After revealing the first five “Tier One” prospects in my previous post, I am going to move forward to my “Tier Two” prospects, which consists of prospects on my list ranked No. 6-No. 11.
What is a “Tier Two” Prospect, according to your rankings?
I listed the “Tier Two” prospects as players I envisioned becoming Major League “regulars.” These are prospects that can be everyday players and have an impact on the Royals in the future. However, I am not sure if they are necessarily regular “All-Star” types, though prospects on this list certainly have occasional “All-Star” potential.
To use past Royals players as comparisons, I view “Tier Two” prospects projections to be somewhere along the lines of regular Royals players like Billy Butler, Danny Duffy, and Nicky Lopez.
Butler was a solid offensive player for the Royals, and a one-time All-Star, but his lack of glove, speed, and consistent home run power kept him from being a perennial All-Star in Kansas City. Duffy certainly had his moments for the Royals and earned his extension and was a key cog on those AL Pennant teams in 2014 and 2015. However, I am not sure he really became the “ace” the Royals needed him to be during his tenure.
And Lopez? He’s a Gold Glove-caliber defender, and he finally came through with the bat a bit in 2021 after floundering in 2019 and 2020. That being said, I don’t think Lopez is going to make an All-Star team anytime soon, even though he could be a productive two to three fWAR player each year.
These prospects will have positive outlooks, like the three listed above, who were all Royals draft picks. However, they don’t have the “star” quality of those “Tier One” prospects.
Tier Two Rankings
(Rank; Name; Position; Levels Played in 2021)
6. Vinnie Pasquantino; 1B; Northwest Arkansas/Quad Cities in 2021
7. Frank Mozzicato; LHP; Instructional League in 2021
8. Jonathan Bowlan; RHP; Northwest Arkansas in 2021
9. Ben Kudrna; RHP; Instructional League in 2021
10. Will Klein; RHP; Quad Cities in 2021
11. Carter Jensen; C; Arizona Complex League in 2021
So Pasquantino Will Not Be a Star?
There was no question that Pasquantino was a tough one to leave out of the “Tier One” list.
In 2021, he posted a 154 wRC+ in Quad Cities and a 153 wRC+ in Northwest Arkansas, not missing a beat after being promoted. He pretty much has hit exceptionally well at every level he has played at in professional ball thus far, as he also posted a 152 wRC+ in 57 games and 248 plate appearances in 2019 with the Burlington Royals of the rookie-based Appalachian League. When it comes to his hit tool, there may not be many, if any, better than Pasquantino in the Royals’ farm system, going into 2022.
However, pretty much all of Pasquantino’s value stems from his bat, as he has earned the nickname “Italian Breakfast” due to his similarities to Butler, who was also known for his hit tool as a prospect, and little else. A reason why Pasquantino didn’t appear on many Royals’ Top-10 lists until this year was due to his lackluster glove and speed, even for a first-base prospect.
Will Pasquantino be able to fit at first base in the future, especially with Nick Pratto ahead of him by a level (and with Pratto a much better-rated defender to boot)? Can he really be a consistent DH in the future, especially with that position tending to go to veterans (can Pasquantino beat Salvy for the spot, especially if MJ Melendez is as good as advertised)?
Yes, I have no doubt Pasquantino will hit enough to be a Major League player. But I am not sure if he will do other things well enough to carve a “set” spot for himself in the future, especially considering the competition he’ll face from Pratto and Melendez in the next couple of seasons.
Am I Rating the 2021 Draft Picks Too Highly?
I ranked three 2021 draft picks in the Top-10: Mozzicato, Kudrna, and Jensen.
The Royals’ draft was not really “loved” by a lot of prospect experts and Royals fans, as many felt that Mozzicato was an over-draft, and Kudrna and Jensen have a long ways to go to prove that they were drafted for more than “hometown” reasons (Kudrna hails from Blue Valley Southwest and Jensen went to Park Hill, both high schools in the KC Metro).
I totally get that these three guys will “make or break” my prospect rankings overall in 2022.
However, while I know many Royals fans and content creators may be skeptical on the three, I think that they could be dark horse prospects who could really surprise in 2022, as long as they stay healthy.
Both Mozzicato and Kudrna didn’t play in the Minors last season after signing, but they showed some impressive promise and tools leading up to the draft, and they should be well taken care of by the Royals’ professional development team. I liked what little I saw on tape from Mozzicato in the instructional league, as evidenced by this Fangraphs video below:
Like Mozzicato, Kudrna also only got professional experience in the instructional league in Arizona last year, but it is obvious that he has the frame and stuff to be a power arm in the Royals’ rotation in the future. I know as a “Kansas Prep” prospect that there may be skeptics about his long-term outlook, especially after how Bubba Starling worked out for the Royals. That being said, I liked his potential just as much as Mozzicato, though he strikes me as a little more volatile than his left-handed draft classmate, which is why I ranked him two spots lower.
Jensen was able to get time in the Arizona Complex Rookie League, and he held his own at the plate, despite being only 17-years-old.
In 18 games and 65 plate appearances, Jensen hit .273 with a 110 wRC+. Of Royals hitters in the Arizona Complex League with 40 or more plate appearances, that wRC+ ranked him fifth overall. Furthermore, he did this as the second-youngest hitter on the Royals Complex League team (only 16-year-old Darnel Collins was younger and had more plate appearances).
Here’s some tape of Jensen from his rookie debut last season:
Jensen is definitely a project. However, the Royals player development team has had success with prep catchers like Melendez recently, and it’s not out of the question to think that Jensen could be the next success story, even if it could mean a crowded catcher position in Kansas City in the next 3-4 seasons.
What are Bowlan and Klein’s Outlooks (i.e. starters or relievers)?
Bowlan was quietly having an incredible season in Northwest Arkansas in 2021, as he struck out 25 batters and walked only three in four starts and 17 innings of work before going on the shelf due to an arm injury. If Bowlan had not received Tommy John surgery, it is possible that Bowlan would have been called up to the Majors before Jon Heasley and Angel Zerpa, who both made their MLB debuts in 2021.
I think Bowlan could crack the Royals’ rotation in 2023 if healthy, but I also could see the Royals bringing him along slowly in 2022, especially with the Royals farm system having so much pitching depth. As a result, I could see the Royals perhaps move him to the bullpen at some point, not because they think he’ll be in that role in the long-term, but it may be the best way to get him back to full-strength in 2022. That’s why I listed Bowland as a “Tier Two” guy, though I think he certainly could be a “Tier One” prospect by the end of 2022. His command and control are that stellar.
As for Klein, he’s been one of the fastest risers in the Royals system, and it makes sense considering that he possesses an upper 90’s fastball, and posted a 15.48 K/9 in 2021 with the Quad Cities River Bandits. Yes, he had some walk issues (5.63 BB/9), but 3.20 ERA and 2.99 FIP should make Royals fans hopeful about Klein’s outlook in 2022.
Plus, it’s hard to ignore stuff like this below:
Klein could be developed as a starter next season (it’s not completely off the table). However, it seems like the consensus among experts is that he’ll be fast-tracked to the Royals bullpen in 2022, with a possibility of him making his MLB debut as soon as July, and as late as September, depending on how he fares in Northwest Arkansas. I know many Royals fans and prospect experts may frown on a pitcher whose ultimate outlook may be a “reliever”, but Klein is “closer” material, and I am not sure there are a whole lot of options for that role in a couple of years, beyond Scott Barlow, who’s already in arbitration.
He doesn’t go beyond “Tier Two” status in my rankings (and 10th overall), but it’s possible that Klein could have the biggest impact at the Major League level in 2022 out of this tier of prospects.
Photo Credit: MLB Pipeline