The 2022 minor league season is here! The Royals’ farm system was ranked #8 in 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. 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 at, some prospects get 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. We wrap up the series with the Low-A Columbia Fireflies
You can check out the other affiliates I’ve already covered here:
The outfield is my favorite part of this Fireflies team. The Fireflies outfield features players like Erick Pena, Darryl Collins, Jaswel De Los Santos, and River Town, full of athleticism and tools. The most prized prospect here is Pena. The #5 ranked international prospect from the 2019-2020 class struggled in his first season of professional ball. Despite his struggles, Pena is full of tools, and he already physically looks like a big leaguer. Improvements are needed in his hit tool so he can tap into his above-average raw power. He’s got good bat speed and shows high exit velocities when he can make contact. Given his raw tools, he will most likely be working on refining his approach at the plate this year. He started strong last week with a walk-off home run in the Fireflies opening day game.
Collins is another toolsy outfielder, and after spending all of last year in Columbia, it was a bit surprising to see him back here. The Royals must think that he needs more development before he is ready for High-A. He has advanced bat-to-ball skills, and he moves well on the basepaths. His numbers didn’t blow you away last year, but you could see a lot of his potential. Chances are he doesn’t spend too much time in Columbia, and we see him promoted to the Quad Cities River Bandits.
De Los Santos is another toolsy outfielder who spent last year in the Arizona Complex League. He sported a .806 OPS with six home runs and 22 RBIs in 42 games last year. He shows great athleticism in the outfield and has plenty of room to grow. Like Pena, his tools are a bit raw, but there is a good foundation for him to build on his first year in pro ball.
Jensen was one of the players I was most excited to see taken in the 2021 MLB Draft. He is a local kid who the Royals took in the 3rd round out of Park Hill High School and was considered one of the best hitting catchers in the draft. Unlike Frank Mozzicato and Ben Kudrna, the Royals decided to be more aggressive with Jensen assigning him to Low-A to start the year. He hit the ground running in his first professional season in 2021 and has shown flashes of his plus hit tool. He’s a strong and athletic catcher with a cannon for an arm behind the plate. He has already made some great strides defensively, so there is a good chance he could stick at the position. He got his first hit for the Fireflies on opening day, and I am excited to see how he develops this year.
Eric Cerantola, Samuel Valerio, Luinder Avila, and Ben Hernandez are some of the arms to keep your eye on in Columbia. When it comes to Cerantola, Joe Doyle stated it best in the tweet below. He had some of the best pure stuff in last year’s draft. He has struggled a bit with command and showed that in his first professional season. If he can develop even just average command and control, he could turn into something special. It will be fun to watch his elite fastball on the mound in Columbia.
When you think of Ben Hernandez, the first thing you think about is his bugs bunny change-up. It was easily the best in his draft class and might be one of the best in minor league baseball. Hernande dealt with an injury that shut him down last year,, so he will come back to Columbia, where he only threw 30.1 innings last year. He has a decent fastball to go along with his change-up and will be looking to refine his curveball in 2022. If he can stay healthy and build on his curveball, he is a name that could skyrocket up the Royals’ prospect lists this year.
Valerio is only 20-years-old and also has a high octane fastball. He topped 100 mph with it but struggled with his command, walking five batters in 10.2 innings pitched in the Arizona Complex League. He’ll get a chance to face better competition this year, but he is a work in progress.
Photo Credits: Columbia Fireflies
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