Most top prospect lists feature flashy names and future superstars that create plenty of reason for fans to get excited for the future of their favorite franchise. The Royals have those covered. Those top-notch prospects are necessary for any successful franchise to build for the future. Perhaps more important are the prospects we don’t see coming. It isn’t enough to have a good group of three or four elite prospects. Teams must build a deep farm system to truly build a winner and often times those peripheral prospects are the ones that make all the difference.
To see evidence of this, we don’t need to look any further than Salvador Perez. In 2011, Salvador Perez was ranked by many as the 18th best Royals’ prospect. Names ahead of him included Brett Eibner, John Lamb, and Johnny Giavotella. The Royals Catcher of the future was consensus top prospect Wil Myers. Perez, of course, made his debut in August of 2011. Wil Myers moved to the outfield, and Salvador Perez never found his way onto any Royals Top-Ten list or MLB Top 100 list. The rest, of course, is history.
Which prospects could sneak under the radar this season and make a true impact in 2022?
Jonathan Bowlan, RHP, 25, Royals #10 Prospect
The Royals 2018 draft class is becoming one for the record books. Already, five pitchers from the draft class have made starts at the Major League level for Kansas City. Jonathan Bowlan is an often forgotten part of that draft class. Jonathan Bowlan is a 6’6″ righty out of the University of Memphis. The Royals drafted Bowlan in the second round (58th overall) and sent him immediately to Idaho Falls. Despite struggles in the Rookie league, Bowlan entered his first full professional season pitching between Low and High A. The 22-year-old pitched 146 innings. He finished 11-5, with a 3.14 ERA. He struck out 150 batters, allowed just 121 hits, and walked only 23. Perhaps most notably, he threw a 98-pitch no-hitter, striking out nine:
Bowlan features a three-pitch mix. His fastball is a plus offering as he locates it well and touches 94-96 with ease. Bowlan uses his tall frame to create good velocity and maintain control. Bowlan’s slider, on its own, might need some work but it breaks well against both right and left-handed batters. Paired with his fastball and control, it has plus potential. He rarely throws a changeup as well, and his future as a starter will likely hinge on his ability to develop a consistent third offering.
The largest question on Bowlan will be his injury timeline. Bowlan had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in June 2021. The tall righty is already throwing, which is a great sign. Even still, he doesn’t figure to be ready for game action until at least May 2022. I expect him to return to AA Northwest Arkansas in late June 2022. If he returns at a similar level to what we saw in 2021, then it’s possible Bowlan is ready to contribute at the Major League level by Spring Training 2023. Bowlan will be 26 but could stick in a major league rotation with a consistent third offering. He’s a clear name to watch as he works to return from injury.
Alec Marsh, RHP, 23, Royals #14 Prospect
Alec Marsh carries the best makeup in the entire Royals system. He boasts a five-pitch mix of all average-to-plus offerings. He throws a two-seamer, four-seamer, curve, changeup, and slider. Asa Lacy is pretty close, but Marsh brings better command and control with his pitch selection. Selected in the second round of the 2019 Draft, Marsh has thrown just 60 innings in the Royals’ Farm System.
The performance in those innings has been outstanding. Marsh has posted a mediocre 4.45 ERA in those innings, but this doesn’t tell the entire story. In 58.2 innings, Marsh has struck out 80 batters while walking only 17. If Marsh continues to strike out nearly 13 batters per nine innings while keeping the walks down, the success will follow. For reference, Marsh posted a 3.15 xFIP in 2021 at AA Northwest Arkansas.
Much like his counterparts in Asa Lacy and Jonathan Bowlan, the biggest question with Marsh is his ability to return from injury and contribute over a full season. Marsh missed most of last season with an undisclosed injury, mostly a result of fatigue. The Royals will need to bring him along slowly (like Lacy) to allow him to build up his arm strength. The chances that he contributes at the Major League level this season are extremely slim. He should get a chance to log a full season’s work in AA and AAA, however, giving him a great chance to make the rotation on Opening Day 2023.
Alec Marsh is often forgotten within Royals Prospect Circles, but his ceiling is right there with Asa Lacy and he deserves the same consideration that Lacy does when discussing top pitching prospects remaining in the Royals Farm System.
Vinnie Pasquantino, 1B, 24, Kansas City #17 Prospect
Perhaps no other prospect in all of baseball saw such a drastic rise in value last season than “Italian Breakfast.” Pasquantino still isn’t quite a household name within the Royals farm system like the likes of Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez, and Bobby Witt Jr. He may be a better pure hitter than all three.
Vinnie Pasquantino was an 11th-round selection by the Royals in the 2019 MLB Draft. With no minor league season in 2020, 2021 was our first look at Vinnie in the minor leagues. Boy, did he make an impression? Between High-A and AA, Pasquantino hit .300/.394/.563. He had as many walks as he did strikeouts, with 64 apiece. He also posted 64 extra-base hits. The closest Major League comp to what Pasquantino showed us last season is 2010 Billy Butler.
Vinnie hits for contact well to all fields. His power carries to all fields as well, but he tends to pull the ball when hitting for power. That tendency could get him into more strikeout trouble against Major League pitchers. Although he plays well enough at first base to contribute as an everyday first baseman, he isn’t going to unseat future Gold Glover, Nick Pratto. That’s where the future gets blurry for Pasquantino. The Royals are facing a roster crunch between C, DH, and 1B. Pasquantino’s most secure route to everyday MLB ABs might just be learning RF or 3B, a huge question mark. He didn’t play a single game at either position in 2021.
We may not see Vinnie in Kansas City this season if the Royals don’t have every day At Bats for him. Look for him to play some 3B or RF in AAA this season as the Royals try to find how much roster flexibility they may have with him (we saw this with Melendez at 3B last season). Even if he sticks at 1B and DH, Pasquantino’s bat will be knocking on the door of the Major Leagues all of 2022. Injuries or trades could create room for him in the everyday lineup, especially if the Royals find themselves contending.