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Revisiting the 2012 Royals draft, five years later

Kyle Zimmer hurt himself reading this blurb.

Kansas City Royals Photo Day Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images

The draft is the lifeblood of a small market franchise, so it is incumbent on management to get the draft right. For several years under Dayton Moore, the Royals did just that, not only landing good talent in the first round in Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, but finding unearthed gems in later rounds like Danny Duffy, Greg Holland, and Jarrod Dyson.

But as Shaun Newkirk has written, the Royals were less successful once Lonnie Goldberg took over Scouting Director duties in 2011. Goldberg whiffed on that first draft, taking local outfielder Bubba Starling in a high-risk, high-reward pick. However, he had a chance to redeem himself in 2012 when he found himself with the #5 overall pick in the draft for a second consecutive year.

Stanford pitcher Mark Appel was considered by most to be the consensus top pick, but his high bonus demands were making teams wary. The Houston Astros surprised many when they bypassed Appel with the #1 overall pick in favor of high school shortstop Carlos Correa, a pick that looks brilliant in hindsight.

The Twins grabbed high school outfielder Byron Buxton with pick #2, and the Mariners took University of Florida catcher Mike Zunino at #3. This pretty much ensured that the Royals would walk away with what they most coveted - a polished college pitcher. There were three elite prospects still left on the board - Appel, Kevin Gausman of LSU, and Kyle Zimmer of the University of San Francisco.

There were also a pair of high upside prep pitchers from the same Los Angeles-area high school - Max Fried and Lucas Giolito. The Royals had been connected to Fried before the draft, as well as another prep pitcher - Lance McCullers. But Fried was a bit raw, Giolito had already undergone Tommy John surgery and was a high health risk, and McCullers was considered a major reach at #5. The college pitchers seemed like much surer bets with a quick path to the big leagues. When the Orioles took Gausman at #4, the Royals were on the clock.

You can read from our 2012 draft-day thread that some were split between Appel and Zimmer. Most likely it was those bonus demands that scared off the Royals, and for good reason. Appel ended up falling to the Pirates at #8, and turned down their $3.8 million bonus offer to return to Stanford, eventually becoming the #1 overall pick by Houston in 2013. Instead, the Royals turned to Zimmer, who was new to pitching, having converted from third base in college. The fact he had low mileage on his arm made him seem like less of a health risk.

ESPN’s Keith Law liked his delivery, writing:

Kyle Zimmer didn’t finish strongly due to a hamstring strain, but he was 92-98 early with a plus curveball, and he’s very athletic with a smooth, easy delivery. If healthy, he’s a potential No. 2 starter, although he may not move as fast as the other first-round college arms.

Zimmer turned out to be much more of a health risk than anyone thought, pitching just 223 innings in five seasons going into this year, with a long history of injury.

July 2012 - Royals draft Kyle Zimmer

August 2012 - Zimmer undergoes elbow surgery to remove loose bodies

August 2013 - Zimmer is shut down for the year due to bicep tendonitis

May 2014 - Zimmer is sidelined with a strained right latissimus dorsi

October 2014 - Zimmer has surgery on his right shoulder

May 2015 - Zimmer's comeback is delayed after experiencing soreness in his shoulder

May 2016 - Zimmer leaves outing after one inning due to fatigue

July 2016 - Zimmer has thoracic outlet syndrome surgery

April 2017 - Zimmer placed on the disabled list with right shoulder soreness

While his stuff still seems to have Major League-quality potential, at age 25, he is beginning to look like a major bust. Looking back now, the first-round doesn't seem terribly heavy on talent. The first pick, Correa, is a stud, and Buxton is still promising despite some setbacks. Addison Russell (11th overall), Corey Seager (18th), and Marcus Stroman (22nd) all look like great picks. A few more, like Fried, Giolito, or Mets shortstop Gavin Cecchini (12th) could join them, but the Royals are far from being the only team with a disappointing first-round pick in that draft.

In the second round, the Royals took a gamble on Vanderbilt lefty Sam Selman, who was dropped from his rotation in college. Selman struggled with walks as a starter, and was disastrous in 2016, but is currently third in all of AA in strikeouts-per-nine-innings as a reliever this year. Third-round pick Colin Rodgers, a lefty prep pitcher, was off to a good start before he had Tommy John surgery in 2013, and has struggled to stay on the mound since then. Fourth-round pick infielder Kenny Diekroeger had been a top prospect out of high school, but instead went to Stanford where he was disappointing, previewing a professional career that never went far.

In just five years, 12 of the top 20 picks by the Royals in 2012 are already out of baseball. They released fifth-round catcher Chad Johnson last winter, ending his career. Seventh-round selection Fred Ford, an outfielder from Jefferson College in Missouri, never made it past a cup of coffee with High A Wilmington. The Royals never signed twelfth-round pick Jackson Willeford or 18th round pick Justin Alleman - not that it mattered, they are both done as professionals.

Round Pos. Player 2017 Level 2017 Stats Could have taken
1 P Kyle Zimmer AAA 3.72 ERA in 9.2 IP Corey Seager
2 P Sam Selman AA 4.42 ERA 33 K in 18.1 IP Alex Wood
3 P Colin Rodgers High A 3.51 ERA 28 K in 25.2 IP Andrew Toles
4 IF Kenny Diekroeger Out of baseball Alec Asher
5 C Chad Johnson Out of baseball Mallex Smith
6 P Zach Lovvorn AA 5.05 ERA 37 K in 41 IP Jake Lamb
7 OF Fred Ford Out of baseball Kyle Barraclough
8 OF Alfredo Escalera AA .285/.335/.382 in 155 PA Luke Maile
9 P Daniel Stumpf AAA (Detroit) 3.07 ERA 17 K in 14.2 IP Nick Wittgren
10 OF Alexis Rivera Out of baseball Trevor Brown
11 P Zeb Sneed Out of baseball Maxx Tissenbaum
12 2B Jackson Willeford Out of baseball Keone Kela
13 P Hunter Haynes Out of baseball Devon Travis
14 C Parker Morin AAA .195/.233/.341 in 43 PA None
15 P Dylon Sons Out of baseball Jameis Winston
16 P Austin Fairchild Out of baseball Brian Ellington
17 OF Ariel Estades Out of baseball Tyler Olson
18 P Justin Alleman Out of baseball Matt Duffy
19 P Andrew Triggs MLB (Oakland) 2.12 ERA in 46.2 IP None
20 P Shane Halley Out of baseball Jharel Cotton

That's right, the Royals could have selected Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, then a closer at Florida State. There was even some discussion of him in our Day Two Draft Open Thread. As you can see by the "Could have taken" column, this does not appear to be a very deep draft. The Royals did not hit on many draft picks in 2012, but neither did anyone else.

The Royals did find a few gems later on in the draft. Perhaps the best player from the draft class disappeared from the organization in an overlooked transaction.The Royals selected right-handed pitcher Andrew Triggs in the 19th round out of USC, but sold him to the Baltimore Orioles in 2015. The Oakland Athletics claimed him off waivers in 2016, and his career took off. He posted a 4.31 ERA in 56 1/3 innings for the A's last year, and is off to a sensational start this year with a 2.12 ERA in his first eight starts. Alec Mills is another late round pick that may have success with another club, as the Royals traded him to the Chicago Cubs last winter after taking him in Round 22 in 2012.

One gem the Royals held onto was 21st round pick Matt Strahm. Taken from nearby Neosho Community College, the lefty built up his velocity and overcame Tommy John surgery to become one of the top pitching prospects in the Royals' system, and is now an important piece of their bullpen. Matt Tenuta (round 25), Ashton Goudeau (27) and Jake Newberry (37) are the only other late-round picks still in the system.

There is still some hope that perhaps Kyle Zimmer can return to the mound and become the dominant starter many envisioned when he was taken. Perhaps Colin Rodgers can reach his potential with Tommy John surgery in his rearview window. Maybe Sam Selman becomes part of the next dominant Royals bullpen. But right now, it looks like Matt Strahm may be the only useful product from the 2012 draft. And a team like the Royals can not have too many drafts like that.