With alternate camps coming to an end, MLB Pipeline is recapping the development highlights for the prospects involved for each organization.
Top position prospect: Bobby Witt. Jr, SS (No. 1/MLB No. 8)
The Royals were thrilled to get Witt Jr., the son of former big league pitcher Bobby Witt, with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 Draft, and even more so when they signed him for full pick value at $7,789,900. He made his pro debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League, slashing .262/.317/.354 with eight extra-base hits and nine steals in 37 games.
Witt was a non-roster invitee to Royals big league camp this past spring but absolutely looked like he belonged, earning rave reviews from club officials for his eye-opening performance on both sides of the ball -- he made several spectacular plays at both shortstop and third base and showcased impressive pop to all fields -- as well as for his overall baseball aptitude.
He was even more impressive over the summer at Kansas City’s alternate training site, where the 20-year-old continued to make developmental strides in all facets of the game.
“He’s just so far advanced,” said J.J. Picollo, the Royals’ vice president/assistant GM of player personnel, about Witt’s offense. “It’s not just that he hits the ball hard -- it’s his pitch recognition, his approach to every at-bat, his preparation for the games … he’s just an exciting player to have.”
Defensively, Witt saw time at shortstop and the hot corner much like he did during Spring Training and Summer Camp. And while the Royals view him as a no-doubt, long-term shortstop, club officials were very impressed with his showing at third base.
“I think he made one error all summer between both spots,” noted Picollo.
Top pitching prospect: Asa Lacy, LHP (No. 2/MLB No. 26)
After getting the second-highest ranked player (Witt Jr.) in the 2019 Draft, the Royals landed MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked pitching prospect in the 2020 Daft in Lacy, who signed for $6,670,000 after the club selected him with the No. 4 pick. As a Texas A&M sophomore in 2019, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound left-hander ranked third in NCAA Division I in opponent average (.162) and eighth in strikeouts per nine innings (13.2). And while he made only four starts this past spring before the season was shut down, Lacy dominated in those outings, posting a 0.75 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 24 innings.
An eye issue set Lacy back about 15 days after he was assigned to Kansas City’s alternate training site and ultimately limited his time on the mound. However, that didn’t prevent the 21-year-old hurler from making a strong impression on his new organization.
“We didn’t get a chance to see him in a lot of game situations,” admitted Picollo. “But between the sides we watched and the games that he did pitch, we saw a power starter with a slider, curveball and changeup, and a fastball he commanded well.
“We’re seeing this more and more with our Draft picks, but he’s another guy who’s so advanced with his thinking. He knows how to apply technology, how to use game reports, how to evaluate outings and ‘pen sessions based on TrackMan and Rapsodo. He’s just a good self-evaluator, and there’s a purpose to everything he does.”
Youngest prospect: Witt Jr.
On top of the physical tools and skills that could make Witt Jr. a 20-20 shortstop who also hits for average in the big leagues, the Royals have long been impressed with the youngster’s capacity for adjusting as well as his overall aptitude. Those qualities were on full display this summer at the team’s alternate training site.
“He’s just mature beyond his years,” said Picollo. “He goes up to the plate with a plan, and if a pitcher makes an adjustment against him, he then makes an adjustment himself.
“He’s very coachable and a very quick learner with excellent instincts,” he added. “Usually you mention something to him just once and he’s able to make the adjustment and understand what he’s doing.”
2020 Draft picks
Lacy was one of two 2020 Royals Draft picks assigned to the team’s alternate training site this summer. The other was Baylor shortstop Nick Loftin (No. 6), whom the Royals gave an above-slot bonus of $3 million after selecting him in the supplemental first round (No. 32 overall pick).
An excellent athlete who projects to have at least four Major League-average tools, Loftin proved to be exactly the player Kansas City believed it was getting in the Draft during his time in Kansas City. One thing that surprised Royals officials, however, was the 22-year-old right-handed hitter’s power potential.
“Physically, he’s wiry-strong, so when you look at him you don’t really think he has much pop,” noted Picollo. “But he drove one up against the right-field wall in his first at-bat. He’s a guy who’s got some pop, but also understands the situational game and how to take an at-bat.”
The first of Kansas City’s tremendous pitching-heavy 2018 Draft class arrived in the big leagues this year, with first-round pick Brady Singer and supplemental first-rounder Kris Bubic making 22 combined starts for the Royals during the regular season. Not far behind those two are Jackson Kowar (No. 4) and Daniel Lynch (No. 3/MLB No. 54), whom the Royals took with back-to-back picks (Nos. 33 and 34) following their selection of Singer at No. 18.
Kowar, 24, split his first full season between Class A Advanced Wilmington and Double-A Northwest Arkansas, making 13 starts at each level while compiling an overall ERA of 3.52 in 148 1/3 innings. Though he’s known for having the best changeup in the system -- a pitch that consistently earns 70 grades from evaluators -- Kowar struggled with it early in the summer before regaining his feel towards the end of camp. His curveball, on the other hand, continued to improve throughout camp, emerging as another weapon for the 6-foot-5 right-hander.
“I think he was overthrowing his changeup, maybe trying to throw it a little too hard,” Picollo said. “He’s spent a lot of time trying to develop the curveball; but, for us, it only needs to be an average pitch because the changeup and fastball are both so good.”
As for Lynch, Picollo is quick to identify the 6-foot-6 southpaw as the most impressive player the Royals had at their alternate training site.
“He was outstanding, phenomenal, from start to finish,” he said. “The pitch he really committed to, and one that will really help him down the road, was his changeup. He’s always had it, but because the summer was non-game situations, he was able to just throw his changeup when he wanted. Where he really got good at it was throwing against left-handed hitters.
“He was up to 99 mph, sitting 96-97, with a slider and curveball and now that changeup. Hitters were really limited in what they can do against him.”
Another arm who stood out at the Kansas City site was right-hander Alec Marsh (No. 26), the club’s second-round pick in ’19 from Arizona State. He was a late addition to the Royals’ 60-man prospect pool, joining the group during the second week in September.
“He’s been really, really impressive,” said Picollo about the 22-year-old righty. “He punched out 11 batters in a game after striking out eight in the one before. He has a really good breaking ball and is really aggressive with his fastball and locates it well. He probably would’ve been pushing Double-A by the end of his first season.