MLB 26-and-under power rankings: No. 17 Kansas City Royals

FOX Sports’ 26-and-under power rankings are a new spin on the classic prospect rankings. Yes, prospects are important, but with all the game-changing young talent already in the bigs, farm systems alone can’t tell the whole story. So we’re diving deep into every single MLB club, ranking them all by the players in an organization entering their age-26 season or younger — from the bigs to the farm. Each weekday through March 24, we’ll count down from last to first. 

No. 17 Kansas City Royals
26-and-under total score: 16 (out of 30) 

Shortly after Baseball America rated the Royals’ farm system the sport’s worst last August, new general manager J.J. Picollo asked front-office staffers where their internal estimates measured the club. 

Twenty-first, they told him. 

“So we’re not as bad, maybe, as people seem to think,” Picollo said last month. “But we still got a lot of work to do.”

That’s not what you want to hear from a team that has not contended since the Obama administration. The Royals have not finished over .500 since they won the World Series some eight years ago, and they are not projected to end that streak in 2023.

But their collection of young talent is, at least, a bit better than all that makes it sound. They come in at 17th in our 26-and-under rankings despite rating lower on almost every public farm-system rankings because a number of their prospects graduated to the big leagues last season. That’s generally a good thing.

First baseman Vinnie Pasquantino, 25, and catcher/outfielder MJ Melendez, 24, established themselves as competent or better hitters. Outfielders Drew Waters, 24; Nate Eaton, 26; and second baseman Michael Massey, 24, hinted at the same in smaller samples. But Kyle Isbel, 26 on Friday, demonstrated the impermanence of such a stature by regressing to replacement-level play after an encouraging, brief 2021 debut. And, of course, there’s shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., the top prospect who broke camp with Kansas City last season but required time to find his regular-season footing. He’s still only 22.

On the pitching side, the Royals’ young major-leaguers are a little more experienced, but, with one exception, a little less talented. Left-hander Kris Bubic, 25, and right-hander Brady Singer, 26, are both in arbitration already. They put up similarly effective 2021 seasons, but Singer took a sizable step forward in 2022, while Bubic regressed to an awful year. Right-hander Carlos Hernández, too, went from a 3.68 ERA in 2021 to a 7.39 mark in 2022. Left-hander Daniel Lynch, 26, also struggled to a 5.13 ERA.

Witt is the great hope for propelling this franchise forward, but Singer may not be far behind. The former first-round pick so limited his walks last season that he rated among the league’s top 30 starters in terms of WHIP. With a repeat full season, he could become a top-end starter.

There are other talents who have not yet spent significant time in the majors. Recent first rounder Gavin Cross, a 22-year-old center fielder, has already impressed pro scouts. Shortstop Maikel García, who turns 23 this week, looks like he can hit. Outfield prospect Tyler Gentry, 24, has hit at every level. Nick Loftin, 24, can play several positions, and he has hit everywhere but Triple-A.

The Royals’ top prospect pitchers all struggled last season, but the club is confident they will rebound.

“We didn’t perform well in the minor leagues last year,” Picollo said. “There’s been a lot of discussion among our guys that this should be an aberration.”

Left-hander Asa Lacy, the fourth overall selection in 2020, is a prime example. He has fallen from prospect rankings after consecutive disappointing seasons, particularly 2022, when he walked more men than he struck out over 28 innings. Lacy is still only 23. It’s not time to give up on him yet, especially considering his prospect pedigree.

“That’s not just us,” Picollo said of evaluating Lacy highly as an amateur.

Right-hander Jonathan Bowlan, 26, dominated in a short stint at Double-A in 2021 but struggled once he reached the same level in 2022. Right-hander Alec Marsh, 24, struck out plenty of Double-A hitters but was so susceptible to the home run that he logged a 7.32 ERA — and an ugly 1-15 record.

The Royals just underwent a regime change. Longtime general manager Dayton Moore was out, soon followed by manager Mike Matheny. Picollo, Moore’s longtime lieutenant, soon replaced him, and outsider Matt Quatraro replaced Matheny. They understand that developing an exciting farm is essential, not just on the field but off of it.

“It definitely swings fans one way or the other,” Picollo said. “It’s something we talk about.”

But, Picollo said, it’s not the only thing. He worked for the Royals in 2011, when they had a record-setting nine players in Baseball America’s top 100 and the No. 1 overall system. Many of that era’s farmhands who ended up contributing most to the Royals’ mid-2010s success were not among their best back in 2011: Salvador Perez, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera among them.

“We learned a good lesson there,” Picollo said. “We might not be the top farm system. But it’s really more about the depth.”

The Royals of today do have some prospect depth. To ascend, they need more top-end talent to appear.

Score breakdown
Big-league position players: 6 (out of 10)  
Big-league pitchers: 5 (out of 10)
Prospect position players: 3 (out of 5)  
Prospect pitchers: 2 (out of 5)  

Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for The Athletic, the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and L.A. Times, and his alma mater, USC, for ESPN Los Angeles. He is the author of “How to Beat a Broken Game.” Follow him on Twitter at @pedromoura.

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