Taylor Trammell was given an early heads up he had made the Seattle Mariners Opening Day roster, but for a trio of top prospects they had to wait until the last few days before hand to learn their first big league experience would come on Opening Day.
For the Cincinnati Reds, they roll out an Opening Day lineup of three third basemen, with stud prospect Jonathan India hitting seventh and playing second base, a position he has all of five games of pro ball under his belt playing. The Florida Gator prospect has plenty of athleticism though and should be able to hold down the position just fine despite having significantly more arm strength than needed at the keystone position. He is a bat first guy with plenty of pop that will likely move up in an underrated lineup. He could be a guy that flirts with the ROY this season.
Also batting seventh in his MLB debut is Kyle Isbel in the regular season battle of Surprise Stadium, the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers spring complex. Isbel is debuting in right field despite having an average arm at best, but there is a shot he settles in as the center fielder given he has plus wheels and quality instincts that should be enough to stick up the middle. He was a third round pick in 2018 out of UNLV that saw the Royals add Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, and Daniel Lynch in the first round, but a scout with the Royals at the time told me there were people in the organization who felt it was Isbel who would turn out to be their best selection in that draft.
The Chicago White Sox get the late start on Opening Day, but the most anticipated debut will come in that game as Andrew Vaughn has made the roster and is expected to get the start at first base (although it could be DH with Jose Abreu at first). Vaughn was arguably the best player in the country in 2019 despite Adley Rutschman going first overall and Bobby Witt Jr. going second, but the White Sox were thrilled to get Vaughn with the third pick. There was no argument as to who was the best pure hitter that year, as Vaughn was far and away the top of that list, and he has incredible power to go with it. He is not the typical slugger of this generation that will be massive power and massive strikeouts, instead he is a guy that can hit over .300 and put the ball in play most his trips to the plate. Defensively he is not going to wow anyone, but the bat will more than make up for any defensive issues that arise.
Quick Report: Lee has enough of an arm that many teams gave real consideration to drafting him as a pitcher, but the Royals took him as an outfielder in the third round of the 2016 draft. He has primarily played center through his minor league career and is solid there, but projects to fit best in right long term. At the plate, he possesses an all too rare true two strike approach. With less than two strikes, he has a moderate leg kick that does get down early allowing him to adjust to pitches. With two strikes he simply slides his front foot rather than lifts it to be in a hitting position earlier. With both approaches, his bat is very quick and through the zone with a long follow through. He has solid bat-to-ball skills but the ball really jumps off the bat thanks in large part to a very strong lower half.
Player: Brady Singer
Opening Day Age: 22
2018 Highest Level: DNP
Quick Report: The 2018 draft was full of surprises that saw several very highly rated prospects slip much further than anticipated and the Royals were the beneficiaries of this, grabbing Singer at 18 overall. Everything about Singers delivery screams high arm slot, but ends up delivering out of a low 3/4 that sees the ball released almost below his glove hand causing surprising deception. Add to that the fact he has a two-seam fastball that dips and runs and a four-seam that cuts some and a truly plus breaking that he can vary between a sharp cutter and a long slider, and he really had four plus pitches disguised as two. His change is well behind his other pitches as he didn’t need to use it much to be effective, even in the highly competitive SEC, but many scouts feel it will develop to be at least big league average. He also manages to show very good command giving him the upside of a genuine ace.
Quick Report: A left-handed power bat that can just happen to be a plus defender behind the dish is definitely something to be fond of. I am usually a huge fan of catchers, although I am admittedly a little lower on Melendez than most of the industry. He has excellent footwork and a plus arm, but I am less than thrilled with his glove when receiving the ball. Despite that, he has shown the ability to command a pitching staff and has thrown out better than 41% of would-be base stealers thus far. At the plate, he has power that could become elite for the position, but the dip in his back shoulder sees him swing under the ball too often. His strikeout rate is high, and he will pop out too often to ever really hit for a solid average without real mechanical adjustments. Still, a power hitting catcher that can control the running game and communicate well with the pitching staff is always a commodity that will be in high demand.
Quick Report: Kowar was the Saturday night starter for Florida, behind number one Royals prospect Brady Singer. Now they team up again with the Royals and could potentially be a 1-2 punch in the big leagues before too long. Kowar already has a plus change and his fastball can run up to 97 and sit in the mid-90s. He has a curve that has been inconsistent, although there are real expectations it will work more to the version with good shape and command in time rather than the one that spun too often. He is long and lean, although there isn’t much expectation he will add a lot to his frame. Some are left with concern with a slight short arm 3/4 delivery, but he has shown plus athleticism on and off the mound that suggest he can work through the minor arm slot concerns and be reliable long term.
Quick Report: As prototypical a right fielder as they come, Matias is blessed with rare plus arm and power. He played just 94 games last season (his first in full-season ball) and blasted 31 home runs, but also struck out 131 times and put up just a .231 average. His bat is loud, both literally and figuratively, as he is one of those guys who fits the cliché of the ball simply sounding different off his bat. The bat is a little slow to the zone so there is some question as to how he handles elite arms, but there is also projection left in the body that suggests his power will only improve. He should be a future piece in the middle Royals order and part of one of the better trio of outfield prospects in any system (along with Khalil Lee and another who comes in at number nine on this list).
Quick Report: This is not one of the flashy or toolsy prospects, but instead is one that is “safe” and productive. Nicky looks like a second baseman as he isn’t all that big in stature, but has plenty of range, glove, and arm to play short. He will never hit for much power (30 XBH in 130 games over two levels last year) but he will contribute plenty of contact and sprays the ball all over the field. He walked more than he struck out a year ago, so he can set the table at the top of the order, or be an elite bat in the nine hole of an AL lineup. Lopez should stay with the big league club deep into the Spring, but ultimately return to AAA at the start of the season where he will earn himself a big league debut early in the year.
Quick Report: Pratto is an interesting prospect in the aspect that he doesn’t look or play like a traditional first baseman, but may turn into one of the better ones. He does not possess great size, although there is plenty of projection in his body. He can absolutely pick it at first, and might have the best arm of any first base prospect in the game, although that will rarely be a benefit outside of the ability to back-pick runners as the cutoff man. At the plate he will swing and miss plenty, but he also hits for a solid average. His hands start off low and has a leg kick, but gets the foot back down early and his hands into a good hitting position in plenty of time to do damage. There is a natural loft to his swing and natural power that suggest he will be a 30+ HR guy in time.
Quick Report: The long bodied Lynch has good actions on the mound despite the bit of effort at the very end of his delivery. He has long arms and legs, giving him plenty of extension that is borderline unfair considering he sits in the mid-90s and touches 97 with some regularity. He has a pair of breaking balls to go with an advanced feel for a change, giving him a true four pitch mix that he can throw with command in any count. The arm slot is 3/4 but the fact he is 6’6” still allows him to provide plenty of downhill plane on the fastball. He does not have the upside of the duo of Gators taken ahead of him in the 2018 draft, but he might prove to be the fastest mover of the Royals impressive draft class last June.
Quick Report: In the trio of outfielders in the top ten Royals prospects, Isbel might have the best chance to stick in center. He has solid reads but doesn’t cover a ton of ground. That said, his natural baseball instincts allow him to make plenty of plays in center, and get great jumps while on the bases. There is a ton of movement in his swing, shifting his center of gravity from the middle of his body to his back foot before ending up out on his front foot at the point of contact. This could really cost him in the power department, but his hands still stay well controlled and he has shown a knack to spray the ball all over the field. He struck out a bit more than anticipated when he was promoted to Lexington, but I could see him settling in as a very good two hole hitter in time.
Quick Report: The fifth 2018 draft pick in the top 10 of my Royals list, Bubic is the one with the widest of possible outcomes. He has a very odd delivery, showing the ball well behind his back, which has a lot of lean to it, before getting back upright and throwing out of a high slot. His bread and butter is the fastball/change combo that results in plenty of swing and miss. He also has a curve, although it is well behind the other two pitches. He demonstrates the ability to pound the zone, so there is plenty of reason to believe he can stick as a starter towards the back of a rotation, but there is also enough strikeout potential and deception to think he could be a sneaky option to turn into a late inning reliever.