FOX Sports MLB Analyst
FOX Sports’ 26-and-under power rankings are a new twist on classic prospect ratings. Yes, prospects are important, but with all the game-changing young talent already available, farming systems alone cannot tell the whole story. So let’s take a deep dive into each one MLB club, ranking them all by players in an organization who start their season 26 or younger, from the bigs to the farm. Every weekday until March 24th, we’ll be counting down from last to first.
number 17 Kansas City Royals
Total score for under 26s: 16 (out of 30)
Shortly after Baseball America deemed the Royals’ farm system the worst in the sport last August, new general manager JJ Picollo asked front office employees where they measured their internal estimates of the club.
Twenty-one, they told him.
“So we’re not as bad, maybe, as people seem to think,” Picollo said last month. “But we still have a lot of work to do.”
That’s not what you want to hear from a team that hasn’t wrestled since the Obama administration. The Royals haven’t finished over .500 since winning the World Series about eight years ago, and they aren’t projected to end that streak in 2023.
But its collection of young talent is at least a little better than everything makes it sound. They rank 17th in our 26-and-under rankings despite being rated the lowest in nearly every public farm system ranking because some of their prospects graduated to the big leagues last season. This is generally good.
First baseman Vinnie Pasquantino, 25, and catcher/outfielder MJ Melendez, 24, established themselves as competent or better hitters. Gardeners Drew Waters, 24; Nate Eaton, 26; and second baseman Michael Massey, 24, hinted at the same in smaller samples. But 26-year-old Kyle Isbel on Friday proved the impermanence of that stature by regressing to replacement-level play after an encouraging, brief debut in 2021. And, of course, there’s shortstop Bobby Witt Jr ., the top prospect who broke through with Kansas City last season but needed time to find his regular season footing. He is still only 22 years old.
As far as pitching goes, the Royals’ young major leaguers are a little more experienced but, with one exception, a little less talented. Lefty Kris Bubic, 25, and righty Brady Singer, 26, are both already in arbitration. They had equally effective 2021 seasons, but Singer took a big step forward in 2022, while Bubic regressed to a horrible year. Right-hander Carlos Hernandez also went from a 3.68 ERA in 2021 to a 7.39 mark in 2022. Left-hander Daniel Lynch, 26, also struggled to a 5.13 ERA.
Witt is the big hope to jumpstart this franchise, but Singer might not be far behind. The former first-round pick limited his walks so much last season that he ranked among the top 30 starters in the league in terms of WHIP. With a repeat full season, he could develop into a top-tier starter.
There are other talents who have yet to spend significant time in the majors. Freshman first baseman Gavin Cross, a 22-year-old center fielder, has already impressed pro scouts. Shortstop Maikel García, who turns 23 this week, looks like he can hit. Outfield prospect Tyler Gentry, 24, has hit across the board. Nick Loftin, 24, can play multiple positions, and has hit everywhere but Triple-A.
The Royals’ top pitching prospects struggled last season, but the club is confident they’ll bounce back.
“We didn’t do well in the minor leagues last year,” Picollo said. “There’s been a lot of discussion among our guys that this should be an aberration.”
Lefty Asa Lacy, the fourth overall pick in 2020, is a good example. He has fallen from the prospect rankings after back-to-back disappointing seasons, especially in 2022, when he walked more men than he walked in 28 innings. Lacy is still only 23 years old. It’s not time to give up on him just yet, especially given his potential pedigree.
“It’s not just us,” Picollo said of Lacy’s rating as an amateur.
Right-hander Jonathan Bowlan, 26, dominated in a short stint at Double-A in 2021, but struggled when he reached the same level in 2022. Right-hander Alec Marsh, 24, struck out a lot of Double-A hitters -A, but he was very susceptible. in the home run that posted a 7.32 ERA and an ugly 1-15 record.
The Royals just went through a regime change. Longtime general manager Dayton Moore was out, soon to be followed by manager Mike Matheny. Picollo, Moore’s longtime lieutenant, soon replaced him, and Matt Quatraro replaced Matheny. They understand that developing an exciting farm is essential, not just on the field but off it.
“It definitely changes the fans one way or another,” Picollo said. “It’s something we talk about.”
But, Picollo said, he’s not the only one. He worked for the Royals in 2011, when they had a record nine players in Baseball America’s top 100 and the No. 1 overall system. Many of the hitters from that era ended up contributing more to the Royals’ success in the mid-2010s they weren’t among the best in 2011: Salvador Perez, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera among them.
“We learned a good lesson there,” Picollo said. “Maybe we’re not the best farm system. But it’s really more about depth.”
Today’s Royals have some prospect depth. To move up, they need more high-end talent to emerge.
Major League Position Players: 6 (of 10)
Major League Pitchers: 5 (of 10)
Potential position players: 3 (of 5)
Potential pitchers: 2 (of 5)
Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for The Athletic, the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and LA Times, and his alma mater, USC, for ESPN Los Angeles. He is the author of “How to Overcome a Broken Game.” Follow him on Twitter at @pedromoura.
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