bobby-witt-jr-kansas-city-royals-060721
bobby-witt-jr-kansas-city-royals-060721

The 2021 season continues to be an exciting one around the Kansas City Royals minor league system.

The organization graduated another top prospect to the major league level Monday night as Jackson Kowar made his major league debut (albeit a short one), and a variety of unheralded prospects continue to put themselves on the map — a welcome development in an already strong Royals system that features four of the top 100 prospects in baseball as ranked by MLB Pipeline. There's been plenty of team success around the farm system as well, with all four full-season affiliates owning records above .500 and Triple-A Omaha and High-A Quad Cities leading their divisions.

Infielder Bobby Witt Jr., ranked as the seventh-best prospect in all of baseball and the best in the Royals system by MLB Pipeline, is the most intriguing player in the organization, and for the past couple weeks, he's arguably been the most productive. Over the last 15 days, Witt Jr. has a .283 batting average, a 1.141 OPS, seven homers and nine RBIs for the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals.

Witt is up to 10 homers for the season, and he'd have 11 if not for a bizarre call in Tuesday night's game. Witt hit a 430-foot blast to left-center field and appeared to have his second home run of the night. However, the home-plate umpire ruled that Witt did not touch home plate (despite video evidence suggesting otherwise) and called him out, giving him credit for a triple.

After getting off to a slow start in his first season in the upper minors, Witt Jr. has started to flash the elite power he displayed in spring training, when he became a candidate to make Kansas City's Opening Day roster despite then not having played above the rookie level. He had a three-homer game on May 30, and though he had just one home run through his first 13 games, he is now tied with first baseman Nick Pratto for the Naturals' team lead.

Witt has been impressive in a variety of areas. He's flashed increased defensive versatility this season, starting five games at third base in addition to 21 at his natural position of shortstop, and he has eight stolen bases in 12 attempts. He's just 20, but he's starting to look like the player who is expected to be an anchor of the Royals' lineup for years to come.

Here are some other players of note around the Royals minor league system through the first five weeks of the season:

TOP PROSPECTS

LHP Daniel Lynch (No. 2 Royals prospect, No. 23 overall): Lynch, who struggled over a three-game stint with the major league club before being sent to Triple-A Omaha, continues to experience mixed results with the Storm Chasers. Lynch gave up four earned runs over six innings in his Triple-A debut, a long relief appearance May 19, but he seemed much more comfortable in a traditional rotation role over his first two starts with Omaha, allowing just one earned run while striking out 13 and walking three in 10 2/3 innings. Lynch wasn't as effective in his most recent start, though, surrendering four earned runs on six hits and a walk while going six innings in the Storm Chasers' loss to the Iowa Cubs.

While Lynch's ability to prevent runs has been a bit inconsistent, his command has been very good since he was sent to Omaha. After walking five and striking out seven in eight major league innings, he has issued only seven free passes while punching out 24 in 20 2/3 Triple-A innings.

LHP Asa Lacy (No. 3 Royals prospect, No. 24 overall): Lacy continues to do a good job missing bats at High-A Quad Cities — he has 27 strikeouts and a .224 opponent batting average in 18 2/3 innings — but he's still battling his command. He has issued 18 walks, four wild pitches and one hit batter, and that has played a major role in inflating his ERA to 6.27. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound lefty does appear to be making some progress; he's walked seven over 14 2/3 innings in his last four starts after issuing 11 free passes through four frames in his first two.

RHP Jackson Kowar (No. 4 Royals prospect, No. 97 overall): Kowar was arguably the best pitcher in the minors through six starts at Triple-A Omaha, posting a 0.85 ERA with a .165 opponent batting average, 41 strikeouts and 10 walks over 31 2/3 innings. His success didn't immediately translate to the major league level, however. He debuted with the Royals on Monday night and was pulled in the first inning after recording just two outs on 39 pitches. He was charged with four earned runs on three hits, two walks and three wild pitches.

OF Kyle Isbel (No. 5 Royals prospect): After a standout spring training that was good enough to earn him a spot on the major league roster, Isbel hasn't experienced a ton of offensive success in the big leagues or the minors this year. Isbel hit .265 with a .629 OPS in a 12-game stint with the Royals to start the year, and he's hitting .248 with a .667 OPS through 28 games with the Storm Chasers. He's shown decent patience at the plate (10 walks in 127 plate appearances) but has just five extra-base hits and six RBIs on the year. He has been contributing in other ways: He's a perfect 9 for 9 in stolen base attempts and has played strong defense at all three outfield positions.

STANDOUT PERFORMERS

Omaha Storm Chasers (Triple-A): Kansas City has a wealth of middle-infield options. Even with Adalberto Mondesi on the injured list, the Royals have three proven major leaguers up the middle in Hanser Alberto, Nicky Lopez and Whit Merrifield, plus they have Lucius Fox on the 40-man roster, and Witt may break into the lineup before the season is over. Even so, 24-year-old Gabriel Cancel, a versatile infielder who has played primarily second base this season but has minor league experience at all four infield positions, is doing everything he can over the last couple of weeks to insert himself into that mix as soon as possible.

Cancel's offensive numbers for the season are solid. He has a .234 batting average with an .857 OPS, nine homers and four stolen bases — but he's been on fire over the last 15 days, hitting .286 with a 1.157 OPS, seven home runs and 11 RBIs. He has five multi-hit games and a pair of two-homer contests over that span. Cancel could stand to make more consistent contact, but as a versatile infielder with the ability to hit for power and take walks at a high rate, he has a bright future.

Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Double-A): Right-hander Jon Heasley, ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the Royals system by MLB Pipeline, has been very good in his first season at Double-A. The 24-year-old right-hander hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any of his six starts this season and has a 2.15 ERA with a .227 opponent batting average, 27 strikeouts and 15 walks over 29 1/3 innings. He was especially dominant in a May 28 outing against San Antonio, earning the win while allowing just one hit and three walks over 6 2/3 shutout innings.

Quad Cities River Bandits (High-A): It's still early, but left-handed-hitting outfielder Tucker Bradley looks like he could be a major steal for the Royals. The 23-year-old University of Georgia product was signed as an undrafted free agent following last summer's five-round draft, and after getting off to a hot start with Low-A Columbia (.348 batting average and .891 OPS through eight games), he was quickly promoted to Quad Cities. Bradley has done nothing but hit since his promotion, posting a .391 batting average with a 1.130 OPS for the River Bandits. Through 15 games, he has four doubles, two triples, a home run and eight RBIs with 13 strikeouts, nine walks and two stolen bases. He obviously didn't join the organization with an exceptional amount of hype, but if Bradley keeps hitting like this, he'll rise quickly in the prospect rankings.

Columbia Fireflies (Low-A): Right-hander Adrian Alcantara, a 2017 international free agent signee out of the Dominican Republic, has been very good in his first season with a full-season affiliate. The 21-year-old has gone back and forth between starting and pitching in long relief this year, posting a 3.66 ERA with a .205 opponent batting average, 32 strikeouts and just seven walks through 19 2/3 innings. He hasn't allowed an earned run in his last three outings, including three innings of relief May 21, when he struck out eight while allowing two hits, a walk and an unearned run. He then threw four no-hit innings while walking one and striking out two in a May 27 start, followed by nine strikeouts, one walk and two hits over five shutout innings in his most recent start June 2.

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