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Pipeline report: Royals camp

MLB.com @JonathanMayo

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Royals.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Royals are one of three teams without a representative on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 list, and no one will deny that the system has thinned out since they boasted perhaps the best organization in baseball in 2011. Much of that is a result of the run the Royals made in 2014 and '15 that led to back-to-back World Series appearances and the title in '15.

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Royals.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Royals are one of three teams without a representative on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 list, and no one will deny that the system has thinned out since they boasted perhaps the best organization in baseball in 2011. Much of that is a result of the run the Royals made in 2014 and '15 that led to back-to-back World Series appearances and the title in '15.

Royals Top 30 Prospects list | Q&A with Foster Griffin

:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::

It's something the Royals front office is aware of, this seeming lack of impact talent. But as much as it's something they do want to address, they also know that they're not going to hang the entire organizaton's hat on that one peg, and they have past history to point to in order to make the argument that having prospects on lists isn't the be all end all.

"We do have to examine why don't we have those guys," Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said. "On the other hand, when we did have all those guys in the top 100 a few years back … that Top 100 is not a great indicator of who is going to impact your team long-term. Also not on that list were guys like Salvador Perez, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera, so there were a lot of players who impacted our World Series team who weren't on that list just a couple of years earlier.

"You have to take it with a grain of salt. It's something you should be aware of, but that's not going to be our motivating factor. We have to develop what we have here. We can't change what we have here. We just have to be sure the guys who have the ability to play in the big leagues, get to the big leagues. The job doesn't change."

Picollo and his staff do have a bit more to work with as Minor League camp opens in earnest in Surprise. Initial steps toward rebuilding the system were taken, courtesy of the 2017 Draft. Three of the organization's top five prospects come from the top four rounds of last June's efforts. Once again, the Royals looked at their own archives to figure out the right direction.

"You go back to 10 years ago and ask, 'How did we do this?' and examine what we did right and what we did wrong," Picollo said. "With that first pick, you always want to get who you think is the best player available. We really had an affection for Nick Pratto all along. We thought he had the best pure swing in the Draft. We felt very comfortable with his makeup. You love guys who have been on championship teams and he won at an early age.

"You look at the kind of player we'd like to have again ... similar to what we had in 2014-15. It might not be the best thing to say, but he reminded us a lot of Eric Hosmer. His mannerisms, the way he carries himself, his presence on the field, defensively, especially. They're different kinds of hitters. You look at him and you think he could be the leader of a team down the road, aside from just his ability."

In second-rounder MJ Melendez and fourth-rounder Michael Gigliotti, they got back to the approach of drafting up the middle. Both had solid pro debuts and both have already shown outstanding makeup in how they go about their business, boding well for their futures.

"Melendez has a ton of skill and tools, the arm strength and power, at a premium position," Picollo said. "He's an incredible worker. It's been neat to watch him and how he takes to instruction. Sometimes players who have had the accolades he's had, playing in all these All-Star Games, sometimes they may have all the answers. MJ's not like that. He's very open to different ideas and what he needs to improve.

"Gigliotti was a guy we thought was going in the first round based on his previous summer," Picollo continued. "Our scout who knew him very well was Sean Gibbs, who is now a southeast supervisor. When he was struggling early in the year, we had Sean telling us, 'Don't worry. This guy, let's stay on him.' His second half of the year was much better than the first half. He has maturity and presence at a premium position and we've seen him have an impact already on some of the younger players, just because of the way he goes about things."

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Lopez making a name for himself

Gigliotti's presence and instincts remind some Royals staffers of a 2016 draftee who has jumped on a faster track. Nicky Lopez didn't have the kind of "potential first-rounder" fanfare when he was coming out of Creighton, though he went just one round later than Gigliotti, in the fifth. There were two main questions the Royals had about Lopez as he entered his first full season a year ago: Would he be able to hold up over the course of 162 games and would he be able to handle an above-average fastball?

"He had a little bit of a lull in August, but he had a couple of weeks off and bounced back in the Arizona Fall League," Picollo said. "And he showed us he can handle that fastball in the fall as well."

Lopez spent most of the second half of 2017 in Double-A and finished with a solid combined average of .279 with an on-base percentage of .348 (he walked the same amount of times he struck out). The Royals' No. 6 prospect then finished second in the AFL by hitting .383 over 81 at-bats. He can flat out play shortstop and has shown that sliding over to second is no problem. All of that earned him a non-roster invitation to big league camp, where he's continued to impress with things beyond his tools.

"At that position, you're looking for leadership, you're looking for instincts, you're looking for someone who can direct," Picollo said. "He has all those qualities. We feel very good about some of the position players who are somewhat under the radar. Nicky is certainly one of them."

Camp standout

Khalil Lee, the Royals' No. 1 prospect, was a two-way standout in high school. Some teams liked him best as a pitcher, but Kansas City liked his tools in the outfield. So far, he's proving them right.

In his pro debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League, Lee led the circuit in total bases. He got an aggressive push to full-season ball and while he compiled a high strikeout total, he also finished among the league leaders in home runs and walks. That successful full-season debut has helped Lee come to camp this spring brimming with confidence.

"Every time we see him he gets better and better," Picollo said. "He's matured in a lot of ways. I like to refer to him as a dynamic player. He has power, he can run a little bit, he can really throw. He does some special things in the outfield. The way he's approaching it right now, it stands out."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Kansas City Royals