The fact of the matter is that the Kansas City Royals are going to be continuing the rebuilding process in 2023. That message has constantly been reinforced by Royals GM JJ Picollo, who maintains that the Royals will not be spending more (or even as much) on the payroll compared to a year ago.
It’s doubtful that the Royals will be significant players in the free-agent market. Granted, it wouldn’t be surprising if they brought Zack Greinke back for one more year, or were able to bring in another free-agent pitcher who is looking to rebound after a rough season. Sean Manaea, a former Royals draft pick, could be a candidate after he struggled down the stretch in 2022 and had to work out of the Padres bullpen in the postseason.
However, if the Royals want to make any significant progress toward acquiring a player in their “prime”, especially of the pitching variety, then most likely it would require a trade.
Alex Duvall of Royals Farm Report posited this idea in a recent poll in terms of what the Royals should do when it comes to acquiring help in the starting pitching this offseason.
54.2 percent of people who voted chose C. Not only would the trade market be the most valuable path for the Royals to acquire a significant starting pitcher of note, but even Royals fans are in agreement with the strategy as well.
Under former general manager/president of baseball operations Dayton Moore, this would never happen.
Moore believed in his player development and prospect capital a bit too much to really “engage” in the trade market (especially after the 2015 World Series run). But things could be much different under Picollo, who already showed a propensity to be more transactional while working under Moore last year.
In an ideal world, the Royals would be able to solely trade veterans like Hunter Dozier, Michael A. Taylor, and Adalberto Mondesi for a potential starting pitcher. Unfortunately, the reality is that the Royals will have to package some more prospects with “value” in any potential trade of note, even if veterans such as the trio listed above are included (which would be a win-win).
Hence, I wanted to take a look at four potential prospects in the Royals system who could be the centerpieces of any significant trade the Royals could engage in this offseason.
Here are four prospects that Royals fans should be paying attention to this offseason, as they could be on their way before Spring Training, especially if Picollo wants to acquire a quality starting pitcher in his prime with multiple years of control (and could be an extension candidate).
Nick Pratto, 1B/OF
Pratto has been a darling of Royals fans thanks to his home run power and excellent defensive ability at first base (with the potential to stick in the corner outfield spots if necessary). The former California prep prospect and Royals first-round pick in 2017 made his anticipated debut in 2022, and honestly, the results were mixed.
As excepted, he carried his solid eye from the Minors to the Majors, as he produced a walk rate of 10.4 percent in 182 plate appearances. Furthermore, he hit seven home runs, including this walk-off home run at Kauffman Stadium against the Red Sox that I was lucky enough to be in attendance for:
On the other hand, Pratto immensely struggled with making contact at the Major League level.
He struck out 36.3 percent of the time, and only posted a BB/K ratio of 0.29 to boot. Additionally, of Royals hitters in 2022 who had 100 or more plate appearances, Pratto was dead last in contact rate and the only Royals hitter with a contact rate under 70 percent, which can be seen in the table below.
It also doesn’t help Pratto’s case that the TOP hitter in terms of contact rate is fellow first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino, who produced a .365 wOBA and 140 wRC+ in 298 plate appearances in 2022. That is a significant upgrade over Pratto, who posted a .287 wOBA and 82 wRC+ in those categories last year.
At one point, I thought it could be beneficial for the Royals to extend Pratto, especially since he started slow, and his price would only go up as he gained more experience at the Major League level.
That said, with Pasquantino most likely the Royals’ first baseman of the future, Salvador Perez most likely needing more days at DH in 2023 and beyond, and Dozier’s future in Kansas City still influx (he’s here for now), it makes sense for the Royal to package Pratto in a trade while his value is still high.
Alec Marsh, RHP
Earlier this offseason, I wrote about Marsh and TJ Sikkema being key projects for Picollo and the Royals pitching development team. Both need to be added to the 40-man roster this winter to protect them from the December Rule 5 Draft, and both still have significant prospect hype, even though they are coming off down seasons.
Sikkema and Marsh are listed as the Royals’ 16th and 19th-best prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. Therefore, they could have significant value if available in the Rule 5 Draft, and the Royals could potentially lose one or both for nothing.
On the other hand, it seems difficult to think that both pitching prospects should be added or at least hold long-term spots on the 40-man roster, especially since it is not clear if either pitcher will have an impact on the Royals pitching staff in 2023. The Royals need pitchers now who can impact the rotation, not ones who MAYBE could do so in 2024, and that’s a best-case scenario to boot.
And considering that the Royals just acquired Sikkema from the Yankees last July, it seems more likely that the Royals will keep Sikkema over Marsh in this scenario.
Plus, Sikkema is coming off a solid campaign in the Arizona Fall League with the Surprise Saguaros, as he posted a 2.45 ERA in three outings and 11 innings of work.
There still is some potential with Marsh, as the Royals‘ MLB.com beat writer had a solid conversation with Mitch Maier, the director of Royals Player Development, and Marsh was explicitly mentioned. Here is what Maier said about Marsh’s 2022 campaign and his outlook in 2023 and beyond.
I think he falls into the consistency part. Some of it is pitch usage, some of it is repeatability. He’s striking guys out at a high clip, but also needs to understand when he makes certain mistakes in certain counts, he’ll pay for it. That’s part of the learning process. The stuff is there, but the hitters are better. You’re not purely out-stuffing them. It’s been a good learning year for him.
This is his first full season because he was drafted in 2019, the lost year in ’20 and his injuries last year (that limited him to 25 1/3 innings). You put that in perspective and realize he’s going to go through some things. He did get the opportunity to be healthy and endure the ups and downs that come within a season, and he’s going to be better for it.“Royals Beat: Sept. 20th” by Anne Rogers; MLB.Com
I think another organization would see Marsh’s potential and welcome him to their system in a potential trade package, especially if the club has solid pitching development.
Maikel Garcia, SS
To be transparent, I am a big fan of Garcia.
He has a mature approach at the plate, and that is evidenced by the 0.68 and 0.40 BB/K ratios he posted in Northwest Arkansas and Omaha, respectively, a season ago. He also did well in his MLB debut, as he hit .318 with a 102 wRC+ in 22 plate appearances (while filling in for Royals players who were on the restricted list).
Garcia has demonstrated polished contact, speed, and defensive tools at the Minor League level. In Omaha though, his power tool started to develop, as he hit seven home runs in 164 plate appearances with the Storm Chasers.
And the power looks legitimate, especially when Royals fans see home runs like this one below.
Garcia is currently on the 40-man roster and has Minor League options remaining, which gives the Royals some flexibility. However, the Royals currently have a logjam in the infield at the Major League level with Bobby Witt Jr., Nicky Lopez, Adalberto Mondesi, Michael Massey, and perhaps Nate Eaton. (Eaton played some third base at the end of the year.)
If the Royals believe that Witt is the shortstop of the future, then that means Garcia most likely will have to move to second, which puts him in a position battle with Lopez and Massey.
Both Massey and Lopez have their flaws, but they are both better defensively than Garcia, and Massey has demonstrated his power ability at the Major League level while Garcia hasn’t done that quite yet. As for Lopez, he is a respected veteran in the clubhouse, and that could make it hard for the Royals to part with him, especially with the club needing those voices with such a young team.
Garcia has the tools and pedigree (he’s related to Alcides Escobar and Ronald Acuna, Jr.) to be coveted by other organizations. The Royals would be better off trading Garcia now while his value is still high, as it is unlikely to get much higher without a clear path to playing time at the Major League level in 2023.
Nick Loftin, Utility
I had high hopes for Loftin going into 2022, as I rated him as a Tier 1 prospect in my pre-season Top 50 prospect rankings. While it was difficult to tell what his position would be at the Major League level, he had the potential to play multiple roles in the outfield and infield, which is becoming more and more valued in today’s game.
At the start of the season, it seemed like Loftin was living up to that Tier 1 grade.
In 90 games with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Loftin hit .270 with a 100 wRC+ and BB/K ratio of 0.79 (highlighted by a 10.6 percent walk rate). He also stole 24 bases and hit 12 home runs with the Naturals, including this one back in July.
Unfortunately, Loftin struggled in his promotion to Triple-A Omaha. In 38 games and 168 plate appearances, he only hit .216 and saw his K rate go from 13.4 percent in Double-A to 24.4 percent in Triple-A. As a result, his wRC+ plummeted to 69, and his BB/K ratio also fell to 0.24.
Granted, I think the grind of the Minor League season and the heightened expectations of the Triple-A promotion had an effect on Loftin at the end of the season. I do not think he’s a sub-70 wRC+ player by any means, and he still showcased some power with the Storm Chasers. His ISO only regressed eight points (.144), which is more palatable in comparison to the other category declines we saw from Loftin in Omaha.
Also, Loftin’s defensive ability continues to be intriguing, as he showcased last year that all three outfield positions could be in play, including centerfield.
I still believe in Loftin’s talent. Much like Garcia, he’s knocking on the door in Kansas City, but it’s hard to see where his path to the Majors is right now.
And like Pratto, Loftin has another counterpart who serves the same role and has been more proven at the Major League level: Nate Eaton.
Eaton was the Royals’ utility extraordinaire, as he produced a 0.9 fWAR and 101 wRC+ in 44 games and 122 plate appearances. He also stole 11 bases and showcased one of the strongest arms not just on the Royals roster, but all of baseball as well, according to Baseball Savant.
Eaton is a young talent who immediately serves as that “super-utility” guy for the Royals. If Eaton wasn’t around, maybe Loftin could embrace that role with the Royals in 2023 and beyond.
But with Loftin unable to do so in Kansas City in the near future, it may be better for the Royals to perhaps add him to a trade package so that he can realize that role with another organization…
With the Royals getting an established starting pitcher in the process of course.
Photo Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images
4 thoughts on “Four Royals Prospects Who Could Be on the Trading Block This Winter”
You make a very intriguing argument. I believe that the team does need to make moves. I would like to see an article about targets that these players could be traded. What young controllable starting pitchers are available? Which teams are looking for players like those mentioned in this article? Thanks for the great work. I believe the Miami Marlins might be interested.
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Thanks for the read and comment!
Zac Gallen has been frequently mentioned, and it sounds like Miami as you said is willing to part with some of their pitchers to shore up in the outfield. Loftin and Pratto could be quite intriguing to them. In terms of specific names, Pablo Lopez, Sixto Sanchez, and maybe Edward Cabrera would be the premium names, but I wonder if perhaps Elieser Hernandez, who I think is better than what he showed last year, could be an additional throw in if the package is good enough.
[…] Kevin O’Brien at Royals Reporter writes about Royals prospects that could be on the move. […]
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