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What does the Royals’ college-heavy draft mean for the rebuild?

Is Dayton Moore trying to rush things?

Oakland Athletics v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Royals have concluded their draft, and we will see in the coming weeks how many of the 43 players - mostly college players - they end up signing. They will have just over $12.7 million to spend on the first ten rounds, the most in baseball, which will give them the ability to get most of their deals done.

I am reluctant to read too much from the draft, since I think most teams are just trying to draft the best player available on their board. But because the Royals went so overwhelmingly towards college players, it is almost impossible to draw some sort of inference from their behavior.

We know college players reach the big leagues faster than high school players. One study found that college pitchers reach the big leagues after just 287 days in the minors (about two seasons), while high school pitchers take 476 days (just over three seasons) before reaching the big leagues. According to a Fangraphs scouting report, Royals’ first-round pick Brady Singer could be ready for big league action as soon as next year. Dayton Moore noted that he wanted college pitcher who could move through the system quickly.

“We wanted to make a concerted effort on getting some college pitching that we felt had high ceilings, and that could move quickly.”

The successful rebuilds in recent years have taken about four years to complete. The Astros had three 100-loss seasons in a row and a fourth losing season before they finally broke through and made the playoffs in 2015, before winning it all in 2017. The Cubs had four dreadful seasons before they were competitive in 2015 - a season before they won a championship. The Braves had four losing seasons before this year, where they find themselves in first place with a solid young club.

If this is year one of the Royals’ rebuild, that would put them on pace to compete in 2022, according to that recent history. By then, Salvador Perez, Danny Duffy, and Jorge Soler will all be free agents. But with this college-heavy draft, are the Royals trying to accelerate their timetable?

The current Royals’ farm system is very hitter-heavy, so you can understand why the Royals would want to go pitching-heavy in the draft. What was unusual is that in a draft many considered pretty strong in prep pitchers, the Royals stayed far away from the higher-upside, bigger risk high school arms. I think David Lesky at Baseball Prospectus Kansas City is right on when he writes:

I believe the Royals look at their lower levels (and some of the big league roster probably) and see the makings of a big league starting nine. With M.J. Melendez, Nick Pratto, Nicky Lopez, Adalberto Mondesi, Michael Gigliotti, Khalil Lee, Seuly Matias, Jorge Soler, Jorge Bonifacio, Hunter Dozier and Salvador Perez (and there are certainly others), I think the Royals see a 2021 line-up featuring many of those names.

If you squint, you can see a starting lineup. So perhaps the Royals are trying to sync it up so that these college arms will reach the big leagues at the same time their lowel level hitters like Pratto, Matias, and Lee are breaking into the Majors.

But we also know that many of those prospects will fail. That lineup is still a far cry from the projected lineup in the days of the “Best Farm System in the History of Whatever” from 2011, when Royals fans could dream of a lineup that boasted Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Wil Myers, and Christian Colon (remember when he was considered a big prospect?) And even when that lineup developed (with only some of the prospects panning out or sticking around), the lineup struggled to score runs for many years.

So we know the Royals still have a long way to go in rebuilding the farm system and this is just the first step. The Royals very well may have just been going with the flow of the draft - a run on prep hitters means that a lot of college arms could fall, and drafting them is just good value. Rebuilding teams should find value wherever they can. And having a bunch of college pitchers up quickly isn’t a bad thing at all - I actually really like many of the arms they drafted this week. But often the polish of a college arm is the trade-off for higher upside from a high school arm. The Royals believe this group can buck that trend.

“The one thing that I think is important, we didn’t try to give up any ceiling,” Goldberg said. “I know that it’s been mentioned that college players don’t have (as high of a) ceiling, but these guys that we’ve talked about, there’s things that they do, and there’s things that we also think that we can make a fix and work. When you put good players in a good competitive environment, they’re just going to challenge each other. So there’s still ceiling with the group we selected.”

Next month’s trade deadline should tell us more about the timetable on this rebuild. If the Royals see prospects at high levels of the minors, it tells us they want to take shortcuts to turn this thing around by 2021. But if this week’s trade of Jon Jay is an indication, perhaps the Royals will be patient, take fliers on 18-year old pitchers with upside, and build up as many assets as they can. The Royals also know they are very likely to have a top five pick in next year’s draft - perhaps that will be when they decide to go for higher upside, higher risk guys.

We know Dayton Moore hates losing. And four years of losing is tough for anyone to sit through. But Moore once asked us to “trust the process”. And we are ready to trust. Let’s hope he is patient enough to trust his own process.