The 2022 minor league season is here! The Royals farm system was ranked #8 in all of Major League Baseball by MLB Pipeline at the end of March. Having the #1 overall prospect in Bobby Witt, Jr. helps. Still, some of this can be attributed to the development of their prospect bats with the likes of Nick Pratto, Vinnie Pasquantino, and MJ Melendez taking off. Along with others who showed some real potential like Nick Loftin, Michael Massey, Tucker Bradley, and others. This development of their hitters and their already stacked pitching prospects helped the Royals farm system take it to the next level.
On Monday, the Kansas City Royals announced their minor league rosters to start the season. The guys broke down the rosters on the podcast earlier this week, and there is a lot to be excited about at each level. Whether it is the massively stacked lineup in Omaha or the rotation that will be looking to dominate hitters in Northwest Arkansas, no matter what level you look, prospects ought to be getting you excited for the future of the Kansas City Royals. In the following four articles, I’ll break down each team’s rosters and some players we should watch at each level. This week we are starting with the Omaha Storm Chasers.
I started with the Storm Chasers lineup because seeing how they lined up for game one makes you want to drool. One through five looked like the following:
- Clay Dungan – 2B
- Nick Pratto – 1B
- MJ Melendez – C
- Vinnie Pasquantino – DH
- Brewer Hicklen – RF
I mean…my goodness. Good luck to International League pitching this year. Most of us already know about the hype around Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez, and Vinnie Pasquantino, as they have cracked most of everyone’s top 100 prospect list. The three of them combined had 101 home runs in 2021. Needless to say that this lineup is going to mash. They all have an excellent chance to make their major league debut this year.
However, the two I am keeping my eye on are Clay Dungan and Brewer Hicklen. I recently covered Dungan in my Get to know a Royals prospect series, where I touched on how he was turning heads at spring camp even though he’s an unranked prospect. Dungan does a little bit of everything right. He’s not the guy who will blow you away on the base paths or have prestigious power that makes you go “wow.” He possesses pretty much average or above-average tools across the board. He flat-out rakes and has shown the ability to not chase pitches out of the zone. He has just a good feel for the strike zone. That, coupled with his speed and versatility to play anywhere on the diamond, could have him fast-tracked to the major leagues. He should get plenty of run-scoring opportunities in front of the “big three.”
Hicklen’s journey to the big leagues hasn’t always been easy. I was lucky enough to talk with him about his journey and share his story in one of my latest Royals Farm articles. Hicklen hit the ground running when he was first drafted and found himself being ranked in the top 30 prospects and making all-star teams right and left. 2021 was a different story as he struggled massively to begin the year. In May, he hit .164, and his struggles continued into June and July, where he hit .222 and .223, respectively. Then August came around, and Hicklen had a massive perspective switch. He ended that month slashing .329/.446/.697 with seven home runs, 16 RBI, and 16 stolen bases. He continued to stay hot throughout September. He’s always possessed the tools that make you feel like he has the potential to be a future major leaguer, and it will be interesting to see how he starts here in 2022.
The Pitching Staff
The Storm Chasers pitching staff has a few names to watch. The two I am paying most attention to are Ronald Bolanos and Austin Cox. Bolanos was placed on the 60 day IR in August of last year with a right forearm strain, so it is great to see him healthy. Acquired from the Padres with Franchy Cordero for lefty reliever Tim Hill, Bolanos has made brief appearances in the major leagues for the Royals. He’s got a great fastball that has topped out at 99 mph in shorter stints. He’s got the pure stuff that makes you think he could still make it as a starter, but his command struggles have many projecting him to be a reliever where he can rely on his fastball and above-average curveball. The key for him this year will be staying healthy and seeing if he can hone his command.
Austin Cox was a potential candidate to make the 40-man roster but was ultimately left off. The 24-year-old out of Mercer was another arm part of the fantastic 2018 draft where the Royals loaded up on pitching prospects. He’s got three excellent pitches in his fastball, curveball, and slider to go along with a changeup that is still developing. Throughout his career, he’s done a great job limiting walks but sometimes struggles with command, leaving pitches up and over the middle of the plate. Cox will have a chance to showcase his stuff at the Triple-A level this year and potentially make his case to be called up for a spot start.
The Three Veteran Arms
Daniel Mengden, Brad Peacock, and Arodys Vizcaino accepted their minor league assignments from the Kansas City Royals. Mengden flashed some of his old potential in the Korean Baseball League last year, going 8-3 with a 3.60 ERA. Peacock has been dealing with injuries but was once a dominant multi-inning reliever and spot starter. The Houston Astros posted a 3.00 ERA with 161 strikeouts in 132 innings pitched during their 2017 World Series run. Vizcaino used to be high leverage, a late-inning reliever for the Braves, who even closed some games at one point. All three have had success at the major league level, so there is a chance they could impact the big league club at some point this year if they start strong for the Storm Chasers.