RFR’s 2023 Preseason Top-50 Royals Prospect Rankings

Hey hey. Welcome back. As I’m sure anyone reading this is aware, we have kind of come to a #content halt over here at RFR but I promised we’d still put out rankings and the occasional article or two. I’m back enrolled in classes but kiddo number two isn’t due until April, so I’ll try to keep up with how things are shaking out on the farm until at least the beginning of March or so.

Anyway. Things will obviously be a bit different this time around. We’ll have rankings but it won’t be the full-on breakdown we used to do. For stats, I cannot recommend FanGraphs.com to you all enough. You can use their search bar to look up any MiLB player you’d like and all of their advanced stats for the entirety of their career. You can also Google “Gavin Cross FanGraphs” and his page will pop right up. If you need help with sifting through some of the advanced stats, remember I wrote an article a while back breaking some of that down. You can read that HERE. Baseball Reference has player pages too, which is especially helpful if you’re looking for winter league, fall league, or college stats. Otherwise, just for regular MiLB stats, there’s nothing you can’t find on FanGraphs that’s not otherwise publicly available.

A little context before we get started:

I mentioned on Twitter a while ago that with a general lack of upside left in the system, this year’s ranking could wind up being a “highest floor” contest. Meaning, which player is most likely to contribute at the big league level regardless of how much impact they’ll have. That favors the likes of Maikel Garcia, Angel Zerpa, and Nick Loftin who seem like the closest things you can get to a useable big league piece, even if they aren’t expected to be All-Stars at any point necessarily. It also would theoretically take away from how we value guys like Carter Jensen. Jensen has one of the highest ceilings in the entire system, but prep catchers with a batting average under .240 leave a bit to be desired in terms of floor. So, the ultimate question is, how do we balance these things when the system pretty clearly has a trend throughout?

There is no good answer for that. Typically, I feel we have done a great job here of balancing floor and ceiling and finding a good middle ground between the two. I will say that this year you can expect that players with a higher “floor” will be favored to those with riskier, more volatile outcomes. There are some exceptions (Jensen, Marsh), but generally things will take a bit of a safer turn this spring.

Alright. Enough of that. Let’s get to it.

#50: Tyler Tolbert, UTIL

I’m going to leave Tolbert on our rankings until he’s not in the system anymore. He’ll probably never be able to hit at a level that makes him worth a permanent big league roster, but he absolutely will have some value for a team that wants him along the line. Terrance Gore has three World Series rings and I think Tyler Tolbert can actually be a more valuable use of a roster spot than Gore due to his defensive prowess. Tolbert had an incredible year on the bases last summer, going a perfect 60/60 in stolen base attempts. He also plays a sound defensive shortstop and has been a human highlight reel in centerfield in Australia this winter. Add all that up and you have the makings of what I legitimately believe can be a big league bench player for a playoff contender.

#49: Seuly Matias, OF

Any player with 80-grade raw power can still make their way onto a top-50 list in this system. It’s probably time to give up on Matias as a legitimate prospect, but he can still hit the ball a long ways and we’ve seen crazier things happen in the world of baseball.

#48: Luinder Avila, RHP

“Hope, as deceitful as it is, serves at least to lead us to the end of our lives by an agreeable route.”

#47: Jonah Dipoto, RHP

#46: Logan Porter, C/1B

Yep. I did it. Now or never, my man.

#45:Yefri Del Rosario, RHP

I’m a hopeless romantic. Sigh…

#44: Jack Pineda, SS

So excited they got this kid signed. Absolute spark plug that probably could’ve made a decent bit of NIL money at LSU this year. Can’t wait to see him in Columbia.

#43: Junior Marin, OF

Big power. Track record of production at the lowest levels. Can’t wait to see him in Columbia.

#42: Jonatan Bernal, RHP

#41: Shane Panzini, RHP

#40: Hunter Patteson, LHP

#39: Mason Barnett, RHP

3rd round pick last year. Good chance I look pretty silly for having him this low by midseason.

#38: Hayden Dunhurst, C

#37: Daniel Vazquez, SS

Smooth 19-year old infielder likely headed back to Columbia.

#36: Austin Charles, SS/RHP

A true two-way player in the Royals system…crazy. Huge potential.

#35: Chandler Champlain, RHP

The Champlain we got at the Field of Dreams game last summer is a top-20 prospect in the system. Needs to be more consistent.

#34: Erick Pena, OF

#33: Ben Hernandez, RHP

The fastball needs completely reworked.

#32: Tucker Bradley, OF

#31: Lizandro Rodriguez, 2B

20-year old second baseman likely headed back to Columbia to begin the year. Tore up the level in a limited sample toward the end of last summer. Big name to watch. Legitimate top-10 in the system potential.

#30: Christian Chamberlain, LHP

Chamberlain is likely a non-closing reliever, so there’s already some issues with that, but he’s absolutely disgusting. He’s got an injury history already and he has some control issues, but he’s got top-5 stuff in the system. Probably starts the year as a 23-year old in AA or AAA.

#29: Darryl Collins, OF

Gotta hit the ball harder more consistently. Still one of the best combinations of hit tool and approach in the entire system. 21, probably starts in High-A.

#28: River Town, OF

Alright…everyone below Sandlin kind of fits that “floor slanted” narrative. Sandlin and Town enter the top-30 based on their upside and everyone before them is kind of a hodge podge, to be perfectly transparent.

I tweeted recently about getting out front of the guy that surprises everyone this year and I think this is it. We were all over Vinnie Pasquantino before his breakout 2021 season. I’ve whiffed plenty, but here’s my pick for “buddy goes nuclear and we all wonder why he wasn’t a top-20 prospect at the beginning of the season” award in 2023. Town is 23 and probably starts the year at High-A, but he absolutely obliterated Low-A pitching last year on a team where no one else really was. This is kind of a gut thing. He looks the part. He can run, he has a good approach, he hits the ball hard…we’ll circle back to this in six months or so.

#27: David Sandlin, RHP

I did not want to drop Sandlin this far but it’s probably not fair of me to make a list hedged towards floor and then throw a guy with two professional innings way the hell up the list. I do think Sandlin has the ability to be like…the second or third best pitching prospect in the system by the end of the year. I really like this pick up in the 11th round of last year’s draft. Huge range of outcomes at this point, obviously.

#26: John Rave, CF

I’m completely torn on what to do with Rave. I think there’s a big leaguer in here. There’s also a real problem with how frequently he’s striking out and he’s already 25 years old. However…he also hit 16 HR and stole 23 bases between AA and AAA last year. He plays a decent center field, he’s got some raw pop, he can rip his share of bags…I don’t know. I think this is the right spot for him but something tells me I may have him a bit too high. We’ll see. Without an obvious long-term answer in center field at the moment, open competition could lend itself to the highest bidder.

#25: Brewer Hicklen, OF

Like Rave, I think this may be a bit too high for Hicklen, but my goodness is the dude tooled up. Worst case I think he’d be a serviceable defensive replacement on a contender. Best case scenario he’s able to make enough contact to justify a Jake Marisnick role on a big league team. Marisnick was worth 1.2 fWAR for Houston back in 2018 with just 235 plate appearances because he was able to get 10 balls out of the yard and played excellent defense when called upon. We’ll see.

#24: Anthony Veneziano, LHP

I can’t make myself buy into the struggles that Veneziano suffered last year. It doesn’t make any sense. Leads the org in strikeouts in 2021, tops out at 100 mph, and then just can’t seemingly pitch at all in 2022? Nah. This stinks of something. What? I’m sure I don’t know. I just think we’ll see a semi-significant turnaround from Veneziano, Marsh, and Klein in 2023.

#23: Samad Taylor, INF

I didn’t really want to put Taylor this high, because I think his ultimate upside is extremely limited, but he seems to have a good chance to serve a utility role on a big league roster and there’s some value in that. I was looking around on FanGraphs for a potential comp for Taylor, and came up with 2022 Adam Frazier. 81 wRC+, great defensive value, 1.1 fWAR in 602 PA. I think Taylor would be capable of something like that pretty quickly, but I don’t know where his chances come from. Add in that he missed much of 2022 with an injury and it’s fair to be in a holding pattern while evaluating him. He can really run, and he picks it well on the infield, I’m just not sure what his carrying tool is offensively.

#22: Noah Cameron, LHP

You want a sleeper to leap into the top-10 from outside the top-20 at midseason? Look no further. I think Cameron would’ve been close if he had been healthy all year last year. He wasn’t, and that causes a bit of concern seeing as he’d already had Tommy John Surgery before being drafted, but he was very good in both Low-A and High-A in his age-22 season last year.

#21: Andrew Hoffmann, RHP

Hoffmann is kind of interesting. He was tearing up High-A as a 22-year old last year before being traded to KC. So much so, in fact, that there was a good amount of buzz that Hoffmann may have actually been the prize of the trade, not center fielder Drew Waters. That’s pretty funny in hindsight, but I do think Hoffmann has a decent chance to be a big league starter in a couple years. He doesn’t quite have the electric “stuff” you’d like for a bullpen fallback plan, but he’s big, controls his body well, and throws a good amount of strikes.

#20: Will Klein, RHP

Klein has my vote for “Dylan Coleman style leap” for the 2023 season. I really think last year was just super fluky, particularly at AA, and Klein was hurt to begin the season. Assuming Klein is healthy entering the year, I really believe they’ll help him optimize his fastball usage and Klein will be back to his dominant self with AAA Omaha this year.

#19: TJ Sikkema, LHP

Sikkema and Castillo fit in a similar bucket for me. Pretty good bets to be big league contributors whose upside is in limbo at the moment. Sikkema is further away from the league, so he’s a spot behind Castillo, but they’re pretty similar prospects in my mind.

#18: Max Castillo, RHP

I didn’t like dropping Castillo this far down the rankings but I’m starting to worry a bit about his upside. I still think he’s a sure-fire contributor at the big league level in some capacity, which is good enough for this spot on our rankings, but his overall upside may not be what I thought it was originally.

#17: Luca Tresh, C

I’m starting to buy into Tresh as a legitimate big league prospect. Tresh has always had “potential backup” prospect status, but I’m really starting to buy that he could be a big league regular. That’s obviously not a *likely* outcome, but I really think it’s in a reasonable range of outcomes for Tresh at this point. Tresh turned 23 recently and will likely spend most of next season at AA.

#16: Beck Way, RHP

Big RHP that came to KC from the Yankees in the Andrew Benintendi trade. TJ Sikkema kind of headlined that deal, but I’m leaning towards Way as the prize of that deal at the moment. I still like Sikkema a good bit, but Way’s stuff is electric and even if he can’t cut it as a starter in the big leagues, he’s got the makings of a potentially dominant bullpen arm.

#15: Peyton Wilson, 2B/CF

I am cautiously optimistic about Wilson’s long-term outlook. His season stats were impressive in and of themselves, as he posted a 128 wRC+ as a 22-year old in High-A. However, from June 26th through the end of the season, Wilson hit .306 with a 152 wRC+ in his final 250 PA. The switch hitter hit line drives all over the field all summer, and his speed allows him to take the extra base pretty frequently on balls in the gap. Wilson still needs to swing a little less often than he does at present, but he’s not more than adjustment or two from being a legitimate 45+ FV prospect.

#14: Asa Lacy, LHP

Like Bowlan below, I just couldn’t justify dropping Lacy too much lower. This is like the opposite of a “safe” pick on this list. The stuff is just entirely too electric to give up on yet. I don’t really have much else to add here.

#13: Jonathan Bowlan, RHP

I couldn’t justify dropping Bowlan any lower than this. I genuinely believe he’d have been the Royals second best starter right now if it wasn’t for the torn UCL he suffered in 2021. Bowlan didn’t quite look the same in 2022, but that’s 100% to be expected from a minor leaguer recovering from Tommy John Surgery. The good news is that Bowlan was able to come back healthy in 2022 and fire over 60 professional innings before being added to the Royals 40-man roster last offseason. He’s got just two option years left, so it’ll be interesting to see how quickly the Royals can get him to the big leagues, but you can be sure they won’t rush him if he’s not ready. At this point it’s mostly a waiting game with Bowlan to see if he can full regain his early 2021 form.

#12: Diego Hernandez, CF

The Diego Hernandez breakout campaign is coming. My hottest take of the 2023 season is that Hernandez makes someone’s top-100 list by the end of the year. The kid is an incredibly gifted, natural defender in center field. He absolutely flies on the bases, to the tune of 40 stolen bases in 2022. He cut down on his strikeouts last year at both High-A and AA, and he’s all of a sudden hitting the ball hard enough to give himself a chance to be a big leaguer. Hernandez impressed the front office enough last year that he found his way onto the 40-man roster this offseason as a 22-year old with just 141 plate appearances at AA. Hernandez is likely going to start 2023 at AA again, but by the end of the season he figures to be in AAA knocking down the door of the big leagues. ETA: August 2024.

#11: Ben Kudrna, RHP

I did not like having a double digit number next to Kudrna here, and I’m open to arguments for him being anywhere between here and five, but like I mentioned in the intro the rankings are kind of taking a “safety” slant this spring and Kudrna has potentially the lowest floor of any of the prospects ahead of him.

With all of that being said, I am absolutely in love with this kid’s upside. I was going back through and watching one of his starts from last year and the “comp” I have for Kudrna finally hit me: the dude looks just like James Shields on the mound. Shields had a little more “flare” to his delivery, but otherwise there is so much similar between these two. The tall delivery, the fastball, the changeup, the hit-or-miss slider, the ability to induce soft contact…I’m not saying Kudrna will be Shields, it’s just who he reminds me of while he’s on the mound.

I sent this text to Jared Perkins of Prospects Live the other day: “He’s so hard for me to peg. My scout’s eye LOVES him. The data doesn’t. He’s super tricky.” Kudrna’s first five professional starts were electric. He allowed just one earned run and had 22 strikeouts in 18 innings. From then on, he made 12 starts, threw 54.1 innings, had an ERA of 4.47, and a K/BB of 39/23. That’s a 6.46 K/9 over 50+ innings.

#10: Alec Marsh, RHP

Marsh slots between Mozzicato and Kudrna here for me because he has less upside than Mozzicato, but a safer range of outcomes compared to Kudrna. I know Marsh had a rough go at AA last year but the stuff is just too overwhelmingly good to not think he can still be an effective big league arm in some capacity. His fastball is regularly in the mid-90’s, he has two, distinct, wicked breaking balls, and his changeup has the chance to be a plus offering as well. He’s a control over command guy, which leads to him giving up the occasional long ball, but The K should help with that a bit. Marsh may not have the overall polish to be one of the first four guys in a big league rotation, but I certainly believe he can provide more value than Jordan Lyles long-term, and the Royals just gave 31-year old Lyles a two-year deal worth $17M. So, take that for what it’s worth.

#9: Frank Mozzicato, LHP

The run of pitchers coming was hard to figure. Mozzicato’s upside is still tremendous but the bust rate of prep arms, especially in this organization, is just too high for me on this particular list. Mozzicato had a fantastic finish to his 2022 campaign, posting an ERA of 3.12 over his last 10 starts. The walks were still an issue down the stretch, but Mozzicato raised his K/9 to 11.63 and his fastball became a legitimately dominant offering in August. Mozzicato has an outside chance of working his way to AA this summer where he’d be a 20-year old that was just a hop skip and jump away from the big leagues. I seriously doubt the Royals push him that hard, but it wouldn’t shock me either.

#8: Cayden Wallace, 3B

I struggled justifying moving Wallace this far down on my list (I personally had him at #3 at midseason), but there are just too many safer options in front of him at the moment. The good news is that Wallace already has 132 professional plate appearances under his belt and he’s supposed to be entering his junior year of college this spring. Instead, he’ll likely report to High-A Quad Cities where he has a chance to really solidify himself as a top 2-3 prospect in this system by the time Waters, Zerpa, and Garcia graduate from our midseason list. Wallace has a chance to be an excellent defensive third baseman and the raw power to be an above average producer at the position. His approach needs a bit of work, but his hit tool should keep the strikeouts down in the meantime. There’s certainly a good bit of variance in Wallace’s range of outcomes, but the upside is obvious and the floor is pretty high as well, all things considered. ETA: September 2024 or June 2025

#7: Carter Jensen, C

I’m not entirely sure Jensen should still be catching, but he is. It’s not from a lack of ability, it’s just that I’d get him out from behind the plate so he could focus on mashing baseballs. Jensen’s finish to the 2022 season was nothing short of remarkable. Once the calendar turned to July, Jensen finished the season like this:

  • 232 PA
  • 22% BB%
  • 16.4% K%
  • .143 ISO
  • .286/.440/.429/.868
  • 148 wRC+

IN HIS AGE-18 SEASON. That is absolutely LUDICROUS from a teenager in full-season baseball. Especially for a kid in his age-18 season, that’s almost unheard of in and of itself. Jensen’s upside is sky-high. There’s a legitimate Kyle Schwarber ceiling in here somewhere. I don’t know what his ultimate defensive home is, and there’s a long track record of prep catchers not working out very frequently, but the bat is just too good to drop any further here. If Jensen can show a better ability to lift the baseball in 2023, he’ll be a top-100 prospect by season’s end.

#6: Drew Waters, OF

I’m certainly not under the impression that Waters is going to post a 125 wRC+ again in 2023, but Steamer thinks he can be a league average bat and I think his new approach lends itself optimistic of the idea that Waters can consistently produce above average at the bottom of a big league lineup. The defensive metrics didn’t love him in CF, but I thought he looked just fine and he’d be an elite corner outfielder if centerfield doesn’t work out. If you think Waters is a sure-fire bet to be an above average defensive center fielder, I could see having him all the way up to #2 on this list. If you’re like me, and think he’ll be closer to average or maybe even a right fielder long-term, he’s going to need to be better than average offensively to make up for the loss in defensive value.

#5: Angel Zerpa, LHP

I really struggled with how to handle Zerpa. I really think we’re going to see him emerge as a big league starter this year. He’s got three big league starts under his belt now and they’ve all been very impressive. He’s a bulldog on the mound and, when he’s commanding his fastball, gets some really underrated ride as it nears home plate.

#4: Tyler Gentry, OF

Gentry would be number one on this list if he had just a tick more raw power. He had a brilliant campaign at AA in 2022, hitting .321 with a 146 wRC+. He cut down on his K% from High-A in 2021 and raise is ISO by a considerable margin. He doesn’t quite have the same bat speed or exit velo’s that a Gavin Cross has, and he doesn’t have the defensive prowess that Garcia and Loftin have, so he’s kind of in a weird spot for me on these rankings, but it wouldn’t really *shock* me if Gentry left Spring Training as the Royals opening day right fielder. Is that realistic? Probably not, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility either. If Gentry can increase his bat speed just a tick, I really think he can be an Alex Gordon type of hitter in the big leagues. Someone you can pencil in for 15-20 HR and 30-40 doubles with a good OBP and a fair bit of strikeouts at times. For now, his hit tool should carry him to the big leagues in 2023 and his brute strength should keep his power production at an acceptable level.

#3: Nick Loftin, UTIL

Loftin, like Garcia, has one of the safer profiles in MiLB. The lack of opposite-field power is a little concerning in regard to his ultimate role in the big leagues, but the dude is as good as it gets as a utility defender, a true Ben Zobrist type, and has the on-base skills to start in the big leagues pretty quickly. Left field, third base, shortstop, second base, maybe even some centerfield…there’s no where on the diamond I’d be uncomfortable putting Loftin at this point. His hit tool is among the best in the system and his approach is pretty good for a contact-oriented hitter, much like Garcia. He’s not quite fast enough to pencil in for 20+ stolen bases every year, but his baseball IQ is high enough that it gives him a chance. Probably not an All-Star, almost definitely a big league contributor in a matter of months.

#2: Maikel Garcia, SS

I’ve gone back and forth with where to put Garcia a thousand times. At the end of the day, there’s probably not a player in this system more likely to make SOME kind of contribution to the big league club than Garcia. He’s a slick defender at shortstop with great range, soft hands, an accurate arm, and…I don’t mean to keep beating a dead horse…but I really think he’s gonna remind Royals fans of his elder cousin, Alcides Escobar. He’s a great contact hitter, creates havoc on the basepaths, fields his position at an elite clip, and has a much better approach than Esky did. At his peak, Esky was a nearly league average hitter worth ~15 defensive runs more than the average big league shortstop. Add in 20-30 stolen bases and you had a couple ~3-win seasons in a Royals uniform. If Garcia can help himself from swinging at literally anything like his cousin did, he’ll be a lot like him, with a lot less offensive volatility.

On the Royals Weekly podcast recently I predicted that Garcia would be the everyday shortstop for Kansas City by August. I stand by that.

#1: Gavin Cross, OF

Number one with a bullet. This wasn’t particularly close for me this year. Usually there’s at least a little bit of conversation for our top prospect, but lately it’s been a pretty simple equation with Bobby Witt Jr. and Gavin Cross in the system.

Cross has by far the best combination of floor and ceiling left in the system. The Royals legitimately have some good variety of both, but Cross is really the last guy left with a lot of both. His pedigree, approach, defensive prowess, and college production make him the closest thing imaginable to a lock to play in the big leagues. His power, attack angle, speed, and sheer size give him a chance to be an All-Star at his very best. I don’t mean to sound too down on the rest of the system, but he is the only player the Royals have right now with all of those traits.

If I had to put an ETA on Cross, right now, I’d probably say somewhere between July of 2024 and May of 2025. I don’t think he’s *quite* as polished as some people that I’ve seen but he’s certainly got the ability to make a quick climb through the minors if he’s healthy.


5 thoughts on “RFR’s 2023 Preseason Top-50 Royals Prospect Rankings

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