Last season, Nick Pratto seemed to establish himself as the Kansas City Royals' first baseman of the future with a breakout offensive performance. This year, though, Vinnie Pasquantino is doing everything in his power to wrestle that title away from his Omaha Storm Chasers teammate.
Pratto, the Royals' first-round pick in 2017, remains a highly ranked prospect and was off to a solid start before being placed on the injured list Thursday. He still hasn't been as impressive, however, as Pasquantino, an 11th-round pick out of Old Dominion in 2019. Through his first 25 Triple-A games, the 24-year-old Pasquantino is hitting .274/.400/.536 with five doubles, a triple and five homers. The most impressive thing about his start may be his exceptional discipline at the plate. He's walked 17 times and has just 13 strikeouts — an incredible ratio in these times for any hitter at an advanced minor league level, but especially for a power-hitting first baseman.
Pasquantino, who is ranked as the fifth-best prospect in the Royals' system by MLB Pipeline, simply has not stopped hitting since he was drafted. He posted an OPS above .950 in each of his first two professional seasons, and he hit .391/.440/.739 with two homers in 25 major league spring training plate appearances this year. As a relatively late draft pick, he's had to work harder than most prospects to prove himself, but at this point it's getting hard to deny that he's a major league-caliber hitter.
The Royals have three players in the majors who have primarily played first base this season — Hunter Dozier, Ryan O'Hearn and the currently injured Carlos Santana — and MJ Melendez is likely to command significant at-bats at DH moving forward. Thus, it should be interesting to see how they fit Pasquantino and Pratto into their plans whenever they're deemed to be major league ready. They've aimed to improve Pratto's versatility this season by giving him reps at both corner outfield positions. While the Royals are rather deep at those positions as well, that could provide a path for Pasquantino and Pratto to play in the same lineup.
Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Double-A): Utility infielder Robbie Glendinning, who signed with the Royals shortly after being released by the Pittsburgh Pirates in late February, looks like he could be a fantastic find from the bargain bin. Glendinning, a Perth, Australia, native and Mizzou alum, hadn't played since 2019, missing the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and 2021 due to Tommy John surgery. He's bounced back in major fashion this year, though, hitting .299/.440/.597 with six doubles, a triple, four homers and 17 RBIs in 20 games. His 17.6% walk rate (15 in 85 plate appearances) ranks third among Northwest Arkansas players.
Now that he's healthy, Glendenning — a career .276/.369/.434 hitter over 209 minor league games — should be able to move up the minor league ladder with his patient offensive approach and ability to make consistent contact. He also adds value with his defensive versatility. While he's played only the corner infield spots this season, he spent most of his time in the Pittsburgh organization as a middle infielder and should be able to provide depth at those positions if necessary.
Quad Cities River Bandits (High-A): Infielder Herard Gonzalez, 20, has been very good in his first season at the High-A level. Over 21 games, the switch-hitter has a .268/.395/.479 slash line with three homers, 17 RBIs and four stolen bases. He's exceptionally disciplined for a hitter of his age and leads the River Bandits with 14 walks in 87 plate appearances.
While it's common for young players to master one position before taking on a utility role, Gonzalez has already shown the ability to play second base, third base and shortstop. He's not currently a highly ranked prospect, but he's young, patient, fast and versatile, and he seems like the type of player who could move up the rankings as he gains more experience.
Columbia Fireflies (Low-A): Outfielder River Town, a 15th-round pick in last year's draft, is off to a great start in his first stint with a full-season team. The Dallas Baptist product is hitting .263/.386/.526 with six doubles, three homers and four stolen bases in 17 games. While he's striking out a lot (17 times in 72 plate appearances), the left-handed hitter has also shown a decent ability to lay off bad pitches, drawing 10 walks.
Town, 22, has already played all three outfield positions with Columbia. While he still has a lot of development ahead of him, Town's combination of power, speed and defensive versatility makes him an intriguing prospect — and a potential late-round steal.