The 2014 MLB Amateur Draft is nearly upon us, and the Royals find themselves in unfamiliar territory heading into the draft. For the first time since 2004, the Royals do not have a selection in the top ten, as their initial pick this season is the 17th overall selection. Since they selected Billy Butler the last time they made their first pick outside of the top ten, hopefully the Royals will be able to replicate drafting that type of player.
This season, the Royals have three first round picks, beginning with the aforementioned 17th selection. They then have the 28th pick of the draft, gained as compensation for losing Ervin Santana to the Atlanta Braves and the 40th pick, one of the ten ‘competitive balance’ selections given by the MLB to smaller market teams. What types of players could the Royals potentially be looking to draft in those slots?
Any mock draft or predictive piece is an inexact science. No one truly has access to the Big Board in a team’s draft room, and if they do, they certainly are not going to tell some blogger who they are going to select (my attempts to find out have been rebuffed). However, that does not mean that we cannot speculate based on previous drafts. After all, unlike most other drafts, the MLB Amateur Draft allows for teams to select the types of players they like, as opposed to a player who fits a perceived need.
Since 2010, the Kansas City Royals have had five first round selections, taking Christian Colon (2010), Bubba Starling (2011), Kyle Zimmer (2012), Hunter Dozier and Sean Manaea (2013). Aside from Colon, who was seemingly taken to fill the shortstop/second base hole in the Royals minor league system, the Royals appeared to have drafted based on long term upside. Starling was considered to be a prospect with all the tools, but someone that could take time to develop. Dozier was considered to be a productive hitter, with Baseball America comparing him to Jeff Kent.
On the pitching side, both Zimmer and Manaea were considered potential top of the rotation arms, capable of potentially developing into solid second starter types. Manaea was actually considered to be a potential top five pick last year before a hip injury caused him to slide down to the Royals with the 34th pick.
Essentially, based off the past four seasons, the Royals appear as though they gravitate towards toolsy players and pitchers who may slide in the draft for whatever reason. The Royals also do not appear to be afraid of taking a talented arm with an injury history, especially if they can land a possible top five talent late in the first round at a discount.
That tendency towards high upside, athletic players certainly manifests in both the Baseball America mock draft and the Sports Illustrated mock. Baseball America projects that the Royals will select Kodi Medeiros, a left handed high school pitcher from Hawaii who has been clocked as high as 96 MPH with his fastball in his most recent outing. Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated projects the Royals as taking outfielder Monte Harrison, who is considered a prospect with excellent speed, a strong arm and projectable power potential.
Chances are, based on the Royals track record, unless a top flight pitching prospects falls to them at the 17th pick, they will use the pick on another athletic player who likely will not make an appearance at the major league level for the foreseeable future. Medeiros is certainly a possibility, as could be first baseman Casey Gillaspie or outfielder Alex Verdugo. That would allow the Royals to use the 28th and 40th picks to potentially pluck a more highly touted prospect who slid down in the draft, saving a bit of their bonus pool while possibly acquiring players that the Royals may not have envisioned even lasting until their first pick.
Over the last few years, the Royals appear to have developed a pattern for the types of players they select. It will be interesting to see if those tendencies manifest once again this year.