sake of transparency, I almost ranked Marsh as the best pitching prospect in the system on my personal list. I still wound up with him right around here, but I realllllly wanted to make him my #1 pitcher. The stuff is legitimately that good. Again, a fastball that sits in the upper-90’s, a wipeout slider, and a really nice third offering in his changeup. I cautioned him down a little bit due to the walks and the health concerns, but I mean it when I say he could easily pitch his way onto top-100 lists if he can prove he’s healthy this spring. If he hasn’t debuted by mid-season, and some of the other guys on this list graduate, he could flirt with our #1 overall ranking.

#8: Angel Zerpa, LHP

  • Age: 22
  • B/T: L/L
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 0″ 22′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
  • Acquired: International Free Agent
  • 2021 Stats (A+/AA): 87 IP, 4.34 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 29.2% K%, 7.4% BB%, 1.26 WHIP

I was dead wrong about Angel Zerpa. Here’s my writeup on Zerpa from last preseason:
“I’m not ready to crown Zerpa as the next “guy” just yet, but he is certainly impressive. The lefty can flash mid to upper-90’s with his fastball and has a hard breaking ball to go with it. The Royals added him to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft this past offseason, and it’s easy to understand why. Zerpa was really good in rookie ball last year and should move pretty quickly through the lower levels of MiLB.”

This, mind you, after I think we left him off our preseason top 75 in 2020 (IIRC) and I spent the 2021 offseason saying I thought he’d be a reliever long-term. I just couldn’t have been more wrong about the development that Angel Zerpa would see in his fastball. It’s a legitimate plus pitch now, sitting in the mid-90’s, and I think it’s another great example of why Royals fans should be really excited for the future of the Royals pitching development staff. Zerpa has always had plus command. He’s always shown a good feel to pitch. His slider and changeup have always shown good shape. He just didn’t throw very hard and I really didn’t believe there was any deception to his delivery.

It did not take me very long in 2021 to realize how wrong I was about that. His fastball now carries with excellent velocity, his slider can be a wipeout offering at times, and his changeup is a legitimate big league offering to keep right-handed hitters from camping on his fastball. I was genuinely in awe at how his fastball played against big league hitters in that one start he made last summer. I think there’s a legitimate chance that Zerpa breaks camp with the big league club, and I think he’s got as good a shot as anyone for the fifth spot in the rotation. Even if they break him in with the bullpen, I think he’ll be an excellent left-handed relief option until there’s a need for him in the rotation. Needless to say, I’m REALLY excited to see this kid in 2022. Zerpa offers the Royals a few things:
1. Results in their international free agent investments
2. Results in their pitching development process
3. A legitimately good, young, controllable left-handed starter to go with that 2018 draft class

Be excited, Royals fans. There’s more coming.

#7: Vinnie Pasquantino, 1B

  • Age: 24
  • B/T: L/L
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 4″ 245′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: 2022
  • Acquired: 2019 MLB Draft, Round 11
  • 2021 Stats (A+/AA): .300/.394/.563/.957, 24 HR, 64 XBH, 12.5% BB%, 12.5% K%, 154 wRC+

I am not over exaggerating, even a little bit, when I tell you that Vinnie Pasquantino had one of the best offensive seasons we’ve seen in the minor leagues in a long time. I wrote an article back in August that kind of put into context just how good he was, but here’s a quick look at what I’m talking about.

In 2021, Vinnie Pasquantino was a 23-year old that split time between High-A and AA. In 237 PA at the AA level, he walked more than he struck out, hit more XBH than he struck out, and posted a wRC+ of 153. Here’s a quick list of other hitters to do that since 2006:
– Alex Bregman 2016
– Mookie Betts 2014

That’s it…that’s the list. That’s the number of hitters age 23 or younger to match the feat that Pasquantino accomplished in 2021.

By absolutely no means am I suggesting that you should expect Alex Bregman or Mookie Betts level production from Pasquantino. For one, Bregman was 22 and Betts was 21 when they accomplished the feats that Pasquantino accomplished at the age of 23. For two, the offensive environments were a little more friendly in 2021 than they’d been in the past, but wRC+ cuts through that so that’s only sort of an asterisk. Thirdly, Betts and Bregman both play Gold Glove caliber defense on the corners while Pasquantino is a 1B/DH only, so there’s that to consider as well.

I am, however, absolutely telling you that Pasquantino is going to be a productive big league bat in some capacity. He may not be a perennial All-Star or anything, but what if you could get something between Billy Butler and Kendrys Morales out of him? You’d certainly take that in the middle of your lineup for the next half decade or so from a guy on his rookie contract. Here’s a quick look at Butler and Morales for reference:

  • Billy Butler, 2009: 21 HR, 51 doubles, 122 wRC+, 1.8 fWAR
  • Kendrys Morales, 2015: 22 HR, 41 doubles, 131 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR

I don’t think it’s unrealistic at all to think that Pasquantino could give you that at some point. Hell, his Steamer Projections for 2022 already think he’s capable of a 117 wRC+, meaning he’d be 17% better than league average. Not that the projections are ever perfect, but they usually give you an idea of what a player’s minor league numbers mean in a historical context and Vinnie’s are off the freaking charts. He has absolutely earned any top-100 conversations that he’ll be a part of, and I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that he could wind up slotting into the big league lineup every day by the end of July. The Royals will need to move one or both of Carlos Santana and Ryan O’Hearn to make room for him, but that shouldn’t be an issue. It is 100% fair to be super excited about Pasquantino’s future with this club.

#6: Jonathan Bowlan, RHP

  • Age: 25
  • B/T: R/R
  • Ht/Wt: 6′ 6″ 240′
  • Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
  • Acquired: 2018 MLB Draft, Round 2
  • 2021 Stats (AA): 17 IP, 25 K, 3 BB, 13 H

I got to watch Bowlan’s first three starts of the 2021 season on MiLB.tv, and then I was at the game in Springfield when he tore his UCL. When I tell you that Jonathan Bowlan was about to sky-rocket up prospect lists…do y’all remember back in Spring Training of 2019? Chris Paddack came out pitching for San Diego and was blowing the doors off big league hitters. He made the Opening Day roster, almost instantly jumped into the top 50 or so of every major top-100 list, and became like the next big thing for a few weeks? Jonathan Bowlan was about to do that in 2021.

I can’t describe to you how excited I was during Bowlan’s 0.2 inning performance in Springfield. He was popping 97 at the top of the zone and legitimately making the Cardinals’ best hitters look stupid. I’ve seen Bowlan throw no-hitters in the minor leagues before. I have never seen him look as dominant as he did for two batters last May. That was different. That was a Bowlan I hadn’t seen yet. We always knew the control was there. He’s probably got the best command of any pitcher in the organization. The slider and changeup always figured to play as average secondary offerings to the fastball. The fastball has always been fine, typically 92-94 with some heavy sink to it. But last May he had figured out how to elevate the zone and bring some high octane velocity with it.

Tommy John Surgery is no guarantee. I know we kind of like to chalk it up as just another thing in the baseball community, and it’s certainly still worlds better than having shoulder issues, but it’s fair to be cautious about how quickly Bowlan can return with that level of stuff. If he ever fully recovers. So far, everything sounds great in his rehab and throwing progress. I have no reason to think that he won’t make a full recovery and be the same guy I saw in Springfield again. I really only caution you to say this: without the Tommy John Surgery, Bowlan would probably be our top pitching prospect right now. Not that he had the same kind of dominant stuff as Asa Lacy, just that would be having more success at a higher level than Lacy and may well have debuted in the big leagues last September.

Whenever Bowlan is ready for game action again, it’ll be tough to peg where he’ll start his season, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it was with AAA Omaha. The Royals had to add Bowlan to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, which means he’s only one injury away from being called up once he gets his feet under him. I know the 2018 draft has already produced five pitchers that have made big league starts for Kansas City, but there’s still a non-zero chance that Bowlan winds up being the best of the bunch.

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19 thoughts on “RFR’s 2022 Preseason Royals Prospect Rankings: 10-6

  1. Hi Alex. What will it take for the Royals to send all of their top 2021 pitching prospects to Columbia i.e. Kudrna, Mozzicato, et.al. I’d make Hernandez part of that group, too. I believe it would be exciting for the fans and development. Any word on Marsh’s rehab – estimate on return? With Bowlan’s injury, the top 10 ranking is bold. What does Omaha do with both Pratto and Vinnie P? The Royals certainly like to stick with their veterans like Santana, O’Hearn, Dozier.

    Like

    • Hey Dave. Good to hear from you.

      1) I don’t think much. Good health and a good showing in ST and I think all 4 go to Columbia. Luinder Avila could be in that mix as well. Fun group.

      2) Marsh pitched in the Fall League and should be good to go.

      3) TJS ain’t what it used to be and Bowlan is that good.

      4) 1B/DH/RF 👀

      Like

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