One thing I’ve noticed about doing these draft write-ups, it’s a lot like doing an autopsy of a train wreck. For a club to maintain sustainability, which should be the goal of any team, instead of the boom and bust of championships followed by rebuilds, a team must have all four components of their player acquisition working - drafting and development, free agent signings, trades, and international scouting and signing.
If one of these divisions fails, the entire system begins to strain. If two or more fail, the system collapses. The result, naturally, is 100 loss seasons which eventually lead to a drop in attendance, the loss of your best free agents (who want to play for a winner), the inability to sign quality free agents, who also want to play for a winner, and a continuing carousal of new managers and general managers. Even worse is the acceptance of a culture of losing. Any success, however moderate, is met with jubilation. Then a club becomes locked in a vicious cycle of failure and despair.
When looking at the drafts of the Royals in the decade of the 1990s, this becomes crystal clear. The Royals drafted okay in their first two decades. Not great, but okay. They also benefited from a series of astounding trades from their first general manager, Cedric Tallis, and a few key draft choices that led the team to seven division titles, two World Series appearances and one Series championship in the team’s first 17 years.
The drafts of the 1990s was a completely different story. The drafts of the 90s were a dumpster fire. By my count, seven of the decades’ ten drafts were utter and complete failures. This unfortunately was accompanied by a series of ill-advised trades, which stripped the franchise of its best players and prospects. The results were predictable and ugly. It took 30 years to dig out of that hole.
The Atlanta Braves held the first pick in the 1990 draft and did it right, selecting Chipper Jones. Kansas City did not have a pick until round 3, #98, which they used on pitcher Shane Rea. The Royals blew their first five picks, none of which made the majors. Not that there wasn’t some talent available. Garret Anderson went with pick #123, Ray Durham went at #129, Bret Boone at #131, Mike Hampton at #157 and Troy Percival at #175. KC whiffed on all of them.
Phil Hiatt was their first pick to make the team, #228 in the 8th round. Of their 55 choices, six eventually made a big-league roster, but only two with Kansas City, Hiatt and pitcher Brian Bevil. They combined for 193 games and -1.9 WAR. Salina, Kansas product Pat Meares, who was a College World Series star at Wichita State (Didn’t the Royals have a scout at the College World Series in Omaha?), went to division rival Minnesota in the 12th round, and ended up fashioning a solid nine-year career. This should have been a warning sign. The Royals couldn’t even scout their own backyard. The big late-round find was Andy Pettitte, who the Yankees grabbed in the 22nd round. The Yanks struck gold again in round 24 with the selection of Jorge Posada and in round 28 with Shane Spencer.
The Yanks held the #1 pick in 1991 and selected a hard-throwing pitcher named Brien Taylor. Kansas City held the 7th pick and selected University of Alabama first baseman Joe Vitiello. The big miss was Manny Ramirez, who went to division rival Cleveland at pick 13. The Royals sputtered until the 5th round when they selected Shane Halter. Halter played parts of two seasons in KC before they gave him away to the Mets. He was never a star but did accumulate 6 WAR over his career. The guy they got from the Mets never set foot inside of Kauffman. The Royals made a couple of great picks in the 10th and 11th rounds, tabbing Mike Sweeney and Joe Randa. 10 of their 62 picks eventually made the majors with six seeing time in Kansas City. There were no late-round steals. Sweeney was probably the best player selected in the later rounds by any team.
The Houston Astros had the #1 selection in the 1992 draft and took Cal State Fullerton star Phil Nevin. Astro scout Hal Newhouser had lobbied hard for a Kalamazoo, Michigan high school shortstop named Derek Jeter, and was so infuriated by the Astros passing on Jeter, that he quit his job. You’ve got to admire a man who knows his business and sticks to his principles. Jeter as you know went to the damn Yankees with the 6th pick.
Kansas City had four first-round picks: Number 10, which became outfielder Michael Tucker. #17 was used on pitcher Jim Pittsley, #31 on Sherard Clinkscales, and finally #35 which they used to pick Johnny Damon. There was some decent talent they missed, namely Shannon Stewart, Jason Kendall, and Charles Johnson. Kansas City was on a bit of a roll after selecting Damon. With their second-round pick, #44, they took pitcher Jon Lieber, which was great. They later traded Lieber to Pittsburgh for the smoldering carcass of Stan Belinda, which was not so great. Belinda appeared in exactly 60 games as a Royal while Lieber played for 14 seasons and won 131 games. That was a seriously boneheaded trade, and it doesn’t even fall into the ten worst trades of Royal history. The scary part is the Lieber trade wasn’t even the team’s worst trade of the decade. Yikes!
Of the 53 players selected by the Royals, nine eventually made a major league roster, six of those with KC. The Royals did make a classy gesture in the 25th round by selecting Blue Springs high school pitcher Jamie Splittorff. There was no late round gold in this draft, though future Royal Aaron Guiel went to California in the 21st round.
The Mariners held the #1 pick in 1993 and the no-doubt pick was Miami high schooler Alex Rodriguez. Kansas City had the 5th pick and selected Texas A&M pitcher Jeff Granger, passing on Trot Nixon, Billy Wagner, Derrek Lee, Chris Carpenter and Torii Hunter.
They blew their next 13 picks while Scott Rolen, Jeff Suppan, R.A. Dickey and Kevin Millwood were available. This draft wasn’t particularly deep, but Kansas City scored in the 17th round with pitcher Glendon Rusch. As was their habit in the ‘90s, the Royals brass gave up on Rusch too soon, shipping him to the Mets for the last 14 games of Dan Murray’s career. Rusch was never a star, but he did throw nearly 1,500 innings over 12 seasons.
The Royals best pick in the 1993 draft was their 31st round selection of Jacque Jones, who they did not sign. Sigh. Kansas City selected 65 players in 1993, five of which made the majors and four of those did so with the Royals, but overall, it was a forgettable draft.
1994 was a weak draft class. The New York Mets held #1 and selected Florida State pitcher Paul Wilson. The best talent in the draft went off the board with picks 12, 13, and 14 as Nomar Garciaparra, Paul Konerko and Jason Varitek went back-to-back to back. The Royals picked at #16 and selected Oregon high school player Matt Smith. Troy Glaus, A.J. Pierzynski and Aaron Boone were still available. The Royals made 71 picks in the 1994 draft. Ten of those players eventually made the majors, seven of them with Kansas City. Their best selection was Jose Rosado with pick #331 in the 12th round. Their second-round selection, catcher Matt Treanor, carved out a nine-year career with five teams, but might be better known as Mr. Misty May. May was one of the world’s best sand volleyball players and a three-time Olympic champion. The Royals selected Kit Pellow in the 60th round and Jose Santiago in the 70th round, and they both made the show.
There was more topflight talent available in 1995. Darin Erstad went #1 to the California Angels. Kerry Wood went 4th to the Cubs, Todd Helton went at #8 to the Rockies, and Roy Halladay went #17 to the Blue Jays. Naturally, the best talent dried up before the Royals picked at 19. They took the forgettable Juan LeBron, passing on Jarrod Washburn, Mark Bellhorn, and Marlon Anderson. They made up for it with the second-round pick, taking outfielder Carlos Beltran. In a nutshell, that was their entire draft. 11th round selection, Mark Quinn, had a few brief moments of glory in the early 2000s. By June of 2002, the Royals released Quinn and he never played another game at the major league level.
The Royals made 70 selections, four of which eventually played in the majors. Only three of those played for the Royals. Had they not found Beltran; their draft would have been a massive failure.
The 1996 draft was another that was light on talent. What were all the kids doing, playing football? The Pirates held the #1 pick and went for Clemson pitcher Kris Benson, who gained notoriety by later marrying Anna Benson.
Anyway, the draft. The Royals had pick #14 and selected high school outfielder Dee Brown. They could have selected R.A. Dickey (#18) or Gil Meche (#22) which would have saved them several million dollars in later years. Jason Marquis was still available (#35) as was 1993 Royals pick Jacque Jones, who went to the Twins at #37. The best player in the entire draft was Jimmy Rollins, who went to the Phillies with pick #46 of the second round. The Royals had pick #49 and went with a Nevada high school pitcher named Taylor Myers. The best late-round selection was Roy Oswalt, who went to the Astros in the 23rd round.
Kansas City made 56 selections and a high number, thirteen, made the majors. Seven of those picks made their debut with the Royals. The best player selected by Kansas City was pitcher Matt Guerrier in the 33rd round, but he did not sign. This was a bad draft for the Royals. They might have been better off putting all the eligible names on a wall and throwing darts at the board.
The Detroit Tigers held the #1 pick for 1997 and selected pitcher Matt Anderson. J.D. Drew went #2 to the Phillies. The Royals held the 6th pick and used it on Pacific pitcher Dan Reichert, passing on Michael Cuddyer (#9), Lance Berkman (#16), and Jayson Werth (#22). The Royals made 49 picks in 1997 and the best was their third-round selection, pitcher Jeremy Affeldt. Eight of the Royals selections eventually made the majors, four of those with Kansas City. The entire KC draft accumulated 10.5 WAR, with 9.7 of that coming through Affeldt. In short, it was another dumpster fire draft for Kansas City. There were plenty of future Royals in this draft: Rick Ankiel, Scott Downs, Horatio Ramirez, Ross Gload, Jeremy Guthrie, D. J Carrasco and eventually 2000 pick David DeJesus.
Thankfully for the Royals brain trust, the decade was winding down. The Phillies held the #1 pick in 1998 and selected infielder and playboy, Pat “The Bat” Burrell. The Royals held the 4th pick and took Stanford pitcher Jeff Austin. The Royals, having been burned by high school players, spent most of the 1990s draft capital on college pitchers. Sounds familiar, right? J.D. Drew, unsigned in 1997, went at #5 to the Cardinals. Carlos Pena went at #10, but the big miss was at #22, when the division rival Indians scored with pitcher C.C. Sabathia.
The Royals had three picks in the first round and used them on Austin and pitchers Matt Burch and Chris George. They made 44 selections, 7 of which made the majors, three of those debuting with the Royals. The seven produced a total career WAR of 0.9. You read that right. The Royals best selection was their 8th round pick, infielder Norris Hopper, who spent three years with the Reds after being released by the Royals. There was some decent later round talent that was missed: Aubrey Huff (5th round), Matt Holiday (7th round), Juan Pierre (13th round) and Mark Buehrle in the 38th round.
The Royals had one more crack at redemption in 1999. Didn’t matter, they blew this draft too. Josh Hamilton, a prodigious talent with major personal problems, went #1 to the Tampa Rays. The Royals had the #7 pick and took North Carolina Tarheel pitcher Kyle Snyder, passing on Barry Zito (#9), Ben Sheets (#10) and Alex Rios (#19). They had four first-round selections in this draft and along with Snyder, took Mike MacDougal, Jay Gehrke, and Jimmy Gobble. Gobble was the only high school pitcher of the bunch.
The Royals best pick was in round 9, pick #271 – second baseman Mark Ellis, who racked up 33 WAR in his career. Unfortunately, none of it was with Kansas City. Ellis was part of the disastrous Johnny Damon trade to Oakland. The Royals ended up with Angel Berroa, A.J. HInch and Roberto Hernandez in a three-team deal that cost them Damon and Ellis. It’d have been easier, and smarter, just to pay and keep our guys.
The Royals did pick up Ken Harvey in the 5th round. Kansas City made 53 selections with 11 of those eventually finding a major league roster. Seven of those picks made their debut with Kansas City. The 11 picks that did make it accumulated 42 career WAR, 33 which came from Mark Ellis. Like any previous draft, there was talent available in later rounds. Carl Crawford went with pick #52. Justin Morneau went at #89. The big miss by all teams of course, was Albert Pujols, who went to the other Missouri team in the 13th round.
Normally this would just be considered a stroke of good fortune, like buying a winning lottery ticket, but for Kansas City fans it carries a special cachet since Pujols played his high school ball in Independence. He was known to scouts, as he was a prodigious high school hitter. Even my father had heard of him. I remember dad telling me about this kid playing for the Hays Larks one summer and hitting a ton of home runs. When news about Hays summer baseball reaches a casual fan in Salina, Kansas, you know the player must be something special. And Pujols was. Scouts didn’t trust their eyes and thought him too pudgy and older than he claimed to be. 2021 will be his 21st season in the show. He’s cracked 3,236 hits of which 662 were home runs. He’s won three MVP awards and has been worth over 100 career WAR. He should be a unanimous first-ballot selection to Cooperstown and every baseball scout, young and old, should keep his picture on their desk as a reminder to turn over every rock in search of players.
In summary, the Royals drafts of the decade were atrocious. There’s no way to sugarcoat a decade of this level of futility. By my reckoning, seven of their drafts were total, complete failures. The Royals only picked up three significant players in the 1990s: Mike Sweeney (1991), Johnny Damon (1992), and Carlos Beltran (1995). Add the poor drafts to a franchise in flux with Ewing Kauffman’s death in 1993 and a series of horrendous trades and you have laid the foundation that led to two decades of losing.