This year will mark the first time since 2012 that the Royals have a top five pick (they had back-to-back fifth overall picks in 2011/2012) and the first time since 2007 that they had one of the first two picks.
There might be an argument that last year’s draft was arguably more important given the surplus of picks/bonus pool the Royals had, giving them a legit shot at adding possibly a few top 100 prospects into the organization in one night of work. However, I think the 2019 draft might be more important, given that scouts and scouting directors hardly get fired over taking the wrong guy at 18th overall, they get fired for taking the wrong guy with a top five picks. Here are some thoughts on the players expected to be considered at the top of this June’s draft.
Sometimes there isn’t much difference between the #1 and #2 pick, talent-wise. Yes, there are the Bryce Harpers and Stephen Strasburgs, slam dunk #1 picks, but often there is a solid group of guys who can make their case for first overall and often the aggregate “best” prospect isn’t taken first.
The early reviews this year show a slam dunk #1 at this point, Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, who is ranked #1 by Baseball America, FanGraphs, and MLB Pipeline in their earlier rankings. As spring rolls through, it’s possible for anyone to have an Andrew Benintendi-like rise or a Brice Turang-like fall, but assuming Rutschman continues to be Rutschman, he’s a mortal lock right now first the first pick, and the Orioles, the holders of that pick) don’t have anyone “blocking” him (a dumb concept anyways, but still).
It’s always better to have the first pick than the second - you are guaranteed to get whomever you want - but 2019 might be the first year since 2010 with Bryce Harper to have a true consensus #1 pick. Last year with Casey Mize might be an argument but he was more of a product of weak competition and current stuff than being a “star” prospect.
FanGraphs has Rutschman right now as a 60 FV in their most recent update, saying that:
1. Adley Rutschman, C, Oregon State After Eric watched him go off again this weekend, we’ve upgraded him to a 60 FV and would have him right behind Keibert Ruiz at 16 on the Top 100. He’s creating more distance between himself and the field for the top pick.
Note that they said he would instantly be a top 15 prospect in baseball, which is a bit higher than where the #1 overall pick goes (Mize was ranked 33rd best, Mickey Moniak was ranked 27th).
Now Rutschman still isn’t quite the Harper/Strasburg level of draft prospect (remember that Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was 16 years old) but he’s making a stronger case for the first pick than anyone since then.
So of course the Royals might miss a decade often player by one pick (they missed Harper by three picks, Strasburg by 11, and David Price by one).
Bobby Witt, Jr. vs C.J. Abrams vs. Bryson Stott
Not long ago the consensus talent behind Rutschman, and perhaps even in the running for the first overall pick. was Texas high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. Just as the gap between Witt and Rutschman has widened, the gap between Witt and the others behind him has narrowed.
Now it seems that Georgia high school middle infielder C.J. Abrams appears to be the consensus* #2 pick in the draft, at least when considering who the Royals will take.
*Note: I think we need to come up with a difference between consensus and aggregate. While consensus refers to who the community as a whole thinks will be taken at any spot, aggregate should refer to who the community thinks is the best prospect at that spot. This will often times differ as teams evaluate players differently, and the consensus is at the mercy of the team who has that pick. So while Byron Buxton may have been the aggregate best player in the draft, Carlos Correa was the consensus first overall pick
Witt had one major concern coming into his 2019 campaign (which started in the fall so I suppose you could still call that 2018), his future hit tool was in doubt. He was present 55-60 raw power, 60 speed, 50-55 fielding, and 60 arm, checking off four- of a possible five-tool player. I always feel weird saying teenagers have great bodies, but Witt has the build that looks like it will fill out very well (again, creepy). While he’s answered some of those concerns so far, it’s not as if he’s turned into Francisco Lindor overnight.
If we are talking shortstops, a guy I do like, and will of course be available for the Royals at their first pick. is UNLV middle infielder Bryson Stott. He’s continued to destroy the Mountain West Conference (career .335/.413/.506 there) but it is also a pretty hitter-friendly environment. What’s more interesting is his contact ability and approach, posting a career strikeout under 8.5% and walking almost 12% of the time. There is some power there, but it’s nothing exciting from a position-neutral perspective. Stott has played for Team USA and in both the Cape Cod and Northwoods summer leagues. There is some variability in if Stott will remain at short but the odds are something like 80/20 he will.
I’ve always preferred college hitters, all things equal, but I’m not 100% sold on Abrams or Stott between the two (though I’d lean Stott), but I’m tentatively already not sold on Witt Jr compared to the other two.
One guy who is going to get some talk as possibly going to the Royals is University of California first baseman Andrew Vaughn, who after destroying a power conference (Pac 12) last year, has been just as bonkers this year (.440/.650/.840 so far). He’s might be the best hitter in this draft but he’s out of the #1 overall pick conversation because Rutschman wins on positional value.
Vaughn is a right-handed hitting, right-handed fielding first baseman. College first basemen don’t go first overall to begin with, and there seems to be a bias against taking righty-righty first basemen that high.
But when you really look back at it, there has been a strong record of righty/righty first basemen since the turn of the century - Albert Pujols, Jeff Bagwell, Paul Konerko, Paul Goldschmidt, Mark McGwire, FrankThomas, Jose Abreu, Richie Sexson, Derek Lee, Eric Karros, and Ryan Zimmerman (who moved over from third base).
It’s certainly not a death sentence, but it’s understandable why teams prefer a left-handed fielding. So while the selection of these types of players skews the stat (a righty/righty first baseman hasn’t gone first overall because no one wants to pick a righty-righty 1B first overall), it might be a poor bias against such players.
I don’t think the Royals are really considering Vaughn. They are known to seek athletic types who are good defenders, and given the choice between a plus-defending shortstop or the best hitter in the draft, the Royals will lean to the former. Vaughn just isn’t their “type” it seems.
Guys I think I like right now:
Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman - not quite generational talent but among the best #1 overall candidates recently
Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn - Incredible hitter but gets dinged too hard for position
UNLV shortstop Bryson Stott - Possible plus-plus hitting college shortstop
Florida high school right fielder Riley Greene (committed to Florida) - Among the best prep hitters in the draft but concerns about athleticism and fielding that will certainly keep him at one of the outfield corners
Texas Tech third baseman Josh Jung - Gained some heat recently as he’s looked great in the box but might move off 3B to 1B
Florida high school right-handed pitcher Matthew Allan (also committed to Florida) - One of the youngest top draft prospects, this dude is damn well filled out for a guy who isn’t even 18 yet. Throws strikes and has two plus pitches (fastball and curveball) with a third (changeup) rising.
Guys I don’t think I like right now:
Oklahoma high school infielder Bobby Witt Jr. (committed to Oklahoma) - Too concerned perhaps about his age (will be 19 on draft day) and questions about the hit tool, but could remedy in the next few weeks to months
Georgia high school right-handed pitcher Daniel Espino (committed to LSU) - Already a bit maxed out in size perhaps and concerns of where his long term future is between the rotation and the bullpen. Big time fastball high school guys scare me a bit if they are just using pure speed to blow away inferior competition
Guys I am not sure where I am at yet with right now:
Georgia high school shortstop CJ Abrams (committed to Alabama) - I like him more than Witt Jr. right now, but just wish there was some more present power and not a lock to remain at SS
Washington high school center fielder Corbin Carroll (committed to UCLA) - typically undersized guys who play premium positions and can hit are my jam, but Carroll may be more than undersized (listed at 5’10” 165lbs) and he’ll be two months short of 19 by draft day as well. I get a bit of a Derek Hill vibe from him (and Hill was slightly taller) but could be convinced
Missouri outfielder Kameron Misner - I don’t let my Mizzou fandom get in the way of my preferences, so Misner doesn’t get any bonus points from me here. I thought about a Wichita State/Atlanta Braves outfielder Greyson Jenista comp at the plate (plus power with concerns of the hit tool) but Misner is more athletic in the field, so it doesn’t stick that well.
UNC first baseman/outfielder Michael Busch - Busch has been called “stiff” a couple times, and I think that’s fair when you watch him. He’s not very athletic and might just be a good hitter with little positional value. In two months from now he could be up or down 20 spots on the draft board.