Monday, January 27, 2020

2020 Wilmington Blue Rocks Prospect Preview

2020 Wilmington Blue Rocks Prospect Preview

The Royals have struggled to develop impact players since the early 2010s when their top prospects in their highly ranked farm system reached the major.  The crop of prospects from the early 2010s helped the Royals make the World Series in 2014 and win it all in 2015.  However, by the end of 2017 the core of the Royals players from the teams in the two World Series were gone and the farm system was in poor shape.

With compensation picks, the Royals had six of the top 100 picks in the 2018 draft.  They focused on college pitchers and at this point, the 2018 draft looks like a huge success.  It is entirely possible that in a few years, the Royals may have a solid starting rotation made up entirely of pitchers from the 2018 draft.

The farm system is in much better shape now than it was two years ago.  However, the Royals appear to be having more success developing pitchers than hitters.  

Best Guess on Prospect Assignments

Position  Prospect  Assignment
SP Alec Marsh Lexington or Wilmington.  He should be in Wilmington quickly.
SP Austin Cox Wilmington or NW Arkansas.  Wilmington is more likely.
SS Bobby Witt Jr Lexington.  He could be promoted to Wilmington in the second half based on performance.
SS Brady McConnell Lexington to start but should be in Wilmington by the second half.
RF Brewer Hicklen  NW Arkansas
SP Carlos Hernandez Wilmington
SP Daniel Lynch NW Arkansas
CF Erick Pena More likely to start in the AZL than the DSL.  He could advance quickly. 
SP Evan Steele Lexington or Wilmington.  If he is healthy he should be in Wilmington quickly.
SP Grant Gambrell Lexington to start but should be in Wilmington by the second half.
SS Jeison Guzman Wilmington
SP Jonathan Bowlan May be back in Wilmington if there is not a rotation spot for him in  NW Arkansas.
SP Kris Bubic NW Arkansas
CF Kyle Isbel NW Arkansas seems likely.
SP Marcel Martinez Wilmington is more likely unless he moves to the bullpen in which case he could begin the year in NW Arkansas.
CF Michael Gigliotti Will begin in Wilmington, but the Royals may aggressive in promoting him if he has success given his age
2B Michael Massey Lexington or Wilmington.  
C MJ Melendez Wilmington
1B Nick Pratto Wilmington
SP / RP Rito Lugo NW Arkansas seems likely.
RF Seuly Matias Could begin in Wilmington. It is possible that he goes back to Lexington for a period to get him back in form. 
SP Yefri Del Rosario Lexington seems likely to start, but could be in Wilmington quickly if he is back in the form he had to end 2018.
SP Yohanse Morel Lexington.  He could be promoted to Wilmington in the second half based on performance.
SP Zach Haake Wilmington

Returning Blue Rocks Prospects

At the beginning of the 2019 season the Blue Rocks were considered one of the more exciting minor league teams in baseball for prospect watchers.  The Blue Rocks ended up winning the Carolina League championship and they had a lot of success with their pitching prospects. 

However, it was a difficult year for the Royals four top hitting prospects that played for Wilmington.  MJ Melendez and Nick Pratto were only two years out of high school so they were very young for the level and 2019 was not a death blow to their major league aspirations.  If they duplicate the level in 2020 and still struggle, it will be a different story. 

MJ Melendez (6'1" 185 lbs DOB 11-2-98 C LR 2nd round 2017) is an elite defensive catcher and he progressed quite a bit in 2019 defensively.  Melendez is a good athlete for a catcher and a coach's son with strong leadership skills.  Runners were only successful on 40% of steal attempts in 2019. 

When Melendez hits the ball, he hits it far.  His fly ball distance of 304 feet was in the top ten in High A in 2019.  The problem was Melendez struck out 165 times in 363 at bats.  Melendez is not a particularly big guy and may be better served by cutting down on his swing.

I remain confident that Melendez will be a starting major league catcher, it just may take awhile.  This is a big year for Melendez. 

Nick Pratto (6'1 195 lbs DOB 10-6-98 1B LL 1st round 2017) in 2018 at Lexington in the Sally League, Pratto struggled in the 1st half as he adjusted to full season ball (.238 / .288 / .655) and was very good in the second half (.322 / .394 / .912).  In 2019, Pratto struggled worse in the 1st half (.167 / .262 / .492) and improved in the second half but not nearly as drastically (.218 / .295 / .696).  Pratto struck out 164 times in 419 at bats with 31 extra base hits. 

Pratto is a good defensive first basemen, but as a first basemen only he is going to have to hit much better than Melendez and develop more power.  Based on 2019 it is going to be challenging for Pratto who was listed as the 67th best prospect in baseball by Rotowire on December 31, 2018 but in not in their top 400 prospects today.

Michael  Gigliotti (6'1" 180 lbs DOB 2-14-96 CF LL 4th round 2017) has a nice combination of  speed, strong defense and patience.  There is talent here but as a result of injuries Gigliotti will be 24 at the start of the year and has only played 24 games at High A with a .498 OPS.

Gigliotti missed virtually of 2018 with a leg injury and then after getting promoted from Lexington in the Sally League to Wilmington on June 20th, Gigliotti was out from July 21st to August 27th.   Gigliotti will look to have a healthy 2020 and if he plays well in the first half, possibly get promoted to AA NW Arkansas in the Texas League.

Seuly Matias (6'3' 198 lbs DOB 9-4-98 RF RR 2015 IFA) has a strong athletic build and after hitting 31 homers in 338 at bats with Lexington in the Sally League in 2018, Matias was ranked as high as the 52nd best prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus heading into 2019.  

To say 2019 was a struggle for Matias would be an understatement.  After hitting four homers in three days between April 13th and 15th, for the rest of April and May he had 124 at bats with 73 strikeouts,12 hits and no homers.

Matias tried to play through a hand injury that he did not tell anyone about.  This was from a hit by pitch on May 16th. On June 13th, he was placed on the IL and it was determined that the hand was fractured.  Matias missed the remainder of the year but was at full strength in the instructional league in the fall.

Either Wilmington or NW Arkansas 

With the all the Royals pitching prospects there may not be a starting spot in AA for Jonathan Bowlan and Austin Cox, so they could begin the year at Wilmington.     
Bowlan not Bowlen.

Jonathan Bowlan (6'6" 262 lbs DOB 12-1-96 RHP  2nd round 2018) may not have the upside of the four pitchers the Royals chose ahead of him, but Bowlan was still very good in 2019.  With his big frame, Bowlan has the potential to be an innings eating fourth or fifth starter

Bowlan split the year between Lexington in the Sally League and Wilmington where he was equally successful.  Overall, in 146 innings, Bowlan struck out 150 batters allowing only 23 walks with a 0.99 WHIP.  The highlight of the season for Bowlan was a nine inning complete game no hitter on July 15th.  The only base runner got on via an error.

Austin Cox (6'4" 185 lbs DOB 3-28-97 LHP 5th round 2018) overshadowed by the pitchers drafted by the Royals before Cox, he was still very solid.  In a different organization, Cox would get a lot more attention.

Between Lexington in the Sally League and Wilmington, Cox struck out about a batter an inning and had a 1.15 WHIP.

Marcelo Martinez (6'2" 190 lbs DOB 8-1-96 LHP 2017 IFA) a fringe prospect from Mexico who I saw several times last year.  Martinez is a crafty lefty whose command improved during the season.

Likely to Be Promoted From Wilmington to NW Arkansas 

Daniel Lynch - A hard throwing, tall lefty that is an elite pitching prospect.  Lynch likely would have been promoted to AA in the 2nd half of 2019 if he did not miss almost two months with a arm injury.  Proved in the Arizona Fall League that he is fully recovered.

Kris Bubic - statistically Bubic was the most impressive of the Royals pitching prospects in 2019 (149.1 innings allowing 103 hits and 42 walks with 185 strikeouts). However, the general consensus is that Bubic does not have quite as much upside as Daniel Lynch, Brady Singer or Jackson Kowar. 

Bubic may have been too advanced for hitters at the lower levels.  His change up was a dominant pitch in the Sally and Carolina Leagues but it remains to be seen if it is as effective at higher levels.   

Kyle Isbel - The only significant hitting prospect form the 2018 draft. Isbel looked like one of the best position prospects in the Carolina League at the beginning of the year.  He had his hamate bone removed and missed about two months.  Isbel struggled when he returned, but was good in the Arizona Fall League.  I believe his struggles were related to the injury and rust and that the player Isbel was at the beginning of the year is more indicative of his true talent.

Brewer Hicklen - A 2017 draft pick that has only been playing baseball fulltime for a few years.  Hicklen has an intriguing combination of power and speed. Hicklen led the Carolina League with 39 stolen bases and was tied for fourth with 14 homers.

Rito Lugo - A 24 year old fringe prospect, Lugo was very effective in 2019 as a swingman and big part of the Blue Rocks championship.  

New 2020 Blue Rocks Prospects

Carlos Hernandez (6'4" 17 lbs DOB 3-11-97 RHP 2016 IFA) my favorite under the radar prospect for 2020.  Hernandez has a good pitcher's build and a lot of skills.  His listed weight of 175 pounds is not current.  Hernandez likely weighs more than 200 pounds. 

Hernandez did not sign with the Royals until he was 19 and did not make his pro debut until he was 20. He was beginning to get a lot of buzz in 2018 when he got injured and did not pitch from August 1, 2018 until June 21, 2019.  Upon his return Hernandez started very slowly, but was outstanding in his last five starts (28 innings allowing 19 hits and 8 walks while striking out 36.

If Hernandez can stay healthy in 2020, I expect Hernandez to emerge as one of best prospects in the Carolina League.


Yefri Del Rosario (6'2" 180 lbs DOB 9-23-99 RHP 2016 IFA) missed the entire 2019 season with a bicep injury, but is reportedly at full strength now.  

Del Rosario was a Braves international signing who was declared a free agent as part of the Braves cheating scandal.  He signed with the Royals for $650,000 and had a very impressive season in 2018.   The Padres, Luis Pitino is the only other pitcher that had success in full season ball who was 18 years old at the end of the season.  In 2018, From August on Del Rosario pitched 42 innings and gave up 3 earned runs on only 23 hits. 

If Del Rosario is healthy and back in the form he had at the end of 2018, he is yet another exciting Royals pitching prospect to watch. 

Jeison Guzman (6'2" 180 lbs DOB 10-8-98 SS LR 2015 IFA) was a 1.5 million J2 signing for the Royals in 2015.  Guzman has outstanding athleticism with size and speed but the progress on the field has been slow.

Guzman got a full year in at Lexington in 2019 (.253 / .296 / .669 with good range at shortstop but 33 errors in 121 games ) and should be ready for full time duty at Wilmington to begin 2020.  At this point, he is profiling as a utility man.

Zach Haake (6' 4" 186 lbs DOB 10-8-96 RHP 6th round 2018) the last of the college pitching prospects from the 2018 draft.  Haake progress was delayed at Lexington in the Sally League by missing a month and half with an injury between April 27th and June 23rd.

Haake was mostly good when healthy in 2019 (in 75.2 innings he allowed 60 hits and 36 walks with 90 strikeouts.  The walks were too high, although six came in a rough return from his injury in a third of an inning on June 23rd.  Haake should be a solid starter for Wilmington. 

Evan Steele (6'5" 210 lbs DOB 11-14-96 LHP 2nd round in 2017) the 73rd in the 2017 draft out of junior college.  Steele has been plagued by injuries since turning pro.  Steele missed all of 2018 with an arm injury.  He returned to the mound on May 21, 2019 and made 11 starts for Lexington in the Sally League.  Steele missed the last month and a half with an apparent injury.  

Steele was impressive when he did pitch.  In 49 innings, he allowed 40 hits and 15 walks with 56 strikeouts.  Steele's delivery is similar to Chris Sale. It appears to be difficult to pick up the baseball out of his hand.

Like Hernandez and Del Rosario, Steele is a very interesting prospect if he can stay healthy.

Yohanse  Morel (6'0" 170 lbs DOB 8-23-00 RHP 2017 IFA) was acquired from the Nationals in the Kelvin Herrera trade. Morel was very impressive in the AZL in 2018 when was 17 for most of the season.

The 2019 assignment in full season ball for Lexington in the Sally League was very aggressive.  While the overall numbers were not very impressive, Morel did get better.  In his last seven starts, Morel only allowed more than two runs once.  

Morel will likely begin 2020 back at Lexington, but if he gets off to a good start could be promoted to Wilmington in the 2nd half.

2019 Notable Royals Draft Picks

Pick Player Age Position School Bonus
1 2 Bobby Witt Jr. 18 SS Colleyville Heritage HS $7,789,900
2 44 Brady McConnell 21 SS Florida $2,222,450
2 70 (CB) Alec Marsh 21 P Arizona State $906,800
3 80 Grant Gambrell 21 P Oregon State $650,000
4 109 Michael Massey 21 2B Illinois $472,500
5 139 John Rave 21 CF Illinois State $297,500
6 169 Dante Biasi 21 P Penn State $247,500
7 199 Noah Murdock 20 P Virginia $230,500
8 229 Drew Parrish 21 P Florida State $187,400
10 289 Anthony Veneziano 21 P Coastal Carolina $122,500
11 319 Vinnie Pasquantino 21 1B Old Dominion $125,000
12 349 Adam Lukas 20 P Evansville $125,000
13 379 Tyler Tolbert 21 SS Alabama-Birmingham $125,000
14 409 Justin Hooper 22 P California-Los Angeles $125,000

In 2018 the Royals had a ton of draft picks and they went college pitching heavy.  Brady Singer, Jackson, Daniel Lynch Kris Bubic, Jonathan Bowlan and Austin Cox all pitched at least part of the season in Wilmington.  

The Royals have not had the same success recently in developing hitters and their top two picks in 2019 were talented hitters that need work.

After taking the first high school pick, with the second overall draft choice, the Royals went mostly with college players.

Bobby Witt Jr (6'1"190 lbs DOB 6-14-00 SS RR) Witt was overshadowed in the AZL by CJ Abrams of the Padres, who was the 4th overall pick.  Witt has a lot of tools, huge power with good speed and the defensive skills to stick at shortstop.  However, it may be more of slow rise to the majors.

Witt will start off at Lexington in the Sally League and his performance will dictate if he gets called up to Wilmington for the last part of the season.

Brady McConnell (6'3"195 lbs DOB 5-24-98 SS RR) an unusually inexperienced SEC draft pick.  McConnell was a draft eligible sophomore who missed most of his freshman year.  He had a very nice Sophomore year (in 59 games,15 homers, .332 / .385 / .961)  but did strikeout 57 times to only 15 walks.

McConnell is a good athlete that has a lot of upside, but may progressive a bit slower than the typical high college draft pick.  
The Royals have already announced that McConnell will begin the season in Lexington in the Sally League, but should be in Wilmington for the second half of the year.  

Drew Parrish (5'11" 200 lbs DOB 12-8-97 LHP) was the Friday night starting pitcher for a Florida State team that made the College World Series.  Parrish had an inconsistent Junior year at Florida State where a few rough starts impacted his state.  However, he threw eight shutout innings in the College World Series against Arkansas.

Parrish is a crafty lefthander whose size and lack of huge velocity  caused him to go later in the draft.  However he is an advanced pitcher with good secondary offerings who should be ready for High A in 2020.   Parrish finished the 2019 season on a high note striking out eight of nine hitters in a three inning appearance for the Burlington Royals in the Appalachian League on August 24th. 

Alec Marsh (6'2" 220 lbs DOB 5-14-98 RHP) improved all three years at Arizona State in the PAC 12.   Marsh has good size and seems to have the talent to get better. 

A solid college pitcher that the Royals will look to repeat their success with from the 2018 draft.

Grant Gambrell (6'4" 220 lbs DOB 11-21 -97 RHP) another PAC 12 pitcher.  A teammate of Adley Rutschman at Oregon State.  Gambrell struggled with command his first two years in college, but improved as a Junior.  As his best, Gambrell throws in the low 90s with good movement and a plus slider.

Gambrell was hit hard as a pro while with Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League, a hitters league. After beginning with three scoreless outings totaling 7.2 innings, Gambrell allowed 38 hits over his final 21.1 innings. 

Michael Massey (6'0" 190 lbs DOB 3-22-98 2B LR) had a remarkably steady college career.  Massey is not going to wow anyone, but has a good all around game with no weaknesses.

Massey served as the DH at the beginning of his Junior year due to a back injury, but won a college gold glove.  He only made one error his last two years of college.  Massey's major league aspirations would be helped if he is able to fill in at shortstop even on a limited basis.  The fact that he is a left handed hitter helps his chances with platoon possibilities.

One Down the Road Prospect to Monitor

Erick Pena (6'3" 180 lbs DOB 2-20-03 CF LR) in recent years,  several of the highly touted J2 signings have skyrocketed up prospects ranks and advanced very quickly.  The list includes Vladimir Guerrero,Fernando Tatis, Wander Franco, Julio Rodriguez and Marco Luciano.  

The sixteen year old Pena was considered one of the top five players in the 2019 J2 class.  The Royals signed Pena for 3.8 million dollars.  Despite not yet playing an official game, Pena has impressed at the Royals facility in Arizona and created a lot of buzz. At this point, Jasson Dominguez is the only player from the 2019 J2 class that is ranked above Pena.

Pena is projected to have a plus hit tool and power.  It would be extremely aggressive for Pena to reach Wilmington by the end of the 2021 season, but based on recent history with international signings, it would not be unprecedented.

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