The Arizona Fall League kicks off today as the Surprise Saguaros will begin their 2022 campaign with seven Royals prospects on the Opening Day roster (the fall league rosters are easily manipulated so it’s possible some others join in at a later date). With all due respect to one prospect I’m leaving off, I want to focus the attention of this article on six Royals prospects on the Saguaros roster that have legitimate big league upside and could be in Kansas City as soon as 2023.
Really quickly, I want to point out that the Arizona Fall League is sometimes dubbed “prospect finishing school” for a reason. Take Nate Eaton for example. Eaton finished the 2021 campaign .127 ISO and 103 wRC+ in High-A. He was 24 years old, missed a big chunk of the season to injury, and had yet to arrive in AA. Not a great development for a player hoping to make an impact in the big leagues one day. After the regular season ended, Eaton reported to the Arizona Fall League to get some extra at bats against some of baseball’s most advanced prospects. He hit .317 and all of a sudden became a legitimate big league prospect because of one fall season in Arizona.
Eaton’s ability is no longer a secret. He’s been worth 1.0 fWAR in 41 games this season, nearly a 4-win pace if he played in 162 games. The Arizona Fall League doesn’t always tell us who the next big thing is for each team, but it can tell us some things and it gives prospects an extended opportunity to work with their development teams in Arizona (the Royals just happen to have their fall league team in the same city as their Spring Training site…). That is obviously a tremendous advantage for Royals hitting prospects specifically, which is why the first prospect we need to talk about is…
John Rave, CF
That’s right, we’re not starting this off with Tyler Gentry. John Rave, like Eaton, was a bit older than the average player at his level this past season and, while he hit the ball well, a 102 wRC+ isn’t exactly the most impressive line you’ll see. Here is a snapshot of Rave’s season:
- 16 HR, 33 XBH, 23 SB
- 0.55 BB/K / .152 ISO / 102 wRC+
- 22.7% Hard-Hit%
Hitting 16 HR while stealing 23 bases is a fairly impressive feat. If nothing else, it ought to give you a good idea of what Rave is capable of, offering a little bit of speed and power to his game while playing a pretty good defensive center field. Rave may not project as an every day center fielder at the moment, but I do think he can provide some kind of left-handed utility value off of the bench, similarly to Nate Eaton. Eaton, being right handed, obviously has more defensive value, and thus a better opportunity to play more frequently, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we were talking about Rave next fall the same way we’re talking about Eaton this fall.
Samad Taylor, MIF
Samad Taylor came over to Kansas City from Toronto, along with RHP Max Castillo, in the Whit Merrifield trade. Taylor was on the IL when the trade occurred, and we never did see him in a “Royals” uniform, but he’s already suited up and began playing with the Surprise Saguaros, leading off in their season opener. When healthy, Taylor has the type of speed that should easily allow him to steal 30+ bases if given the opportunity. He’s got a good approach at the plate, emerging power, and enough contact skills to make you think he could be the bigger half of a platoon at the big league level. I don’t think he’ll ever hit enough to be an every day type of player (a la Michael Massey), but I certainly think he can be a fine compliment to Nicky Lopez playing 2-4 days per week.
The Arizona Fall League shouldn’t exactly be used as a measuring stick for Taylor’s overall talent, but it should give us some idea of where he’s at in his comeback process and what we can expect from him next spring as we get into camp. He will almost certainly start the year with AAA Omaha, but a good showing in the Fall League and Taylor might put himself in a position to win a big league utility role out of Spring Training.
Tyler Gentry, OF
Tyler Gentry went absolutely bonkers this year between High-A and AA. In 483 total plate appearances, Gentry hit…
- 21 HR, 44 XBH, 10 SB
- 0.57 BB/K / .216 ISO / 152 wRC+
- 27.2% Hard-Hit%
Coming into 2022, we ranked Gentry as the organization’s 31st best prospect. It’s not that he didn’t hit well in High-A in 2021, because he did, he was just hurt for much of the year and it wasn’t like he was completely dominating the level the way he did in 2022. It was clear however that Gentry had all the ability in the world, he just needed a chance to put it all together. Here’s what we said about him in his preseason write up:
“If Gentry is healthy in 2022, he’s got the talent to be a top 15 prospect in this system. He’ll need to prove that he can cut down on the strikeouts at AA, but I loved what I saw from the Crimson Tide product early last summer. Gentry was tearing up college pitching in 2020 before the season was shut down, and he didn’t seem to have missed a beat against professional pitching in 2021. We’ll see how the Royals choose to handle him this year, but Gentry has some huge helium potential for that mid-season list.”
Gentry lowered his K% down under 20% upon being promoted to AA, hit the ever loving crap out of the baseball all summer, and now finds himself at #4 on our Royals prospect rankings. I’ve mentioned this several times before, but Gentry has a legitimate chance to break camp with the big league club next spring if everything goes his way. That almost never happens, but the Arizona Fall League is his first chance to put himself in that position.
Christian Chamberlain, LHP
Chamberlain, despite all of his issues commanding the baseball, still has some of the best pure stuff in the entire system. His 10.61 K/9 at AA rank him in the top third of the level this past season, a level in which Chamberlain (22) was nearly two full years younger than the average pitcher this season. We had Kyle Boddy on the podcast this past summer and he raved about Chamberlain and the unique way in which his curveball comes out of his hand. Chamberlain throws from more of a high 3/4 arm slot, yet his curveball has a 12-6 breaking action that doesn’t quite make sense for his delivery. This combination makes him incredibly difficult to handle and should make him a real problem for left-handed hitters specifically when he reaches the big leagues. This fall, I’ll bee watching to see what kind of adjustments he makes to limit his walks, which were a real issue in 2022.
Jonah Dipoto, RHP
Dipoto, son of Mariners GM Jerry, legitimately has some of the nastiest stuff in the Royals system. He’s 26 years old, and he just spent his season at AA, and he walks a lot of guys, but he also strikes a ton of guys out as well. His K/9 and K% were even better than the aforementioned Chamberlain and, maybe because a lack of pedigree?, Dipoto somehow flies under the radar.
I’m not going to try to sell you on Dipoto being the next Josh Staumont. He’s probably more likely somewhere between Grant Gavin and Collin Snider. However…he’s absolutely got the “stuff” to pitch in a big league bullpen next year. It’s not a matter of talent with Dipoto. Similarly to Chamberlain, it’s going to boil down to limiting walks and commanding the ball in the strike zone. Being four years older than Chamberlain, Dipoto has far less time to get things figured out, but I wouldn’t rule out a big league cup of tea for the righty.
TJ Sikkema, LHP
Sikkema, a 24-year old LHP out of THE University of Missouri, came to Kansas City from New York in the Andrew Benintendi trade. Sikkema is most known for his pinpoint command, but for some wild reason (…) that fell apart on him when he came to KC and got the bump to AA. Sikkema’s BB/9 jumped from 2.23 BB/9 at High-A with the Yankees to 4.13 BB/9 at AA with the Royals. Maybe it’s the jump in levels. Maybe it was the pitching philosophy of some sort in KC. I have no idea what happened, but Sikkema doesn’t have the “stuff” that Dipoto and Chamberlain have. He can’t pitch in the big leagues if he’s walking guys. He HAS to be in the zone early and often and he simply wasn’t doing that as much when he was pitching for Northwest Arkansas. Can he right the ship in Arizona this fall? We’ll see, because if he can, he’s got a shot to be pitching in Kansas City by July of next season.