FOX Sports’ 26 and under power rankings is a new version of the classic prospect ranking. Yes, prospects matter, but with all the game-changing young talent already in big men, the farm system alone doesn’t tell the whole story. So we dig deep into every MLB Clubs, which rank organizations based on the players entering their seasons at age 26 or younger — from bigs to farms. Every weekday through March 24th, we count down from number one to number one.
Kansas City RoyalsTotal score under 26 years old: 16 points (out of 30 points)
Shortly after Baseball America rated the Royals’ farm system the worst in the sport last August, new general manager JJ Picollo Ask the front desk staff how their internal estimates measure up to the club.
Twenty-one, they told him.
“So we’re not as bad as people think we are,” Piccolo said last month. “But we have a lot of work to do.”
Not what you want to hear from a team that hasn’t competed since the Obama administration. The Royals haven’t hit .500 since winning the World Series about eight years ago, and they’re not expected to end that streak in 2023.
But at least they gather, the young talent is a little better than it sounds. They’re No. 17 in our 26-and-under rankings, though they rank lower in nearly every public farm system ranking because some of their prospects graduated to the majors last season. This is usually a good thing.
25-year-old first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino and 24-year-old catcher/outfielder MJ Melendez proved themselves capable or better hitters. Outfielder Drew Waters, 24; Nate Eaton, 26; and second baseman Michael Massey, 24, suggested the same in smaller samples. But Friday’s return of 26-year-old Kyle Isbel to the bench level after an encouragingly short debut in 2021 demonstrated the fluidity of that status. And, of course, there’s shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., a top rookie who broke camp in Kansas City last season but will take time to find his regular-season footing. He’s still only 22 years old.
On pitching, the Royals’ young major leaguers are more experienced, but slightly less talented, with one exception. Lefty Kris Bubic, 25, and righty Brady Singer, 26, are both already in arbitration. They’re equally good in 2021, but Singer has a big step forward in 2022, while Bubic regresses to a bad year. Right-hander Carlos Hernandez also improved from a 3.68 ERA in 2021 to a 7.39 ERA in 2022. Lefty Daniel Lynch, 26, also struggled with a 5.13 ERA.
Witt is a huge hope of moving this team forward, but Singer might not be far behind. The former first-round pick was so restricted in walks last season that he was named a top-30 starter in the league in terms of WHIP. Repeat all season and he could be a top starter.
There are other talents who have yet to see big time in the big leagues. 22-year-old center fielder Gavin Cross has already impressed professional scouts. Shortstop Maikel García, who turns 23 this week, looks like he can play. Outfield rookie Tyler Gentry, 24, has had success at every level. Nick Loftin, 24, can play multiple positions, and he’s been everywhere except Triple-A.
The Royals’ top pitchers struggled last season, but the club is confident they will bounce back.
“We had a bad year in the minor leagues last year,” Piccolo said. “There’s been a lot of discussion among our guys that this should be an anomaly.”
2020 No. 4 pick lefty Asa Lacy is a good example . His prospects have slipped in the rankings after a back-to-back disappointing season, especially in 2022, when he had more walks than strikeouts in 28 innings. Lacy is only 23 years old. Now is not the time to give up on him, especially given his promising pedigree.
“It’s not just us,” Picollo said of Lacy’s high praise
26 Right-hander Jonathan Bowlan briefly dominated Double-A play in 2021 but has struggled since reaching the same level in 2022. Pair-hander Alec Marsh, 24, hits a lot of Double-A hitters but is so vulnerable to home runs that he’s 1-15 with a 7.32 ERA.
The Royals have just undergone a regime change. Longtime general manager Dayton Moore was out, followed by manager Mike Matheny. Moore’s longtime deputy, Picollo, quickly replaced him, while outsider Matt Quatraro replaced Matheny. They understand that developing an exciting farm is essential, not only on and off the field.
“It definitely swayed fans left and right,” Piccolo said. “It’s something we talk about.”
But, says Picollo, it’s not the only thing. He worked for the Royals in 2011, when they had a record nine players in the MLB’s top 100 and were No. 1 in the overall system. Many of the farmhands of that era ended up doing the most for the Royals’ success in the mid-2010s, but they weren’t at their best in 2011: Salvador Perez, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera is one of them.
“We learned a great lesson there,” Piccolo said. “We may not be a top farm system. But it does focus more on depth.”
The Royals do have some depth in prospect today. To advance, they need more top talent to emerge. Major league position players: 6 (out of 10 in total) Major league pitchers: 5 (out of 10) Potential position players: 3 (total 5)
Prospect pitchers: 2 (total 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 LA Times, and his alma mater USC for ESPN Los Angeles. He is the author of “How to Beat the Losing Game.” Follow him on Twitter @pedromora .
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