Minor League Baseball is going to be back soon, and for baseball fans in non-MLB cities (especially in cities of Kansas City Royals affiliates), this is definitely something to rejoice about. I hope to write more about prospects soon (especially the “21 in 21”), but it has just been hard to do so when Major League Baseball is the sole thing to concentrate on baseball-wise right now. That will change when actual Royals prospects will be playing games again that count.
Today, the Kansas City Royals announced their affiliate team rosters, and it was an interesting compilation to say the least, as evidenced by the Tweet below:
As expected, I have plenty of thoughts about the rosters, and what Royals fans should expect from the Minor Leaguers in the Royals system in 2021. Thus, here are three quick takeaways from the Royals affiliate rosters, and what Royals fans should be looking for as the Minor League season begins next week.
The Royals affiliates could be competitive in their respective leagues
One of the first things that jumped out to me when looking at these rosters was that at least three of the four teams could be contenders for an affiliate crown. The Omaha, Northwest Arkansas, and Quad Cities rosters look that good, and while some of those rosters will undoubtedly see some movement (especially in Triple-A Omaha and High-A Quad Cities), there is enough depth on all three teams that they could weather some roster changes, and still be competitive in their respective leagues.
Furthermore, it seems like I am not alone in this analysis:
Dayton Moore has prioritized winning at the Minor League level in the past, and that was evident in 2019, as four Minor League affiliates (High-A Wilmington, Low-A Lexington, Rookie League Idaho Falls, and the Dominican Summer League Royals) all won championships in their respective leagues. While player development is the upmost priority in the Royals’ Minor League system, the Royals have made sure to produce competitive clubs and a winning atmosphere that can transition for players as they move up the system.
Two years ago, the Royals developed that “winning attitude” in the the lower levels of the farm system. Right now, at least three, and maybe all four levels of the Royals farm system seem to be properly equipped to continue the winning ways experienced in 2019.
Granted, the Royals’ low-A affiliate may be the biggest wild card of the bunch, as the Columbia team is filled with high-upside, but high-risk talents who could either feast or flounder in the South Atlantic League. However, the other three affiliates are loaded, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see all three of those clubs in the top of their respective leagues early on in the 2021 season.
The pitching in the farm system looks loaded (as expected) at all levels
One of the reasons why the Royals’ affiliates look like “sure fire” candidates to compete in their respective leagues this season could be contributed to the plentiful pitching depth in their farm system. Let’s take a look at the notable pitchers at each level, courtesy of Royals Farm Report (rankings are RFR’s 2021 rankings):
- Columbia (Low-A): Adrian Alcantara (#44), Ismael Aquino (#41), Delvin Capellan (#36), Ben Hernandez (#37), Rylan Kaufman (#40), Anderson Paulino (#46)
- Quad Cities (high-A): Grant Gambrell (#45), Zach Haake (#16), Will Klein (#13), Asa Lacy (#3), Adam Lukas (HR), Yohanse Morel (#14), Drew Parrish (#33), Nolan Watson (NR), Angel Zerpa (#30)
- Northwest Arkansas (double-A): Jonathan Bowlan (#9), Yefri Del Rosario (#19), Jonathan Heasley (#38), Alec Marsh (#8)
- Omaha (triple-A): Ronald Bolanos (G), Kris Bubic (G), Grant Gavin (HR), Carlos Hernandez (G), Jackson Kowar (#4), Daniel Lynch (#2)
That kind of pitching depth is incredible, and at each level, there are at least a couple of starters worth following. Double-A and Triple-A look to be solid, though I am intrigued by the possibilities of the Omaha rotation, which could consist of Ronald Bolanos, Kris Bubic, Carlos Hernandez, Jackson Kowar, and Daniel Lynch. Though I don’t like spending money unnecessarily, that Storm Chasers rotation could get me ordering MiLB.TV, as nearly every Storm Chasers game will be worth following (at least early on) with that rotation.
Furthermore, High-A Quad Cities could also be an intriguing rotation to follow, though it seems likely to change, especially if the pitchers perform as expected. Asa Lacy gets a High-A assignment, which makes sense considering the shortened college season and lost Minor League one a year ago. The Royals have seemed to take it slow with Lacy this Spring, for even though he opened Spring Camp with the Major League roster, the Royals did not have him pitch in Cactus League play, and he just made his pro debut against the Rangers last week, which Fangraphs recorded on their YouTube site:
However, if Lacy pitches well, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him move up to Double-A within a couple of months, especially if Lynch, Kowar, and/or Bubic make their way to Kansas City in July or August. While the Royals are doing just fine without them now, who knows what could happen the Royals staff over the next month, and that could cause a domino effect in the Royals system.
Of course, a domino effect wouldn’t seem to hurt the affiliates much. There is plenty of pitching depth at nearly every level in the Royals system, which is even more impressive considering that Austin Cox and Noah Murdock, two high-upside pitching prospects, are not currently listed on the Minor League rosters, as it seems they are in extended Spring Training working on some things for now:
The strength to this Royals system going into this season was the pitching depth, and that is confirmed when looking at the rosters, especially at the upper levels. If the pitching in the lower levels, Columbia especially, makes the appropriate developments, then this Royals system could be one overall that makes considerable gains in the prospect rankings, and be perhaps a legitimate Top-5 farm system by season’s end.
Pay attention to the infield depth in the farm system
Seuly Matias could be a fast riser in the Royals system, even though he is repeating High-A. He had a strong Winter and Spring campaign, and he also seemed to make some gains at the alternate site. His light tower power certainly turned a lot of heads, which was nice to see after he struggled in High-A Wilmington in 2019:
However, after Matias, when it comes to position players listed on the Royals affiliate rosters, the infielders, in my opinion, generate the most intrigue.
In Omaha, Lucius Fox and Gabe Cancel up the middle, and Emmanuel Rivera and Kelvin Gutierrez on the corners, could be a sneakily productive group. Fox, acquired in the Brett Phillips trade, presents some intriguing athleticism and tools, while Cancel could provide power at the keystone position. As for Rivera and Gutierrez, while they have their shares of flaws, they both are coming off stellar Winter League campaigns, and could make cases for call ups to Kansas City, especially if they are able to feast on Triple-A pitching.
Northwest Arkansas will obviously be the most promising group of infielders primarily because of Bobby Witt, Jr. and the hype machine that follows him. That being said, Nick Pratto could be on the cusp of a breakout after a solid Spring and campaign at the Alternate Site. Lastly, Clay Dungan, who also saw some time in Surprise, could be a stellar, if unspectacular complement to Witt up the middle. Honestly, Dungan was a guy who may be a dark horse in this sytem, and he could make some serious gains in the rankings if he does well in Double-A in 2021.
In High-A, the glove prowess of Jeison Guzman and the “Whit Merrifield-like” skills of 2020 late first round pick Nick Loftin should provide an entertaining group up the middle in the Quad Cities. However, Royals fans should not sleep on Vinnie Pasquantino, a polished college first baseman who made quite an impact in 2019 with the Burlington Royals of the Appalachian League. With Burlington, Pasquantino posted a .963 OPS and hit 14 home runs in 278 plate appearances, according to Baseball Reference. While Pratto is the Royals’ top first-base prospect, Pasquantino may be second, and could close that gap if he can have a stellar campaign in Davenport, Iowa.
Lastly, in Columbia, Maikel Garcia and Brady McConnell will be a pair of middle infielders to pay attention to. Garcia is the cousin of former Royals postseason hero Alcides Escobar, and had a strong campaign in the Venezuelan Winter League this past Winter. Garcia is not a top-rated prospect by most experts, but he is polished and has some interesting tools, and it will be interesting to see if his tools will develop in his first full-season Minor League experience in 2021.
As for McConnell, he’s in need of a strong bounce back campaign after a disappointing campaign in 2019 with Idaho Falls. In 38 games and 169 plate appearances, McConnell only posted a .667 OPS and he struck out 66 times. McConnell, a former second round pick in the 2019 draft, was pretty much a non-factor this past season, as he didn’t see any time at the Alternate Site or at Major League camp this Spring. Thus, this could be a make or break season for McConnell, especially with Loftin ahead of him in High-A.
The Royals certainly have their far share of intriguing non-infield position players in the farm system. But as a whole, there is a lot of intriguing infield talent in the Royals system, with more possibly on the horizon, especially if recent, high-profile international signing, Daniel Vazquez, progresses quicker than expected.
While the Royals Minor League pitching depth has certainly gotten a fair share of attention over the past year, the infield depth, development and upside could be key to the Royals going from a Top 10-12 farm system, to perhaps a Top 5-7 one by the end of 2021.
Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports