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Drafting an all-time Royals team, one pick per round since 1969

One player from round one, one player from round two, and so on and so on.

MLB: Legends and Celebrity Softball Game Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

With the MLB Draft on the horizon, I wanted to write something fun about the Royals and the draft. I’ve had this idea in my head for a while, and finally put pen to paper regarding it.

Here’s the idea: let’s build an all-time Royals team using just one player drafted by the Royals from each round of any and all amateur drafts. That last part, the part about “any and all amateur drafts,” means that I’m digging deep and not only researching the first-year player draft, a/k/a The Rule 4 Draft, in June (now July) that’s been around since before the Royals existed.

I’m also looking at these drafts:

  • January Amateur Draft (1966-1985)
  • January Secondary Draft (1966-1985)
  • June Secondary Draft (1966-1985)
  • June Secondary Draft/Delayed (1971)

As for rules, it’s really simple.

To qualify, the player must have been drafted by the Kansas City Royals. He doesn’t necessarily have to have played for Kansas City Royals, but if it’s a close call, I’ll give the edge to the Royal.

As far as positions, the player isn’t required to have played a bulk of his career at the position I give him, but he does have to have played it for a while.

Lastly, I’m going to field a good ol’ fashioned American League lineup and add two pitchers, one starter and one reliever.

Let’s get to it! Let’s remember some guys and talk about some dudes you may not have realized were even drafted by the Royals. Big thanks to The Baseball Cube for its database of every single Royals draft selection.

The Lock

Maybe another rule should’ve been: don’t overthink it! That goes for our only lock on the team, the team’s second-round pick in 1971, the face of the franchise to this day, the only player enshrined in Cooperstown donning a Kansas City Royals ballcap: George Brett.

By taking Brett, I lose a couple of other solid players from the second round, like Carlos Beltran (1995), who may yet join Brett in the Hall of Fame. Plus, I lose starting pitchers Mark Gubicza (1982), Dennis Leonard (1972), and Steve Busby (1971). Losing Beltran hurts more, of course, as he’s the best of that bunch and because, as you’ll see, the Royals haven’t been great at drafting centerfielders.

But this is an absolute no-brainer as Brett is the franchise’s all-time leader in WAR (88.6), runs scored (1,583), hits (3,154), doubles (665), triples (137), home runs (317), RBIs (1,596), walks (1,096), among other categories, while placing seventh in on-base percentage (.369), third in slugging percentage (.487), and third in OPS* (.857). I’m also putting at the hot corner, where he played close to 1,700 games.

*Who’s first? Danny Tartabull (.894), of course.

Third base is set and the second round is done. This is as easy as it gets.

First-Round Options

The first round of the draft gives this team plenty of options, as it should, as the Royals have pretty consistently drafted toward the top of the first round over the years. Options include catcher John Wathan (1971), right fielder Clint Hurdle (1975), centerfielder Brian McRae (1985), starting pitcher Kevin Appier* (1987), centerfielder Johnny Damon (1992), first baseman/DH Billy Butler (2004), left fielder Alex Gordon (2005), third baseman Mike Moustakas (2007), and first baseman Eric Hosmer (2008). Perhaps five years from now I’d also consider starting pitcher Brady Singer (2018) and shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (2019).

*Appier is my all-time favorite Royal, and that has nothing to do with the fact that he pitched for Antelope Valley College, which is a great name for a place.

Now, I left out two guys, because it really comes down to them. If I’m to take the best player available, I’d go with Zack Greinke (2002), who is destined for the Hall of Fame and has pitched more years for the Royals than any of the six teams for which he’s played. He also won the Cy Young in 2009 when he captured the ERA title (2.16) while also leading the Majors in ERA+ (205) and FIP (2.33) and leading the AL in WHIP (1.073) and home runs per nine innings (0.4). He also set a career-high in strikeouts that year with 242. After leaving the Royals, he went to another five All-Star Games while collecting six Gold Gloves and, interestingly, two Silver Sluggers.

The other option is centerfielder Willie Wilson (1974). Wilson became a regular in Kansas City in 1978 and essentially patrolled centerfield until he left for Oakland before 1991. In that time, he made two All-Star teams , won two Silver Sluggers, a Gold Glove in 1980, the batting title in 1982 (.332) while placing in the top-10 in MVP voting twice and leading the Majors in triples four times and the AL five times.

I’m falling victim to overthinking this. There are options for this team based around taking either Wilson or Greinke, but Greinke is the best pitcher this organization has ever drafted. It’s gotta be him.

With apologies to fellow Cy Young winners Bret Saberhagen (1982, 19th round) and David Cone (1981, 3rd round), Zack Greinke takes the mound.

Second, Short, Left, Right, and Designated Hitter

Second base is interesting in that it comes down to two games drafted in the same round, albeit years apart. The first option is Mark Ellis (1999), who never played for the Royals. Instead, in the winter of 2001, he went with Damon to the Athletics in a three-team deal that netted the Royals Angel Berroa and A.J. Hinch from Oakland and Roberto Hernandez from Tampa Bay. Ellis had a solid, unspectacular career that ended in 2014. While he never made an All-Star team or won a major award, he did finish 33.5 WAR.

The other option is just the second current player to be considered: Whit Merrifield (2010). Unlike Ellis, Merrifield has spent his entire career with the Royals, reaching two All-Star games and leading the league in at-bats three times, hits twice, doubles once, and stolen bases three times. For his career, though, his WAR (16.5) isn’t even half that of Ellis’s. But he’s done it all as a Royal, and has been a reason to go see this team during some lean times. He gets the nod.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Shortstop comes down to two guys also drafted in the same round—the fifth—years apart: Shane Halter versus Nicky Lopez. Halter played for the Royals only two years before for another three teams the rest of his career. Lopez, meanwhile, has suited up for the Royals more than 200 times than did Halter. I’m tabbing him at short.

For left field, it comes down to three guys, two of whom also played in the NFL.

The first, Jeff Conine, has a shot to give this team great value as, in 1987, the Royals didn’t select him until the 58th round of the draft. He made the All-Star team twice while also winning two World Series.

Then there’s Prime Time—yep, Deion Sanders, drafted by the Royals in the 6th round back in 1985. He didn’t sign but was still in the Majors by 1989, debuting for the Yankees. Despite not being a full-time baseball player, he led the Majors in triples in 1992 with 14.

Finally, there’s Bo Jackson, taken in the 4th round in 1986. Bo played four seasons and change for the Royals, and in that time, was one of the most electric players in the sport, blasting home runs and gunning down rifles with his cannon of a right arm. He finished 10th in MVP voting in 1989, also making the All-Star Game that season in which he posted a 124 OPS+. His OPS+ actually rose the next season, to 142.

Who gets the call? I gotta go with Bo. He may not have lasted all that long, he doesn’t given nearly the same amount of value as does Conine, and he creates a bit of a problem by taking out the 4th round. But no matter: Bo knows.

Right field is rather underwhelming. It looks to be between Jacque Jones (1993, 31st round) and Wil Myers (2009, 3rd round). Jones’s career is done after appearing in 10 seasons between 1999 and 2008. It was...fine. It was fine: career 98 OPS+. Nothing special, not too bad. Myers still players and has already surpassed Jones’s career 11.6 WAR, but I think it’s safe to say this young man’s career has been a bit of a disappointment considering how it started. Still, he’s the choice here.

For the DH, two names come to mind: Hal McRae, drafted in the sixth round in 1965, and Mike Sweeney, taken in the 10th in 1991. But you might notice something about McRae: he was drafted before the Royals even existed. While he played 15 seasons with the Royals, I can’t use him here as the Reds drafted him, then dealt him to the Royals before the 1973 season.

Sweeney’s not a bad consolation. The one-time catcher and first baseman appeared in 510 games for the Royals as a DH. During his time in Kansas City, Sweeney made five All-Star teams and twice finished in the top-20 voting for MVP. He finished with just under 1,400 hits as a Royal, including 197 homers and 297 doubles while slashing .299/.369/.492.

To quickly recap, we have our starting pitcher, second baseman, third baseman, shortstop, left fielder, right fielder, and designated hitter using rounds 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, and 10.

First Base

Originally, I had Will Clark at first base. Clark never played for the Royals despite being drafted by them in the 4th round back in 1982. He later broke into the Majors at age 22 and spent most of his career with the Giants and Rangers, reaching six All-Star Games, winning two Silver Sluggers, and one Gold Glove. He finished 56.5 WAR.

But I used the fourth-round pick on Bo Jackson, so Clark’s out.

What about Kevin Seitzer? Taken by the Royals in the 11th round in 1983, he played mostly third base with a little bit of first thrown in. I could put him at third and move Brett across the diamond to first. But I very much like the idea of the face of the Royals franchise playing his main position*.

*This very same argument could be made for third baseman Joe Randa (1991, 11th round).

Jeremy Giambi (1997, 6th round) is another option as is current Padre Luke Voit (2009, 32nd round).

But I’m going with the Royals’ 30th-round pick from back in 1983, a man who played for 11 different teams and became one of my favorite players when I first started watching baseball. He played catcher, third, and, yes, first base, and he has a totally dope last name. I’m talking about Todd Zeile.

Up the Middle

Unfortunately, like several other great Royals, including Frank White and Dan Quisenberry, Salvador Perez does not qualify for this team as the Royals didn’t draft him. That makes filling the catcher spot all the more difficult.

John Wathan was already mentioned, but as a first-round pick, didn’t get much traction. Other options include Mike Macfarlane (1985, 4th round), Tim Spehr* (1988, 5th round), Sal Fasano (1993, 37th round) and Matt Treanor (1994, 4th round).

*Shout out to Excelsior Springs!

Yet, this goes to one Don Slaught, drafted by the Royals in the 7th round back in 1980 out of UCLA. Slaught more than 1,200 games over 16 seasons, his first three with the Royals. He’s not the most recognizable catcher to play in Kansas City, but when it comes to catchers drafted by the Royals, he’s the best.

The last position, then, is centerfield. I talked a lot about Willie Wilson, and there is a path to him on this team, but it means putting Saberhagen on the mound over Greinke. Maybe Saberhagen plus Wilson is better than Greinke plus whomever, but I’m not so sure.

Anyway, centerfield belongs to Jarrod Dyson, the Royals’ 50th round selection back in 2006. Over his big league career, Dyson was worth 15.3 WAR while he swiped 266 bases, scored 387 runs, and got on base at a clip at just over .300. No, that OBP isn’t great, but he was a constant danger on the base paths.

Closer

Back when I chose Bo Jackson over Deion Sanders, I was a bit bummed until I realized the door that opened with that selection. Sanders would’ve taken the 6th round off the board, meaning I couldn’t go with this team’s closer, Tom Gordon.

The Flash began his career as a starting pitcher, even finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year vote in 1989, but once he moved to the bullpen, he excelled, especially for the Red Sox in 1998. He led the league in saves that year with 46. He’d make two more All-Star Games, in 2004 with the Yankees and 2006 with the Phillies. All told, he converted 158 saves from 1997 to 2009.

Recap and Your Team

Here’s my final team:

  • Catcher, Don Slaught, Round 7
  • 1B, Todd Zeile, Round 30
  • 2B, Whit Merrifield, Round 9
  • 3B, George Brett, Round 2
  • SS, Nicky Lopez, Round 5
  • LF, Bo Jackson, Round 4
  • CF, Jarrod Dyson, Round 50
  • RF, Wil Myers, Round 3
  • DH, Mike Sweeney, Round 10
  • SP, Zack Greinke, Round 1
  • Closer, Tom Gordon, Round 6

I like that. Yeah, I like that. I’m not in love with it, but that’s a pretty good squad.

Let me know what you think, and if you could come up with better. I’m sure you could. I mean, I laid out some options throughout the post. Really, it hinges on that first-round pick, what you do with it, Grienke or Wilson (or someone else).

Is this team better than one with Saberhagen on the mound, Will the Thrill at first, Willie in center, and Conine in left? I think it is, but you may disagree. Like I said, post your team so we can find out.