1. Nick Pratto – 1B: Pratto was considered by many to be the best pure high school bat in the 2017 draft, and the Royals took him with the 14th overall pick. Pratto was a Little League World Series star in 2011, when he got the walk-off hit against Japan in the Championship Game. He had a sweet swing when he was 11, and that same swing is what got him drafted in the top half of the first round.
He has an advanced approach at the plate for a high school prospect and uses the entire field. He makes consistent contact and should develop at least average power as he develops. Defensively, Pratto could have gold gloves in his future as he is very good around the bag and has a plus arm to boot. There is no sure thing, but Pratto is as safe a bet as you are going to find for a high school bat. He modeled Joey Votto growing up and he reminds me a lot of Eric Hosmer – though Hosmer never quite reached his ceiling, at least in the power department. Obviously, he is going to take some time to develop, but the reward here is big. Dan O’Dowd compared him to Todd Helton during MLB Network’s coverage of the draft, and boy would that be nice. ETA: 2020
2. Josh Staumont – RHP: The Royals landed Staumont, the hardest thrower in the 2015 draft, in the second round out of DII Azusa Pacific. He immediately took off as a strikeout artist in pro ball, leading Rookie-level Pioneer League relievers in strikeout rate (14.6 per nine innings) during his pro debut, then topped the entire minors in strikeout rate (12.2) and ranked second in strikeouts (167) as a starter in his first full pro season. But he also paced the minors with 104 walks in 2016, and tied for the Arizona Fall League lead with 16 in 24 innings. His control has been an Achilles Heel since his college days, or he would have been drafted higher than he was. His fastball/curveball combination would be deadly out of the bullpen, and some feel that will be his ultimate destination due to his lack of command. It’s been the same story for him in Triple-A Omaha this year: 88 strikeouts in 66.2 innings, and 48 walks. But I still dream of Staumont pitching near the top of a rotation. ETA: 2018
3. Khalil Lee – OF: I’m a big Lee believer. The Royals selected him in the third round in 2016 out of high school in Virginia. Many scouts liked him more as a pitcher, but the Royals took Gatorade’s 2016 Virginia high school player of the year as an outfielder. He immediately topped the Rookie-level Arizona League in runs (43), triples (six) and total bases (88) while ranking second in on-base percentage (.396) and fifth in slugging (.484) in his pro debut, and is playing in the Lo-A South Atlantic League as an 18 year old (he will turn 19 on June 26). He has average tools across the board with an above average arm that threw low 90s off the mound in high school. He can play center field, but he has the right field profile should he need to move there long term. This is a big upside play, and he is one of my favorite players in the system. ETA: 2020
4. Nicky Lopez – SS: I wrote about Lopez here. I really like this kid. The Royals selected him in the fifth round out of Creighton in 2016, and has done nothing but perform since entering pro ball. He led the Appalachian League last season in runs (54) and shortstop fielding percentage (.981) while drawing more walks (35) than strikeouts (30) and stealing 24 bases in 62 games. He skipped Lo-A and has continued to perform with High-A Wilmington in the Carolina League, where he is slashing .303/.382/.416 in 67 games with 11 doubles, seven triples, and 14 steals, while once again walking more often (34) than he strikes out (21). He is going to stick at shortstop, has a good arm, can hit and run at the top of the order and impact the game on the bases. He may not be the flashiest prospect, but he performs, and I expect him to keep doing so as he climbs the ladder. ETA: 2018
5. Scott Blewett – RHP: I still think very highly of Blewett, who has teased with frontline potential throughout his pro career. The latest example was a 10 strikeout performance on June 16, lowering his season ERA with High-A Wilmington to an even 4.00. He is still a work in progress, but the potential for two plus pitches in his fastball and curveball and a developing changeup from a 6’6” frame is “what they look like.” Plus, he came from a high school in upstate New York and would have been drafted out of college this year had he not signed with the Royals when they took him in the second round back in 2014. Not only is he a relatively fresh arm, but there is still a lot of upside here, and I still believe in him. ETA: 2019
6. Hunter Dozier – 3B/1B: It’s been a lost year for Dozier, the eighth overall pick in 2013, who began the season on the disabled list with an oblique strain and was placed back on it earlier this month with a hamate fracture in his left wrist. He has played in only 10 games this season, hitting .265 in 34 at-bats. This ranking is based on last year’s performance, where he broke out to a .296 average with 23 home runs and 75 RBI that led to his major league debut. He will be 26 in August, so his prospect status may be fading. Still, I see him as the immediate answer to Eric Hosmer either being traded in the next few weeks or leaving as a free agent as the Royals’ first baseman in 2018 (with Cheslor Cuthbert taking over for Mike Moustakas at third base), and perhaps sooner if he were healthy. ETA: 2018
7. Daniel Tillo – LHP: Tillo has a similar profile to Evan Steele (listed below). He’s a 6’5” JUCO southpaw who started his collegiate career at a power program (Kentucky) but transferred to Iowa Western to be closer to home. A former basketball star (he was Iowa’s Mr. Basketball in 2015), Tillo is still relatively new to pitching, so he does not come with the wear and team that most pitching prospects do, so there is a lot of ceiling here. His fastball has been clocked up to 97 and his slider flashes plus at times. His changeup and command still need work, but they can become average as he gets pro experience. 6’5” left-handers are a valuable commodity and the Royals picked up two in back-to-back rounds. He gets ranked ahead of Steele because his slider and changeup are slightly more advanced. ETA: 2021
8. Evan Steele – LHP: Like Tillo, Steele is a 6’5” JUCO southpaw that the Royals drafted in 2017. He was selected 73rd overall in Competitive Balance Round B. The Royals like Steele’s plus fastball that touches 95 and a slider that can be unhittable at times thanks to his very deceptive delivery. The first time I saw Steele on video, I thought of Chris Sale: a tall left-hander with a lot of moving parts and deception in his delivery with the potential for two plus pitches. But let’s hit the brakes here because he has yet to throw a professional pitch and he also dealt with thrombosis and missed a month this season. He started his collegiate career at Vanderbilt but transferred to Chipola, where he cleaned up his mechanics enough to be drafted on day one. The Royals are obviously dreaming here, and with zero professional experience, so am I. ETA: 2021
9. Samir Duenez – 1B: The Royals signed Duenez out of Venezuela in 2012 for $425,000 for his hitting ability. He was signed as a third baseman, but moved to first base as a pro. He broke out in 2016 by hitting .284 with 13 homers and 100 RBI between three levels. He is more athletic than most first baseman and he cashed in his plus instincts on the bases to 26 steals in 30 attempts last season despite slightly below average speed. He has a .270 average in Double-A this season with nine home runs through 65 games, and he should continue to hit for a solid average as his power develops. He just turned 21 on June 11, so he is young for the league. Duenez is serviceable around the bag at first base and has a good enough arm where he has seen some time in the outfield. But I see Duenez as a first baseman who is the safest bet right now to be the long term answer at the position for the Royals, considering Pratto has yet to play a professional game. ETA: 2018
10. Eric Skoglund – LHP: Skoglund is the typical “pitchability college lefty” that was the Royals third round selection out of South Florida in 2014. He throws four pitches – a fastball, changeup, curveball, and slider – that play up because his above average command. His fastball touches 95 and sits in the low 90s and his changeup is his best secondary offering. He controls his body better than most 6’7” pitchers, which enables him to throw strikes consistently. He made a memorable major league debut against the Tigers on May 30, where he struck out five over 6.1 innings allowing only two hits, but allowed six runs over 3.1 innings over his next two starts. Skoglund is a safer bet than the recent draftees listed above him, and he should be a solid back end starter. ETA: 2017
11. Jake Junis – RHP: Like Skoglund, Junis does not come with the upside of the recent draftees ranked ahead of him. But he is a safer bet to be a contributor at the big league level. He features a fastball, curveball and changeup that are all average pitches and play up when his above average command is on. His fastball sits in the low 90s but he can reach 96 at times and his curveball is his best secondary offering. He performed well in Triple-A Omaha to a tune of a 2.34 ERA and 57 strikeouts in seven starts, but has struggled in six appearances (four starts) with the Royals. Still, Junis is a safe bet to be a solid back end starter relatively soon. ETA: 2017
12. Chase Vallot – C: Vallot was one of the youngest players in the 2014 draft, when the Royals selected him 40th overall. He stood out for his plus raw power and his plus arm behind the plate. It has been an uphill climb for Vallot, who has showed glimpses of tapping into that power with 35 home runs in 225 games over his first three pro seasons. But he also batted .224 with a 35 percent strikeout rate and hasn’t looked great behind the plate. He is playing in High-A Wilmington this year as a 20 year old, and has seven home runs and 14 doubles, but it hitting .225 with 79 strikeouts in 178 at-bats – a 44 percent strikeout clip. He is still very young for the league, but his defensive home could be a question. If his bat develops, you figure that out later. If he doesn’t make enough contact, though, it may not matter. ETA: 2019
13. Ryan O’Hearn – 1B: After hitting just 11 home runs in three seasons at Sam Houston State, the Royals selected O’Hearn in the eighth round in 2014 hoping his power would develop in pro ball. He has hit 62 home runs since then with a slash line of .288/.366/.501 leading up to this season, where he debuted in Triple-A. He has nine home runs and a .243 average this year, his strikeouts are up and his walks are down. He is limited to first base (the Royals have tried him in right field, but I don’t think that works out) where he is an average defender. O’Hearn is a bat-first player who is relatively close to being ready. ETA: 2017
14. Kyle Zimmer – RHP: Nothing has really changed here. Zimmer continues to tantalize when he pitches, but he has also spent time on the disabled list already this year. He is currently healthy and pitching out of the bullpen in Triple-A Omaha, and you wonder if that’s where his home will ultimately be, simply because he does not have the durability to be a starting pitcher. IF he does stay healthy enough to be a reliever and his stuff plays up because of it, he could be a nasty one. ETA: who knows?
15. A.J. Puckett – RHP: Puckett is one of the safer bets in this organization. He was their first pick (second round) out of Pepperdine in 2016, where he had the third-longest (45 2/3 innings) scoreless streak in NCAA Division 1 history during his junior year. His top assets are his plus changeup and his command, which enables his low 90s fastball to play up because he locates it well to both sides of the plate. Puckett has a 3.86 ERA in High-A Wilmington, and should be quick to the big leagues as a mid-rotation starter. ETA: 2018
16. Seuly Matias – OF: Signed for $2.25 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, Matias is an upside play, so much so that he draws comparisons to Yoenis Cespedes and Hall of Famer Andre Dawson from some club officials. He has a power bat and cannon for an arm that fits the right field profile, if he can make enough contact for it to matter. He was one of a handful of 17-year-olds in the Rookie Level Arizona league in 2016 and tied for the league lead with eight homers, but also topped the AZL with 73 strikeouts. Still just 18, there is no reason to put those kind or any kind of expectations on him as he has yet to make his full season debut. ETA: 2021
17. Donnie Dewees – OF: Dewees was one of my favorite players coming out of North Florida in 2015, where he led NCAA Division I in runs scored (88), hits (106), total bases (188) and slugging (.749). The Cubs selected him in the second round and signed him for $1.7 million, and Kansas City acquired him for right handed pitcher Alec Mills in February. He is a plus runner and hitter who uses his left-handed swing to make consistent contact and drive the ball in the gaps. He can play center field, but his below average arm will relegate him to left field if he cannot stick in center. Still, he fits the Royals profile of a player who can be an on base catalyst at the top of the order and use his speed on the bases and in the field. He hasn’t performed all that well in the Double-A Texas League in his Royals’ debut, so he gets knocked a little bit for that, but I am still a fan. ETA: 2018
18. MJ Melendez – C: Melendez kicks off one of three straight backstops on the list. The 52nd overall pick in the 2017 draft, he was committed to play for his father at Florida International University, but he will instead embark on his pro career. Melendez was arguably the best defensive catcher in the draft class and will no doubt stick behind the plate. He has a quick release and a strong arm, reminding some of a young Salvador Perez in terms of his defensive value. Offensively is another situation however, and it will take some time for his bat to develop. He has shown added strength and leverage to his swing during his senior year at Westminster Christian Academy in Miami, but the offensive side of his game is still a work in progress. The Royals very much value the defensive side of the game, especially for players that can stay up the middle, so they will give Melendez plenty of time to reach his ceiling as a potential all-star catcher. ETA: 2022
19. Meibrys Viloria – C: Viloria signed with the Royals out of Colombia in 2013 for $460,000 and earned MVP honors with Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League after leading the league in hitting (.376), doubles (28) and RBI (55) while also homering six times in 58 games. He is the opposite of Melendez (and Rivero) as he was initially signed as an offensive-minded shortstop who was moved behind the plate. He is new to the position, but the Royals like his plus arm and offensive potential to grow behind the plate. He is closer to the big leagues, but this is yet another upside play in a system that has a lot of them. ETA: 2020
20. Sebastian Rivero – C: Signed for $450,000 out of Venezuela in 2015, Rivero is another high upside catcher with advanced defensive skills. This is another upside play, and how his bat develops will determine whether he can be an everyday catcher at the big league level. ETA: 2021
Others to note: Miguel Almonte seems to be back. The 2013 Futures’ Gamer soared through the system to make his debut out of the bullpen in 2015. But he has struck out 43 in 34 innings this year with a 1.59 ERA… Foster Griffin also seems to have finally figured something out. The 2014 first rounder struggled with meh stuff during his first two pro seasons. But he has made it to Double-A in 2017 and is a combined 7-3 with a 2.77 ERA in 14 starts… Ramon Torres recently got the call to Kansas City. He has very quietly been a steady player on both sides of the ball throughout his minor league career. The switch-hitter can be a nice utility infielder, and I am curious to see what he could do with more playing time… Gerson Garabito could be another bargain. He signed for $50,000 in 2012 out of the Dominican Republic and shows an advanced feel to pitch, showing three above average pitches. He started the season in Lo-A Lexington and posted a 2.20 ERA and struck out 40 in 41 innings. He could be a mid-rotation starter… Michael Gigliotti entered the season as a potential first round pick, but a lackluster junior season at Lipscomb dropped him to the fourth round. The Royals felt he was the best defensive center fielder in the 2017 draft and he can really run. He can be a really nice value at pick 120… Jorge Bonifacio is no longer eligible to be on this list. But I have been clamoring for him to be the Royals’ right fielder for quite some time now. He is finally getting his chance and making the most of it.