It’s that time again that I bring up how the MLB draft gets much less fanfare than its NFL and NBA counterparts, for many reasons. Still, I find it interesting that people can name the past ten Heisman winners but can’t name any Golden Spikes winners (yes, I know that NFL draftees make an impact sooner - I get it).
Anyways, I’ll be enjoying the draft from the moonlight banks of the Dotombori River in Osaka, although it will be eight in the morning. Here are a few names to know that could be in play for when the Royals select at #18, #33, #34 or #40 (on Monday I’ll give you some of my favorite potential draft picks the Royals should take a look at). It’s pretty clear what the Royals are going for - a prep hitter or pitcher - and I’d guess they lean the latter - so I’d be shocked if they took a college guy at 18th pick overall.
SS/3B Jeremiah Jackson, St. Luke’s Episcopal HS (Alabama)
Even though Jackson won’t likely go in the first round, he’s been strongly linked to the Royals, so why not start here. Alabama infielders are a rare sight on day one despite being in a hotbed of baseball activity. Jackson isn’t a surefire player to stay at short, but it’s a non-zero chance, and if not he’ll move either right to second base or left to third base. He’s athletic, makes good contact, and has a little power for a guy as wiry as he is. If the Royals go with him, it’ll likely be in the compensation round or competitive balance pick.
OF Jordyn Adams, Green Hope HS (North Carolina)
Adams definitely fits the mold of what the Royals like to go with as an toolsy, multi-sport athlete with plus speed and some emerging raw power. Adams has a football scholarship to UNC (where it's rumored he’s most interested in playing), as he’s the #72 football prospect in the nation. Adams really came onto the scene this spring with a strong showing in one of the premier prep events (NHSI) that was coincidentally hosted in his hometown. The concerns range over his ultimate hit tool given how raw he is and what the power will be. He’s an insane athlete with top of the scale speed and with reps can be an above average centerfielder. We’ve seen this profile bust before, and admittedly I’d look elsewhere if I were in Dayton Moore’s shoes, but it’s tantalizing with the right development.
1B Triston Casas, American Heritage HS (Florida)
Yes, you may recognize the high school Casas is from and who came from there. Casas would join Eric Hosmer as first basemen taken in the first round by the Royals from American Heritage. Casas isn’t going to be taken nearly as high (I’d prefer him more at 33/34 than at 18th) and doesn’t have the same shine Hosmer did.
Still, he’s from one of the best prep programs in the country, in a state that plays nearly year-round. Casas has been seen for years now by scouts and has been highly decorated in his prep “career.” He has a ton of power and projects to hit for a decent average to boot. He’s not particularly athletic (he looks unnatural in the box - but so does Aaron Judge) and isn’t a total zero at the cold corner, his bat is the only thing he has to worry about.
Prep first basemen taken early rarely happen, and it doesn’t often work out (relative to your typical draft prospect), and I like Casas more in the comp round or second than the first. Casas reclassified, and moved up a year to be draft-eligible next week.
SS/2B Xavier Edwards, North Broward Prep (Florida)
Edwards is a Vanderbilt commit who I don’t think is going to make it to campus - I’d bet against such a fate for anyone taken on day one. Edwards puts stars in the Royals eyes from his “gamer” profile as someone who can be a quick, slappy leadoff hitter who plays up the middle well. Edwards is extremely quick and loose, who is defensively smooth but lacks any power. He should be a big threat any time he reaches base. Picture a faster Ramon Torres or Jarrod Dyson on the infield, with maybe a little less raw power.
3B Nolan Gorman, O’Connor HS (Arizona)
It seems like it is rare recently (and I might be misremembering) that a prep infielder has best in class power for the draft, but Gorman does, with some even giving him an 80 grade on power. He won several prep home run derbies (including the one my boy Chase Vallot won) and has some tape measure batting practice shots. Gorman has impressive bat speed for a guy who isn’t quite as quick twitch/athletic framed.
The power is impressive, awe inspiring, and tantalizing, but there are two major concerns. First, he was considered the best prep bat not too long ago but the hit tool regressed a bit and he didn’t hit that well against underwhelming competition. Second, he has breaking ball recognition issues. He’s well built for a guy who will be just barely over 18 on draft day and as he fills out, the concerns about moving across the diamond to first will get louder.
Scouts had these exact same concerns with Braves prospect Austin Riley, who was from a better region and didn’t go early in the first, but Riley worked on his size and defense to the point now where he might even be something of an average defender at the hot corner. I don’t think Gorman will ever be Riley’s size (seriously Riley is a tank of a dude), so it isn’t as huge of a concern. The contact issues remains for now, regardless of his size.
3B Jordan Groshans, Magnolia HS (Texas)
The other first round prep third baseman with a last name that starts with a “G”, Groshans offers a little more well rounded package than Gorman. While he doesn’t have the elite power, Groshans could be all 50’s/55’s across the board.
Classic, easy right handed swing that geared for contact, but still has innate average or better power that he could tap into as he grows and with a little swing adjustment. Defensively, Groshans has an above-average arm (pitched in high school - but it feels like everyone does) and average or so defense and average or so speed. There’s a lot to like with Groshans, even if his tools don’t jump out the page and kiss you. I prefer Groshans to Gorman, personally, and like Groshans overall.
RHP Jackson Kowar, University of Florida
Another year, another draft where Florida has a few pitchers that are going to go on day one. Another year as well a solid pitcher becomes a second name despite being a very quality prospect himself. Kowar was stuck behind 2017 first-round pick Alex Faedo and potential 2018 first-round pick Brady Singer in the Gators’ rotation last year, and was stuck behind Singer again this year.
Kowar’s delivery is smooth, bumps a fastball in the high-90’s paired with a plus changeup that gives him two above-average pitches but there isn’t that much of a third with his curveball and his command is just average-ish.
It’s rare to be able to project further size from a more polished college guy at a big school, but you can squint and see him filling out a bit more. He’s not a safe pick, and if the curveball doesn’t come around a bit more he’ll carry above-average reliever risk (which wouldn’t be the worst outcome as he’d make a good one). He’s been injured in the past, but the most serious one (a lung collapse) isn’t arm-related.
RHP Kumar Rocker, North Oconee HS (Georgia)
Frame-wise, Rocker might look like a young Miguel Sano (his father is former NFL player Tracy Rocker), which helps fuel the mid-90’s fastball that can touch 98. He packages the plus fastball with an above-average to plus slider and good control for a prep guy who throws as hard as he does.
Rocker was at one point the best prep pitcher in the class, but injuries (a hamstring) and being outperformed will move him to later in the first round. Rocker is committed to Vanderbilt, so it’s conceivable a guy as raw as him could go to an elite school and re-enter the draft three years from now back to where he started last summer. I think he’d be wise to just get his pro career started now and not risk possible injury/attrition. The Royals track record of developing raw prep guys is pretty poor. I’d also bet he’s not a racist like the last pitcher with the surname of Rocker.
SS Brice Turang, Santiago HS (California)
You might recognize Turang’s name. While he wasn’t on the Bryce Harper/Stephen Strasburg/David Price level of slam dunk #1 overall pick, he was the clear leader at one point, especially amongst high schoolers at least. Turang’s stock has dropped as he’s looked underwhelming for long stretches both at the plate in the field. Not bad per se, but not what you’d expect for a guy you’d potentially put your job on the line for by taking him with the first overall pick.
Turang is a good defender at shortstop with salsa dancer-esque movements, has good contact skills, and above-average speed and arm. There’s some optimism he could even add power despite his thin frame.
There’s a bit of prospect fatigue already with him. He’s been seen and talked about so much that he was given almost unreachable expectations. If Turang had never stepped on a field prior to this spring and then performed the way he did, he’d be a guy with extreme helium rather than extreme oxygen (I don’t know whatever would make a balloon not float - lead?).
If last year you said the Royals might have a shot at Turang, you would have thought either “man, the 2017 Royals must have been terrible” or “oh great, teams can trade draft picks now.” Instead, here we are, a week out from the draft and Turang could still be around when the turn comes around.
LHP Ryan Weathers, Loretto HS (Tennessee)
Weathers is was a standout basketball player who can bump low-to-mid 90’s with two average or slightly better secondary pitches in a curveball/change. All of that is wrapped up with average or better command, making Weathers an ultra-polished (as much as a prep guy can be) pitcher who could move up the ranks quickly.
Weathers is a bit “soft”, not in the stupid mental/charismatic tough guy sense, but in his body type, which helps lay the foundation of him just being who he is at this point. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything - it’s not like there aren’t any soft bodied success pitchers - just that his frame is filled out and worth keeping an eye on. Weathers father is 19-year veteran reliever David Weathers, who had a career 7.59 ERA against the Royals.
RHP Cole Wilcox, Heritage HS (Georgia)
I’m a big fan of Wilcox, so excuse me if I drool a bit here. I’m not a fan of the Royals taking a prep pitcher with their first pick given their developmental history, but there is just too much to like about Wilcox. There’s also a decent chance he isn’t even available to the Royals at 18th, but a guy can dream.
There are two things that stand out to me about Wilcox. First, he’s mid-90’s on his fastball, touching 98 MPH, one of the higher readings in the class. Secondly, he has one of the best, if not the best, changeup by a high school pitcher in the draft.
You can throw a flag on his delivery perhaps, his command is good but not great, and he’s not necessarily young for a prepster, but he checks many boxes for me.
RHP Cole Winn, Orange Lutheran HS (California)
Yes, this draft features two prep righties that should go near each other whose first names are Cole and last names start with a “W” and an “I” (both from hotbed states too).
Winn is a polished (as polished as a high school kid can be) with a good fastball/curve mix, a developing changeup, and all tied together with good command. I’m not sure Winn is around at 18th when the Royals pick, but if he is then he’s squarely in their sights as he’s the type they’ve taken before in Foster Griffin, who was from the other side of the coast in Florida.