Nick Loftin, Seuly Matias, and Nick Pratto are the 7th, 8th, and 9th prospects, respectively in the Royals “21 in 21” prospect watch series.
As we reach the halfway mark through Spring Training, I figured it would be time to look at some of the prospects in the “21 in 21” Prospect Watch series. Usually, I take each player on this list one at a time and do more nuanced pieces, but for the sake of time, I decided to do brief and combined writeups, so that all 21 profiles could be written before the start of the 2021 Regular Season.
In this post, I am going to look at three prospects who are making noise in various ways this Spring in Cactus League play. That includes Nick Loftin, Royals’ second first round pick out of Baylor in the 2020 MLB Draft; Seuly Matias, the powerful, but flawed outfield prospect; and Nick Pratto, a former No. 1 pick in the organization who is looking to bounce back after a rough 2019 season in High-A Wilmington.
The Next “Whit”? (Or the next Christian Colon?)
The Royals selected Loftin 32nd overall in the 2020 MLB draft, a surprising pick considering Loftin has profiled as a polished, but low-ceiling middle infield prospect that probably could’ve been had in the second or third round. However, the Royals seemed incredibly high on him going into the draft, as General Manager Dayton Moore mentioned in a draft day piece on Royals.com that they contemplated drafting Loftin with the 4th pick overall, had Asa Lacy not been available. Here is what Moore said specifically:
The Royals rated Loftin so high that general manager Dayton Moore said they might have taken him at No. 4 had Lacy not fallen to them.
“That’s how thrilled we are with this process,” Moore said. “About 10 days ago, we were comparing Austin Martin and Nick Loftin. And truthfully, there was a split camp on that because of Nick’s ability to play shortstop.
“We were sweating it out big time whether or not Nick Loftin would get to us.”“Royals select versatile Baylor SS Loftin at No. 32” by Jeffrey Flanagan; MLB.com/Royals
In 122 games at Baylor over three years, Loftin posted a triple slash of .311/.370/.479 to go along with an OPS of .848. Loftin didn’t flash much home run power, as he only hit 14 home runs in 581 plate appearances with the Bears. However, Loftin demonstrated excellent contact skills and plate discipline, as he walked 42 times and only struck out 48 times, good for a BB/K ratio of 0.88.
I wanted to see how legitimate those Whit Merrifield comparisons were, so I decided to take a look at Whit’s Baseball Cube profile, which gives detailed college numbers from his time at South Carolina. That being said, I also felt Loftin profiled a bit like Christian Colon, the former Royals No. 4 pick overall in 2010 who profiled as a high floor, low-ceiling middle infield prospect who never quite lived up to his promise with the Royals or MLB level in general, as he currently is on the KC Monarchs, who formerly were the T-Bones of the American Association (though he did come through with two big Royals postseason moment in 2014 and 2015). Hence, I also included Colon and his profile from Baseball Cube in the comparison, thinking that those two players could give Royals fans a strong sense of what Loftin could become at the MLB level from both ends of the spectrum:
- Loftin: 122 games; .311/.370/.479; .848 OPS; 0.88 BB/K ratio; 14 home runs.
- Whit: 195 games; .329/.389/.489; .878 OPS; 0.78 BB/K ratio; 27 home runs.
- Colon: 189 games; .349/.432/.538; .970 OPS; 1.15 BB/K ratio; 29 home runs.
Amazingly, Colon was the much more polished college hitter, as he out-performed not just Loftin, but Whit as well in pretty much every category, and in six fewer games than Whit as well. Thus, it will be interesting to see how Loftin’s power progresses as a professional, for he appeared to possess less power than both Whit and Colon in college, and the switch from metal to wood full-time is always an interesting transition for hitters. Some hitters transition their power just fine, like Whit. Some kind of struggle, like Colon. On a positive note, Loftin did show a better batting eye in college than Whit, based on BB/K ratio numbers, so that should give some hope that Loftin could be a Whit-lite of sorts.
That being said, Loftin is moving a bit more quickly in the Royals system than Whit, as Loftin has already gotten a lot of experience in Cactus League play this Spring despite having no Minor League experience (though the pandemic is probably a heavy contributor to that). While Loftin has already been assigned to Minor League camp, he has been able to have some moments in Surprise, with an RBI single against the Reds being the prime one:
Marcus Meade of Royal Farm Report wrote an interesting piece on Loftin last week, and compared Loftin to another player not named Whit or Colon:
Honestly, the more I look at Loftin, the less I see Merrifield and the more I see Nick Ahmed. I think Loftin will be a little worse defensively than Ahmed and a little better offensively because Loftin seems to have better bat-to-ball skills, but they have similar body types and swings.“Nick Loftin probably isn’t the next Whit Merrifield … and that’s ok” by Marcus Meade; Royals Farm Report
It will be a key year for Loftin, who did lose some development not just in the Minor Leagues last season (due to its cancellation), but also at the college level, with the NCAA season being cut short due to COVID. According to Roster Resource’s Royals Depth Chart, Loftin is expected to start the year in Single-A Columbia, most likely at shortstop, where he will share the middle infield with Maikel Garcia, Alcides Escobar and Ronald Acuna’s cousin, who had a strong campaign in the Venezuelan Winter League this past Winter. Loftin could move quickly if he not only succeeds in Low-A, but also if Bobby Witt, Jr. moves quickly in the Royals system in 2021.
Will Matias and Pratto be Royals Player Development Success Stories?
Matias and Pratto were flat out bad in 2019 in High-A Wimington, as I wrote around this time a year ago. Matias posted a .148/.259/.307 slash in 221 plate appearances with the Blue Rocks, and also struck out 98 times, a 44.3 percent strikeout rate. Pratto unfortunately was not much better: he posted a .191/.278/.310 slash in 472 plate appearances and struck out 164 times, a 34.7 percent strikeout rate. Thus, after 2019, things looked bleak for two guys who had been Top-5 Royals system prospects across various prospect sources in 2018.
Last year though, the Royals invited both Matias and Pratto to Summer Camp and the Alternate Site in KCK, despite their troubles in High-A ball in 2019. The Royals boasted about a new emphasis in player development, especially on the hitting end, and they pointed to Matias and Pratto as being their two primary targets who would benefit the most from this new initiative. It was difficult to say how much Matias and Pratto improved at the Alternate Site initially. After all, how much growth could they have as hitters after seeing only pitchers in the Royals organization from July until November (including Instructional League play)?
That being said, the results so far in Spring Training are good for both players. Matias is posting a .364/.417/.818 slash with a 1.235 OPS that includes a homer and a triple in 12 plate appearances. Matias also made noise with this massive home run at Goodyear Ballpark on March 1st which measured roughly 450 feet:
As for Pratto, he’s been arguably just as good, if not better than Matias in Cactus League play. In 12 games, the first base prospect out of Huntington Beach is posting a .467/.529/1.267 slash with a 1.796 OPS and three home runs in 17 plate appearances. Pratto also had a multi-home run game on March 13th against the Cubs, with his swing looking more calm and composed than in years past, as evidenced in the slow-mo tape below:
Of course, neither Matias nor Pratto have faced elite competition this Spring. Matias has an opponent quality score of 6.4, which is roughly a shade below Double-A competition. As for Pratto, his score is even lower at 5.7, which is closer to High-A competition. That being said, the Royals said Matias and Pratto benefited from the improved coaching and development in KCK this past summer, and so far, the results this Spring have demonstrated exactly that. Both guys are certainly a couple of years away from the MLB level (at the earliest), but the outlooks for both prospects appear more promising for them now than it was at this time a year ago.
Will Matias and Pratto be top 10 prospects again after kind of falling out of that range over the past year in the eyes of most prospect experts? Well, they will have to carry this performance into a strong one over a full Minor League season first (though it would be impossible for them to duplicate their current Cactus League numbers).
Roster Resource is projecting Pratto to play in Double-A this year, while Matias is projected to begin in High-A Quad Cities, which will be a much friendlier hitting environment than Wilmington. It is likely that Pratto will play most of the year in Northwest Arkansas, especially with Ryan O’Hearn and/or Ryan McBroom expected to be situated at the first base position in Triple-A Omaha. However, it is possible that Matias could join Pratto in Northwest Arkansas in the second half of the season if Matias can perform and mash Midwest League pitching in 2021.
Photo credit: Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images