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Royals Draft Preview: College pitchers

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They are part of the currency of baseball

2017 Division I Men's College World Series - Florida v LSU - Game 2 Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

With the draft coming up next week, the Royals will have a chance to upgrade a very thin system of pitchers. Dayton Moore once said that “pitching is the currency of baseball”, but the franchise has struggled to develop starting pitching under his tenure. That could lead them to look for a few college arms in the draft to quickly alleviate this shortage.

The Royals have taken a few college pitchers early, although they have either been traded away (Sean Manaea, Brandon Finnegan), or have been plagued by injuries (Kyle Zimmer). Auburn’s Casey Mize seems likely to be the #1 overall pick and Florida right-hander Brady Singer and South Florida lefty Shane McClanahan seem like good bets to be taken in the first ten picks. What college arms might be available when the Royals make their selections at #18, #33, #34, #40, and #58?

RHP Jackson Kowar, University of Florida

Baseball America rank: 17th

MLB.com rank: 15th

Kowar has been overshadowed by Singer and 2017 first-round pick Alex Faedo last year, but his mid-90s fastball and 6’5’’ frame give him plenty of upside on his own. Selected by the Detroit Tigers out of high school, Kowar has posted a 3.21 ERA with 91 strikeouts in 92 23 innings in this, his junior season.

MLB.com writes that he has a “clean, repeatable delivery and easy arm action” and has hit 98 on the gun. His changeup is described as being a plus offering, although his breaking stuff is a bit behind at this point. Baseball America writes that the 21-year old junior “tinkered with a slider in the fall prior to the 2018 season, but scrapped the pitch and reverted to a curveball that ranges from the mid- to upper 70s with three-quarter breaking action that occasionally has good depth and shows signs of a third average pitch.” MLB.com describes him as a strike-thrower, although his walk rate was a tad high this year.

The Charlotte, North Carolina native did miss some time his freshman year with a collapsed lung, a recurring symptom of a condition he developed in high school. Kowar may not be as polished as Singer, according to John Sickels, but he is “a more conventional prospect than his teammate and some scouts like Kowar better.”

RHP Logan Gilbert, Stetson University

Baseball America rank: 19th

MLB.com rank: 16th

Undrafted out of high school in the Orlando area, Gilbert has at Stetson University in Florida, the program that produced Ja. He was named Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Year last year, when he posted a 1.72 ERA with a perfect 10-0 record, and has followed that up with another sensational year in his junior season. The 6’6’’ right-hander posted a 2.52 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 100 innings pitched this year, and he drew raves for his performance last summer in the elite Cape Cod summer league.

Gilbert threw in the mid-90s with good downward action last summer, but has been throwing in the low-90s this spring, according to Baseball America. MLB.com calls his changeup his best pitch, although he will need to improve his breaking pitches. He currently throws a spike-grip curve and a slider, but neither grade as above-average, according to Baseball America.

Gilbert “throws with little effort and makes his delivery look easy and repeatable” according to Wayne Cavadi of Minor League Ball. The Royals selected Stetson pitcher Walker Sheller back in 2016, could they go for another Stetson Hatter this year?

LHP Ryan Rolison, University of Mississippi

Baseball America rank: 21st

MLB.com rank: 17th

Rolison was one of the top prospects in the draft coming out of high school, eventually getting selected by the Padres. He has excelled ever since arriving at Ole Miss, following up a fantastic freshman season with an impressive performance in the Cape Cod League. Now a draft-eligible sophomore, Rolison posted a 3.79 ERA with 107 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings for the Rebels.

The 6’2’’ lefty is known for his big curveball, what MLB.com describes as “a sharp breaker with power and depth.” His fastball sits in the low-90s, although Baseball America notes he has hit 96 on the radar gun. He also throws a slider and a changeup. Shaun Kernahan at Minor League Ball writes that Rolison throws with “a heavy cross body arm action from the 3/4 slot that provides good deception and can make the ball hard to pick up by the batter.” The delivery may be the cause of some of his command issues, however.

Kernahan projects Rolison as third-starter-type with a high floor, particularly if the command issues are worked out. Rolison will not turn 21 until July and he may be a tougher sign as a sophomore.

Kernahan projects Rolison as third-starter-type with a high floor, particularly if the command issues are worked out. Rolison will not turn 21 until July and he may be a tougher sign as a sophomore.

RHP Sean Hjelle, University of Kentucky

Baseball America rank: 30th

MLB.com rank: 44th

The Royals have long had an affinity for tall pitchers, and Hjelle could become of the tallest in baseball at 6’11’’. Hjelle was SEC Pitcher of the Year in 2017, and has followed that up in his junior year with a 3.44 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 99 13 innings.

The right-hander throws in the low-to-mid-90s, although Baseball America notes he lacks a true “out pitch”. His fastball can be hard to square up but doesn’t miss many bats, although some scouts see his frame and project a bit more velocity. He throws a 12-6 knuckle-curveball, which MLB.com calls his best pitch. He is also described as having a “good feel” for his changeup, and he completes his repertoire with a slider/cutter.

John Sickels projects him as a mid-rotation starter, although his upside could be higher if his velocity ticks up. The Minnesota native has added velocity since high school, so it is not unreasonable to think some mechanical tweaks could unlock some more heat.

RHP Tristan Beck, Stanford University

Baseball America rank: 31st

MLB.com rank: 35th

Beck was thought to be a possibility in the first round last year as a draft-eligible sophomore, but a back injury cost him the entire season and he fell to the Yankees in the 27th round. He returned to Stanford for his junior year and posted a 2.99 ERA with 66 strikeouts in 84 1/3 innings.

The 6’4’’ right-hander could probably add some weight, and currrently throws in the low-90s. MLB.com writes that he could add velocity, “but he’s never going to be a power pitcher.” He has a good arsenal of above-average pitches that includes a plus changeup, a curve, and a slider. Baseball America notes, however that “scouts say Beck’s stuff has backed up as the season has progressed and his fastball has been closer to average than plus.” The Southern California native will turn 22 next month.

RHP Blaine Knight, University of Arkansas

Baseball America rank: 36th

MLB.com rank: 48th

Knight was selected in the 29th round by the Rangers last year as a draft-eligible sophomore, but was probably a second- or third-round talent that scared teams away with his bonus demands. He returned to Arkansas to post a 2.78 ERA with 86 strikeouts in 87 1/3 innings pitcher this year, and he has excelled in all three of his seasons in Fayetteville. Knight stands 6’3’’ with a very skinny frame that could add weight with a professional team.

Baseball America writes that Knight throws in the mid-90s with “one of the highest spin-rate breaking balls in the country.” He has very good command, with low walk rates each season. MLB.com writes he has a “mid-80s slider/cutter that qualifies as a plus pitch at its best” as well as a curve and a changeup.

His slight frame could cause concerns about injuries, although MLB.com notes he has a very repeatable delivery. He has been described as a “low floor” guy who could be a bit riskier than other college pitchers, although his upside could be higher with some good development.

LHP Kyle Bubic, Stanford University

Baseball America rank: 40th

MLB.com rank: 49th

Bubic was undrafted out of high school in San Jose, California, but took over ace duties for Stanford when Beck got hurt last year and has become of the best pitchers in college baseball. After a terrific sophomore season, he impressed scouts in the Cape Code League last summer. This spring, the 6’3’’ junior has outpiched Beck with a 2.73 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 79 innings.

According to MLB.com, Bubic throws a fastball in the low-90s with “one of the best changeups in the Draft class, a true out pitch.” However, Baseball America writes he “doesn’t possess a single plus-plus pitch and is seen as more of a future back-end starter at the next level.” Bubic also throws a decent curveball, although he has used his change to finish off hitters. Bubic has a big delivery that may remind some of Clayton Kershaw, but without Kershaw-level stuff.

RHP Griffin Roberts, Wake Forest University

Baseball America rank: 47th

MLB.com rank: 53rd

The Virginia native struggled mightily as a freshman, but came back to have a great sophomore year at Wake Forest. Roberts fell to the Twins in the 29th round as a draft-eligible sophomore, but chose to return to the Demon Deacons and posted a 3.82 ERA with 130 strikeouts in 96 23 innings this year.

Roberts has a plus fastball in the mid-90s with “one of the best breaking balls in the country in a 70-grade slider that has exceptional movement and depth”, according to Baseball America. His two-pitch arsenal, some command issues, and a max-effort delivery, have caused some to peg Roberts a reliever at the pro level. Roberts throws from a lower arm-angle that could be difficult to pick up for right-handed hitters.