With the MLB Draft coming up on July 17th, and the Royals currently 29-49 after blowing a three-run lead in the late innings to the Houston Astros on the Fourth of July, it is understandable that most hardcore Royals fans are looking toward the future. That includes identifying which prospects in the Royals Minor League system can have an impact in the near or far future, and where they respectively rank among the talent depth of the Royals system.
On Tuesday, Royals Farm Report posted a poll in regard to which Kansas City prospect should be the No. 1 prospect currently in the system with the graduations of Bobby Witt, Jr. and MJ Melendez (who were the consensus No. 1 and No. 2 prospects at the beginning of Spring Training).
It’s easy to find information prospects like Lacy, Pratto, Loftin, and Massey on Twitter and the Web (Royals Farm Report is doing a great job). Furthermore, there are other prospects who are starting to make noise, including Maikel Garcia, who was the feature prospect in the latest RFR piece from Jared Perkins, who has also covered the Royals’ Minor League system for “Prospects 1500” in the past.
In addition to Garcia, what are some other prospects in the Royals system that Kansas City fans should be paying attention to, especially over the second half of the baseball season?
In this post, I take a look at three Royals prospects who may be getting overlooked but could have an impact in the next year or two, depending on the opportunities available at the Major League level.
Seuly Matias, OF, Northwest Arkansas (AA)
Matias back in 2018 and 2019 was one of the top prospects in the Royals system mostly due to his tremendous power and arm. He made a lot of noise in the 2018 MLB Futures game, as he hit an opposite-field home run off of then-Yankees pitching prospect Justus Sheffield:
Since his Futures Game performance and 31-home run performance in Low-A Lexington in 2018 (in 94 games too), it’s been a bit of a struggle for Matias in the Royals system.
A combination of injury and plate discipline issues have held back the former top Royals international signing from 2019 to 2021. He posted a horrendous .148 average and 67 wRC+ in 211 plate appearances in High-A Wilmington, and though his wRC+ numbers were better in High-A Quad Cities (115) and Double-A Northwest Arkansas (100) last year, his batting averages (.213 and .193, respectively) and games played (59 total between the two levels) were disappointing, to say the least.
As a result, Matias pretty much fell out of most Royals’ Top-30 prospect lists in 2022, and he wasn’t added to the 40-man for a second straight season (thankfully, there was no Rule 5 draft this winter, so he stayed in the Royals system). Expectations were low for Matias going into this year, despite Matias putting in work with Drew Saylor and Alec Zumwalt in 2020 and 2021.
Even though he started again in Northwest Arkansas, it’s been a much better season at the plate for Matias. He’s posting a slash of .230/.331/.474 with a wRC+ of 103, and also has 13 home runs and 43 RBI in 245 plate appearances, going into Tuesday. In addition to his prodigious power (.244 ISO), Matias has also improved in high-leverage situations, as evidenced by his game-winning hit on the Fourth of July in front of the Naturals faithful.
So far, there are a lot of positives to take away from Matias’ 2022 in Double-A. He is staying healthy, as he already has matched his games played from 2019, is two away from last year, and is on pace to set a career-high for games played and plate appearances in a season. That is huge for a prospect like Matias, who has showcased sensational tools but hasn’t stayed healthy enough to put them all together.
And of course, in addition to staying on the field, Matias has continued to showcase his trademark power at the plate on frequent occasions.
Matias is still striking out at a 35.1 percent clip this year, which is still pretty high. However, he has raised his walk rate to 10.6 percent, and his BB/K ratio of 0.30 is his best mark since rookie ball back in 2016.
Does that mean Matias isn’t going to be a strikeout machine at the Major League level? Of course not, but Matias could be a high-risk, high-upside for the Royals in 2023 or 2024 (should he get added to the 40-man roster). Furthermore, he has at least put himself back into the Royals’ Top-30 prospect discussion, and could be a Top-20 one again, especially if he can continue to stay healthy, and perhaps earn a call-up to Triple-A Omaha by season’s end.
Angel Zerpa, LHP, Northwest Arkansas (AA)
A lot of Royals fans are talking about Lacy, Drew Parrish, and Alec Marsh right now as possible arms who could help the Royals rotation in 2023. That being said, people often forget to mention Zerpa, who actually is on the Royals’ 40-man roster (unlike Lacy, Parrish, and Marsh).
Zerpa made his MLB debut a year ago and performed well, even though it was only one outing. This year, he has spent the entirety of the season in Double-A Northwest Arkansas, as he has accumulated 58 innings over 12 starts with the Naturals.
His surface-level numbers aren’t all that impressive, as he is posting a 4.34 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. However, his numbers are inflated by a high BABIP (.369) and low strand rate (70.9 percent), which are products of the hitter-friendly environments of the Texas League. He also started off the year slow, as Royals Farm Report said in a Tweet at the beginning of June (though he mentioned that Zerpa’s stuff looked pretty improved from 2021).
Since Alex’s Tweet, Zerpa has performed well in the month of June, as he has posted a 3.74 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 21.2 IP from June 4th to July 4th. The 22-year-old also is coming off his best start of the season on June 30th, as he allowed zero runs, one walk, and only two hits while striking out nine in seven innings of work.
The Royals have a pretty full rotation as of now, especially with Daniel Lynch bound to join the rotation when he gets off the IL, and Carlos Hernandez also set to return after he makes the proper mechanical adjustments in Omaha. That being said, Zerpa could be on his way to Omaha soon, especially if Zack Greinke or Brad Keller is traded away by the August Deadline.
And if Greinke or Keller is not in the rotation, that could open a spot for Zerpa perhaps in September, especially if Zerpa continues to transition his high-strikeout, low-walk approach with the Storm Chasers in Triple-A.
River Town, OF, Columbia (Low-A)
The Fireflies had a rough first half of the year in 2022, but after some roster adjustments, they suddenly look like one of the better teams in the Carolina League in the second half.
One player who has been a steady force for the Fireflies has been outfielder River Town, a 15th-round pick out of Dallas Baptist University in 2021. Town showcased some interesting potential at DBU, which included a home run in the NCAA Tournament against Oregon State:
I wasn’t too high on Town initially because he seemed like the classic “Dayton Moore” draft pick: a highly polished, but low-ceiling outfielder who came from a Christian-heavy background (i.e. college). And yet, Town has surprised since debuting in the Arizona Complex League a season ago, mostly thanks to a highly-patient approach at the plate.
Over 20 games in the Complex League a year ago, Town posted a 0.67 BB/K ratio over 69 plate appearances. Yes, his .232 average wasn’t great, but he posted a .377 OBP and .680 OPS overall, which demonstrates how good his batting eye is.
This year, his plate discipline has been even better, as he has increased his walk rate to 14.3 percent and BB/K ratio to 0.78 over 215 plate appearances. His batting average is only .247, but he has a .384 OBP and a .840 OPS, which is fueled by .209 ISO, a 138-point increase from a season ago.
Town doesn’t have traditional home-run power, but he is posting a 0.88 GB/FB ratio as well as a 13.2 HR/FB ratio with the Fireflies. He also excels at going up the middle and the opposite field, as he is posting batted ball rates of 24.6 percent and 31.7 percent this season in those categories, respectively.
The Tweet below showcases an example of Town’s all-field power, as evidenced by this “opp bomb” back in May in Columbia.
Much like Matias, Town is not on many Top-30 lists or even Top-50 lists for that matter. He also isn’t young, as he is currently 22 years old, which puts him as one of the older players in the Carolina League. On the other hand, a call-up to High-A Quad Cities could be looming for Town, especially after Tyler Gentry has moved from High-A to Double-A recently.
If Town is able to transition this kind of performance to Quad Cities at some point in 2022, he could sneak into some Top-50 prospect lists this offseason, with the potential to rise higher in the Royals system rankings by midseason of 2023.
Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports