- C – Meibrys Viloria – 19 yo
- 4.60/1.031 – PAG/APPA (Rookie Idaho Falls)
- 2016 stats: .376/.436/.606; 1.042 OPS; 28 doubles, 6 home runs; .969 Fld%, 34% CS%
What a great catching problem to have. You’ve got All-Star Salvador Perez as the face of the organization, former 1st rounder Chase Vallot and this years UTR OAS catcher Meibrys Viloria in the fold. Most prognosticators would place Vallot, a 2014 draftee out of St. Thomas More HS (Lafayette, LA) at the top of the minor league catching ranks. He’s a 19-year-old producing in LoA where over half of this year’s hits went for extra-bases (.507). However, the 6’0″ – 215 lb. Vallot’s season took a big back seat to fellow 19-year-old Meibrys Viloria. The native of Columbia debuted in 2014 logging time in two levels. While with the DSL, he posted a 3.06/.783, then moved on to the Appalachian League where he posted a 2.46/.627 in 13 games for Rookie Burlington. He stayed with the (Burlington) Royals in 2015 and batted .260, scored 20 runs, drove 16, but logged not a single extra-base hit. This season, however, Viloria exploded. He spent all year with Pioneer League Idaho Falls and proceeded to lead the league in batting, doubles and RBi’s (55), which was plenty enough to garner him the Pioneer League Most Valuable Player. As much as Viloria’s season excited me, it’s his follow-up that has me intrigued. I expect Viloria to begin 2017 with LoA Lexington. The drastic difference between his 2014-15 and this season isn’t a red flag, but a glimpse at what he’s capable of.
- 1B – Samir Duenez – 20 yo
- 3.35/.798 combined – PAG/APPA (LoA Lexington – 3.22/.768; HiA Wilmington – 3.63/.864; AA Northwest Arkansas – 2.86/.678)
- 2016 stats combined: .284/.336/.438; .774 OPS; 33 doubles, 13 home runs; 26 stolen bases.
In our inaugural Organization All-Star series back in 2014, then-21-year-old Ryan O’Hearn was deemed the first ever Kansas City Royals OAS first baseman. A well-earned distinction after posting a prodigious 4.75/1.038 PAG/APPA for Rookie League Idaho Falls that season. The 2013- 8th rounder out of Sam Houston State University (Huntsville, TX) has made a steady climb through the prospect ranks, and after the 2016 season, O’Hearn is now firmly supplanted inside the Royals top 10. However, on his heels is another young kid that I actually mentioned in O’Hearn’s 2014 UTR OAS profile, 20-year old Venezuelan Samir Duenez. The 6’1″ – 195 lb. lefty debuted in 2013 and recorded a 47-game PAG/APPA of 2.85/.673 in Rookie Arizona League. The following season he struggled after receiving aggressive promotions to Pioneer League Idaho Falls and then LoA Lexington. Despite the dip in production (2.33/.624), he received kudos for holding his own as an 18-year-old playing against competition nearly 4 years his senior. Duenez stayed in LoA Lexington in 2015 and produced nearly the same level of production as he did the previous year (2.37/.604). Scouts said he possesses good bat speed, great contact skills and his power will eventually come with experience. Well, he seemed to figure it out this season posting career highs in slugging, OPS, stolen bases and extra base percentage. Duenez ended the season with 14 games with Double-A Northwest Arkansas; and I expect him to spend all of 2017 there. Another solid season could help cement his status as the next top first base prospect in the system.
- 2B – Gabriel Cancel – 19 yo
- (3.37/.820) PAG/APPA (Rookie Burlington)
- 2016 stats: .291/.346/.494; .840 OPS; 18 doubles, 5 home runs.
The situation I ran into here is the reason Jim and I developed the pre-season Breakouts/Ones to Watch feature. I really had a hard time deciding who to pick here. Do I go with Esteury Ruiz, a 17-year-old who logged a stellar debut season in the DSL? Or do I look to 19-year-old Gabriel Cancel, who excelled in his sophomore season for Rookie Burlington? Even though Jim and I created metrics that help sift out top performers, we still rely on conventional stats/wisdom to help make our picks. Well, I don’t normally do this, but I’m giving readers a bonus. I’m choosing Cancel as my UTR OAS; and you’ll see the 6’0″ – 150 lb. Ruiz on the pre-season Royals 2017 UTR “Ones to Watch” list. Cancel, a 2015 – 7th rounder from Padre Anibal Reyes Belen HS (Hatillo, PR) debuted in the Arizona League last season. He registered a 34-game PAG/APPA of 2.74/.620 while committing 13 total errors in a 60/40 split between shortstop and second base. When Cancel was drafted, several scouts said he’s “more tools than production” and questioned whether his hit tool would play. Well, I think it played this year, and quite well actually. The 6’1″ – 185 lb. Cancel led all Royals regular second baseman (HiA down through the DSL) in doubles (18) home runs (5), extra-base percentage (.480). He also improved his BB:K rate. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Cancel receive an aggressive assignment to LoA Lexington next season.
- 3B – Manny Olloque – 20 yo
- (4.12/.895) PAG/APPA (Rookie Idaho Falls)
- 2016 stats: .330/.378/.489; .867 OPS; 18 doubles, 8 home runs.
Let’s face it, Hunter Dozier is the future at third base for the Kansas City Royals. However, you all know how we work it here. I love Dozier just as much as the next guy, but the job at hand is to raise that prospect floor; and that’s exactly what the 6’2″ – 170 lb. Manny Olloque did this season. The 2014 – 16th rounder out of Torrence HS (CA) made his pro debut for the Burlington Royals of the Appalachian League and posted a 25-game PAG/APPA of 2.56/.790. Some might categorize his 2015 a lost season. He saw only 18 games of action due to a thumb injury and logged a 1.44/.394. But this year, the 6’2″ – 165 lb. Dominican shot out of a cannon collecting hits in 15 of his first 20 games of the year. He finished the season in the Pioneer League top five in hits (91), doubles, runs scored (54), ranked second in RBI’s (53) – behind the aforementioned Meibrys Viloria – and total bases with 137. As great as Olloque’s bat was this season, the opposite was true as a defender. Twenty-five errors won’t cut it at the lower levels and Olloque will have to do much more with his bat if his defense doesn’t improve.
- SS – Nicky Lopez – 21 yo
- (3.89/.852) PAG/APPA (Rookie Burlington)
- 2016 stats: .281/.393/.429; .821 OPS; 35:30 BB:K ratio
Nicky Lopez is the kind of UTR OAS prospect that doesn’t necessarily make me shake my head, but certainly forces me to think of that “what if” scenario. Each off-season when I list all my positional prospects, lump them together by position, I do a tale-of-the-tape if you will. But of course, on top of my stat list is PAG/APPA. And despite the fact that 2013 free-agent signee Marten Gasparini (Italy), Dominican-born Jeison Guzman and Ricky Aracena in the top prospect fold, it was Lopez, a 2016 – 5th rounder out of Creighton University (Omaha, NE) who led the PAG/APPA way. So, here’s the rub. Nicky Lopez is a 21-year-old playing in the Appalachian League. Does that matter to me? Hell no. Pound-for-pound the 5’11” – 175 lb. lefty outproduced those I mentioned above this season. He led the APPY League in runs scored (54), triples (5) and ranked second in stolen bases (24) and walks. I can’t sit here though and say I couldn’t give a shit about how old a player is in the minors. Jim and I usually gauge a player’s age working backwards, as 25 years old is our cutoff. Therefore, Lopez entering 2017 as a 22 year old possibly in LoA Lexington. Lopez is proof that you just can’t write off a kid because of his age. I’m really rooting for him.
- LF – Cal Jones – 18 yo
- (3.10/.695) PAG/APPA (Rookie Arizona League)
- 2016 stats: .232/.306/.348; .655 OPS; 4 home runs, 7 stolen bases
I’m not going to lie. When scanning through all the positions in each organization, we sometimes hit a patch of pure UTR gold, but other times, we dig and dig, but come up short. Thus is the case with those playing left for the Royals; minus one. Let’s take a took. University of Richmond draftee Tanner Stanley‘s numbers were very good this season in Rookie Idaho Falls (4.14/.861), but the 2015 – 36th rounder totally fell off the rails (1.64/.478) when he hit LoA Lexington. Twenty-four year old Luke Willis, a 2015 – 30th rounder out of George Mason University (Fairfax, VA) posted great numbers this season, but he’s a year away from UTR disqualification. So, for me it comes down to 2015 draftee Roman Collins and 2016 – 6th rounder Cal Jones. The Florida Atlantic alum, Collins logged time at two levels this season, registering a 2.76/.648 PAG/APPA for LoA Lexington and HiA Wilmington. But this is a time where I, too, can use age as a factor in my decision, which leads me to 6’0″ – 175 lb. Cal Jones, who posted similar, but higher PAG/APPA totals than 21-year-old Collins. A verbal commit to the University of Alabama, Cal Jones was drafted out of Dadeville HS (Camp Hill, AL) for his supreme athleticism and blazing speed. During private workouts for the Royals at Kaufmann Stadium, Jones clocked in 6.3-6.4/60 times and clubbed a couple of homers. Jones is a tremendous athlete, as he played wide receiver and quarterback for Dadeville, receiving several offers from small small colleges, but chose the baseball route. I suspect Kansas City will promote Jones to either Rookie Burlington or Idaho Falls to start 2017.
- CF – Khalil Lee – 18 yo
- (4.10/.905) PAG/APPA (Rookie Arizona League)
- 2016 stats: .269/.396/.484; .880 OPS; 9 doubles, 6 triples
In going through the Royals UTR OAS left field list, it was initially difficult finding that one standout. I can’t say the same for centerfield. Anytime a prospect concludes a season with a PAG score of 4.00 or above, he’s a no-brainer to make the list. Such is the case for uber-athlete Khalil Lee. The 5’10” – 180 lb. lefty came to the organization the reigning Virginia (state) Baseball Player of the Year as a two-way player. Lee had a commitment to Liberty University prior to signing with Kansas City. The interesting thing about Lee is depending on what organization drafted/signed him, there’s a good possibility you might have seen him on my partner Jim’s UTR OAS Top Starters list. Not only did Lee log a .471/.634/.941/.1.575 slash line at the plate in his senior season for Flint Hill HS (Oakton, VA), he also was the the Huskies top pitcher going 7-0, a 0.33 ERA with 87 punch-outs to only 3 walks in 42 innings. With stats like this, what did the Royals have to lose? Kansas City immediately shifted Lee full-time to the outfield; and all he did was lead the Rookie Arizona League in runs scored (43), triples, total bases (88) and ranked in the AZL top 10 in home runs, RBi’s (29) and walks (33). I’m not sure if Lee will stick in center, and it’s hard to say where he may begin 2017 (either Rookie Burlington or Idaho Falls). But boy-of-boy, regardless of where he plays on the field and at what level, he could be one of the more exciting Royals prospects to watch moving forward.
- RF – Yeison Melo – 20 yo
- (3.76/.835) PAG/APPA (Rookie Idaho Falls)
- 2016 stats: .324/.355/.477; .832 OPS; 91 hits, 20 doubles, 5 home runs.
There’s a rather lengthy hierarchy in right field inside the Royals system. Top hitting prospects Hunter Dozier, Jorge Bonifacio, Ryan O’Hearn, Anderson Miller (and even Khalil Lee above) have been linked to playing right field in the future. And in pure UTR form this makes it easy to openly discuss 6’1″ – 180 lb. Yeison Melo. Signed in early November of 2013, the Royals assigned the young Dominican to the Dominican Summer League. Melo spent his first two seasons as a pro there and recorded a combined 2.98/.715 PAG/APPA. Now, I’ll plead ignorance, but with a freshman season of 2.86/.709, I’m surprised Melo didn’t receive a promotion to the AZL in 2015. I’ve seen lesser production bumped to higher levels, but I digress. It is what it is. This season, Melo spent all year with Rookie Idaho Falls. Along with his 134 total bases, he proceeded to rank within the Pioneer League top five in hits, doubles and RBi’s (53). I have a gut feeling the organization may test Melo with a 2017 assignment to LoA Lexington. I believe if he maintains or exceeds his career 2.98/.763, he may find himself on the way to a few mainstream top prospect lists.