Royals Prospect Chatter: Review of the ’22 Top 50 and a State of the Farm System

With the new year on its way, I feel it is time to unveil my new Royals Top 50 prospect list for the upcoming 2023 season. After taking some time to review and adjust, my Top 50 “Royals Prospects to Watch” list is ready to be unveiled for the upcoming year, with blog posts to follow.

Though I am not as dedicated to the Minor Leagues as Alex Duvall, Joel Penfield, Josh Keiser of the Royals Farm Report team, or Jared Perkins of Prospects Live, I do have a strong interest and passion for prospects in the Royals system. I feel like you have to in order to be a fan of this franchise (or game in general).

Of course, there are some things I would like to clarify before I begin those prospect writeups in the coming weeks.

  • I call this the “Top 50 Prospects to Watch” list mostly because it is not meant to be a pure ranking of the prospects in the Royals system. Instead, it’s a list of prospects Royals fans should pay attention to in 2023, and they are grouped based on certain common traits or categories (and hence, they are lumped in “tiers” for the writeups).
  • The 50 Royals prospects are lumped into 10 “tiers” and all writeups will be reflecting on certain prospects who fall in that “tier”. Here is an example post from last year.
  • I typically do not make midseason lists. I have jumped back and forth between doing those, but I found that draft hype typically is overvalued, especially immediately. Thus, I like to wait to see what happens after a recently drafted prospect does when they actually make their professional debut, and then, rank them accordingly. Furthermore, some prospects may do well in the first half, regress to the norm in the second half, or vice versa. If this was a full-time prospect blog, like Royals Farm Report, midseason lists would make a lot more sense. But in my opinion, I do not think it is worth the time or effort.

In this post, I am going to review who fell out of my Top 50 prospects list from a season ago and share a couple of points about the state of the Royals farm system going into the 2023 year.


26 Royals Prospects From 2022 Do Not Make This Year’s List

After finalizing my Top 50 list for this upcoming year, I noticed that 26 Royals prospects that made my “Prospects to Watch” list in 2022 did not make the list this year.

Here is a list:

As Royals fans can see in the list above, prospects dropped out of this year’s list for a variety of different reasons. Here is the breakdown of the reasons for each individual prospect in that list in terms of why they do not appear in the 2023 “Royals Prospects to Watch” list for the upcoming 2023 season.

  • 8 prospects made it to the Majors last season. That included four prospects in the Top 10 and six in the Top 20. The lowest-ranked prospect in the Top 50 to make his Major League debut in 2022 was Nate Eaton, who ranked 44th last year.
  • 2 prospects are no longer in the Royals organization. Daniel Tillo was eventually DFA’d and released last season after struggling with injuries and command over the past few seasons. Nate Webb was a surprising addition to the Royals’ 40-man roster last year (and a local product from Lee’s Summit), but he struggled through injury and didn’t make progress as expected. He was DFA’d this offseason, and was eventually picked up by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
  • 16 prospects simply fell out of the rankings, either due to a combo of injury or just lackluster performance that didn’t merit them being a Top-50 prospect anymore. Some were tough to omit from the list, especially Josh Dye, Tyler Tolbert, and Omar Hernandez, just to name a few. However, at the end of the day, there are only 50 spots on the list, and those tough decisions had to be made.

Also just to clarify, I know prospect lists have different “qualifications” when it comes to who is a prospect and who isn’t. For example, some prospect experts still consider Drew Waters a prospect. I didn’t because I feel like he accumulated enough MLB time last year for Royals fans to get a sense of who he will be at the MLB level.

On the flip side, though Angel Zerpa got some experience at the MLB level in 2021 and 2022, I do not think he has gotten enough for Royals fans to get a true sense of what his outlook will be in the Majors, unlike Waters.


College Talent Continues to Be a Positive in Royals System

One trend that constantly stood out as I did my rankings was how much of the list was dominated by talent drafted out of college. Six of the Top 10 were drafted out of college, and 14 of the Top 20 also fit that characteristic as well.

College talent has been a theme of recent Royals drafts, especially on the pitching end.

While Royals pitching prospects drafted out of college have had a mixed track record, the Royals system has done a good job getting them to the MLB level, which can be seen as a success. Picollo at the Winter Meetings mentioned and noted that modifying things at the MLB level to help them be more successful is a top priority this offseason.

Some of the best and most successful talent drafted by the Royals in recent drafts have come from the college ranks, especially from the later rounds as well.

Granted, has this been a concentrated strategy in the past four years or is this a response to pressure being felt by Dayton Moore and the Royals’ front office?

Early on in Moore’s tenure, his priority seemed to be high-school-aged talent in the draft, which is not surprising considering that was a trend in the Atlanta organization where Moore came from.

Unfortunately, after successful picks like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas early on in Moore’s tenure, the Royals have failed to get much out of prep talent in the draft, with Bubba Starling and Ashe Russell being particularly famous busts. On the other hand, the Royals have been successful with recent prep draft picks such as Bobby Witt, Jr. (2019) and perhaps Nick Pratto (2017), who showed flashes last year.

Now, Moore is no longer with the Royals, and instead, former lieutenant Picollo is running the show. While Picollo still demonstrates many characteristics that are similar to Moore’s, it is obvious that Picollo is trying to create his own vision for the Royals, primarily fueled by a focus on analytics as an organization.

Will Picollo continue this trend of drafting and developing college talent successfully? Or will Picollo change things up, with maybe looking at long-term outlook being a priority, especially for a club that will constantly be challenged when it comes to spending in free agency (as they have this year)?


Developing Latin American Talent Still a Work-in-Progress

Under Moore, the Royals have significantly increased their commitment to scouting and spending in Latin America, primarily in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Pre-Moore, the Royals were one of the worst clubs in baseball when it came to international scouting.

That focus has changed, with the Royals now having a robust complex and staff in the Dominican Republic (they have two DSL teams) and recently signing the most players in club history during last year’s International Signing period (28 to be specific).

Unfortunately, while Moore has opened the door for the Royals in a big way to Latin America, the amount of talent that has transitioned to the Majors has been a mixed bag.

Salvador Perez is an obvious success story, as is Yordano Ventura, who was one of the Royals’ most successful international pitcher signings prior to his passing. Adalberto Mondesi has also shown flashes of success when he has been healthy.

However, after those three, the track record is thin, especially with their “high-profile” signings.

Seuly Matias was signed in the same signing period as Vlad Guerrero, Jr. and Jazz Chisholm, but he still remains in the Minors and was recently released by the Royals this offseason (he did return to the Kansas City system on a Minor League deal). Wilmin Candelario was expected to be a high-profile middle infield prospect, and he has demonstrated mixed results thus far. And lastly, Erick Pena has been ranked as a Top-100 prospect in baseball just a couple of years ago, and he has failed to produce in either Low A ball or even in the Complex League.

Granted, developing international talent isn’t always a sure thing. In fact, it’s considerably riskier than drafting college or even prep talent. For every Juan Soto (Nationals) or Ronald Acuna Jr. (Braves), there are examples like Angel Villalona (Giants) and Michael Ynoa (A’s) who fail to live up to their massive hype (and signing bonuses).

Despite the Royals having a mixed track record of success, that hasn’t stopped them from investing in scouting and development in Latin America.

While the Dominican Republic (where they have their complex) and Venezuela remain priorities, it also seems like the Royals are dipping heavily into scouting in non-traditional areas in Latin America such as Colombia, Nicaragua, and the Netherlands Antilles.

The Royals need to find a way to maximize the talent they have in their system, and Latin America has been widely thought of as an avenue to do so, even despite the massive risk (honestly, look at the track records of International player development of other clubs and it looks just as bleak). That said, it would be nice to see some international players in the Royals system take a step up in 2023 after a couple of lackluster years for this group post-pandemic. That success would be an encouraging sign of what Picollo is capable of as GM.

There are some possible candidates to do so this year, and I will go over them in more depth when I reveal my rankings and write my “tier” posts.

Photo Credit: Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

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