Acquired from Oakland in last season’s Homer Bailey trade, let’s take a closer look at Royals infield prospect and former first-round pick Kevin Merrell.
The Kansas City Royals were a very quiet team in 2019. Overall, general manager Dayton Moore didn’t make many moves and appeared content with the roster he had. One transaction he did make, though, was signing veteran starter Homer Bailey to join the rotation. Bailey parlayed a midseason hot streak into a trade to the Oakland Athletics, where he continued to pitch well. Sent back to Kansas City in that swap was infielder Kevin Merrell.
After standing out for his stellar play at South Florida and in the Cape Cod Baseball League, the 6-foot-1 infielder was selected 33rd overall in the 2017 MLB Draft. He proceeded to hit for a .320 batting average in A- ball that year, carrying his momentum into the minor league system. He would spend five games there the following year, but spent almost all of his time with A+ Stockton.
With the Ports in 2018, Merrell posted a .267/.308/.326 line. His .634 OPS was far from spectacular, but it highlights the lack of power Merrell has in his game. Perhaps his ongoing elbow injury was part of the reason for the lackluster production.
Last season, Merrell spent the entire campaign in AA between the Oakland and Kansas City affiliates. On the year, he hit .242 and drove in 47 runs in 124 games. One positive development was how many bases Merrell stole. Swiping 22 bags in 2019, this was more than double his previous career-high.
Merrell is currently slated as the Royals’ No. 18 prospect, according to the MLB Pipeline rankings. The site projects his MLB ETA to be 2020, and slots him as a utility player. While Merrell’s primary position thus far has been shortstop, there are questions surrounding his ability to stick there long-term. With elite speed to work with, he could hold down a job at either second base or in the outfield one day.
Of course, this all rides on Kevin Merrell’s ability to hit the ball at a near-average level. His defense isn’t anything to write home about, but his speed sure is. If he can develop a more consistent approach at the plate and improve on his plate discipline, Merrell will have a future in the MLB. If he can’t, he’ll be a career 25th (or 26th) man, or perhaps even the prototypical “AAAA” player. 2020 is a huge year for every prospect in the Royals organization, but the pressure is on a little bit extra in regards to Merrell.