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Royals try to balance floor and ceiling with a college-heavy 2022 draft

The class is highlighted by two college hitters

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2022 Major League Baseball Draft Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

A year after a risky draft class headlined by gambles on projectable prep pitchers, the Royals went the opposite direction in the 2022 draft. The first 17 selections of the draft were all college players, with the headliners being ninth overall pick Gavin Cross and 49th overall pick Cayden Wallace. This is a notable departure from how the Royals typically draft at the top. The Royals had not used their first-round pick on a college hitter since drafting Hunter Dozier in 2013. The only other time in the Dayton Moore era they drafted a college hitter first was also the only time they’ve used their first two picks on college bats: 2010, when they drafted Christian Colon and Brett Eibner.

Perhaps this has something to do with personnel. This is the first draft for new Royals scouting director Danny Ontiveros. He spoke highly of Cross’s and Wallace’s ability on both sides of the ball:

“We think they’re both going to be potential middle-of-the-order bats, and the good thing is that they’re both plus defenders. We just feel like we got really well-rounded players that fit with what we’re doing right now.”

Kansas City was originally slated to have three day one draft picks, but traded the 35th pick to Atlanta for prospects. Lonnie Goldberg, now vice president of player personnel, views those prospects as part of their day one haul and highlights their versatility:

“It was important we walked out of today with baseball players that were versatile, that could do a lot of what you see in the Major League team now, what went on in [the weekend series in Toronto], with a lot of versatile players that could play multiple positions. When that pick was traded, we also look at those three players as part of our Draft. If you think about what we added in that trade and what we added today, pretty good haul for the first day of the Draft.”

Day two of the draft demonstrated a clear focus on college players, with the six pitchers and two position players taken all hailing from the college ranks. According to Ontiveros, this was not necessarily Kansas City’s plan entering day two of the draft:

“Well, it wasn’t planned. Sometimes it just really depends on availability at the time. There’s signability questions that come up with some of the high school players. We like these players. So when you start looking at things, financially things worked out, and we really liked these players. I just kind of ended up going with it.”

This may have been done in part due to the aforementioned trade with Atlanta that shrunk the Royals’ draft pool money and thereby limited their flexibility. It also could have been a maneuver to set aside money for an overslot pick later in the draft. Regardless, the decision to lean heavily into college arms in rounds 3-10 looks a little odd juxtaposed against some of Dayton Moore’s statements after last year’s draft concerning the limited ceilings of college arms. Ontiveros sees the day two haul as a solid mix of starters, relievers, and position players with ceiling:

“I started looking at it like, ‘OK, we got some starter ceiling, bullpen ceiling, really solid catcher… and then you got Levi Usher, who’s going to be plus anywhere in the outfield.’ You always want to get some youth and bigger ceiling to hit on, but sometimes when it’s not there, I think some people have a tendency to force it at times, and I didn’t want to do that.”

The college trend continued on day three with a steady diet of college players before three prep players were selected with the last three picks. While day two saw a group of players with decent floors but perhaps limited ceilings, day three featured some higher upside players, some of whom may require overslot bonuses. Through the first seven picks, Kansas City did the same as in day two: two college bats, the rest position players. Finally, with their last three picks, the Royals selected prep players, including one fairly highly ranked player that will be tough to sign.

In all, the Royals selected six college position players, 11 college pitchers, one prep position player, one prep pitcher, and one prep two-way player.

Round 1, Pick 9: OF Gavin Cross, Virginia Tech

This doesn’t come as much of a surprise as Cross had frequently been linked to the Royals this spring, including recently in a mock draft by our friends over at Royals Farm Report. Cross is coming off a strong season for the Hokies in which he hit .328/.411/.660 with 17 homers, 14 doubles, and 12 stolen bases without being caught. He walked 10.7% of the time with a tidy 14.6% strikeout rate. Cross has above-average skills across the board with potential to unlock even more power than he’s already shown. The Royals are going to try him in center, but he should be an above-average defensive right fielder if he can’t stick up the middle. While he might lack the ceiling of some other top ten picks, Cross seems like a safe bet to be a regular in the big leagues in the near future.

MLB Pipeline: 10

Prospects Live: 8

Baseball America ($): 10

Keith Law ($): 10

Kiley McDaniel ($): 10

D1Baseball (college player ranking only)($): 4

Royals Farm Report Draft Guide ($): 11

Round 2, Pick 49: 3B Cayden Wallace, Arkansas

Wallace is not as polished as Cross, but offers interesting upside. As a draft-eligible sophomore, he is one of the younger college bats available. He’s coming off a season where he slashed .298/.387/.553 with 20 doubles, 16 homers, and 12 stolen bases while being caught just once. He posted a solid 11.8% walk rate and struck out 17.3% of the time. Wallace has above-average raw power and makes frequent hard contact, though that power is currently mostly pull-side. The physical tools are there; his development will be a matter of refining his approach. He mostly played the outfield as a freshman but moved to third base this year, where he has a good chance to stick.

MLB Pipeline: 31

Prospects Live: 56

Baseball America: 53

Keith Law: 70

Kiley McDaniel: 42

D1Baseball (college player ranking only): 19

Royals Farm Report Draft Guide: 44

Round 3, Pick 87: RHP Mason Barnett, Auburn

While a 4.69 ERA over three seasons at Auburn isn’t super impressive, Barnett has shown the ability to punch dudes out with a 28.6% strikeout rate in college ball and 26.4% in his summer in the Cape Cod League. He walked 11.3% of batters, which is playable but has room for improvement. Though he stands 6’ even, he’s got velo with a fastball that sits 93-96, but the shape leaves something to be desired. The slider is the money pitch, hitting 87 with wipeout break. Barnett also throws a changeup and curveball that could be plus. The secondaries are the strength here, and Barnett could carve out a role as a starter with improvements to his fastball.

MLB Pipeline: 209

Prospects Live: 352

Baseball America: 383

Kiley McDaniel: 292

D1Baseball (college player ranking only): 113

Round 4, Pick 115: RHP Steven Zobac, Cal

Zobac was a two-way player his first two years in Berkeley. In the truncated 2020 season, he played in 11 games as an outfielder and five as a reliever, posting uninspiring numbers in both roles. He found much more success in both roles as a sophomore, posting a .703 OPS in 52 games in the field and a 4.66 ERA in 14 pitching appearances. Zobac transitioned into full-time pitching in 2022. He began the season in the weekend rotation, moved to the bullpen after early struggles, and returned to the rotation down the stretch. The highlight was consecutive starts against New Mexico and Utah in which he totaled 13 scoreless innings with 23 punchouts. In 61.2 innings in 2022, Zobac threw to a 4.09 ERA, striking out 27.9% of batters faced with a tidy 7.8% walk rate and just four homers allowed. He fills the strike zone with heavy use of a low-90s fastball that tops out at 96. His secondaries include a low-80s slider with solid bite that missed bats and a scarcely-used changeup that he showed decent feel for. Zobac is a pitchability-type arm with a chance to start long-term.

MLB Pipeline: 241

Prospects Live: 395

Baseball America: 251

Kiley McDaniel: 284

Round 5, Pick 145: LHP Hunter Patteson, Central Florida

Patteson had a ton of projection as a prep arm and was drafted in the 35th round in 2019 by the Cubs but elected not to sign. He had middling results early on in college but was in the midst of a breakout 2022 campaign before going down with Tommy John in April. In his seven starts he struck out 34.2% of batters and walked just 4.2% while pitching to a 1.82 ERA. Patteson has the build to start, standing 6’5” and 200 lb. His fastball sits mid-90s with good shape. He shows a plus changeup and a slider that could be plus with some refinement. This is an arm you can dream on and, given he’ll be 23 by the time he pitches again, should be an easy sign for the Royals.

Prospects Live: 239

Baseball America: 195

Round 6, Pick 175: C Hayden Dunhurst, Ole Miss

Dunhurst was a highly regarded prep prospect in the 2019 draft but fell to the 37th round due to a strong commitment to Ole Miss. Entering the 2022 season, Dunhurst was expected to be one of the best backstops in the country. D1Baseball ranked him fourth among catchers in the preseason. But his offensive numbers took a considerable step back compared to 2021, with his OPS dropping from .821 to .754 and his strikeout rate spiking from 16.0% to 32.7%. His struggles may be in part due to a hamstring injury he dealt with throughout the spring as scouts still generally like his tools at the plate. He won’t need to hit a ton to carve out a role as a big league catcher as his defense behind the dish is elite. He has perhaps the best throwing arm of any catcher in the draft and is an above-average receiver. Dunhurst looks like a defense-first, power-over-hit catcher with the chance to be more if he can improve the hit tool.

MLB Pipeline: 155

Prospects Live: 221

Baseball America: 148

Kiley McDaniel: 117

Round 7, Pick 205: RHP Mack Anglin, Clemson

Anglin had a strong sophomore season split between the rotation and bullpen in 2021 and dominated in three Cape Cod League outings, striking out 16 and walking just three batters in 12.2 innings without an earned run. He was a draft-eligible sophomore but dropped to the 13th round due to signability concerns. He returned to Clemson and spent all of 2022 in the weekend rotation. He had a 4.48 ERA in 15 starts, striking out 22.6% of batters but walking 15.1%. When it comes to Anglin, it’s all about the stuff. He throws a fastball that sits 92-95 with run and tops out at 98, complemented by a mid-80s slider, a low-80s curveball, and a low-80s changeup. He generates elite spin rates and both breaking balls have a chance to be plus-plus, while the change is a fringe offering. He’s most likely a bullpen arm with a chance to throw high-leverage innings if he can improve his command.

MLB Pipeline: 179

Prospects Live: 357

Baseball America: 308

D1Baseball: 78

Round 8, Pick 235: RHP Wesley Scott, Walters State C.C.

Scott bounced around in his collegiate career, struggling to find playing time in his first two years. He got just three innings for Arizona in 2020 and just two for San Jacinto College in 2021. He finally found a role in the rotation at Walters State and threw the ball well with a 3.60 ERA in 75 innings. He struck out 118 batters and walked just 24, but he also plunked 26. He offers a low-90s fastball that tops out at 94 and a big, sweeping slider in the high 70s. Destined for relief pitching.

Round 9, Pick 265: RHP Brandon Johnson, Ole Miss

This dude can punch guys out. Johnson began his collegiate career with two seasons at Columbia State College in 2019 and 2020. He threw 80.2 innings over the two years with 109 strikeouts to 32 walks with a 3.01 ERA. He transferred to Ole Miss in 2021 and slotted into the Rebel bullpen. He took over as the closer for 2022 and racked up the whiffs with a 39.4% strikeout rate and a manageable 11.7% walk rate, though he was prone to the long ball with eight homers allowed in 41.2 innings. He closed out the final game of the College World Series against Oklahoma, striking out the side on 14 pitches. Though Johnson stands just six-foot even, he is a high-energy mound presence and attacks hitters with a mid-90s heater with ride. He’s also shown the ability to miss bats with both a changeup and a slider. Having turned 23 last month, Johnson could rise quickly as a bullpen arm.

Round 10, Pick 295: OF Levi Usher, Louisville

Usher is a toolsy outfielder that began his collegiate career at Kirkwood Community College and had a huge season that led to a 37th-round selection by the Angels in the 2019 draft. He opted instead to transfer to Louisville and in the shortened 2020 season, he posted a 1.056 OPS in 16 games. He followed that up with a very disappointing season that led to him going undrafted in 2021. Usher bounced back in 2022 with a .818 OPS and 36 stolen bases while only being caught thrice, though the plate discipline numbers were unremarkable with a 23.9% K rate and an 8.9% walk rate. Usher was a huge part of Louisville’s victory in the Regionals, going 10-21 with two doubles. He’s also played four seasons of summer ball with mixed results. Usher is a great athlete with elite bat speed but an approach that needs work. He’s shown above-average defensive chops in center field with plus speed and a strong arm. He could carve out a role as a glove-first fourth outfielder.

Prospects Live: 587

Round 11, Pick 325: RHP David Sandlin, Oklahoma

This could be the guy the Royals were saving money for earlier in the draft. Sandlin pitched for Eastern Oklahoma State College in 2020 and 2021 before transferring to Oklahoma for his third season. He served as the Saturday guy in the Sooners’ weekend rotation and threw 95 innings with a 5.59 ERA, striking out 24.2% of batters faced and walking 7.4%. He saved his best for last, throwing seven innings of one-run ball with 12 strikeouts against Texas A&M to send Oklahoma to the College World Series Finals. Sandlin’s arsenal begins with a fastball that sits 91-93 and tops out at 96 with arm-side run but has been rather hittable in college. His breaking stuff is the high point of the arsenal with a slider that sits 82-85 with nice lateral movement and a plus-flashing curveball at 78-80. He mixes in changeups as well that have been unexceptional. At 6’4” and 215 lb, he has starter traits, but will need to improve his pitch shape to be a future rotation piece.

MLB Pipeline: 206

Prospects Live: 287

Baseball America: 242

Kiley McDaniel: 241

D1Baseball: 66

Round 12, Pick 355: SS Jack Pineda, Baylor

Like several of the above picks, Pineda started off on the JUCO scene, playing ball at College of Southern Nevada for two seasons before transferring to Baylor. He was a regular starter for the Bears over the past two seasons, splitting time between shortstop and second base in 2021 before taking over as the full-time shortstop in 2022. He did nothing but hit over those two seasons, slashing .313/.410/.498 in 105 games with a 15.8% K rate and 11.8% walk rate. If it hasn’t happened already, it’s only a matter of time before somebody in the organization describes him as “gritty.” Royals Farm Report already has. This guy is just a very solid college ballplayer that does all the little things well. He puts the bat on the ball consistently, runs the bases well, and plays excellent defense up the middle. There’s no real standout tool here but he hasn’t been especially bad at anything either. He could have a future as a super-utility player, but will probably need to hit for more power to hold down an everyday role. Of note: Pineda planned on transferring to LSU for 2023, so it’s no guarantee that he will sign.

Prospects Live: 344

Round 13, Pick 385: LHP Ryan Ramsey, Maryland

Ramsey spent three years pitching for the Terps in the Big Ten. He pitched sparingly in 2020 before getting more regular bullpen appearances in 2021, often working multiple innings in relief. He followed that up with an outstanding summer ball showing in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. He pitched 24 innings with a 1.88 ERA, striking out 42.7% of batters faced and walking just 7.9%. Ramsey slotted into the Maryland rotation for the 2022 season and had an excellent season, pitching 92.1 innings with a 3.22 ERA. The peripherals took a bit of a step back compared to his previous bullpen and summer ball work as he struck out 23.6% and walked 10.7%. The highlight of his season came on April 29 when he threw a perfect game against Northwestern with ten strikeouts. The fastball sits just 88-90, but has good shape that makes it an effective pitch at the top of the zone. He also throws a changeup around 80 that was solid at generating swings and misses this spring and a breaking ball that blends between a slider and curveball. The fastball and changeup is a solid foundation, but he’ll need to refine his command and sharpen his breaking ball to have a future as a starter.

Prospects Live: 379

Baseball America: 337

Round 14, Pick 415: RHP Ben Sears, Houston

Sears is a 6’5” hurler that first pitched collegiately at Community College of Rhode Island. He put up two strong seasons there before transferring to Houston for the 2021 season. He spent most of the season as a starter but put up mediocre numbers with a low strikeout rate. He pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen in 2022 and was much more effective with a 3.11 ERA in 66.2 innings. He only struck out 18.1% of batters but walked a minuscule 3.0%. His peripherals suggest a pitchability guy, but the arsenal reads like that of a power pitcher: a sinker sitting 92-95 paired with a wipeout slider at 82-84. He could find a role out of the bullpen if he can generate more whiffs.

Round 15, Pick 445: OF Javier Vaz, Vanderbilt

The 5’9” Vaz started out at LSU Eunice in the 2019 and 2020 seasons where he hit well with a 1.042 OPS in 77 games and a remarkable 75-21 walk-to-strikeout ratio. He transferred to Vanderbilt for the 2021 season and played sparingly for most of the season on a stacked Commodores squad. He got more playing time down the stretch and ended up playing a key role in Vanderbilt’s run to the College World Series Finals, getting on base in key moments and playing outstanding outfield defense. He got much more playing time in 2022 and made the most of it, slashing .280/.402/.490 in 51 games, walking 14.5% of the time and striking out in just 8.5% of plate appearances. From a subjective standpoint, Vaz is an exciting player. He runs well, plays outstanding corner outfield defense, and exhibits a mature approach at the plate with very little swing-and-miss. He’s played all over the diamond in his collegiate career, but was mostly limited to left field with Enrique Bradfield Jr and Spencer Jones entrenched in center and right, respectively. With his defense and approach at the plate, Vaz might be able to carve out a role as a super-utility guy.

Round 16, Pick 475: LHP Cooper McKeehan, BYU

McKeehan has pitched exclusively as a one-inning reliever in his three seasons at BYU. He put together a very solid 2022 campaign, tossing 23 innings with a 1.57 ERA, a 41.8% strikeout rate, and a 14.3% walk rate. He’s been excellent at the Cape Cod League this summer, throwing 9.2 shutout innings with 13 punchouts and just one walk. The fastball is unremarkable, sitting 88-92, but he pairs it with a hard 12-6 curveball that hitters had no answer for this spring. He’s a potential bullpen piece but will have to throw more strikes.

Baseball America: 414

Round 17, Pick 505: LHP Chazz Martinez, Oklahoma

Martinez was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 12th round of last year’s draft after a strong two-way season at Orange County College, but he did not sign and transferred to Oklahoma for the 2022 season. D1Baseball wrote this about Martinez preseason:

Scouts still want to see the talented two-way standout do it when the lights are on this spring, but the upside here is astronomical. Martinez will provide some definite lefthanded power to the OU offensive lineup, while his greatest asset is on the mound, where he sat 92-95 and up to 96 mph with his fastball in the fall, along with a slider, curveball and changeup mix. He’s slated to be in the weekend rotation, and could be the league’s top prospect before it’s all said and done.

Unfortunately, Martinez did not have the season he or the Sooners had been hoping for. He only received ten plate appearances and did not hit at all. The focus on pitching did little to help his mound performance. He began the season in the rotation, moved to the bullpen, and only tossed four innings in Oklahoma’s long tournament run. When it was all said and done, he threw 64.1 innings with a 5.32 ERA, striking out 23.1% and walking 11.0%. Martinez is 6’3” and 210 lbs with a delivery that scouts love, and the arsenal offers starter potential: a mid-90s fastball that’s been up to 99 with good ride, a mid-80s slider that’s devastating against lefties, and a changeup that’s flashed nice diving fade. He demonstrated little consistency this spring and will need considerable refinement to succeed in pro ball, but the upside is substantial.

Prospects Live: 392

Baseball America: 273

D1Baseball: 129

Round 18, Pick 535: OF Milo Rushford, Walden Grove HS (AZ)

The first prep player drafted by Kansas City, Rushford pitched in high school with a four-pitch mix, but the Royals drafted him as an outfielder. He has demonstrated consistent timing and barrel control in the left-handed batters box with more power likely to come as his 6’2” frame fills out. He’s a plus athlete that shows fluid actions and good arm strength in the pasture. Committed to New Mexico State.

Round 19, Pick 565: RHP Tommy Szczepanski, Garber HS (MI)

Szczepanski (2:15 in this video if you’d like to know how it’s pronounced) is a projectable 6’5” hurler that’s already shown solid velo with a low-to-mid 90s heater paired with two distinct breaking balls. While the stuff is nice, the command is scattershot and his delivery signals reliever risk. Committed to Michigan.

Baseball America: 256

Round 20, Pick 595: SS/RHP Austin Charles, Stockdale HS (CA)

This is a classic case of a well-regarded prep player falling likely due to bonus demands. Charles has expressed a preference to be a position player, while scouts believe he has a more promising future on the mound. In the box, Charles has plus-plus raw power and a ton of bat speed, but also funky swing mechanics that may give him hit tool problems at the next level. He is very athletic with a good arm but likely won’t stick at shortstop, and perhaps not in the infield at all. He does have the physical tools to be an above-average outfield defender. On the mound, Charles has been up to 95 with his fastball with more velo likely as he fills out his 6’7” frame. He’s shown good feel for an upper 70s breaking ball, while the changeup remains a work in progress. Given how little he’s pitched in high school, his delivery is inconsistent and will need refinement. Committed to UC Santa Barbara, Charles will be a tough signing, but the upside here is immense.

MLB Pipeline: 109

Prospects Live: 120

Baseball America: 102

Kiley McDaniel: 200


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