In 1998, a promising baseball player out of the Dominican Republic graduated from Fort Osage High School in Independence, Missouri, less than a 17-minute drive to Kauffman Stadium. Maple Woods Community College, a school within Kansas City, Missouri proper and an 18-minute drive from Kauffman Stadium, offered this player a scholarship. The St. Louis Cardinals drafted this player in the 13th round of the 1999 draft. His name? Oh, just none other than Albert Pujols, one of the best baseball players of all time.
Yes, the Kansas City Royals and every other Major League Baseball team passed on Pujols multiple times. But it was personal for the Royals, who missed a generational talent in their own backyard and watched their cross-state rival reap the benefits of a future hall-of-famer en route to multiple World Series championships.
As a result, the Royals have been particularly protective of their own backyard under general manager Dayton Moore’s front office, in an effort to both secure local talent and avoid another Albert Pujols-esque catastrophe, if possible. Recent years have seen the Royals use premium draft capital University of Missouri product and Topeka native Aaron Crow 12th overall in 2009 and Gardner, Kansas high school product Bubba Starling 5th overall in 2012.
After a 2018 draft that didn’t see any area products stick on the Royals’ draft board, could that change this year? The Royals’ first five picks are:
After that, the order simply repeats and the Royals will have pick 139, 169, 199, etc. Below is a list of the best draft prospects hailing from either a high school or college in either Missouri or Kansas, as ranked by Baseball America.
Kameron Misner, 21
- Outfielder, University of Missouri
Misner’s future as a Royal is only possible if his poor performance in SEC play and/or signing bonus demands spook teams into letting him drop entirely out of the first round. Neither are good to hear, but Misner has “an exciting set of tools that rival any college player in the class”, according to Baseball America, and could be a guy that puts it together very quickly and very loudly.
If that sounds unnervingly similar to Bubba Starling to you, nobody would disagree. The Royals have already showed interest in Misner, as he was drafted by Kansas City in 2016 but turned them down to go to college instead.
Ryan Zeferjahn, 57
- Right-handed pitcher, University of Kansas
Zeferjahn is the second-most likely player from a Missouri or Kansas school to end up in Kansas City. The hard-throwing righty fits the bill of recent Royals pitcher draftees: a college arm with easy, unteachable velocity, a sharp breaking ball, and a changeup that needs work. And Zeferjahn could be a pick at 44 or 70, depending on how the chips fall.
Zeferjahn has some walk issues, but with a fastball north of 95 MPH as a starter Zeferjahn is the type of pitcher who could easily slide into a role as a nasty reliever. And if Zeferjahn gets his walks under control, he’d be a great addition to the Royals’ current crop of college pitchers in the low minors.
TJ Sikkema, 81
- Left-handed pitcher, University of Missouri
In Baseball America’s writeup of Sikkema, they mentioned his “feisty mound presence” and “bulldog mentality” at two entirely separate places in the paragraph. If that’s not up Kansas City’s alley (Brady Singer’s rain rant, anyone?), I don’t know what will.
Sikkema’s a short and stout guy who mixes in four average pitches and doesn’t have much projectability left. With that being said, he’s achieved more success than Zeferjahn with less pure stuff, so there’s something to be said for relative boringness as long as it gets the job done.
Drew Millas, 168
- Catcher, Missouri State University
Millas is probably the best defensive catcher in the entire class—a class that, mind you, also includes a consensus number one talent in Adley Rutschman. Every team ends up drafting catcher somewhere in the draft, if at the very least to catch all the pitches thrown by the shiny new pitchers. This premium defense could get Millas drafted by the Royals, who just might value defense more than any other big league team.
The catch? Millas hasn’t backed up his defense with his bat. If he can improve on his offense, Millas could be the type of catcher that stays in the Majors forever.
Carter Rustad, 169
- Right-handed pitcher, Staley High School (Kansas City)
Rustad moved to Kansas City from Hawaii his sophomore year of high school, and he joins Riley Pint and Joey Wentz as Kansas City pitchers who could be called in the early rounds of an MLB draft. Unlike Pint and Wentz, though, Rustad could choose to go to college in an effort to re-enter the draft and be drafted in the first round or two, where signing bonuses are much larger.
At a tall 6’4”, Rustad throws in the mid-to-upper 90s at an impressive spin rate, but his other pitches aren’t particularly good yet.
Jaxx Groshans, 205
- Catcher/outfielder, University of Kansas
Is Jaxx short for Jaxxon? Or is that it? Either way, Groshans definitely wins for “first name that would be most helpful in a game of Words with Friends” award. Groshans is a catcher who isn’t a lock to stay at the position and instead may need to shift to the corners in the pros. The older brother of Jordan Groshans, an infielder tearing up the Toronto Blue Jays farm system, the elder Groshans’ route to the big leagues is either showing he can stick at catcher or by showing he can hit in a non-catcher position.
Marcus Smith, 213
- Outfielder, Pembroke Hill High School (Kansas City)
If drafted, Smith would be the first player in Pembroke Hill history to earn the honor. I said earlier that Zeferjahn was the second-most likely to be drafted by the Royals, and that is only true because of Smith, the type of player that is catnip to the Royals’ scouting department. A 5’10” athlete with 70-grade speed and plus defense in center field, Smith would be the latest in a long, long, loooooong line of similarly talented and sized athletes selected by Kansas City, a list that includes the 5’10” Jarrod Dyson, the 5’7” Rudy Martin, the 5’9” DJ Burt, and the 5’9” Kevon Jackson.
I would be frankly surprised if the Royals didn’t draft Smith, as he fits the later rounds “pick the guys with great tools” strategy and is a local high school product.