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Lesky’s Notes: There’s a draft in here

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It’s actual baseball stuff to talk about!

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Kansas City Royals
Aug 28, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jakob Junis (65) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in like three months, there’s actually something baseball-related to discuss. The MLB Draft, as short as it was, took place, and the Royals added six new players that they’ll hope to add to their improving farm system. I’m going to get to that. In fact, the notes are going to pretty much be all draft-related, but first, we have to talk labor. The players came back to the owners with an 89-game schedule proposal. I still honestly can’t figure out why 89, but whatever. It, of course, came with prorated pay and added expanded postseason in 2020 and 2021. That, to me, is huge. The expanded postseason is why I still think they’ll reach a deal. Extra playoffs is pretty much the only revenue generator they’ll see this year unless fans are magically allowed to go at full capacity from the start of whatever season they end up having.

If Rob Manfred unilaterally starts a season at 48 games or whatever, he can’t add to the playoffs without the players agreeing, so it would behoove everyone, even if the total number of games isn’t what the players want, to agree to something so they can add an extra playoff round for some additional revenue. I personally don’t get why they’re not offering up some seven-inning double headers. If I’m the players, I make that concession that they get paid 77.7 percent for those games and full pay for the rest. Throw out a schedule of 82 games with 20 double headers and the players get about 90 percent of their prorated salary. I haven’t done the math on that, but it allows for 82 games in less time to get to the postseason quicker. Just a thought. Anyway, let’s talk about things that actually happened.

  • Let’s start at the top. I can’t believe the Royals not only had a shot to get Asa Lacy at their fourth pick, but they had the chance to choose between him and Austin Martin. I mentioned my feelings on Martin last week (I think, the days run together), but regardless of what I believe, he was considered one of the best prospects in the draft, and to have that choice was pretty huge. I obviously think they made the right choice between them, though I may have still taken Zac Veen, but that’s just because he became my draft crush over the few days ahead of the draft. Keith Law has said that Lacy has the best chance to be an ace of any pitcher in the draft and that if the college season had actually continued, he’d have probably made a case for 1:1, so I love that. And I love adding Lacy to a pool of pitchers who the Royals hope are part of the next core of champions. Of the big pitching prospects in the organization, I think I rank them (and this changes regularly, which I believe to be a good thing) Lynch, Kowar, Singer, Bubic, Cox, Bowlan with Carlos Hernandez hanging around too. At first glance, I’d slide Lacy in right after Kowar just because Kowar has been good at a higher minor league level. But give me some time and I might put Lacy right behind Lynch. What’s crazy to me now about this pitching is that Jonathan Bowlan, who allowed just 7.5 hits per nine and had a 6.5:1 strikeout to walk ratio with an upper-90s fastball, is probably at best the sixth best pitching prospect in the organization. He is likely looked at as a pitching savior a few years ago and now he’s just another huge arm they have waiting that we kind of forget about. I’m very interested to see what Lacy can do in 2021 to see if he can get to the big leagues by 2022 and join a rotation hopefully fronted by a few of the names seen above. There’s a bit of an issue with a lack of offense in the organization, but you stockpile these arms and it allows you to maybe make a challenge prospect trade or even a trade for a young big league bat if needed.
  • With their second pick of the first night, they took Nick Loftin, a shortstop out of Baylor. My initial reaction was that I didn’t really like the pick. I don’t like taking utility types with a day one pick when there are big arms available, and there were plenty of pitchers still available when they picked at 32. After some time to reflect and read a little more, I’m still not entirely sold, but I think I’m starting to see it. He has fantastic positional versatility and he makes really good contact with a nice, easy swing. I mentioned this on Twitter, but I think I would have hated this pick a couple years ago, but with a bit of a development overhaul on the hitting side, I think the organization has a chance to take bats like Loftin and add some pop with their philosophies. The issue is that as a shortstop, he’s already fourth at best on the organizational depth chart behind Adalberto Mondesi, Bobby Witt, Jr. and Jeison Guzman. But even if he doesn’t add a ton of pop, he has good instincts and can be valuable playing multiple positions. I’ve seen Whit Merrifield and Ben Zobrist comps on him, and those are always dangerous because those players are becoming more common but still not terribly common. Still, maybe he can shore up third base for a few years if he can move quickly too. Like I said, I’m still not 100 percent sold, but I’m coming around and am curious to see what he does, likely in an expanded Arizona Fall League this year.
  • As of right now, Lacy and Loftin are the only two draft picks I’m going to put into my top 20, but I’m thinking about it with both Chrstian Chamberlain and Wlll Klein. It’s not that I’m against Ben Hernandez and Tyler Gentry. I just think they both have something to prove before I rank them there. With Chamberlain and Klein, if they’re put directly into the bullpen, they could be very fast risers. I don’t have an issue if they start just to get them some innings, but I think they ultimately are relievers, so why not get them on their journey now? These are somewhat hastily put together rankings, but one of the things I see in this organization is that there isn’t necessarily a slam dunk standout prospect, but there is a legitimately solid top 10 and an even more solid top six. There have been years in the not too distant past where a guy like Bowlan, who I mentioned is the sixth best pitcher in the organization at best, would be ranked probably second or third in the organization. He’s ranked 11th on my list. Bobby Witt, Jr. was the consensus number two pick in the country last year and I have him ranked fourth in the organization. Others might disagree and that’s okay, but that’s sort of what’s so interesting about the Royals system right now. They have seven or eight guys who are legitimate candidates for top 100 prospect lists. Of those seven or eight, I think you could see two or three of them cracking into some top 40 lists as well. The system is definitely not balanced. I mentioned that earlier, but there’s a whole lot of pitching depth in there that, if handled correctly, should keep the Royals in contention for awhile once they start graduating to the big leagues. Obviously, we all know about best laid plans, but I’m pretty pleased with the direction of the system and I’m looking forward to see what kind of pulls the Royals can get on some NDFAs. They won’t get any elite talent or anything like that, but I think they have a chance to make a little noise at least.
  • One guy we haven’t talked very much about since like early last year is Jakob Junis. He had a very solid rookie season and followed that up in 2018 with another solid season. He showed he could get swings and misses, limit walks and generally be an effective big league starter. I think the Corey Kluber discussions were always a little silly, but Junis showed he belonged in a big league rotation. Then he posted an ERA over 5 and saw his walk rate jump by a ton and, all of a sudden, his home run issues became a bigger problem because there were more runners on base. The thing that bothers me about Junis is that we all know there’s more velocity in there, and if he can unlock that for full starts, it can allow everything else to play up so much more. In 2019, he averaged just under 92 on his fastball, but i honestly feel like he could maintain 93 or so and touch 95 so much more than he has. There was talk about him moving to the bullpen at some point, and maybe that would allow him to access that velocity more often if he does and then make his slider a truly nasty pitch as a reliever. I just think he has a chance to be a very solid middle of the rotation starter, though, with a little bit more mustard on the heat. I hope that in a shortened season he feels compelled to air it out just so we can at least see what kind of impact a little more velocity would have for him. He’s one of my most intriguing storylines in a short 2020 with a bunch of starting pitchers knocking on the door soon.