2021 Kansas City Royals Diamonds in the Rough

by Matt Wiener
2021 Kansas City Royals Diamonds in the Rough

Welcome to the twelfth installment of my series 2021 Diamonds in the Rough. In this article, I will break down two hitting and two pitching prospects from the Kansas City Royals farm system.

Last time out, I took a look at some of the Houston Astros prospects.

In deep dynasty leagues, the ability to spot high-upside lower-ranked prospects before they become household names in the fantasy baseball community can make a big difference to the long-term success of your team.

To qualify as a diamond in the rough for this series, a player must be currently ranked lower than No. 15 on their team's latest MLB Pipeline Prospect Rankings.

Check out our 2021 Fantasy Baseball Dynasty Rankings to help you dominate your leagues.

2021 Kansas City Royals Diamonds in the Rough

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Brady McConnell, SS (#20)

Bats: R | Throws: R
Tools: 45 Hit | 50 Power | 60 Run | 45 Field | 55 Arm
Age: 22
Highest Level: Rookie
ETA: 2022

The Royals drafted Brady McConnell out of the University of Florida in the 2nd round (44 overall) of the 2019 MLB draft.

McConnell was a projected first-round talent out of high school, but he fell to the 33rd round in the 2017 draft (to the Cincinnati Reds) after a disappointing senior season and decided to take his talents to Gainesville. However, McConnell burst onto the collegiate scene as a sophomore in 2019, hitting an impressive .332/.385/.576 with 15 homers, 51 runs, 48 RBI and six steals over 254 plate appearances.

Though McConnell got off to a good start during his 2019 professional debut, he missed some time with a hip flexor injury and struggled upon his return. Further, McConnell's professional debut ended prematurely after he suffered a season-ending concussion in August 2019.

In 2019, mostly in the Pioneer league, McConnell limped to a .213/.299/.400 line, with five homers, 28 runs and 23 RBI over 178 plate appearances. Further, while McConnell displayed some swing-and-miss issues at Florida with a 26 percent strikeout percentage, he posted a sky-high 39.1 percent strikeout percentage during his 2019 debut. However, McConnell was also able to display his plus speed and base-running, racking up five steals in only 40 games.

McConnell is an excellent athlete with plus raw power and above-average speed. He uses his quick, strong hands to generate high-end bat speed and loud contact. In addition, McConnell is a versatile defender that can play multiple defensive positions. Though McConnell has primarily played shortstop, the Royals will likely move him around the diamond to develop his positional versatility. While McConnell is a solid defender, he did commit 16 errors in only 24 games in 2019. That trend will be something to monitor going forward.

According to Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs, "[McConnell's] got above-average raw power, plus speed, and can play shortstop (he was listed as an outfielder on the instructs roster but did not play [due to injury]), so he can still be a valuable player even if the bat falls short of average and his ceiling is sizable if it gets better than that."

Simply put, McConnell has a well-rounded skill set and underrated upside given his tools. McConnell possesses a tantalizing blend of power and speed and his defensive versatility will only help keep him on the field. To reach his lofty ceiling, McConnell will need to improve his hit tool. In addition, he will need to avoid the injury bug that has plagued him to this point in his young career.

If McConnell cannot improve his hit tool, he may develop into a decent super-utility player, albeit with an above-average power-speed combination. Do not get me wrong. Those types of players can be very valuable in deep dynasty leagues. But I think McConnell has a higher ceiling than that. If McConnell can cut down on the swings-and-misses, he can develop into an everyday player with serious five-tool potential.

Wilmin Candelario, SS (Unranked)

Bats: R | Throws: R
Tools: 45 Hit | 50 Power | 60 Run | 50 Field | 60 Arm
Age: 19
Highest Level: Rookie (DSL)
ETA: 2024

The Royals signed Wilmin Candelario out of the Dominican Republic during the 2018 international signing period.

At signing, Candelario was praised by evaluators for his smooth defense and a strong arm. According to Ben Badler of Baseball America, "[Candelario's] extremely light on his feet, floating around at shortstop with sweet hands and slick, fluid actions. He gets rid of the ball quickly with a lightning exchange to get to a strong arm and is smooth on the double-play pivot. He's a 45 runner with a chance to develop into a plus or better defensive shortstop."

Though Candelario's hit tool lagged behind his defense, he enjoyed a stellar 2019 debut at the dish in the DSL. Over 213 plate appearances, Candelario terrorized DSL pitchers to the tune of .315/.396/.505 with four homers, 33 runs, and 27 RBI. Nearly 33 percentage of Candelario's hits went for extra bases. Further, Candelario clubbed more triples (8) than doubles (7) or homers (4) and he posted an excellent .425 wOBA and 144 wRC+. Moreover, Candelario flashed solid speed with 11 steals, though he was caught as many times.

In fact, Candelario was only one of 13 players in the minors under the age of 20 to have over .500 SLG, 10 steals and a 10 percent walk rate (BB percentage). Other names on that list include Dylan Carlson, Jared Kelenic, Jeter Downs, and Kristian Robinson. But Candelario also displayed some swing-and-miss issues in his approach. In 2019, Candelario posted an ugly 29.1 percent strikeout percentage. However, he was able to counter that with his above-average 10.8 percent walk percentage.

While Candelario is a switch-hitter, he is currently more advanced from the left side of the plate. In 2019, Candelario hit .336 against right-handed pitching as opposed to only .216 against left-handed pitching. Further, Candelario came through in the clutch during his debut, hitting .400 with 13 RBI with two outs and runners in scoring position.

Candelario has already demonstrated better than expected pop during his debut and will likely add some power with added strength. To that extent, there have been reports that Candelario spent the offseason working out with the trainer of fellow Dominican shortstop Wander Franco and appears to have put on some muscle.

Spoiler Alert: I love Candelario. He has special defensive skills and the bat looks to be catching up. I have actively tried to draft Candelario in most of my deeper dynasty leagues and have added him in others. In the words of the great Eric Cross, Candelario pairs a quick-twitch swing with plenty of bat speed and uses a moderate leg kick to time pitches and incorporates his lower half well. Hey Alexa, play "goosebumps" by Travis Scott ft. Kendrick Lamar.


Yohanse Morel, RHP  (Unranked)

Bats: R | Throws: R
Tools: 55 FB | 45 SL | 55 CH | 45 CNTRL
Age: 20
Highest Level: A
ETA: 2022

The Washington Nationals signed Yohanse Morel at 16 out of the Dominican Republican during the 2017 international signing period. At the time, Morel was considered a raw outfield prospect, but the Nationals quickly converted him to a pitcher. The Royals acquired Morel in June 2018 as part of a package for sending Kelvin Herrera to Washington.

In Morel's first full season stateside in 2019, his surface numbers were unfortunate. He compiled a 2-6 record to go along with a 6.02 ERA and 1.62 WHIP over 52.1 innings, including 11 starts and three relief appearances. In addition, Morel posted a "poor" 8.5 percent walk rate, the second-worst possible rating (in between "below average" and a"awful") per Fangraphs Sabermetrics Library. Further, Morel allowed seven homers over his 52.1 innings and a whopping 14.6 percent of fly balls against him went for homers. That home run-to-fly ball ratio (HR/FB) is absurd. It is bound to normalize over a larger sample size, but may be worth monitoring in 2021. Thankfully, Morel has posted above-average grounder rates (over 50 percent) during his first two seasons.

However, as is often the case, these surface numbers do not tell the full story. First, Morel posted a better xFIP of 3.93, which adjusts Morel's HR/FB to league averages and is a better predictor of future performance. In addition, though Morel posted poor walk numbers, he also managed an above-average 23 percent strike out percentage and a solid 13.2 percent SwStr percentage. Further, Morel's BABIP against was an abnormally high .370. That will also more than likely regress back closer to the league average of .300 in 2021.

Morel has a strong, athletic pitcher's frame. According to reports, at 18 years old, Morel stood at around 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds. Almost two years later, it is reasonable to assume that he has added some strength since then.

Morel's fastball sits 92-95 mph and he uses both a four-seamer and a two-seamer. Further, Morel's arsenal features a hard changeup that sits 86-88 mph with good fade and tunnels well with his fastball. According to Baseball America, both Morel's fastball and changeup are plus pitches. To round out Morel's arsenal, he possesses a slider that sits 82-84 mph and also flashes plus. His slider also possesses an above-average spin rate of 2,550 rpm, the third-highest among Royals' minor league pitchers in 2019. For reference, according to Baseball Savant, the average spin rate on MLB sliders is 2,433 rpm.

Many will look at Morel's 2019 stats and shy away. But as you can see, the underlying numbers were not as bad as the surface numbers. Moreover, Morel was only 18 years old throughout 2018 and was almost four years younger than his average competition.

With a strong three-pitch mix, Morel has the ingredients to slot into the middle of a rotation. Morel will need to improve his control to maximize his effectiveness as a starter and avoid reliever projections. However, it is not uncommon for young pitching prospects to struggle with command. I think Morel possesses the aptitude and athleticism to refine his mechanics and improve his control as he progresses.

I am a big fan of Morel and project that he will take the next step forward in 2021 and cement his status as a force in the Royals system. Morel is a dark horse candidate to enter top 100 lists coming into 2022. His stuff is that good.

Samuel Valerio, RHP  (#28)

Bats: R | Throws: R
Tools: 75 FB | 50 CB | 45 CH | 45 CNTRL
Age: 19
Highest Level: Rookie (DSL)
ETA: 2024

Do you like 19-year old starting pitching prospects that can touch 102 mph? If so, you are going to love Samuel Valerio. If not, I think you may in the wrong place.

The Royals signed Valerio out of the Dominican Republic during the 2018 international signing period.

According to Royals VP and head of international operations Rene Francisco, when Royals international scouts first saw Valerio in late 2017, his fastball sat 89-90 mph and got up to 93 mph and he stood out mostly for his arm strength and breaking stuff. However, by the time 2020 instructs rolled around, Valerio was throwing absolute gas. At instructs, Valerio's fastball sat 96-99 mph and touched 102 mph. This added velocity resulted from not only added strength, but also working with Royals coaches on lowering his arm slot.

Valerio's electric fastball features a heavy sink and an above-average spin rate of 2,400 rpm. That ranks above some notable Royals pitching prospects, such as Daniel Lynch (2,350), Brady Singer (2,250), Josh Staumont (2,250), Kris Bubic (2,250), and fellow Diamond in the Rough Yohanse Morel (2,300). For reference, per MLB.com, the MLB team average four-seam spin rate by pitching staff in 2020 was 2,309 rpm.

In addition, Valerio's arsenal consists of a power curveball that sits 79-81 mph and a developing high-80s mph changeup. Scouts have praised the vertical break on Valerio's slurvy curveball and the pitch has flashed plus potential. While the changeup is a newer addition to Valerio's repertoire, the pitch also has average to above-average potential. Valerio would no doubt benefit from additional velocity separation between his fastball and changeup. But if he continues to throw his fastball this hard, a high 80's mph changeup could still provide a solid 10 mph or so differential off his fastball.

Like with Morel, the surface numbers from Valerio's 2019 DSL debut do not tell the full story of his performance. In 2019, Valerio pitched to a 3-1 record to go along with a 4.62 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and 31/13 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 25.1 innings, including four starts. Though Valerio posted an "excellent" 27 percent strikeout rate, he also posted an "awful" 11.2 percent walk rate, the best and worst ratings, respectively, per Fangraphs Sabermetrics Library.

However, when you dust a bit of dirt off the diamond, you will find that after allowing five runs over two innings in his first appearance, Valerio was dominant over his next eight appearances. Over that span, Valerio allowed just 11 hits and four runs (1.80 ERA) with 24 strikeouts over 20 innings. Further, like Morel, Valerio's 3.84 xFIP was more palatable than his 4.62 ERA.

At only 19 years old, Valerio is still growing into his projectable 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame. He is armed with one of the most impressive fastballs in the minors and two secondary offerings that could very well grade out as above average. Valerio is a long way from the majors. However, he possesses an incredibly high ceiling because of his elite fastball and above-average three-pitch mix.

I fully expect Valerio's prospect stock to soar in 2021. If he continues progressing at this rate, I would not be surprised if he is one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball by the time he debuts.

To uncover more high-upside lower-ranked prospects, you can access all of the articles for other teams in my 2021 Diamonds in the Rough series here.

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1 comment

2021 Los Angeles Angels Diamonds in the Rough - Fantasy Six Pack April 24, 2021 - 10:00 am

[…] Last time out, I took a look at some of the Kansas City Royals prospects. […]


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