Examining the Tier Four Prospects (Royals 2023 “Top 50 Prospects to Watch” Rankings)

It’s been a while since I’ve touched base on the Top 50 Royals’ “Prospects to Watch” for the upcoming 2023 season.

With Spring Training games starting soon, I figured it would be good to catch up on these prospect posts, especially since it appears that the Royals’ “hot stove” season may be done after Kansas City recently completed their one-year deal with Zack Greinke.

In this post, I am going to look at the 18th through 22nd-best prospects in the Royals system, which mostly consists of position players (a change of pace after two straight tiers of Royals pitching prospect writeups). If you missed the first three posts, you can find them below:

Let’s take a dive into the Tier Four prospects in the Royals system.

What is a Tier Four Prospect According to Your Rankings?

I categorized the tier four prospects in the Royals system as “fringe regular” position player types.

What that means is that it is possible that the prospects in this tier could develop into everyday MLB players in the next couple of years. That being said, there seems to be something holding them back or in their way that prevents me from being fully bought in that they could be everyday players in the Royals’ lineup in the future.

Whether they are late-bloomers, play a position of depth in the organization, or possess some tool that is still in need of development, these five prospects flash plenty of promise, but a lot of risks as well.

Most of these prospects are heading into crucial years in their “prospect development” timeline. And thus, these are position player prospects who could jump up and be Top 10 prospects in the Royals system by mid-season, or could be dropping off many Top 30 lists altogether.

That’s how volatile the prospects in this tier are right now, heading into Spring Training in Surprise.

Tier Four Rankings

(Rank; Name; Position; Highest Level Played in 2022)

18. Diego Hernandez; OF; Northwest Arkansas Naturals

19. Tucker Bradley; OF; Northwest Arkansas Naturals

20. Peyton Wilson; 2B; Quad Cities River Bandits

21. Luca Tresh; C; Northwest Arkansas Naturals

22. Samad Taylor; MI/OF; Buffalo Bisons (Blue Jays Triple-A)

Could Hernandez and Bradley Be in the Royals’ Outfield in 2024?

The outfield is a position of depth in the Royals system, but that shouldn’t dim the shine on Hernandez or Bradley as prospects. Both are coming off solid campaigns in High-A Quad Cities, and they also held their own in limited debuts in Northwest Arkansas as well (which is where both are expected to begin the 2023 Minor League season).

The Royals added Hernandez to the 40-man roster this offseason in order to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft in December. Much like fellow international prospect Maikel Garcia, Hernandez failed to show much power in the Minors after debuting with Burlington in 2019 as an 18-year-old.

In 128 Minor League games from 2019 to 2021, he only hit two home runs, with one coming in Burlington in 2019 and the other coming in Low A Columbia in 2021 (and that was in 310 plate appearances).

It’s not a surprise that Hernandez did not appear on many prospect lists going into last season.

The Royals have a depth of international outfielders in their system, including more high-profile ones like Erick Pena and Seuly Matias. Thus, it was thought that Hernandez would most likely be organizational depth who probably would max out in Triple-A, with cups of coffee in the Majors here and there when a player hit the IL (much like Dairon Blanco the past couple of years).

However, Hernandez came on strong at the plate last year, starting in High-A Quad Cities.

In 83 games and 217 plate appearances for the River Bandits, the 21-year-old Dominican-born outfielder not only slashed .279/.343/.418, but he also posted a 113 wRC+ and hit seven home runs, which was nearly triple the total number he had hit in the Minors prior to 2022. In fact, his .139 ISO in Quad Cities in 2022 was 79 points higher than the mark he generated in Columbia back in 2021.

And barrels like this were a primary reason for the increase in power metrics from Columbia to Quad Cities.

As expected after such a strong start (and some graduations up top), the Royals promoted Hernandez to Northwest Arkansas, and he continued to thrive, even though his power metrics subsided a little bit.

He only hit two home runs in 32 games and 141 plate appearances, but he stole 13 bases, hit .298, and improved his BB/K ratio from 0.38 in Quad Cities to 0.43 in Northwest Arkansas. Hernandez proved he could be a five-tool force with the Naturals, even if his power tool may need some more development when it comes to consistency and sticking at higher levels of play.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t as if Hernandez didn’t show any power in Northwest Arkansas, as he did barrel some balls in his short 32-game stint in Double-A (and in the clutch as well).

While Hernandez was a “sleeper” success story for the Royals, Bradley wasn’t too far behind his fellow outfield prospect last season.

Bradley produced a solid campaign in Northwest Arkansas last season after posting a 122 wRC+ and hitting .280 in 360 plate appearances in Quad Cities in 2021. In 110 games and 460 plate appearances with the Naturals, Bradley was a model of consistency. He not only hit .293 and posted a wRC+ of 117, but he also blasted 12 home runs, scored 73 runs, and stole 19 bases as well.

Without a doubt, the undrafted former Georgia Bulldog (he was a victim of the shortened draft format in 2020) showed last season that he could perhaps be a Kyle Isbel-type with a bit more power and some 20-20 potential, should everything fall into place over the next year or two.

Bradley does not have Hernandez’s raw athleticism and speed, both on the basepaths and in the field. Thus, Bradley’s ceiling is not as high as Hernandez, which could make it tough for Bradley to get an opportunity in the Royals outfield in the next year or two.

That being said, Bradley may have a higher floor, and he still showcased some solid instincts and skills with the glove last season in Double-A.

Bradley and Hernandez won’t crack many if any prospect lists’ Top 10 or even 20. But they both took big steps forward in 2022 and could be due for more steps in the right direction this year and next, especially under the tutelage of Royals Director of Hitting Drew Saylor and his PD team.

Wilson and Tresh Continue to be Royals’ Positional Success Stories

Even under former GM Dayton Moore, the Royals have had a history of success in terms of drafting and developing infielders and catchers in the Royals organization. Royals fans see that at the Major League level with Bobby Witt, Jr., Nicky Lopez, and Michael Massey in terms of the former, and Salvador Perez and MJ Melendez in terms of the latter.

And it’s possible that Peyton Wilson and Luca Tresh could be two more success stories, though both talents were drafted by the Royals out of college in the 2021 MLB Draft.

To begin with Wilson, he has been an infield prospect who has impressed, despite last season being his first full year in the Minors.

Wilson didn’t get much time in the Minors after signing as the 66th overall pick in 2021 (he was drafted in the Competitive Balance round). He only played in 23 games, with 11 of those contests being in Low A Columbia.

With the Fireflies, the metrics were meager, as he hit .231 with a 90 wRC+ in 46 plate appearances. Even though the bat didn’t impress, he still drew an 8.7 percent walk rate and stole five bases in his limited Low-A stint.

Last season, the Royals promoted and kept him in High-A Quad Cities after a full Spring Training, and the move proved to be a wise one for both the Royals and Wilson. While Wilson certainly could have been promoted to Double-A at the end of the year, having him play the entire year with the River Bandits helped him get comfortable and acquire a leadership role on the team, which is an important trait to develop in a middle infielder.

In 86 games and 390 plate appearances, Wilson showcased five-tool ability, as he hit 14 home runs, stole 23 bases, scored 60 runs, and hit .268 with a 128 wRC+. The former Alabama Crimson Tide infielder also demonstrated a mature eye at the plate, as he not only generated a 10.5 percent walk rate, but a 0.42 BB/K ratio, a .02 improvement from his mark in Columbia in 2021. That ability to draw walks should maximize his speed on the basepaths as he progresses up the Royals system.

While Wilson’s speed will get the most attention (Fangraphs graded it a 70 on their scale), his power shouldn’t be overlooked, especially for a switch hitter. His .188 ISO was a 60-point improvement from his ISO in Low A ball, and he showcased that he could hit bombs from both the left and right sides of the plate in Quad Cities.

Here’s Wilson hitting his 11th home run of the year from the left side:

And here’s a glimpse of Wilson hitting one from the right side, this time during the Minor League “Field of Dreams” game in Iowa:

Wilson could be a Nicky Lopez-type of infielder with more power, which is an exciting projection to think about, even if it may be another year or two before that comes to fruition at the MLB level.

As for Tresh, he’s been an up-and-down catching prospect in many prospect experts’ eyes.

Last year, it came down between him and Kale Emshoff for one of the final spots on the 2022 Top 50 list. I went with Emshoff, but it was really hard to leave Tresh off of last year’s list, and I definitely regretted it by the mid-year point of 2023.

Tresh began the year with Wilson High-A Quad Cities, and much like Wilson, Tresh pulverized Midwest League pitching.

In 80 games and 347 plate appearances, the former North Carolina State product (and 17th-round pick) hit 14 home runs and posted a 130 wRC+, which included a BB/K ratio of 0.48. The K rate was a little high with the River Bandits (24.5 percent), but he more than made up for it in the walk (11.8 percent walk rate) and power (.197 ISO) departments.

Tresh earned a promotion to Double-A toward the end of the season and made the most of his 24-game stint with the Naturals. He regressed a bit in batting average, as his .253 mark was 20 points lower than his average in Quad Cities. However, he improved his BB/K ratio (0.52), ISO (.209), and hit more line drives (30.8 percent) and fewer groundballs (26.2 percent) in Double-A.

Tresh earned a non-roster invitation to Spring Training, though that probably has to do more with the need to have as many catchers as possible rather than a sign of his odds to make the Opening Day roster (Wilson for example did not make the NRI list).

That being said, of the current catching prospects expected to be in Surprise, Tresh may have the best shot of making a run for the backup catching position in 2024, maybe sooner if something should happen to Freddy Fermin this season.

Are Royals Fans Sleeping on Taylor’s MLB Outlook?

I have already written about Taylor on this blog before, so I am not going to go too in-depth into his profile. Nonetheless, he’s an intriguing infielder with a solid speed, glove, and power profile that may remind some of former Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks:

The Royals acquired him from Toronto along with pitcher Max Castillo in the Whit Merrifield at least year’s Trade Deadline, but injuries prevented him from playing in Omaha last year. Prior to his injury, Taylor hit .258 with 9 home runs and a 101 wRC+ in 70 games and 280 plate appearances with the Buffalo Bisons, the Blue Jays’ Triple-A organization.

Considering the large number of infielders on the Royals’ roster, it can be easy for Royals fans to ignore Taylor, especially after an underwhelming AFL campaign where he hit .152 in 21 games and 76 plate appearances.

On the other hand, Taylor isn’t far off from an impressive 2021 Double-A campaign in New Hampshire which he hit .294, collected 16 home runs, and stole 30 bases in 87 games.

One has to wonder if he could’ve produced similar numbers in Triple-A last year if he had been fully healthy.

Taylor probably will begin the year in Triple-A Omaha, but a hot start in the International League (or Cactus League campaign) could get him in the discussion to be a “sleeper” big league bench piece who could have a “Whit-esque” role, but with more power upside. After all, Taylor still stole 23 bases in Buffalo last season, so he at the very least could be a guy who can come in off the bench and swipe bags, score runs, and hold his own in the field.

Granted, someone on the 40-man roster like Lopez or Hunter Dozier would have to be traded first for that opportunity to happen for Taylor in 2023.

But if that kind of trade does happen at some point in 2023?

Well…don’t be surprised if Taylor has an impact with the Royals sooner rather than later.

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports


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