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Royals Draft Preview: Prep pitchers

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Japan Junior High Baseball Players Practice Ahead Of Their National Tournament Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The Royals have a serious lack of pitching talent in the organization, despite using several high picks to select pitchers in recent drafts. High round picks like Ashe Russell, Nolan Watson, and Scott Blewett were all taken out of high school, but have failed to move up the ladder and impress much thus far.

Knowing Dayton Moore’s background however, it seems likely he will continue to look for the best prep arms in an attempt to rectify the system’s lack of pitching. Matthew Liberatore, Carter Stewart, and Cole Winn seem likely to be off the board by the time the Royals make their first pick at #17. Here are some of the high school pitchers that could be in play for the Royals with their first few selections.

RHP Kumar Rocker, North Oconee HS (Georgia)

Baseball America rank: 13th

MLB.com rank: 23rd

Kumar is the son of former NFL player Tracy Rocker, and brings a football player’s build to the pitcher’s mound with a thick body on his 6’5’’ frame. He was considered the top prep pitcher in the country going into the year, according to MLB.com but has slipped down some boards. He brings a fastball in the low-90s, hitting 98 on the gun. He throws his fastball effortlessly and it has good sinking action to it. Along with a fastball, Rocker brings some pretty good secondary offerings with a breaking pitch Baseball America describes as “hard and tight in the low to mid-80s with late-breaking action” and a changeup with “fading action.” Rocker is committed to Vanderbilt.

LHP Ryan Weathers, Loretto HS (Tennessee)

Baseball America rank: 16th

MLB.com rank: 13th

The son of former MLB reliever David Weathers, Ryan is a polished prep lefty with three solid pitches in his arsenal already. His fastball sits in the low-90s and he brings an average to above-average changeup and curveball to the table. His pitches have good sinking action, and Baseball America reports some scouts think he could have plus command as a pro. He is also committed to Vanderbilt.

RHP Ethan Hankins, Forsyth Central HS (Georgia)

Baseball America rank: 18th

MLB.com rank: 21st

Hankins was considered at one point to be a possibility with the first overall pick, with a fastball that ranged from the low-to-high 90s. But he missed a month to shoulder tightness this spring and has not thrown with the same velocity, although he can still hit 96 on the gun at times. He was the stud of the Team USA 18-and-under World Cup team last summer and like Rocker and Weathers, is committed to Vanderbilt.

Hankins will need to develop a breaking pitch and his changeup is average, but his fastball and projection of his 6’6’’ frame will give teams visions of a frontline starter. He is a good athlete, and MLB.com notes he “repeats his low-effort delivery well and will vary its tempo, at times adding a Johnny Cueto-esque shimmy to add deception.” Hankins could be well off the board by the time the Royals select at #18, or he could slide down boards due to concerns about his health.

RHP Mason Denaburg, Merritt Island HS (Florida)

Baseball America rank: 22nd

MLB.com rank: 24th

Denaburg brings one of the best fastballs from a high school pitcher in this draft, and would likely be a top-15 pick were it not for a bicep injury this season, according to Melissa Lockard of The Athletic. He can hit 97 on the gun in short stints, and his fastball regularly sits in the mid-90s. He has only used his breaking stuff sparingly, but scouts are tantalized by its promise. MLB.com describes it as having “nasty break and finish to it”, but it is still a work in progress with Denaburg working on different grips. His changeup “shows promise”, according to Baseball America. Denaburg could also be a draft prospect at catcher, but his future looks to be on the mound. Keith Law reported the Royals showed up big for a Denaburg start last week. He is committed to Florida.

RHP Grayson Rodriguez, Central Heights HS (Texas)

Baseball America rank: 24th

MLB.com rank: 22nd

Rodriguez has helium this spring as he underwent major physical conditioning, and he now brings a mid-90s fastball that can hit 98 and is considered one of the best of the draft. According to Baseball America, Rodriguez spots his fastball well and has good sink to it. He is poised on the mound and has a good repertoire of pitches, showing a good feel for breaking stuff and a changeup. He stands at 6’5’’ and brings a lower arm angle to the mound. Rodriguez is committed to Texas A&M.

RHP Adam Kloffenstein, Magnolia HS (TexaS)

Baseball America rank: 35th

MLB.com rank: 43rd

Kloffenstein brings a big 6’5’’ frame “built for durability”, according to MLB.com, that could fill out as he matures. His fastball runs in the mid-90s with “heavy sink” and he shows “ability to morph his sharp slider into a bigger-breaking curveball or a harder cutter.” 2080 Basebal writes he has “short but clean arm action that allows for some deception.” Baseball America notes he has improved physically over the past year. Kloffenstein is commmitted to TCU and could be a difficult sign.

RHP Cole Wilcox, Heritage HS (Georgia)

Baseball America rank: 37th

MLB.com rank: 19th

Wilcox is another tall pitcher at 6’5’’ who has a low-90s fastball that can hit higher on the radar and could add velocity as he fills out. MLB.com praises his changeup as having “fading action and often bottoming out at the plate.” Baseball America raises concerns about his delivery, described as a “low, three-quarter arm slot with some funk and recoil in his finish and a deep arm action in the back.” Wilcox is lauded for being a smart pitcher with a good repertoire and is committed to the University of Georgia.

RHP J.T. Ginn, Brandon HS (Mississippi)

Baseball America rank: 39th

MLB.com rank: 33rd

The Gatorade Mississippi Player of the Year, Ginn has hit 99 on the radar gun before and his heater regularly sits in the mid-90s. Baseball America notes he “hides the ball well in his delivery, which makes it even harder to hit.” Ginn also features a “wipeout” slider, according to MLB.com and he has a “feel” for the changeup. He is not a tall pitcher, standing just over six feet tall, and there may not be much projectability left in him. He could profile as a reliever unless teams think he can stretch out and work more innings than he is used to. Ginn is also a prodigious power hitter, finishing second in the nation in home runs last year. He is committed to Mississippi State.

RHP Linares “Lenny” Torres, Jr., Beacon HS (New York)

Baseball America rank: 55th

MLB.com rank: 47th

The Royals have plucked high school pitchers from the Empire State before, notably Scott Blewett and Charlie Neuweiler. Torres is one of the younger players available in the draft - he won’t turn 18 until this fall. He already features a mid-90s fastball, and a slider “that could be a future plus pitch, though he doesn’t always show it now.” The changeup is still a work in progress. Torres is a bit of a raw project, although he “tends to throw strikes”, according to MLB.com. The right-hander is committed to St. John’s.