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.
By Nate Bukaty, Sports Radio 810
- Make things Messy in the Paint: It’s no secret that Matt Painter’s team has the advantage down low in this game. The Big Ten Player of the Year, Caleb Swanigan, is a double-double machine. He has posted a double-double in all but six of Purdue’s games this season. While his 6’9”, 250-pound frame is eye-catching, what’s more impressive is the fact that Swanigan has actually shed over 100 pounds since he once tipped the scales at 360 as a middle schooler.
The Boilermakers beefiness inside doesn’t stop with Swanigan. Vince Edwards is Purdue’s second leading scorer, and he stands at 6’8, 225. Isaac Haas is a legit seven-footer, weighing in at 290 pounds. The Jayhawks simply don’t have the size to match this gargantuan front line of Purdue’s. So they will have to make things messy. Clog the lane with multiple active bodies. Get out and pressure the guards, making their entry passes more difficult. It’s a safe bet that Swanigan will get his double-double, but if the Jayhawks can hold him to something like 5-for-15 shooting, the way Nebraska did when they beat Purdue back in late January, they should be in good shape.
- More minutes for Coleby: This goes back to our first key. With the slew of big bodies that Purdue will throw at Kansas, foul trouble is a likelihood for Landon Lucas. If that in fact turns out to be the case, then Bill Self might have to lean on backup forward Dwight Coleby even more than he did against Michigan State. Coleby played nine minutes in the Jayhawks’ second round game, scoring three points, grabbing four rebounds, and coming up with one steal. His teammates said he was the MVP of the second half against the Spartans. It’s great news for Kansas that Coleby would have such a confidence-builder leading up to the interior challenge that Purdue will present. Coleby has seen double-digit minutes in just four games this season, but there is a decent chance he’ll go well over that threshold on Thursday. The Jayhawks will need the same physical, confident play that he displayed on Sunday.
- Contain the Purdue Shooters: In Purdue’s seven losses this year, Caleb Swanigan has averaged 17.7 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. That’s only slightly off his overall season average of 18.5 points and 12.6 rebounds. This tells us that the key to beating Purdue isn’t necessarily stopping Swanigan. It might be just as important to contain his teammates. While the Boilermakers lack a great penetrating scorer at the guard position, they do have perimeter players who can knock down outside shots. In fact, they have five different players who shoot over 40% from beyond the arc (that list actually includes Swanigan and Vince Edwards.) Point is, if you focus all of your energy on defending the post, Purdue can make you pay from outside. The Jayhawks cannot afford to lose focus on that aspect of their defense at Sprint Center.
- Spread the Boilermakers’ Bigs and Attack. Purdue’s overwhelming size also means that the Boilermakers can struggle to defend in space, depending on the matchups. Even though they held on to defeat Iowa State over the weekend, the Boilermakers allowed a 15-point second-half lead evaporate over the span of about eight minutes. During that stretch, a large part of the Cyclone’s offense centered around isolating Deonte Burton against Swanigan on the perimeter. Burton finished with 25 points, and kept Iowa State in the ballgame. The Jayhawks should have a favorable matchup offensively as well, if and when Josh Jackson gets matched up against Swanigan. They must take advantage of that matchup when it presents itself.
- Frank Mason Standing Tall: OK, I really just came up with this key because I wanted an excuse to repost his Instagram picture from after the Michigan State game. I’m not sure that a single photo and caption could more adequately encapsulate Frank Mason’s career at KU.
Everyone, even freshmen, should know by now that they won’t intimidate the National Player of the Year. Nor will they get in his head with trash talk. It’s a safe bet that the Boilermakers won’t even try that approach, after seeing how it worked out for their Big Ten brethren. It’s almost a sure thing that Mason will be standing up to the Boilermakers on Thursday. If his teammates follow suit, the Jayhawks have a good chance of advancing to the Elite Eight.
By Nate Bukaty
- Walk Chalk Jayhhawk: Let’s just start with what everyone is talking/Tweeting/Facebooking about from this game: Yes, Svi walked. He took three steps. Maybe even four. He dribbled the ball ONE TIME after he got across half court for crying out loud. How in the world three referees can all be watching that play and swallow their whistles is beyond me. Especially when they spent the majority of the game blowing their whistles at anything that moved.
Now, is this part of some vast conspiracy by the Big 12 to hand another trophy to Kansas? I’m sure you don’t have to search far on the internet to find all sorts of claims to that effect. If that’s the case, the referees did a fantastic job by disguising this one, as K-State shot more free throws and KU was called for more fouls in the game. That very rarely happens for any road team in the Big 12. What I think is more plausible is that refs tend to swallow their whistle in the final seconds of close games, particularly in favor of the home team. It certainly worked out that way for Kansas Tuesday night.
- Credit K-State: I stated Tuesday morning that I had learned next to nothing about The Wildcats through their charmin-soft nonconference schedule. The truth is, the only time they were tested by a decent team, they blew the game at the end. Ironically, the Wildcats might have proven more in their two losses than they have in any of their victories. They played tough and poised at Allen Fieldhouse, all the way to the wire. If Dean Wade hits a wide open three pointer with a few seconds remaining, we aren’t even talking about the non-call at the end of the game. It’s a shame for Wade, because he did just about everything for K-State in this game, apart from hitting his threes. If K-State can play like that on a consistent basis, they’ve got a chance to finish in the top half of this league and make the NCAA tournament. But the Wildcats still need to show that they can finish a game off. Losing in the final seconds has been far too much of a trend with them over the past couple of years. Still, this performance in Lawrence is something they can build off of going into the rest of league play.
- About that Defense: Bill Self lit into his team after their poor defensive performance in Fort Worth last Friday. Well, evidently it didn’t make much of an impression on the team. Self’s players responded to that tongue lashing by allowing Kansas State to score 88 points, which is the second highest point total for a K-State team ever in Allen Fieldhouse (they scored 91 in 1962.) After escaping with the win, Self called this the poorest defensive team he has had at KU. Now, is that just the coach trying to motivate his team, or is that just hashtag realtalk? Tough to say after the first two performances of conference play. Fortunately for the Jayhawks, they are elite offensively, which has allowed them to turn in a couple of stinkers on the defensive end, and still come away with a 2-0 record.
- Look for Lucas: Self also said after Tuesday night’s game that Landon Lucas has emerged as the team’s most dependable player right now. In two games of league play, Lucas has posted two double-doubles. He went for 18 points and 12 rebounds against Kansas State. But what stood out to me even more than his overall production was the fact that, in the final two minutes, with the game on the line, Self drew up plays to specifically get the ball to Lucas down low. With all of the offensive weapons on the floor for KU, those are not words I thought I would be typing at any point this season. And the fifth year senior rewarded his coach’s by scoring a big basket with 1:27 to go, although he missed the and-one opportunity. Lucas also drained two big free throws with 1:02 to go, after getting DJ Johnson to foul out.
- Three T’s for Jackson: Josh Jackson played an outstanding game against Kansas State, scoring 22 points, grabbing nine rebounds, and dishing out six assists. But the play involving Jackson that drew the most conversation after the game was the technical foul he picked up, which is his third already this season. According to Bill Self, Jackson got T’d up this time for simply yelling “call the foul” at the official. Jackson says that K-State players yelled the exact same thing at the refs multiple times thereafter, with no punishment. That’s all well and good, but Jackson has a problem on his hands now. Clearly the refs have their antennae up when it comes to Jackson. And, fair or unfair, three technicals in 14 games means he has a reputation now. That means he’s going to have less leeway with the refs than other players will. On Tuesday night, Jackson was able to stay out of foul trouble despite the T. But against TCU, his technical foul contributed to him fouling out in just 13 minutes of playing time. Jackson’s emotional intensity is one of his best attributes, so you’d hate to see him lose that. But he’s going to have to be a little more careful going forward.