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.
This week we move to the Quad Cities River Bandits. They were loaded with prospect talent for the Kansas City Royals throughout the 2021 season. The Bandits were able to pull off a High-A Central Championship, and manager Chris Widger was named Baseball America’s Minor League Manager of the Year. The Bandits also rosters guys like Will Klein, who won MLB Pipeline’s Kansas City Royals Pitcher of the Year, and top prospects like Asa Lacy and Nick Loftin. The team was also full of other names worth watching as they take their next step in development in 2022.
Zach Haake – RHP
Haake was another arm from the fantastic pitching-heavy 2018 draft class for Kansas City. He battled an oblique injury most of the 2021 season. He only threw 15 games but compiled a 3.35 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 53.2 innings pitched. Unfortunately, injuries have hampered most of Haake’s development as he missed two months in 2019 with a shoulder issue. He couples an excellent fastball with two decent offspeed pitches in his changeup and slider. His changeup is his best out pitch as he has a good feel for it, and he can produce whiffs with his deception.
It was great to see him back and healthy during the Arizona Fall League this year. He put together some good outings. At times his fastball was in the mid-90s, showing a good feel for his off-speed pitches. I am excited to see how Haake develops in 2022 if he can stay on the field. The stuff is far from a concern. Watching some video, he is still working on improving the command of his offspeed pitches. He could end up as an excellent arm out of the bullpen at the very least. Given his age, the expectation is that he will start 2022 in Double-A
Anthony Veneziano – LHP
Anthony Veneziano was one of the arms that popped out to me the most while I covered High-A Central last year. He was named the Kansas City Royals High-A Central Pitcher of the Year. He finished the year with a 3.75 ERA and an absurd 127 strikeouts in 93.2 innings pitched. His 32.3% strikeout percentage ranked first amongst pitchers who threw over 90 innings. His stuff is electric, with his fastball hitting 100 mph at least once last year.
He is another guy who needs to work on control, and if he wants to stick as a starter, he would need to develop a much better third offering. His changeup plays very well with his electric fastball. He is one arm flying well under-the-radar in the Royals farm system and a guy I will be hawk eyeing in 2022. Next year, Veneziano should be showing off his elite stuff in Double-A for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. He has an excellent chance to be a high-leverage bullpen arm in a Royals bullpen that includes Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, and Dylan Coleman.
Kale Emshoff – C
I know you have heard much about the tremendous undrafted free agent class the Kansas City Royals had in 2020. Well, Kale Emshoff was another fantastic product of that class. The catcher out of Arkansas Little-Rock was ranked #174 by Baseball America and #146 by MLB Pipeline top players out of the 2020 draft class. Emshoff has missed a year due to COVID and is already 23.
He has a compact swing that produces a lot of power. When he hits the ball with force, he hits it with AUTHORITY! Just listen to that sound in the video below. In 63 games, Emshoff hit ten home runs and drove 45 while walking 36 times. He has a good feel for the strike zone, which helped him get on base and drive the ball the other day. The one concern in his game is that he chases pitches a lot and had a 39.4% strikeout rate last year. The good news is he offset it with an 18.2% walk rate and was still able to produce a good .852 OPS. There is a chance he starts in High-A again since the Royals are loaded with catching prospects, and he only played eight games there last year.
Michael Massey – 2B
I was trying to start the Michael Massey (along with Tucker Bradley) hype train all year long in 2021. Massey is someone I have written and tweeted about a lot. When you watch video of Massey, you can’t help but fall in love with his sweet and compact swing. One of the best attributes of his offensive side is that he makes a ton of contact. This year, he took that next step by sporting a .242 isolated power, which is damn near excellent, and hitting 21 home runs. His power numbers might be slightly inflated due to the lousy pitching in High-A Central, but I still think Massey is capable of 10 to 15 home runs a year.
People also tend to forget how incredible his glove is. He is just a fundamentally sound second baseman and took home a Minor League Gold Glove this year. Given his age, 2022 will be a significant test for Massey as he will probably face some of the best pitching in the minors in Double-A. I believe that Massey is the real deal and one of the top prospects in the Royals farm system. He has the pieces to become a solid Major League second baseman. It is not too late to get all aboard the Massey hype train, Royals fans!
Photo Credits: Josh Franzen (@PrtTimeFranimal)
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