The College Pitcher Draft: It's Happened Before

My reaction was likely similar to that of many Royals fans after the first day of this draft. I did not foresee this team taking so many college arms. It did not match their usual playbook. Then again, that playbook hasn't been working that well for the last decade, so maybe a reversal in course is the way to go. This strategy seemed so outside-the-box. Maybe Dayton, Lonnie, et al. had discovered a new market inefficiency; an unconventional team-building method to spark a moribund pitcher development system.

I did not realize, though, that the Royals have done this before. There was a draft in my lifetime where they took five college pitchers in the first 58 picks. In fact, they took SIX pitchers in the first 58 picks, with one (Jimmy Gobble) coming out of high school. This was the draft of 1999.

Admittedly, I'm not familiar with all the mechanics of how the draft worked 19 years ago, but the Royals acquired a 1st Round pick from the Red Sox and a 2nd Round pick from the Tigers for the free agent losses of Jose Offerman and Dean Palmer, respectively. For some reason, they also received supplemental picks in between the 1st and 2nd Rounds for those free agent departures, giving them two 1st Round picks (7 and 25), two supplemental picks (32 and 43), and two 2nd Round picks (54 and 58).

Looking back, it's not hard to theorize why this team chose to go this route. Herk Robinson's tenure was approaching its end and the ownership status of the team was in flux. They had several good young position players (dos Carlos, Damon, Dye, Sweeney), but did not have the pitchers succeeding along with them (sound familiar?), with recent BA top 100 prospects like Glendon Rusch and Jim Pittsley faltering at the major league level. There were other prospects in the pipeline, such as starters Chad Durbin, Dan Reichert, and recent holdout/signee Jeff Austin. They also had a top 100 reliever prospect in Orber Moreno*.

* Yeah, I didn't remember he was a top 100 prospect either.

The team probably figured that if at least a few of these college pitchers hit, they would join a few of their in-house options and form a decent home-grown rotation, and those who couldn't make it as starters would fit into the bullpen. Four of the five eventually reached the majors, but none were able to live up to their draft position. My hope is that the 2018 version of this plan goes better for future Royals teams and Moore than it did for the 2000s Royals and Robinson, who would be replaced by Allard Baird a year later. The five college players he took at the top of the 1999 draft were as follows:

Kyle Snyder - North Carolina, RHP

An imposing right-handed starter coming out of North Carolina, Snyder looked every part the future ace the Royals desperately needed. Unfortunately, the injury bug bit Snyder hard. Following a promising debut in his draft year, he threw 2 innings combined in 2000 and 2001, and did not arrive in the majors until May 2003. His best season came as a reliever for the Red Sox in 2007. Of the five college pitchers listed here, he had the highest BA prospect ranking (#70 in 2000).

Mike MacDougal - Wake Forest, RHP

A converted starter who became an All Star closer during a period in Royals history when the term "All Star" began to have less and less meaning, he was the most successful pitcher among these five in his major league career. Besides Snyder, he was the only other pitcher from these five to make the BA top 100.

As an aside, my lasting memory of Mac is from the 2005 season. The Royals had lost 10 straight games, and yet somehow held a 7-2 lead over the Indians going into the 9th. Buddy Bell decided to bring in MacDougal to make sure to end the losing streak once and for all. He (with an assist from Gobble) gave up 11 runs in the 9th and the Royals lost 13-7. They would lose 8 more games during the streak.

Jay Gehrke - Pepperdine, RHP

Rarely do the Royals draft a 1st Round pitcher of whom I have no memory, but Jay Gehrke fits the bill. A full-time reliever (who closed for the Waves), Gehrke never made it past Wilmington.

Brian Sanches - Lamar, RHP

He only threw 49 innings for Lamar in his Junior year, but he had a 1.82 ERA in those innings, which was good enough to get him a 2nd Round draft selection. He made the big leagues eventually, but not with the team that drafted him. His most notable contribution to the Royals was as part of a post trade deadline deal in 2003 for Rondell White. At the time, he was in his third year of AA ball with Wichita. Sanches initially worked as a swingman/starter, but became a reliever during his major league career. Most of his meaningful innings were pitched for the Phillies and Marlins, with his best years coming with Florida in the late 2000s.

Wes Obermueller - Iowa, RHP

After a year in which he struck out 91 for the Hawkeyes, the Royals took Obermueller with their 2nd pick of the 2nd Round. As a pro, he found it considerably more difficult to strike hitters out. Like Sanches, the Royals traded him as part of a 2003 deadline deal (for Curtis Leskanic) during their fleeting playoff push. At the time, he was averaging 5.2 K/9 in over 100 innings with Omaha. He did wind up as a part-time starter for the Brewers following the 2003 trade. No Iowa player has been drafted higher since.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.