How the Royals' Minor League hitting development has 'leveled up'

May 14th, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- When the Royals made vast changes to their hitting department in 2019, they knew they were going to have to continue to evolve as young hitters graduated to the Major Leagues and new hitters entered the system.

This offseason, the organization hired Single-A Columbia hitting coach Ari Adut, Triple-A Omaha hitting coach Bijan Rademacher and Arizona Complex League assistant hitting coach Alejandro Gomez, bringing their perspectives in to mesh with hitting director Drew Saylor, assistant hitting coordinator Nic Jackson and longtime hitting coaches in the Royals’ system.

“Our process has really leveled up this year,” Saylor said. “The attention to detail has been exceptional. The mixture with the coaches and the way information flows up and down is a lot more consistent. A lot more rapid. I think we’re doing a good job of being able to have that feel for when we’re able to make some small adaptations.”

Here’s a rundown of a hitter at each level with insight from Saylor:

Triple-A: INF Nick Loftin
Loftin gained nearly 30 pounds of weight, emphasizing strength and mobility to ensure his stamina and power stays consistent throughout the long season. The Royals’ No. 4 prospect has a .703 OPS entering Sunday with six homers in 31 games. A stance change at the plate recently gave the Royals reason to believe his strength will show more consistently soon, especially as the weather gets warmer.

“Got him in a little bit of a hip-hinge position where he feels like he can stabilize how his body is trying to be able to read the pitch and how it’s trying to move,” Saylor said. “I’ve been very pleased with where he’s been.”

Loftin has only drawn five walks in 135 plate appearances, but Saylor likes the consistency of Loftin’s approach when facing Triple-A pitchers and the emphasis to make contact.

“When you’re seeing strikes, we want you to hit it,” Saylor said. “We’re not looking for you to go up there just to take a walk. If the ball is there to get a good whack, give it a good whack.”

Double-A: 2B/OF Peyton Wilson
Northwest Arkansas’ roster is a mix of young hitters like Wilson and Luca Tresh from the 2021 MLB Draft, and veteran hitters such as Jorge Bonifacio, but Saylor said they’re meshing well and learning from each other when it comes to game planning.

Wilson, the Royals’ No. 20 prospect, is slashing .307/.370/.395 in his first crack at the Texas League. The 23-year-old switch-hitter has impressed with his sheer strength in his 5-foot-8 frame.

“He’s a very, very strong twitch athlete,” Saylor said. “There are times where he looks a little bit forced or contrived when he’s up there hitting, but that’s just because it doesn’t take much for him to be able to put force into the ball.”

High-A: 3B Cayden Wallace
Wallace is standing out on a team of standouts with Quad Cities this year. The Royals’ No. 5 prospect and second-round pick in the '22 MLB Draft out of Arkansas, Wallace has an .863 OPS with three homers, five doubles and eight stolen bases. He’s also walking at a 14.3% clip.

And he can absolutely pick it at third base.

“He’s swinging a magic stick right now,” Saylor said. “He does a really good job compartmentalizing the segments of the game. And some of the balls that ranged past the foul line, being able to see some of the raw arm strength, is really cool.”

The second clip in that video is of center fielder Gavin Cross, the Royals’ top prospect and first-round pick last season. The 22-year-old has had a slower start at the plate with a .545 OPS, but the Royals have introduced new drills to help him in his swing approach.

“We made some small modifications to his routine just to work with him on staying through the baseball more,” Saylor said. “He’s taken to those different drills really well. It’s not even a swing adaptation, it’s more like just doing different drills for him to feel what he wants.”

Single-A: SS Daniel Vazquez
The Columbia lineup is young and features several returners from last year, including Vazquez. The 19-year-old struggled last year with a .491 OPS in 77 games during his first full season stateside. This offseason, he stuck to a strength plan and looks much more stable in his stance -- which has led to more line drives. In 29 games, Vazquez is slashing .290/.345/.355 for a .700 OPS, with four doubles and 11 stolen bases.

Scouts rave about his defense at shortstop and say his swing has tons of potential. He hasn’t shown that yet in his short pro career, but perhaps that’s now changing.

“A lot of his growth was not necessarily a swing change,” Saylor said. “It was more the periphery departments. Physically becoming stronger is going to allow you to find more stability in the swing. All the credit goes to him. It’s been a lot of fun to see him smile, and there have been moments where you just feel he’s the best player on the field. That’s a cool thing to see.”