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

This year’s “Royals Top 50 Prospects” rankings are coming to a close, as we come to our second-to-last tier of rankings and writeups.

If you missed them, you can find the previous seven tiers in the hyperlinks below:

Now, let’s take a look at the No. 41-45 prospects in the Royals system.

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

I categorized “Tier Eight” prospects as “late bloomers”, as they are pitchers or position players who possess some interesting tools or skill sets but have taken their time to be considered serious prospects in the Royals system thus far.

That is not to say “late bloomer” prospects can’t have value.

Frank Schwindel is a prime example of a “late bloomer”, though he ended up finding success in a different organization outside of Kansas City. Jake Brentz is an example of a pitcher who would have fit in this tier, as Brentz was kind of seen as a wild card arm in the Blue Jays, Mariners, and Pirates organizations before finding success with the Royals as a 26-year-old (Brentz was drafted out of high school).

There is a lot of potential within this tier, as the prospects at this end of the rankings could contribute at the Major League level in the next year or two. That being said, it is highly possible that the prospects in this tier may need to find other organizations to get an opportunity, much like Schwindel and Brentz.

Tier Eight Rankings

(Rank; Name; Position; Last Level Played)

41. Josh Dye; LHP; Omaha

42. Christian Chamberlain; LHP; Quad Cities

43. Kasey Kalich; RHP; Quad Cities

44. Nate Eaton; 3B/LF/RF; Quad Cities

45. Brewer Hicklen; OF; Northwest Arkansas

Could Dye Be a Sleeper Lefty (If Not Picked in the Rule 5)?

Despite being drafted in the 23rd round of the 2018 Draft, Dye has consistently produced at every level he’s pitched at. He may not be the biggest name from that pitching-loaded Royals class, but his numbers compare favorably to a lot of the other high-profile (and higher-ranked) Royals pitching prospects, as shown in the Tweet from Alec Lewis below:

Dye primarily pitched in Northwest Arkansas and in 38 outings and 60.2 IP, he posted a 2.52 ERA and a 3.78 K/BB ratio. Even though Dye doesn’t possess overwhelming stuff, he has always demonstrated stellar command and control throughout his Minor League career.

With the Naturals last year, he generated a K rate of 27.2 percent, and in a brief five-inning stint with the Storm Chasers, he posted a 26.3 percent K rate. In 2019 in High-A Wilmington, he posted a 27 percent K rate, and in Low-A Lexington that year, his K rate was 38.1 percent.

Even though he may not be the most high-profile arm, Dye has performed at every level he’s played at since debuting in 2018. His funky delivery and above-average breaking stuff could help him make a Major League roster as soon as next season, especially if he is selected in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft:

Right now, Roster Resource’s Royals Depth Chart has Brentz and Gabe Speier penciled in as lefties in the Royals bullpen in 2022. With Richard Lovelady expected to be out for most of 2022 as he recovers from Tommy John, it could be a battle between Dye and veteran Sam Freeman for a lefty spot in the bullpen this Spring, should injury beset Brentz or Speier. Freeman was signed by the Royals on a Minor League deal on January 27th and could be an Ervin Santana-esque story after not pitching the Major Leagues since 2020:

Of course, that’s if Dye is still on the Royals roster this Spring.

Are Chamberlain and Kalich Fast Risers in the Royals system?

Chamberlain was selected in the fourth round of the 2020 MLB Draft out of Oregon State and was seen as a bit of a sleeper in that draft. Chamberlain not only possessed good stuff and a mature arsenal, but he also pitched for a pretty elite Beavers program that routinely battles for College World Series titles.

Though he didn’t pitch much in 2021 due to injury (he only made two appearances and pitched 3.2 innings with the River Bandits), he did showcase some solid strikeout ability, as evidenced in the clip below:

Chamberlain is originally penciled in as a starter according to Royals Depth Charts, and it makes sense as he is scheduled to repeat High-A Quad Cities in 2022. However, if the Royals organization decides to move him to the bullpen, he could move through the system quickly and be pitching in Double-A or even Triple-A by season’s end, as long as he stays healthy.

As for Kalich, he could also move quickly, as he pitched 50 innings total in High-A ball in the Braves and Royals systems. Kalich was acquired in the Jorge Soler trade at the deadline, and he posted a 4.12 ERA in 14 appearances and 19.2 IP in Quad Cities.

While those numbers are a bit “ho-hum” for a reliever, he improved his K/BB ratio from 2.06 in Rome (the Braves’ High-A organization) to 3.83 with the River Bandits. Furthermore, his 3.67 FIP suggests that Kalich was better than what his ERA indicated in Quad Cities.

Kalich casts a big presence on the mound, and he can draw some comparison to Jonathan Bowlan, though his stuff is not quite as elite as Bowlan’s (hence why he is in this tier of the rankings).

Obviously, the Braves benefited more from the Soler trade last season than the Royals. However, if Kalich can perform well in Double-A next season, he could be a possible bullpen piece for the Royals in 2023 and beyond.

Can Nate Eaton and Brewer Hicklen Be More than Just Organizational Depth?

Eaton’s name was buzzing among prospect experts this Fall, as he impressed in the Arizona Fall League with Surprise. The Royals’ 21st round pick in the 2018 Draft (God that draft was good) posted a slash of .317/.352/.463 which included five doubles, two triples, and a home run in 20 games and 88 plate appearances. Eaton also showed some excellent instincts on the basepaths, as he stole four bases on four attempts.

His stellar line earned him a spot in the AFL All-Star game, and he continued to impress in that contest, as evidenced by this key two-RBI triple:

Unfortunately, Eaton didn’t quite post as stellar a line in Quad Cities in 2021.

In 70 games and 304 plate appearances with the River Bandits, Eaton hit .243 with an OPS of .715. His 102 wRC+ with the River Bandits showed that he was above average in comparison to other High-A hitters, but only barely. While Eaton did demonstrate excellent skills on the basepaths (23 stolen bases on 26 attempts) as well as a strong ability to draw a walk (11.5 percent walk rate), he still struck out 23.4 percent of the time.

Hopefully, the confidence he gained this Fall will transition to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where he is expected to start in 2022. Kyle Isbel benefited from a strong AFL campaign in 2020, and he built on that momentum to eventually make the Royals’ Opening Day roster in 2021. With his position versatility and stolen base skills, Eaton could follow a similar route, should he improve his hit tool a bit in 2022.

As for Hicklen, he’s been an interesting outfield prospect in the Royals system for a few seasons now. He doesn’t possess elite tools by any measure, but he does showcase “good” or at least “above average” ones in nearly every area of the game. Hicklen also oozes with intangibles, as scouts rave about his makeup and leadership ability, and he has been used in many Royals promotional materials, including this brief video about his time at Fall Camp in 2020:

And if the leadership wasn’t enough, Hicklen plays the game incredibly hard on a regular basis, and seems to epitomize the “Royals Way” of play, as demonstrated in this inside-the-park home run with Northwest Arkansas last July:

That being said, Hicklen still has his fair share of flaws, which is why he isn’t on the 40-man roster, making him eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft.

He strikes out way too much to be considered a serious prospect, as he struck out 31.1 percent of the time with the Naturals last year, and he has only posted a K rate under 28 percent once in his career (2017 in rookie ball). While he does possess some budding power (16 home runs last year; .191 ISO) and incredible stolen base ability (40 stolen bases in 44 attempts), it is questionable if he’ll ever be able to hit for enough average to stick at the Major league level. His .243 mark with the Naturals last year certainly didn’t generate a whole lot of confidence with Royals prospect experts.

Hicklen is expected to start in Triple-A Omaha, as long as he is not drafted in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. The hit tool will be important for Royals fans to pay attention to in 2022 because even if he can be a .250-.260 hitter at the Major League level, he could be an excellent corner outfield, or maybe even center field option who could hit for 15-20 home runs and steal 20-30 bases for years to come.

And with a dearth of center field options in the upper levels of the Royals system, such a profile would be welcomed by the big league club sooner rather than later.

Photo Credit: Jill Weisleder/MLB Photos via Getty Images

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