3 KC Royals prospects to follow closely at Single-A this season

A Columbia pitcher, catcher, and outfielder warrant close scrutiny this year.
Angela Piazza/Caller-Times / USA TODAY

Boasting their usual roster chock full of promising prospects, the Columbia Fireflies, the Single-A minor league affiliate of the KC Royals, kicked off their season Friday night with a 2-1 road loss at Augusta. And although their chances of making it to the big leagues this season are remote at best, fans should keep a close eye on some of the most interesting players on the team.

A top catcher, an up-and-coming pitcher, and an outfielder fighting hard to establish himself top the list.

Can KC's No. 1 prospect prove critics wrong and shake off a slow pro start?

The Royals weren't looking for controversy when last year's amateur draft began, but it didn't take them long to create some. Seeking catching help, the club irritated its critics by spending its first pick on high school backstop Blake Mitchell, a move many quickly blasted given the less than stellar track record of young catchers who dive into pro ball with no college experience.

Despite his obvious talent and potential, Mitchell did little to calm his detractors after signing his first professional contract and heading to the Arizona Complex League for his first taste of post-prep baseball — he hit .147 in 13 games. To his credit, though, he worked opposing pitchers for 17 walks and a robust .423 OBP.

Now, and after the Royals gave him three Cactus League at-bats this spring (he didn't get a hit), he's with Columbia as, per MLB Pipeline, Kansas City's No. 1 prospect, a lofty spot he first achieved a little over a month after the draft. What lies ahead of him is better pitching than he saw in the ACL, and more pressure to prove the Royals didn't err when they picked him.

Is he up to breaking out at the plate and proving the critics wrong? He went 0-for-4 and struck out three times against Augusta Friday, but there's a lot of season left.

Will this KC Royals prospect move up in 2024?

Reporting for duty at Columbia for the third straight season, outfielder Erick Peña likely hopes he'll reach another rung on Kansas City's minor league ladder before the campaign ends.

The Royals' approach to Peña's development has been cautious. Originally an international free agent signee, he began his career in 2021 by slashing .161/.256/.314 in 40 ACL games. He moved up to Columbia in 2022 and, despite showing some power with nine homers, slashed a dismal .150/.259/.288 and, alarmingly, struck out 121 times in 281 at-bats.

Last season was also troubling — although he homered one more time than he had the previous year, he fanned a shocking 52.8% of the time, a factor having much to do with his soft 75-game .133/.276/.296 line.

The Royals are sticking with him, however. He isn't presently among MLB Pipeline's top club prospects, but a promising set of tools provided the impetus for his signing and keeps hopes alive that he'll advance. He's only 21, so plenty of time remains for him to break out. (He singled and scored a run in four at-bats Friday night).

A budding pitching star opens his career with the Fireflies

Fans will find Blake Wolters' name not far behind Mitchell's on Pipeline's list of the best KC prospects. Pipeline ranks him seventh, and he's the fourth highest-rated pitcher behind Ben Kudrna, Frank Mozzicato, and Mason Barnett.

The Royals took Wolters, like Mitchell a prepster, without benefit of any college experience, in the draft's second round last year but, unlike Mitchell, he didn't see any post-draft regular season action; instead, he waited for Instructional League in the fall.

Wolters, a righthander with an interesting pitch assortment, certainly commanded a lot of positive attention in spring camp, and should give Columbia and Kansas City fans much to look forward to this season.

More KC Royals prospects news from Kings of Kauffman