In the fall of 2020, the Royals approached Tyler Gentry with a plan. The organization had just selected the outfielder in the third round out of Alabama but had yet to work with him in person due to the pandemic-canceled Minor League season, so they used their instructional league for just that purpose -- to instruct.
“Pitchers’ stuff is so good these days that you're not going to cover every single pitch in the entire strike zone,” Gentry said of his 2020 autumn takeaways. “You really want to focus on doing damage on certain pitches in certain areas, and when you focus on that, the results are usually going to take care of themselves.”
It may have taken a little time, but there is no doubting those results as Kansas City’s No. 8 prospect takes his talents to the Arizona Fall League's Surprise Saguaros.
Gentry is coming off a breakout season in which he led all Royals Minor League qualifiers in average (.326), slugging percentage (.542), OPS (.965) and wRC+ (152) over 108 games at High-A and Double-A. He established career bests with 21 homers and 44 extra-base hits, solidifying his status as a right-handed hitter with solid hit and power tools. What’s more, Gentry’s numbers were just as solid at Northwest Arkansas following his mid-June promotion as he amassed a slash line of .321/.417/.555 over 331 plate appearances at the Minors’ second-highest level.
The 23-year-old outfielder’s big season could have come earlier, if not for knee injuries that limited him to only 44 games at High-A in 2021. No trips to the IL in 2022 meant more at-bats. More at-bats meant more opportunities to lock into the Kansas City hitting program that helped make Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino and Michael Massey, among others, into currently productive Major Leaguers.
“I'd say the consistency with my approach [was big],” Gentry said. “It's easy to get out of an approach in a 140-game season, and there would still be some games where I'd be pulling off. But I was really good at usually coming back the next game and getting right back to where I wanted to be.”
The Royals tacked another six weeks of play to that season with Gentry’s assignment to the prospect finishing school in Arizona. With Surprise, he continues to work on the two corner outfield spots where he has the above-average speed and arm to be a defensive asset, on top of being an offensive one. But it’s the bat that’s grabbing the most attention so far. True to form, Gentry homered twice in his second game with Surprise -- his second multihomer game of 2022.
“I'd like to get through really the whole league without ever getting off balance with it,” he said. “I really wanted to stay consistent, thinking right-center, letting the ball get deep. That's usually where I'm at my best.”
Royals hitters in the AFL
Samad Taylor, 2B/OF (No. 25): Taylor’s Oct. 3 start for Surprise was technically his first game in a Royals uniform. The 24-year-old was already on the IL when Kansas City acquired him from the Blue Jays in a Trade Deadline deal for Whit Merrifield. He brings plus speed to the organization as a player with 20-plus steals in four straight seasons and some pop in the bat with a .763 OPS in 70 games at Triple-A Buffalo before the swap. Taylor has outfield experience but has only played second base through the AFL’s first week. He is Rule 5-eligible this offseason.
John Rave, OF: Known primarily for his plus speed, Rave set a career high with 23 steals this season. The left-handed slugger proved to be a solid Double-A hitter (.262/.364/.414, 14 homers in 111 games) but struggled over multiple stints at Triple-A, hitting .195 with a 30.2 percent K rate. The 2019 fifth-rounder’s strikeouts have been on the high side at every stop in the KC system, so making more contact (which would enable him to make better use of his wheels) will be a point of emphasis in the Fall League.
Royals pitchers in the AFL
T.J. Sikkema, LHP (No. 16): After acquiring the 24-year-old southpaw from the Yankees in the Andrew Benintendi deal, the Royals instantly promoted Sikkema to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, only to see him get roughed up with a 7.44 ERA, 29 strikeouts and 15 walks in 32 2/3 innings. His time with Surprise could be a chance for the 6-foot hurler, who has two above-average pitches in his fastball and slider, to end 2022 on a more optimistic note.
Christian Chamberlain, LHP: The 23-year-old left-hander pitches aggressively out of his 5-foot-10 frame and utilizes a low-90s fastball with good riding life and a biting, upper-70s curveball to generate whiffs. He posted a 29.6 percent K rate as a High-A and Double-A reliever. That was unfortunately coupled with a 19.3 percent walk rate, leading to a 6.24 ERA over 49 innings. On stuff alone, Chamberlain could work in a big league bullpen but will need to throw more strikes to give himself a shot.
Jonah Dipoto, RHP: Yes, this is the son of Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto. Jonah was a 35th-round pick out of UC San Diego in 2019 and became a solid High-A and Double-A reliever with a 3.68 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings. Like Sikkema and Chamberlain, the 26-year-old right-hander had control concerns, walking 17.4 percent of his batters faced in 2022. He sits around 93-94 mph with his fastball and spins a low-80s slider that is most effective against righties.
Walter Pennington, LHP: Signed as an undrafted free agent out of the Colorado School of Mines in August 2020, Pennington has been an extreme ground-ball pitcher in the pros and ranked third in the organization with a 61 percent GB rate this season between High-A and Double-A. He shows a fastball right around 94 and an upper-80s slider but is trending toward being a lefty specialist after Double-A righties hit .331 against him in 2022.