If you read this blog regularly (or any Royals-related blog, really) you know about the top prospects in the Royals organization. Names like Kyle Zimmer, Yordano Ventura, and Raul Mondesi, have been discussed quite a bit in this space, and rightfully so. They’re among the top 30 prospects in all of baseball, and their potential obviously merits recognition. However, an organizational farm system is made up of more than just its top three prospects, so I thought I’d cover a few of the players with perhaps a lower ceiling, but who could still make an impact in the big leagues at some point. In the next week or two, I’ll break down a few of these prospects to keep an eye on in 2014. Thus far, I’ve written about Christian Binford (here), Orlando Calixte (here), and Brett Eibner (here). This time, I’m taking a look at one of the Royals’ 2013 draft picks, Zane Evans.
Before being drafted in the 4th round last year, Evans spent his college days at Georgia Tech, playing both catcher and pitcher, much like current Orioles’ catcher Matt Wieters. While he did have a fastball that could touch 96 MPH and a solid slider, the Royals decided to put Evans behind the dish, where his bat should play quite well. One may look at Evans’ average hit and power tools and wonder why the organization would try to develop him on offense, but because catchers are not typically terrific hitters, any catcher that can hit competently and play roughly average defense will have a lot of value. Plus, you would expect Evans’ strong arm should be a tremendous asset in controlling the running game. However, he has shown poor footwork and mechanics behind the plate, which will need to be corrected as Evans develops.
In his first professional season, Evans played in 41 games for the Royals’ rookie affiliate in Idaho Falls, and his bat certainly impressed. Evans put up a line of .352/.394/.537 in 175 plate appearances, and while the now-22 year old may have been a bit old for his level, it was nice to see a solid debut. The 6.3% walk rate isn’t quite what you would hope to see, but most reports I’ve read suggest Evans will show good plate discipline, and his bat control will likely keep his strikeout numbers down (14.3 K% in 2013). Evans has a strong frame that may allow him to put up average power numbers, although expecting 20 home runs per year is probably a bit much. Scouts say Evans’ approach and his ability to use all parts of the field could help him become an average hitter in the big leagues. If his defense doesn’t progress as quickly as the Royals prefer, they may choose to convert him back into a pitcher, but Evans’ bat should still be good enough to fit into a lineup somewhere, at least as a role player.
This season, I would expect Evans to debut in Low A Lexington, but at his age, don’t be surprised to see the Royals be more aggressive with him. Granted, Cameron Gallagher is likely going to be the primary catcher at High A Wilmington, but if he can’t stay healthy, Evans may be able to move more quickly through the system. And while I’m sure we’re all hoping the Royals don’t need a new starting catcher for another decade or so, Evans may at least provide some depth to the position. Catching prospects are always valuable commodities, so if nothing else, Evans could be a useful trade piece, but if (when) Salvador Perez needs to move out from behind the plate, Evans might be the next man up.