Man, it feels like just yesterday the minor league season started and I was diving into the Get to know a Royals prospect series to introduce readers to some of the fun prospects for the Kansas City Royals. Now the season has wrapped up and we are all preparing for a long offseason until we get to enjoy minor league baseball again. The Royals minor league affiliates all experienced flashes of success and struggles. There were many top prospects who graduated and the emergence of new potential risers in the system. All in all, it was exciting to see many of the young prospects make their major league debut and the new development of others.
The minor league playoffs have started, but unfortunately for the Columbia Fireflies and Quad Cities River Bandits their season ended. The Columbia Fireflies struggled out of the gate, but made significant strides in the second half, almost capturing a second half season title. It was a complete 180 turnaround. The Quad Cities River Bandits unfortunately sat at the bottom of the standings all year long. Besides some of the struggles, there were great individual performances. That brings us to our Players and Pitchers of the Year awards. In case you missed it, I provided write ups for the Arizona Complex League Players and Pitchers of the Year (Roger Leyton and Mauricio Veliz) in our August Players of the Month article. Here are the Royals Farm Report High-A and Low-A Players of the Year.
Quad Cities River Bandits (High-A)
Player of the Year: Peyton Wilson, 2B
Stats: 60 R, 91 H, 16 2B, 3 3B, 14 HR, 44 RBI, 41 BB, 97 K, 23 SB, .268/.359/.456, .816 OPS
Peyton Wilson flat out dominated High-A this year. Luca Tresh wasn’t far behind him, but it was hard to ignore what Wilson did at the plate and on the base paths. His plus-plus speed was hard to ignore as he stole 23 bases in 88 games. He paired that with a 128 wRC+ and double digit home runs. MLB Pipeline has Wilson ranked as the Royals #23 prospect, but it is clear he is making an argument that he should be top 20. He is an athlete who can play all over the diamond and played a majority of his games at 2B and CF. He’ll need to cut down on his strikeouts just a tad to hit his ceiling, but he is very much showing off why the Kansas City Royals believed in him enough to take with one of their comp picks. Already 22-years-old, Wilson should start in Double-A next year.
Pitcher of the Year: Adrian Alcantara, RHP
Stats: 7-5, 4.57 ERA, 108.1 IP, 105 H, 55 ER, 36 BB, 123 SO, 1.30 WHIP
Strikeouts were Adrian Alcantara’s calling card. He sported a solid 10.22 K/9 and made some significant strides on the mound in 2022. The 23-year-old RHP has been around with the Royals for quite a while as he signed as a free agent in 2017. He’s taken a while to develop, but really started to show signs that he could stick on the mound as a starter. He was a tale of two stories this year, dominating the months of April, July and August, but really struggling in May and June. Keeping the ball in the ballpark and walks seem to be where Alcantara struggles the most. His BB/9 was 2.99 and he will really have to reign in the walk if he wants to have success as he moves forward to the higher levels. Regardless, 2022 was a step in the right direction for Alcantara as he looks to continue to develop as a starter.
Columbia Fireflies (Low-A)
Player of the Year: River Town, OF
Stats: 47 R, 70 H, 18 2B, 3 3B, 12 HR, 45 RBI, 52 BB, 64 SO, 18 SB, .248/.386/.461, .847 OPS
I spent so much time going back and forth between Carter Jensen and River Town for the Player of the Year award. Both of them had incredible years in their own way. The one knock I had on him when I was debating who to give the award to was that he had less games and at bats for Columbia since he was called up to High-A to play his last 26 games there. I felt it was difficult to punish him for being called up. He almost caught Jensen in RBIs, stole 10 more bases, had more home runs, and wasn’t far behind Jensen in doubles for playing less games in Columbia. River Town hit the ground running in Columbia, showing off both his speed and power. The 15th rounder out of Dallas Baptist put himself on the map in terms of Royals prospects. His solid plate discipline, feel for the strike zone, and ability to get on base should help carry him as he reaches higher levels.
Pitcher of the Year: Ben Kudrna, RHP
Stats: 2-5, 3.48 ERA, 72.1 IP, 66 H, 28 ER, 32 BB, 61 SO, 1.35 WHIP
There is a lot to love about Ben Kudrna’s first professional season. He was assigned to Columbia in May and started off real strong posting a 1.17 ERA with 10 strikeouts in 7.2 innings. Kudrna continued his success into June and basically throughout the rest of the year. The amount of strikeouts he was piling up dipped down a bit in August, but still only gave up three or less runs in three of his four starts that month. It is important to remember that Kudrna is only 19-years-old and was having this kind of success. There are of course plenty of areas for improvement, especially in the walk department and refinement of his secondaries. But he has all the makings to become a mid-rotation starter and you can see why the Royals paid overslot to get him in the organization.
Honorable Mentions (Player of the Year)
Luca Tresh, C (Quad Cities River Bandits)
Stats: 48 R, 82 H, 15 2B, 14 HR, 54 RBI, 41 BB, 85 SO, .273 BA/.360/.470, .830 OPS
It could be argued that Tresh deserved the Player of the Year award just as much as Peyton Wilson did. Starting at the end of May, Tresh was incredible and almost unstoppable. His plus power was on full display. He made some significant developments in his approach at the plate which allowed him to maximize his power. The strikeouts still remain a bit of a concern, but if he can keep them in the 25% range or below and offset it with his decent walk rate, he should be able to reach his ceiling.
Carter Jensen (Columbia Fireflies)
Stats: 66 R, 89 H, 24 2B, 2 3B, 11 HR, 50 RBI, 83 BB, 103 SO, 8 SB, .226/.363/.382, .745 OPS
As I mentioned above, there was every part of me that wanted to make this a dual-player of the year award. Jensen absolutely did silly things in low-A for an 18/19-year-old. His ability to not chase pitches is basically better than anyone in the minor leagues. He walked at an absurd 17.1% rate while maintaining a strikeout rate below 25%. He showed flashes of his power that had teams salivating over him in the draft. On top of that, he found ways to improve himself behind the plate defensively. Jensen is easily making his way into the top 15, if not top 10 of Royals prospects.
Honorable Mentions (Pitcher of the Year)
Emilio Marquez, LHP (Quad Cities River Bandits)
Stats: 10-2, 2.88 ERA, 56.1 IP, 39 H, 18 ER, 15 BB, 74 SO, 0.96 WHIP
Marquez just dominated hitters in Quad Cities. Most of his work came out of the bullpen which limited the amount of innings he was able to pitch. His strikeout numbers were insane and all of this eventually led him to being called up to Double-A. Alcantara’s finish to the season is what eventually put him on top of Marquez for Pitcher of the Year for me. Marquez could have the makings of what looks to be a very nice bulk inning reliever.
Luinder Avila, RHP (Columbia Fireflies)
Stats: 6-10, 4.54 ERA, 115 IP, 102 H, 58 ER, 49 BB, 97 SO, 1.31 WHIP
Alex will of course be in love with Luinder making the honorable mentions list. Avila’s most absurd month was July where he went 25 innings striking out 27 and only giving up ONE earned run. Avila will need to hone in the walks and increase the strikeouts if he wants to have success at the higher levels. His offspeed stuff can look so good, but definitely needs some refinement. Either way, it was a good year for the 21-year-old Avila and he will look to carry that success over to Quad Cities next year.