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Royals play it conservative in day one of the draft

Is this the upside the rebuild needs?

2017 Division I Men's College World Series - LSU v Florida - Game 1 Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

The draft is one of my favorite set of days of the year. From the first round to the more obscure later rounds that are broadcasted basically through only audio, I love it. I’ve been covering the draft for more or less four years on this site and I drew up my first big draft board a bit further back than that.

The Royals had a big chance to completely overhaul their farm system, consistently rated as one of the worse in baseball. They had four picks in the top 40, and five in the first 60. They had the largest pool, and a real opportunity to buy the high upside guys that dropped due to signability concerns or an injury. Instead, they went conservative, taking five college pitchers on day one (I’m pretty sure that’s a record).

It’s not though that college pitchers are conservative (and neither are college hitters). Casey Mize, who went first overall, isn’t a conservative pick in the sense that he’s a low ceiling, high floor kind of guy. The Royals though didn’t go after a Casey Mize type, a potential #1/2 starter. Instead, they focused more on safer, back half of the rotation guys.

Brady Singer, who the Royals took 18th overall with their first pick, was certainly highly rated by some sites. had him as the second best player. Baseball America had him as the fourth. There though was some variation in his ranking. Amongst the consensus top prospects in the draft, Singer had one of the higher standard deviations of rankings:

That deviation of rankings wasn’t based on variance of upside (like say, Cole Winn or Jonathan India), but instead of how different sites may rank the high floor, low ceiling types. Though he was highly ranked by Baseball America and, other sites had him right around where he went:

FanGraphs: 13th

Perfect Game: 20th

Keith Law (ESPN): 21st

Scout: 25th

The narrative was that Singer dropped, but that’s only if you stuck by two out of the six major sites. The other four had Singer going just about where he went.

The optimistic sites saw Singer as a possible mid-rotation or higher arm who had a good season in the best baseball conference, good stuff, little injury history and is a competitor on the mound. The less optimistic side sees him as a guy with a weird delivery, average-ish stuff, didn’t strike out many in college, and is lacking a third pitch.

In fact, if you read two different capsules about him, you might be thinking they are speaking about two completely different players.

Scouting grades: Fastball: 65 | Slider: 60 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 55 | Overall: 55

Singer has been able to pitch with such top college talent like A.J. Puk, the No. 6 overall pick in 2016, and Alex Faedo, who went No. 18 last June, at the University of Florida. After playing a pivotal role in helping the Gators win a national title, and pitching better than Faedo in many ways, it’s now Singer’s turn to be the Florida ace. At first it seemed like Singer would have the chance to be the No. 1 overall pick in the Draft, but a slow start to his junior season knocked him down a peg.

Singer checks off all of the boxes teams are looking for out of a potential top pick. Long and lean, he has a terrific pitcher’s body that has thus far proven to be durable. He’ll throw his fastball up to 95-96 mph consistently, with plus life. His slider plays well off of his fastball, a second above-average pitch he manipulates in terms of depth and velocity. His changeup continues to improve and should give him a third above-average offering. He commands the ball well, gets high marks for his makeup and is a plus competitor.

Both Puk and Faedo entered into their Draft seasons as potential 1-1 selections, but they didn’t perform quite well enough to go in that top spot, and in some ways Singer followed suit. His stuff was bouncing back as the Draft approached, so don’t expect him to slide too far down boards.


Scouting grades: Fastball: 55/55 | Curveball: 45/50 | Changeup: 45/50 | Command: 45/55 | Overall: 45

Singer has performed with funky mechanics and solid average stuff his whole career. He should move quickly and be in a big league rotation. His upside is a #3/4 starter.

Singer was a well-regarded prospect in high school who got results with an unusual delivery and low arm slot. The Blue Jays took him in the 2nd round. Negotiations broke down and Singer went to Florida where he was a standout from day one. There’s plenty to pick apart here if you want to: his stuff still isn’t loud, he doesn’t get many whiffs from pro level hitters, his delivery turns off some scouts and his breaking ball is often fringy. Even scouts that like Singer think he has limited upside, but you can’t argue with the results he has gotten in the SEC for several years and with his long track record of health. He has feel for pitching and a bulldog mentality, performing at the highest levels of amateur baseball. There’s interest in Singer at multiple picks in the top 5, with Cincinnati at 5 the most rumored spot. He should move quickly and could be in a big league rotation in 2019.

FanGraphs grades are a full grade or more lower, seeing Singer as a possible #3/4 starter or even a reliever perhaps. sees him as much higher.

Variance can be good, particularly when you want to take a chance. Variance leads to higher returns, but at greater risk (a concept I talked about a bit in my top 25 prospects list). I don’t think though the Royals went after the right kind of variance here in their picks.

Rather than go for the potential stars, the Royals laid back a bit and went for the low ceiling/high floor guys (again in my opinion - you could be more on’s side).

And to be honest, I have no problem with Singer in and of himself. He seems like a decent shot to be a major league pitcher in the back half of a rotation. My problem though is with who the Royals passed on.

In an organization that is generally hurting for talent and upside (their best pitching prospect coming into the year was arguably Eric Skoglund), the Royals played the more safe bet. Not a bad strategy perhaps with some picks to balance out a other volatile players, as an accompaniment piece, but this wasn’t something I agreed with with better players I think still on the board.

I know I’m know as the guy who criticizes everything, but I made it known which players I liked before, during, and after the draft went on. I admittedly wasn’t that high on Nolan Gorman, but I didn’t think he’d be available at 18th overall, and I would have absolutely taken him there. I was high on Cole Wilcox, Ethan Hankins, Kumar Rocker, and others with much higher upside than Singer, Kowar, and Lynch. If the Royals took any of them, I’d be doing cartwheels, so this isn’t just me being unnecessarily critical.

One argument I’ve seen is that the Royals are trying to time these college guys with their current hitting prospects, but that seems like a reach. Let’s look at the Royals top prospects, per

#1 Khalil Lee: .271/.420/.395 in Wilmington (A+) with a .124 ISO and 25% K% (nice 17% B%)

#2 Nick Pratto: .264/.309/.425 in Lexington with a .151 ISO and 5.8% BB%/30% K%

#3 Seuly Matias: .247/.317/.647 in Lexington with a .400 ISO, 7.2% BB%, and 36.5% K%

#4 MJ Melendez: .263/.320/.544 in Lexington with a .281 ISO, 7.4% BB%, and 30% K%

Three of these guys have a .320 OBP or lower and are striking out at a 30% rate or higher. The one guy with the good OBP (really, really good OBP) has a slugging percentage lower than it.

Right now, do any of these guys look like true future core pieces in the sense that Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were?

Why did the Royals need to target players who are close to the majors if their best hitting prospects are probably 3-4 more years away (three years if you assume no setbacks and they move one level per year - typical in the Royals system)? Why is it important that these pitchers get to the majors before these hitters? Why can’t these hitters reach the major first?

I think the Royals should have swung for the fences with their picks, instead it feels like they... decided to round first base halfways and then decide to turn back after the outfielder got to the ball quicker than they thought.

And here is the thing: you can look at it from different ways, and just because the Royals didn’t go after the high ceilings, doesn’t mean they had an unsuccessful draft. They may have gotten a couple guys that could have fine MLB careers, 1-2 win annual pitchers. And that’s fine. But when you need to shoot for the stars and try to swing your farm system around, taking a handful of possibly #3/4/5 starters isn’t quite the defibrillation this cardiopulmonary system needs. It isn’t the high growth tech stocks that is going to set you up for retirement if it hits.