The Royals had 3 compensation picks in the 2004 draft and the opportunity to rebuild their farm system. Unfortunately, the 2004 draft was not a very good one (as opposed to the 2005 draft which was incredible how much talent came out that year).
1st Round (14th Overall)
The Royals held the 14th pick in the 2004. That hadn't picked lower than 14th since 1995 (also knows as the "Juan Lebron Draft"). The 2004 draft was sparce on talent. The Commissioner was putting lots of pressure on teams to keep bonuses down. The two best talents were Stephen Drew and Jered Weaver-both Boras clients who would slip to the middle of the first round. The Padres went the cheap route and pick Matt Bush-perhaps the worst overall #1 ever. The Royals were linked in the weeks leading up to the draft to such illustrious names at Chris Lambert (college right-hander) and Matt Ferris (college power hitter) neither of whom looks to contribute at the big league level.
When the time came the Royals took Billy Butler-HS "3B" from Florida. Butler was considered a 2nd round talent and many considered the pick a dreaded, cheap "signability" pick. Butler's glove has been the subject of many jokes and he has gone from 3B to OF to 1B to DH and now maybe will get another shot at 1B.
Butler signed quickly and got 260 ABs at Idaho Falls where he destroyed the pitching to the tune of a 1084 OPS. In 2005, the Royals bumped him up to High Desert (skipping Low-A Burligton) where his OPS dropped to 1055. He got a little over 100 at bats in Wichita at the end of 2005. In 2006, he went to back to AA where his OPS stayed around 880. In 2007 he went to Omaha and had an OPS of 954 in 200 abs. He then got his ticket punched to KC where he posted a respectable 794 OPS as a 21 year old. Last year, he began the season as a starter but really struggled and there were different reports about his lack of maturity. There were rumblings that Jose Guillen's infamous "Babies" rant was directed Butlers way. Billy soon found himself back at Omaha, presumably for an attitude adjustment and he responded with a 981 OPS at AAA. He was called back up and Butler was much better in the 2nd half of the year with an OPS over 800.
It would have been really interesting to see what Butler would have done if he had been sent to Burlington in 2005-I'm guessing his offensive numbers would have dropped a fair amount-Burlington-even though lower on the ladder is a far more difficult hitting environment. I can't help but think that it would have done Billy some good to struggle a little in the minors. As it is, he hit like crazy at every stop and when he struggled in the big leagues, we heard about maturity issues that perhaps would have been more easily addressed in the middle of Iowa.
I'm still quite bullish on Butler and think it is only a matter of time before he starts posting some very good offensive seasons. He is in better shape this year I look for him to become an offensive force this year.
Here's how I would rank Butler against the 9 guys taken after him:
- Stephen Drew-D-Backs #15 overall
- Billy Butler-Royals #14
- Philip Huges-Yankees #23
- Josh Fields-White Sox #18
- David Purcey-Blue Jays #16
- Glen Perkins-Twins #22
- Greg Golson-Phillies #21
- Scott Elbert-Dodgers #17
- Chris Lambert-Cardinals #19
- Trevor Plouffe-Twins #21
1st Round pick (29th overall for Michael Tucker)
The Royals were not going to offer Michael Tucker arbitration. The Giants actually wanted to get rid of the burden of a 1st round pick so they signed Tucker before we could refuse and thus, the Royals were gifted with this pick which they used on University of South Carolina left-hander Matt Campbell. Campbell had had a good 3 seasons for USC culminating with a junior year where he posted a 2.90 ERA in 118 IP with 138 K/36BB. But his stuff was said to be a little short. The Royals took him and he battle arm problems almost from the start. In 2005 and 2006 he pitched at Burlington posting ERAs in the 4's while pitching around 60 innings. He got 7 innings at Wilmington at the end of 06 and that was it. He blew out his arm and last I heard quit baseball.
1st Round pick (31st overall for Raul Ibanez)
I must admit, I thought the Mariners were fools for the contract they gave Ibanez and I happily accepted the compensation pick. The Royals made good use of it. This was one of those happy occasions where the Royals actually took who I was hoping they would pick. Howell had a great Junior year for the Texas Longhorns going 15-2 with a 2.13 ERA and 166k/53bb in 135ip. He signed pretty quick and post 26ip with a 2.77 era at Idaho Falls. He moved all the way to the big leagues in 2005 pitching well in the minors but struggling in 72 rushed innings at the majors (6.19 ERA). He struggled some at Omaha in 06 (but his peripherals were good) and then became Dayton Moore's first trade for the Great Car Jumper. Howell posted a 5.10 ERA in 8 starts for the Devil Rays. In 2007 he pitched well in AAA but got lit up in 10 starts with the big club (7.59 era). Of course, last year, the Rays moved Howell to the pen where he flourished posting a 2.22 ERA in 89ip with 92k. One of the upsides to the Royals drafting poorly for a long time is that we haven't often had to endure the pain of a former Royals farmhand becoming a good player on another team. (normally they leave as free agents).
Other players taken in the supplemental 1st Round: Gio Gonzalez, Zach Jackson, Tyler Lumsden, Huston Street
For better or worse, the Royals took someone else I was high on in the 2nd round: Billy Buckner-another South Carolina guy. Buckner posted a 3.32 era in his junior season with a strike out to walk ratio of 105/23. He was known for having an excellent knuckle-curve. He posted a 3.30 era at Idaho Falls after signing in 04. In 2005, he went to Burlington where he a decent 3.88 era in 60 innings and was promoted to High Desert where his era was 5.36 in 90+ innings. But his strikeouts were there and he was fairly stingy with the longball. He went back to High Desert in 2006 and posted an excellent 3.90 era and was promoted to Wichita where his era was 4.64 in 75 innings. In 2007 he spent the bulk of time at Omaha where he posted a 3.78 era in just over 100 innings. But his strikeout rate was slowly dropping as he moved up the ladder. He got 34 innings with the big club and had an era of 5.29 but a K/BB ratio of 17/16. After 2007, he was traded to the Diamondbacks for Alberto Castillo. Last year, he had a 4.95 era at AAA Tuscon (which is a strong hitters park). He pitched 14 innings in the big leagues with an era of 3.21. He has made the D-Backs out of spring training and will pitch out the bullpen for
them this year.
2nd Round (for Raul Ibanez)
The Royals took Wisconsin HS right-hander Eric Cordier in the 2nd round. Cordier had a terrific arm with a very good fastball/curveball and a feel for a changeup. Coming for a cold-weather state, Cordier didn't get as much attention as some other players but it looked like the Royals may have gotten a steal. He struggled in rookie ball in 04 and then missed all of 2005 with a knee injury and came back looking good in limited action in 2006. But he got hurt again early in 07 and going to miss all of 2007 with injury (I think it was his arm). The Royals ended up sending Cordier to the Braves for Tony Pena. Cordier pitcher about 40 inning last year with a 5.18 ERA in A-ball. I'll be rooting for Cordier-his dad posted occasionally at the Royals Scout Forum and seemed like a genuinely nice family-but the odds are long that he will ever see the big leagues.
Other players taken in Round 2 (after our pick): Hunter Pence, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Vargas
In the 3rd Round, the Royals took HS SS Josh Johnson. Johnson has been a good OBP with no power infielder. Last year, he was 22 played mostly 3rd base for Wilmington and hit 253/399/337. I'm guessing he'll got to Northwest Arkansas in 2009 and, in a year or two, he might end up being the player the Royals thought they were getting with Willie Bloomquist.
Other players taken in Round 3: Adam Lind, JA Happ, Jason Windsor
The Royals took college reliever Nate Moore in the 4th Round. He pitched in 2005 and 2006 at Burlington and High Desert and was OK. He hasn't pitcher since 2006 and I'm not exactly sure why but assume he is out of baseball.
Other players taken in Round 4: Chris Iannetta, Collin Balester, Brandon Boggs (all taken before our pick), Ross Ohlendork, Casey Janssen, Rob Johnson,
The Royals took a raw HS arm in Round 5. Henry Barrera had great stuff but a questionable delivery. By questionable I mean there are still some questions as to whether his delivery is legal in the rules of baseball. I haven't seen it, I've only had it described-he apparently loses contact with the rubber before he releases the ball. According to Baseball American, its legality depends on the umpire on a given night. But he throws in the mid 90s with a slider and splitter. Last year in Wilmington, he had a 2.81 era in 58ip with a 78 k's and 24 walks. He should go to AA this year.
Other players drafted in Round 5: Mark Lowe, Kevin Melillo
A HS SS from New Jersey, Chris McConnell is a no-hit, all-field infielder who could eventually make it to the big leagues simple because there is very little SS depth for the Royals.
Others taken in Round 9: Troy Patton
Gilbert De La Vara was a JUCO pick who was returned this week from the Astros organization as a Rule V pick. He will probably be in Omaha this year.
The question is do you grade on the curve since the Royals had 3 extra early picks. Also, I grade the picks themselves, not what we did with them (JP Howell). I'd give the Royals a B+. Look at the 1st Round and how many of those players (even the early ones) would you trade Butler for? Verlander, Drew and maybe Weaver? Add in a few useful relievers: Howell, Buckner and perhaps Barrera and it was a good draft-even if the Royals didn't fill a couple of slots in their rotation with their "safe" college arms.