By 2017, the Royals could see the party was starting to wind down. They had already traded away dominant reliever Wade Davis, and many expected them to lose the core of their championship club to free agency - Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Alcides Escobar. Management needed a draft that would replenish the farm system and produce the next generation of Royals contenders.
A late-season swoon in 2016 dropped the Royals to the #14 pick in the 2017 draft. Pre-draft, they were linked to some high school pitchers like Trevor Rodgers from New Mexico, Shane Baz from Texas, and DL Hall from Georgia, but Rogers and Baz would be off the board by the time the Royals picked.
Instead, they took a hitter, selecting first baseman Nick Pratto out of Huntington Beach, California. Pratto had been a Little League World Series standout who played baseball with the son of Royals scout Rich Amaral.
“He reminds me of a lot of different players. … He reminds of J.T. Snow as a defender because Nick really likes to play defense and is like a shortstop playing first base. He can also play both of the corner outfield spots,” Amaral said. “I have thought about a lot of different guys — Joey Votto and others — but I would say J.T. Snow would be my first pick.”
Keith Law ranked him #13 on his board, writing the left-handed hitter “projects to a plus hit tool with at least average power and has one of the better swings in the class.” Baseball America ranked him the #24 best draft prospect, with several players ranked higher than Pratto still available when the Royals selected, such as pitchers J.B. Bukauskas (#6), Alex Faedo (#10), Nate Pearson (#14), DL Hall (#16), David Peterson (#17), Sam Carlson (#21), and Tanner Houck (#22), as well as first baseman Evan White (#12), shortstop Logan Warmouth (#19), and outfielders Jeren Kendall (#18) and Drew Waters (#23).
After the draft, our Shaun Newkirk wrote that Pratto was a bit of a reach, and that White was the better first base prospect.
Pratto was a fine pick if everything went the way it was supposed to go, but J.B. Bukauskas wasn’t supposed to fall to the Royals.
Pratto brings off a Dominic Smith kinda vibe to me, and I am/was a fan of Smith both now and when he was drafted.
With their second-round pick, the Royals selected catcher MJ Melendez out of the Miami area, the 52nd-ranked prospect according to Baseball America. The son of Florida International University baseball coach Mervyl Melendez, MJ exhibited a good build, strong arm, and some good power potential. Royals scouting director Lonnie Goldberg ranked him the top high school catcher in the draft with “standout tools and strength”. Shaun wrote, “Prep catchers are a generally terrible investment but Melendez is a sure fire catcher so there’s a decent enough baseline to work from.”
Pratto and Melendez found their fates intertwined as their careers have largely mirrored each other. They both put up pretty good numbers in their first full season in Low-A ball in 2018, only to go to High-A Wilmington and just have a disastrous season. After a season with no minor league ball in 2020 due to the pandemic, they returned in 2021 to put up monster numbers and cement their status as top 100 prospects. Melendez has already reached the big leagues this year with very promising numbers, while Pratto should be in the big leagues before the end of the year.
After those two picks, the 2017 Royals draft class has bore little fruit. Reliever Tyler Zuber (round 6) reached the big leagues but struggled with walks and is now on the Injured List. Reliever Collin Snider (round 12) shows promise with an exciting sinker, but has struggled in the big leagues. Outfielder Brewer Hicklen (round 7) reached the big leagues and has put up good numbers in the minors, but was left unprotected for the Rule 5 draft last winter.
Injuries were also a factor. Two of their high-round picks - pitchers Evan Steele and Daniel Tillo - were unable to stay on the mound. Fourth-round pick Michael Gigliotti suffered an ACL injury that cost him most of an entire season in the outfield.
It also doesn’t look this was a particularly deep draft class. In rounds 3-10, the only players that have come up and produced at least 1 WAR already are infielder Taylor Walls (#79 overall), pitcher Keegan Thompson (#105), pitcher James Karinchak (#282), and pitcher Connor Brogdon (#293).
Royals 2017 draft class, first 20 rounds
|1||14||1B Nick Pratto||Huntington Beach HS (CA)||AAA||Top 100 prospect, hitting .222/.350/.454 with 11 HR in Omaha|
|2||52||C MJ Melendez||Westminster HS (FL)||AAA/MLB||Hitting .258/.333/.468 with 6 HR, his wRC+ of 126 is 8th among all rookies|
|2||73||LHP Evan Steele||Chipola College||Out of baseball||Injury issues, released in 2021|
|3||90||LHP Daniel Tillo||Iowa Western CC||Injured||Had Tommy John surgery and was let go, signed with the Giants|
|4||120||OF Michael Gigliotti||Lipscomb University||AA||Traded to Rays, claimed off waivers by Giants. Suffered major leg injury in 2018|
|5||150||RHP Charlie Neuweiler||McClancy Memorial HS (NY)||High A||4.45 ERA in 62 IP last year, 5.68 ERA with high walk rate this year|
|6||180||RHP Tyler Zuber||Arkansas State University||Injured||5.29 ERA in 49.1 MLB innings, currently out with shoulder impingement|
|7||210||OF Brewer Hicklen||Univ. of Alabama-Birmingham||AAA/MLB||Good power/speed at each level, hitting .258/.346/.436 with 6 HR and 11 SB in AAA|
|8||240||LHP Holden Capps||Univ. of Central Oklahoma||AA||Pitched well at each level until AA, 7.13 ERA in 53 IP for NW Arkansas|
|9||270||LHP J.C. Cloney||University of Arizona||Out of baseball||Reached AA in 2019, retired in 2021|
|10||300||LHP Jordan Floyd||Kansas State University||Out of baseball||Never got out of rookie ball, released in 2018|
|11||330||RHP Sal Biasi||Penn State University||Out of baseball||Traded to Milwaukee, pitched last year in White Sox org before release|
|12||360||RHP Collin Snider||Vanderbilt University||AAA/MLB||Good stuff, but posted a 7.71 ERA in 21 innings at the big league level|
|13||390||RHP Cason Sherrod||Texas A&M University||Injured||Did not sign. Now in Marlins org, but hasn't pitched since 2019|
|14||420||RHP Isaiah Henry||North Shore HS (TX)||Low A||Began as an outfielder, converted to pitching last year|
|15||450||LHP Robert Garcia||Univ. of California-Davis||AA/AAA||Selected in minor league Rule 5 draft by Marlins last year, 1.93 ERA in AAA|
|16||480||C Chris Hudgins||Cal-State Fullerton||AAA||Selected in minor league Rule 5 draft by Orioles in 2020, bat hasn't come around|
|17||510||SS Julio Gonzalez||Florida Gulf Coast University||Out of baseball||Played six games above rookie ball, released after 2018 season|
|18||540||LHP Marlin Willis||McEachern HS (GA)||Low A||Good strikeout numbers but extremely wild. 4.64 ERA with 30 K 23 BB in 21.1 IP|
|19||570||SS Korry Howell||Kirkwood CC||AA||Did not sign. Now in Padres org, ranked #13 in system by MLB.com|
|20||600||RHP Bryar Johnson||Carolina Forest HS (SC)||Out of baseball||Never made it out of rookie ball, released in 2020|
Here is the entire Royals 2017 draft class.
Melendez is just beginning his MLB career and Pratto will soon begin his. If they even come close to doing in the big leagues what they did in the minors, that is pretty good value for a draft class, even if no one else pans out. Still, for a team like the Royals that needs a pipeline of cheap talent to supplement the roster, they really need a few surprise contributors from late in the draft. Perhaps there is still time for a Collin Snider or Brewer Hicklen.