Founded in 1958, the Instructional League offers an avenue for Kansas City Royals players to keep developing after their seasons are over.
The thing that I love most about baseball is that there really is never a true offseason. Obviously, you have Spring Training and the Major League schedule but then comes the Arizona Fall League, the Instructional League, and winter ball. And then the cycle starts back over again. The Instructional League is an avenue for the Kansas City Royals’ young prospects to continue developing their skills to prepare for the next season.
Often you’ll find some older prospects that need to develop a particular skill or learn a new position. The Royals are sending a laundry list of players to participate including 20 pitchers, 6 catchers, 11 infielders, and 8 outfielders. Let’s take a look at five players to keep tabs on:
1. Erick Pena, OF
Pena was a highly regarded international free agent signing as part of the 2019 IFA signing period. The 16-year old is already drawing early comparisons to Carlos Beltran and was ranked as the 5th overall prospect in IFA. Despite his age, he’s already at a physical stature of 6′-3″ and swings from the left side of the plate. This will be his first taste of any professional baseball.
2. Brady McConnell, OF
McConnell was the Royals second-round pick in June’s draft and was a mainstay at shortstop during his time at the University of Florida. He played 24 games at the position for Idaho Falls and slashed 0.211/0.286/0.382 with 4 home runs and 22 RBI’s. It’s interesting that he’s listed as an outfielder on the roster but he did commit 16 errors in those 24 games. Combined with a log-jam in the middle infield at the big league level, he’s getting his first shot at landing on his feet as an outfielder where there are more opportunities.
3. Bobby Witt Jr., SS
The prized possession of the 2019 draft for the Royals, Witt was ranked as the top high school shortstop in the country and was named the National Gatorade Player of the Year. He played 37 games for the Arizona Royals rookie league and slashed 0.262/0.317/0.354 with 2 doubles, 5 triples, 1 home run, and 27 RBI’s. This is a terrific decision for Witt to partake in the instructs league so start to tap into his highly regarded power.
4. Carlos Hernandez, P
Part of the 2016 international free agent signing period, Hernandez put up fantastic numbers for Single-A Lexington this past year. He made 7 starts while tossing 36.0 innings and struck out 43 batters. The 22-year old displayed terrific command this season, walking just 9 batters while spinning a 3.50 ERA.
5. Stephen Ridings, P
Ridings might be the most intriguing prospect in the instructs league simply because of his age. He came over in a trade with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2019 season. Ridings is the oldest prospect on the Royals instructs roster and the 24-year old made 11 starts (13 appearances) for Idaho Falls this past season. He tossed 56.1 innings and struck out an impressive 88 batters while allowing opponents to bat just 0.225 off him.
However, the batters who made contact with his pitches did damage as he spun a 5.91 ERA. Given his age and where he’s at in the minors, I will be curious to see if he’s trying to gear his career as a reliever in an attempt to quickly move up in the minors.