The Royals face the very real possibility of losing Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to free agency this offseason. The four All-Stars all arrived in Kansas City in 2011 and teamed together for a World Series championship, two American League pennants and four straight winning seasons, the franchise's best stretch in more than three decades.
While the Royals won't have immediate replacements ready to fill all of those potential holes, they do have some promising position players in their pipeline. Arguably their three best prospects -- first baseman Nick Pratto and outfielders Khalil Lee and Seuly Matias -- are taking part in Kansas City's instructional league program in Surprise, Ariz.
Unlike most teams, the Royals actually run two instructional league camps. The first, for their more advanced young players, runs from Sept. 17 through Oct. 20. The second, for less advanced prospects, will go from Oct. 15 through Nov. 17 and include some games against area junior colleges.
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Though Pratto, Lee and Matias are just 19 years old, they definitely fit in the first group. Pratto has a longer and more impressive résumé than most players his age, winning the 2011 Little League World Series with a walkoff single against Japan and starring as a two-way performer on U.S. 18-and-under teams that won the 2015 World Cup and 2016 Pan Am Championships. Signed for $3,450,000 as the 14th overall pick in the 2017 Draft, he batted .247/.330/.414 in the Rookie-level Arizona League during his first taste of pro ball.
Those numbers belie Pratto's potential at the plate, as his combination of a sweet left-handed stroke, mature approach and developing power has earned him comparisons to the likes of Joey Votto and Hosmer. He's also a potential Gold Glove defender and surprisingly effective on the bases despite below-average speed.
"Pratto has a chance to be very impactful, a very complete player on both sides of the ball," Royals farm director Ronnie Richardson said. "He has great instincts in all areas of the game. He's always in the right place. He shows great leadership too. When a player has his desire to get better, and his talent and skills, it's fun."
A third-round pick in 2016, Lee also was a two-way star as an amateur. A lot of clubs liked him as a left-handed pitcher with a low-90s fastball and an interesting slider, but the Royals preferred him as an outfielder with average or better tools across the board. After tearing up the AZL in his first pro summer, he batted .237/.344/.430 this year, striking out a South Atlantic League-high 171 times but also becoming the only player in the low Class A circuit to top 15 homers and steals (17 long balls, 20 swipes).
"This is a great opportunity for a guy like Lee," Richardson said. "As a teenager in the South Atlantic League, he showed a lot of promise with his power, speed, athleticism and defense. We're working every day on making him a more complete hitter."
Few players on the 2015-16 international market could match Matias' package of tools, which earned him a $2,250,000 bonus out of the Dominican Republic. It's hard to say which is more impressive, his raw power or his arm strength, both of which rank as the best among Kansas City prospects. Club officials have likened him to Yoenis Cespedes and Hall of Famer Andre Dawson.
"Matias has got tremendous upside," Richardson said. "He's passionate and he continues to get better. He's just a dynamic young player with arm strength and power and above-average speed. He's strong. When he hits it, you know it's hit."
They're still a few years away from Kauffman Stadium. But Pratto, Lee and Matias have the tools to be worthy successors to Cain, Escobar, Hosmer and Moustakas.