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Royals sign top undrafted free agents on the first day of signings

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Doing the right thing is paying off for the Royals.

NCAA BASEBALL: MAY 31 Div 1 Championship Baton Rouge Regional - LSU v Stony Brook Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The draft concluded on Thursday, but that doesn’t mean teams are done adding amateur talent. Since the draft was limited to just five rounds this year, that leaves a larger pool of undrafted free agents for teams to sign. This year, teams are limited to offering bonuses of just $20,000 to undrafted free agents, leaving players to choose their organization on things other than the amount of their bonus.

The Royals received a lot of praise around the league for agreeing to pay their minor leaguers the entire year, without mass releases. At the time, many speculated that could reap benefits when it came time to sign players.

On the first day teams were allowed to sign undrafted free agents, it appears that strategy has benefited the Royals. Kansas City signed four of the top five undrafted free agents, according to draft prospect rankings at Baseball America, and six players overall.

The top player signed so far is Arkansas-Little Rock catcher Kale Emshoff, ranked #174 on Baseball America’s list and #146 by MLB Pipeline. Emshoff graduated from Calallen High School in Corpus Christi, Texas and immediately became a starter behind the dish for Arkansas-Little Rock his freshman season. He hit .273/.377/.415 with four home runs in 56 games in 2018 as a sophomore, but blew out his elbow in 2019 and missed the entire season after Tommy John surgery. He returned this year on a tear, hitting .417 with seven home runs in 17 games, ranking 11th in the country in slugging percentage.

Emshoff has plus raw power from the right-side, standing at 6’2’’, 228 pounds. He won the home run derby as a freshman in the MINK League, a collegiate summer league in the Midwest. MLB Pipeline describes him as having average receiving skills that should keep him behind the plate, although his power may be enough to play at a corner infield position. Baseball America notes his power comes from strength and leverage rather than bad speed, and that he should be a productive pro backup.

The Royals added some outfield depth by signing Georgia’s Tucker Bradley, ranked #317 on Baseball America’s list. The 22-year old left-handed hitter graduated from Gordon Lee High School in Chickamauga, Georgia. He hit .317 for the Bulldogs his redshirt freshman season, then hit .299/.350/.353 with three home runs and 12 steals in 54 games in 2018. He played in just three games in 2019 due to a shoulder injury, but returned to hit .393 with six home runs and eight steals and 15 walks in 18 games this year.

Bradley is a bit of a tweener in the outfield, good at lots of areas, but not excelling in any one area. He hit for more power this year, but also put the ball in play, striking out just three times. He is not a burner, but had a very high success rate on the bases and is considered a good runner who can take advantage of opportunities. According to Baseball America, Bradley brings a unique profile and would have been drafted in the first ten rounds had the draft gone on that long.

The Royals have had success with college arms lately, and they added another intriguing arm, signing Texas Tech right-hander John McMillon, ranked #357 by Baseball America. The 22-year old hails from Jasper, Texas, and began as a two-way player, hitting eight home runs his freshman year with a 1.75 ERA on the mound as a reliever. He eventually became a full-time pitcher, with a 3.41 ERA in four seasons and 189 strikeouts in 145 1/3 innings, mostly in relief.

McMillon stands 6’3’’, 230 pounds and has a big arm that can regularly hit triple digits on the radar gun. This year, he struck out 20 in 9 13 innings, including a seven-strikeout relief performance in 2 13 innings against Florida State. But he struggles with command, walking 6.8 per-nine innings for his collegiate career, including eight batters this year. He also throws a curveball that clocks in between 75 and 78 mph.

McMillon was drafted by the Rays out of high school, turning down a $500,000 bonus, and was selected by the Tigers in the 11th round of the draft last year, but was unable to agree on a bonus amount. He could have returned for a fifth year at Texas Tech, but opted to begin his pro career.

The Royals also signed LSU catcher Saul Garza, ranked #379 on Baseball America’s list. Garza is from Edinburg, Texas where he was drafted by the Cardinals in the 31st round in 2017. He turned them down to play at Howard Junior College where he smashed 23 home runs in 2018 before coming to LSU. He hit .303/.358/.476 with five home runs in 50 games in 2019 for the Tigers, and the Royals selected him in the 32nd round of the 2019 draft. He returned to LSU and hit .229 with three home runs in 14 games before play was suspended this year.

The 22-year old Garza brings plus raw power from the right side with a large frame a 6’3’’, 229 pounds. He is a “fringe-average” defender, according to Baseball America with backup catcher potential. He was pushed out of the catching position this year by a freshman and could transition to first base at the pro level. Like Salvador Perez, Garza has taken to using perfume behind the plate.

Chase Wallace is a junior pitcher from the University of Tennessee, ranked #440 by Baseball America. The Sevierville, Tennessee native began as a reliever for the Volunteers, posting a 2.86 ERA in 28 13 innings in 2018, although with 20 walks to just 16 strikeouts. Wallace was limited to just nine games in 2019 due to hamstring injuries, but garnered attention with a strong performance in the elite collegiate Cape Cod summer league, where he struck out 26 in 23 innings with a 2.74 ERA.

The 6’2’’, 195 pound right-hander transitioned into a starter this year, and had good results before play was halted. In four starts, he struck out 18 with 7 walks in 18 innings, with an ERA of 3.50. Wallace throws from a lower arm angle and has good sink on his low-90s fastball. He also throws a slider and is working on a change-up that will need to develop more for him to have success at the pro level.

Finally, the Royals signed left-hander A.J. Block out of Washington State University, who was ranked 20th on Baseball America’s list of undrafted free agent seniors to watch. Block is from Bellevue, Washington, where he was chosen in the 39th round by the Cubs out of high school. Block had a high ERA with the Cougars despite good strikeout numbers his first three seasons, but seemed to put it all together his senior year with a 3.25 ERA and 34 strikeouts to just five walks in 27 23 innings this year.

Standing at 6’5’’, 220 pounds, Block brings a four-pitch mix including a 12-6 curveball. He was drafted in the 17th round by the Detroit Tigers last year.

Teams can sign an unlimited number of free agents, and Dayton Moore has given the indication that ownership has approved him signing as many players as he wants.