The first-round selection of the KC Royals in 2011 made it to the majors last season. Three players available when KC picked him have collectively won eight All-Star berths, six Silver Sluggers and two Gold Gloves.
When the 2011 amateur draft began, the KC Royals were nine games below .500, on an inescapable route to their eighth straight losing campaign and 17th in their past 18. Because good pitching cures almost anything, it would have been easy to say the Royals should draft pitching, pitching and more pitching, but a team with such a lengthy record of uninterrupted misery is a team in need of everything.
Thanks to their perennial ineptitude, the Royals had the fifth overall pick in the ’11 draft. The best two pitchers in the field, Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, were gone by then to Pittsburgh and Arizona; other good hurlers were available when KC went on the clock, but none with their talent and promise. So the Royals, even if they were in pursuit of pitching, turned instead to an all-sport prep star who’d already secured a scholarship to play quarterback at Nebraska and selected Bubba Starling. The pick had hometown appeal–Starling grew up near Kansas City.
The Washington Nationals, who hadn’t had a winning season since they were the Montreal Expos, chose Anthony Rendon with the next pick. The Indians grabbed Francisco Lindor two slots later and Houston took George Springer with the 11th pick.
Yes, that Francisco Lindor, that George Springer and that Anthony Rendon. All three soon became big-league stars; all three could have been Royals.
That they chose Rendon rather than Lindor probably doesn’t bother the Nats; he made it to the majors in 2014 (a year before Lindor), became Washington’s regular third baseman and gave them six excellent seasons before signing with the Angels in December. Rendon also has six more home runs (136 to 130), 162 more RBIs, a higher career average (.290 to .288) and a higher OPS+ (126 to 119) than Lindor, although he’s played one more season than Cleveland’s shortstop.
Like Lindor and Rendon, Springer lived up to his draft billing. He broke in with the Astros roughly three years after they drafted him, clubbed 20 homers in 78 games his first season and is averaging almost 27 per year to go with a .270 career average and 131 OPS+. He hit 39 home runs, drove in 96 and batted .292 last season.
Lindor is a four-time All-Star, Springer has earned three All-Star berths and Rendon one. They’ve each won two Silver Slugger Awards and Lindor has two Gold Gloves.
In contrast, Starling’s road to the majors, plagued more by inconsistency than his injuries, finally ended with his debut last summer. He competed with Brett Phillips for a starting outfield spot neither managed to win, and hit just .215 in in 56 games. Starling is out of options, so the good spring he was enjoying when baseball stopped–.367 with three home runs in 12 games–needs to carry over when the regular season starts.
Where would the KC Royals be with Rendon, Springer or Lindor? Passing on Rendon made sense–they weren’t going to displace Mike Moustakas, their 2007 first-round pick who debuted four days after the ’11 draft and gave the club several good seasons at third, Rendon’s primary position. Springer would have added power to an outfield in annual need of it and produced more runs, but likely wouldn’t have made much difference defensively.
Lindor, on the other hand, would have forced Ned Yost‘s hand at shortstop. Far better than Alcides Escobar–especially offensively, as his season averages of 26 homers and almost 77 RBIs and .288 career hitting prove–Yost couldn’t have justified keeping Esky on the field at Lindor’s expense. Later, Adalberto Mondesi would have needed to find another position.
Perhaps Starling will blossom when baseball starts up again and fulfill the promise that made the KC Royals pass on Lindor, Springer and Rendon. For now, the inescapable conclusion is the club whiffed its 2011 first-round pick.