Nate Bukaty reviews the Royals draft, and likes the direction they took with pitching.
If you spent any time listening to the Border Patrol on Monday morning, you can probably guess that I’m a fan of the direction the Royals took during their first day of the 2018 draft. With five picks, and more allotment money at their disposal than any other team in this year’s draft, the Royals needed to “make hay while the sun shines” so to speak. This is a vitally important draft as the Royals look to build the next wave of prospects that will make the Royals competitive again.
The Royals’ farm system is in desperate need of pitching, which is a refrain that I repeated several times on the morning of Day One of the draft. There is a nucleus of position player talent at the A-ball level, with the likes of Khalil Lee (with an OBP of .420, 10 steals out of 11 attempts, and a rocket for an outfield arm), Catcher MJ Melendez (Slugging .544 at 19 years old in low-A ball), Seuly Matais (another 19-year-old, with 17 homers in just 150 AB’s at low-A.)
By selecting college pitchers with all five of their day-one picks, the Royals made it clear that they are looking to add pitching prospects who can blend right in with these exciting position players. Dayton more says this was all a part of the approach going into Day One of the draft, “It just felt that these were the best available pitchers for us, and we wanted to make a concerted effort on getting some college pitching we felt had high ceiling and that could move quickly.” It’s a tricky approach, trying to line up an entire group of prospects who can move through the system in sync with one another, and then hopefully be ready to win at the Big League level together. But it’s something that this Royals front office has proven that they’ve been able to execute in the past.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when it comes to these five college arms: 1) Not all college pitchers are created equal when it comes to their upcoming minor league progression. Some of these guys will be more “Major League ready” than others. Granted, all five of these pitchers competed a big universities, which should bode well for the potential for at least some of these guys to skip the rookie ball step, and jump right into A-ball along with those aforementioned position players. Still, some of these pitchers will be able to move more quickly than others. 2) Some of these pitching prospects might be able to help the Royals without ever pitching a single day in the Majors for Kansas City. Remember that the 2015 Royals acquired some of their most important pieces by trading away former college pitchers whom they had drafted, like Sean Manaea, Brandon Finnegan, and Cody Reed (drafted out of community college.)
As for this group of five pitchers, obviously the first pick, Brady Singer, will get most of the attention. MLB Pipeline had him listed as their number two overall prospect for this year’s draft, yet somehow he was still available when the Royals drafted at 18. He’s got an electric mid-90’s fastball, and a devastating slider. He throws from a lower arm slot than is typical for right-handed starters, so it will be interesting to see if his third pitch develops enough to keep left-handed hitters honest. He’s a feisty competitor, who has a strong dislike of inclement weather: https://ftw.usatoday.com/2017/06/florida-pitcher-brady-singer-tantrum-tirade-rain-delay-wake-forest-super-regional-college-baseball-video. You can view this tirade through one of two prisms: either he A) is a nasty competitor who simply demands the ball every fifth day, or B) he’s emotionally fragile, and gets himself worked up over outside influences which he can’t control. Time (and his pitching record) will tell.
Singer is considered by many to be very close to Major League ready, so it will be interesting to see at what level the Royals choose to start Singer’s pro career, and how quickly he moves.
As we all know, when it comes to the baseball draft even more than in other sports, these pics are all a bit of a guessing game. I, for one, like the fact that the Royals are throwing numbers at their pitching problem. Dayton Moore says “each one of these guys have something left ceiling-wise,” which means he believes there is some potential start power in this group. It’s been pointed out that Moore’s regime does not have the best track record when it comes to drafting and developing starting pitching, which is a fair criticism. But I would counter that the Royals have had success in flipping their pitching prospects for value at the major league level, and moreover, just because you’ve failed at something in the past is no excuse to stop trying at that endeavor in the future. The next youth movement by the Royals will not likely look exactly like the last one. Having young, controllable pitching at your disposal is a major benefit. The Royals made a bold attempt at acquired such a strength with Monday’s draft. Their ability to return to the post season in a few years might well depend on how successful they were on this day.