Starting today, I will be gradually releasing my top Royals prospects from my “Top 50” rankings by tiers.
Overall, there are nine tiers of prospects within the Top 50 list for 2022, and there will be a separate post for each tier of Royals prospects.
Now, there aren’t a set number of prospects per tier. For example, Tier One only has five prospects in it. However, Tier Two has six prospects. What mattered most was not a set number per tier, but the talent levels and outlook of each group of Royals prospects.
Let’s take a look at the Tier One prospects, and what makes them Tier One, according to my rankings.
What is a Tier One prospect, according to your rankings?
A Tier One prospect is someone I classified as a potential “star” prospect. Now, “star” may mean different things to different Royals fans. Some “stars”, like Salvador Perez, are pretty clear cut. However, there are some current “stars” that are more debatable.
Take, for example, Whit Merrifield. Some Royals fans wouldn’t consider Whit a “star” player. Other Royals fans (and baseball fans in general) would.
In my opinion, I tend to classify Whit as a “star” player, though obviously less of one than Salvy. Whit is a multiple All-Star. He’s the face of the franchise beyond Salvy. Not all “stars” are created equal, especially in the Royals universe.
So, the five prospects listed in Tier One have that “star” potential, though they will not all be the same caliber of “stars”, and may not reach that “stardom” at the same time.
Tier One Rankings
(Rank; Name; Position; Levels Played in 2021)
- 1. Bobby Witt, Jr.; SS; Omaha Storm Chasers/Northwest Arkansas Nautrals in 2021
- 2. MJ Melendez; C; Omaha Storm Chasers/Northwest Arkansas Naturals in 2021
- 3. Nick Pratto; 1B; Omaha Storm Chasers/Northwest Arkansas Naturals in 2021
- 4. Asa Lacy; SP; Quad Cities River Bandits in 2021
- 5. Nick Loftin; SS/OF; Quad Cities River Bandits in 2021
Why Melendez over Pratto?
I chose Melendez at the No. 2 spot over Pratto for two reasons primarily:
- Melendez’s lower strikeout rate in 2021.
- Having a star catcher is more valuable than having a star first baseman long-term.
Both Pratto and Melendez saw dramatic turnarounds in Double-A and Triple-A respectively in 2021 after struggling in High-A Wilmington in 2019. Both posted solid wRC+ numbers, with Pratto posting a 155 wRC+ in Double-A and a 156 wRC+ in Triple-A, and Melendez posting a 157 and 170 wRC+ at those same levels, respectively.
However, Pratto struck out 29.1 percent of the time in NWA and 28.5 percent of the time in Omaha. Melendez on the other hand only struck out 21.9 percent and 21.2 percent of the time at those levels, respectively.
As for position, while Pratto has a clearer and quicker path at his position (first base) than Melendez (Pratto should be taking over full-time as soon as Carlos Santana is dealt, whenever that is), I think Melendez has more value as a potential All-Star catcher than Pratto as an All-Star first baseman, even though Pratto’s glove could be Gold Glove-caliber.
Furthermore, Melendez has the same profile and outlook as Pratto offensively, and Melendez could be much better in the framing area of the game, something Salvy has struggled with. That possible framing upside gives Melendez a lot more positional value, especially considering how important pitching is to the Royals future.
Yes, Salvy is currently the Royals catcher now, which prevents an immediate impact or path for Melendez (though if the Royals deal Gallagher, that could open up a backup spot). But if Melendez lives up to his hype, he could have Salvy-like value, which could give the Royals the opportunity to move Salvy to DH sooner rather than later, which would be more valuable for Salvy and the team’s future in the short and long term.
Why is Lacy so low?
Lacy is typically the No. 2 prospect in the Royals system by most prospect experts, as Baseball America ranked Lacy as the Royals’ best prospect after Witt. Granted, Lacy did have a solid Fall League campaign, as he put up many sterling performances in Arizona like the one below:
However, while I think Lacy’s ceiling may be the highest of any of the Royals’ young starting pitchers (he could be a bonafide ace), I am a little concerned about his control, which could make his floor possibly lower than any top pitcher in the Royals organization. Maybe it’s just me being conservative, but I am always hesitant about a pitcher with a BB/9 of 7.10, and K/BB ratio of 1.93, especially against High-A pitching.
That being said, if Lacy is able to channel his strong fall performance to the Minor Leagues this year (it’s likely he’ll repeat in Quad Cities), then it is possible that Lacy could progress quickly through the Royals system and possibly make his MLB debut by the end of 2022.
I just need to see more first, and a solid Spring Training would be a good start.
Is Loftin really a star?
Loftin may be my most polarizing Tier One prospect, and I totally understand. After Lacy, it was tough to find a fifth prospect that fit in this category, and one could certainly make the case for Vinnie Pasquantino after his tremendous 2021.
That being said, I think Loftin could be a star, though he may be closer to that “Whit-esque” star than the “Salvy-esque” one.
First off, when diving into Loftin’s numbers, it’s surprising how impressive his season in Quad Cities was.
In 90 games and 410 plate appearances, Loftin posted a triple-slash of .289/.373/.463 with 10 home runs and 11 stolen bases on 13 attempts. He posted a K rate under 15 percent and a BB/K ratio of 0.70. He did this in his first experience against professional pitching outside the Royals organization (he was at the Alternate Site in 2020), and he also was injured at the beginning of the year, so it’s intriguing to think what Loftin could do fully healthy over a complete Minor League season.
Lastly, the River Bandits rotated Loftin all over the field as he played significant time at second and third base, in addition to shortstop.
While it has become cliche to dub Royals middle infield prospects as the next “Whit”, when watching him play, Loftin really lives up to the billing:
Dayton Moore in the 2020 draft said the Royals contemplated drafting Loftin in the No. 4 spot, had Lacy not been available. At first, I thought that was just “draft hype” talk (after all, you’re not going to downtalk your draft picks), but I really think Loftin may be better than the experts think. There’s a lot of versatility and polish to his game, and I think he could make a push to be Whit’s heir-apparent, which may be a reality sooner rather than later, as Whit only has a club option after 2022, and will be an unrestricted free agent after 2023.
Photo Credit: Abbie Parr/Getty Images