After the completion of the regular season and alternate training sites, most player development staffs have turned their attention to instructional league play. In the past, instructional leagues have been populated by new draftees, recent international signings and players at the bottom rungs of their organizational ladder. This year, in an attempt to make up for lost time due to the pandemic, it’s been expanded to include many more players. MLB Pipeline will be providing position-by-position reports from instructional league camps in Florida and Arizona.
Derrick Adams, LHP; Adrian Alcantara, RHP; Dante Biasi, LHP; A.J. Block, LHP; Noah Bryant, RHP; Delvin Capellan, RHP; Christian Chamberlain, LHP; Tyshaun Chapman, RHP; Christian Cosby, RHP; Cody Davenport, RHP; Yefri del Rosario, RHP (No. 24); C.J. Eldred, RHP; Grant Gambrell, RHP; Peyton Gray, RHP; Bryce Hensley, LHP; Ben Hernandez, RHP (No. 16); Justin Hooper, LHP; Daniel James, RHP; Rylan Kaufman, LHP; Will Klein, RHP; Adam Lukas, RHP; Austin Manning, LHP; Emilio Marquez, LHP; John McMillion, RHP; Yohanse Morel, RHP; Charlie Neuweiler, RHP; Andres Nunez, RHP; Anderson Paulino, RHP; Walter Pennington, LHP; Walker Sheller, RHP; Andres Sotillet, RHP; Matt Stil, RHP; Augie Sylk, LHP; Samuel Valerio, RHP; Anthony Veneziano, LHP; Chase Wallace, RHP; Nathan Webb, RHP; Marlin Willis, LHP; Angel Zerpa, LHP
The Royals took a unique approach to instructional league this year, dividing roughly 120 players into one of two separate camps being held at either Kauffman Stadium or the team’s Spring Training complex in Surprise, Ariz. Featuring many of the same top prospects and upper-level players who were active over the summer at the Royals’ alternate training site, the Kauffman camp began a week after the end of the Major League regular season and wrapped on Oct. 23.
Some of the players from that Kauffman group were subsequently assigned to the Arizona camp, where they comprised a much younger and deeper crop of Royals Minor Leaguers, including several of Kansas City’s 2020 Draft picks and numerous non-drafted free agents (NDFA).
Chamberlain, a left-hander from Oregon State who went in the fourth round of the Draft, has made a great first impression on the organization, showing a blend of stuff and confidence that reminds Royals officials of another former top pick from the college ranks.
“It’s a 92-95 mph fastball, but he has a really sharp slider and attacks the zone,” said J.J. Picollo, the Royals’ vice president/assistant GM of player personnel. “He reminds us a lot of Brandon Finnegan, with the aggressiveness and competitiveness and how he comes at hitters.”
Hernandez, an Illinois prep product whom Kansas City took in the second round, was brought along slowly at the outset of camp but recently threw the ball well in his first game action of the year. The Royals have and will continue to exercise caution with Hernandez for the remainder of instructional league (which is scheduled to conclude on Nov. 23), managing the 19-year-old right-hander’s workload with shorter appearances.
“Especially as we get later in the year,” said Picollo. “We want to make sure we don’t extend him too much. We’re just trying to get a feel for his delivery and routines to know what we have in store for 2021.”
Klein, a left-hander taken in the fifth round out of Eastern Illinois, and Texas Tech NDFA McMillon have showcased elite velocity in their introduction to pro ball, with both hurlers hitting 100 mph on a regular basis. Block, another post-Draft signee, has shown enough starter qualities during instructional league that the Royals intend to deploy him in the role next season.
Later-round picks Stil (21st round, 2019), Willis (18th, 2017) and Kaufman (12th, 2018) have all seen their velocity tick up during instructional league. Stil has been consistently 95-98 mph, a major increase compared to the previous year, while Willis has had his fastball jump from 91-92 mph up to 94-96. Kaufman’s heater is also reaching the mid-90s consistently, though its his overall development that has the Royals excited about the 21-year-old left-hander’s future.
“It’s a really good delivery that he’s starting to repeat. He’s as good as anybody we have when he’s repeating his delivery,” Picollo noted.
Former international signees Valerio ($242,500 in July 2018) and Paulino ($30,000 in August '17) have opened eyes with their power stuff, with both right-handers operating in the upper 90s with at least one quality secondary pitch. Paulino, 22, has been particularly impressive and looks much more physical and advanced than he was a year ago.
“His changeup might be a little bit ahead of his breaking ball right now,” said Picollo. “He had a great strike-to-ball ratio in his last outing, which is a very good sign for a young pitcher.”
Michael Emodi, Kale Emshoff, Felix Familia, Freddy Fermin, Saul Garza, William Hancock, Omar Hernandez, Wyatt Mascarella, Paul Mondesi, Sebastian Rivero, Chase Vallot
Hernandez is still relatively new to catching, having only made the transition to behind the plate shortly before Kansas City signed him for $50,000 in August 2018. But the 18-year-old, Cuban-born backstop already has made significant gains in his development in a short period of time, emerging as a legitimate prospect for the organization thanks to his abilities on both sides of the ball.
“He’s sort of under the radar right now,” Picollo said. “But he’s athletic with a short, compact frame; receives and throws very well; and has a nice swing.”
The Royals will have to wait until next year to get their first look at Kale Emshoff. Signed as an NDFA after ranking as MLB Pipeline’s No. 146 Draft prospect, the Arkansas-Little Rock redshirt junior suffered a broken hamate bone in his hand the week before instructional league began.
Rhett Aplin, 1B; Brhet Bewley, 3B; Wilmin Candelario, SS; Jay Charleston, 2B; Clay Dungan, INF; Nathan Eaton, INF; Maikel Garcia, SS; Herard Gonzalez, SS; Jack Gethings, 2B; Jimmy Govern, 3B/2B; Gage Hughes, SS; Kyle Kasser, 2B; Michael Massey, 2B; Vinnie Pasquantino, 1B; Jake Means, 3B; Kember Nacero, 2B; Matt Schmidt, 3B; Colby Schultz, 2B; Tyler Tolbert, SS; Enrique Valdez, SS
The Royals feel as though their lower-level international players were most affected by the circumstances of the 2020 season. As a result, this year’s instructional league camp carries extra weight for many of the organization’s younger, less-experienced players coming at the end of a mostly lost developmental season.
“Think about being 17 years old and, before you even have the fundamentals down, having a year on the field taken away,” said Picollo.
“Guys like Candelario, Gonzalez and Valdez are all very talented players, but they haven’t been on the field. So, with simple things like cuts and relays, where to go and what to do, guys were rusty at the beginning, even over at the alternate site.”
Candelario received the largest bonus of any player in the Royals’ 2018-19 international class, signing for $847,500 out of the Dominican Republic. He performed well in his pro debut, slashing .315/.396/.505 with 19 extra-base hits and 11 steals over 49 games in the Dominican Summer League at age 18, and he’s been a standout among Royals infielders this fall.
“Physically, he’s a little stronger than he was last year and will continue to get stronger, which will help him with impacting the baseball. He’s got some confidence in what he does,” Picollo said.
Tyler Tolbert, a 13th-round pick from Alabama-Birmingham in 2019, has also had a strong instructional league camp, flashing a nice collection of tools as well as the athleticism needed to play multiple positions.
“He’s just a really smart player who can play all over the field, infield and outfield,” said Picollo. “We looked at him at shortstop during the second half of camp. His instincts are really good … he’s a plus runner who’s going to be able to steal bases; offensively, he’s wiry but strong, with quick wrists and an excellent sense of timing.”
Erick Pena, 17, was the Royals’ youngest player at the Kauffman site before joining the club’s instructional league camp in Arizona. The organization’s top signing ($3,897,500) from the 2019-20 international class, he’s benefited greatly from training in both environments, demonstrating tools, skills and aptitude that all bode very well for his future development.
“There were times where he was facing pitching that, given his age and where he’s at in his career, he probably shouldn’t have been,” Picollo noted. “But he did well, learned a lot. He’s a very intelligent kid.
“He did a nice job, got on base, played great defense. His speed seems to have improved, just watching him move in center field. He’s going to be a big kid, so you wonder if the body will sustain center field. But with the way he’s moving, there’s no reason to think he can’t.”
The Royals see a Josh Willingham-type player in 2020 third-round pick Gentry. The University of Alabama product has shown during instructional league that he can impact a game in many ways with his collection of average-or-better tools across the board and advanced secondary skills.
“A hard-nosed, physical guy,” said Picollo about the 6-foot-2, 210-pound outfielder. “There’s a lot of raw power there, a good approach … and he also plays really good defense, moves well in the outfield and he can really throw. He has a good sense of the game and understands situations.”
McConnell will be sidelined for the rest of instructional league as the result of a calf injury he suffered early in camp while shagging fly balls in the outfield. Questions regarding McConnell’s ability to stick at shortstop hurt his Draft stock in 2019, and 16 errors in his pro debut (in 24 games) at the position in Rookie ball -- after the Royals had taken him in the second round -- didn’t assuage any of those concerns. The Royals did like what they saw initially from the 22-year-old after moving him to the outfield, noting that his size and athleticism were both clean fits.