“Reporter Jottings”: Keith Law Releases Rankings; Royals to Sign Cuban Prospect; Another Sleeper MiLB Pitching Signing?

It’s been a weird week, especially in the wake of Zack Greinke’s signing announcement, but nothing official coming from the Royals as of yet.

Granted, JJ Picollo and the Royals may be finalizing a corresponding move to clear space on the 40-man roster for Greinke (they are currently at 41, according to Roster Resource). And thus, the front office may be doing their due diligence in terms of choosing the right person to designate for assignment.

While it’s been relatively calm this week in comparison to last week, there has still been some Royals news of note, especially in regard to the farm system and prospects. And for a change, the news has been positive with the farm system this week, which should be good for Royals fans who weren’t optimistic about the lack of “progress” made by prospects a season ago.

So let’s proceed to this edition of the “Jottings”.

Keith Law Ranks Royals Farm System in the Middle of the Pack

Keith Law of The Athletic released his preseason farm system rankings for 2023. As one can see, the Royals ranked 16th in Major League Baseball, which is a surprise considering how poorly ranked the system was by most major prospect analysts at the midseason point last year prior to the MLB Draft.

To be honest, I am not sure if the Royals’ system is currently the 16th-best in baseball. But I find his ranking encouraging for a couple of reasons.

First off, Law has usually been pretty “realistic” with Royals prospects in the past (i.e. not positive). At one point in 2021, he rated Daniel Lynch as a better prospect than Bobby Witt, Jr (due to his concerns with Witt’s strikeout and contact rates in the Complex League in 2019). And during the Dayton Moore era, he always seemed to be skeptical of how prospects were developing in the Royals system, especially from a pitching end.

To show Law’s change of tune, let’s look at what he says in his Athletic writeup.

It’s certainly interesting to read Law’s optimistic outlook for Ben Kudrna and Frank Mozzicato as pitching prospects, especially since Law was not initially “keen” on the Royals’ draft strategy involving the two prep pitchers back in 2021.

Seeing Law complimentary of the Royals’ hitting development is also a good sign of the respect Picollo is commanding around the league in comparison to his predecessor (though I do not know HOW MUCH different Picollo is beyond embracing analytics more in player development). Law is recognizing the success stories of Witt, MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino, Drew Waters, and Maikel Garcia, and seeing that the Royals are doing what they can to be on the cutting edge development-wise, especially on the hitting development end under the current hitting coordinator Drew Saylor.

Of course, will Law feel this way in June? I guess that depends on what kind of steps forward the pitching prospects in the Royals system take in March, April, and May.

Royals Linked to Cuban Prospect

The Royals made a splash in the International Market, as they signed 30 players this winter, which set a new franchise record for international signings.

However, it seems like the Royals are not entirely done. MLB international writer Francy Romero recently reported that the Royals are likely to sign Yandel Ricardo, a switch-hitting shortstop from Cuba.

Ricardo originally had a pre-agreement with the Padres, and it seemed like he was dead set on being in the Padres organization as well if one checked out this interview from last July (notice the San Diego hat he is sporting).

For whatever reason, the tables turned, and it appears that the Padres are out on Ricardo (or vice versa) for whatever reason (though there are some rumors that the Padres may be losing some international bonus money due to rule violations).

As we all know, investing in young international prospects can be a huge risk, and it hasn’t always worked out for the Royals in the past. Sure, Salvador Perez and Yordano Ventura are success stories, but the Royals have invested a lot in the international market since 2006, and it has failed to yield consistent results, especially during the Moore era. (Does anyone remember Miguel Almonte?)

Nonetheless, I do think the increase in international spending shows that Royals owner John Sherman is willing to spend money aggressively on the roster. It’s just that the money is going to scouting and international talent right now, not middling free agents.

Which in my opinion, is much better for a rebuilding Kansas City organization that needs to stock its farm system so that it can compete with other small-market juggernauts like the Cleveland Guardians and Tampa Bay Rays.

Royals Sign Will McAffer to Minor League Deal

The Royals Minor League signing that got the most news this week was Ryan Goins, who recently played with the Royals back in 2018.

Goins is an intriguing pickup, pretty much because most Royals fans didn’t know he was still actively playing (I know I didn’t). However, in terms of impact, I am not sure if Goins will make a Minor League team, let alone the MLB squad out of Spring Training. If anything, Goins is probably around as a pure wild card, with the hope that he can impart some veteran wisdom in Spring Training on the Royals’ young roster.

That being said, there was another move made this week that went under the radar, and that was the signing of pitcher Will McAffer to a Minor League deal.

McAffer was drafted in the 25th round of the 2018 MLB Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays and had been in the Blue Jays system until being released in August.

After being released, McAffer ended up transitioning to the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the independent American Association. He performed well with the Goldeyes in 12 outings, as he not only posted a 1.54 ERA in 12 appearances and 11.2 IP but also struck out 16 while only walking three, good for a K/BB ratio of 3.20.

This is a far cry from the 1.07 K/BB ratio he posted in 27 appearances and 32.2 IP in High-A Vancouver in 2022 prior to being released by the Blue Jays organization, according to Fangraphs.

Of course, it’s not like Independent League baseball is THAT much better than affiliated Minor League ball, so a grain of salt has to be taken to an extent.

Still, McAffer showcases some interesting stuff and potential and is still only 25 years old to boot. Therefore, Royals fans have to wonder if the Royals’ revamped Major League pitching coach staff and pitching development staff in the Minor Leagues can have a positive effect on McAffer in 2023.

It’s likely McAffer will be in Double-A this year, maybe Triple-A if he can have a solid showing at camp in Surprise and Cactus League play (though I am unsure if he has been an official non-roster invite to Spring Training).

If McAffer can move quickly in the Royals system, and maybe make a push to make the Royals’ bullpen in 2024 (or even the end of 2023) then that will show Picollo has helped foster the appropriate changes in pitching development and scouting since taking over from Moore.

Which could bode good things for the Royals in both the short and long term.

Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports


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