With another season going down the tubes, the Royals will once again look to the future. The rebuild hasn’t happened as quickly as perhaps some had hoped, which makes it even more important for the Royals to have a great draft class.
After a unique draft situation last year, things will look a bit normal-ish for the 2021 MLB draft. Here is what you need to know.
When is the draft?
The 2021 MLB draft will begin Sunday, July 11 at 6 p.m. CT at the Bellco Theater in Denver and take place over three days, ending on Tuesday, July 13. Teams will select for the first round and the Competitive Balance Round A on day one, with rounds 2-10 taking place on day two beginning at noon CT, and rounds 11-20 concluding on day three at 11 a.m. CT. You can watch day one on ESPN and MLB Network, and all three days will stream live on MLB.com.
Isn’t this later than usual?
Yes, the draft is typically held in June, but baseball has looked to increase interest in the event, and has moved it to All-Star weekend. Previously, that would have been difficult because short-season leagues begin play in June, and they need their rosters populated, but baseball ended their affiliation with short-season leagues this year.
You may also notice the draft is just 20 rounds this year. It was 40 rounds in 2019, but was shortened to five rounds last year due to the pandemic. Baseball has been looking to shorten the draft for awhile now, and can do so without the union’s approval. With the elimination of some minor league teams, baseball does not need as many roster spots to fill, so the draft will be just 20 rounds with eligible undrafted players free to sign with anyone.
When do the Royals pick?
The Royals will have the seventh pick in the draft, based on the reverse order of last year’s standings. The Pirates will have the first pick followed by the Rangers, Tigers, Red Sox, Orioles, and Diamondbacks. The Royals won’t pick again until the second round, when they have the #43 overall pick. There are two “Competitive Balance Rounds” to award draft picks to smaller market clubs, and teams alternate years between picking in Round A (after the first round) and Round B (after the second round). This year the Royals will get a Competitive Balance Round B pick, the #66 overall pick. They will get the #78 pick overall in the third round, then make the seventh selection in each round after that. You can see the full draft order here.
How much can they spend on draft picks?
Each draft slot is assigned a dollar value by MLB, and each team can spend no more than their total allotted value on all their picks without incurring a tax on the overage and potentially losing draft picks if they exceed their allotment by five percent. The Royals can spend a total $10,917,700 on their picks in the first ten rounds, eighth-most among any team. You can see complete draft bonus pools here.
Who are the top picks?
There isn’t a consensus top pick, although Vanderbilt pitcher Jack Leiter was atop most boards for much of the season. More recently, California prep shortstop Marcelo Martinez has jumped up to the top spot, and many expect him to go first overall. Other prep shortstops like Jordan Lawlar, Kahlil Watson, and Brady House could be in the mix. Leiter’s teammate Kumar Rocker was once thought to be a candidate for the top pick, but some inconsistent velocity this season has dropped his standing a bit.
Who will the Royals select?
The Royals will likely select the best player available, although there is a need in the organization to add more hitters. Jonathan Mayo of MLB Pipeline recently discussed what the Royals may do in the draft.
Callis: The Royals are in a good spot. This is a Draft where there’s not a Spencer Torkelson or Casey Mize that’s head and shoulders above everybody else. There’s a tier of eight players who you could kind of put in any order you want. You have got four high school shortstops — Marcelo Mayer, Jordan Lawlar, Kahlil Watson, Brady House; the two Vanderbilt pitchers, Leiter and Kumar Rocker; and then you’ve got Louisville catcher Henry Davis and Jackson Jobe, a high school righty from Oklahoma. I’m pretty convinced that Mayer is the best player in the Draft. And Jack Leiter is No. 2. After that, Nos. 3-8, you can kind of put in any order. When I’ve talked to the Royals, they’re kind of in a wait-and-see position. They’re going to see who goes ahead of them and then take the best player available. There’s potential for one, maybe two teams ahead of them to potentially cut deal with players who aren’t in that top eight to save money to spend later, so with the Royals picking seventh, I think they’re going to be looking at two, three or four of the guys in that top eight.
It sounds like the Royals could be interested in any of the high school shortstops, so House could make sense at this spot since he’s still on the board, and an interesting dark horse candidate is South Carolina prep outfielder Will Taylor.
Fangraphs thinks it will be hard for the Royals to pass on Kumar Rocker if he’s there.
At some point a team will see Rocker, who still pitched pretty well with suppressed stuff in 2021, as too good a value to pass on. They’ll see the player he was more recently (low-90s, living off of pitch execution, fourth starter look) as his floor, with the upside that he returns to (and sustains) peak form as better than their other options. If Rocker goes ahead of this, then House, Jobe and Watson are the names attached to this pick. We’re not sure how the club views Lawlar since he hasn’t been expected to fall to them at all, but in this scenario he’s just a different D-backs pick (either Rocker or Watson) from being available here.
One of the few things that people around the industry seem to agree on is that Kansas City is likely to take Rocker if he gets here, and right now, he’s seen as likely to get here. The Royals were on Rocker back to his high school days, and he fits their recent preference for major conference college arms. They’re on House as well, and I’d imagine they would take a long look at Lawlar or Watson if either got this far.
Clint Scoles also sees Rocker as the likely choice, but notes the Royals could go for a prep infielder.
The Likely Pick and Fan Favorite: The Royals have drafted a large group of college pitching recently, and Kumar Rocker’s fading stock leaves him well-positioned to be there for the Royals. The fastball/slider combination he showed throughout his college career makes him a pretty safe pick to get to the back of a rotation, but he will need to mix in the cutter and changeup more to get to the front of a rotation. The Royals haven’t had a ton of luck in the draft with players landing in their spot, but Lacy and Rocker landing to them two years in a row would be pretty fortunate.
Pedigree Pick: As I’ve written already at RR, the pick that makes the most sense outside of Rocker if he was there is Brady House. He fits the mold with what they have taken in the past in Nick Pratto and Bobby Witt with highly coveted players for some time. Not only does he fit that pedigree, but his possible future position fits well with Witt at shortstop and House moving over to third base, where his potential power and defense fits very nicely.
Here are profiles of some of the players the Royals could consider with the #7 pick:
RHP Gunnar Hoglund, Mississippi (recently announced he needs Tommy John surgery)
Other good links:
Among the names likely to be available at #7, who should the Royals select?
This poll is closed
SS Brady House, Winder-Barrow HS
OF Sal Frelick, Boston College
RHP Kumar Rocker, Vanderbilt
OF Will Taylor, Dutch Fork HS