KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- The Arizona Fall League completed its 2018 season last week, leaving behind a month’s worth of performances for front offices to review prior to forming a roster for Spring Training.
Kansas City sent seven prospects to the Surprise Saguaros, an affiliate they share with Texas, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Toronto. Only two of the seven are ranked in the Royals’ “Top 30 prospects” list that’s annually compiled by the MLB writers, however all could have a large impact on the club within the next two years.
Here’s a look at the performance of all seven Kansas City prospects:
1. Nick Heath, Outfield, L/L, 6-1, 187, 24
Nick Heath is quietly becoming one of the most electrifying prospects in the Royals’ farm system, and his time in Arizona was no exception.
The speedy left-hander saw 88 plate appearances this fall, posting a slash line of .338/.427/.442 with 11 walks and four doubles in the process. Those slugging and on-base percentage splits are higher than Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s, who is ranked as the top prospect in baseball by both Major League Baseball and Baseball America. The two prospects took the exact same number of at-bats.
Heath also stole 11 bases in just 21 games, allowing him to get into scoring position and set a team-high number of runs scored with 21.
The outfielder finished his 2018 season with double-A Northwest Arkansas, however he is likely someone who will see major league playing time at some point during the 2019 season.
2. Arnaldo Hernandez, Pitcher, R/R, 6-0, 175, 22
After posting inconsistent numbers in the minors during the 2018 regular season, Hernandez was transitioned into a setup spot with the Saguaros.
That transition was an amazing success. The right-hander posted an ERA of 1.10 over 16 innings pitched. For reference, Hernandez has averaged an ERA of 4.38 over his past three years in the minor leagues.
Hernandez also had an ERA of 0.90 in 10 innings of work against right-handed hitters, along with a .154 batting average with runners in scoring position.
It’s hard to imagine this type of performance going unnoticed in the front office at 1 Royal Way. If Hernandez is willing to accept less mound time and continue this performance, it is likely a promotion from triple-A Omaha won’t be far behind
3. Walker Sheller, Pitcher, R/R, 6-3, 195, 23
One of the fastest-advancing prospects in the Kansas City farm system, Sheller was asked to bring his 95 MPH fastball to Arizona last month.
Sheller’s final line reads as a 9.64 ERA with five earned runs and two walks through 4.2 innings pitched. Those numbers are not representative of his performance however, as he was used as a closer in all but one of his outings. That outing included a three-run homerun and lasted just 0.2 innings in a game that saw the Saguaros allow 18 total runs.
During his closing appearances, Sheller tallied four innings pitched, no earned runs and an .083 batting average against. He was three for three in total save opportunities. Simply put: He was untouchable.
Sheller is expected to return to double-A Northwest Arkansas this season.
4. Kahlil Lee, Outfield, L/L, 5-10, 170, 20
Lee is the only athlete in the Kansas City farm system to crack the MLB.com list of Top 100 prospects, and is a player the Royals hope can act as a long-term solution in the outfield.
He followed those high expectations with a notable first half, notching eight RBI in 11 games with several multi-RBI efforts. This earned him a spot on an Arizona Fall League All-Star roster.
The second half was not as kind to Lee, who finished with a slash line of .157/.239/.229, including a batting average of .098 over his final 46 plate appearances. His powerful swing also fell silent, as he provided just one homerun in 83 at-bats. Arguably the most concerning aspect of his season were the strikeouts, which accounted for nearly 33 percent of his total at-bats (the MLB average is 25 percent).
Lee is expected to begin his 2019 season with double-A Northwest Arkansas.
5. Scott Blewett, Pitcher, R/R, 6-5, 210, 22
Blewett, an inning-eating pitcher with a devastating curveball, looked to be right at home this fall.
The starter went 4-0 with a 2.49 ERA through a team-leading 25.1 innings pitched for the Saguaros. Three of Blewett’s total earned runs came in a single inning on November 1, aside from which he was nearly unhittable. A third of his starts resulted in at least four innings pitched, four strikeouts and no earned runs.
It would be hard to imagine a better fall for the 2014 draft pick, who has already ascended quickly through the ranks. He spent all of the 2018 regular season with double-A affiliate Northwest Arkansas, and is expected to return for his 2019 campaign.
6. Meibrys Viloria, Catcher, L/R, 5-11, 220, 21
After appearing with the Royals this fall, nearly two years ahead of schedule for his first MLB appearance, Viloria continued to impress in Arizona by making an AFL All-Star team.
Viloria’s numbers are somewhat incomplete, as he split his innings behind the plate with three other catchers on the squad. What was shown in his limited exposure was a bit of inconsistency at the plate, as Viloria was either recording a hit in half of his at-bats or none, without much ground in between the two. Despite this, he continued to display excellent plate discipline, drawing a walk in nearly a quarter of his plate appearances, including a 50 percent walk rate with runners in scoring position.
Viloria’s biggest talent rests in his fielding, however the AFL does not report fielding statistics for any team in the league. Viloria finished his season with the MLB squad and is expected to start the 2019 season with double-A Northwest Arkansas.
7. Grant Gavin, Pitcher, R/R, 6-2, 185, 23
The Parkville, Missouri native provided a strong base as a middle relief pitcher this fall.
Gavin pitched 12 full innings with seven strikeouts and a 1.50 ERA. He also proved his poise under pressure, posting a .176 average against with runners on, nearly .100 points better than his average against with the bases empty.
Gavin is expected to receive a nod for the Spring Training roster in February, and his performance there will likely determine which affiliate he’s assigned to for the 2019 season.
Many of these athletes will likely be added to the Royals 2019 Spring Training roster, which will be announced in early February.