Bubic, Lee lead prosperous Royals ranks
Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.The last generation of Royals to bring a World Series to Kansas City were no strangers
Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.
The last generation of Royals to bring a World Series to Kansas City were no strangers to winning, and winning together. The well-documented wave of highly heralded prospects led by Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and many others collected trophy after trophy during their rise through the Minors, ultimately capturing the biggest one of all in 2015 with the big league club.
Virtually all of that team's core is gone and attention has turned toward the future. But while the faces may be different this time around, the new crop of talent is following a winning trajectory strikingly similar to that of their predecessors. Four Royals affiliates won league titles in 2019, as Class A Advanced Wilmington, Class A Lexington, Rookie Advanced Idaho Falls and one of the club's two Dominican Summer League teams emerged as their circuit's champions.
Moving forward, this winning experience will provide an invaluable boost to a system that could certainly use one. The Royals have just three players on MLB.com's list of Top 100 prospects -- No. 8
Royals Organization All-Stars
"[He] has slowly but consistently won over the beliefs of the evaluators in our system," said Royals vice president and assistant general manager of player personnel J.J. Picollo. "His year was excellent. He reached the Major Leagues. Last year was a little bit of a regression from an offensive standpoint, just went through a tougher year. And then this year he got back on track and did things that we've seen him do in the past. So Nick had a good year and I think solidified his batting in our system."
First baseman --
"Excellent first impression ... really happy with what he did," Picollo said. "He does have really impressive power. We don't see any regression in his power against left-handed pitching. That was something we saw in the Draft, our scouts identified in the Draft."
Second baseman --
"It's always steady numbers," Picollo said. "There's not much variance in what he does night to night. So very consistent. We have moved him around playing different positions, and the only reason we've done that is because we think his bat is going to be ready sooner rather than later. ... We just want to get him exposure so if that opportunity comes at first base or third base or left field, he's played them all, and he's an option for us."
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Third baseman --
"He's a big guy," Picollo said. "He can run, he's got power. He's an excellent defender, he can really throw. And I still think there's some room for growth for him. I don't think he's quite done yet, even though he's 24 going on 25. I still think there's some things he's got to do that really will allow him to make that last jump and make him an everyday player in the big leagues."
"A very, very consistent performer," Picollo said. "I felt like, every night, it was two to three hits for him. Hit in the middle of the lineup. His approach is very advanced, his knowledge of the strike zone, his at-bats. His knowledge of what his strengths are is advanced. So I think that's why he went out and played as well as he did ... really everything and probably a little bit more than we expected in that first summer."
Lee's raw speed had been undeniable to anyone who'd seen him play over his first three professional seasons, but he had never racked up more than 20 bases in a single year coming into 2019. The uptick in production, according to Picollo, came from a concerted effort to further weaponize his most valuable asset.
"He spent a lot of time in the offseason addressing running form and doing things that would allow him one to stay healthy, but two to maximize his speed and three how to apply it," Picollo said. "But he did all of those things. He worked hard in the offseason. He went in with a goal of 50 bags and he got it. ... He's a pretty dynamic player and can affect the game offensively in the batter's box, on the basepaths, and then defensively in the outfield with how he can go get a ball and his arm strength."
The Royals were frustrated by the lost development time, but when Gigliotti was able to play, they loved what they saw -- both on the field and in the clubhouse.
"He brought sort of as much as you can have like a veteran type of presence," Picollo said. "He brought that just because he's always been a really mature kid. ... Guys going through Lexington for the first time, he became the guy that they were leaning on for some direction."
WE'RE NOT DONE YET! The Rocks come from behind to walk it off & force Game 4 on Saturday night! WHAT. A. GAME. pic.twitter.com/I8suFS8HoY— Wilmington Blue Rocks 🏆 (@WilmBlueRocks) September 7, 2019
"You look for speed/power combos, there's really not a lot of those guys walking the earth," Picollo joked. "And he does have some power, and he does have some speed. ... In very much a pitcher-friendly park this year, there were some good things that we saw out of him. He was able to hit some home runs. I think his home run numbers will go up in the next ballparks he plays in. But he does know how to steal a base, he does know when to use his speed. He can go play center field if you need him to. He's a well-rounded player."
"He's probably our most versatile player when you look at it," Picollo said. "He can play shortstop, center field, obviously go to third and second that's easy for him, left and right, easy for him. And he's got a speed component and he's a switch hitter. So everything you would look for in a utility player, he possesses those skills."
"He did exactly what you would hope he would do," Picollo said. "Once he settled in at both [levels], it was pretty much dominant performances on a nightly basis."
Singer's rise could certainly be categorized as meteoric, but it definitely didn't come as a surprise to the club.
"I don't think we were real surprised that he moved quickly ... nothing felt like, 'Wow, this is happening fast,'" Picollo said. "It felt like it was happening at the right time."
It was a significant statistical improvement for Bubic, who logged a 4.03 ERA as a rookie with Idaho Falls in 2018. But once again, Kansas City was expecting the leap to come.
"He was outstanding," Picollo said. "He's very mature, very smart. When guys come to us with very good self evaluation and awareness, they tend to move faster. And he knew what he did well, he knew what he didn't do well. ... He's pretty advanced."
"Our scouts saw him and said, 'Hey, we've got to sign this kid,'" Picollo said.
That proved to be a wise decision. Marklund was even better in his first season in the Minors than in Australia, finishing with a microscopic 0.46 ERA over 24 appearances with Lexington. He went with six saves in seven opportunities, striking out 44 over 39 1/3 innings. Once the Royals saw their rookie throw, they knew they had stumbled upon a tremendous talent.
"Spring Training, we had seen him through four or five innings, you don't really have a great understanding of how he stacks up against the other competition," Picollo said. "But once he got into extended spring and we started seeing him a lot, our coaches said, 'Hey, this guy is really good.'"
Jordan Wolf is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter: @byjordanwolf.