The Royals are rolling right now and are one of the hottest teams in baseball. But good things continue to happen down on the farm, too. Even in Arizona, one of the hottest places in the country.
The Royals held a minicamp for their new players shortly after the 2023 MLB Draft last month, and now several of those players are getting their first games in as professionals. First-round pick Blake Mitchell and other hitters -- Carson Roccaforte, Spencer Nivens and Jared Dickey -- are all playing for the Arizona Complex League (ACL) team before likely finishing the season at a full-season affiliate, based on their conditioning and other factors.
Pitchers are a bit different. Prep picks Blake Wolters and Hiro Wyatt likely won’t see action until instructional league. But we could see college pitchers in affiliates by the end of the season if they haven’t reached their innings count already.
“Essentially each department has their opportunity to get to know the player, understand them and what their baselines are, whether it be strength and conditioning or pitching,” director of pitching performance Paul Gibson said. “It’s really a meet and greet week, and they go through a lot. And then it really evolves throughout the whole rest of the summer, getting to know them.”
Here are a few other updates from Gibson and director of player development Mitch Maier:
3B Cayden Wallace
The Royals’ No. 4 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) and second-round pick in last year’s Draft has had a very consistent first full professional season for High-A Quad Cities. The 21-year-old is slashing .263/.344/.435 entering Sunday with 10 homers, 64 RBIs, 15 stolen bases and a 120 wRC+. Wallace swings and misses some -- he has a 22% strikeout rate -- and doesn’t walk much, but he has great gap-to-gap power.
And he plays excellent defense at the hot corner. This was something the Royals thought he could do when they drafted him and have been blown away by his steadiness and athleticism there over the course of a full season.
“We knew about his bat, we knew he was a good runner, we knew he had defensive versatility,” Maier said. “But he’s been an elite defender at third. Makes all the plays, whether it’s a slow roller, backhand, throw from different angles. He’s made all the plays over there in his first season playing all third base. He’s been outstanding.”
LHP Frank Mozzicato
Mozzicato, No. 5, hasn’t been the same since a collision during batting practice in early June, but there’s no reason to think he can’t right the ship. The 20-year-old started the season with a 3.04 ERA across 12 starts in Single-A Columbia before getting the bump up to Quad Cities, where it’s been rockier. Mozzicato has allowed 19 runs and 14 walks in 14 1/3 innings across four starts at the next level.
“We were expecting peaks and valleys, like any player but especially because [he's] 20 years old,” Gibson said. “He’s losing that little bit of an edge that he had, like any teenager would. But he’s fine. We’re getting to an innings workload that he’s never seen before, so we’ve got to be careful there.”
“Kudrna just continues to amaze me,” Gibson said. “He’ll get up to 97 mph and then fall back to 93-95 mph for six or seven starts, whereas last year it would fall back to 91-93 mph. He started out the year and wasn’t moving down the mound great. We put drills in front of him, challenged him with numbers on his extension. He’s another one that stands up really well to challenge.”
RHP Chandler Champlain
One pitcher the Royals got in the Andrew Benintendi trade last year was Champlain, who is having a breakout ‘23. He’s posted a 2.90 ERA across two levels and is now in Double-A, where he most recently threw eight innings of two-run ball with eight strikeouts and one walk. The start before that, he tossed six hitless innings.
The Royals’ No. 25 prospect has impressed with his ability and knowledge of how to pitch, mixing all his stuff well while flashing the spin the Royals were excited about when acquiring him. He’s durable and looks like he can turn into a mid-rotation starter.
“Getting to Double-A, now it was about fine-tuning it better, continuing to locate and execute and mix my pitches,” Maier said. “It’s another level, the bottleneck’s a little tighter, hitters are better. He’s been able to adjust and realize that executing and mixing his pitches is going to be what gets him better.
“There are a ton of guys who have made strides at the level they started the year at but then also moving up a level, which is really encouraging. We’re a long, long ways from where we need to be, obviously. But it’s good progress, good start, and we’re trying to set up guys that are going to be part of that pipeline to help us win here.”