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

We have finally reached the end of the 2022 “Royals Top 50 Prospects” rankings, as I reveal the final five prospects in the Top 50, which makes up this last tier.

For those who have missed out on these rankings (or just stumbled upon this blog recently), here are the previous eight tiers of Royals prospects and their respective writeups:

Now, let’s move on to the final tier of the prospect rankings, and who could be the most under-the-radar prospects in the Kansas City Royals system.

What is a Tier Nine Prospect, according to your Rankings?

I categorized a Tier Nine prospect as a “super wild card”. Prospects in this tier may possess a promising tool or a couple of encouraging skill sets that could help them move up the Royals’ Minor League system and perhaps give them a shot to make the big league club in the future.

However, their tools are super raw, or they are quite a few years away from even touching the upper Minor League levels of the system, let alone the big leagues.

Honestly, “super wild cards” are probably more Jarrod Dyson or Kelvin Herrera types. They’re going to rank low on most prospect experts’ rankings and could be omitted from some altogether as well (Dyson and Herrera ranked pretty low in team-specific rankings before making their MLB debuts). That being said, they could rely on their one or two tools to find a productive role on the Royals’ active roster, much like Dyson and Herrera during their Royals tenures.

They won’t be regular everyday players or frontline arms, but they could still carve out productive professional careers if things break right for them.

Tier Nine Rankings

(Rank; Name; Position; Last Level Played)

46. Kale Emshoff; C; Quad Cities

47. Tyler Tolbert; 2B/OF; Quad Cities

48. Jaswel De Los Santos; OF; Complex League

49. A.J. Block; LHP; Quad Cities

50. Eric Cerantola; RHP; Complex League

Is Emshoff the Royals’ Next Big Catching Prospect?

The Royals have had some success in drafting/signing as well as developing catchers in the Dayton Moore era.

MJ Melendez may be the Royals’ next-best prospect after Bobby Witt, Jr., especially after he led the Minor Leagues in home runs in 2021.

Sebastian Rivero has all the makings of being a solid backup MLB catcher, and Cam Gallagher, when healthy, has been exactly that thus far in his career, even if it may not be for long due to the catching logjam on the 40-man roster.

And of course, the Royals have Salvador Perez, who may be the Royals’ best shot at getting someone in the Baseball Hall of Fame, especially if he continues to have seasons offensively like he did last year:

The Royals have some incredible depth when it comes to catching in their farm system. And yet, Emshoff, despite barely making this list, shouldn’t be taken lightly by Royals fans for this upcoming season, even if he may get overshadowed by Melendez in 2022.

Last year in his Minor League debut, Emshoff hit .273 with 10 home runs and a .885 OPS in 55 games and 234 plate appearances in Low A Columbia. His numbers did regress when he got called up to High A Quad Cities, as he only hit .222 in eight games and 33 plate appearances with the River Bandits. However, he still posted an 18.2 percent walk rate in Quad Cities, and his 0.46 BB/K ratio mirrored his 0.41 mark with the Fireflies, showing that his plate discipline didn’t suffer much despite the transition.

Scouting reports seem to profile Emshoff as a more offensive-oriented catching prospect, but his power potential and stroke are prodigious and well-develop for a lower-level prospect. Here’s an example of Emshoff showcasing his power tool with Columbia, as he hits an absolute moonshot against Myrtle Beach in August:

The big question will be if Emshoff will stick at catcher as he moves up the Royals system, especially with other high-upside catching prospects ahead of him in terms of “ranking” (i.e. Omar Hernandez and Carter Jensen). However, he will be a fun player to watch in Quad Cities, and if he builds on his successful campaign from last season, he could jump up prospect experts’ rankings quickly by mid-season…

Which could help him land a spot in Double-A Northwest Arkansas, especially if Melendez is up in the big leagues around that mid-season mark.

Can Tolbert and De Los Santos Develop Their Tools?

Tolbert and De Los Santos are classic Royals utility prospects in the sense that they have some tremendous athleticism and tools. Unfortunately, like many Royals prospects with similar profiles in the past (i.e. Lucius Fox last year), it is to be determined whether or not they can put it together to be taken seriously as possible fits in the Royals infield or outfield in the near or far future.

Speed is the name of the game for Tolbert, as he stole 53 bases on 55 attempts in 86 games between Columbia and Quad Cities a year ago. Tolbert has some legitimate “Billy Hamilton-esque” speed, but unfortunately for himself and the Royals, his bat also seems to mirror Hamilton’s as well (not a good thing at all). With the Fireflies, the former 13th round pick hit .219 in 347 plate appearances, and his .188 mark was not much better in his six-game sample with the River Bandits at the end of the season.

To Tolbert’s credit, he can draw a walk. He posted a .352 OBP in Columbia in 2021, as well as a walk rate of 14.7 percent and a BB/K ratio of 0.54. While he may never be a .300 hitter in professional ball, if he can raise his average to a more respectable level, it is possible that he could develop into a Khalil Lee-type of prospect, especially with his speed tool, which is demonstrated in more than just stolen bases, as evidenced by this triple below:

De Los Santos is a bit rawer than Tolbert, as he was still a teenager in 2021. Despite his youth and being in the early stages of his development, there is some potential for him to break out and be considered a “serious” Royals prospect in 2022.

According to Fangraphs’ Roster Resource Depth Charts, he is projected to return to the Rookie Complex League to at least start 2022, where he is expected to play along with Erick Pena and perhaps Henry Ramos, the Royals’ most high profile signing from the Royals’ latest international signing period.

The 20-year-old Dominican outfielder didn’t perform badly in the Arizona Complex League by any means. He posted a .266 average with six home runs and an .810 OPS in 41 games and 143 plate appearances. While the higher profile Pena floundered in his Stateside debut, De Los Santos held his own, which helped him jettison up Royals prospect expert lists this offseason (remember, he was pretty off most Royals ranking radars in 2021).

When he does connect, De Los Santos demonstrates a smooth stroke, and there is a solid foundation for more power as he grows and matures. Though his tools aren’t as loud as Pena’s, he certainly proved to be a more polished player in 2021.

Here’s an example of De Los Santos ripping into one back in a September 7th game in Arizona:

De Los Santos barely cracks the Top 50 this year…but he could be even higher up by mid-season, especially if he transitions to Low-A Columbia and continues to build on his promising Rookie League campaign.

Don’t Sleep on Block and Cerantola

It’s easy to overlook AJ Block and Eric Certantola, especially considering the plethora of pitching depth in the Royals farm system, and the roundabout ways both pitchers found their way to the Royals organization. Block was a 17th-round pick in the 2019 draft by the Tigers, while Cerantola was a 30th round pick by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018 back in high school before going much higher in last season’s draft, coming out of college.

After not signing with the Tigers and returning to Washington State, Block was an undrafted signee by the Royals in 2020, as he was a victim of the shortened NCAA season and MLB Draft due to the pandemic. As for Cerantola, he was drafted by the Royals in the 5th round of last year’s draft and was able to sign quickly enough to make his professional debut.

As for the former Washington State Cougar, he had a sterling Minor League debut in 2021, as he posted a 0.56 ERA and an 8.67 K/BB ratio in 16 innings with Columbia. Blocked built on that impressive Low A debut in his promotion to High-A Quad Cities, as he put up a respectable 3.81 ERA and a 2.97 K/BB ratio in 19 games and 85 innings pitched.

While Block didn’t get as much attention as top Royals pitching prospect Asa Lacy, Block proved to still be an effective left-handed arm in High-A play in 2021, as demonstrated in this strong performance against Peoria in June:

Cerantola doesn’t have as much of a professional track record as Block.

After signing, he only pitched 4.2 IP in four appearances last season in the Arizona Complex League. However, according to Fangraphs, he has three 55 grade pitches, which include his fastball, slider, and curveball. And though his changeup is currently graded a 45 by Fangraphs, scouts do think it has 55 potential, which gives him the possibility of having four above-average pitches in his arsenal.

Not a bad thing to have for a pitcher by any means, and his filthy breaking stuff was on full display against SEC hitters in 2021:

The big issue for Cerantola going forward will be his control, as he only posted a 2.18 K/BB ratio with a 5.7 BB/9 in his final season with the Bulldogs. If Cerantola can harness the walks, it is not out of the question to think that he could emerge as a sleeper starting arm in the Royals system who could either be good insurance in the lower levels or perhaps packaged in a possible trade piece.

That being said, even if the control doesn’t correct itself in professional ball, Cerantola has all the makings of a possible setup man or closer at the Big League level in the future.

And considering the Royals’ track record of developing relievers, it is possible that Cerantola could be the next great “bullpen ” story in Kansas City, much like Herrera, Greg Holland, and Scott Barlow in recent seasons past.

Photo Credit: Columbia Fireflies, Nicole Seitz

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