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Players the Royals should look for early in the draft

Who the Royals would be best to take

2014 MLB Draft Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

In April, what seems like way more than a month ago, I wrote about guys that fit the Royals organizational mold for the upcoming draft. As you can imagine it’s toolsy prep hitters, and high floor college pitchers. Not that those are a bad thing, just that those types of players just haven’t worked out in the past few years for the team. Is that because of the players selected or because of their development? Would they have been better prospects in a different organization? That’s tough to answer, but I think it’s pretty clear the organization has some draft and development issues under this current scouting department.

I’ll expand a little more at some point on players you should know for the draft (probably the first 25-30 picks), but for now I want to just look at some guys I like overall for the Royals.

Keston Hiura - 2B/OF, University of California-Irvine

I’ll just copy what I wrote about Hiura during my state of the farm piece a few weeks ago:

I was a big fan of both Forrest Wall and Ian Happ. It’s outside the box to take a second baseman in the first round (typically the thought is that they’ll end up centerfielders - like Mookie Betts and Billy Hamilton, though Hamilton was a shortstop), especially prep second basemen. Happ has destroyed minor league pitching and two years after being drafted he looks ready for the majors. Wall stumbled a bit last year after strong prior seasons but has rebounded since. I think second basemen could be undervalued in the draft, mainly because they are seen as lesser than their shortstop counterparts. However I don’t like second bsemen guys for their glove, but because those dudes can usually hit (Happ and Wall both had great hit tools). There is a similar hitter in the draft this year out of U.C. Irvine in Keston Hiura.

Hiura can hit, and if he were an outfielder or third basemen he’d be in consideration I think to go in the top 5-10 of the draft. Unfortunately he is a second baseman only and to make matters worse some feel he will need Tommy John surgery. Teams have been more willing to take pitchers who need or have recently had TJS, so why not a second baseman perhaps? Regardless of the pending surgery, I think nabbing him at #14 overall, letting him get his feet wet in Advanced Rookie ball (Idaho Falls), and then having him have the surgery during the winter would make sense. He’s hit extremely well this year so far, so there might be a chance he isn’t at #14 when the Royals pick, but if he’s there, the Royals may finally have a player that can solidify second base for them some day.

Hiura is hitting .442 for the Anteaters while leading his team in home runs with eight. He has 30% more walks than anyone else in the conference and leads the entire NCAA division 1 in OBP.

He's the best hitter in this draft I think, and while no pick is a sure thing, I'd be surprised if he didn't end up with at least a career 100 wRC+, I'm that bullish on his bat. I'd take him then figure out where to play him later.

Evan White - 1B, University of Kentucky

College first basemen often don’t fare too well, which is why you don’t see them taken in the first round that much. Just three have been taken in round one since 2011 - Chris Shaw (2015), Casey Gillaspie (2014), and CJ Cron (2011).

However, Evan White isn’t really your typical college first baseman. Defensively he’s very good and he might be the best overall defender at any position to go in the first few rounds. However first base defense isn’t all that important. White is really athletic and a team would be wise to move him to an outfield spot because he has above-average speed too with an above-average arm. Kentucky just loved his defense at first so much that he stayed in the dirt all year.

Another strange thing with White that will get mentioned often is that he throws left but bats right. He’s one of the better pure hitters in the draft but he’s also lacking that prototypical first base power, grading at a 45 with raw power. That’s not going to work at first base no matter how good his defense is, but White should be able to find a home in the outfield.

I’m not sure if he or Hiura is my #1 target for the Royals at pick #14, but White might be the best defender and best hitter to go early and he’s a pretty damn good runner to boot.

Tristan Beck - RHP, University of Stanford

Would you believe me if I told you an elite baseball school like Stanford has only had three successful MLB players in the past ten years - Stephen Piscotty, Drew Storen, and Jason Castro, with maybe Cal Quantrill a possibility to be the fourth? I would almost certainly never take a hitter from Stanford given how bad that program messes with their players swings (Stanford emphasizes level swings to the opposite field - a power sapping approach) but pitchers are a bit more safe. Sure, Mark Appel might be the highest profile pitcher from Stanford the past decade, but he has had some odd injuries have kept him from reaching his potential.

What I like about Beck is that he has the best changeup in the draft, grading out at a 60 on the 20-80 scale. There’s also a decent fastball (50/55) and curve that’s not far behind the changeup (50/55). To round it all together he also has some of the best command in the draft. As a freshman last year he was throwing four above-average pitches and striking out almost a batter per nine.

Normally Beck would be among the first ten picks but he hasn’t played at all this season. Yes, I know, that’s a huge red flag, particularly for a pitcher. He suffered a stress fracture in his back and no one has seen him throw this spring. That’s a little odd for a draft-eligible player to not try to throw at all leading up to the draft (particularly since it’s not an injury to his arm/shoulder) but this has led some teams to believe he has a deal with a MLB club already in place (like his teammate Cal Quantrill had with the Padres - they pick at #3 and #39 this year).

I don’t like Beck at 14th but I do like him at #52 overall (though it’s unlikely he falls that far) and then certainly at #73.

Sam Carlson - RHP, Burnsville HS, Minnesota

Call me lukewarm on the Royals taking a prep pitcher early given their development issues of such players. I like Carlson probably the most out of the foreseeable prep pitchers that will still be around at #14. He is from a cold-weather state which dings him a bit but I like that he isn’t just an arm speed/100-MPH fastball guy. The fastball still runs up to the mid-90’s but most importantly he has a solid current changeup that projects to be plus and good command of both pitches. He’s still fiddling around with his breaking ball, a mold of a slider/curve but I guess I can’t ask for the world at pick #14.

Mark Vientos - SS/3B, American Heritage HS, Florida

There are central points I focus on when looking at draft prospects and prospects overall, and age is one of the central tenets. Vientos is going to be one of the youngest guys drafted in the first few rounds and that generally bodes well for success (where 19-year old prep guys generally don’t).

Vientos could definitely sell jeans and he’ll get stronger as he ages. I think the body is comparable to Carlos Correa at the same age (though Vientos is a bit bigger going from memory). Obviously Correa was a better prospect in their draft years but there is a lot to like with Vientos future. That’s the key word: “future.” The hit tool presently isn’t strong but there is raw power now and he gets to it in games. He’s not a shortstop long-term but even moving to third base will be a just fine outcome if he ends up as the 6’4 220 lb. power monster he potentially could be.

If the Royals want him, it would have to be at #14.

Heliot Ramos - OF, Martinez HS, Puerto Rico

First off: top ten draft name perhaps of all time.

Ramos is a bit like Vientos where he’s a super young but raw hitter with impressive tools. The bat is the big question mark as athletically he’s a great package. I prefer Vientos to Ramos and I’d be hesitant to pull the trigger on Ramos at #14 unless a lot of the names on my draft board went ahead of him unexpectedly.

Ryan Vilade - 3B Stillwater HS, OK

Vilade of course is committed to Oklahoma State and of course his father coaches there. He will be a fresh 18-year old come draft time but some organizations think he’s very advanced for his age due to the tutelage of his father and those around him. I’m hesitant to jump on things like that but it’s at least not a negative (Dayton Moore has said he considers such things to be very important in their decision making process in drafting - Luke Farrell comes to mind).

He is about what you expect for a prep hitter at his age. The hit tool has some work to do and he’ll learn through reps at the professional level. The power is above average right now and you could expect it to get a little better when he fills out. Defensively, third base will ultimately be his home and he’s good enough there.

Vilade did poorly this past summer in the showcase circuit but has rebounded a bit this fall/spring. I’m more in on Vilade in the second round than at #14.

Blayne Enlow - RHP, St. Amant HS, Louisiana

Yeah I know, two prep pitchers when I’ve argued time and time again that the Royals should stop taking prep pitchers early. However I’m writing this article from a development neutral standpoint.

Enlow is another young guy and though he has a pretty damn good fastball he’s not all grip-it and rip-it. Enlow had the highest spin rate on his curveball this spring too. There’s going to need to be development, like all prep pitchers, but he’s not super raw like Ashe Russell. If he ends up attending LSU, he’s probably going to be a top ten pick three years from now.

Logan Warmoth - SS, University of North Carolina

Early on in the spring I was a bit lukewarm on Warmoth but I’ve come around a bit on him. His defense isn’t a lock for him to stay at shortstop, but a team could just take the Rays philosophy and say “screw it” and live with the “meh” defense there in exchange for the bat.

I like the fact that he’s a college guy that doesn’t need a ton of work, and though he’s not going to be some 140 wRC+ monster at SS, the power is decent and he’ll make enough contact to be a ~100 wRC+ guy while getting on base a bit. Maybe that’s a Brad Miller-esque profile with less strikeouts, and that would be a good pick.

I really only like him as a shortstop, so if the Royals take him at #14, they need to keep him there regardless of the defense.