KC Royals: Some minor leaguers are ready to move up

The KC Royals will likely spend some time looking at what they can get through free agency, but for some fixes, they may be able to turn to their prospects.

It’s no secret that the KC Royals still have some room to improve before they are ready to contend again. The shortened 2020 season didn’t end nearly as bad as some may have thought it would, and there were plenty of bright spots to look at, but there were some lows as well.

Primarily, a point of concern is the offensive production. Some games were better than others, but often, a loss came down to the fact that the hitters could hit, especially with runners in scoring position.

It can be assumed that the Royals will look towards the offseason and free agency with a plan in mind to secure at least one much needed bat to help ignite the lineup. While pitching might not be in the front of the line, supplementing the bullpen and starting rotation could have it’s place as well.

Fans know, though, that the Royals are not ones to make a splash with free agents. They typically attempt to find some inexpensive reclamation projects or mid-level players that might be able to turn it around.

If this is still the case during the current offseason, the Royals may turn to another source to build up their lineup, the minor leagues.

The minor league season was cut for 2020, and other than those who were at the alternate training site, most didn’t get to play in games or train with a coaching staff. Luckily many Royals minor leaguers are working now in fall camp, but it’s difficult to replace a season.

For some of those players who were at the alternate site, though, a few months of training was important for them to progress. Lynn Worthy at kansascity.com recently wrote about some minor leaguers who are progressing nicely and may be able to help the Royals soon.

He included a quote from J.J. Picollo, assistant general manager/player performance that spells out the importance of the training opportunities.

“The guys that were at the alternate site, we’re looking at it like it was a season,” Picollo said. “They didn’t quite get 500 at-bats. They’re going to end up with about 250 at-bats, so it’s not quite a full season. But because of the type of pitching they were facing and the quality of pitching they were facing, for a lot of guys it was beyond the levels they’ve played at in the past.

“It gives us a pretty good indication that they’re ready to jump a level. I’m not ready to say that guys are ready to jump two levels. I think that will take care of itself in time. I think there was definitely improvement, progress, and we got a lot of individual time that you don’t normally get during the season.” kansascity.com

The hands-on work that the coaching staff got with many of the young hitters may be a key factor in the future of the organization. While a regular season and games can’t be replaced, the training and guidance received over a few months with the coaches can go a long way to help with player development.

Worthy also lists some of the players that Picollo and Alec Zumwalt, Royals director of hitting performance/player development, were impressed with.

For the outfield, things look promising. Kyle Isbel, Khalil Lee, and Seuly Matias were all listed as having made big improvements. Matias struggled with some injuries, but his plate discipline greatly improved, something the Royals need.

Isbel continued to impress with his defense and didn’t seem to miss a beat as far as progression goes, while Khalil Lee made some strides with hitting harder and cutting down on his strikeouts. Paired with his defense and speed around the bases, Lee could be a force to reckon with.

The Royals catching prospects got some mention also. Both M.J. Melendez and Sebastian Rivero upped their abilities at the plate. These two could be important in the near future with Salvador Perez getting older and soon coming to the end of his contract.

Rounding things out, a couple of infield prospects were listed as well. Nick Pratto, a first baseman, impressed with some good defense, but also hit the ball well to all fields and showed he understands and can read pitches well.

Along with Pratto, fan favorite Bobby Witt Jr. was highly touted as he is capable of making things look easy.

“He does things that most people can’t even dream of, and his explanation of why he does things is just — he’s gifted,” Zumwalt said. “He’s so gifted. I’ve never seen a hitter as gifted as he is.”

While prospects don’t always develop as hoped, the Royals look to have some promising players in their future. The players that were listed stood out for their continued work with batting which is exactly what is needed in Kansas City.

2020 in Kansas City saw the start of the youth movement. With any luck, 2021 will continue the trend and the Royals will finally see their young players making a difference on the team.

Some prospects made good progress working at the alternate site in 2020. Hopefully, they will be able to join the majors in the near future and help push the team forward.