This season’s All-Star break festivities will take place in Seattle, Washington. Among them, the MLB First-Year Player Draft will take place from July 9-11 at Lumen Field. This year’s draft is the first since the league implemented a draft lottery and as a result of the lottery results, the Royals have the eighth overall selection this July. What direction might Kansas City go this year? Since 2017, the Royals have selected eight players in the first round, including five pitchers and three hitters.
Royals First Round Picks
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Among the eight players, three were prep players and five were from the college ranks. Which direction might the Royals go this year? The draft's consensus top pick is Dylan Crews, an outfielder from LSU. There’s a strong mix of hitters and pitchers at the top of most draft boards. Here are my favorite players for the Royals to consider at pick number eight:
Arjun Nimmala, Shortstop, Strawberry Crest High School
Max Clark is the draft’s number-one High School prospect, but I don’t think Nimmala is very far behind him in that regard. He’s got a 6-foot-1 frame and is still just 17 years old. In fact, he won’t even turn 18 until December 2023 which means his first full professional season will be at age 18. Nimmala burst onto the prep scene in 2021 when he slashed .384/.474/.521 with 15 walks and just 12 strikeouts over 73 at-bats. He hit for more power as a junior in 2022, and so far in 2023, he’s put it all together in a fantastic way.
He’s slashed .508/.592/.952 for the Chargers with seven doubles, three triples, and five home runs. He also has nine stolen bases. Of course, the range of talent among the prep pool is wide and statistics don’t mean nearly as much as they do in say, the SEC. It’s more about projectability, but Nimmala offers plenty of that as well.
Strawberry Crest (FL.) SS Arjun Nimmala hit a ball to Pluto last night for a grand slam. Scouts at the field said this ball was absolutely torched.— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) February 14, 2023
No. 16 on the @ProspectsLive Top 300. pic.twitter.com/McXLHEpapF
He projects as a shortstop or third baseman long-term with well above-average power and a fairly safe hit tool as well. He ranks 14th on MLB Pipeline’s Top Draft Prospects with a 50-graded hit tool, 55-grade power, and a 55-grade glove. Joe Doyle of Future Stars Series ranks Nimmala as his number seven overall prospect:
Nimmala’s best tool is without question what some believe is 70-grade raw power, and he’s already getting to it. Scouts would like to see Nimmala handle breaking balls a bit better, but given his age and lack of advanced instructional training, most believe he just hasn’t had the chance to break through in that category yet. Nimmala has a chance to hit 35 homers per year at the shortstop position if the hit tool can be even solid average.
With the shape the Royals are in, they need high-ceiling prospects to rebuild a mediocre farm system. Nimmala would instantly become a top-100 MLB Prospect and would become the team’s top prospect, unseating Gavin Cross. Don’t worry too much about him playing shortstop. At his age — and with his frame — a move to third base in the future wouldn’t be unheard of. Teams draft for talent more than position anyway. Get the talent in the system and find out where they fit in later.
Rhett Lowder, Right-Handed Pitcher, Wake Forest
The Royals drafted college pitcher after college pitcher in the 2018 MLB Draft. Two years later, they took another with the fourth overall pick when they selected Asa Lacy. Now in 2023, the payoff for those picks is still very minimal. Brady Singer put it together in a solid 2022 season but has struggled this season. Asa Lacy is rebuilding himself in Arizona and may end up a reliever when it is all said and done.
What all this means is simple: the Royals still need pitching — and lots of it. Lowder is currently pitching in his third season for Wake Forest. He is 10-0, with a 1.67 ERA and 90 strikeouts over 75.2 innings pitched. His strikeout per walk is a phenomenal 5.63. Lowder ranks as the ninth overall prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Top Draft Prospects. He commands a three-pitch mix including a fastball, slider, and “one of the best changeups in college baseball.”
Lowder can hit the upper 90s with his fastball, usually peaking at 97. The slider is good-not-great but could develop into a great breaking ball offering. In all, he’s a high-floor college arm that possesses a solid ceiling. My only concern with Lowder is that he’s maybe a little bit too safe. He’s already filled out his frame and doesn’t get a ton of hype around his fastball shape. There’s not as much risk with Lowder as there may be with other options, but there’s a trade-off for less ceiling with a safer floor.
Enrique Bradfield, Center Fielder, Vanderbilt
If I had to pick a “prototypical” Royal out of this year’s draft crop, it’s probably Enrique Bradfield. He offers elite speed and he’s a disruptor on the basepaths. He stole 47 bags as a freshman in 2021 and then took 46 more in 2022. He has 31 already in 48 games so far this season for the Commodores.
He’s number ten on Pipeline’s top Draft Prospects and carries an 80-grade speed tool and a 70-grade glove in center field. He plays great defense and has elite speed that can stick in center field easily. At the plate, he’s pretty good too. Bradfield has 42 walks in 2023 and just 31 strikeouts. In fact, he’s walked more than he’s struck out in all three seasons at Vanderbilt. His 2023 slash line after 48 games is .301/.452/.455 with 10 doubles, one triple, and five home runs.
I worry a bit about the ceiling without more power but the potential for 10-15 bombs a year is probably enough thanks to all the other elite tools he can offer. If the Royals want to find a potential long-term answer in center field, Bradfield is their man.
Chase Davis, Outfielder, Arizona
Chase Davis was ranked as the 83rd overall draft prospect prior to the 2020 MLB Draft. He wasn’t selected in the COVID-shortened draft because teams felt certain he would honor his commitment to Arizona. So far, it’s paid off. Thus far in three seasons at Arizona, he’s slashed .316/.443/.620 with 30 doubles and 32 home runs. Joe Doyle compares Davis to former Rockies outfielder, Carlos Gonzalez:
He’s an above average defender who most believe is destined for right field. Davis reminds just about everyone who sees him play of former Rockies all-star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. This is probably the prettiest swing in the class.
There’s some swing-and-miss at the plate for Davis, but he struck out just 22.7% last season. That’s down to just 13.5% in 2023 so far. Pair that with his 15.8% BB% and the potential for an elite bat in the heart of the lineup is clear. Not to mention, his swing is a thing of real beauty.
THAT DUDE CHASE DAVIS!!!! ARIZONA WALKS OFF ARIZONA STATE. pic.twitter.com/QRqhbDyCZZ— 11Point7: The College Baseball Podcast (@11point7) April 23, 2022
Davis profiles as a future corner outfield but plays very well defensively. That would be a welcome addition for the Royals system which offers a plethora of infield depth but lacks elite outfield talent outside of Gavin Cross. Davis at number eight would’ve been seen as a clear reach entering this year’s NCAA season. Admittedly, it still might be a bit of a reach, but Davis is closing the gap fast. He’s slashed .367/.500/.710 with 14 home runs and 14 doubles over 44 games this season.
Noble Meyer, Right-Handed Pitcher, Jesuit High School
The Royals shocked many in the baseball world back in 2021 when they selected Frank Mozzicato seventh overall. Might they do it again in 2023? Meyer is an 18-year-old RHP with a six-foot-five frame. He ranks number 16 on MLB Pipeline’s top draft prospects with a 60-grade fastball, 55-grade slider, and 50-grade changeup. The biggest draw for Meyer is his dominant fastball. He throws a two-seamer with good movement that can sit in the upper-90s. According to MLB Pipeline, he hit triple digits this summer:
His velocity is tracking upward, frequently touching 97-98 mph over the summer, and while that was in shorter stints, it’s continued this spring as he’s touched triple digits at times during his senior year.
✔️ Complete game— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 30, 2023
✔️ Double-digit strikeouts
✔️ 26 breaking balls with 3,000+ rpm
It's safe to say No. 16 Draft prospect Noble Meyer showed out at the National High School Invitational: https://t.co/xIt2rHWaM2 pic.twitter.com/5D97qO94RH
For the Royals, they’d be selecting yet another young arm that they can get into their revamped pitching development system. He’d slot in behind Mozzicato and Ben Kudrna in terms of debut timeline. Most importantly, Meyer offers projectability that Kansas City wouldn’t be getting in a college arm such as Rhett Lowder. As Meyer builds into his tall frame, the potential for him to consistently sit in the triple digits with his two-seamer is there. The fact that he can already command such elite velocity and spin his slider as he does means the ceiling for Meyer is potentially as high as any other pitcher in this year’s draft crop. For the Royals, ceiling is what they need most of all.