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Revisiting the Royals’ 2014 draft

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Did the Royals make the most of having 4 of the top 60 picks?

Wild Card Game - Oakland Athletics v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The Royals had made a big splash to move from rebuild to contender by trading for James Shields before the 2013 season. But for awhile, it looked as if that investment was for naught, with the team falling short of a playoff spot in 2013, and under .500 by the time the draft rolled around that first week of June of 2014. Little did anyone know, the team was about to go on an unforgettable run that would change everything.

The Royals entered the 2014 draft with four of the top 60 picks, getting the 17th overall pick, the 28th overall pick, as compensation for losing free agent Ervin Santana, the 40th pick for Competitive Balance Round A, and their regular second round pick at #56. Prior to the draft they were said to be looking for mostly “attached to college bats” for the 17th pick, but also “high-risk/high-ceiling guys” and power arms. Outfielders like speedy prepster Derek Hill and Virginia’s Derek Fisher were mocked to the Royals, although prep pitchers Touki Toussant and Grant Holmes were also mentioned. The Royals were also heavily linked to Hawaii prep pitcher Kodi Medeiros for the #28 pick.

There was no consensus #1 pick in the weeks leading up to the draft. While many liked North Carolina State pitcher Carlos Rodon, by the time the draft rolled around, the consensus had settled on California prep pitcher Brady Aiken. The Astros would take Aiken first overall, but would fail to sign him, leaving him to be selected 17th the following year by Cleveland. Rodon would end up going third to the White Sox, one of a few early first rounders that year that have already established themselves in the big leagues, along with Kyle Schwarber (4th, to the Cubs), Aaron Nola (7th, Phillies), Kyle Freeland (8th, Rockies), Michael Conforto (10th, Mets), and Trea Turner (13th, Padres).

By the time the Royals seleced at #17, Medeiros was already off the board, having been taken by the Brewers at #12. MLB.com and Baseball America both had University of San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer, brother of Royals pitcher Kyle, as the best player available by the time the Royals selected, but also ranking high on best available was a left-hander at Texas Christian University still pitching in the College World Series as the draft was going - Brandon Finnegan. MLB.com called him “one of the most consistently dominant pitchers in college baseball” and a potential top ten pick if he didn’t have shoulder issues. However his shoulder was a concern and his upside was considered a bit limited as a likely reliever who threw 93-95 mph and stood under six-feet tall. Still, the Royals liked his “bulldog” mentality and selected him with the 17th pick.

“What he’s done is develop a change-up which went from making him a borderline reliever/starter to definitely a full-fledged starter. We think he has a plus slider and a plus change-up to go along with a plus fastball. He’s got the make-up, the command and the bulldog in him that we were looking for.”

-Royals scouting director Lonnie Goldberg

Fans weren’t thrilled.

Zimmer would end up going a few picks later to the Indians, but the real gem of the round was taken with the 25th pick, when Oakland took Cal-State Fullerton third baseman Matt Chapman.

With the 28th pick, the Royals went with prep lefty pitcher Foster Griffin out of Orlando, Florida. Both MLB.com and Baseball America had him in their top 30 with BA drawing physical comparisons to Cole Hamels. But the consensus seemed to be that Griffin would need some development, with ESPN writing that “mechanically, Griffin is still a work in progress.” Among the names taken in the next few picks include pitchers Justus Sheffield, Michael Kopech, and Jack Flaherty, and outfielder Derek Fisher.

For the 40th pick, a lot of fans wanted the Royals to select local product, Lee’s Summit West outfielder Monte Harrison, who had slid out of the first round. Instead, the Royals went with a different fan favorite, Louisian prep catcher Chase Vallot. Baseball America wrote that his hitting prowess would be his meal ticket to the big leagues with his “quick, easy swing with natural leverage that produces hard contact and has drawn rave reviews.”

Although scouts are not confident he can stay behind the plate, they believe his bat has a chance to play wherever he lands on the defensive spectrum, including left field or first base...

In the second round, with the 56th overall pick, the Royals took New York prep pitcher Scott Blewett. He had been ranked 51st by Baseball America and 55th by MLB.com, who wrote he had the “the look of a big leaguer” with his 6’6’’ frame. Other late second-rounders include outfielder Alex Verdugo, first baseman Sam Travis, and pitchers Mitch Keller, Spencer Turnbull, and Brent Honeywell.

Later in the draft the Royals flirted with the idea of drafting Johnny Manziel, then a quarterback at Texas A&M committed to playing football, just as a joke. Maybe they should have looked at a different football player.

He’s probably sellin’ ketchup somewhere.

A few months later, Baseball America ranked the Royals’ draft class as the second-best draft class behind only the Indians. Evaluators loved that they grabbed pitching early, with Clint Longnecker at Baseball America remarking that “just to be able to accumulate those three pitchers that they did with their first four picks, that just on a pure talent standpoint is a really impressive haul.” Jim Callis added that “they got three pitchers right there in their first four picks who projected as first rounders at one point or another plus Vallot who projects definitely as one of the better hitters in this class.”

Unfortunately, the class has not lived up to those lofty reviews so far. Finnegan had a meteoric rise through the system and became the first pitcher ever to appear in the College World Series and MLB World Series in the same year. He was traded the next July to the Cincinnati Reds in a deal for pitcher Johnny Cueto and had some criticisms towards the Royals on how he was handled on his way out. But since then he has struggled with his command and was demoted to the minors this year.

Griffin was considered a solid prospect for a bit, appearing in the Futures Game in 2017, but his numbers have never been eye-popping. He was having a decent year in Omaha until an 11-run performance last week, and could get a call up with the Royals some time this season. Vallot has shown great power, but has struggled mightily to make contact, and was demoted to Lexington this year. Blewett has been inconsistent, although he may be a more interesting prospect if he moves to the bullpen. Third-rounder Eric Skoglund out of Central Florida had a fantastic debut, but has been shelled since then and is currently serving an 80-game suspension for banned substances.

Overall the Royals selected 12 high schoolers, 4 junior college players, and 26 four-year college players. They took 19 pitchers and 23 hitters. They signed 31 of the 42 players drafted, including 24 of their first 25 picks. From the first 20 rounds, 13 of the 21 players they signed are already out of affiliated baseball.

2014 Royals Draft Class

Round Overall Player Player BA Top 500 Rank 2019 Level Resume
Round Overall Player Player BA Top 500 Rank 2019 Level Resume
1 17 LHP Brandon Finnegan TCU 18 AAA (Reds) 4.11 ERA in 260 MLB IP, but sent to AAA this year after struggles
1 28 LHP Foster Griffin The First Academy (FL) 27 AAA Shaky early career, but was pitching well in Omaha until last start
1 40 C Chase Vallot St. Thomas More HS (LA) 47 A Has hit for power but struggled to make contact, showing some signs in Lexington
2 56 RHP Scott Blewett Baker HS (NY) 51 AAA Underwhelming numbers and has been hit hard in Omaha
3 92 LHP Eric Skoglund U. of Central Florida 101 Suspended Great debut, but 6.03 ERA in bigs leagues, now suspended for PEDs
4 123 SS D.J. Burt Fuquay-Varina HS (NC) 478 AA Blazing speed, but no power may mean a reserve role in the big leagues
5 153 RHP Corey Ray Texas A&M NR Out of baseball Reached AA, but never found much success on the mound.
6 183 OF Logan Moon Missouri Southern NR Out of baseball Got as high as AAA but never hit much
7 213 OF Brandon Downes University of Virginia 165 Indy league Was shuttled up and down the minors to fill spots
8 243 1B Ryan O'Hearn Sam Houston State 307 MLB Showed great power after call up last year but has struggled in 2019
9 273 OF Brandon Thomasson Tennessee Tech NR Out of baseball Never made it out of Rookie Ball
10 303 LHP Nick Green University of Utah 424 Out of baseball Was released after his first full season of pro ball
11 333 OF Robert Pehl University of Washington 465 Out of baseball Decent numbers, but was out of baseball by 2017
12 363 LHP Emilio Ogando St. Thomas University NR AA Flown under the radar, but has put up decent numbers as a starter
13 393 LHP Eric Stout Butler University NR Indy league Reached the big leagues briefly, was just signed by the Reds
14 423 LHP Ian Tompkins Western Kentucky Univ. NR Out of baseball Struggled once he hit Wilmington, last pitched in 2016
15 453 SS Corey Toups Sam Houston State 280 Out of baseball Useful utility player reached AAA, but was let go after last season
16 483 3B Manny Olloque Torrance HS (CA) NR Out of baseball Good Rookie ball numbers, but was let go after last season
17 513 LHP Brennan Henry Bellevue University NR Out of baseball 4.17 ERA in the low minors, let go after 2016
18 543 RHP Alberto Rodriguez NW Florida State College NR Out of baseball Was let go after the 2015 season in Idaho Falls
19 573 OF Scott Heineman* University of Oregon NR AAA (Rangers) Never signed with the Royals, drafted the next year by Texas
20 603 C Kyle Pollock University of Evansville NR Indy league Was let go after the 2015 season in Idaho Falls

NR - Not Ranked

*-did not sign

In the 32nd round, the Royals did find a gangly left-handed pitcher out of Bacone College in Oklahoma in Tim Hill, who has pitched in 76 big league games as a situational lefty. Speedy Rudy Martin was taken in Round 25, and the outfielder still has a shot to make the big leagues, although he’ll have to improve his numbers at Wilmington.

The potential O’Hearn and the trade of Finnegan while he still had good value will probably keep this draft class from being among the worst Royals draft classes. There is still time to see more value from this draft class, but five years later, there does not appear to be enough upside for a team that needs a steady pipeline of talent from the minors.