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Roster Review: 2018 Lexington Legends

Here’s an example of the diversity and promise that dots rosters in the lower minors.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Los Angeles Dodgers Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Low-A full-season rosters are finally official, and the minor-league season begins this week across the country. Here’s a quick look at some of those players who will be taking the field in 2018 for the Lexington Legends, South Atlantic League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. You can take this as an example of the diversity and promise that dots rosters in the lower minors.

The Lexington Legends’ roster for 2018 is absolutely loaded with potential, much as it has been the past few years. There are a number of players repeating the South Atlantic League, but a great many making their first foray into full-season ball. Manager Scott Thorman and his staff are all returning in their 2017 roles; Mitch Stetter as pitching coach, Glenn Hubbard as bench coach, and Jesus Azuaje as the hitting coach.

Four of Kansas City’s top prospects are starting the year here in Lexington.

First baseman Nick Pratto is the Number Two prospect in the Royals system according to MLB.com and Number One on the Minor League Ball list. Their first-round pick in 2017, Pratto batted .247 in 52 games with the AZL Royals last year. He also had 22 extra-base hits in 198 at-bats and finished the season with a .745 OPS as an eighteen-year-old.

Here’s Pratto with some spring training magic:

Outfielder Seuly Matias (.243, 7 homers, 36 RBI, .720 OPS in 57 games with rookie-level Burlington) is ranked third in the Royals system by MLB.com and ninth on our list. The 6’3”, 200-pound right fielder has shown a strong arm in the outfield, as well as slowly-emerging power at the plate.

MJ Melendez is behind the dish, and currently ranks as Kansas City’s 4th-best prospect by MLB and sixth on our list. He shows a great deal of promise defensively, and could make it to the big leagues on that aspect, alone.

Michael Gigliotti spent a month in Lexington last year, and is returning for the 2018 season. He looks every bit the part of a #2 hitter, at the moment. Gigliotti finished 2017 with a .320 average and 21 XBH and 38 RBI, and showed above-average speed in the field and on the bases. He was the Royals’ 4th-round pick in 2017 out of Lipscomb.

Joining Gigliotti and Matias in the outfield are the returning Marten Gasparini and Vance Vizcaino.

Gasparini is entering his third season in Low-A, but turns only 21 years old in May. He has taken well to the outfield, and has just begun to show gap power. He will need to become more selective at the plate (career .280 OBP, 87 walks in 310 games), but he’s slowly starting to fulfill the potential envisioned when he was signed in 2013.

Vizcaino was an 11th-round pick in 2016 out of Stetson, but has been hitting ever since; he appeared in Lexington for 42 games in 2017, batting .315 with nine doubles and 14 RBI. He also stole a combined 21 bases between rookie-level Idaho Falls and the Legends.

A 29th-round pick in 2017 from the University of Texas, Travis Jones played with all three rookie-level teams in the Royals’ organization last year. He broke out in a big way with Idaho Falls (42 RBI, 20 SB, .335 BA, .960 OPS in 42 games), and will play the whole season at age 22 in 2018.

Corner infielder Manny Olloque (.244, 18 doubles, six homers, 44 RBI in 106 games with Lexington in 2017) returns to build on last year’s numbers. Olloque’s combination of a short, direct swing path, and significant remaining physical projection (6’2”, 165), makes him a candidate for a breakout year in 2018.

Third baseman Dennicher Carrasco tore up the Appalachian League in 2017, batting .288 with 14 doubles and 10 homers while driving in 41 runs in 61 games with Burlington. He has also shown himself to be selective at the plate and a tough batter to strike out (80 career strikeouts in 460 at-bats).

Oliver Nunez will also be seeing time at third, advancing with teammate Carrasco from Burlington. Nunez has walked more than he has struck out, over his career (118 walks, 101 strikeouts in 669 career at-bats), and batted .321 as a 22-year-old in the Appy League. Nunez has also put in work at second and short, so he brings defensive versatility to the Legends along with a high-contact bat.

First-rounder from 2015 Nolan Watson returns to Lexington after struggling with shoulder inflammation in 2017 that derailed his season. He has adopted a renewed approach to off-season work, as well as aggressively rehabbing his arm, and is a prime candidate for a bounce-back year that more truly reflects his potential.

Eleventh-round pick from Penn State in 2017, Sal Biasi entered the pro ranks last year when he breezed through the Arizona Rookie League and the Appalachian League, in succession (combined 2.41 ERA over 56 innings, 54 strikeouts, 23 walks in 2017).

Lefty Holden Capps (5.49 ERA, 41 innings in rookie-level Idaho Falls in 2017) brings a fastball that sits between 88-92, as well as a change-up and sinker, and he also changes speed and spin on his slider to give batters a different look.

2015 fourth-rounder Garrett Davila returns to Lexington after a bit of a mixed bag numbers-wise in 2017 (5.08 ERA, 92 strikeouts in 125 2/3 innings, 52 walks) at 20 years old. Look for him to dramatically improve on his walk totals and ERA.

Carlos Hernandez comes to Lexington with a fastball that peaks at 96-97 and a K/9 ratio just a shade under 9 in 2017 with Burlington at age twenty. He comes to a pitcher’s park in Lexington, and with some physical projection remaining (6’4”, 175), he could push his velocity into the high-90’s, and soon.

The 6’5” lefty Daniel Tillo was a third-round pick in 2017, posting a 3.48 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 31 innings while walking only six batters for Burlington. Tillo began his college career here at the University of Kentucky, but left after the resignation of coach Gary Henderson and ended up at Iowa Western Community College.

A 12th-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2017, Collin Snider made only five appearances in Lexington last year after 24 1/3 excellent innings of relief in Burlington (1.85 ERA, 16 strikeouts, six walks).

Tyler Zuber dominated at Burlington in 2017, striking out 38 batters in 25 innings while walking only seven. He could be a darkhorse closer candidate this season. Andres Sotillet has shown an aversion to free passes (21 walks in 121 2/3 innings), and while his 6.67 ERA in 2017 may seem like cause for concern, it should be noted that much of that number was due to his seven home runs allowed over a short season. Five of those came in four appearances (15 1/3 IP) with Idaho Falls.

Overall, the core of the 2018 Legends seems to be full of promise. It will definitely be a fun bunch to watch.