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Who could the Royals have drafted in the 2010s?

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Pitchers on sale!

St Louis Cardinals v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

As I come to the final installment of this draft series, I can reiterate enough how difficult it must be to identify baseball talent. The NBA draft is now only two rounds and is largely an exercise in lottery picking. NBA teams are not so much looking for a player who can step in and contribute right away as much as they are looking for an 18- or 19-year-old who might develop into the next Kobe Bryant. Occasionally a team stumbles onto a diamond in the rough like Luka Doncic while a solid player like Fred VanVleet goes undrafted.

Football is a little more defined. Their draft lasts seven rounds, and each pick is critical. Football players typically spend more years in college, as compared to their NBA or MLB peers, and their game is more developed. NFL picks are expected to contribute immediately. Personally, I think NFL players are easier to evaluate. The first time I saw David Johnson play football, when he was a sophomore in college, I knew he was an NFL player. Same with Jordy Nelson. And Zach Thomas. And many others.

The NBA is more difficult. College ball has been watered down by the one-and-done rule. Seeing a surefire pro playing college ball like James Worthy, Wayman Tisdale or Terry Porter is rare. Today, those guys might have declared for the draft as undeveloped freshmen. For every Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett, there are ten Korleone Youngs, players who spend a career banging around the G-League, when three or four years in college would have done wonders in developing their games.

Baseball is a mash-up of all of this. You have 16-year-old prospects from Latin America. You have 18-year-old high school players. You have 23-year-old college players. Trying to project what these young men may develop into is a herculean task and in my opinion, much more difficult than what is faced by the NFL and NBA.

The MLB draft used to be 50 rounds before being reduced to a measly five rounds in 2020, and who knows how long it will be this year. If a team has a collection of good scouts, and deep pockets, they could exploit this inefficiency by signing dozens of attractive college and high school players. On the other hand, it could lead back to the competitive imbalance of the 1950s and 1960s when teams like the Washington Senators and Kansas City Athletics, through either lack of money or inferior scouting, remained in the cellar perpetually, while stronger teams raked in most of the top prospects. The baseball amateur draft, instituted in 1965, worked to address these imbalances. In fact, the Athletics had the first-ever selection in the amateur draft and took Rick Monday, an outfielder from Arizona State. Without the draft, it’s unlikely a player like Monday would have ended up in Kansas City. He more likely would have played for the Yankees or the Dodgers.

I’m personally in favor of a longer draft than what they had last year. 20 rounds of draft sounds about right to me, though I would be willing to listen to arguments for a longer draft or a shorter one.

2010

The Washington Nationals held the top pick in the 2010 draft and selected Bryce Harper. Manny Machado went with pick #3 to Baltimore. The Royals had the 4th pick and selected Cal State Fullerton shortstop Christian Colon. I admit, at the time, I thought this was a good pick. I had seen Colon play in college and in the games I watched, he was the best player on the field.

Colon, who had his memorable moments in Kansas City, never developed into what a #4 selection should. The Royals passed on Matt Harvey (#7), Christian Yelich (#23) and most painfully, Chris Sale at #13. Many scouts thought Sale was too thin to be an effective starter and that his violent delivery would lead to injury. Sale did eventually need Tommy John surgery but only after accumulating 109 wins and 45 WAR over ten seasons. Colon is on his third team and got into 11 games for Cincinnati this past season.

The Royals’ big find in the 2010 draft was the round 9 selection of Whit Merrifield, a college player who had starred at the College World Series. You know the Whit story well, a player who had to fight his way through the Royals minor league system before finally being given a chance.

Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Indians Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

Nine of the fifty players selected by the Royals eventually made the majors and have accumulated 27 WAR so far. Most of that WAR is attributed to Merrifield (14) and Jon Gray (10), the Royals 13th round pick, who was not signed. In between Colon and Merrifield, the Royals passed on Andrelton Simmons (2nd/70), J.T. Realmuto (3rd/104), Eddie Rosario (4th/135), and Jacob DeGrom (9th/272). Current free agent love interest of Royals Review, Joc Pederson, went in the 11th to Los Angeles. Slugger Evan Gattis was a find in round 23 for the Braves. The 2010 draft produced a lot of major league players but no one that I believe will make it to the Hall of Fame.

Grade: B-

2011

The 2011 draft will long be remembered by the Royal faithful. Gerrit Cole went #1 to the Pirates. The Royals held the #5 pick and were in position to add an impact player. There were several available: Anthony Rendon, Francisco Lindor, Javy Baez, George Springer, Jose Fernandez, and Sonny Gray were all on the board. Instead, the Royals opted for local star Bubba Starling. An bonus of $7.5 million convinced Bubba to play baseball over a football career at Nebraska. Maybe the Royals were haunted by their miss on another local kid, Albert Pujols, and wanted to make sure not to make that mistake again? Either way, it’s hard for me to fathom passing on Rendon, the reigning college player of the year from Rice University, who had hit .388 and .394 in his two college seasons. I like Bubba and had long hoped for his development, but it was not to be.

After the miss on Starling, the Royals selected Cam Gallagher in the second, Aaron Brooks in the 9th and Terrance Gore in the 20th. Their best selection was in the 29th when the Royals tabbed a high school pitcher named Jakob Junis. Eight of the fifty players selected by the Royals have made a major league appearance. Junis has been good for 4 career WAR, while the entire draft haul has only been worth 0.9.

2011 was an unusual draft. The first 29 players selected have all played in the big leagues, which is an unprecedented level of first-round success. Eleven first-round picks made after the Starling selection, including Trevor Story and Blake Snell, have made at least one All-Star team.

The best mid-round selection, available to all, was Mookie Betts who went to Boston in the 5th. Kyle Hendricks and Tommy La Stella both went in the 8th.

Grade: D

2012

The Houston Astros employed a successful tanking strategy and as a result had the first pick in the 2012 draft. They used it on Puerto Rican high school shortstop Carlos Correa. Kansas City had another top-five pick and selected University of San Francisco pitcher Kyle Zimmer. Zimmer had the fastball and curve required of a major league pitcher, but unfortunately, a series of injuries and control issues have limited his success with the Royals.

In selecting Zimmer, the Royals passed on Addison Russell, Lucas Giolito, Corey Seager, Jose Berrios, and Marcus Stroman. Nine of the forty players drafted by the Royals have made the show, with the best of the bunch being their 21st round selection, Matt Strahm, who they later gave away to San Diego in an ill-advised trade. They also picked up pitcher Alec Mills in the 22nd round, before trading him to the Cubs for Donnie Dewees, who has yet to play in the majors. Alec Mills threw a no-hitter this past summer for the Cubs. Strahm and Mills have produced 5.8 of the 6.8 WAR that this draft produced.

The best mid-round talent available were Max Muncy and Ross Stripling, both in the 5th round. Josh Hader was a steal in the 19th by the Orioles. The Royals later scored on Jake Newberry in the 37th round. Once again, the 2012 draft produced dozens of everyday-type players, but no one who is destined for Cooperstown.

Grade: C-

2013

The Astros once again held the #1 pick for 2013 and went for Stanford pitcher Mark Appel. The Chicago Cubs held the #2 slot and selected Kris Bryant. The 2013 draft was a strange one for Kansas City. They held the #8 pick and selected Stephen F. Austin infielder Hunter Dozier, who was a star in college. They passed on Austin Meadows, Tim Anderson, Aaron Judge, and Corey Knebel to take Dozier. Later in the first, Kansas City selected pitcher Sean Manaea with pick #34.

Cody Bellinger was the mid-round steal, going to the Dodgers in the 4th. Jeff McNeil went to the Mets in the 12th. Eleven of the Royals forty-one picks have made the majors, including Ryan McBroom, their 36th round selection, who did not sign. The Royals later acquired him from the Yankees. Other selections were Kevin McCarthy (16th), Frank Schwindel (18th) and Glenn Sparkman (20th). Two of the Royals picks in this draft, Manaea and Cody Reed (2nd/46) were later swapped to Oakland (Manaea and Aaron Brooks for Ben Zobrist) and Cincinnati (Reed, Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb for Johnny Cueto). Cueto and Zobrist were instrumental in helping secure the Royals World Series title in 2015, so there’s that.

The Royals were finding some players, just not any who would make a big impact. This draft has produced 10.7 WAR with 8.8 of that coming from Manaea.

Grade: C+

2014

For the third year in a row, Houston held the #1 pick and in the 2014 draft used it on Brady Aiken, a high school pitcher from San Diego. Kansas City held the 17th pick and selected TCU pitcher Brandon Finnegan. The best first-round selection was Matt Chapman, who went to Oakland with pick #25. Jack Flaherty went to the Cardinals with pick #34 and has shown flashes of becoming a solid pitcher. Kansas City also held pick #28 and selected pitcher Foster Griffin, who is no longer in the organization.

Eight of their forty-two picks have made the majors, including Scott Blewett (2nd), Eric Skoglund (3rd), and Ryan O’Hearn (8th). The Royals’ best late-round selection was pitcher Tim Hill in the 32nd. Hill is now with the Padres, who are something of Kansas City Royals West, what with all the ex-Royals they have.

Kansas City’s biggest mid-round miss would have been pitcher John Means, who played high school ball at nearby Gardner-Edgerton High School, the same school that produced Bubba Starling. Means made the American League All-Star team in 2019. Baltimore got him in the 11th round. In the 37th round the Detroit Tigers selected Whitehouse Texas high school pitcher Patrick Mahomes. Fortunately, Mahomes elected to play football.

Other than missing on Chapman and Means, it’s hard to say what the Royals could have done differently in this draft, which was light on impact players. The draft has produced -.1 WAR for the Royals.

Grade: D

2015

The Arizona Diamondbacks held the #1 pick in the 2015 draft and used it on Dansby Swanson. Houston had the second and fifth picks in the first round, with the second being compensation for failing to sign Brady Aiken the year before. The Astros did well by selecting Alex Bregman at #2. The Royals had the 21st pick and selected Indiana high school pitcher Ashe Russell. Russell was Indiana’s Gatorade High School player of the year but ran into personal issues and was not ready to make the leap to professional baseball. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019 and remains part of the Royals organization.

Three picks later, the Dodgers selected Vanderbilt pitcher Walker Buehler, who looks like he’s going to be a star. The Royals had a second first-round pick at #33 and plucked another pitcher out of the Indiana high school waters, Nolan Watson. Watson was last seen marooned at Wilmington, no closer to the big leagues than the day he left Lawrence North High School.

Kansas City Royals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Aside from five or six players early in the first round, this draft has been one of the weaker in recent memory. The Royals scored a huge hit with their second-round selection, fireballer Josh Staumont. Nick Dini, a scrappy catcher selected in the 14th round is their only other player to appear in a big-league game. Unless Russell grows into the maturity needed to be a professional athlete, Staumont will be the only one of the Royals’ 41 picks to make an impact. Brandon Lowe and Harrison Bader were both excellent 3rd round picks. The Cardinals scored again with Paul DeJong in the 4th. Jake Cronenworth was a nice 7th round pick by Tampa. Nick Madrigal was a solid find in the 17th by the Indians, but they were unable to sign him. The highlight of draft analysis for me is seeing players like Daniel Zamora, picked in the 40th round, pick #1207, eight picks from the end of the draft, make it to the bigs. Zamora has appeared in 33 games in his young career with the Mets. Well done Mr. Zamora.

Grade: D (could end higher depending on Staumont’s career)

2016

The Philadelphia Phillies held the #1 pick in the 2016 draft and selected California high school outfielder Mickey Moniak, who made his debut in 2020 as a 22-year-old. Kansas City did not have a first-round selection due to signing free agent Ian Kennedy. With their first pick, #67 of the 2nd round, they selected Pepperdine pitcher A.J. Puckett. Puckett was part of a trade package to division rival Chicago White Sox to bring Melky Cabrera back to Kansas City for 58 games in 2017. What a waste that was. Now the draft analysis is becoming more difficult. The Royals took Khalil Lee in the 3rd, and he could still develop into something. Nicky Lopez was their 5th round choice and we’ve possibly seen his upside. Richard Lovelady was a 10th round choice and one of my personal favorites, Nick Heath, was selected in the 16th. Four of their thirty-nine picks have made the majors with Lopez being the WAR leader at this point.

There were a few early ascenders: Pete Alonso to the Mets with the 64th pick in the 2nd round. Shane Bieber went to the Indians in the 4th. Cavan Biggio went to the Blue Jays in the 5th. Tony Gonsolin is looking like a decent pick for the Dodgers in the 9th. Zach Plesac was another Cleveland find in the 12th.

Grade: TBD

2017

In the 2017 draft, the Minnesota Twins held the top pick and went for California high school shortstop Royce Lewis. Highly touted Hunter Greene went to Cincinnati at #2. The Royals held pick #14 and went for Huntington Beach, CA high school first baseman Nick Pratto. Pratto suffered through a tough 2019 campaign at Wilmington, but the Royals still believe he will develop into a big-league player.

In the second round, Kansas City selected catcher MJ Melendez. They nabbed Daniel Tillo in the 3rd, Tyler Zuber in the 6th and Brewer Hicklen in the 7th. All five of those players have shown up at various times on the Royals top prospect lists. Zuber is the only pick from this draft to make the majors, debuting in July last year.

Grade: TBD

2018

The Detroit Tigers held the #1 pick in the 2018 draft and selected Auburn pitcher Casey Mize, who made his major league debut on August 19th, 2020. Kansas City made a pronounced change in strategy heading into the 2018 draft: stockpile experienced college arms. I like it.

With the 18th selection, the Royals took University of Florida right-hander Brady Singer. Singer looks like the real deal, having made his major league debut on July 25th, 2020.

The Royals, with four first-round picks, took five college arms in a row: Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, and Jonathan Bowlan in the second, before breaking the string with outfielder Kyle Isabel in 3rd. Later they added pitchers Austin Cox (5th/152) and Zach Haake (6th/182). In all, the Royals signed 33 of their 43 picks. I like it a lot. Bubic, who I am very big on, was the second from this class to make the majors, debuting on July 31, 2020.

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Time will tell the story about this draft class, but my gut feeling is the Royals brass hit it out of the park with this draft.

Grade: Early A but long-term TBD

2019

The Baltimore Orioles held the #1 pick in the 2019 draft and chose Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman. This left Bobby Witt Jr. to the Royals at #2 and I’ve yet to hear a complaint about that. Witt Jr. also looks like the real deal and many think he could debut for the Royals this summer. This class didn’t have the sizzle that the 2018 class carried, though the Royals did sign 31 of their 41 selections. I like it a lot. Unfortunately, this class might be known in the future as the Covid Class, after having their 2020 minor league season canceled. 30th round pick Jimmy Govern did make a bit of a splash in the summer of 2019 finding some playing time at AAA Omaha.

When it comes to the recent draft classes and minor league analysis, I strongly advise you to check out my colleague, Minda Haas Kuhlmann’s expert analysis.

Grade: TBD