The KC Royals farm system is not regarded well nationally, but Royals fans know it is improving. Several top prospects, such as Bobby Witt Jr. and Vinnie Pasquantino, graduated last season. That much talent leaving the minors leaves gaps for unheralded players to step up. Enter Javier Vaz.
KC Royals prospect Javier Vaz reflects with us on a successful 2023 season.
The Royals drafted Vaz in the 15th round of the 2022 MLB Draft out of Vanderbilt. The lefty played in the outfield and infield for the Commodores, but the Royals have moved Vaz all over the field as well. He has started at shortstop, second base, left field, and centerfield across two minor-league levels. He plays all well because of his plus speed, but that versatility is a must to keep his bat in the lineup.
On the 2023 season, Vaz emerged as one of the system's best batters. He walks more than he strikes out (64 BB, 47 K in 2023), stays on base with his .376 OBP, and still produces runs with eight home runs and 51 RBIs. His stats improved when he moved from High-A Quad Cities to Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
Vaz currently sits 13th on the Royals top-30 prospects list, according to MLB Pipeline. He has the chance to rise further this offseason, but that is not Vaz's concern as the 2023 MiLB season winds down. Site expert Jacob Milham sat down with Vaz to look back on the 2023 season.
JM: What inspired you to pursue a career in baseball?
JV: My pops coached from when I was like six years old and he's now with the Cubs. Baseball has been part of my life literally all the time. I love to play it. It's a passion and my motivation within the game is be the best. I wouldn't say I'm undersized, but I'm a smaller guy. I've been overlooked for a very long time because of it. I would say this is the first year where I haven't been criticized because of my size. But, I know with my skillset, I can help a team.
JM: What is your main position right now? I have seen you all over the field this season.
JV: My main positions on the field and in the lineup. Well, I love mixing it up, man. Playing multiple positions is a blast. You never know where you're gonna end up on any given day—it's like a little mystery. You know, it's like, "Where am I gonna play today?" But that's just how I roll. I don't have a set position, really. I play the game my way, and you can stick me anywhere, and my game's gonna shine. That's how I see it.
JM: What aspects of your game do you believe set you apart from other prospects in the organization?
JV: We got some burners in our org, but I would say I am a burner too. I take a lot of pride in my bat. I love hitting, I love hitting. You see a small guy like me, like I could beat you with the bunt and I'll put it over the wall too. I'll put it over the wall and hit it in the gap. I love to run the bases and I love scoring, touching home plate is my favorite thing to do.
JM: Can you describe your typical daily routine during the baseball season, including your training regimen and preparation for games?
JV: I like to stick to a routine, you know? So, wherever I am, I usually wake up between 8 and 11 AM. After that, it's breakfast, a shower, and getting myself ready. Over the past month, I've been hitting the books a bit because, believe it or not, I'm back in school. After a little bit of homework, I head to the field. If it's a lifting day, I hit the weights right away, followed by a small snack.
Then it's time for some ground balls and batting practice. Typically, this gets me through to about 3:30 or 4 PM, and that's when I grab lunch. Afterward, I have a bit of downtime—maybe an hour and a half—where I shower, stretch, and check in with the trainers if needed to get game-ready.
Around 5:30 or 6 PM, I aim to eat again before the game, and then I do some more stretching at 6:40. Game time is usually at 7, and then go to work.
JM: What challenges have you faced this season, and how have you overcome them?
JV: You know, something that often goes unsaid about this game is just how repetitive it can be. Take the day I just walked you through; it's pretty much the same deal day in and day out for about six to seven months. Don't get me wrong, I love this game through and through, but you've gotta find those gray areas in all that downtime to step away from it, you know? Because, sure, we're professional ballplayers, but that doesn't define us completely.
I mean, think about it. That's the trickiest part of the game, the monotony. It's bizarre how one day you can feel fantastic and still go 0-for-4, while on another day, you feel like you're swinging terribly and you end up with three hits. It's like a rollercoaster, man. You've got to stay steady, with just a little bump up here and there, and then plateau again—a constant ebb and flow.
JM: Can you share a memorable moment or game from this past season that stands out to you and helped you grow as a player?
JV: You know, the best moments for me aren't just on the field; they're off it too. Like in the locker room or on the bus. We used to play this game called Mafia – it's like a kid's game, but we had a blast with it. It's those moments when we did things together as a team, even in AA, that I cherish the most.
It's about the nights after a game when we'd grab dinner together and just sit down, maybe share a beer, and talk. Talk about life, talk about everything, and just laugh together. Those are the moments I carry with me. Sure, I love those games where we get 10 hits and we win, but it's more about building those relationships.
JM: In baseball, mental toughness is crucial. How do you approach the mental aspects of the game and handle pressure situations?
JV: This game, man, it's tough. It's designed to make you fail, especially at the plate. So it's all about having that positive mindset. Sounds easier than it is sometimes, but you've got to stay strong mentally. Stay positive.
For me, what really helps is striving to be the best teammate I can be and trying to bring good energy to the others around me, you know?
JM: Speaking of positivity, how is having Jorge Bonifacio in the clubhouse as a veteran player?
JV: Bonnie's a great guy, a really good person. He's done a lot to help me stay cool under pressure. Having him around definitely makes things easier. As a team, we're lucky to have a veteran like him in the clubhouse, someone with big league experience. Watching how he operates, how he handles things, he's always on top of his game. It's easy to see why he was a big leader.
For me, it's mostly about visualization and observing. Being one of the younger guys on the team, there are a lot of older guys to learn from. Watching how they work, and their reactions when things don't go their way, it gives you a real insight into what makes them successful.
JM: Player development is a significant part of the minor league experience. How have the coaches and staff in the Royals organization helped you improve and develop as a player?
JV: The coaches at different levels have helped me mentally, it's all about staying strong throughout the season. Keeping that even-keeled mindset, whether I'm riding high or in a slump, it's about staying positive and staying the course.
On the hitting side, there's not much focus on mechanics. They believe my swing is solid. It's more about nailing down my timing and making smart swing decisions. I aim to swing when I know I can make solid contact, which is most of the time.
So, for me, it's about choosing the right pitches to swing at, the ones I can really hammer. Because, you know, when I do swing, it's usually going to be in play.
JM: What's the pitch you are looking for?
JV: I'm always on the heater. I'm always focused on the heater and yeah, give me a heater middle inside.
JM: Your bat speed has always stood out to me. Has that jsut been a natural trait for you?
JV: My dad's the one who's been working on my swing since I was a kid, and one thing he's always drilled into me is that it's not about swinging hard, it's about swinging quick.
JM: The offseason is nearly here. What do you have planned, other than gearing up for 2024?
JV: Well, it's time for me to head straight to Nashville and dive back into school. I've got 16 more credit hours to tackle, and I'm currently taking 10 of them. This will be my first time ever attending school without baseball in the mix. Don't get me wrong; I'll still be hitting the gym and working on getting bigger and stronger. But for about a month, I'm putting the bat down, taking a breather, and just enjoying the skies while I hit the books and relax.
JM: Looking ahead, what are your goals and aspirations within the game of baseball, and what steps do you plan to take to achieve them?
JV: Making it to the big leagues, man, that's the ultimate goal. As for the timeline, I'd love to see it happen in, say, two years. I know it sounds a bit far-fetched, but hey, anything can happen, right? I believe that God works in mysterious ways, and as long as I keep putting in the work and staying faithful, things will fall into place.
If I had to put it more specifically, within the next year or so, making it onto the 40-man roster would be amazing. That's what I'm aiming for, to earn my way onto that roster. It might sound a bit crazy, but self-belief is the real deal, man. I've always envisioned it, and I can see it. I put in the work, and will it become a reality? Well, I can't say for sure, but one thing's certain: I'm going to keep grinding for it. It's on its way, and I'm loving every bit of it.
Just gotta keep grinding, work hard, and eventually, everything will pay off. There's this one story that's always stuck with me – it's about the law of the bamboo tree. You water the plant, year after year, and nothing seems to happen. No results.
But then, after about 7 of consistently watering that bamboo, it suddenly sprouts. That's how I see a lot of players and people in the world. Keep watering your plants, keep putting in the effort, and in due time, it'll all come together.
Thank you to Vaz and Paul Kuo of Ballengee Group for making this happen!