Royals prospects feel right at home in KC

Kudrna, Jensen among Minor League Award winners on hand for Futures Night

September 24th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- It wasn’t too long ago that pitcher Ben Kudrna and catcher Carter Jensen were among the fans filing into Kauffman Stadium for games throughout the summer and early fall to watch the Royals.

On Friday night, the two Kansas City natives and 2021 MLB Draft picks -- Kudrna in the second round (43rd overall) out of Blue Valley Southwest High School in Overland Park, Kan., and Jensen in the third round (No. 78 overall) from Park Hill High School in Kansas City -- were on the field before the Royals’ series opener against the Mariners, being recognized for winning the organization’s Pitcher and Player of the Year Awards for Single-A Columbia.

“It’s an awesome experience,” Jensen said. “Being here and winning the award is a big accomplishment on the professional side, as a player. But at the same time, being back in our hometown, it’s a little extra special for us, to be here in front of the fans that we were in the stands with growing up. Really fun and a cool opportunity. Looking forward to what’s to come.”

The Royals honored 12 players on their annual Futures Night at The K, one position player and one pitcher from each of their six Minor League affiliates:

Triple-A Omaha: OF Brewer Hicklen and RHP Andrés Núñez
Double-A Northwest Arkansas: OF Tyler Gentry and LHP Drew Parrish
High-A Quad Cities: C Luca Tresh and LHP Emilio Márquez
Single-A Columbia: Jensen and Kudrna
Arizona Complex League: OF Roger Leyton and RHP Mauricio Veliz
Dominican Summer League: OF Erick Torres and RHP Emmanuel Reyes

“It’s definitely an honor and really exciting to be here, because the ultimate goal is to get here,” Gentry said after posting a .964 OPS between Quad Cities and Northwest Arkansas this year. “This is a nice little reminder, something to keep in mind going into the offseason that this is the final goal.”

Jensen, ranked as the Royals’ No. 13 prospect by MLB Pipeline, hit 11 home runs and posted a .745 OPS and a 113 wRC+, per FanGraphs, but what really stood out was his 17.1% walk rate, which ranked third in the club’s farm system. Jensen’s aggressive swing helps him make consistent hard contact, but it can get him into trouble at times.

That’s why it was so impressive to see his plate discipline in his first year. His work with Royals hitting coaches, particularly coordinator Drew Saylor, was key.

“They helped a lot,” Jensen said. “Making sure I can take the pitches I don’t want to hit and swinging at the ones I know I can hit hard. That’s our goal. It’s been a lot of fun working with them, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do in the future, too, since I’ve made big improvements in just this one year.”

Kudrna, too, made big improvements, particularly with his changeup. The 19-year-old was a fastball-slider pitcher in high school, and the Royals believed he would develop his changeup in pro ball. 

In his first full season, that pitch turned into a weapon for him -- so much so that there were times he didn’t throw his slider during starts because his fastball-changeup combination was working so well. He joined Columbia in May and posted a 3.48 ERA in 17 starts, with 61 strikeouts and 32 walks in 72 1/3 innings.

“It blossomed a lot, grew a lot as the season went on,” Kudrna said. “That was great to see. I didn’t have my slider as much as I would have liked, but being able to work through a lineup two or three times and go four to six innings with just your fastball-changeup was a really good sign, because when you get that third pitch, you’re going to have success.”

Kudrna’s slider will be a major focus for him this offseason, which he’s spending in Florida with fellow ‘21 Draft picks Frank Mozzicato (No. 7 overall) and Shane Panzini (fourth round).

Both Jensen and Kudrna got to spend some time with family and friends in Kansas City -- many of whom were in the stands on Friday -- before beginning their offseason programs and looking ahead to next year.

“Being able to play with each other on a professional level, it brings you back to the day we got drafted,” Jensen said. “When I found out we were going to be in Columbia together, I was ecstatic. … That’s the best part, is that it’s so much fun. You learn so much about the game and yourself and about other people, it’s really a special time to be in the situation we’re in.”