We’re now onto Tier Five of the “Top 50 Royals Prospects” Rankings, which means that we’re over halfway done with these profiles before the full list is revealed. If you missed them, you can check out the first four Tier lists below:
Let’s now take a look at the No. 22-26 prospects in the Royals system for the upcoming season.
What is a Tier Five Prospect, according to your rankings?
We’re now getting to the point in the rankings where the prospects are at least a couple of years away from being serious contenders to make the 40-man roster. In this Tier, I categorized the prospects as having “interesting” profiles, but I still needed more data to make a definite decision on their outlook in the Royals system beyond 2022.
All these prospects in the Tier Five categories have their flaws, and they are not really “elite” raw talents by any means. However, they all have the potential to be “everyday” regular or “middle-of-the-rotation” starting pitchers at the Major League level, should they continue to develop in the Minor Leagues next season and beyond.
Tier Five Rankings
(Rank; Name; Position; Last level played in 2021)
22. Tucker Bradley; OF; Quad Cities
23. Peyton Wilson; 2B/LF/CF; Columbia
24. Shane Panzini; RHP; Instructional
25. Anthony Veneziano; LHP; Quad Cities
26. Jake Means; 3B/1B; Quad Cities
Is Bradley the Next Polished College Outfielder in the Royals System?
Tucker Bradley was a victim of the shortened college season as well as MLB Draft in 2020, and the Royals took advantage by signing the undrafted free agent shortly after the 2020 MLB Draft.
Bradley showed a mature batting eye in college at the University of Georgia, and he was in the midst of having a career year in his final season with the Bulldogs before the college season was cut short due to the pandemic. In 18 games, he hit six home runs and posted a .397 average and 1.243 OPS in 82 plate appearances. If the season had been able to go on as normal, or if the draft was longer than 10 rounds, it is likely that Bradley would have been out of the Royals’ reach that season.
Dayton Moore and JJ Picollo’s decision to sign Bradley paid off in a big way last year, as Bradley thrived while playing primarily in Quad Cities. In 86 games with the River Bandits, Bradley posted a .280/.370/.430 slash with six home runs, 42 RBI, and 9 stolen bases on 10 attempts. Playing primarily right field in the Quad Cities, he showed some solid prowess defensively in the field, in addition to a mature eye at the plate, as he posted a 0.55 BB/K ratio last season.
In many ways, the 23-year-old corner infielder may remind Royals fans of 2021 Opening Day outfielder Kyle Isbel, and that is even more evident when watching his swing in action:
Even though Isbel came from a more low-profile college (UNLV), he projected as a high-floor college outfield prospect who could move quickly through the Minor League system due to his plate discipline and contact skills. The same seems to be true for Bradley after one full Minor League season, though I am not sure if Bradley has Isbel’s athleticism in the field.
Nonetheless, considering the Royals signed him as an undrafted free agent, the fact that Bradley’s outlook is looking incredibly positive going into 2022 is a huge win for the scouts in this organization. It will be interesting to see if Bradley can transition his solid hitting and plate discipline to Double-A Northwest Arkansas next year, which could perhaps make him a candidate to be added to the 40-man roster in 2023.
Which would then create an interesting Royals outfield scenario with him and Isbel in 2023 or 2024.
Can Panzini and Veneziano be part of the next wave of Royals arms?
Without a doubt, Asa Lacy, Frank Mozzicato, Ben Kudrna, and Ben Hernandez are the highest-ceiling pitching prospects in the Royals system currently. That being said, Royals fans shouldn’t sleep on Shane Panzini or Anthony Veneziano, who show some similarities to young Royals pitchers Brady Singer and Daniel Lynch, respectively.
Panzini didn’t pitch at all in the Minor Leagues last season, but he did make his debut in Instructional League play, and he held his own, despite being a prep pitcher from a cold-weather state (New Jersey). What is most striking about Panzini’s profile as a pitching prospect is how quickly he works on the mound and how aggressively he attacks the zone, which is pretty evident in the tape of him from this past Instructional League season:
Even though Panzini doesn’t have the size or pedigree of Singer, his pitching motion and approach seem very Singer-like, which is a positive sign. While Singer certainly has his flaws as a pitcher, I also think Singer has the potential to be a solid No. 2-3 starter in the Royals rotation for a long time, and if Panzini can project into that, then I think Royals fans will be quite happy with the 2021 fourth-round pick.
Furthermore, past scouting reports have indicated that he’s continuously gotten better each and every year as a high schooler on the prospect circuit. That displays Panzini’s bulldog approach to getting better on the mound, which is a good sign of his plus-makeup, which the Royals value highly of prospects in their system.
Don’t be surprised to see Panzini really surprise some Royals fans in the lower levels of the system this year, though I imagine the Royals will take it slow with him, especially since 2022 will be his first full year of professional ball.
As for Veneziano, he has a few more innings under his belt in his Minor League career than Panzini, as he debuted with the Rookie Level Idaho Falls Chukars back in 2019. However, the former Coastal Carolina product struggled in his MiLB debut with Idaho Falls, as he posted a 5.59 ERA in 13 appearances and 46.2 IP.
Despite his issues in Rookie ball, Veneziano displayed solid control, as he posted a 3.38 K/BB ratio, which contributed to a more palatable 4.87 FIP that season. Thus, there was some hope that Veneziano could sneak up the prospect rankings if he got the hits under control (.386 BABIP in 2019).
In his second full season of Minor League ball, the 23-year-old left-hander absolutely thrived in the Quad Cities, as he posted a 3.75 ERA in 22 starts and 93.2 IP. This solid performance earned him High-A Central Division Pitcher of the Year honors:
In addition to maintaining solid control in High-A (3.43 K/BB ratio), Veneziano also improved his strikeout rate, as his K/9 jumped from 8.49 in 2019 to 12.20 in 2021. Granted, home runs were still a slight problem, as his HR/FB rate actually jumped from 12.8 percent to 13.1 percent from 2019 to 2021, respectively. That contributed to him posting a 4.09 FIP last year, a slightly higher mark than his ERA with the River Bandits.
Nonetheless, there is a lot to like about Veneziano’s profile, and his long-lanky frame and delivery will remind Royals fans of Lynch, even though he has a much lower upside than the former Virginia Cavaliers product.
Will we see Veneziano make his MLB debut this year? With so many arms in the upper levels of the farm system, it seems unlikely. That being said, if Veneziano continues to improve in 2022 (most likely in Double-A Northwest Arkansas), then it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in the 40-man roster discussion next Winter.
Can Wilson and Means cut down on the strikeouts?
Peyton Wilson and Jake Means both are intriguing infielder prospects for pretty much the same reason: they have incredible power potential, but they don’t really hit for a high average and they struck out way too much last year to be considered “surefire” prospects. Nonetheless, they still have the kind of upside that could get them in the more “serious” prospect discussion, especially if Royals Player Development can make some gains with them in regard to their hit tool, like Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez a year ago.
After posting a .812 OPS in 58 games and 279 plate appearances with the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2021, Wilson signed quickly after being drafted in the second round by the Royals in last year’s first-year player draft. Thus, he was able to play 23 games professionally last year, which included an 11-game, 46-plate appearance stint in low A Columbia.
Wilson’s tenure in both Columbia and the Complex League had its ups and downs. He showed an ability to draw walks and hit for power both in the Complex League and Low A ball, but he struck out a lot as well, as evidenced by his 24.4 percent K rate in rookie ball, and his 21.7 percent K rate in Columbia.
There will be a lot of work and patience with Wilson in 2022, as it is likely that he will repeat in Columbia next year. However, he shows a lot of potential for a middle infielder, not just power-wise, but also in regard to his athleticism. He has the positional versatility to be a Nick Loftin or perhaps even a Whit Merrifield type of player, though he may have more power potential than Whit, as evidenced below:
As for Means, he is a local product, hailing from Gardner-Edgerton High School. He boasts a budding power tool for a third baseman, as he hit 16 home runs in 97 games between Columbia and Quad Cities. Furthermore, he also has a solid eye at the plate, as he posted walk rates last season of 16.5 and 13.9 percent in Columbia and Quad Cities, respectively.
And when it comes to making hard contact? Well…few in Quad Cities hit the ball as hard as Means last season (with the possible exception of Seuly Matias):
However, the strikeouts plagued Means, as he struck out 26.4 percent of the time with the Fireflies and 26.7 percent of the time with the River Bandits. Thus, much like Wilson, it will be interesting if the Royals Player Development team will be able to help Means work through this issue as he moves up to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2022.
If they can, Means may jump up the prospect rankings by mid-season (and the same could be true for Wilson as well).
Photo Credit: Go Sycamores.com