In its second year of existence, the MLB Draft Lottery did to the Kansas City Royals what it did in its first year of existence: shafting the beleaguered franchise with a much worst draft pick than they expected. This year, the Royals matched a team record for losses with 106 and finished with the second-worst squad in baseball. Despite that ignominy, Kansas City will pick sixth in the 2024 MLB draft, behind four teams who performed better (in some cases much better) and the Oakland Athletics (whose hideous 114-loss campaign only earned them the fourth pick in the draft).
Objectively, this is bad. The expected value for MLB draft picks falls off drastically after the first few selections, to the extent that a sixth overall pick can be expected to produce literally half the value of a second overall pick prior to free agency. Beyond that, as new scouting director Brian Bridges pointed out already, the Royals will also get less overall bonus pool money to work with, which affects the entire draft strategy.
The Royals really needed that second overall pick. They really needed that first overall pick. The organization is desperate for top-end talent. But...that’s just the problem. And it’s a big one.
See, you can succeed by picking high in the draft. From 2020 through next year’s draft, Kansas City’s average draft position for their first pick has been 6.8. You can get really good players in that 5-8 range. Over the last ten or so years, that’s included guys like Riley Greene, CJ Abrams, Jonathan India, Braxton Garrett, Kyle Tucker, Andrew Benintendi, Aaron Nola, and Kyle Freeland—and that’s without discussing the players that were available at that point but fell to the teens like Trea Turner, Logan Gilbert, Alek Manoah, and Matt McClain.
And this is without discussing the “hidden gems” that fall further in the draft. Aaron Judge? The 32nd overall pick. Mookie Betts? Pick 172. Freddie Freeman? The 78th selection. Marcus Semien? Number 201. Those four players represent the top four position players by Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement who were selected in an MLB draft. Every one was passed over by a whole bunch of teams (including the Royals) sometimes more than once. In fact, none of the top 10 position players by WAR this year were selected higher than 16th overall.
Yes, it is frustrating to see the Royals lose out on a top three or so pick to teams that lost 20 fewer games than Kansas City. But it is infinitely more frustrating that the Royals are continually in this place despite huge draft bonus pools and an endless string of top 10 selections.
I mean, come on. The Royals have tossed their last four first round picks into the fire. Asa Lacy didn’t pitch in 2023 and has a career Minor League ERA of 7.09. Frank Mozzicato has done better, but “getting lit up in High-A ball with a 90 MPH fastball” is not that much better. Gavin Cross almost instantly fell of top prospect lists as he continued to get worse in High-A ball as the year went on. And Blake Mitchell gets a little bit of the benefit of the doubt, sure, but he’s still a high school catcher who played poorly in 13 Rookie ball games only to be yanked out and put in an instructional league.
Could one of those guys turn it around? Anything can happen! But the issue with the Royals is that they haven’t done a good job at drafting or developing anybody in the farm system outside of Bobby Witt Jr., a generationally talented shortstop prospect who every team in baseball would have selected if they could. He doesn’t really count. If the Royals were good at doing those things, the franchise would not be sitting here coming off a 106-loss record and with the thinnest organizational roster in the entire sport.
Some of this is just me being frustrated and tilting at a windmill I cannot affect. Some of this is assuredly coping with the fact that the Royals got screwed by a system that screws them in other ways all the time—like, losing and getting a high draft pick was one of the last bastions of assuring you could get top talent if you can’t financially compete in free agency. Now, with the lottery, that’s gone.
But at the end of the day, the reason why getting the sixth overall pick as the second-worst team stinks so much is because the Royals have been so bad at drafting and development for so long that the only real hope Royals fans have right now is for the team to get high enough draft picks they can luck into getting a Witt every year. Unfortunately, that’s not much of a strategy, and it speaks to the poor management of the organization more than anything else. That’s not ideal.