KC Royals: Gabriel Cancel needs a breakout season

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

The KC Royals have a 23-year old minor league infielder with some power, a bit of speed and some versatility. He’s been inconsistent but a breakout season should help him stay on the club’s radar.

At times, Gabriel Cancel offers things the KC Royals need. He has some power, some speed, and some versatility.

Inconsistency, though, has marked Cancel’s progression through the Royals’ minor league chain. It’s a trait not uncommon to a lot of other players in the organization, but one that may block his path to the major leagues unless his performance stabilizes soon. A breakout 2020 campaign could be a must.

Cancel started his pro career slowly in 2015, hitting .209 in 34 Arizona Rookie level games. He fared far better with KC’s Burlington Appalachian League (Rookie) club in 2016 with a career-best full season average of .291.

He moved up to A-ball in 2017 and hit 14 homers, but his average dropped 14 points to .277. Then, in 2018 in High A, he played 17 more games than he did in 2017, but hit six fewer homers and his average dropped again, this time to .259. On the other hand, he drove in a career high 73 runs.

Things were looking better for Cancel in 2019 when he began his fifth professional season, and first at AA, in style: he hit six home runs, had 22 RBIs and batted .284 in April. But April turned out to be his best of the campaign–he hit a third of his career high 18 homers and collected 31% of his 69 RBIs in that first month of the five-month season. His second-best month was July (.255) and he hit .229 in May, .246 in June, and .219 in August for a final .246.

Cancel’s decline in some areas throughout his career hasn’t gone unnoticed–he failed to make mlb.com’s Top 30 KC Royals prospects for 2020 after being ranked 24th and 29th in 2017 and 2019.  Perhaps the increasingly difficult levels of pro ball contributed to the troubling aspects of his performance–after all, minor leaguers typically don’t improve dramatically when they move from A or High A to AA, a tricky and challenging jump for many.

(The fact, though, that he clubbed 18 homers at AA last season is encouraging; so, too, are the 15 stolen bases there, the first time he’s reached double-digits in steals and a reflection of his speed and potential value on the basepaths).

Striking out is Cancel’s real nemesis. His strikeout rate was 28.1% last season (including three four-strikeout games, four three-strikeout appearances and 35 two-whiff games), 17.9% in 2018 (with four three-strikeout and 18 two-strikeout games) and 22.9% in 2017 (with two four-whiff, eight three-strikeout and 13 two-strikeout games). Although free swingers are easy (perhaps too easy) to find in the organization, Cancel’s future success depends on learning when, and what pitches, to lay off.

None of this means, of course, that Cancel is a lost cause. He’s only 23, clearly has power and can be dangerous on the bases. He’s also played every infield position, a plus considering second base has been his primary focus and Nicky Lopez has a solid claim to that spot in Kansas City.

And no one has given up on Cancel. KC vice president-assistant general manager J.J. Picollo told milb.com (which ranked Cancel the organization’s top 2019 minor league second baseman) the Royals believe Cancel’s “bat is going to be ready sooner rather than later” and suggests his versatility could help him make it to the big leagues. And despite not being on the Royals’ 40-man roster, they invited him to 2020 spring training; he hit .278, an improvement over the .094 he hit in the Arizona Fall League and .217 in winter ball.

But before Cancel can get close to Kauffman Stadium, he must improve at the plate. Because he was still in major league camp when spring training stopped, he may get a few more looks when baseball resumes before heading out for additional minor league seasoning. He needs a breakout regular campaign to boost his prospects.

Next. Ross Gload once played here. dark

Gabriel Cancel will require at least another year in the minors before he can get a big league shot with the KC Royals. If he can have a true breakout season when the game returns, he’ll have a chance.