As part of the new rules for the 2020 Major League season, each of the 30 organizations will maintain a 60-man player pool for the duration of the campaign. Some members of the player pool will feature on the active Major League roster while others will work out at an alternate training site in the hopes of staying fresh for a potential callup or getting in much-needed development time.
The MiLB.com staff is rounding up the notable prospects in each organization’s 60-man player pool and analyzing what the new system will mean for their 2020 seasons.
The Royals have been in a transition period of sorts over the past few years. The big league club has lost more than 100 games each of the last two seasons and the roster as it stands is a mixture of pieces left over from their mid-decade run of success and young talent waiting to emerge.
But as the calendar finally turns to the unusual 2020 season, the next generation of Kansas City baseball is drawing nearer and nearer. Of the 60 players the Royals invited to their Summer Camp workouts, 17 are ranked on MLB Pipeline’s list of their top 30 prospects, including seven of the top 10.
Camp kicked off on Friday at Kauffman Stadium, and while only a few of those prospects will make the 30-man active roster, they’ll all get valuable reps even if they stay behind in Kansas City as the team travels.
Bobby Witt Jr., SS: Witt wasn’t invited to the Royals’ original Spring Training camp this year, so this is his first chance to see live big league-caliber pitching. He seems up for the challenge, as MLB.com's Jeffrey Flanagan reported that in Witt’s first appearance of the summer Friday, he battled a 12-pitch at-bat before doubling off the wall. Kansas City’s top prospect hit .262/.317/.354 in the Rookie-level Arizona League after being selected second overall in last year’s Draft and was poised to debut with Class A Lexington or Class A Advanced Wilmington this season. It’s unlikely he sees the field in an official Major League game this year, but the experience he’ll gain from regular reps with the rest of the alternates will prove invaluable in his development, especially considering the alternative is sitting at home.
Brady Singer, RHP: Singer dazzled at two Minor League levels in 2019 and was in contention for a spot in the Royals’ rotation in the spring. He’ll battle for that chance again this month, and if his work during his rookie campaign is any indication, he’ll have a real shot. Singer started the season with Wilmington, where he shined his way to a 1.87 ERA with 53 strikeouts over 57 2/3 innings. He jumped up to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where he logged a 3.47 clip while fanning 85 over 90 2/3 frames. He’ll eventually end up headlining the Royals rotation, but it will be interesting to see if he earns that shot during this shortened season.
Daniel Lynch, LHP: Lynch may not get as much press as Singer does, but the Royals’ other Top 100 prospect has impressed just as much since the two turned pro. In two years in the Minors, the southpaw has compiled a 2.50 ERA with 157 strikeouts over 147 2/3 innings. He dealt with some arm issues last season that delayed his progress, but he was nevertheless impressive as he posted a 3.10 ERA with Wilmington in addition to a handful of rehab appearances. He’s still a year or two away from contributing at the big league level, but the opportunity this summer will help make up for time lost last season.
Jackson Kowar, RHP: Roommates with Singer at the University of Florida, Kowar has followed a similar path since they were drafted together in 2018. Unlike Singer, he pitched later that summer and made a strong first impression by logging a 3.42 ERA and .200 opponents' batting average in nine starts with Lexington. He then made 13 starts with Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas, posting a combined 3.52 ERA while logging 144 strikeouts and walking 43. His debut in The Show was potentially coming at some point in 2020, so it’s not entirely impossible he makes his way onto the big league club during the 60-game sprint.
Kris Bubic, LHP: Bubic made headlines last season by leading all Minor Leaguers with 185 strikeouts between Lexington and Wilmington. That’s not all he does, though -- the 6-foot-3 southpaw held opponents to a .199 average, including a .164 mark in his nine starts for the Legends, and walked only 42. He finished his stint in Lexington with a 2.08 ERA, then moved up to Wilmington, where he logged a 2.30 clip over his final 17 starts. That success will be a tough act to follow when the Minors eventually resume play, but Bubic has the stuff to do it and will get plenty of opportunities to tune that stuff up while pitching on the 60-man roster.
Kyle Isbel, OF: The pitchers the Royals took in the 2018 Draft got most of the buzz at the time, but Isbel has turned out to be quite the addition to the system. He was fantastic as a rookie, batting .326/.389/.504 with seven homers in 64 games between Rookie Advanced Idaho Falls and Lexington. He was off to an even better start in 2019, hitting .348/.423/.630 over his first 13 games, but a wrist injury sidelined him for nearly three months and significantly stunted his momentum. After he returned, he put up a .176/.236/.277 slash line to sink his overall numbers to .233/.296/.397. It’ll be huge for his development to see regular action in 2020 and, if all goes well, he’ll be back on the rise to the big leagues.
Khalil Lee, OF: Lee has fallen from being the Royals’ second-ranked prospect last spring to No. 8, making him the last of the team’s top 10 prospects to make the cut. His numbers didn’t really decline as he hit .264/.363/.372 in 129 games with Northwest Arkansas after posting a .263/.382/.390 line between the Naturals and Wilmington the year before. There was a noticeable issue at the plate, however, as he struck out 154 times -- 51 more than in 2018 -- while drawing 65 walks. He did drastically increase his production on the bases, swiping 53 bags after never stealing more than 20 as a pro, but he’ll need to do a better job getting on base to fully use that to his advantage. This year should serve as a chance for him to regroup and get back on track.
Austin Cox, LHP: Like Isbel, Cox is another strong performer from the 2018 Draft class who falls a bit in the shadow of Singer, Lynch, etc. He’s been nothing short of great as a pro, logging a 2.96 ERA over two seasons to go with 180 punchouts over 164 innings. The 23-year-old split time about evenly between Lexington and Wilmington last year, recording a 2.75 ERA in 13 games with the Legends and a 2.77 mark in 11 appearances with the Blue Rocks. He fanned 129 in 130 2/3 frames and had a .229 opponents’ batting average with a 1.15 WHIP. Cox will look to keep that momentum rolling at Kauffman this summer.
Nick Pratto, 1B: Pratto was one of three high-profile Royals position player prospects to trend significantly downward offensively in 2019. He hit .280/.343/.443 in 2018, but those numbers dipped to .191/.278/.310 last season. He dipped from 14 homers to nine, 62 RBIs to 46 and 79 runs scored to 48. It wasn’t all bad, though, as he helped lead Wilmington to the Carolina League championship in September. But if he's going to return to form as the presumed first baseman of the future in Kansas City, he’ll need to work on some things while playing in the 60-man pool.
MJ Melendez, C: The story is similar for Melendez. After hitting .251/.322/.492 with 19 homers in 2018, he fell off to .163/.260/.311 with nine big flies last year. He also was huge in the Blue Rocks’ run to the Mills Cup, however, earning postseason MVP honors after batting .300/.447/.500 and homering in the Finals against Fayetteville. Despite his down year, he’s the Royals' top-ranked backstop and possesses immense defensive prowess even if his plate production took a hit. He’ll have the chance to learn from Salvador Perez when they’re both in The K, so it’s not crazy to think his stock will be back on the rise.
Seuly Matias, OF: Matias also regressed statistically in 2019, but injuries are partly to blame in his case. The powerful outfielder appeared in only 57 games for Wilmington and finished with a .148/.259/.307 line and four homers and 22 RBIs. In his 189 at-bats, he struck out 98 times and logged a hit or walk in only 53. Injuries also cut short his productive 2018 campaign in which he clubbed 31 homers in 94 games, so there are some durability concerns. Either way, it’s clear that the power and hitting ability is there. It’s up to him to use this opportunity as a member of the player pool to rediscover it.
No. 17 prospect Jeison Guzman is a polished defensive prospect who's improving offensively. He’ll work on the bat in Kansas City while the big league team travels. … No. 19 Daniel Tillo posted a 3.72 ERA across two levels in 2019 and pitched in the Arizona Fall League. He’s a ways away as a starter but could debut in the bullpen sooner if he takes that route … No. 21 Kelvin Gutierrez already has some big league experience at third base and will contribute in some way in 2020. … No. 26 Nick Heath led the Minor Leagues with 60 steals last season and could be a weapon on the basepaths and in the outfield. … No. 28 Tyler Zuber was nails out of the bullpen in 2019 and will look to further lock down his future as a closer. … No. 29 Josh Staumont was a flamethrowing reliever with the Royals last year and should have a role there again. … Sebastian Rivero will provide catching depth and has plenty of room to grow.
Jordan Wolf is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter: @byjordanwolf.