With the College World Series currently underway and the 2023 MLB Draft less than a month away, the shape of the first round is taking more shape with each passing day. Of course, the order in which players go off the board is still just anyone’s best guess. However, there’s some insight recently into which players the Royals may be interested in this July. Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline released his latest mock draft this week and offered a look into the Royals' draft strategy, with prep pitcher Noble Meyer, Virginia catcher Kyle Teel, Wake Forest pitcher Rhett Lowder, and high school catcher Blake Mitchell among those on their radar.
The Royals’ best prospect is a high school arm they took seventh overall two years ago (Frank Mozzicato) and they’re known to love Meyer. They’re another team exploring every demographic and are linked to Teel, Lowder and prep hitters such as shortstop Arjun Nimmala, first baseman Bryce Eldridge, third baseman Aidan Miller and Mitchell.
It seems entirely plausible that the Royals will pursue more pitching talent early in this year’s draft. With the struggles of current pitching prospects at the major league level — and more reinforcements at least a year away in the lower minors — the Royals need to acquire pitching somewhere. It could come in this year’s draft and could come at the trade deadline as well.
On the flip side, what does the core look like for a contending Royals lineup? If the franchise is at least two years away from competitive baseball, can they afford to simply wait on pitching? MJ Melendez and Vinnie Pasquantino will reach arbitration in 2026. Witt will be there in 2025. Michael Massey will both be there in 2027 as well. Much of the potential young core for the Royals have already arrived in the major leagues. They’ve struggled at times which leaves some questions regarding where they fit in the future.
It’s possible the Royals look to reload on hitters down on the farm in an effort to match their future debuts with those of promising young arms like Frank Mozzicato and David Sandlin. Whichever route the Royals take, one thing is for certain: the Royals need more prospect power and they need it fast. The major league team is on track to finish as one of the worst teams of all time and the farm system ranks near the bottom of the league. With all that in mind, here’s a five-round mock draft for the Royals using Prospect Live’s Mock Draft Simulator:
First Round (Pick 8): RHP Noble Meyer, Jesuit High School (OR)
I’m not too keen on the idea of taking a prep pitcher in the top ten if they aren’t a left-handed pitcher. The ceiling simply isn’t usually as high. Personally, I’d prefer the first-round pick to be a hitter but with the Royals' recent success in developing prep arms (Mozzicato and Ben Kudrna), I won’t be surprised at all if they pull the trigger on Meyer. Kansas City scouts were in Oregon pretty early this spring scouting the 18-year-old senior.
This is just unfair....— Tyler Jennings (@TylerJennings24) July 24, 2022
Noble Meyer enters the game and sits 96-98 with command and serious life. Diabolical SL in the mid-80's with spin near 3,000 RPM's and big late bite. Also threw a nasty CH at 89 with fade. Lights out inning. Meyer is committed to Oregon. pic.twitter.com/m4JSa4LAz3
As far as the talent is concerned, Meyer is more than deserving of a top-ten selection. He spins the ball extremely well and hits 98 regularly with his fastball. His slider breaks late and should be another plus offering at the next level. MLB Pipeline states Meyer has “all the ingredients to be a future frontline starter.” He also mixes in a pretty good changeup. His three-quarter arm slot adds a bit of deception for opposing hitters and makes his stuff even harder to pick up.
MLB Pipeline Draft Ranking: 11
Prospects Live Draft Ranking: 10
Future Stars Series Draft Ranking: 11
Second Round (Pick 44): OF Jack Hurley, Virginia Tech
Joe Doyle, of Future Stars Series, calls Hurley “a five-tool player who can impact the game.” The Royals would be going back to the well at Virginia Tech, and much like his predecessor in Gavin Cross, Hurley delivers in the power department. He’s slashed .320/.414/.714 this season for the Hokies with 17 home runs. There’s a bit of concern with the approach, as he’s walked just 9.5% this season. However, he’s limited strikeouts (19%) and uses all fields. He’s an aggressive swinger who will need to be more selective at the next level to reach his potential.
Jack Hurley was a different player last spring. If he improves half as much in ‘23 as he did from ‘21 to ‘22 he’s a top-5 pick.— (@mason_mcrae) December 30, 2022
Has a 113 max, 16% zone whiff. Plus power, 55 in RF. Expecting a BABIP regression, less BB b/c of chases. He’s 12th on my board. pic.twitter.com/NnN8E3Z1PY
On defense, Hurley will eventually slot into a corner outfield role. His arm is a tad below average but he offers very good speed. He’s faced off against premium talent in the NCAA ranks and would be an excellent addition for the Royals at pick 44.
MLB Pipeline Draft Ranking: 33
Prospects Live Draft Ranking: 33
Future Stars Series Draft Ranking: 34
Second Round, CBB (Pick 66): RHP TJ Nichols, Arizona
TJ Nichols is a bit of a volatile prospect but should still be enticing for a team hoping to unlock his talent at the next level. On paper, he doesn’t look like an arm that should go this early, if at all. He owns an 8.27 ERA across 57.1 IP this season for the Wildcats. His 1.59 WHIP isn’t impressive in the least and his strikeouts are down this season. The draw for Nichols is the potential of his stuff. He throws a fastball consistently into the upper-90s and creates a lot of swing-and-miss with his slider.
Here's a full inning from TJ Nichols. pic.twitter.com/5gfQQzR8jI— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) March 25, 2023
Drafting Nichols would signify a slight change in approach for the Royals — one that I’m hoping we see them make. Nichols doesn’t blow you away with his game results this season, but the fastball projectability is something you can work with. We’ve seen teams like the Dodgers and Rays select pitchers with elite fastball traits. Then they develop the rest and end up with an excellent pitching prospect. Future Stars Series says Nichols has “taken a step forward in 2023 commanding the baseball at the top of the zone,” something the Royals have emphasized this season in the lower minors.
MLB Pipeline Draft Ranking: NR
Prospects Live Draft Ranking: 66
Future Stars Series Draft Ranking: 139
Third Round (Pick 74): LHP Hunter Owen, Vanderbilt
Hunter Owen checks a lot of boxes that you look for in a prospect. LHP with size? Check. He’s 6-6, 261 according to Baseball Reference. Elite fastball traits? Check. Owen consistently hits the upper-90s with his fastball. He also throws a great curveball and a changeup that works well off his heater. Projectability? Check. Prospects Live calls Owen “one of the premier strikeout artists in the class.” His arm talent is somewhat raw, but the potential here is something the Royals should be looking for. He also pitched for a premium program at Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt LHP Hunter Owen is a name to write down. Spent last season in the bullpen in a multi-inning role, but in the rotation this season he's cooking. Big 6-6, 260-lb southpaw. Can grab 97 with a disgusting slider. Up to 28 K in 23 IP. Potential riser.pic.twitter.com/UgUgkyZAto— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) March 18, 2023
Owen may eventually fit into a bullpen role if a team at the next level can’t unlock him as a starter. However, with the fastball and slider traits, it’s a pretty safe floor as a reliever. As a junior this season for Vanderbilt, Owen has made 12 starts and pitched 64 innings. He owns a 3.52 ERA with a 10.7 SO9. He’s walked 2.4 batters per nine.
MLB Pipeline Draft Ranking: 64
Prospects Live Draft Ranking: 65
Future Stars Series Draft Ranking: 52
Fourth Round (Pick 106): SS Maui Ahuna, Tennessee
Maui Ahuna played high school baseball at Hilo High School in Hawaii. He played two seasons for Kansas before transferring to Tennessee prior to this season. His sophomore season as a Jayhawk saw him slash .396/.479/.634 with 8 home runs, 13 stolen bases, and an 11.8% walk rate. MLB Pipeline grades Ahuna as a 60-grade defender with 65-grade speed which should give him somewhat of a reliable floor at the next level.
Okay let’s get ahead of ourselves and start a 2023 MLB Draft thread.— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) May 11, 2022
Kansas SS Maui Ahuna is hitting over .400 with an OPS over 1.100 and emerging power; has a top two round look. pic.twitter.com/FNcjPRI0i2
There’s concern about swing-and-miss, which is clear when you consider his 31.1% SO% as a junior this season with the Volunteers. Under Drew Saylor and the rest of the Royals’ hitting development team, the focus would be improving bat-to-ball skills to reduce some of the swing-and-miss and unlock the potential of Ahuna’s power and bat speed. His ceiling is a run-producing shortstop and a valuable everyday player in the major leagues. At worst, there’s some good utility potential thanks to his defense and speed.
MLB Pipeline Draft Ranking: 47
Prospects Live Draft Ranking: 103
Future Stars Series Draft Ranking: 106
Fifth Round (Pick 142): RHP George Klassen, Minnesota
George Klassen is a 6-2 RHP from the University of Minnesota. Much like TJ Nichols, the box scores don’t treat him very nicely but the fastball traits are exceptional. Over 13 starts this season for the Golden Gophers, Klassen is 1-7 with a 5.72 ERA. He’s walked (7.5 BB9) nearly as many batters as he’s struck out (7.8 SO9) this season. The command is a serious question but if it can be found, there’s extreme upside.
Minnesota RHP George Klassen might have the most electric stuff in the country. Touched 102 this fall. 97-99 for two months ( ). CB was 82-85/t87, flashing ++. ELECTRIC arm speed. Pitches exclusively out of stretch. Command might push him to bullpen. Should get a shot to start. pic.twitter.com/SZrFmz4ptC— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) January 31, 2023
Klassen has touched 102 with his fastball and regularly sits in the upper-90s. MLB Pipeline calls Klassen “the quickest arm in the entire Draft” and that arm speed makes for a lot of promise at the next level. He missed the 2021 season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. Much like John McMillon before him, if the Royals are able to figure out the command, there’s a late-inning reliever in there somewhere.
MLB Pipeline Draft Ranking: 181
Prospects Live Draft Ranking: 139
Future Stars Series Draft Ranking: 164