Are Hicklen and Gigliotti late-blooming, “Royals Way” outfield prospects?

As of now, there seems to be quite a bit of outfield depth in the Kansas City Royals system. In addition to a projected starting outfield of Alex Gordon in left, Whit Merrifield in center, and Hunter Dozier in right, the Royals also have Brett Phillips, Bubba Starling, and Ryan McBroom on the bench, who is primarily a first-baseman, but did play some outfield last year. Lastly, they also have Nick Heath on the 40-man roster, and Khalil Lee and Kyle Isbel are also Top 10 organizational prospects who showed glimpses of promise at Major League camp during Spring Training.

Hence, when it comes to the future of the Royals outfield, general manager Dayton Moore has little to worry about, and probably could focus on building other areas of the Royals organization, such as the pitching and infield depth in this upcoming draft, which will only be five rounds. While prospects are never “sure things” by any measure, Lee and Isbel have the look and Minor League track record of outfielders who could be regularly patrolling the grounds at Kauffman Stadium within the next couple of years, and Heath could be a 4th outfielder in the Jarrod Dyson-mold.

However, there are two outfielder prospects who have gotten overlooked a bit this Spring, not surprising considering the stoppage of play that has occurred due to the COVID crisis, as well as the unlikelihood of a Minor League season taking place in 2020. Those outfielders are Brewer Hicklen, who primarily played in High-A Wilmington last year, and Michael Gigliotti, who started the year in low A Lexington and finished the year in Wilmington as well. Neither are Top 10 prospects in the Royals system, but could provide potential in the Royals outfield in the future, as they seem to embody “The Royals Way” when it comes to outfielder tools.

The Royals Way” is a loaded term that can mean a lot of things, but in this case, it is referring to tools that are typical of most Royals position prospects. Those tools are speed, defense, and the ability to hit for average, even if it may not be the most disciplined. Hicklen and Gigliotti seem to fit that mold perfectly, as they are both uber-athletic outfielders, though they are typically older than most “Royals Way” prospects, as they entered professional ball out of college rather than high school.

Hicklen is a physical specimen of an outfielder whose athleticism often gets overlooked by many prospects experts. At 6’2, 208 pounds, Hicklen was two-sport star in high school and was planning to do so at UAB before UAB paused their football program. He posted a .328 batting average with a 1.008 OPS in 52 games in his final season with the Blazers, and the Royals drafted him in the 7th round of the 2017 MLB Draft. The Alabama product has hit almost everywhere he has been in the minors, as he has a career slash of .283/.368/.476 slash and .844 OPS in 268 games and 1,100 plate appearances from Short-Season to High-A ball.

What is noteworthy about Hicklen is that in addition to his athleticism (he also has 90 career stolen bases in the Minors), he also has adjusted well at every level, even in the middle of a season. While other top prospects such as Nick Pratto, Seuly Matias, and MJ Melendez struggled in the Carolina League, Hicklen actually held his own, posting a .263/.363/.427 slash with 14 home runs, 51 RBI and 39 stolen bases over 125 games and 494 plate appearances with the Blue Rocks. Alex Duvall of Royals Farm Report, who rated him as the 22nd best prospect in the Royals system, said this about Hicklen’s progression last year in Wilmington, as he rose his OPS from .561 in April to .836, .871, .667, .943 each month from May to August, respectively.

I don’t think this should be looked into too much, but I do think it’s a good sign that Hicklen was making adjustments as the season went along. Throw out a dreadful start and he had a crazy good rest of the season in 2019. I also don’t think the L/R splits are necessarily a bad thing. He held his own against RHP and dominant splits like that against LHP could help him reach the big leagues in a platoon role if nothing else. I am really, really excited to see how Hicklen handles the jump to AA this year.

Royals Farm Report’s 2020 Preseason Prospect Rankings: 25-21; No. 22: Brewer Hicklen by Alex Duvall; Royals Farm Report

Furthermore, when analyzing Hicklen’s swing, it’s easy to see his natural strength take over. While he seems to have that prototypical “college-esque” swing (which plays better to the metal bats of college than the wood bats of professional ball), he still hit 14 home runs in primarily a pitcher-friendly league. He also can get on hot stretches, and his power can be something to behold, even if may be streaky, as evidenced below:

Gigliotti on the other hand, did not have as productive a season as Hicklen, though he may have the more upside of the two. Gigliotti was also drafted in the 2017 draft like Hicklen, though the Royals selected him sooner in the 4th round. Gigliotti is a premiere athlete like Hicklen, as he stands at 6’1 180 pounds. However, what really separates him from the pack of Royals outfielder prospects is his plate discipline. In his rookie league debut with the Burlington Royals, Gigliotti showed a tremendous eye at the dish, as he walked 32 times and only struck out 21 time. This led to some great production for the Royals of the Appalachian League, as he posted a .920 OPS and 15 stolen bases over 42 games and 191 plate appearances. Thus, with some solid tools, and an advanced feel for the strike zone, many prospect experts after the 2017 season felt that the Royals had gotten a steal in the 4th round with the Lipscomb product.

However, since his promising stint in 2017, it’s been an uneven road for the 24-year-old outfielder. He tore his ACL in 2018, and only played in 6 total games in Lexington, a huge blow to his development. He did come back and do well in a return to Lexington fully healthy, as he posted an .805 OPS and stole 29 bases in 59 games and 279 plate appearances with the Legends. That being said, his transition to High-A ball was more challenging than expected, as Gigliotti only posted a .498 OPS and .184 average in 24 games and 99 plate appearances with the Blue Rocks, which also was limited due to various injuries as well.

And yet, despite his injury history and slow progression through the farm system, many Royals prospect experts still remain optimistic about Gigliotti’s future as a Royal. Shaun Newkirk of Royals Review rated him as the 9th best prospect in the Royals system in his Top 20, though, as evidenced below, mentioned that Gigliotti needs to show significant growth soon after losing so much development time to injury the past couple of seasons:

Gigs drops down the list because of his inability to stay healthy. He missed an entire month between July and August. When he was on the field before his trip to the IL he hit .285/.369/.374 (121 wRC+), buoyed mostly by a strong performance in Lexington.

“The top 20 Royals prospects for 2020”; No. 9: Michael Gigliotti by Shaun Newkirk; Royals Review

Duvall also is bullish on Gigliotti’s future, as he points out his defense may be the best of any outfielder currently in the Royals system, which is high praise considering Isbel and Lee’s tools in the field.

His appearance at #12 in our rankings ought to tell you a lot about what we think of Gigs’ future. Kyle Isbel and Khalil Lee are both going to find their way into our top 10, and Hunter Dozier appears to have an outfield spot locked down for the foreseeable future, but I think there’s still a spot for Gigs to defend his way to an every day role in CF. He’s that good defensively. The only question left is going to be how the bat translates to the upper minors, and we should get a good look at that in 2020.

“Royals Farm Report’s 2020 Preseason Prospect Rankings: 15-11”; No. 12: Michael Gigliotti by Alex Duvall; Royals Farm Report

In this video below, Gigliotti showcases a smooth swing that could have some late power potential as he gets older and continues to develop his strength. But even in this short Spring Training compilation of clips, his presence in the batter’s box sticks out, and shows that he may have the maturity to handle Major League pitching as long as he gets more professional at-bats over the next couple of seasons in the Minor Leagues.

The road certainly will not be easy for either prospect, for as many positive aspects they possess, they certainly have their share of flaws that could impede their journey to the big league club in Kansas City. Hicklen strikes out a whole lot, as he has only posted a strikeout percentage under 28 percent once as a professional (22.2 percent in Idaho Falls and that was only 20 games). While he does walk a decent amount, his 0.39 BB/K ratio last year in Wilmington may be a red flag in terms of Hicklen hitting for average as he climbs up the development ladder. As for Gigliotti, he didn’t particularly hit well in Wilmington, and he may need to repeat the level, which may not happen unfortunately until 2021. While he has less miles on him than most prospects his age, the possibility of him playing in High-A ball as a 26-year-old is not an encouraging sign for his prospects of garnering a spot on the Kansas City 40-man within the next couple of years.

Yes, Hicklen and Gigliotti are far from sure things, and they without a doubt will be greatly affected if there is no Minor League baseball in 2020. That being said, these two are under-the-radar outfielder prospects, and should anything happen to Lee or Isbel, it would not be surprising to see either of these two step up in their place.

Let’s hope there’s some kind of Minor League ball in 2020, even if it is only inter-squad play back at the facility in Surprise. These are two outfielders in the Royals farm system who could continue that “Royals Way” legacy on the field in Kansas City if they get the proper chance and development. Furthermore, it would be nice to see them continue their progression and perhaps breakout a bit in 2021 once Minor League baseball, and our society in general, gets back to normal.

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