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Checking in on Shaun’s shadow Royals farm system

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Every June, John Sickels and the fine folks over at SB Nation sister site minorleagueball.com do a community shadow draft. I’ve manned the Royals org for the past several years, but was unable to attend due to taking a test that day (CFA Level I - I passed!). That won’t be a problem next June, as they moved the test date (largely in part because of Ramadan - they felt it was unfair to force folks to take an eight hour test while having to fast all day too), so I’ll take the reins back over from fellow Royals Review writer Patrick Brennan (I may have to fight him...).

In the meantime, I figured it might be worth a look back at how I’ve drafted, partly because of how critical I have been myself with the Royals poor drafting. For 2017, I wrote down my picks later that day after the community draft, taking into consideration players already selected (I also did a shadow draft here at our site the day of the draft for fun). I’m sticking with my original draft since that’s more in the spirit of the past than basing my choices of the real life decisions.

2017

1.14 - Keston Hiura, 2B/OF, UC-Irvine

Patrick and I are on the same page a lot when it comes to prospects (he’s just as analytically inclined as I am), so he ended up taking Hiura in the Sickels draft. Hiura hit a bonkers .371/.422/.611 (177 wRC+) in his pro debut, and though he basically only was a DH (he played 3 games at 2B), he hit enough for that position. That won’t be his end role though, even if he doesn’t play the OF, he’ll be a fine second baseman despite his elbow issues (the Brewers haven’t committed to Tommy John surgery for him - yet).

There is so much to drool over with the plate discipline, contact ability, up the middle position, decent speed, and potential for 15-20 homers.

2.53 - Riley Adams, C, San Diego

Adams was one of the better catchers in the draft and with all my other preferences off the board already (Blayne Enlow, Tristan Beck, Evan White, & Sam Carlson) I have to dive into my backup group of players I had at around the same value. Nothing stood out on Adams more than the others per se, but he was who I decided to go with given that he’s a good, strong hitter and I’ll take the college bat usually over the equal prep guy. There’s a shot too that he sticks at catcher with some work.

He hit .305/.374/.438 in his pro debut (132 wRC+) and played a little more than half his games at catcher. Pre-draft there were concerns of him striking out too much, but at least in his short pro stint he’s quelled those.

2.73 - KJ Harrison, C/LF/RF Oregon State

Just a coincidence here that I went back-to-back with guys who are potentially catchers, but I’d give Harrison’s odds of sticking there higher than Adams’. Harrison caught in high school but was moved off the position in his first two years at Oregon State due to seniority of Logan Ice (drafted 2.2 the prior year by the Indians). He’ll have to blow off the cobwebs of being behind the plate, but all signs point to that not being an issue right now. Worse case is he’s a left fielder if his arm doesn’t end up strong enough for right.

Harrison hit .308/.388/.546 in his pro debut with the Brewers (another coincidence here : they took Hiura in real life). His power returning to his freshman/sophomore days was the question, and it was there in rookie ball.

3.90 - Jeremiah Estrada, RHP, Palm Desert HS (CA)

After taking three straight hitters, I went after an interesting prep arm in Estrada. He was locking like one of the better prep arms before the spring but took a ball off the arm early last spring, causing his stuff to fall off a bit. The one that that did remain was a devastating changeup (music to my ears). It’s a risk that his fastball velocity returns, but there isn’t any reason to really think it won’t if the injury was just a one-off thing. He was taken and signed by the Cubs, who are typically good at this whole drafting thing.

4.120 - Brewer Hicklen, CF, UAB

The Royals took Hicklen in the actual draft at 7.15, but in the shadow draft you just jump at the guys on your list since you don’t have to really worry about the 25 other rounds and if you want a guy, this is the last round.

Hicklen was a two-sport guy with above average power, speed, and arm who can stick in centerfield. He’s a bit raw still, but hit well enough in rookie ball to be interesting to keep an eye on in real life.

2016

2.67 - Hunter Bishop, 1B

3.103 - Luis Curbelo, 3B

4.133 - Walker Robbins, LF/1B

Bishop went to the Padres in the 24th round and ended up honoring his commitment to Arizona State. That hurts a bit because we’ll have to wait several years to see what he would be for the Royals (in this alternate universe we get partial credit for prepsters who didn’t sign).

Curbelo was taken in the 6th round by the White Sox after being ranked the 99th best prospect in the draft by Baseball America. He’s a very raw, highly volatile guy with a ton of tools but needs 1,500-2,000 more plate appearances in the minors. That seems like a lot, and it is, but that puts him on track to debut in the majors at age-23.

Robbins went 166th overall to the Cardinals in the 6th round. He’s yet to leave rookie ball as he was a two-way high schooler as a pitcher and hitter.

This draft doesn’t look good, and Bishop still being a question mark hurts, but I also didn’t get to pick until the late in the second round and decided to go for extreme upside on raw tools.

2015

1.21 - Nick Plummer, OF

1.33 - DJ Stewart, OF

2.64 - Thomas Eshelman, RHP

3.98 - Marquise Doherty, OF

4.129 - Jeff Harding, RHP

Plummer had a good pro debut in 2015, but multiple hand surgeries caused him to miss all of 2016 then an oblique strain kept him on the sidelines for a few weeks in 2017. His walk rates have always been solid but he struggled to hit this year when he wasn’t getting a free pass. I consider 2017 a bit of a freebie year, but he’ll have no excuses for 2018 and needs to turn it on.

Stewart was a plump fringe outfielder who dominated in college but questions arose about where he’d play and how the hit tool would develop. The former still remains a mystery, but the latter has been semi-answered. He’s put up good numbers in the minors from a BB% (12.7%), K% (18.5%), ISO (.165), and wRC+ (122) standpoint but those are just okay for an outfielder and unsuitable for a 1B only guy. The Orioles have yet to play him at the cold corner in his career, so for now he’s an outfielder who might hit enough to be a regular.

Eshelman has the greatest command for a college pitcher of all time, and tales were spun from scout to scout in folklore-esque nature about it. He’s been decent throughout the minors despite having fringe to below average stuff on everything. Best case is he’s a Josh Tomlin kinda guy. Not a key piece of your rotation, but good enough to throw out there every fifth day and give you a decent shot to win.

2014

1.17 - Brad Zimmer, OF

1.28 - Spencer Adams, RHP

2.40 - Erick Fedde, RHP

3.56 - JJ Schwarz, C

4.92 - Sam Travis, 1B

5.123 - Dylan Cease, RHP

This is the crown jewel of my drafts. Zimmer, Fedde, and Cease are all top 100 prospects, and Travis was in the conversation often for a spot.

Zimmer has become a likely thorn in the Royals side for the next 5-6 years, bringing amazing defense, baserunning, and a non-zero ability to hit (which could get better as he plays more). He’s more like an average player than a star, but he’s good enough for the Indians to pencil him in as their starting centerfielder for the next half decade.

Adams was a extremely athletic prep pitcher who I was banking on him gaining size and strength. That hasn’t come yet, and he’ll be 22 years old next season, so it’s likely that his pre-draft ceiling isn’t going to happen. In high school he was bumping mid-90’s and had a biting slider.

Fedde had Tommy John surgery leading up to the draft, but the Nats have never been scared of that. He pitched well returning from surgery, and the Nationals moved him up the ladder to making his MLB debut this year. They talked about moving him to the bullpen to help in the playoff run, but after getting hammered in his three MLB starts they pumped the brakes there and left him off the NLDS roster. He still projects as a roughly league average starter with close potential for more.

Travis has always been a favorite of mine as a first baseman who almost walks as much as he strikes out and hits for modest power. It’s a very fine line he walks in the power department as he’s a fringe defender at first base. It’s probably 30/70 on whether he’s a good enough hitter to be a long career regular at 1B or more of a backup/bench bat who is good enough to be rostered by any given team. He’s good enough though that he should be on a 25-man roster for the next several years in some capacity.

Cease was a bonus baby for the Cubs where he got $1.5M as a 6th rounder (the same amount the Red Sox paid Michael Kopech at 33rd overall and $150K more than the Royals paid Chase Vallot at 1.40). He was a fire throwing prepster with a nasty curveball but was still very raw. He ended up needing Tommy John surgery and didn’t make his pro debut until 2015 where the Cubs molded him into one of the better young pitchers in the minors (they shipped him across town to the White Sox in the Jose Quintana trade). If nothing else improves much, he’s a mid-rotation kinda guy, but if the command and changeup take a full step, he’s a front of the rotation piece.

Schwarz didn’t sign in 2014 (17th round - but was ranked 73rd overall by Baseball America), and looked like a potential monster pick in 2017 after his freshman year at Florida the next spring. That didn’t carry over into 2016 or 2017, and he went almost undrafted until the Rays popped him at 1129th overall in the 38th round this past June. He’s going to return to Florida for his senior year and see if he can recapture some of that performance that made him a potential top 10 pick just three summers ago.

2013

1.8 - Hunter Renfroe, OF

1.34 - Eric Jagielo, 1B/3B

2.46 - Ryan Eades, RHP

3.82 Dylan Covey, RHP

4.114 - Drew Ward, 3B

Renfroe has already debuted for the Padres (while the Hunter the Royals drafted at eight has debuted too but missed most of 2017). His 11-game MLB debut was great, but his first full season was not, as he had a 96 wRC+. To his credit, he also has 30 home runs so far in his career (515 PA), tying him 3rd overall (with Kyle Schwarber) for players with less than 550 PA since last year.

I really liked Jagielo, and though his strikeout concerns were always real, he destroyed the ball in college, had good power, and walked a ton. Even with the strikeouts being there in the minors, he hit extremely well with a 140 wRC+ from 2013 to 2015 (862 PA) from rookie ball to AA. He was traded to the Reds as a part of the Aroldis Chapman deal and hasn’t hit as well since. He saw some time in AAA this year (where he was miserable), and there’s enough there that he could carve out an everyday regular role if he gets back to his pre-trade performance.

Eades had command issues at LSU and those have carried over to pro ball. This Twins finally pulled the plug and moved him to the bullpen where he has been better in AA/AAA.

Covey actually pitched four times against the Royals this year in his MLB debut season:

6IP 3H 3R

4IP 3H 2R

5.2IP 2H 4R

6.2IP 9H 6R

Not great results but three of his five best game scores this year came against KC.

Zimmer, Renfroe, Fedde, and Cease have all been top 100 prospects at one point, and I think Hiura has a strong case to be currently. I’m happy with that, even if 2016 was a total bust, and 2015 looks like DJ Stewart is going to be the best player I took that year. Renfroe and Zimmer could be roaming the outfield for the 2018 Royals, Travis could supplant Eric Hosmer, and Fedde would slot in nicely behind Danny Duffy in the rotation on talent.

I’m also excited for the shadow draft next June, as there’s a potential to have six picks in the first 85 spots. That’s going to be huge for both the real life and shadow Royals if they want to restock the cupboard.