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The Royals 2011 draft: Five years later

How did the Royals do?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Major League Draft is really for diehard fans. Unlike the NFL and NBA drafts, where college athletes that have been household names with plenty of ESPN coverage for years get selected, then make immediate impacts the following season in the pros, the MLB draft is a slow burn. Their draft is littered with prep players from high school, college players from tiny schools you have never heard of, and at best, stars from big time college programs you may have quite once or twice on a spring Saturday afternoon on ESPN2. Once selected, the players are mostly forgotten, stuffed away in the recesses of your mind, and if you're lucky, you'll see them come up several years later in a September game once rosters have expanded.

For baseball drafts, five years is about the time you will begin to see the fruits of your labor. Most top prospects will spend 2-4 years in the minor leagues, before making their debut in "The Show." With that in mind, we should be starting to see the results of the 2011 draft come to the big leagues. Let's take a look back at that draft class, five years later.

Sixty players were taken in the first round and supplemental round of the 2011 draft. Of those, 31 have already reached the big leagues. Infielder Anthony Rendon (6th overall pick, Washington) has played the most games at 375. Pitcher Jose Fernandez (14th, Florida) has the most Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference, with 11.1. Four draft picks - Fernandez, Gerrit Cole (1st, Colorado), Sonny Gray (18th, Oakland), and Joe Panik (29th, San Francisco)  - have been All-Stars. Francisco Lindor (8th, Cleveland), finished second in Rookie of the Year voting last year. Trevor Story (45th, Colorado) has been the best rookie this year. Jackie Bradley, Jr. (40th, Boston) has been one of the top players this year. Others like George Springer (11th, Houston) and Kolten Wong (22nd, St. Louis) have become solid starters.

The Royals held the fifth overall pick. They had hoped to select one of the top pitchers. Gerrit Cole of UCLA was likely to go #1 overall to Pittsburgh. His teammate Trevor Bauer, Danny Hultzen of the University of Virginia, and Oklahoma prep pitcher Dylan Bundy all had a chance to fall to the Royals at #5. But the Mariners selected the lefty Danny Hultzen, Arizona selected Bauer, and Baltimore grabbed Bundy. It was probably for the best, since Bundy and Bauer both were wary of being selected by the Royals because of Kansas City's disapproval of long toss training programs.

The surprise was the player left on the board - Anthony Rendon. The Rice third baseman was at one time considered the consensus top player in the draft, but a shoulder injury and a decline in power caused his stock to fall. Oklahoma prep pitcher Archie Bradley was still on the board, the best pitcher left available to a franchise that stressed pitching as the "currency of baseball."

Also sitting on the board was perhaps the best high school baseball player in Kansas history. Derek "Bubba" Starling, a gifted five-tool athlete, played right in the Royals' backyard, in the suburb of Gardner. Starling could have potentially been drafted as a pitcher. He could have taken a football scholarship to play quarterback at Nebraska. But what the Royals saw was a future centerfielder.

Starling is the best athlete, bar none, in this year's draft, and one of the best in any recent draft. If you want five tools, this is the place to shop. Starling has explosive bat speed and above-average raw power that will become plus in time; right now, he tends to drift forward at the plate, robbing himself of a little power because his weight is on his front foot too early. He's a plus-plus runner who led all players at last year's Area Code Games in 60 times, and it translates to easy range in center.

-Keith Law

The choice was almost out of their hands. Fans remembered that the Royals had overlooked local talent like Albert Pujols. They demanded the team take Starling. The Royals complied.

Starling was immediately ranked as one of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball, and he did not disappoint with his performance, hitting .275/.371/.485 in 53 games in Rookie ball with Burlington in 2012. His average fell off the next year in Lexington, but the power and walks were still there, and he hit .241/.329/.398 with 13 HR and 22 steals. But there was a creeping problem - strikeouts. Bubba struck out 128 times in Lexington. The next year in Wilmington, he would strike out 150 times, well over once per game. His offensive numbers took a big tumble - .218/.304/.338. Fans began to whisper "bust."

The Royals had Starling repeat Wilmington in 2015, but just for 12 games. They promoted him after he tore up the Carolina League, and he had mixed results in AA Northwest Arkansas, hitting .274/.330/.440. It is early this year, but Starling's numbers have taken a big tumble this year, with his average below the Mendoza Line with a strikeout rate over 36%. The Royals contend his glove is "big league ready" and expected him make his Major League debut in 2016 with an eye towards competing for a big league starting job in 2017. His slow start now puts that in jeopardy, and the clock is ticking for the outfielder, who turns 24 this August.

In the second round, the Royals selected catcher Cameron Gallagher, a high schooler out of Pennsylvania with power potential. But he has never hit much in the minor leagues, and despite being a Carolina League All-Star, it does not look like he will be anything more than a backup. Bryan Brickhouse was a right-handed pitcher taken from a Houston-area high school, but Tommy John surgery gave him a setback and he pitched just 15 innings last season. Kyle Smith was taken in the fourth round out of a Florida high school, and was later traded to Houston for outfielder Justin Maxwell. First baseman Patrick Leonard, another Houston area high schooler, was also traded, as part of the James Shields trade.

Round Pos. Player 2016 Level 2016 Stats Could have taken
1 OF Bubba Starling AA .195/.282/.376 4 HR Jose Fernandez
2 C Cameron Gallagher AA .233/.337/.311 1 HR Adam Conley
3 P Bryan Brickhouse Unassigned Has not played Tony Cingrani
4 P Kyle Smith AA (Houston) 5.04 ERA 7.2 K/9 3.2 BB/9 Cody Asche
5 SS Patrick Leonard AAA (Tampa Bay) .205/.285/.265 0 HR Mookie Betts
6 P Cesar Ogando Released Out of baseball Marcus Semien
7 P Kellen Moen Released Out of baseball Ken Giles
8 P Evan Beal AAA 1.66 ERA 6.2 K/9 3.3 BB/9 Kyle Hendricks
9 P Aaron Brooks AAA (Cubs) Injured Ross Stripling
10 P Matt Murray Unassigned Has not played Curt Casali
11 OF Jerrell Allen Released Out of baseball Seth Manness
12 P Adam Schemenauer Never signed
Colin Rea
13 P Stephen Lumpkins Released Out of baseball Mallex Smith
14 OF D'Andre Toney Released Out of baseball Cody Anderson
15 1B Dean Espy Released Out of baseball Jerad Eickhoff
16 SS Jack Lopez AA .118/.152/.263 3 HR Chris Bassitt
17 P Nic Cuckovich Released Out of baseball Ryan Rua
18 P Andy Ferguson AAA Injured Nick Martinez
19 P Matt Flemer AAA (Colorado) 3.69 ERA 5.3 K/9 1.5 BB/9 Cody Hall
20 OF Terrance Gore AA .204/.204/.204 5 SB Matt Duffy (Houston)

Puerto Rican pitcher Cesar Ogando (Round 6) and University of Oregon pitcher Kellen Moen (Round 7) washed out of the system rather quickly. Former South Carolina Gamecock Evan Beal (Round 8) was recently promoted to AAA Omaha, but has had unimpressive numbers as a reliever. Aaron Brooks (Round 9) is one of three Royals draft picks from this season to have reached the big leagues, although his 8.38 Major League ERA is rather forgettable. Tenth rounder Matt Murray out of Georgia Southern is also in Omaha, although as a low-ceiling reliever.

Outfielders Jerrell Allen (11th round), and D'Andre Toney (14th), first baseman Dean Espy (15th), and pitchers Stephen Lumpkins (13th round), and Nic Cucovich (17th) all washed out of the system after just a few seasons. Twelfth-rounder Adam Schemenauer out of nearby Park Hill South High School ended up going to the University of Central Missouri and was undrafted after his collegiate career.

Jack Lopez, taken in the 16th round out of a Florida high school, is now in AA, but has a career OPS below .600. Andy Ferguson, a 18th rounder out of Arkansas State, has reached the high minor leagues with good numbers, but is now 27 and has been hurt this season. Matt Flemer, taken in the 19th round, failed to sign, but has reached AAA in the Colorado organization after being drafted in 2012. Speedster Terrance Gore was taken in the 20th round, and has made his name as a designated pinch-runner.

Reliever Spencer Patton was taken in round 24, before being dealt to Texas for reliever Jason Frasor. Jake Junis (29th round) and Christian Binford (30th) have both reached the high minors for the Royals with Binford named Royals Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2014.

In all, it does not appear to be  draft-class that will make much of an impact for the Royals. Starling still has some potential, but it is now looking like if he reaches the big leagues, it will be a Drew Stubbs-type fourth outfielder who plays great defense and has some pop, but strikes out too much to be a regular. Terrance Gore has some utility, but will likely only be a pinch-runner extraordinaire. Christian Binford and Jake Junis have a chance to reach the big leagues, but as low ceiling pitchers. At least Patrick Leonard, Spencer Patton and Kyle Smith netted the Royals some useful big leaguers in trades.

Not every draft class will be a hit and even the best General Managers can miss on players, but the Royals cannot afford too many drafts like 2011.