These are the Royals to keep an eye on down on farm

April 5th, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- Tonight, we’ll have baseball being played at every level of the professional ranks. The Majors and Triple-A have been in action for a week, but finally the rest of the Minor Leagues will join them with their own Opening Days.

The Royals released the rest of their affiliate rosters on Wednesday, and talent is spread throughout each affiliate, with intriguing storylines both from a team perspective and individual perspective. Double-A and High-A are stacked with top prospects, while Triple-A has players knocking on the door to Kansas City. In Single-A, we’ll get a look at two new, young and exciting players.

Here’s a look at the top prospects on each roster:

Triple-A Omaha

Player to watch: 1B Nick Pratto

He’s no longer considered a prospect because he’s spent significant time in the Majors already, but Pratto still has a chance to cement himself as part of the Royals’ young homegrown core if the adjustments he made this spring translate to results in games that matter. Pratto didn’t make the Royals’ Opening Day roster because they wanted to see him put together a larger sample size on a bigger stage -- and if he does, he’ll play his way to Kansas City soon.

Pitcher to watch: RHP John McMillon (Royals’ No. 18 prospect)

McMillon rocketed up in the Royals’ system last year -- from Single-A to the big leagues -- because he struck out 91 batters in 51 1/3 innings while walking just 25. He was shut down after just four Major League innings last year because of a forearm strain, which affected his offseason and slowed his spring buildup. McMillon has electric stuff with a triple-digit fastball and nasty slider, he just needs to command it again and show he’s fully healthy to help Kansas City’s bullpen this year.

Other Top 30 prospects on the roster: OF Tyler Gentry (No. 10), LHP Anthony Veneziano (No. 14), RHP Will Klein (No. 19),

Double-A Northwest Arkansas

Opening Day: Tonight, 7:05 p.m. CT vs. Tulsa

Player to watch: OF Gavin Cross (No. 8)

Cross is returning to Double-A after a hard, wacky and sometimes scary first full professional season last year. After struggling in High-A to begin 2023, Cross went to Double-A in August, where he lasted two games before falling ill with a tick-borne illness -- and he missed the rest of the season with its side effects. Cross was just getting back to himself this spring and had some good days, so he’ll look to continue that in Arkansas again this year. How Cross, the Royals’ first-round Draft pick in 2022, bounces back will be important to watch.

Pitcher to watch: RHP Mason Barnett (No. 6)

Barnett had a strong first full pro season last year, when he posted a 3.30 ERA across 114 2/3 innings, with a 28.8% strikeout rate and a 10.5% walk rate, and batters hit just .208 against him. That earned him Royals Pitcher of the Year honors and an invite to big league camp this spring. Barnett has a four-pitch mix with an above-average fastball and changeup, along with a nasty slider and curveball. He's a true starter prospect with a bulldog mentality on the mound, and the benefit of the Royals’ offseason additions at the Major League level is that they don’t have to rush Barnett -- he can pitch his way to Kansas City when he’s ready.

Other Top 30 prospects on the roster: 3B Cayden Wallace (No. 3), RHP Chandler Champlain (No. 12), 2B/OF Javier Vaz (No. 16), LHP Noah Cameron (No. 21), 2B Peyton Wilson (No. 24), RHP Eric Cerantola (No. 27), LHP Tyson Guerrero (No. 30)

High-A Quad Cities

Opening Day: Tonight, 6:30 p.m. CT vs. South Bend

Player to watch: C Carter Jensen, (No. 11)

Jensen has an insane amount of strength in his bat and special raw power to all fields, but it’s time for him to see that translate into games and results. Still only 20 years old, Jensen slashed .211/.356/.363 with 11 home runs, an 18.5% walk rate and a 24.1% strikeout rate last year in Quad Cities. His catching has improved immensely since he was drafted, and that earned him a big league Spring Training invite this year. Now, it’s time for his bat to follow suit as he returns to the same level from last year.

Pitcher to watch: RHP Ben Kudrna (No. 4)

The Royals’ top pitching prospect, Kudrna ended the 2023 season in High-A, where he had a 5.36 ERA in eight starts. He’ll return there to begin this year while looking to take a step forward. Kudrna has continued to add strength since he was taken in the second round of the 2021 Draft and throws a lot of strikes. He’ll look to develop his arsenal more to gain back some swing and miss on his fastball and slider while maintaining his plus changeup that he developed in pro ball.

Other Top 30 prospects on the roster: LHP Frank Mozzicato (No. 5), OF Carson Roccaforte (No. 17), 3B Trevor Werner (No. 20), LHP Hunter Owen (No. 23), RHP Steven Zobac (No. 25), RHP Henry Williams (No. 29)

Single-A Columbia

Opening Day: Tonight, 6:05 p.m. CT at Augusta

Player to watch: C Blake Mitchell (No. 1)

The No. 8 overall pick in last year’s Draft, Mitchell will make his official professional debut when the Fireflies open their season on the road. Mitchell was drafted as a high school catcher out of Sinton (Texas) High School, so he has a long way to go to become the Royals’ future backstop, but evaluators rave about his arm strength and leadership ability behind the dish. His bat is intriguing, with plus raw power and a good eye, although it’ll be worth watching how he handles older pro pitchers for the first time.

Pitcher to watch: RHP Blake Wolters (No. 7)

The second ‘Blake’ of the 2023 Draft and Mitchell’s batterymate for much of Spring Training, Wolters has already impressed without throwing a pitch for an affiliate yet. Starting the season in Single-A is a testament to how highly the organization thinks of Wolters, given the Royals typically hold high school arms back in their first extended Spring Training until about mid-season. But Wolters forced his way onto a roster early with his plus, upper-90s fastball, his slider and his developing changeup. He’s only 19 but mature beyond his years with what he does on and off the field. Now that will be on display as he officially begins his pro career.

Other Top 30 prospects on the roster: 3B/SS Austin Charles (No. 13), SS Daniel Vazquez (No. 28)