The arrival of the offseason means that it's time to rank stuff. Already this winter, we've sized up the 60 best free agents, both on an overall and positional basis. There's no law that prevents us from ranking minor-league players in addition to their big-league counterparts. As such, we're going to spend the winter evaluating every team's farm system.
The lack of a minor-league season makes that more of a challenge this year. It doesn't help that some teams opted against sharing video and data from their alternate-site camps with the rest of the league. As such, we've opted against overthinking this. Our rankings will essentially be the same as they were last winter with a few changes. First, we'll exclude anyone who graduated by exhausting their rookie eligibility; second, we'll replace them with draftees or other worthy prospects; and third, and lastly, we'll present the information in a new format.
In every article in this series, you'll find a team's top five prospects as well as five others we felt like including, either because of their promise or some other reason. For those top five prospects, you'll find a quick summation of their pros (their saving grace, if one will) and their cons (their fault line), as well as beefier report and our attempt to peg their "likeliest outcome."
These rankings were compiled by talking to industry folks -- scouts, analysts, and other evaluators -- and include a touch of our own evaluative biases. Remember, that this is more of an art than a science, and that the write-ups matter more than the rankings themselves.
Now, let's get on to the top five prospects in the Kansas City Royals system.
1. Bobby Witt Jr., SS
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 20
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 190 pounds
Acquired: No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft (Colleyville Heritage High School, Texas)
Highest level: Rookie ball
Saving grace: Power and speed
Fault line: Age and swing-and-miss
Scouting report: There's no questioning Witt's physical gifts. He can move and throw well enough to stick on the left side of the infield, and he has the size and strength to project for 20-plus-homers at his peak. If he lives up to his promise, he could well become a star-level producer. Yet there were some valid criticisms that made him a polarizing prospect heading into the 2019 draft. Namely, Witt was older than the average prepster, and he had a history of swinging and missing -- a concern because it suggests he might have problems against pro competition. Calling him a boom-or-bust prospect overstates things, but it gets the point across that there's significant upside and downside present in his game.
Likeliest outcome: Starting left-side infielder
2. Asa Lacy, LHP
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 21
Height/Weight: 6-foot-4, 215 pounds
Acquired: No. 4 pick in the 2020 draft (Texas A&M)
Highest level: NCAA
Saving grace: Slider
Fault line: Command
Scouting report: Lacy seemed like the favorite to become the first pitcher taken in June, and there was a reasonable case to be made that he could've been the top pick overall. The Royals, then, had to be thrilled that he was available to them at No. 4. Lacy's fastball-slider pairing jumps out whether one is using the eye test or a Trackman machine, and he has both the frame and the demeanor that teams look for in their frontline starters. What Lacy doesn't have, at present anyway, is top-notch command. If the Royals can help him locate more consistently, he could outpace the below projection. Otherwise, his future could look similar to Robbie Ray's past: a volatile mid-rotation starter who fluctuates between dominant and not.
Likeliest outcome: Mid-rotation starter
3. Jackson Kowar, RHP
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 24
Height/Weight: 6-foot-5, 180 pounds
Acquired: 33rd pick in the 2018 draft (Florida)
Highest level: Double-A
Saving grace: Changeup
Fault line: Bendy stuff
Scouting report: Even before Lacy fell into their hands, the Royals had made a habit out of drafting collegiate starters early. Kowar and Daniel Lynch are products of that strategy; ditto for Brady Singer and Kris Bubic. Kowar might be the best of the non-Lacy arms. He has a strong frame; a good fastball; and a near-elite changeup. Kowar needs to continue to work on a third offering, be it a breaking ball or a cutter, in order to provide a different look to right-handers. That said, the success of Kyle Hendricks, Chris Paddack, Zach Davies, Luis Castillo, and Lucas Giolito have made it socially acceptable to be a fastball-changeup righty starter.
Likeliest outcome: No. 3.5 starter
4. Daniel Lynch, LHP
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 24
Height/Weight: 6-foot-6, 190 pounds
Acquired: 34th pick in the 2018 draft (Virgina)
Highest level: High-A
Saving grace: Fastball
Fault line: Consistency
Scouting report: For as good as Virginia's baseball program is, it hasn't produced a ton of pitchers who have had notable big-league careers. Lynch has a chance to change that in his own way. He's a tall, lanky left-hander whose above-average, rising fastball has gained velocity since he turned pro. The rest of Lynch's arsenal flashes above-average or better, particularly his slider, but he'll need to improve his consistency in order to gain an out pitch and take the next step.
Likeliest outcome: No. 3.5 starter
5. Khalil Lee, OF
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 22
Height/Weight: 5-foot-10, 170 pounds
Acquired: Third-round pick in the 2016 draft (Flint Hill School, Virginia)
Highest level: Double-A
Saving grace: Athleticism, upside
Fault line: Volatility
Scouting report: Lee was one of the Royals prospects who had the most riding on the 2020 season. He had a mixed bag of a 2019: his topline numbers all improved during a full year in Double-A, yet, oddly, his underlying metrics all went in the wrong direction. To make matters worse, there's a lot of variability in his profile: whether he'll be able to reel in his swing-and-miss; if he can stick in center; how much power he'll be able to generate; and so on. In that sense, Lee is now one of the players who has the most riding on 2021.
Likeliest outcome: Second-division outfielder
Five others to know
- Nick Loftin, SS
Loftin is the standard late first-round collegiate infielder. He has a broad skill set and a high floor, but he doesn't have a standout tool that guarantees he'll be starting-caliber. What Loftin does have is a great feel for contact, and he could someday have four average or better tools (everything sans power) that allow him to reach the majors quickly, at least as a bench type.
- Erick Pena, OF
If there's a player outside of the top five who is likely to lead the list someday, it's Pena. He's yet to make his pro debut, having signed for nearly $4 million in July 2019, but that hasn't stopped him from working on his body and his craft. Pena has started to fill in his 6-foot-3 frame, and he could well become a plus hitter. How his body reacts to the added weight will determine if he's forced into a corner. Provided Pena hits like he could, that won't be much of an issue.
- Kyle Isbel, OF
Isbel is a good athlete whose disappointing '19 was marred by various injuries. When he's right, he's a well-rounded player who may well stick in center field. His on-base percentage probably won't flirt with the .400 unit again, the way it has in the lower minors, but he could grow into a second-division starter who, if needed, can take advantage of his experience on the infield.
- Nick Pratto, 1B
Pratto, the 14th pick in the 2017 draft, had a horrid introduction to High-A: he batted .191/.278/.310 with a strikeout rate nearing 35 percent in 124 games. Had he not been a top pick a few years back, he may not have netted a mention here. The upcoming season, whatever form it takes, is a make-or-break year for Pratto and his chances of becoming something more than famous organizational depth.
- Lucius Fox, SS
The Royals added Fox from the Rays as part of the Brett Phillips trade at the deadline. He's been on prospecting radars since originally signing with the Giants in 2015 for a $6 million bonus. These days, Fox profiles as the stereotypical Royals player: he's fast and he can defend a premium position, but he's unlikely to hit enough to warrant starting on most days.