2021 Standouts: Columbia Fireflies (A-)

The Kansas City Royals farm system runs deep. Dayton Moore, JJ Piccolo and company have done a great job building up a crop of prospects that give the Royals one of the best farm systems in baseball. We all know about the “big three” prospects in Bobby Witt, Jr., MJ Melendez, and Nick Pratto, but there are so many more prospects flying under-the-radar due to the attention the top-tier guys are getting.

Throughout this four-article series, I plan to highlight a few prospects from each level in 2021 that are worth keeping your eye on in 2022. I am starting with players from the 2021 Columbia Fireflies (Low-A) this week. The Fireflies struggled this year, finishing 48-71, but they still had some prospects on the team who were fun to watch. The Fireflies were managed by former major leaguer Brooks Conrad in 2021 and will be taken over by former Royal Tony Pena, Jr. in 2022.

Ben Hernandez – RHP (Royals Farm Report Ranking: #19)

Ben Hernandez was one of the most intriguing arms the Royals took in the 2020 draft. Nothing stands out to you when you look at his overall numbers in 2021, but that is because he was injured in July and missed most of July and August. He had one of the best changeups in the draft, and the pitch is just flat-out nasty. It is his go-to out pitch and develops some unreal swing-and-miss. He pairs that changeup with a lovely mid-90s fastball and has been working on a new breaking ball that showed a lot of promise in 2021.

I’m looking for Hernandez to bounce back in 2022. He is a very young and talented arm with tons of projection left. One of the goals for him will be to improve his breaking pitch this season and see if he can establish more feel for it. Developing his third pitch could put him in line to becoming a good major league starter. It’s hard to tell whether the 20-year old from Chicago will start the 2022 season in Low-A or in High-A with the Quad Cities River Bandits, but he could be a fast riser through the system if he stays healthy. His brief showing in 2021 put him on the map, but he can become one of the top prospects in the Royals system with a good showing in 2022.

Saul Garza – C (Royals Farm Report Ranking: Honorable Mention)

Since I have covered Luca Tresh in both a 2021 first year player draft update and Arizona Fall League article, I decided to take a look at another catcher that played for the Fireflies this year: Saul Garza. Coming out of the shortened 2020 amateur draft, Garza was one of the biggest prizes in the undrafted free agent class. The Louisiana State product was a leader in the LSU clubhouse and a great student who has a good baseball IQ. 

Garza finally made his professional debut last year where he split time between the Arizona Complex League (ACL) and Low-A, playing 43 of his 48 games with the Columbia Fireflies and only 5 games in the ACL. Garza has a big frame coming in at 6’3 and 227 lbs. He is able to generate some pop with his size and his power is definitely his best tool. The hit tool needs some work, but he carried a solid OPS in 2021 despite striking out 33.7% of the time with a walk rate under 10%. Given his age and the fact he spent most of 2021 with the Fireflies, we can probably expect that Garza will start the year in High-A, but there’s a bit of a logjam that could send Garza back to Columbia for at least the start of the 2022 season. As he starts to face better pitching in 2022, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts and improves his pitch recognition. 

Peyton Wilson – 2B (Royals Farm Report Ranking: #21)

I wrote about Peyton Wilson earlier in my 2021 amateur draft update. To recap, The Royals took the University of Alabama second baseman with their 2nd Round Comp Pick. He played 23 games in the Arizona Complex League and the Columbia Fireflies in Low-A. In that small sample size, he slashed .216/.341/.392 with a .733 OPS, ten walks, and seven stolen bases. It is hard to pass judgment on him with such a small number of plate appearances early in his career. 

Wilson has a lot of tools, with his speed and defensive versatility being the best of the bunch. He stands just 5′ 9″, but don’t let his size fool you. He can generate some decent power with his frame and has the look of a guy capable of hitting 30+ doubles. His approach at the plate has generated questions by some, as he can be a bit aggressive at the plate, but there is still plenty of time to develop more consistency for him. The other positive is that he can play all over the field and is a reliable fielder with good glove instincts. He most likely starts the year in Low-A again, but if the bat is as advertised, he could see his way up to High-A not too far into the season. Look for Wilson to make some adjustments at the plate in 2022 as he gets more experience under his belt in pro ball. 

Darryl Collins – OF (Royals Farm Report Ranking: #13)

Athleticism. That is the first word that comes to mind when I think about Darryl Collins. Signed out of the Netherlands in 2018, the video you watch of him makes you fall in love with the kid’s potential. Thanks to his advanced bat-to-ball skills, he has a sound hitting approach and a remarkable ability to make consistent contact. His numbers weren’t overly impressive in 2021, as he hit just .246 with five home runs and a .705 OPS, but he added 15 stolen bases to his ledger and has some of the best maximum exit velocities in the system.

The numbers put up by the 20-year old doesn’t have me too concerned. He is a work in progress and he still has the tools to put it all together. He could develop more power and has room to grow in that area, but expect him to be a contact first hitter who gets on base at an advanced clip. Collins will almost surely start the year in High-A with the Quad Cities River Bandits after spending the entire year with the Fireflies. Because of his advanced approach, he has a lot of unlocked potential left, and 2022 will be the year where he looks to make those next steps. 

Photo Credits: Columbia Fireflies

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