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Kansas City’s awful track record for developing pitchers looms over the 2018 draft

The draft is already hard, but the Royals are making it as difficult as possible

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Kansas City Royals Photo Day Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

If you turn on the radio, chances are you’ll hear an ad about some law firm. It is required by Missouri law for them to state within the commercial that “the choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements.”

But another thing that you’ll often hear is a qualification along the lines of “while past results do not guarantee future results” immediately preceeding a boast about the law firm’s reputable performance history in court. The point is clear: they can’t guarantee you that your case will work out in your favor, but they can point to a history of getting desired results and rightly suggest that a good track record counts for something.

Yesterday, the Kansas City Royals drafted five college pitchers on day one of the 2018 MLB Draft. They used their top pick, number 18 overall, on University of Florida star Brady Singer, and then signed Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, and Jonathan Bowlan with the 33rd, 34th, 40th, and 58th picks, respectively.

The Royals sorely needed pitching, as their minor league depth in that department was as nonexistent as a herd of soaring pegasi. And so focusing on starting pitching, despite rather stirring evidence that selecting hitters is the way to go, makes sense. Also making sense was the selection of Singer and Kowar, who were not expected to slip to #18 and #33.

I’m sure that all five young men are dedicated, driven, superb athletes. Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever learned anything ever can testify, where you learn and develop is hugely important.

And the Royals just can’t develop pitchers. It is their Achilles’ heel. It’s why they signed the now-a-pumpkin Ian Kennedy, and shelled out tens of millions to mediocre pitchers like Bruce Chen, Chris Young, Jason Vargas, Jason Hammel, and others. The Royals just can’t do it themselves.

From General Manager Dayton Moore’s first official draft in 2007 through 2015, the Royals selected 19 different pitchers in the first 100 picks. The results speak for themselves, not in a good way, but in a ‘look at Michael Bay’s new Transformers sequel’ kind of way.

  • Samel Runion - 2007 - No MLB Service Time
  • Danny Duffy - 2007 - Good Starter
  • Mike Montgomery - 2008 - Average Reliever
  • Tyler Sample - 2008 - No MLB Service Time
  • Aaron Crow - 2009 - Average Reliever
  • Bryan Brickhouse - 2011 - No MLB Service Time
  • Kyle Zimmer - 2012 - No MLB Service Time
  • Sam Selman - 2012 - No MLB Service Time
  • Colin Rodgers - 2012 - No MLB Service Time
  • Sean Manaea - 2013 - Good Starter
  • Cody Reed - 2013 - Replacement Level Starter
  • Carter Hope - 2013 - No MLB Service Time
  • Brandon Finnegan - 2014 - Replacement Level Starter
  • Foster Griffin - 2014 - No MLB Service Time
  • Scott Blewett - 2014 - No MLB Service Time
  • Eric Skoglund - 2014 - Replacement Level Starter
  • Ashe Russell - 2015 - No MLB Service Time
  • Nolan Watson - 2015 - No MLB Service Time
  • Josh Staumont - 2015 - No MLB Service Time

Only seven players even made it to the big leagues, leaving 12 that either floundered in the minors, quit baseball, or succumbed to injury. Of those seven players, three—Cody Reed, Brandon Finnegan, and Eric Skoglund—have performed at a level equal to replacement level starting pitchers, meaning their production approximates what is freely available on the minor league free agent list. Two more players, Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow, ended up in the bullpen and had a few seasons that averaged out to...well, average.

Only two of the 19 pitchers drafted by the Royals between 2007-2015 became good starting pitchers at the Major League level: Danny Duffy and Sean Manaea. And Manaea’s success comes with an asterisk: the Royals traded Manaea to the Oakland Athletics in 2015, who oversaw the final stages of his development and decided when and how to finally bring him to the big leagues.

The Royals don’t exactly have a good track record recently in the draft overall, but they’ve been relatively successful with position players. Choosing one pitcher is totally fine—you need pitchers to play baseball, after all—but choosing five is just playing with fire.

If the Royals continue with their pitiful success rate in regards to pitchers drafted near the top of the draft, three of the five arms the Royals drafted yesterday will never see the Major Leagues, with the other two ending up in the bullpen or just sort of shuffling along as non-impact starters. That’s not good enough to revitalize a Royals team that has one of the worst farm systems in baseball.

Hopefully, the Fantastic Five (or however these guys will be called) will succeed. It would be nothing short of amazing to see a rotation five years from now consisting of a majority of these guys.

And while while past results do not guarantee future results, the Royals have enough of a problematic track record that there is reason for concern.