The Royals shocked most of the entire world this past week when they drafted nine college pitchers in the first ten rounds of the MLB Draft. Drafting nine college pitchers in the first ten rounds isn’t ridiculous (it’s unusual but not ridiculous), it’s just that everyone thought the Royals would do something else.
No matter where you looked pre-draft, people around the industry expected the Royals to load up on young prep talent with lots of upside. Instead, the Royals wound up taking lots of high floor college arms that should advance through the minor league system fairly quickly. Let me reiterate, I loved the Royals’ first two picks in Singer and Kowar, I was just equally surprised as I was happy.
Part of me thinks that the run of college pitchers selected by the Royals in the draft was no accident. Sure, no one in the industry saw this coming, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the Royals plan all along. The Royals front office made a statement during the 2018 draft: they’re comfortable with their crop of position player prospects, and fed up with not having any pitching.
The Kansas City Royals are three seasons removed from their first World Series championship since 1985. Everyone knew that they’d be in for a rebuild after the 2017 season, but bad drafts between 2011 and 2016 really put a damper on how long that rebuild would last. The pitchers that KC selected in that time frame either haven’t panned out, or are no longer with the organization (Sean Manaea, Brandon Finnegan).
However, the Royals made it apparent during this year’s draft that they have no intentions of prolonging this rebuild any longer. The Royals drafted college pitchers with each of their first five picks, and I expect that these guys will be on a fast track through the minor leagues. The Royals have a young core of position players between the ages of 19 and 23 that figure to be ready to roll into KC together between 2021 and 2022, some sooner than others. What the Royals did not have, before this most recent draft, were many pitching prospects that project as viable major league starters.
This is obviously a bit of a problem when discussing a rebuild. The Royals have quite literally one pitching prospect between AA and AAA with a ceiling above a back-end starter in Josh Staumont and he’d been pitching out of the bullpen until recently. There’s no guarantees that Josh Staumont will even start in the major leagues. Behind Staumont, the Royals best option might be Foster Griffin, and his ERA has soared above 6.00 (though his FIP remains a tidy 4.08).
Bottom line, the Royals needed starting pitching, bad, and they went out and got it in bulk. Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar are both guys that could very well sit atop a major league rotation in 2-3 years. Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic are both guys that I like a little bit and could see filling out the middle of a rotation. Combine that with soon-to-be savvy veterans like Jake Junis and Brad Keller and, wa-la, you have yourself a rotation in 2022. Maybe.
Let’s take a look at the Royals current crop of viable position player prospects:
- Catchers: MJ Melendez, Meibrys Viloria, Cam Gallagher, Xavier Fernandez
- Infielders: Nick Pratto, Ryan O’Hearn, Nicky Lopez, Gabriel Cancel, Adalberto Mondesi, Emmanuel Rivera, Dennicher Carrasco
- Outfielders: Khalil Lee, Seuly Matias, Michael Gigliotti, Donnie Dewees Jr., Bubba Starling, Elier Hernandez, Brewer Hicklen, Rudy Martin
That’s not a great crop, but it’s serviceable. You could certainly piece together a major league lineup out of those guys, especially when you add in recent draft picks Kyle Isbel and Eric Cole. Not to mention that the Royals have three years to add to that list. The Royals list of viable SP candidates to go with those position players is much, much shorter. It probably doubled after the draft, which may have been the entire purpose of the Royals draft strategy.
Whether you like the philosophy or not, the Royals have made their intentions very clear: Dayton Moore and the Royals front office have no intention of this rebuild lasting longer than 3-4 years. The goal is to compete by 2021 and the Royals made that very apparent during the 2018 draft. Will it work? Maybe. Do I 100% agree with the philosophy here? Not really. Does it matter? Not one iota. The Royals have made their plans for the future clear, and given their track record, I'm going to go ahead and trust them on this one.