On Friday, the Royals announced their 2023 International Signing class, which included 30 signings, a new Royals franchise record (surpassing last year’s record).
While there was plenty to find fault with in Dayton Moore’s tenure as Royals GM/President, his investment in international scouting and development certainly wasn’t one of those issues.
Since Moore took over in 2006, not only did the Royals grow their spending on international scouting and prospects, but they also put more money into the complex in the Dominican Republic, which houses two Dominican Summer League teams. The investment has produced star players like Salvador Perez and Yordano Ventura, and there are promising prospects waiting in the wings like Angel Zerpa and Maikel Garcia who were signed by the Royals during the International signing period.
It is nice to see that JJ Picollo is not only continuing to make international talent a priority but investing even further. This was demonstrated by the Royals surprising everyone in the scouting community and signing outfielder Tony Ruiz out of the Dominican Republic for $1.2 million.
Originally, there was a reported verbal agreement between Ruiz and the Red Sox, but it sounds like the Royals were able to swoop in the last minute and snag the talented outfielder from Boston at the last minute.
While the Royals have slowly become more active players on the international market, especially under owner John Sherman (they have increased their number of international signings under Sherman every January), some Royals fans have questioned whether or not the strategy has really paid off.
After all, after Salvy, Yordano, and perhaps Kelvin Herrera, there haven’t been a whole lot of Royals’ international signings who have matriculated to the Majors as hoped (i.e. Seuly Matias). Furthermore, many top Royals international prospects, like Erick Peña, Wilmin Candelario, Daniel Vazquez, Darryl Collins, and Omar Hernandez are coming off rough seasons, especially in Low-A Columbia.
That being said, I am optimistic that some of the changes made in the Royals organization could produce some positive gains with some of these international prospects, especially as they transition from the DSL or Arizona Complex League to Columbia. One of those changes was the hiring of Ari Adut to be the hitting coach for the Fireflies, which was announced this month on the Fireflies’ Twitter:
Adut has made his way in the coaching ranks by not only being an analytically-minded coach at the Minor League level, but he has also had success working with international players in the Yankees and Phillies organizations (where he was previously employed):
With these changes in mind, as well as some other minor changes in the pitching development structure at the Minor League and MLB levels, I decided to look at four Royals international prospects who have seen their stock tumble a bit post-pandemic but could surprise in 2023.
To clarify, none of these prospects are ranked in my Top-50 Prospects list, which is why I am writing about them in this post. There are a couple of others who I think could bounce back (Peña and Vazquez for example), but I will write about them in more depth when I come to them in my Tier posts.
Wilmin Candelario, SS/Inf, 2018 Signing Class
Candelario has always been categorized as a talented but raw infield prospect since being signed by the Royals in 2018. At one point, Baseball America had him as a higher-ranked prospect than Garcia, but while Garcia has developed each and every season, Candelario’s stock has kind of flatlined, mostly due to his strikeout issues at the plate.
There’s no questioning Candelario’s tools and athleticism, which are on display in this clip by Ben Badler, shortly after Candelario signed with the Royals that previous winter:
The Royals have rushed Candelario within their farm system, which was probably fueled by Candelario losing a Minor League season due to the COVID pandemic. The Royals had him begin the year in Columbia despite posting a slash of .154/.206/.285 in 38 games and 142 plate appearances in the Complex League in 2021.
Early on, Candelario did show some flashes of promise, especially on the basepaths:
Unfortunately, Candelario looked simply overwhelmed in Low-A ball.
In 23 games, he slashed .184/.303/.250 which included a 39.3 K rate and 66 wRC+ in 89 plate appearances. That resulted in him being demoted back to the Complex League in Arizona, where he played the remainder of the season.
In the ACL, he posted much better numbers and looked a lot more confident, especially at the plate. In 31 games and 117 plate appearances, the 20-year-old Dominican-born prospect slashed .273/.316/.473 which included four home runs, 19 runs scored, and a wRC+ of 115. Additionally, he also stole 10 bases on 13 attempts, which added to the 10 stolen bases he had in Columbia.
The only issue was that Candelario continued to show swing-and-miss issues in the ACL, as his K rate bumped up to 40.2 percent, and his BB/K ratio declined from 0.34 in Columbia to 0.13 in the ACL. That is a big reason why he didn’t make my Top 50 and was left off many prospect lists as well.
That being said, the raw skills and talent are there, and his high BABIP numbers in the ACL and Sally show that when he does make contact, it is hard, even if it tends to be more of the groundball and line-drive variety (1.73 GB/FB rate in Low-A and 1.55 GB/FB rate in ACL).
It is likely Candelario will repeat in Low-A at 21 years old in 2023. However, it will be interesting to see if Adut can tap into Candelario’s skill set, and help him improve that plate discipline that he showed some gains in during his limited sample with the Fireflies.
Adrian Alcantara, RHP, 2017 Signing Class
The 23-year-old Dominican right-handed pitcher has always been an enigma of sorts in the Royals organization.
On one end, Alcantara has displayed solid control, as evidenced by his high K/BB ratio and low walk rates. He posted a 3.27 K/BB ratio in 2021 with the Fireflies and a 3.42 K/BB ratio with the River Bandits last season. Those are promising rates, especially for an organization that saw pitchers in the Minor Leagues struggle with control overall last season.
He had some incredible outings last year where he piled up strikeouts in bunches, like this 11-strikeout outing back in August with the River Bandits, where he struck out top Mariners prospect Noelvi Marte twice:
While Alcantara has flashed solid command at times, his ceiling has been held back by the long ball throughout his Minor League career.
In 2021 with the Fireflies, he allowed an HR/FB rate of 16.7 percent, and last year with Quad Cities, that rate was 18.6 percent. Even in a short eight-inning stint in Northwest Arkansas, he allowed two home runs, which correlated with an HR/FB rate of 22.2 percent with the Naturals.
As a result, those high HR/FB rates led to ERA numbers of 5.33 in Columbia, 4.57 in Quad Cities, and 10.13 in Northwest Arkansas over the past two years.
I am not sure what Alcantara’s ultimate outlook is, but I have a feeling that a transition to the bullpen could work wonders for Alcantra next season. While he has the stamina to last as a starter, his home-run issues should prompt that move to relief sooner rather than later.
Because in shorter stints, it’s possible that Alcantara will not only be more effective overall but even better. It’s very common to see former starters see their K rates and K/BB ratio increase over fewer innings of work. The same could be true for Alcantra, who does sport a pretty nasty slider when it’s on:
It is likely that Alcantra will repeat in Double-A in 2023. And thus, it will be intriguing to see if the Naturals, under new pitching coach Larry Carter (the Royals’ bullpen coach last year) will have Alcantra work more out of the pen, in an effort to get him to Kansas City more quickly.
Jaswel De Los Santos, OF, 2018 Signing Class
Santos posted a slash of .266/.356/.455 in 41 games and 166 plate appearances in the ACL in 2021. That also included six home runs, 21 RBI, and a wRC+ of 111.
As a result of that promising stateside debut, De Los Santos was profiled as a sleeper prospect in the Royals system going into last season, and it made sense considering his talent multi-tool skillset and youth (only 19 years old in 2021).
Much like Candelario, De Los Santos saw some time in Low-A Columbia, and showed flashes of promise, especially after taking some time to re-tool his swing in the ACL.
In the ACL, De Los Santos produced a line of .280/.348/.439 with a wRC+ of 115 in 21 games and 92 plate appearances. Unfortunately, the line was a whole lot less impressive in 28 games and 102 plate appearances with the Fireflies.
In Low-A, he slashed .143/.280/.238 with a wRC+ of 57. He also struck out 38.2 percent of the time, which was 12.1 percent higher than what he did in the ACL.
As an overall prospect, the 20-year-old (soon to be 21 in a month) corner outfielder offers a lot less upside than Candelario, who profiles as a middle infielder. That being said, it will also be worth paying attention to De Los Santos and his progress at the plate as he likely will repeat in Columbia in 2023.
If Adut can make some gains with De Los Santos in his plate discipline and contact skills, then De Los Santos could catapult back into sleeper status by the end of the 2023 season.
Luinder Avila, RHP, 2018 Signing Class
Avila was a guy I kind of missed out on in my 2022 rankings, and he was one I regretted not putting on there.
The Royals moved him slowly in 2021 as a 19-year-old, as he pitched 29 innings in the Complex League and 26.1 innings in Low-A Columbia. At both levels, he posted ERA numbers of 4.03 and 4.10 in Arizona and Columbia, respectively, and he also generated K/BB ratios of 2.89 and 4.00 at those respective levels as well.
He profiles very much like Alcantara, though I think he may have more “power pitcher” potential than Alcantra. This profile could fare well for Avila going forward as a pitching prospect, especially if he should make the move to the bullpen at some point in the next year or two.
In his first full season in Low-A ball, Avila demonstrated mixed results, though I would say as a 21-year-old, the numbers were positive overall.
He made 26 appearances and pitched 115 innings with the Fireflies, producing an ERA of 4.54. His K/BB ratio declined a bit to 1.98, but he showed a strong ability to limit home runs, as his HR/FB rate was only nine percent.
Avila could have the potential to be a starter or swingman at the MLB level (or Triple-A level at the very least), especially if he can continue to keep the HR rates low, and groundball rates high (48.9 percent last year). He also sports some excellent breaking stuff, which can be seen in the highlight clip below from a start in June:
Avila will make the move to High-A Quad Cities in 2023, and he likely will stay in the rotation for at least another year.
That said, if he does make a move to the bullpen, I could see him move quickly through the Royals system, with the potential to be in the Royals bullpen as soon as 2024.
Photo Credit: Kansas City Royals