C – MJ Melendez – In our own brand of prospect reporting, we always (and immediately) shoot under the surface, trying to find, not that silver lining, but the brightest spot inside a largely cast shadow. Those prospects that don’t deserve only a double-take, but have earned full on stare. Yet, there comes a time when what casts the shadow is so huge everything behind has to wait for full attention. Thus, meet M.J. Melendez, Kansas City’s 2019 #6 top prospect at Baseball America. Despite batting .251 with 142 strikeouts in 111 games, Melendez obliterated South Atlantic League pitching in 2018, crushing 26 doubles, 19 home runs and driving in 73. All from a 19-year-old in just his second year as a pro against competition nearly three years his senior. Casual fans might look at his production from 2017 compared to his sophomore season and say how much he improved. But actually, he produced a tick above what his short season numbers in 2017 (would have) translated to overall, had you calculated them over a full season. Take away the strikeouts and there’s nothing not to love here. The 2017 – 2nd rounder will start the season for either HiA Wilmington of the Carolina League or receive an aggressive push to Double-A with the Northwest Arkansas squad in 2019. 1B – Travis Jones – It’s absolutely no secret that Royals 2017 – 1st rounder Nick Pratto is the organization’s future at first base. He showed off his skills in his 2017 debut, and in spite of a slow start in 2018, surged late and finished 2018 like a first-rounder should. So, the UTR in us, having recognized Pratto’s standing, looks at raising the floor, and we didn’t have to look far to see a fellow 2017 draft pick, 29th rounder out of the University of Texas, Travis Jones. Normally, you’d think that a kid who posted said numbers in college might struggle a bit in his adjustment to the pros. In his three years as a Longhorn, the 6’4”- 210 lb. righty logged a .267 career batting average, hit seven home runs, stole 21 bases and 50 RBi. So far, in two seasons, Jones is batting over .300 (.315), has 11 home runs, 102 RBi and 55 stolen bases over five levels. Last season, he split time between LoA Lexington and HiA Wilmington, where collectively, he hit .291 with seven homers, 50 runs batted in and stole 31 bases. What might be the most important aspect of Jones’ game? He can play all the corners: first base, third base, left and right field. His bat is too good for the organization not to find him somewhere to play. Jones is the quintessential definition of “under-the-radar. 2B – Nathan Eaton – I mentioned yesterday in Tigers outfield prospect Brock Deatherage’s bio that we “snuck” him into the RF spot of the Detroit UTR OAS list despite the fact that he only played seven games there in 2018. That’s sort of the case with our the Royals OAS second base pick Nathan Eaton. What he did with the bat in 2018 leaves no question whether he should have made this list. Where I put him? Take your pick: Second base, third base, center field or left. Defensively, the 2018 – 21st round selection out of the Virginia Military Institute supplied the super-utility role all season long for the Rookie Idaho Falls Chugars of the Pioneer League, playing 20 games each at third and second base, with 10 games in center and 11 games in right field. His bat however? It proved much more than utility. Eaton batted .354 with 19 stolen bases, and also lead the PIO League in hits (92), runs scored (59), triples (12) and total bases (151). His fielding lags behind his bat however, as he didn’t post a fielding percentage above .931 at any of the above positions played. But I think this will iron itself out as the 5’11”- 185 lb. righty ascends up through the ranks. But as long as he continues to hit like this, it may not matter. 3B – Rubendy Jaquez – We could have placed the aforementioned Travis Jones here. However, with his various position eligibility in 2018, he was best suited for first base due to the lack of worthy UTR candidates past the royalty that is Nick Pratto at the position. Therefore, we dug a bit deeper for that (dare I say) deep sleeper prospect, and Dominican Republic native Rubendy Jaquez was ripe for the picking. The Royals signed the 5’11”- 175 lb. switch-hitter in September 2015 and he debuted in the DSL the following June. In his first two seasons, both in the DSL, he combined to hit .257 with one home run, 39 runs scored and 27 RBi. This year, across two levels, the AZL and Pioneer League, Jaquez batted .316 with eight doubles, four home runs, 18 stolen bases, 32 runs scored and 32 RBi. These aren’t earth shattering numbers, but like we said before, it’s a high floor you aim for. Jaquez raises the floor, and if 2018 is any indication, 2019 could be another step toward a possible breakout. I suspect he’ll play all season for Rookie Idaho Falls, but an aggressive assignment to LoA Lexington wouldn’t be shocking. SS – Jeison Guzman – Although 23-year-old Adalberto Mondesi broke out last season and currently is penciled in as the Kansas City Royals lead-off hitter for 2019, inside the minors, top prospect Nicky Lopez sits atop the shortstop position food chain. Lopez was a UTR OAS back in 2016 after his debut season with Rookie Burlington and proceeded to make the UTR HOD daily six times the following season. The hope here is that the 6’2”- 180 lb. Guzman can keep Royals shortstop assembly line going. Guzman split time between APPY League Burlington and LoA Lexington last season. He started the season for LoA Lexington, and in 30 games batted a paltry .220 with only eight extra-base hits in 109 games. He hit the disabled list in mid-May, and upon his return in mid-June, was assigned to Burlington of the APPY League. He batted a solid .283 with four extra base hits in 106 at bats, stole 14 bases and walked nearly as many times as he struck out (12:16). This earned him a promotion back to Lexington, finishing the season with a combined .254 with 12 doubles, four home runs, and 26 stolen bases. There’s a lot of hope with the bat for Guzman and he has what some say is a 60-grade glove at the position, but wow, 71 errors in three seasons? Not good. With a defensive grade like that, he can improve the defense, while simultaneously growing the bat. If so, Kansas City could have another very good shortstop on their hands. LF – Brewer Hicklen – With three outfielders sitting inside the Kansas City Top 10, the 2017 – 7th rounder out of the University of Alabama Birmingham was quite the darling pick for us here. A stellar athlete out of Huntsville HS (AL), Hicklen excelled in both football and baseball. He received a scholarship to play baseball for UAB, but wanted to wait for football offers to come in, as Hicklen felt football was his ultimate path. By the time he decided upon the baseball route, UAB coach Brian Shoop had offered the scholarship to someone else. So, the 6’2”- 210 lb. righty went to UAB and walked onto the baseball team, but redshirted his freshman year due to an rotator cuff injury. Coach Shoop ended up offering him a scholarship anyway. Through a bevy of circumstances, Hicklen eventually earned himself a full football scholarship, but realized that his baseball skills could get him drafted to the majors. The Royals are glad he made that choice. In his debut season he batted a combined .321 with 11 doubles, four home runs and 16 stolen bases between the AZL and Rookie PIO League. In 2018, he skipped over APPY League Burlington right to LoA Lexington and bashed 17 homers, had 18 doubles, 29 stolen bases, which, along with his .930 OPS and .552 slugging percentage, led the loaded Legends roster. Hicklen was promoted to HiA Wilmington and was tamed by Carolina League pitching posting a .211/.263/.310/.573 slash line. I expect Hicklen to start 2019 in HiA, yet it wouldn’t be shocking to see a quick promotion to Double-A if he starts this season the way he did in 2018. CF – Tyler James – It’s ironic in a sense that the Royals signed free-agent outfielder Billy Hamilton to a 1-year $6.25M contract, Sure his bat is putrid (career .245 hitter), but Hamilton possesses a career .994 fielding percentage and has eclipsed 50 stolen bases four of his first six seasons in the majors. This all buys into the “speed/defense” mentality the Royals organization administers upon its players, which is, in comparison, why Tyler James makes for the absolute perfect UTR OAS selection. James was drafted out of William Carey College (MS) – out of the Southern States Athletic Conference – in the 25th round in 2017. In two seasons with the Crusaders, (2015 & 2017) he batted .275 with 76 stolen bases and 114 runs scored. The Royals assigned him to their AZL affiliate and even with an expected dip in batting average (.258), he led the league with 31 stolen bases and scored 35 runs in only 46 games. The Royals tried the 5’10”- 160 lb. speedster at second base in his debut season, but eight errors in 39 games was enough to abandon that experiment. He played center and left exclusively in 2018, splitting his only two errors of the season between the two positions, while his bat markedly improved. Spending all season with Rookie Idaho Falls, James logged a .312/.409/.402/.811 slash line with another (league-leading) 38 stolen bases. I love the speed game, because you can’t slump it, and James has, so far, provided the speed and defense the organization covets, with the potential for his bat to be much, much more. RF – Seuly Matias – The performance that 6’3”- 200 lb. Seuly Matias laid upon us in 2018 was something to behold. Matias ranked fourth overall in the minors in home runs last season (31), and it’s not so crazy to imagine that he could have led the entire minors by leaps and bounds had the 19-year-old not suffered a freak injury in late-August, when he caught his right thumb in the cargo door of the team bus while loading luggage, causing a severe laceration, thus ending his season (too) early. Last season, Matias was showing off Giancarlo Stanton/Joey Gallo-like power, and there’s no reason to believe that he can’t do it again when he (possibly) spends all season with HiA Wilmington of the Carolina League or Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Nolan Watson– (14.5) / HiA Wilmington
** Last year’s UTR-OAS roster for the Royals was one of the most intriguing across the board. All Top 5 pitchers were 22 years and younger, and I was very surprised that none found their way to repeat in 2018. Scott Blewett, Cristian Castillo, Foster Griffin, and Jace Vines (all) advanced to Double-A Northwest Arkansas at some point, and all struggled. My AA tracking spread for the Royals was the most limited amongst all teams. Foster Griffin headed that list with a Factor Score of (7), one of the lowest scores of all top Double-A pitchers from each team. The only bright spot was Delvin Capellan‘s state-side debut with the AZL Royals. Despite the 5.89 ERA in 55 innings, the 19-year old flashed a 1.8 BB/9 and 10.0 K/9 rate in his second career season. Watson was a 1st-round pick in 2015, and also has struggled his first two years as a pro. Coming out of high school, the 6’2″- 195 lb. right-hander is still raw, but processes a mid-90s fastball and flashes an advanced slider, along with two other secondaries. His missed most of the 2017 season after being shutdown with shoulder inflammation. Undeterred by the struggles and setbacks, the Royals continued to push Watson through the system, where he split time between Lexington and Wilmington. Don’t give up on Watson, who will only be 22-years old through all of the 2019 season.
2. RHP Andres Sotillet – (14) / HiA Wilmington
** Sotillet gets back on the UTR radar. The former 2016 DSL Pitcher of the Year was left off the Royals UTR-OAS last season due to limited work across three rookie levels. The 6’1″- 175 lb. right-hander was ranked as the Royals #5 UTR-OAS in 2016 in his debut season. He started the 2018 season with LoA Lexington and performed well enough to earn a mid-season promotion to HiA Wilmington. Sotillet is a control-type pitcher that throws a mid-90s fastball using a 4-seam and 2-seam grip.
3. RHP Gerson Garabito – (13) / HiA Wilmington
** Garabito was a UTR-OAS back in 2014 and has steadily progressed up the ladder. I took a long shot on the 6’0″- 160 lb. righty as my Royals “One to Watch” for 2018. He posted decent numbers at Wilmington last season with a 3.16 ERA in 142.1 innings.
4. LHP Daniel Tillo –(13) / HiA Wilmington
5. RHP Carlos Hernandez – (13) / LoA LexingtonTop 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Tyler Zuber – (13) / HiA Wilmington
2. RHP Bryan Brickhouse –(7) / AA NW Arkansas
Tie 3. RHP Grant Gavin – (6) / AA NW Arkansas “Legit UTR”
Tie 3. RHP Julio Pinto – (6) / HiA Wilmington