With their first-round pick of the 2011 draft, the KC Royals selected a pitcher. They could have had an outfielder who may prove to be the best player ever.
Aaron Crow, an unsigned free agent pitcher who hasn’t appeared in a major league game since 2014, may end his career known primarily for two things–making the All-Star game as a rookie and being the player the KC Royals drafted in 2009 when Mike Trout was available.
The draft that season wasn’t steeped with superstar-caliber talent, although it did boast Steven Strasburg as the No. 1 pick. The Royals had the 12th selection and, hunting for pitching, took Crow, who’d been chosen the year before by Washington but didn’t sign.
Kansas City liked his hard sinker and, after he made it to Kauffman Stadium in just two seasons, the pitch carried him to a 20-11 record in four campaigns as a reliever with the club. He struggled with control at times but managed to strikeout over eight batters per nine innings. His years with the Royals were indeed serviceable.
But they could have had Mike Trout. The best player in baseball. The player who, because he’s only 28 and has a contract to play for the Angels through 2030, might become the best play ever.
Everyone knows Trout is the best in the game today; an exhaustive recitation of his stats isn’t necessary to prove it. But for the record, he’s played nine seasons and is averaging almost 28 doubles, almost 32 homers, almost 84 RBIs and over 22 stolen bases per campaign. His career slash is .305/.419/.581; he has a 1.000 OPS and 176 OPS+.
A career 72.8 WAR player, Trout is a three-time American League MVP (with four runner-up finishes) and an eight-time All-Star, has seven Silver Sluggers and was the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year.
So the Royals, who don’t bemoan such things publicly, must privately kick themselves now and then for not picking Trout.
But they’re not alone. Twenty-three–count ’em, 23–teams passed on Trout before the Angels, probably the only club he’ll ever play for, made him the 25th pick, just after they’d picked Randal Grichuk. (Trout and Grichuk were both Angel compensation picks; Grichuk never played for the Halos but has enjoyed a decent career with St. Louis and Toronto). Someone, someday, may be able to explain why so many clubs passed Trout by, especially in a relatively talent-shallow draft.
The KC Royals traded Crow to the Marlins after the 2014 season for Brian Flynn and Reid Redman. He hasn’t appeared in the majors since–he hurt his elbow before the ’15 season got underway and underwent Tommy John surgery. He pitched most recently for a couple of Mexican League clubs in 2018.
Crow gave the Royals four decent seasons. He’s not a Mike Trout, but neither is anyone else. The fact Trout is the game’s best and he’s not is certainly not Crow’s fault. Simply put, Trout couldn’t miss and there may never be another player like him; there is no shame in being drafted before him.
This is a story intended not to condemn Dayton Moore, but instead to illustrate the fickle and often imprecise nature of the major league amateur draft and the selections teams make. Clubs and general managers can study, surmise and project, but they can’t be right every time and frequently fail. It’s the nature of the beast. Time will tell whether Moore’s recent first-rounders, including Brady Singer and Bobby Witt Jr., will prove to be the kind of choices the KC Royals and their fans will love.