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), Brett Eibner (here), and Zane Evans (here). In today’s post, we’ll look to the lower minors, where the Royals have a young outfielder with plus power potential, Alexis Rivera.
Rivera was drafted by the Royals in the 10th round of the 2012 draft, and his professional debut was an impressive one. In 206 plate appearances for the rookie-level Arizona Royals, Rivera hit .341/.413/.477, all as an 18 year old. He also showed above average plate discipline, with a walk rate of 11.2% compared to a strikeout rate of 14.1%. Scouts saw quite a bit of raw power in his bat, even if it didn’t manifest itself in the numbers (.136 ISO). Rivera’s season pushed him onto at least a couple of top 20 prospect lists before 2013, and most probably expected him to take another step forward last season.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as planned.
I can’t say Rivera had an awful 2013 season, but it’s fair to call it disappointing. He slashed .269/.349/.363 in 240 plate appearances for Idaho Falls, and while his walk and strikeout numbers were still solid (9.6 BB%, 15.4 K%), his power was almost nonexistent (.094 ISO). For a player with Rivera’s 6’2″, 225 pound frame, those aren’t exactly encouraging statistics. Granted, 240 plate appearances is hardly a definitive sample size, but it’s hard not to wonder if 2012 may have been a bit fluky. After digging in a little more, we do see that Rivera posted a BABIP in 2012 of .383, which certainly is very high. Last year, however, it fell to .309. Rivera’s line drive rates were similar in both years, so the biggest difference seems to just be that more balls found holes in 2012 than in 2013. While I wouldn’t expect the Puerto Rican outfielder to have another BABIP in the .380s, his powerful, compact swing and decent speed should result in something higher than we saw last season.
As a left-handed hitter, Rivera has exhibited a rather significant platoon split. In 2012, he had an OPS of .931 against righties, and an OPS of .766 against lefties. That split was not quite as dramatic last season (.730 vs RHP, .628 vs LHP), but it does seem like Rivera’s future may be in more of a platoon role unless he can learn to handle pitching from southpaws.
Defensively, Rivera profiles as a corner outfielder with good arm strength. From what I’ve read, he reads fly balls well and takes smart routes, which helps make up for a lack of top-end speed. It’s not likely Rivera turns into a plus defender at either corner outfield spot, but his offense – if it develops – should offset any negative value his glove may bring.
Since he won’t turn 20 until this June, there is still some projection left for Rivera. He’ll likely make his full-season debut at Low-A Lexington, and I would expect him to spend the entire year there, barring him going on an absolute tear for a few months. If he continues to develop, Rivera and his potentially powerful bat could bring some real value to the Royals by late 2016 or 2017.