The Kansas City Royals surprised most of the baseball industry on Friday by selecting Hunter Dozier with the No. 8 pick in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft. Most draft experts consider the Dozier selection a reach, but if the selection of Dozier helps the Royals sign Sean Manaea, the No. 34 pick in the draft, we might look back at the Royals day-one draft strategy as a wise one.
Craig (with the help of Joshua Ward) wrote a primer on Dozier, so please read that piece if you are unfamiliar with the Royals first pick. I think the infielder could be an interesting piece if he moves from shortstop to second base, as his bat should play well at the position. Dozier, however, appears more likely to play third base at the professional level.
I'm sure the Royals had Dozier higher than most on their boards, and were worried that the Stephen F. Austin product would not fall to them at No. 34, so they grabbed him when they could. Of course, the fact that Dozier may sign underslot may have also made the selection attractive for Kansas City.
I'll do my best to explain the slotting bonus system for those who are unfamiliar with the relatively new CBA rules. Each draft pick in the first ten rounds has a certain amount of money attached to it; add all of those selections up, and you get each teams bonus pool money for the draft.
The Royals have 12 picks in the first ten rounds, and their total bonus pool is $8,290,700. The No. 8 pick is allotted $3,137,800 of the overall $8.3 million. If Dozier is willing to sign for $1.5 or $2 million instead of the full bonus, since he probably did not expect to be selected among the first eight picks, then that frees up some money to use for other players, like Manaea.
Manaea is generally considered a better talent than Dozier, but the starting pitcher comes with some risks. The lefty has battled a decrease in velocity and some injury issues this season. Scouts clocked Manaea at 96 last summer, but he threw in the low-90's this spring. Jim Callis of Baseball America reported that Manaea has a torn hip labrum, which will require surgery, and missed his final start of the season with shoulder soreness.
Still, if the Royals liked Manaea enough to pick him at 34, then why not pick him at 8, since he is considered the better talent despite the risks involved? The reason for that lies in the way bonus pools are structured. If the Royals fail to sign their first round pick, they lose the $3.1 million from their bonus pools. If the Royals fail to reach an agreement with Manaea, which is possible, since the starter could choose to return to Indiana St. and raise his draft stock or the team might find too big of a red flag during a more extensive physical, the Royals only lose $1.6 million.
My guess is the Royals will take some more overslot players later in the draft, and will sign someone else if the team cannot come to an agreement with Manaea. So the extra money is likely going somewhere, we are simply not sure where yet.
So was this a smart strategy by Dayton Moore and the front office? Should they have simply taken the best player available at No. 8 (probably Austin Meadows, NOMNOMNOM) instead of trying to play slot games? Personally, I like the decision to spread some money around; in the absence of a dominant prospect, I'd rather the team go for quantity. The Houston Astros used the strategy well last season, saving some money by selecting Carlos Correra with the first pick, which helped them sign Lance McCullers and Rio Ruiz later in the draft. Correra was not considered by most as much a reach at No. 1 overall that Dozier is at No. 8, so it's not a perfect comparison, but we haven't figured out how the Royals will spend all of their bonus money yet either.
I also don't have a strong opinion on whether the Royals should have drafted someone other than Dozier at 8 if they wanted to draft an underslot player. I don't have much faith in the Royals ability to identify and develop talent, but I certainly don't have that skill either. Any opinion from on who the Royals should have drafted instead would be found reading and crowd sourcing other experts opinion and passing them off as my own.
It definitely feels strange to type these words, but I find myself willing to trust Moore and his team of evaluators with this decision. I'd rather cast lots with a different general manager and scouting department with this decision, but GMDM is still in charge of the Royals.
So I'm willing to give the front office credit for trying a different strategy, and interested to see who else the Royals draft in the next two days to see how else the team's money might get spent. There are certainly different players who the Royals might have selected instead, but I think that no matter who the team selected, people would view the decision as the wrong one. Of course, given the team's track record at developing prospects, that's a safe bet to make.