‘Will they ever be Royal?’ (July 21st): Matias wows at Futures; Lee homers; and Starling injured (again)

I hope to post a weekly series called “Will they ever be Royal?” from here on out. The series name is a play on the famous Lorde song that got considerable play in Kansas City during the 2013 season, when they suddenly got competitive again, and set in motion their 2014 and 2015 World Series runs. Basically, these are quick bits on some important stories going on in the Royals system, especially concerning prospects.

These posts won’t be as long as my usual posts, and a lot of them will refer you to links where you can read more about the points I bring up. There are a lot of great sites that provide more in-depth prospects coverage, with “Royals Farm Report” being a prime one (follow their blog and them on Twitter; the writers really run the best Royals prospects site out there), so I want to defer to others when it is necessary. That being said, I will highlight key stories going on in the farm system which I think hardcore Royals fans should know about it. (Non-Hardcore fans probably have stopped caring about the Royals a month ago and are glued to Chiefs coverage.)

So here are some bits on what’s going on in the Royals farm system.


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Seuly Matias turns heads at Futures game

No Royals prospect has been more polarizing than 19-year-old outfielder Seuly Matias, who currently has 27 home runs with the Lexington Legends (he just hit his 27th yesterday), which leads not only the South Atlantic League but the Minors overall (I have written about Matias before on the Roto Royal). Matias has a smooth big swing with oodles of power, but prospect experts have been mixed on his projection. Baseball Prospectus lists him as the top Royals prospect in the system and ranked him 75th overall in their pre-season Top 100. Baseball America ranked him as the 3rd best prospect in the Royals system (behind 1B Nick Pratto and OF Khalil Lee) and graded him a 60 EXTREME (meaning that his future is highly questionable; he could be a superstar or bust). At such a young age, and with such big strikeout numbers (he’s striking out in 36.8 percent of his plate appearances with Lexington this year), it really is difficult to see how Matias will project.

However, Matias showed well in the Futures Game last Sunday, with his prime achievement being a majestic oppo-field home run off of Justus Sheffield, one of the top pitching prospects in the Royals system.

Take a look at the home run, via Twitter:

And if that wasn’t enough, this is what former Red Sox DH and World team manager David Ortiz said about Matias after his 2-for-3 performance in the Futures Game:

That’s some strong praise indeed. Matias has gone under the radar a bit this season because the Royals system is not highly ranked, and he still is a few years away from really having an impact at the Major League level. However, after a great All-Star weekend, the magnifying glass is on the young Dominican outfielder. It will be interesting to see how the kid will not only handle the increase of attention from Royals fans and the media but also opposing pitchers in the second half of the Minor League season.


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Khalil Lee hits first home run in Double-A

The No. 2 prospect in the Royals system according to Baseball America, and the No. 4 prospect according to Fangraphs, Khalil Lee is an outfield prospect who has a big arm, and relies on his speed. According to Fangraphs, his arm rated as a 60 on the 20-80 scale, and his speed currently rated as a 55. Lee has demonstrated a knack to be aggressive on the basepaths, as he stole 20 bases last season in Lexington and has 16 so far between Wilmington (A+) and Northwest Arkansas (AA). Unfortunately, while Lee has the speed, he still has to develop his instinct on the bases as he was caught 18 times in Lexington last season. That being said, he has been much more proficient in 2018, as he has only been caught three total times this year, a significant improvement in success rate from a year ago.

Alex Duvall wrote a great piece on Lee for The Royals Farm Report four days ago, and had this to say about Lee:

Khalil Lee’s elite on-base abilities combined with his speed separate him from plenty of folks at similar levels. He walks like a power hitter and runs like a leadoff hitter. Pretty good combination for a leadoff hitter. Lee has been leading off a lot for the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals, a position I’d like to see him stay in long-term. He is going to be so much fun to watch when he gets to Kansas City.

It’s been a bit of a mixed bag for Lee since being called up to Northwest Arkansas just three days after his 20th birthday. After posting a .270 average and .808 OPS to go along with four home runs and 14 stolen bases in 301 plate appearances in the Carolina League with Wilmington, Lee is only posting a .224 average and .638 OPS to go along with 1 home run and 2 stolen bases in 80 plate appearances in the Texas League.

However, on July 18th on the road against Springfield, Lee launched his first Double-A home run, which proved to be an absolute bomb as evidenced below:

Much like Matias, opinions differ on Lee’s projections going forward, as he is a strong athlete, but still has to work on a lot of aspects of his game, especially when it comes to making contact. He had a 32.1 percent strikeout rate in Lexington last year, and though his rate has declined, it still has been pretty high as evidenced by 24.9 percent and 23.8 percent K rates in Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas, respectively. However, Patrick Brennan, founder of Royals Farm Report, posted this on Twitter in reference to a 2080 Baseball article that ranked the Top 125 Prospects of the Midseason.

Lee is making good progress in the Royals system, as he is 2.4 years younger than the average player in Double-A. So there isn’t tremendous pressure on him to “produce” right away (development is the main focus for him now). Thus, it will be interesting to see how he continues to develop not just this season in Northwest Arkansas, but this Fall and beyond.


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Bubba Starling out at least six weeks

Things haven’t turned out as expected for Bubba Starling, the 5th overall pick of the 2011 MLB Draft. Despite signing one of the largest signing bonuses in Royals history at the time, the local Gardner, Kansas high school three-sport star has failed to live up to the considerable hype he received when he decided to pursue professional baseball instead of football at Nebraska. Originally ranked as the 24th best prospect in baseball going into 2012 by Baseball America, Starling has only posted a .235 average and .693 OPS in 617 games and 2,483 career plate appearances over seven seasons. Though he certainly has the size at six-feet, four inches, and 215 pounds, the tools never really developed for Starling over the course of his Minor League career.

However, despite his lackluster performance, Starling still is on the Royals’ 40-man roster (as of July 21st) and there was hope that with the Royals tanking and going nowhere, Starling would debut this year with the big league club at some point. However, Rustin Dodd of the Athletic posted this on Twitter on July 19th:

Apparently, Starling suffered the injury while falling out of bed, an injury that will rank up there with Clint Barmes falling down the stairs while carrying deer meat. The setback is just another one of many for Starling this year, as he has only played in 11 games in Omaha this season due to various injuries. With him being shelved for another six weeks, it seems less and less likely that we’ll see Starling up with the Royals club this season…or perhaps ever at all.

Starling will turn 26 in August, and it seems certain that he just doesn’t have the skills or ability to be a Major League player (Age 26 is the prospect peak, meaning they are what they are as a player at this age). I’m sure Starling is a great person, and maybe he could return to football and have a Brandon Weeden-esque quarterback career or something. But after this latest setback, and with the Royals most likely going to add more pieces to their system by the trade deadline, it may be best for both sides if Starling finally steps away from baseball once and for all.

 

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Who is Seuly Matias? (And is he legit?)

There hasn’t been much to cheer or be hopeful about this season for the Royals. They currently are trying to avoid the worst record in baseball, they can’t score runs for the life of them, and their farm system is currently in rebuilding mode (hence the Kelvin Herrera trade). Yes, the Royals are a small market franchise, and winning a World Series title three seasons ago should be enough to satiate the local fanbase for a least another few years. But in this day and age of “what have you done for me lately?” in sports, the Royals need to bring something to the table to help salvage not only this season somewhat, but also in the years to come as they go begin rebuilding their system both at the minor and major league level.

Seuly Matias may be that player that can get Royals fans (and potential fantasy owners) pumped again (or at least a little bit pumped).

Now, by no means is Matias the kind of blue-chip prospect that Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon or even Mike Moustakas was less than a decade ago. However, he is a heralded prospect who without a doubt is the crown jewel of the Royals system currently. According to Baseball Prospectus, he was ranked as the #75th Best Prospect going into 2018, and in Fangraphs’ updated Top 131 prospect list (as of June 11th), Matias ranks 88th overall (he’s the only prospect listed from Kansas City).

Matias has burst onto the national scene as of late for one reason: dingers. Matias, who currently plays for the Lexington Legends (the Royals’ Single-A affiliate), leads not only the South Atlantic League but the minor leagues overall, with 24 home runs through June 26th.  In the video below (courtesy of Royals Review’s weekly post on the minor leagues), the Legends coaching staff is pretty impressed with Matias’ display of not just power, but hitting ability for his age (he’s only 19 years old).

Matias is playing his first full season outside of Rookie ball this year and is a long way away from breaking into the Major Leagues. That being said, while he can’t even buy a drink in a bar yet,  he seems like he possesses the purest power out of anyone in the Royals system from top to bottom. Furthermore, at 6’3, 200 pounds, Matias has the frame and strength to be a solid power-hitting outfielder as he transitions through the Royals system over the next few seasons.

However, though the power may be “Trout-esque”, his other skills are far from that comparison. As you will see in the scouting video below from a series against the Rome Braves (Atlanta’s Sally affiliate), his plate discipline needs a lot of work. He is over-aggressive and he swings at a lot of pitches out of the zone, which either results in a lot of swings and misses or bad contact that results in easy outs. That poor plate approach is evident this year in his low batting average (.238 average) as well as high strikeout rate (37.1 percent) and low BB/K ratio (0.21). To make matters worse, these trends were also common during his tenure in the Rookie Leagues the past couple of seasons, as his strikeout rates hovered around the 30 percent mark at each level, and he has never hit higher than .250 in his short career thus far.

At his age, while these numbers are a bit alarming, they’re not damning. When it comes to evaluating prospects, it’s always important to see if a player has one Major League-level “skill” and Matias has that in his power as well as arm, which also was rated a 70 on a 20-80 scale, according to Fangraphs. To have two highly-rated skills from Matias is promising, and if he can become even a “mediocre” hitter for average that can hit annually in the .240 to .260 range, he could be a valuable producer for the Royals lineup in the future, especially if he can transition that 30-40 home run power to the Major League level. Of course, that’s always easier said than done. Plenty of prospects have displayed Matias’ skill set before in the minors (especially lower levels), only to flame out as they face better pitching up the Minor League ladder. So, it’ll be interesting to see if Matias’ approach will improve as he matures as a player.

For fantasy players looking to get a head start on future keepers, Matias may be a valuable pickup…but probably not for another two-three years, minimum. He’s still only 19 years old, and the Sally is still too low a level for potential fantasy owners to make a solid judgment and projection on his future ability at the Major League level. Furthermore, Matias’ home run power hasn’t exploded until this year so it may be prudent to see if he can produce something similar in either High-A or Double-A first.

Matias has a long ways to go. But for a Royals system that’s dearth of top-end prospects, and for fantasy owners who are looking for a breakout player who could provide them pop for years to come, Matias certainly is an enticing and exciting prospect.

But let’s take his success with a grain of salt. He’s still just a teenager in Single-A, and he has a long way to go before he makes it to the show.