Melendez one of 6 added to 40-man roster

November 20th, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals added a slew of prospects to their 40-man roster on Friday evening, the deadline to protect eligible players from the Rule 5 Draft by adding them.

Catcher MJ Melendez, first baseman Nick Pratto, second baseman Maikel Garcia, and right-handers Jonathan Bowlan, Collin Snider and Nathan Webb were all selected.

To make room on the roster, the Royals designated right-handed reliever Kyle Zimmer for assignment, and infielder Lucius Fox was claimed off waivers by the Orioles. With the additions, that leaves Kansas City's roster at a full 40.

Pratto and Melendez were obvious choices to be protected, given their value to the Royals’ future as the No. 65 (Pratto) and No. 67 (Melendez) prospects in baseball, as ranked by MLB Pipeline. Both had breakout years at Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha, with Melendez crowned as the Minor League home run king with 41 homers (and Pratto not far behind with 36). Their strides and numbers show opposing teams how close they are to the Majors (the Royals expect both to debut in 2022), so protecting them was an easy decision.

Bowlan was another likely choice; the right-hander is the Royals’ No. 10 prospect and was the club’s second-round pick in the pitching-heavy 2018 Draft. Bowlan might have already been on the Major League roster if he was healthy, but he had Tommy John surgery in June. Still, the Royals couldn’t risk having another team pick him up and stash him on the injured list while he recovers.

Kansas City had tough choices from there, considering how big of a group their Rule 5-eligible class is; president of baseball operations Dayton Moore said earlier this month that this year's class is the most the club has ever had to consider protecting.

Garcia had a stellar year at Low-A Columbia and High-A Quad Cities, hitting .291 and posting a .795 OPS across 104 games. The 21-year-old shortstop is scrappy and quick, and he earned rave reviews from scouts and Royals officials about his contact and defensive skills.

Kansas City's infield depth in the Majors and in the upper levels of the Minors only shows how high the organization is on Garcia, who still has some developing to do next season.

The two relievers the Royals chose, Snider and Webb, speak to both the pitchers' projections and the front office’s goal of adding bullpen depth to the roster ahead of 2022. Snider had better numbers at Double-A this year with a 2.97 ERA across 27 appearances, and took time to get used to Triple-A, where he had a 6.30 ERA in 21 appearances. But he was dependable all season and he can provide in that same role for the Royals.

Webb, a Kansas City native, might be the most intriguing player on this list. The 24-year-old has yet to pitch above High-A Quad Cities, but he posted a 3.94 ERA in 59 1/3 innings this season with 89 strikeouts, 21 walks and a .189 opponent average. The Royals believe he found his stride this past year and could move up quickly in 2022. Plus, his 100-mph fastball and pinpoint command projects well in the Kansas City bullpen.

The Royals only had so many spots to fill, though, and that means some big names are left unprotected. Teams can pick those vulnerable players up in the Rule 5 Draft, which is scheduled to be held on Dec. 9 but could be pushed back depending on where the new Collective Bargaining Agreement stands. Clubs that do pick a player must pay $100,000 to the club from which the player was selected, and the player is assigned directly to the drafting club’s 26-man roster.

Most notably, left-hander and No. 12 prospect Austin Cox was left off the roster after posting a 4.10 ERA in Double-A and five innings of Triple-A. Cox was the Royals’ fifth-round Draft pick in 2018 and has the frame and stuff of a big league starter or big arm at the back of the bullpen.

Right-hander and No. 29 prospect Zach Haake was also left off after injuries limited him to just four games this year.

Outfielder Seuly Matias and second baseman Nathan Eaton also weren’t added, despite their solid Arizona Fall League seasons. Matias has long been known for his power potential, but his lack of plate discipline is a major flaw. Eaton has drawn attention from scouts for his on-base skills.

Friday’s deadline decisions weren’t easy for the Royals, which speaks to where they are as a club, having to make moves because teams covet their quickly-rising talent pool. That should bode well for the Royals’ future -- and many of the players they believe are key to that future are now on the 40-man roster.