Pipeline names Royals Prospects of the Year

September 19th, 2019

KANSAS CITY -- You’ve heard about Royals pitching prospects Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, the club's No. 2 and No. 5 prospects per MLB Pipeline.

But there is another Royals prospect who has caught the attention of fans and scouts: left-hander Kris Bubic.

Bubic, a 22-year-old left-hander who was selected 40th overall in the 2018 Draft, just delivered an incredible season. He went 11-5 with a 2.23 ERA in stops at Class A Lexington and Class A Advanced Wilmington, and here’s the statistic that has blown everyone away: He led all Minor Leaguers with 185 strikeouts. Oh, and he added 19 more strikeouts in two starts in the playoffs as Wilmington won the Carolina League championship.

The honors are now rolling in. Bubic, the Royals No. 6 prospect, is MLB Pipeline’s Royals Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Outfielder Khalil Lee, the No. 4 prospect, was named the MLB Pipeline Royals Minor League Hitter of the Year.

J.J. Picollo, the Royals assistant general manager of player personnel, isn’t surprised about Bubic’s rapid development.

“He was taken basically in the second round and we knew he had the ability to perform well early,” Picollo told MLB.com. “He is a guy who has a lot of deception on the mound. He’s not a guy who will come in and blow you away with 95-100 mph stuff.

“But Kris is a really smart pitcher who has a fastball in the 92-95 range with a really good changeup and a really good curveball now. And he knows how to pitch. He has good command.”

The curveball addition to Bubic’s story is interesting. It wasn’t a serious part of Bubic’s repertoire when he was drafted.

“To be honest, I don’t think he had much confidence in it early on,” Picollo said. “But he started working with [Minor League coordinator] Jeff Suppan over a year ago on it. And now, it’s a weapon for him. He used to be a fastball-changeup kind of pitcher. Now, he’s added that curveball and it’s made a big difference. He has confidence with his curveball as a putaway pitch, just as much as his changeup.”

The Royals expect Bubic to rise rather quickly through the system, likely slotted for Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2020.

And Lee, a 21-year-old third-round pick in 2016, continues his march toward the big leagues. He was promoted from Wilmington to Double-A Northwest Arkansas this season and he handled the transition admirably. Overall, he hit .264 with eight home runs and 21 doubles over the season.

Lee is known for his power and speed. He stole 53 bases this season -- that fits the Royals’ profile -- and was adept at taking the extra base.

“It’s kind of funny because he told us before the season started,” Picollo said, “that he was going to steal a ton of bases. And that’s exactly what he did.”

The Royals envision Lee as a plus-defender who can play center field or right field. Lee, a left-handed hitter, put on about 10-15 pounds of muscle to his listed weight of 170 pounds.

“But it hasn’t slowed him down at all,” Picollo said. “And he still looks like a guy who has hidden power. We’ve seen it before where the power numbers don’t show up until later in the Minors.”

Lee, by the way, does not have to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft.

“The best thing about Khalil is that he was very young for Double-A,” Picollo said, “and he didn’t have a major fall-off in terms of his numbers as he advanced through the system. His numbers held steady. That is a good sign.”