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The 2013 Royals draft class: Five years later

The Royals gamed the system and it worked.

Tampa Bay Rays v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Picking early isn’t a guarantee of success, but it does increase your odds of landing a player who can not only stick in the big leagues, but be an impact player. For years the Royals had picks in the top ten with mixed results. There was Zack Greinke, Alex Gordon, and Eric Hosmer, but there was also Jeff Austin, Chris Lubanski, and Bubba Starling.

The 2013 draft marked the last time the Royals had a top-ten pick, picking #8 overall. They also received the first-ever competitive balance pick, a creation of the new labor deal that gave smaller market teams an extra pick. Armed with that pick and the slotting rules implemented in the 2012 draft, the Royals were able to game the system a bit to land one of the most talented pitchers in the draft that slid down the draft - Sean Manaea.

Leading up to the draft, the Royals were talking pitching. Uncharacteristically, it was the college arms that they talked up.

“There are some pitchers at the top of the Draft that I think are quality guys. There are a couple of college arms,” Picollo said. “I don’t think there’s as much high-school depth in pitching as you typically see in the first round.”

Nonetheless, Bob Dutton of the Star linked them to a number of prep pitchers including Trey Ball, Kohl Stewart, Braden Shipley, and Phil Bickford, although prep outfielder Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows were also in play. ESPN’s Keith Law also linked them to Bickford and Baseball America’s Jim Callis emphasized their desire for arms.

The Astros took Stanford pitcher Mark Appel with the first overall pick, which would turn into one of the biggest busts in draft history. Five years later, Appel is already finished with baseball, while the second-overall pick, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, is an All-Star. Also available in the draft, taken at #32, was Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge.

Stewart, Frazier, and Ball were all off the board by the time the Royals were up at #8. Much of speculation was on Meadows or Bickford. The Royals surprised everyone by going with a shortstop from Stephen F. Austin University, Hunter Dozier. Dozier was ranked as the 39th-best prospect in the draft by Baseball America, describing him as a “Jeff Kent-style player in a Drew Stubbs body.” In our draft open thread, there was mass confusion.

But Jeff Zimmerman was onto Dayton Moore’s strategy, writing “I wonder if this is a $$$ move for the next 2 picks. Is Dayton doing something innovative?” Soon it became clear what the Royals were doing when they picked at #34 overall, taking Indiana State pitcher Sean Manaea. The left-hander was considered a top-ten talent, but a labrum injury, some shoulder stiffness, and high bonus demands caused him to fall out of the first round, where the Royals scooped him up. They would later sign him to a $3.55 million bonus, the largest ever for a sandwich pick, and made possible only by taking Dozier knowing he would take a below slot deal.

In the second round, the Royals went with another college pitcher, albeit from a junior college. Lefty Cody Reed went to the Royals with the 46th overall pick, out of Northwest Mississippi Community College, who Baseball America called “raw” but with “undeniable arm strength.” Reed struggled his first year, but became a rising prospect quickly and was dealt to the Reds for Johnny Cueto in 2015.

The next few rounds had a few steals like Angels closer Kenyan Middleton (95th overall), Mariners slugger Ryon Healy (100th), and 2017 Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger (124th). But the Royals whiffed on most of the rest of the draft class. Of their 21 picks in the top 20 rounds, only 10 are even still in affiliated baseball, and only 7 of them are still with the Royals.

2013 Royals Draft Class

Round Overall Position Player 2018 Level Resume
Round Overall Position Player 2018 Level Resume
1 8 SS Hunter Dozier AAA/MLB 2016 Royals Minor League Player of the Year
1 34 P Sean Manaea MLB (Oakland) 65 MLB starts, 5.8 WAR, 4.02 ERA
2 46 P Cody Reed MLB (Cincinnati) 26 MLB games, 70.1 IP, 6.65 ERA
3 82 P Carter Hope High A Released in 2016 with personal struggles, re-signed last year
4 114 C Zane Evans Out of baseball Got as high as AAA, but bat never developed
5 144 OF Amalani Fukofuka Out of baseball Released last year, never got past A ball
6 174 P Luke Farrell AAA (Cubs) Pitched in 17 MLB games, one with the Royals
7 204 P Kyle Bartsch Out of baseball Traded to Padres for Reymond Fuentes, got as high as AA
8 234 1B Cody Stubbs Out of baseball Released after 2015 season in High A
9 264 OF Daniel Rockett Out of baseball Only lasted until 2015, played in independent leagues since
10 294 OF Alex Newman Out of baseball Released after 2015, never got past low Rookie Ball
11 324 C Xavier Fernandez High A .687 OPS at Wilmington, but has hit well in lower levels
12 354 1B Brandon Dulin Independent league Released after 2016 season
13 384 P Jonathan Dziedzic AAA 3.25 ERA for Omaha, chance to get some starts but is 27
14 414 P Chase Darhower Out of baseball Released after 2015, never got past low Rookie Ball
15 444 OF Dominique Taylor Out of baseball Released after 2015 season in High A
16 474 P Kevin McCarthy AAA/MLB 63 MLB games with a 3.39 ERA as a reliever
17 504 P Kevin Perez Out of baseball Released after 2014 season in Low A ball
18 534 C Frank Schwindel AAA 23 HR and .890 OPS in minors last year
19 564 P Andrew Edwards Out of baseball Reached AAA and landed on 40 man roster, but let go last year
20 594 P Glenn Sparkman AAA Made one MLB start as a Rule pick, returned to Royals

Despite few hits, this may be the best draft class of the Lonnie Goldberg era. The 2011 class will be represented by Jakob Junis and whatever becomes of Bubba Starling. The class of 2012 features the always-injured Kyle Zimmer, Padres pitcher Matt Strahm, and A’s pitcher Andrew Triggs, who was given away by the Royals. Brandon Finnegan, Eric Skoglund and a pair of lefty relievers in Tim Hill and Eric Stout are the best of the 2014 class. Josh Staumont is the only member of the 2015 class that seems to even have a shot of making the big leagues. The jury is still out on 2016 and 2017.

But Manaea was a Top 100 prospect, and was promising enough to return Ben Zobrist in a pennant-push trade. Cody Reed rose quickly and became a piece in another trade that summer with Cincinnati. Dozier has had setbacks to his career, but is finally getting a shot with the Royals, hitting .264/.339/.396 in his first 16 games. Kevin McCarthy and Glenn Sparkman could be useful relievers.

The Royals had multiple picks and made the most of it in 2013. Five years later, they find themselves in a similar situation. Hopefully the Royals can make it work out as well as it did back then, but they will need to find a few more hits in the later rounds to replenish a farm system that has seen better days.