This unranked prospect is drawing eyes at Royals camp

March 28th, 2022

MESA, Ariz. -- Spend a minute perusing lists by different outlets of the Royals’ top prospects, and you might not see infielder Clay Dungan’s name. MLB Pipeline, for example, doesn’t rank Dungan among the Top 30 Prospects in the organization.

That may have something to do with the fact that Dungan already is 25 years old, was a ninth-round Draft pick in 2019 after playing four seasons at Indiana State and doesn’t possess the kind of physical skills that wow scouts. But as the Royals are finding out this spring, it’s not one can’t-miss skill that defines Dungan, who is hitting .353 after Kansas City’s 13-12 loss to the Cubs on Sunday.

Simply put, his sum is greater than his parts. That was evident last week, when Dungan hit two homers in live batting practice and caught the eye of his elders.

“I heard one of the veteran pitchers as they were watching him, and they said, ‘This guy doesn’t miss mistakes,’” said manager Mike Matheny. “Kind of like what he did on the back field. It wasn’t even really a mistake, the ball he hit. He got into a two-strike count real quick, and then he just shortened up and used his hands. He’s got great hand-eye coordination, great plate discipline.”

Dungan was solid last season at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, hitting .288 with nine homers, 56 RBIs and 28 stolen bases, while compiling a .762 OPS. That earned him an invitation to camp as a non-roster invitee.

What’s impressed Matheny beyond the numbers is the way Dungan carries himself. He compared the left-handed-hitting Dungan, a second baseman who could become a utility player, to Royals No. 5 prospect Vinnie Pasquantino in terms of his makeup.

“As highly regarded as Vinnie is in there, Clay’s right there as a leader, as far as how he’s regarded as a teammate,” Matheny said. “I make a big deal about that because the other stuff is pretty obvious, right? When you hit two homers, people start watching. When you have a huge hit out here, make a good play.

“But it’s the intangibles that we believe end up adding and multiplying the overall level of production. The right people with the right heart, have the right desire to win and go about it the right way, day in and day out, and you can just trust them. You can just check the box.”

Dungan, who likely is ticketed for Triple-A Omaha, said being in camp has helped him because he’s around players who “have been there and done that before.”

“Just learning from them,” he said. “And it’s been nice in the dugout. You never know when your number is going to be called, so [I’m preparing] for that down the road.”

Dungan said he made minor changes to his swing in the offseason, which dealt mostly with "polishing up" his approach against pitchers with good breaking balls. He’s also aware that his defensive versatility could result in a callup sooner than later.

“I’m ready for anything,” he said. “Shortstop is probably the most fun, probably the most action. Third’s fun, too, because I haven’t been over there as much, so it’s something a little different. But I’m comfortable wherever they put me.”

O’Hearn has a big day
Outfielder/first baseman Ryan O’Hearn continued his torrid spring, going 3-for-3 with two solo homers and lifting his Cactus League average to .529 on Sunday.

Although O’Hearn has a .215 career average over four seasons (275 games), Matheny has long believed he can hit Major League pitching well.

“He can hit. He can flat hit,” Matheny said. “I said even before we started this [Cactus League schedule,] he’s going to have a huge spring. The guy can hit. He just hasn’t really been able to put it together at the Major League level, but this is a Major League threat of a hitter every single time he walks into the box.”

Growing moment for Zerpa
Left-hander Angel Zerpa, who threw two scoreless innings in his first Cactus League appearance, gave up three earned runs in 2 1/3 innings against the Cubs on Sunday.

Zerpa allowed only one hit, but it was a booming three-run homer by Chicago third baseman Patrick Wisdom. He also walked three batters.

Zerpa said he felt comfortable throwing his slider, but he thinks the walks were due to leaving his fastball up in the zone. Wisdom’s homer came up on a high fastball as well.

“I feel good, because I’m more confident and I’m not afraid of throwing my pitches,” he said. “Misses are going to be a part of it.”