Monday marks the start of the circus that is Major League Baseball’s amateur draft.
In year’s past, the Royals have stocked their farm system with talent near the top of the first round. Their 2009 pick of Aaron Crow with the twelfth overall pick is the lowest they’ve picked since 2004 when Billy Butler was the 14th overall pick. This year, they hold the fifth overall selection, the sixth year in the last seven that they’ve had a top five pick.
Unlike the last few years, there’s no clear cut number one overall pick and the first round is considered thinner than most. While that’s a bit murky for the team and fans to predict who will fall where, for a team at the top like the Royals, the drop isn’t that sharp. There should be quality players available no matter what direction they go.
The new collective bargaining agreement does change things this year. In previous drafts, the Royals could select players who had fallen because other teams weren’t willing to pay out signing bonuses that exceeded the league’s slot recommendations. Players like Wil Myers and Jason Adam had scholarship offers but, when the Royals offered more than slot to them, signed with Kansas City. Now they’re two of the top prospects in the system. This year, the Royals have $6.1 million to cover their first ten rounds of picks. For perspective, last year, they signed first round pick Bubba Starling to a team-record $7.5 million bonus.
Starling was a special talent and his commitment to Nebraska football factored into the size of the bonus, but most other first round picks were near slot levels. That would have been $2.52 million last year, and their slot budget for the pick this year is $3.5 million. It may mean they miss out on a high school player in the seventh or eighth round when it comes time to sign them, but the top rounds obviously take priority.
That leads to another consideration – should the Royals pick a high school player or college player? Financially, that may lead them to a college junior (like Kyle Zimmer) over a sophomore (like Kevin Gausman) because the sophomore has more leverage to go back to school*. It may not make a difference, though. The bigger difference is between a high school player who has a commitment to a college and it may take more to sign them out of it.
*I’m assuming that Stanford junior Mark Appel will be taken first overall by Houston, as is suspected.
Ultimately, the decision should be to select whoever the best player available is. Ideally, that will also match up with a position of need. In the Royals case, starting pitching is the obvious weakness to the Process. While Danny Duffy and John Lamb recover from Tommy John surgery and Mike Montgomery and Chris Dwyer fall below expectations, Jake Odorizzi, with just a handful of Triple A starts, sits as the top pitching prospect who’s within a year of the big leagues. If the Royals feel they’re close to contention, a college arm is the way to go. Both Gausman and Zimmer are considered two of the best in the draft and could be the pick if they make it through the first four selections. In the past, other teams have taken college pitchers and seen them make the majors quickly, with Chris Sale of the White Sox, Drew Pomeranz of the Rockies (drafted by the Indians) and Mike Leake of the Reds being examples. All three made their big league debuts within 13 months of signing.
If the Royals see that as a priority, a college arm is most likely their decision, as they could be up with the club in early 2013, or even sooner (though the Royals aren’t typically the team to push a prospect that quickly).
If they don’t see a player out of college who fits the bill, they can choose a high school pitcher, though the development time would be increased and the risk that they bust increases. There may be more upside if it’s a pitcher like Lucas Giolito, who could be a top five pick, but he’d take a while to climb up the ranks.
The best move would be to go with the best player available, regardless of need. If that turns out to be a college pitcher and they have options available, great. That’s on the mind of Dayton Moore according to recent comments. If that means they pass on a player like 17-year-old Carlos Correa, it could be a mistake. Correa is a high school shortstop who has been compared to Orioles prospect Manny Machado before, and as Rany Jazayerli has determined, a player’s age at the time of the draft can have an impact to how quickly they develop and jump through a minor league system.
Even if the Royals have Alcides Escobar at shortstop now, within a few years, he may suffer injury that hampers his defensive range and ability or his hitting may regress to Jose Lind-levels. If Correa (or any other player that may be the top player available) is there and were to rise through the Royals system, the opportunity of trading the older player would always be present.
There are a multitude of options for the Royals on Monday. My guess is that if a college pitcher is available, that’s the direction they’ll go, and that also likely means that a couple of high-ranked high school players may have been selected, so the question of “best available vs. college arm” may be irrelevant. Of course, by the end of the night Monday, we’ll also have the answer to that question.