Garcia, Gentry wore crowns for Kansas City
Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the Kansas City Royals. 2022 Organization Summary
Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the Kansas City Royals.
2022 Organization Summary
Triple-A Omaha: 71-78
Double-A Northwest Arkansas: 58-79
High-A Quad Cities: 54-78
Single-A Columbia: 52-79
ACL Royals: 25-30
DSL KC Glass: 31-28
DSL KC Stewart: 17-43
Overall record: 308-415 (.426 winning percentage, 29th among MLB organizations)
Royals Organization All-Stars
Catcher: Luca Tresh
Tresh fell to the 17th round in 2021 when it looked like he may head back to North Carolina State, where he’d hit 15 homers in 56 games that spring. Instead, the Royals talked him into signing with a $423,000 bonus, and the former Wolfpack backstop justified the investment with a solid first full season.
Tresh hit .269/.360/.468 with 19 homers in 104 games between High-A and Double-A in his first elongated taste of the Minors. His numbers over 347 plate appearances with Quad Cities were impressive (130 wRC+), but the fact that he remained an above-average hitter in the Northwest Arkansas lineup (111 wRC+) following his early August promotion gave his stock an additional boost.
“The leadership and the balance of the catching demands at the High-A and Double-A levels [stood out],” said Royals director of player development Mitch Maier. “Being consistent while taking on and embracing the responsibilities required to be a catcher and also performing offensively, it was a really impressive first full season at a very demanding position.”
The 27-year-old right-handed slugger led Royals full-season qualifiers with a .442 OBP in 473 plate appearances at Double-A and Triple-A and finished second among the group with a .301 average and .918 OPS. Somewhat amazingly, he batted .301 for both Northwest Arkansas and Omaha, making him a picture of consistency. He was also one of only three qualifiers (out of 300) to finish with a season OBP above .440 at the Triple-A and Double-A levels.
Second base: Peyton Wilson
The Royals took the switch-hitter out of Alabama with the 66th overall pick last year, in part due to his plus-plus speed, strong arm and good overall glove, but he showed a little something with the bat as well in his first full season. Wilson finished with a .268/.359/.456 line and 14 homers over 88 games, all with Quad Cities. His .815 OPS was the highest among qualified Midwest League second basemen, and his 128 wRC+ was second-best at his position at the High-A level.
Kansas City liked Wilson’s athleticism enough to give him 35 starts in center field, and his arm may be an even better fit there considering he finished with seven assists from the grass. But his 51 starts at the keystone make him eligible for second base for now.
It wasn’t a particularly deep pool at the hot corner, but that isn’t meant to diminish Eaton’s breakout campaign, even if he did get more Minor League starts in the outfield than at third. Despite not having seen the upper Minors before this season, the 25-year-old was at his best with Triple-A Omaha, where he hit .295/.376/.510 with nine homers and 11 steals in 54 games following a bump from Double-A in late May.
Eaton enjoyed three different stints with the big club and assumed an everyday role in September and October as a player with decent bat-to-ball skills, impressive speed and arguably the game’s strongest throwing arm.
Garcia was already firmly on Kansas City’s radar after the organization chose to add him to the 40-man roster last November, raking fifth on the Royals' list of top prospects, and he may have accelerated his timeline a few notches with a standout 2022 campaign.
The 22-year-old bounced around Double-A, Triple-A and the Majors all season but managed to be an even-keel producer, finishing with a .285/.359/.427 line and 11 homers in 118 games in the upper Minors. His 139 hits led all Royals Minor Leaguers, while his 39 steals placed fourth.
Garcia’s defensive skills at short could make Kansas City think about sliding Bobby Witt Jr. over to third long-term if the Venezuela native can reproduce his Minor League offensive results at the top stage in 2023 and beyond.
“I think what helps separate him is his baseball IQ and his understanding of the timing and the flow of the game,” Maier said. “It helps in a lot of different facets with his defense, with his baserunning. Now offensively, he's just continuing to learn who he is and getting more physical and more mature, which continued to allow him to have good numbers.”
Outfield: Tyler Gentry
The 2020 third-rounder was limited to only 44 High-A games 2021 due to knee injuries. The Royals and everyone else got a better look at what the former Alabama star could be when healthy, and the answer was very good.
The team's No. 8 prospect led Kansas City full-season qualifiers with a .326 batting average, .542 slugging percentage, .965 OPS and 152 wRC+ over 483 plate appearances at High-A and Double-A. Most of those came at Northwest Arkansas, where he batted .321 in 73 games and managed to post a career-low 19.9 percent strikeout rate.
“The skill set for Tyler is he can drive the ball the other way, he can pull the ball, he can do a lot of things,” Maier said. “The power production comes from him being a very good hitter first. The strikeout decrease, that’s him sticking to a plan and knowing who he is. You get to the Double-A level, and sometimes you’ll see an increase in swing-and-miss because the stuff’s better. He adjusted to that very well.”
Only two Minor Leaguers enjoyed 25-25 seasons this year. One was Reds wunderkind Elly De La Cruz (28 homers, 47 steals). The other was Hicklen, who finished with 28 homers and 35 thefts in 130 games, all with Triple-A Omaha.
Hicklen’s 36.1 percent strikeout rate limited him to a .248 average with the Storm Chasers and likely kept him from getting more chances in the Majors (where he appeared in six games), but his .502 slugging percentage, .850 OPS and 123 wRC+ offered hope that his bat can be good enough to get his power and speed tools to KC for a longer period starting in 2023.
“You can win a game in a lot of different ways,” Maier said. “We recognize that, and there's always room for growth. With the strikeouts, we’ve continued to address that and fine-tune that, but he's right there. He's right where he needs to be to get over that last little hump and take off from here.”
Along with Gentry and Porter, Blanco was one of three full-season Royals Minor Leaguers to finish with a batting average above .300 (.301 in this case). He also finished third in the organization in slugging percentage (.486) and OPS (.853) and was second with 45 steals in 107 games.
Like Hicklen, Blanco did all of his production with Omaha and earned five games with the big club in May. At 29 years and 24 days old, Blanco was the seventh-oldest position player to make his Major League debut in 2022.
Ben Kudrna, a Kansas native who was drafted by the @Royals, spoke with @SamDykstraMiLB about life as a pro, his KC connections and much more: https://t.co/VZYyl9MVYz pic.twitter.com/KBO1QKHzTy— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 29, 2022
Right-handed starter: Ben Kudrna
Kudrna made for a nice story when the Royals selected the Blue Valley Southwest (Kansas) High School right-hander in the second round last year. But in his first full season, the 19-year-old proved he can be a lot more than that in the pros.
The 6-foot-3 hurler led Royals farmhands (min. 70 IP) with a 3.48 ERA in 72 1/3 frames at Single-A Columbia. Ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the system, Kudrna can touch the upper-90s but typically operates a little below that with his fastball, while his slider and changeup both show the makings of above-average pitches in time. Generating more swing-and-miss will be a point of emphasis going ahead -- Kudrna averaged only 7.6 K/9 with the Fireflies -- but his three-pitch mix kept runs off the board in his first taste of the Minors.
Left-handed starter: Noah Cameron
The 2021 seventh-rounder had already undergone Tommy John surgery before the Draft, and he experienced a shoulder injury that kept him out for five-plus weeks in the middle of the season. But when he was on the mound in 2022, he was as dominant as they come in the Kansas City system.
Cameron fanned 99 batters in 65 2/3 innings across the Rookie, Single-A and High-A levels, leading to a 36.7 percent strikeout rate. He was the only Kansas City Minor League with at least a 30 percent K rate and 60 frames in 2022. What’s more, he showed solid walk rates (5.9 percent), and his 3.56 ERA, 2.71 FIP and 1.13 WHIP were solid for a first-time Minor Leaguer.
The 6-foot-3 lefty sports a fastball and curve that can flash average, but a plus low-80s changeup, which helped him limit right-handers to a .217 average and .591 OPS, was a big separator.
“He can mix and match, and he has the ability to throw that changeup at any point,” Maier said. “You talk about being able to go back and forth on the hitter, go up and down, in and out. You're expanding the zone. When he has that back and forth going, whether it's lefty or righty, it's tough.”
The 25-year-old right-hander bounced between Omaha and Northwest Arkansas for much of the first half, but after settling in at Triple-A by late July, he put up the best numbers of any reliever in the system. He was the only Royals Minor Leaguer with an ERA below 3.00 over at least 60 innings, and his ERA was 1.43. His 0.96 WHIP and .175 average-against were also tops among the same KC hurlers meeting that frame minimum.
Sotillet was much tougher on righties (.470 OPS, 26.2 K%) than lefties (.639 OPS, 17.6 K%), but his overall numbers still put him more squarely on the radar.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.