The Royals’ system feels a little snakebit, with a bunch of injuries — some common, some not — heavily impacting several players last year. Their 2019 first-rounder is a superstar, but their next three first-round picks have all underwhelmed so far. They recently hired former Atlanta scouting director Brian Bridges to try to improve their success in the draft, and have added several significant hires on the international scouting side after a long fallow period.

GO DEEPER

Top 100 MLB prospects 2024: Keith Law’s rankings, with Jackson Holliday at No. 1

Royals 2024 top 20 prospects

(Note: Seasonal ages as of July 1, 2024. Scouting grades are on the traditional 20-80 or 2-8 scouting scale.)

1. Blake Mitchell, C (Just missed)

Height: 6-1 | Weight: 200 | Bats: L | Throws: R | Seasonal age in 2024: 19

Mitchell was the first catcher taken in the 2023 draft, as the Royals selected him eighth and gave him a below-slot bonus to allow them to sign three guys for above-slot later on in the draft. He’s a power-hitting catcher with a plus arm who shows the skills to be an above-average defender behind the plate, touching 94 mph as a high-school pitcher. He begins his setup at the plate with a very wide stance and then strides forward from there, so he’s had trouble with better offspeed stuff in high school and in a brief stint last summer in the ACL.

Mitchell is going to need time, as all catchers do, but particularly to work on developing his approach and ability to pick up spin and changing speeds. It’s 25-homer upside with above-average defense if he hits enough to get to the power.

2. Ben Kudrna, RHP

Height: 6-3 | Weight: 175 | Bats: R | Throws: R | Seasonal age in 2024: 21

Kudrna was the Royals’ second-round pick in 2021, an over-slot pick who took most of the money the team had saved on first-rounder Frank Mozzicato. He came into pro ball as a power guy, mid-90s with a hard slider that would flash plus, but he’s now more of a command guy, throwing strikes but sitting more 91-93 mph. His slider is more average, while his changeup has progressed to the point that it might be his best pitch. The fastball doesn’t miss enough bats, but he throws it for strikes, and it gets some groundballs, enough that it could work as part of a broader mix if he uses his other pitches more than the heater. He’s probably a fourth or fifth starter as is, with the chance to be a durable mid-rotation guy if the stuff picks back up at all.

3. Nick Loftin, 3B/2B

Height: 5-11 | Weight: 180 | Bats: R | Throws: R | Seasonal age in 2024: 25

Loftin tried to play through a knee injury for much of 2023, but outside of a month on the IL in June he did play — and hit — for most of the year, eventually getting a major-league callup and hitting .323/.368/.436 in 68 major-league PA. He makes hard contact, topping out at 110 mph in Triple A, although he can get on top of the ball a little too often for groundball contact. A shortstop in college, he’s played second, third, left, and center in pro ball, with second his best position defensively. After a cleanup procedure on the knee, he should be back to 55-60 speed as well, so he’d be able to take some reps in center again. He should get a shot at the second base job this spring, but if he doesn’t win it, he’d be an excellent utility guy.

4. Frank Mozzicato, LHP

Height: 6-3 | Weight: 175 | Bats: L | Throws: L | Seasonal age in 2024: 21

Mozzicato was the seventh pick in 2021, a polished high school lefty from Connecticut with fringy velocity and a plus curveball who threw several no-hitters in a row against, admittedly, mediocre competition. He’s seen his velocity tick up and the curve is still plus, while his command and control haven’t been as advanced as it appeared. He was off to a great start in 2023, with a 2.14 ERA and 40 percent strikeout rate through nine starts, getting guys with fastballs up and curveballs down. Unfortunately, he collided with a teammate in practice in early June, missing two weeks. After that he struggled to find the plate, walking 42 batters in 46 2/3 innings (18.4 percent) with a 7.11 ERA, including a promotion in that span to High A. He needed to cut down on the walks even before the collision, and the Royals are still hoping for more of that projection we saw in high school to come, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he started off strongly this year now that he’s recovered from the collision.


Gavin Cross was the 10th pick in 2022. (Brad Krause / Four Seam Images via Associated Press)

5. Gavin Cross, OF

Height: 6-1 | Weight: 210 | Bats: L | Throws: L | Seasonal age in 2024: 23

Cross was the No. 10 pick in 2022 and looked outstanding in the month he played in pro ball after he signed, but his 2023 was a disaster, as he hit .206/.300/.383 in High A and didn’t even show progress as the season went on. He got sick early in the season with a tick-borne illness and it seemed to sap his strength for the rest of the year, so it’s possible that this was just a lost season and he’ll be back to his old self — hitting for average and power and playing solid defense in center or better than that in right — in 2024. It’s hard to believe someone who hit as well as he did in the ACC could be this bad this fast.

6. Mason Barnett, RHP

Height: 6-0 | Weight: 218 | Bats: R | Throws: L | Seasonal age in 2024: 23

Barnett led the Royals’ organization with 137 strikeouts in his first full season in pro ball. Kansas City’s third-round pick in 2022, Barnett has a four-pitch mix where all three offspeed pitches — curve, slider, and change — all played at above-average or better, while his fastball reached 99 mph and was typically 93-96. He’s shown fringe-average control even with a very long arm action that should be hard to repeat, nothing worth changing until it becomes an actual problem.

7. David Sandlin, RHP

Height: 6-4 | Weight: 215 | Bats: R | Throws: R | Seasonal age in 2024: 23

Sandlin started the year in Low A as a 22-year-old college product, signing in the 11th round out of the University of Oklahoma in 2022. He was appropriately dominant before he moved up to High A, where he made two starts and then suffered an oblique injury that ended his season. He’s got stuff, 94-96 mph with a 55 slider and average changeup, and a simple delivery that should let him continue to throw strikes. He just needs to do this against a more suitable level of competition.

8. Blake Wolters, RHP

Height: 6-4 | Weight: 210 | Bats: R | Throws: R | Seasonal age in 2024: 19

The Royals took Wolters in the second round in 2023 and gave him first-round money, betting on the 6-4 righty’s now velocity and projection to become a mid-rotation or better starter. He hit 97 mph last spring as a high schooler with good ride on the pitch thanks to his high three-quarter slot, pairing it with a 55 slider. He’ll need a third pitch and could get his legs more involved in generating that velocity to help him maintain it through a full season.

9. Cayden Wallace, 3B

Height: 5-10 | Weight: 205 | Bats: R | Throws: R | Seasonal age in 2024: 22

Wallace, the Royals’ second-round pick in 2022, had a somewhat disappointing full-season debut, hitting .261/.341/.431 in High A and then .236/.300/.362 in 33 games in Double A. He didn’t make as much hard contact as expected and struggled more with breaking stuff, while at times he’d get a little too pull-centric to try to create more power. He doesn’t strike out much, and there’s at least doubles power here, along with strong defense at third, so there’s still a path to everyday player here, but he’s got to produce more at the plate in Double A this year.

10. Tyler Gentry, OF

Height: 6-0 | Weight: 205 | Bats: R | Throws: R | Seasonal age in 2024: 25

Gentry hit .253/.370/.421 in Triple A last year as Omaha’s regular right-fielder, a plus runner who’ll run deep counts and makes a lot of medium-quality contact, enough that he should be somebody’s fourth outfielder this year. He can play all three spots but doesn’t have more than 55 power or even the pure hit tool to be a regular in a corner, and he’s more of a 55 runner than a plus one so his defense in center isn’t good enough to carry him. I thought a year ago he’d end up a regular but at this point I think that was too optimistic.

11. Steven Zobac, RHP

Height: 6-3 | Weight: 185 | Bats: L | Throws: R | Seasonal age in 2024: 23

Zobac was an outfielder until he moved to the mound full-time during his junior year at Cal, where the Royals saw enough to take him in the fourth round that June. Last year was his first full pro season, and he was 93-96 mph, touching 98, with a 55 slider and 45 changeup, slowing his arm just enough on that last pitch that lefties were laying off it out of the zone. He’s athletic and his delivery works for strikes and for him to work as a starter. He was outstanding in Low A to start last year, then got hit harder in High A, as his fastball doesn’t have a lot of life or movement. He’s still so new to pitching that he should get a lot more runway to develop, especially in using the changeup both for lefties and just generally to keep hitters off the fastball. It’s a starter look, and a chance for a No. 4 starter if he gets there.

12. Ramon Ramirez, C

Height: 6-0 | Weight: 180 | Bats: R | Throws: R | Seasonal age in 2024: 19

Ramirez is a solid defensive catcher from Venezuela who went off in his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League, hitting .344/.440/.615 with more walks than strikeouts, finishing fifth in the league in slugging and fourth in homers with eight. Signed for a scant $57,500 in January 2023, Ramirez can get a little long to the ball but has legit power, maybe even to all fields as he grows, already showing hard contact in the DSL. He’s a good athlete for the position, maybe an average runner right now, and has been working on his conditioning to be able to handle the big workload ahead of him. It’s a backup floor already given the defensive chops and potential for plus power, with 55 or better upside.

13. Carter Jensen, C

Height: 6-1 | Weight: 210 | Bats: L | Throws: R | Seasonal age in 2024: 20

Jensen has drawn 175 walks over the last two years, but it may be coming at the expense of some of the power he flashed as an amateur, which is a shame as he’s developed himself into a very strong defensive catcher who’d become a regular if he could do anything at the plate other than draw a walk. He’ll be just 20 this year, but it’s time to hit more than the .211/.356/.363 he did last year in High A.

14. Austin Charles, SS

Height: 6-4 | Weight: 210 | Bats: R | Throws: R | Seasonal age in 2024: 20

Charles was the Royals’ final pick in the 2022 draft, signing for an over-slot bonus in the 20th round. He started 2023 in extended spring training before a June assignment to Low A. He’s one of the best pure athletes in the system, but was behind his peers as a hitter and didn’t hit anything but fastballs in his brief stint in full-season ball. He’s a natural shortstop who split time between there and third and was a little rough at both spots; he’s athletic enough to play anywhere and may just end up in center if the bat comes along first. He’s one of the best examples of a current prospect harmed by the elimination of short-season leagues, as that is exactly the level where he needed to play last year.

15. Chandler Champlain, RHP

Height: 6-5 | Weight: 220 | Bats: R | Throws: R | Seasonal age in 2024: 24

Champlain was one of the three pitchers the Royals acquired from the Yankees for Andrew Benintendi in 2022, and the only one who had a decent year in 2023; Beck Way and T.J. Sikkema both scuffled mightily in Double A, with Way walking close to a man an inning. Champlain’s a strike-thrower with a bucket of average pitches, although given his 6-5, 220+ pound frame you definitely expect the ball to come out of his hand a lot harder. He throws a fastball, slider, and curve, with the last pitch the closest to a 55, showing no platoon split even without a changeup or splitter, and he can locate the curve for a strike or some chases. Without a true out pitch, he’s probably a fifth starter, although he’s also a great candidate for the Royals to try to alter or add a pitch to try to find that weapon.


Hunter Owen showed first-round potential at Vanderbilt when healthy. (Carly Mackler / Getty Images)

16. Hunter Owen, LHP

Height: 6-6 | Weight: 261 | Bats: R | Throws: L | Seasonal age in 2024: 22

Owen could not stay healthy last spring for Vanderbilt, which is a shame since he flashed first-round stuff when he was on the mound in the early part of the season. In those outings he’d be 92-95 mph with a plus curveball, throwing a ton of strikes and looking like an above-average starter prospect. He also had outings where he was 90-93 and didn’t have the same level of control, and he missed starts multiple times due to unspecified injuries. He’s probably going to have to go to the bullpen, with no history of staying healthy as a starter, but the upside if he can start is tantalizing.

17. Peyton Wilson, 2B

Height: 5-8 | Weight: 180 | Bats: B | Throws: R | Seasonal age in 2024: 24

Wilson’s a 70 runner with a 65-70 arm who led the Texas League in doubles with 33, hitting .286/.366/.411 as a 23-year-old in Double A. He played exclusively second base last year and improved to the point where he’s average or so now after being arguably a 40 defender there in college. He’s athletic and twitchy enough to be a regular somewhere, in center if not at second, but he’s not getting on base or hitting for enough power to do that yet. He also should be stealing more bases, with just 19 last year in a full, healthy season.

18. Diego Hernandez

Height: 6-0 | Weight: 185 | Bats: L | Throws: L | Seasonal age in 2024: 23

Hernandez dislocated his shoulder in February 2023 and didn’t make his season debut until late June, finally returning to Double A on July 5. He never got going at the plate at all, and it might just be a lost season. He’s a very toolsy kid with 70 speed, plus defense in center, and solid-average power, but even prior to 2023 he’d shown poor pitch recognition and had a no-stride approach that might curtail his power. One sign that the shoulder may still have been bothering him is that he made much less hard contact than he did in 2022, going from nine homers to zero as a result. As with Cross, Hernandez might just have had a lost season due to injury, so despite the poor performance I’m not giving up on him as a potential extra outfielder or better.

19. Spencer Nivens, OF

Height: 5-11 | Weight: 185 | Bats: L | Throws: R | Seasonal age in 2024: 22

A great fifth-round pick from Missouri State, Nivens might be able to stick in center, where his high-contact, average-ish power could make him a regular, although if he moves to a corner it’ll be left field because his arm is short and he probably isn’t a regular there. He hammered fastballs as an amateur with excellent plate coverage.

20. Javier Vaz, UT

Height: 5-9 | Weight: 151 | Bats: L | Throws: R | Seasonal age in 2024: 23

Vaz was a 15th-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2022, where he had an undistinguished career with the bat. Between High A and Double A last year, he walked more than he struck out, hitting .279/.373/.400 on the year with just a 9.7 percent strikeout rate, playing second, short, left, and center. He also stole 30 bags in 33 attempts. He doesn’t miss or chase, no matter the pitch type, and that plus the versatility — he’s not a shortstop, obviously, but can back up all of those positions — would seem to give him a utility role, even with 40 power.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

MLB 2024 farm system rankings: Keith Law ranks all 30 teams, Orioles are new No. 1

Others of note

• The Royals have an exceptional amount of depth in guys who are at least worth noting, especially for a system that didn’t have a top-100 player. Left-hander Tyson Guerrero had his first healthy season in pro ball after making just six starts in 2022. He’s mostly 92-94 mph with a two-plane curveball and hard slider, lacking something that moves to his glove side for right-handers. He could be very effective in shorter bursts as a reliever.

• Right-hander Eric Cerantola was so wild in college he threw just 17 1/3 innings in his junior year for Mississippi State, going from the rotation to the bullpen to the doghouse, but the Royals have at least gotten his control to the point where you can see a possible big-league future. He’s up to 99 mph with a plus slider and changeup, so anything that gets him to Kansas City is a win. Don’t get me wrong — a 13.7 percent walk rate with a whole bunch of HBP and wild pitches isn’t enough, but he’s already much better than he was when they signed him.

Tyler Tolbert had a fun statistical year, with 24 doubles, 10 triples, 10 homers, and 50 steals as a 25-year-old in Double A. He split time between shortstop and center; I’m mildly surprised no one took a shot at him in the Rule 5 draft, since he would seem to have some bench value between the versatility and the speed, even with a 45 hit tool at best.

Carson Roccaforte was the Royals’ 2023 second-rounder, an under-slot guy who didn’t hit well in the Sun Belt as an amateur. He’s a 55-60 runner and might stick in center, which he needs to do as he lacks the power for a corner.

• Right-hander Hiro Wyatt was their 2023 third-round pick, taking an over-slot bonus to convince him to forgo a scholarship to USC. He saw his velocity jump last spring, touching 97 mph with a tight slurve, all from a low three-quarter slot that gives him some deception. His command is a 40 at best and he’ll have to develop a third pitch for lefties.

Jared Dickey was an outfielder/catcher at Tennessee, although it’s the bat that got him picked in the 11th round last season. He’s going to move permanently to the outfield now as he was rough behind the plate and didn’t have the arm strength for it. He’s more hit than power, strong enough to drive the ball if he gets more loft in his finish, and has to improve his production against southpaws.

• Lefty Anthony Veneziano pitched well as a starter in Triple A with three average-ish pitches, although the fastball is more velocity than quality and he’s probably ticketed for relief, where he’d be a good full-inning or bulk guy.

• Third baseman Trevor Werner didn’t hit well at all in three years at Texas A&M, with a .251/.348/.459 line over his career in College Station, then went bananas after the Royals took him in the seventh round last season. In 31 games in Low A, he hit .354/.459/.699 with 8 homers, ranking third on the team — a full-season team — in dingers. I’m not buying just yet on the small sample, but I’m watching.

Derlin Figueroa was part of the return for Ryan Yarbrough from the Dodgers, a power-over-hit guy with a big body in a six-foot frame that limits him to left field or first base. I guess he was happy to be traded, as he hit 10 doubles and two homers in 11 games for the Royals’ Arizona Complex League team after the deal.

Logan Martin transferred to Kentucky after three years at Division III Sewanee, bumping 98 mph and sitting 94-96 in a limited role as an opener of sorts for the Wildcats. The Royals took him in the 12th round last season and seem set to develop him as a starter, as he has the three pitches and his arm works well, with some hop on that fastball and good late fade on a changeup around 79-80.

Erick Torres had a solid summer in the ACL as a contact-hitting center fielder who’ll have to show more impact with the bat to profile as a regular.

2024 impact

Loftin belongs somewhere on the major-league roster this year, possibly as the everyday second baseman. Veneziano could see some significant work in middle relief.

The fallen

Asa Lacy … I just don’t even know what to say at this point. He looked like he could go 1-1 in his draft year in 2020 when the Royals took him with the third pick, but he was bad in 2021, awful in 2022 (42 walks in 28 innings, missing time with a back injury as well) and then never pitched in 2023 as the Royals tried to get him right. They didn’t add him to the 40-man roster in November, and he went unselected in the Rule 5 draft. If this is it, he’s one of the most perplexing prospect busts of my career.

Sleeper

Ramirez hasn’t played in the U.S. yet, so I might be a year ahead of things, but it’s power + hit + athleticism + arm and if he looks like he can develop the glove, he’s might even leap over Mitchell in their system.

(Top photo of Blake Mitchell: Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)



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Golam Muktadir is the chief editor of Surprise Sports and the Proges News. He checks all the sports content and craft it to make it more digesting for the readers.