It’s no secret the Royals’ minor-league system is one of the worst in baseball.
They started the year with the fifth-worst farm system, according to ESPN’s Keith Law. Not even signing Nick Pratto in the draft helped. They later added so little value by the non-waiver trade deadline that the Royals received no prospect points, which are awarded based on how many Top 100 prospects an organization has, from MLB.com in its midseason rankings released in August.
It’s a little jarring to see how far the Royals’ minor-league system has fallen, especially when you consider that six years ago pundits were so high on Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, among others, that the Royals’ farm earned a record-setting 574 points from Baseball America.
Of course, those rankings bore fruit when the Royals clinched back-to-back American League pennants and won the World Series in 2015.
But now they’re on the verge of returning to the old normal, with little to show off as the rebuilding process likely begins anew.
Let’s take a look at the unheralded names of some potential future Royals.
The next Eric Hosmer?
First-rounder Pratto, already the Royals’ top prospect, is the heir apparent at first base.
But that’s way down the line.
Someone who might be ready sooner, though not by much, is 2012 international signee Samir Dueñez. He’s a lefty hitter who averaged .252 with 23 doubles, 17 home runs and 75 RBIs this year at Class AA Northwest Arkansas. His plate discipline is still years away — he drew 37 walks and struck out 116 times — but he is projected to deliver slightly above-average numbers as he matures.
Defensively, Dueñez drew a scouting grade of 50 and has shown some arm strength at first base. He’s the 13th-ranked prospect in the system, by MLB.com’s standards.
If they had to pluck someone out of the minors right now, Frank Schwindel might seem like the Royals’ best option. His power stroke was more pronounced after his promotion to Class AAA Omaha, where he had 17 home runs and 30 doubles in 99 games. Between Omaha and Class AA Northwest Arkansas, he hit 23 home runs, doubled 43 times and drove in 97 runs.
By the way, Pratto slashed .247/.330/.414 with 15 doubles, three triples, four home runs and 34 RBIs at Rookie-level Surprise. He was also 10 of 14 on stolen bases.
The next Mike Moustakas?
Hunter Dozier couldn’t really get his 2017 campaign going until August, after dealing with an oblique strain right out of spring training and a broken wrist most of the summer. It’s hard to say he’s next in line if Moustakas doesn’t come back next year.
But the future picture at third base becomes a little clearer when you account for Class A Lexington player of the year Emmanuel Rivera.
He was a 19th-round pick in 2015 and batted .223 his first two professional seasons. But after being chosen Rookie of the Year in the Puerto Rican winter league last season, Rivera went to Lexington and led the South Atlantic League with a .310 batting average this year. He showed raw power with 27 doubles, five triples and 12 home runs. He drove in 72 runs and was 8 for 18 on the base paths.
Rivera is the 16th-ranked prospect in the Royals organization, with a defensive grade of 55 and “one of the strongest arms in the system” according to MLB.com.
The next Lorenzo Cain?
The second-ranked prospect in the system is the left-handed Khalil Lee, a 19-year-old outfielder the Royals selected in the third round of the 2016 Draft. He needs some incubation time, especially after striking out a league-worst 171 times in Lexington. He only batted .237, but he drove in 61 runs and drilled 47 extra-base hits (including 24 doubles and 17 homers).
Lee’s 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame will lend itself well on the base paths, where he went 20 of 38 on stolen-base attempts, and in the field. He also received a 60 scouting grade, which is above-average, for his arm strength.
Donald Dewees Jr. might be ready sooner, offensively — scouts say his instincts in center field are lacking. Dewees hit. 272 with 24 doubles, six triples, nine homers and 52 RBIs at Northwest Arkansas. He also stole 20 bases.
Dewees, also a lefty hitter, was acquired from the Cubs in February in exchange for right-handed pitcher Alec Mills.
The rest of the best outfield prospects are so inexperienced they played rookie ball this year:
Amalani Fukofuka (Rookie-level Idaho Falls/Lexington) slashed .271/.338/.396 with 21 doubles, three triples, seven homers and 47 RBIs. He was 33 of 41 on stolen base attempts.
Michael Gigliotti (Burlington/Lexington) slashed .320/.420/.456 with 13 doubles, four triples, four homers and 38 RBIs. He stole 22 bases.
The next frontline starter?
Rotation help may be the hardest for the Royals to come by, as health remains a concern for Kyle Zimmer. The Royals picked the righty No. 5 overall in the 2012 Draft but have yet to see substantial returns from their investment. Zimmer’s career was further waylaid this year by such ailments as shoulder soreness and arm fatigue, limiting him to 36 2/3 innings over 21 appearances (three starts).
So the onus might now fall on 23-year-old right-hander Josh Staumont, who the Royals chose in the second round in 2015. Staumont, ranked ninth in the farm system, progressed quickly through the system but ran into trouble this season. He assembled a 5.56 ERA over 26 games (25 starts) and 124 2/3 innings for Northwest Arkansas and Omaha.
That said, Foster Griffin, another right-hander, had an impressive 2017. He was 15-7 with a 3.35 ERA in 161 1/3 innings spanning 28 starts for Class A Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas. Griffin, the Royals’ sixth-ranked prospect, struggled in Class A ball last year, recording a 5.43 ERA in 132 2/3 innings.
On the way:
Emilio Ogando (Wilmington/Northwest Arkansas/Omaha) was 11-10 with a 3.72 ERA over 29 starts and 164 1/3 innings. He recorded 110 strikeouts and a 1.29 WHIP.
Scott Blewett (Wilmington) was 7-10 with a 4.07 ERA over 27 starts and 152 2/3 innings. He recorded 129 strikeouts and a 1.34 WHIP.
The next elite reliever?
Scouts were sure the Royals found the next Greg Holland when they drafted left-hander Richard Lovelady, a reliever with a mid-90s fastball, last year.
He jumped to Class AA within a year of making his professional debut and had a 1.62 ERA (12 runs in 66 2/3 innings) at Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas this season.