The improvements over the last three years in the Kansas City Royals farm system has been almost without precedent. The Royals have completely revamped their hitting approach, turning two near-bust prospects into consensus top-100 talents. The Kansas City Royals are nearly complete with their rebuild, following the departure of their 2015 World Series core. After a few years with a farm system ranking in the 15-20 range, they finally have a group of young prospects not rivaled by many. The farm system now ranks among the top five in the entire MLB.
Perhaps the most impressive part about the Royals ranking so highly is who their crop of farmhands doesn’t include. Last year, the Royals graduated top 100 prospects Jackson Kowar and Daniel Lynch. Fellow top prospect Brady Singer has also graduated from prospect lists. Even without this top pitching talent, the Royals system has catapulted itself among the best in the league.
Clearly, the best is yet to come from the Royals farm system. None of the top three prospects have found their way into any major league action yet. Once they do, they’ll certainly take the league by storm.
1. Bobby Witt Jr. / SS / ETA: 2022
Bobby Witt Jr. took the minor leagues by storm last season, winning Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year Award. Baseball America ranks the 21-year-old phenom the #3 prospect in all of baseball. Baseball Prospectus ranks him number one. Not a single list in baseball disputes the fact that Bobby Witt Jr. is a top three prospect in all of the major leagues.
Last season, Witt Jr. took the minor leagues by storm. He started his season in AA, playing for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. Despite being 3 years younger than the league average age, Witt Jr. was electric. In 61 games, he posted a .295/.369/.570 batting line. He hit 4 triples and 16 homers, all while stealing 14 bases and playing world class defense.
Witt was promoted to AAA Omaha on July 20th. In Omaha, despite being more than 5 years younger than his average competition, he continued where he left off in AA. In Omaha, Witt Jr. played in 62 games, posting a .285/.352/.581 batting line. He walked more in Triple-A, struck out less, and hit more home runs. Between both levels, Bobby Witt Jr. combined just one stolen base shy of a 30/30 season at just age 21. There is some swing and miss in his game (he posted 131 strikeouts last season) but his ability to walk and hit for average should reduce concerns in that facet of his game. The young phenom isn’t just going to be the face of the franchise in Kansas City; he’s certain to be a face of the entire game once he arrives.
2. MJ Melendez / C / ETA: 2022
MJ Melendez was a 2nd round pick by the Royals in the 2017 draft. Melendez entered the Royals’ system at just 18 years old. He plays exceptional defense behind the plate, mostly anchored by his cannon of an arm behind the dish. Melendez also came with elite (but raw) power at the plate. Some of this power was on display in 2018 where he played Catcher for the Royals in Low-A Ball for the Lexington Legends. He launched 9 triples and 19 home runs in just 472 plate appearances in 2018, slugging .492 that season. He also walked 43 times, getting on base at a .322 clip.
Strikeouts started piling up for him in 2018; he struck out 143 times in 2018. These problems followed Melendez into 2019. In 2019, he played a full season at High-A Wilmington. In 110 games, Melendez posted a horrendous .163/.260/.311 batting line. He hit just 2 triples and 9 home runs all season, while striking out 165 times. Those struggles over two seasons dropped Melendez off of every prospect list in the nation and his career hung in the balance. Then, the Royals changed their entire player development program in the minors. They revamped their entire hitting program. It worked.
In 2021, at age 22, Melendez played 79 games for AA Northwest Arkansas. He hit .285/.372/.628 there, launching 28 home runs and walking 43 times before his promotion to AAA., finishing the season as the minor league leader in home runs, with 41. He walked 75 times and struck out only 115 times. His season long OPS was 1.011. Both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus list Melendez in the top 50 of their pre-season top 100 prospects.
The Royals will find room at the major league level, whether its at catcher, DH, or third base. He’s forced his way into the future.
3. Nick Pratto / 1B / ETA: 2022
The parallels between Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez are uncanny. Pratto was a fellow member of the Royals 2017 draft class, drafted 14th overall. He burst onto the scene in 2018, playing gold glove caliber defense at first base. He hit .280/.343/.443 in Low A Lexington, but struck out 150 times. Also, much like Melendez, Pratto was promoted to High A Wilmington in 2019 and struggled mightily. There, he hit just .191/.278/.310 and struck out 164 times.
Pratto carries a lot of swing and miss in his game that will likely follow him to the major leagues. Offsetting the strikeouts, he hits for massive power and walks consistently. His glove alone will help him stick in the major leagues, as he plays 80 grade defense at the first base position. The advancements he found at the plate last season will carry him even further and make him an above average every day first baseman. Pratto draws Anthony Rizzo comparisons, and we saw why in 2021.
In 2021, between AA and AAA, Pratto appeared in 124 games. He hit 7 triples, 36 home runs, and walked 83 times. The strikeout totals were still extremely high; he struck out 157 times. His batting line finished at .265/.385/.602. Baseball America ranks him #43 in their preseason top 100 prospects entering the season.
He’s cemented himself firmly in the top prospect ranks once again and should have a clear path to everyday at bats in Kansas City this season.
The future is bright for Kansas City as their contention window starts to open. These phenomenal young bats should carry the Royals back to postseason baseball once again.