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With one month to go, what are the draft ramifications for the Royals?

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What’s the draft position consequences for September?

The 2018 Kansas City Royals first-round pick pitcher Brady Singer smiles during a press conference before the game between the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on July 3, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri.
The 2018 Kansas City Royals first-round pick pitcher Brady Singer smiles during a press conference before the game between the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on July 3, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

Coming into the home stretch of the 2020 season, the Kansas City Royals are clearly one of the worst teams in baseball. As a result, it’s time to look towards the 2020 MLB Draft or, more specifically, the Royals’ position in it.

Last year, the Royals drafted Bobby Witt, Jr. with the second overall pick in the draft. Witt boasted the rare combination of a high ceiling and high floor, meaning his skills are advanced enough to translate relatively quickly to big league action and that he also has potential to be a star player. With another top five pick, the Royals will look to acquire a similar impact player.

In what draft position will the Royals be?

Currently, the results at the bottom of the standings as of Labor Day morning are as follows:

  • Seattle Mariners | 58-82
  • Toronto Blue Jays | 55-85
  • Kansas City Royals | 50-89
  • Miami Marlins | 49-88
  • Baltimore Orioles | 45-93
  • Detroit Tigers | 40-96

It is unlikely that the Royals get the first overall pick, though it is not out of the question. Kansas City plays three games against the Tigers this week, and a sweep at the hands of Detroit would go a long way towards making that possibility a reality. The Royals actually have a losing record against the Tigers this year with seven wins and nine losses, so that wouldn’t be a totally surprising result. But the Royals play more than three games the rest of the month, and the Tigers are gruesomely bad.

That is actually the main reason why the Royals won’t get the first overall pick next year: the teams below them in the standings are worse. By run differential, the four worst teams in the league are back-to-back-to-back-to-back in the standings, and there is a sharp dropoff between the Royals and the next tier:

  • Toronto Blue Jays, -85
  • Pittsburgh Pirates, -100
  • Seattle Mariners, -108
  • Colorado Rockies, -111
  • Kansas City Royals, -149
  • Miami Marlins, -176
  • Baltimore Orioles, -245
  • Detroit Tigers, -273

While things could certainly change, the Royals have a 4.5 game lead over the Blue Jays for the fifth overall spot in the 2020 draft and are, by run differential, a worse team. Toronto themselves have a 3 game lead over the Mariners for the sixth spot. As a result, I think it’s reasonable to say that the Royals are likely to end up with the third or fourth overall pick.

What is Kansas City’s track record with top five picks?

In Dayton Moore’s tenure, the Royals have had six top five picks in the MLB draft. While each draft contains a unique assortment of players, Moore does have a track record and a type that he likes to choose.

  • Mike Moustakas | 2007 | high school shortstop
  • Eric Hosmer | 2008 | high school first baseman
  • Christian Colon | 2010 | college shortstop
  • Bubba Starling | 2011 | high school outfielder
  • Kyle Zimmer | 2012 | college pitcher
  • Bobby Witt, Jr. | 2019 | high school shortstop

Moore’s team prefers hitters to pitchers when selecting at the top of the draft and prefers high school players to college players. In the most recent draft, Kansas City selected Witt, a high school hitter, over Andrew Vaughn, a college hitter and the other industry consensus talent for the second overall pick.

Who will be available at the third or fourth pick?

While it’s early—very early, early enough that a breakout season could push a prospect into or out of the top five—2020 is shaping up to be similar to 2019 in that there are two relatively consensus top picks and then a small gap between them and the rest of the top tier.

Emerson Hancock, a right-handed pitcher out of Georgia, is one such player. Hancock has drawn comparisons to 2018 first overall pick Casey Mize thanks to stellar performance in SEC play and four solid pitches. The 6’4” Hancock tosses a mid-90s fastball and also sports a curveball, slider, and changeup.

The other top player is Spencer Torkelson, a right-handed first baseman who is simply the best hitter in the draft. Torkelson has essentially replicated Vaughn’s silly production with more power and a bit less plate discipline, but has done so in a harder college league. Both Fangraphs and Baseball America list Torkelson as the second-best player in the draft after Hancock.

After that, it gets hazy, especially in September, but here are three guys to keep an eye on:

Pete Crow-Armstrong, outfield, Harvard-Westlake High School

Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG

Listed as the best high school player in the draft by Baseball America, Crow-Armstrong is a very Royals player. The 6’0” lefty is a “plus-plus runner and plus defender in center field” with a line-drive tuned swing. He is very similar to Witt as a multi-tool athletic player at a premium defensive position, and it’s easy to see why the Royals would like him.

Witt and Crow-Armstrong were also roommates in USA Baseball, with Crow-Armstrong calling Witt the “best player, teammate, and roommate” he’s ever had.

In my opinion, if Crow-Armstrong performs well and works his way into the top six or seven players in the 2020 draft, and assuming he’s still on the board, the likelihood of the Royals selecting him is very high. Alternatively, if poor performance or an injury drops Crow-Armstrong far enough down in the draft, the Royals could try to work in an overslot bonus for him a la Hunter Dozier and Sean Manaea in 2013. I don’t have any insider info here, for the record—Crow-Armstrong just seems like their type of guy.

Casey Martin, shortstop, Arkansas

Could the Royals spend a second consecutive top five pick on a shortstop? The short answer is “yes.” Due to the physical and skill demands of the position, shortstops are often the most athletic players on the field. Those lacking the range to play short at the highest level move to third—as Mike Moustakas did—or to second base. Center field is also a common destination for high school or college shortstops.

Jim Callis at MLB.com asserts that Martin has “the best power/speed combination in the college ranks.” Martin is an 80-grade runner, the kind of unteachable athleticism that the Royals absolutely love, and last year at Arkansas he posted a .294 ISO. He’s also an efficient base stealer, swiping 18 bags at an 86% success rate over 122 college games.

Martin’s long-term position may be center field, which is perfectly fine, but the Royals need to be sure that his pedestrian college walk and strikeout rates aren’t a big deal.

Austin Martin, third base/shortstop, Vanderbilt

Mandy Sorenson

I’ve seen Martin listed at multiple positions—Fangraphs has him as a shortstop, Baseball America has him as an outfielder, and MLB.com has him at third base. To me, that means it’s likely he will be a third base or corner outfield guy as a pro, doubly so if he’ll be at the same levels as Witt and Brady McConnell in the Royals system.

A. Martin’s commitment to contact will endear him to Kansas City, as he struck out only 10.6% of the time as a sophomore (while walking 11.4% of the time) with a .432 batting average. Every draft has a guy that is called “the best pure hitter” in the draft, and he’s a great candidate to be called that.

If the Royals don’t want Crow-Armstrong so high, or if he’s not available, it will be interesting to see where the Royals land on the Austin/Austin divide. Fangraphs says that Austin “has an advanced approach, gap power, big production,” while Casey “is a true 80 runner with sneaky tools and a feel for the game.”

Of course, Kansas City could select someone else entirely. It is what it is. Keep your eye on Royals Review for draft updates as we get closer to next June.