In 2010 there were three players entering the amateur draft universally regarded as sure things, and then there was everyone else. The Royals, picked fourth. Because, well, because why not?
At this point during the rebuilding process the Royals had been drafting high picks with high upsides, capitalizing on their misfortunes in Major League standings by picking players with skills that they couldn’t normally acquire. It was one of the great traits of this Royals regime compared to the regimes of the past where standout tools actually took precedent over probability. Tools, that wouldn’t ordinarily be available to the organization in the open market, were available if they were willing to pay for them, in the draft.
Whether it was the raw power of Mike Moustakas, the athleticism of Wil Myers, or the oh-my-god-look-at-that-swing of Eric Hosmer, the first couple of rounds are where Dayton Moore and the checkbook of David Glass had been making their largest bang. And for the most part, the high probability picks of the past were a lot less frequent when compared to the uber-upside guys from 2006-2009.
Something changed in 2010 however when the team decided to switch gears and draft Christian Colon for a perceived positional need as a shortstop with no real noticeable tools, and was unlikely to stay at shortstop.
The hope for a competitive 2012 season (Mission 2012 or something) made the organization look at their system and panic that no true shortstop, or possibly middle infielder, would be ready for play by time the winning was supposed to start. Because of that (and because Zack Greinke hadn’t yet asked for his way out of town which ended up being Alcides Escobar) the Royals went against their past inclinations, and went for the guy that would move the fastest through the system.
This is now year three of that “move fast” plan (2nd full year) and at this point many are wondering if Colon will ever be anything more than a backup/utility player, let alone the all-around solid player with exceptional leadership skills that he was drafted for.
In Double-A in 2011 the warts showed of a player whose consistent offensives skills, gap power and strong plate discipline, that were supposed to set him apart from other middle infielders took a back seat to limited power, sapping his stat line. (One positive you can take from a season of nearly 500 at-bats and only 24 extra base hits, though, is that Colon did draw 46 unintentional walks which shows that he’s still capable of getting on-base with ways other than just swinging that bat.)
After seeing Colon in college I felt as many did that the pick was probably a reach at No.4 because no one tool stood out. There was no dream on a lottery ticket that Colon would either have difference-making speed, a difference-making glove, or a difference-making bat. He possessed no skills that could be defined as anything more than average, really, which is what makes the pick so odd for Dayton Moore and the Royals at this time.
In the 2nd round the Royals drafted Brett Eibner because of his tools, not his probability. With Eibner the Royals had a player that was/is as good a bet to flame out in the minor leagues as he is to reach the majors, but with him at least there’s the potential there to hit with a difference-making arm in the outfield or difference-making power at the plate.
Was Eibner the high upside pick to balance the probability selection of Colon? Maybe, but that doesn’t seem to be all that great a strategy when you’re picking No.4 overall, no matter how strong or weak the draft may be. Drew Pomeranz, Matt Harvey, and Michael Choice were all players taken after Colon with at least one or two tools that could be considered All-Star caliber – admittedly with more potential question marks – and they’re all receiving accolades for them and moving up many of the prospects rankings throughout the baseball landscape. Meanwhile Colon moves positions – decreasing his value – and struggles to show the skills that made him such a high probability pick in the first place.
Colon is just now entering his age 23 season, so whether he repeats Double-A for a full season or splits the year between there and Triple-A, it isn’t like all is lost for the former first-round pick. But at a time when the draft was being so good to the Royals because of all the high-end talent they were taking that wouldn’t be available to them by other means, they drafted a player with an eye on that mystical “window” of competing, and went away from what they were doing best.
The coming season is an important one for Colon and the Royals because the second base position would appear to be an open competition with the very real possibility that Colon could force his way to Kansas City with a strong first half. Is it crazy to think that? Not at all. That’s would should be expected from college player selected high in the first round.
But at this time, given his performance so far, the Royals are still waiting for Colon to prove he was worthy of the No.4 overall pick.