The MLB draft after the championship season would see a first for the KC Royals in a generation. Unfortunately, it stunted the rebuild that was to come.
In order to boost their starting rotation, the Royals signed Ian Kennedy to a 5-year, $70-million dollar contract in January of 2016. While he pitched well his first season, Kennedy struggled in ’17 and ’18 and tied Kansas City’s hands in dealing him due to his large contract. More importantly, the signing left the franchise without a first-round pick for the first time since 1990.
Granted, the Royals would not have had a pick until number 24 due to their success the season before, however, another 43 players went before they picked at #67. That left a lot of talent on the table. Some players that could be wearing KC Royal blue instead of their current team colors include C Will Smith, RHP Dakota Hudson, LHP Joey Wentz (Shawnee Mission East), Pete Alonso and Bo Bichette.
Enough of the what-ifs though. How did the 2016 draft turn out for the KC Royals? As of the end of the 2019 season, three players from this year have seen major league action and only one has had a taste of success. Many are still young and so it will be a few more years before we can officially grade this year.
A.J. Puckett (pick #67), a right-hander from Pepperdine, pitched well his two minor league seasons with Kansas City. His ERA was under 4.00 at each stop and his WHIP was decent in ’16 but then ballooned with a promotion to Adv-A Wilmington in ’17. He was traded at a deadline deal to the Chicago White Sox the same season in return for Melky Cabrera who played 58 underwhelming games for the Royals before signing elsewhere the next year.
The third round saw Khalil Lee (#103) taken out of Flint Hill High School in Virginia. His name has become more well-known with Royals fans as he swiped an incredible 53 bases with Northwest Arkansas in Double-A this last season. Lee earned a non-roster invite to spring training in 2020 and keep an eye on him to see if can turn some heads with his speed and defense.
In the fourth round, Jace Vines (#133) from Texas A&M was chosen. After a nice year in 2017, which included a cup of coffee with Omaha, it looked like Vines could be a nice right-handed addition to the big league squad in the near future. Unfortunately, ’18 and ’19 saw regression which included WHIP’s ranging from 1.58 to 1.71 and it does not seem that he will be a part of the KC Royals pitching staff anytime soon.
The next pick has seen the most playing time in the majors and depending on how 10-15 years play out, he could be seen as a steal for Kansas City. Nicky Lopez was plucked with the 163rd pick from nearby Creighton University. After tearing through the minors in ’17, ’18 and the beginning of ’19, Lopez was called up to help replace injured players. Although his stats were not great, the potential to be a permanent fixture, if not everyday player, is there.
A couple of other notables from the 2016 draft for the KC Royals include Richard Lovelady (round 10, #313) who struggled mightily in 25 appearances with the big league club in 2019. Another speedy outfielder, Nick Heath (Round 16, #493) stole a combined 60 bags between AA and AAA in 2019. Heath also had has contract selected last November and is a member of the 40 man roster.
As it stands, it does not appear this will be a draft Royals fans look back on and feel it was a banner year. If a couple of players can have sustained success in the majors though, it would be a decent result despite not having a first-round pick.