2020 Prospect Opportunities — Royals

Today, we continue with the American League Central teams in our 2020 Prospect Opportunities series, as I move along to the Royals.

At Risk: Ryan O’Hearn
Replacement: Ryan McBroom

After a fabulous 2018 cup of coffee that saw him wOBAing .398, Ryan O’Hearn came crashing down to Earth last season. His ISO was nearly cut in half, while his BABIP plummeted. I think there’s some rebound potential here, but he remains at great risk for losing his job…again.

Luckily, the Royals severely lack true first base prospects, and while they could stick someone like Hunter Dozier there, that would just be shuffling players around who already have starting jobs. At this point, the only reasonable replacement option seems to be Ryan McBroom, who they acquired from the Yankees late last season. He was given an immediate opportunity, but failed to impress, posting just a .318 wOBA, which was inflated by a ridiculous .440 BABIP. That said, he enjoyed a power breakout at Triple-A in 2019, posting an ISO over .200 for the first time and HR/FB a smidge over 20%. He doesn’t swing and miss too often, even if his strikeout rate has been high at times. While there’s clearly nothing to be too excited about here, there’s a real possibility he earns a starting role and is acceptable in AL-Only leagues.

At Risk: Nicky Lopez
Replacement: Matt Reynolds

Nicky Lopez only struck out five times over 138 plate appearances, for a microscopic 3.6% rate, at Triple-A! Granted, it’s a rather small sample size, but he’s always posted strong strikeout rates, never exceeding 11.5%, so this wasn’t a complete fluke, even if it’s obviously not repeatable. That alone got fantasy owners interested when he was called up. Unfortunately, he failed at the big league level as his BABIP retreated below .300 and he hit for little power. That resulted in a sad .260 wOBA, meaning he has no firm grasp of a job. Luckly, the team has weak replacement options.

At age 29 now, Matt Reynolds is no prospect, but he enjoyed a power breakout last season at Triple-A, posting an ISO over .200 and HR/FB rate over 20% for the first time. Of course, it was his sixth stint at Triple-A, but maybe he really did figure something out, especially given that he was generally sitting in the mid-single digits in HR/FB rate previously. He also owns pretty good plate discipline, making him a true darkhorse fantasy contributor.

At Risk: Maikel Franco
Replacement: None

The Royals just signed Maikel Franco, so you assume they’ll give him a long leash. But it shouldn’t mean he couldn’t play himself out of a job after posting two sub-.300 wOBA marks in the last three seasons, including a sad .281 mark last year.

Yet again, the team has a precious lack of replacement options outside of shuffling the deck chairs. Kelvin Gutierrez is the closest, but he doesn’t need to be anywhere near your fantasy radar.

At Risk: Mike Montgomery & Jorge Lopez
Replacement: Jackson Kowar

Upon landing in Kansas City last year, Mike Montgomery did what he normally did — miss few bats, show acceptable control, and generate around 50% grounders. He’s at the mercy of his defense and home park, which means he found a good landing spot. But still, the soft skills make him a risky bet. Jorge Lopez can’t seem to translate his mid-90s fastball into strikeouts, so he stands with a 5.89 career ERA.

Jackson Kowar is the team’s sixth best prospect, and really the only upper minors starting pitcher who seemingly has any fantasy potential right now. He hasn’t pitched at Triple-A yet, though, so he’s unlikely to make the rotation when/if the season begins, and assuming no minor league season, it means we wouldn’t see him until 2021 the earliest. He’s armed with a 65 grade changeup and a mid-90s fastball, which have resulted in SwStk% marks around 13% at each of his minor league stops. Even better is that his strikeout rate has risen at each stint, reaching 25.2% in his latest. He has also shown good control, with a walk rate just below 7% last year.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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1 year ago

What about Daniel Lynch? Surprised to not see him here. I am thinking about a strategy of pursuing Lynch, Kowar, and SEA’s Logan Gilbert hoping at least 2 of those 3 bear SP K/9 fruit in the next couple seasons.