Looking at the Tier Seven Prospects (The “Royals Top 50 Prospects” Rankings)

When it comes to projection in this part of the “rankings”, the last few tiers are certainly going to contain a lot of “high risk” talents in the Royals system. I think it is always tough for analysts/writers/fans when one gets to the lower half of any prospect rankings for any club. It really comes down to a matter of personal subjective preference, as any player in the lower ranges of any Top 50 or Top 100 club prospect rankings will typically have a “low likelihood” of being a regular at the Major League level.

If you missed the previous posts, you can find each tier writeup hyperlinked in the list below:

Now, let’s move on to the third-to-last post in my “Royals Top 50 Prospects” rankings.

What is a Tier Seven Prospect, according to your rankings?

In my Tier Seven rankings, I categorized the prospects in this tier as “wild cards”, as they have some impressive tools, but they are either super young or still super raw when it comes to their player development.

The prospects in this tier are difficult to project, mostly because there is a lot that needs to happen in their progression as players. That is why they are “wild cards”. They could easily be regulars on the Royals roster in the three to four years. On the other hand, they could also be out of the Royals organization or affiliated Minor League baseball as well in the same time span.

Each prospect in the Tier Seven rankings is an international signing, and I think this is an interesting group that could be key for Dayton Moore and the Royals Player Development team. The Royals, under Moore, have made it a big priority to be more active in Latin American/International scouting, and that was evident in their most recent International Free Agent class, as the Royals set a franchise record with 28 signings:

However, while the Royals have struck gold with international talents such as Salvador Perez, Carlos Hernandez, and the late Yordano Ventura, they haven’t seen a whole lot of their international signings make substantial process in the Minor Leagues the past few years. If Moore and the Royals want to change the narrative that they can not just “sign” international players, but also develop them, they will need a few names from this Tier to emerge in 2022.

Tier Seven Rankings

(Rank; Name; Position; Last level played)

35. Daniel Vazquez; SS; Dominican Summer League

36. Wilmin Candelario; SS; Dominican Summer League

37. Omar Hernandez; C; Columbia

38. Samuel Valerio; RHP; Arizona Complex League

39. Adrian Alcantara; RHP; Columbia

40. Seuly Matias; RF; Northwest Arkansas

Can Vazquez, Candelario, and Hernandez rebound after off-years?

Shortstops Vazquez and Candelario and catcher Hernandez going into 2021 were seen as young, raw, but highly projectable talents who could surprise in the lower levels of the Royals system, though they would take a while before they reached the Major League level. All three players were teenagers still going into last season, so it was expected that they were going to go through some growing pains, especially after a lost Minor League season.

That being said, all three went through more than just their fair share of struggles last season, and the main concern with the Royals’ ability to properly develop signings from Latin America recently is due to the struggles of this trio a year ago.

Vazquez was the Royals’ most high-profile international signing in January of 2021, as the Royals inked him to a $1.7 million signing bonus. At the time, it seemed like a good move, especially considering the natural athleticism and tools of Vazquez:

Unfortunately, Vazquez struggled in his Dominican Summer League debut, as he posted a slash of .186/.280/.265 in 32 games and 118 plate appearances. In addition to only hitting one home run, Vazquez also posted a K rate of 26.3 percent and a BB/K ratio of 0.45, which isn’t bad, but not incredibly stellar either. While the Dominican Summer League has improved competition-wise over the years, it still was a discouraging debut, especially considering Vazquez’s lofty prospect status when he was signed in 2021.

Candelario on the other hand made his Arizona Complex League debut in 2021 after a sterling campaign in the DSL back in 2019. In the DSL two seasons ago, the Dominican-born shortstop posted a .315/.396/.503 slash with four home runs and 11 stolen bases in 49 games and 213 plate appearances. However, his stint in Arizona last season as a 19-year-old was far less impressive.

In 38 games and 142 plate appearances, Candelario hit .154 and posted an astronomical K rate of 51.4 percent, rough even for a teenager. Candelario still demonstrated excellent speed on the basepaths, and actually improved in base-stealing ability, as he stole nine bases on 10 attempts (in comparison to 11 bases on 22 attempts in 2019). However, his 0.11 BB/K ratio is a deflating sign, and he will need to show much better plate discipline in 2022 if he wants to jump back in the Top-30 prospect discussion, which was being floated at the start of the 2021 season.

Hernandez was also seen as a “dark horse” prospect last season, and the success of Salvy and Sebastian Rivero made some prospect experts think that Hernandez would be the latest Royals Latin American catching prospect success story in 2021. Hernandez did hit .290 as a 17-year-old in the DSL in 2019 in 36 games and 147 plate appearances, and though he didn’t show much power (zero home runs; .069 ISO), he did display a mature batting eye at the plate (13.6 percent K rate; 0.40 BB/K ratio).

Despite the high expectations, it was a season of growth for Hernandez in Low A Columbia, as he hit .174 in 69 games and 264 plate appearances. Hernandez did hit for a little more power, as he launched three home runs and improved his ISO to .100, but he nearly doubled his K rate (25.9 percent) in the process.

Hernandez’s profile really does mirror Rivero’s in a lot of ways, as evidenced in this home run he hit in late May with the Fireflies:

Rivero went through his fair share of ups and downs at the plate in the lower Minors as well before he turned it around. At the end of the day, Hernandez’s game calling and defense will be the key to how he develops and progresses in the Royals system, especially with MJ Melendez solidly at the top of the Royals system when it comes to catchers.

Thus, if Hernandez improves offensively in 2022, he could be an interesting candidate to perhaps push Rivero for the Royals’ third catcher spot in 2023 or 2024.

Are Valerio and Alcantara better than their ERA?

When looking at their surface-level metrics, Valerio and Alcantara don’t look impressive. With the amount of pitching depth in the Royals system currently, it is easy for Royals fans to overlook the pair, especially with Alcantara eligible for this upcoming Rule 5 Draft.

That being said, Valerio and Alcantara could surprise in 2022, should they make the proper adjustments this offseason and Spring.

As for Valerio, he didn’t see much time on the mound in 2021, as he only made four appearances and posted a 5.06 ERA and 1.20 K/BB ratio in 10.1 IP. However, he possesses incredible stuff, as his fastball has clocked in as high as 101 MPH, as evidenced in this Tweet:

Valerio was also much better when he was healthier in the DSL back in 2019, as he posted a 4.62 ERA and 2.38 K/BB ratio in 11 games and 25.1 IP. If Valerio is fully recovered in 2022, he could see some improvement in his metrics, and it will be interesting to see if the Royals pitching development team can help channel his control and command, which could make his explosive, but raw, fastball more effective in the short and long term.

As for Alcantara, he made 24 appearances, 20 starts, and pitched 96.1 innings with the Low A Columbia Fireflies as a 21-year-old. Alcantara’s ERA with the Fireflies was high at 5.33, and that was primarily due to a 16.7 HR/FB rate. However, there are some signs that Alcantara could bounce back in High-A Quad Cities, should he not get drafted in the Rule 5 Draft.

First off, Alcantara generates a decent amount of groundballs, as he posted a 41.4 GB rate a year ago, and a 56.3 percent GB rate in rookie league Burlington in 2019. That is primarily due to his sinker, which possesses good tailing movement and can induce groundballs on a consistent basis, as evidenced in this clip below:

Additionally, he posted a K/BB ratio of 3.27 in Columbia last season and 3.35 in Burlington in 2019. If he can get the home runs under control, Alcantara could emerge as a dark horse pitching prospect in 2022 who could perhaps be an Edinson Volquez-lite in the Royals system, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing to have on the mound.

Is This Seuly’s Year (Finally)?

I am not going to say anything about Matias that I haven’t said before on this blog. There is no one in the Royals system who has Matias’ power tool, and he has been one of the more entertaining players to follow for Royals fans and prospect experts alike.

After all, there are not a lot of Royals hitters who can make contact like this:

Or like this…

Or make throws like this…

Unfortunately, it’s hard to ignore the 36.5 percent and 37.6 percent K rates that he posted in Quad Cities and Northwest Arkansas in 2021, respectively.

Furthermore, his injury history isn’t comforting either, especially since he only played in a total of 59 games between High-A and Double-A ball in 2021.

Will Matias go undrafted in the Rule 5 Draft after being eligible for a second-straight year? Will Matias be able to neutralize his K rate in 2022? Will he finally stay healthy, after struggling to do so since coming onto the major prospect scene in 2018, after his bomb off of Justus Sheffield in the Futures Game?

There will always be a lot of “what ifs” for Matias and his outlook in Kansas City, even in 2022…

But with his power and arm, it will be hard for Royals fans to give up on Matias.

I wonder if the affinity from Royals fans will either end or increase after next season.

Photo Credit: Carmen Mandatto/Getty Images

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