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Draft | Story | 1/21/2022

KC Area Prospects Flourishing with Royals

Travis Ice     
Photo: Ben Kudrna (left), Carter Jensen (right)
The Kansas City area had two prep prospects who were head and shoulders above the pack going into the 2021 draft. The hometown Royals walked away with both.

Right-handed pitcher Ben Kudrna was selected in the second round (43rd overall) and catcher Carter Jensen was selected in the third round (78th overall). COVID-19 limited looks on all high school prospects in 2020, but fortunately for the Royals, they had plenty of history watching and getting to know both prospects throughout their prep careers as they both played on the Royals Scout Team during the summer throughout their high school careers.



In a recent discussion with a Royals front office executive, Perfect Game got an update on both players’ development since making the leap to the professional ranks.
 
Kudrna, who in his senior year at Blue Valley Southwest High School had one of the most projectable frames in the country - 6-foot-3, 195 pounds - was also sitting 91-93 mph with his fastball and would occasionally touch 96 mph. Most scouts who saw him projected future plus velocity on his heater (you can read Kudrna's report from the 2020 PG National Showcase on his PG profile here), and according to the Royals official we spoke with, Kudrna has already put on 20-30 pounds of “good weight” and he’s regularly touching 99 mph with his fastball these days.



On an even more positive note for both Kudrna and the Royals, the secondary pitch drawing the highest future grades is his changeup, a pitch he didn’t have to utilize very often against prep hitters last spring. Part of the reason the changeup has blossomed so quickly is because the Royals regularly have him throw sessions just using his fastball-changeup combination. His slider, which tends to sit in the mid-80s, has always shown tightness and late break. In PG looks during his prep career, Kudrna tended to rely on chases out of the zone with the pitch, but the Royals have been very encouraged by how far along the command for his secondary arsenal has come in just a short time in their system.

Jensen was more of a known commodity in the Perfect Game universe heading into the draft. The Park Hill High School product played in 24 PG events in his prep career, announcing himself with a walkoff home run in Jupiter during the 2019 WWBA World Championship, and later capping his prep career with a trip to Oklahoma City for the 2020 Perfect Game All-American Classic.



Jensen has always been carried by his big left-handed power and advanced approach at the plate. Many evaluators, including this one, saw some risk of him moving off the catcher position once he entered the professional ranks. That doesn't seem to be the case, however, in speaking with the Royals. Since getting Jensen in the door, they have been more than pleased with how he’s taken to professional development and how committed he’s been to staying behind the plate.

The huge hurdle for a lot of catcher’s development-wise is how much time and energy they must dedicate to the defensive side of the ball and working with the pitching staff. It often bleeds into their development time for their bat. That hasn’t happened with Jensen, though, as his approach continues to get rave reviews from Major League evaluators, and it helped him post a .281/.388/.404 slash line in the Arizona Complex League where he was almost three years younger than average player in the league.

There’s not a single Major League team that wouldn’t want a power-hitting backstop on their roster, and if Jensen’s catching abilities can continue to evolve, that’s exactly the ceiling a player like him has.



The Royals have always done their due diligence with scouting their own backyard, and the 2021 MLB Draft was no exception. Perfect Game got looks at Kudrna and Jensen at least a half dozen times during the high school season and there wasn't a single game where there wasn’t at least one Royals evaluator in attendance. Considering both played on the Royals Scout Team as amateurs, there likely wasn’t a team with more background or in-person looks on these two.

In an age where data is so prevalent on players, being able to have an accurate gauge on player attributes that can’t be quantified, such as makeup, will sometimes prove to be a separator in finding future Major League players.

2022 summer homes for Kudrna and Jensen haven't been set just yet. The Royals find it best to let that situation stay fluid and organic based on their development and Spring Training performance. With the consolidated Minor League alignment leaving organizations with fewer low-level affiliates, it's more difficult to make the jump from Complex League to Low-A.

However, the Royals won’t hesitate to hand either of the local products an aggressive assignment if the club feels that’s most appropriate for their long-term development. Both players are already proving to live up to their high ceilings many evaluators saw in their futures as amateurs, and if the two end up making it to the Major League level, their friends and family won’t have to travel far to watch their home games.


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