When Dayton Moore arrived in Kansas City as the new GM of the Royals, he watched fans file into Kauffman Stadium and realized many of the younger fans just weren’t fans of the Royals. These youngsters wore the jerseys of players like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and David Ortiz instead of Kansas City blue. And unlike Atlanta, the city he just left, KC wasn’t quite the hotbed of prep talent. The area produced just three prep first round picks since the draft process started.
That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been plenty of worthy talent along the way. Yet for the most part it’s limited to one or two guys each year who are worthy of a look. The rest go enroll at college, looking to fine tune their skills, develop and get drafted highly from there. For a team devoted to building from within, that lack of highly skilled prep talent from nearby could create a slight hiccup in their path.
Ten years into Moore’s tenure, with back to back American League pennants and a World Championship, things have changed in a big way. If you head to The K on Sunday, you will see children by the hundreds covered in Royal blue with the names Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas and Perez on their backs. It’s not just on the big league field. The city and its suburbs created another 1st round pick from the prep ranks when the Royals selected Bubba Starling with the 5th pick in 2011. Now, if you head out to the prep fields of Kansas City, you will see continued growth in the talent pool. It’s possible two or three guys this year will be selected in the 1st few rounds. One of those players will be a surefire Top 10 selection. Add that with another pair that could earn Top 5 round money with their selections, and it looks the Kansas City area is in the process of producing the best prep class in its history.
Greg Schaum, former Royals broadcaster and current Director of Scouting and Player Development at Arland Sports, says this talent in the local draft class this year is unprecedented. “The rise of quality travel ball program’s like Mac-N-Seitz, the Barnstormers and others have helped produce a group that is on par with any area of the country. This in my opinion is the best class that this city has ever produced, better than even the talented class of 1974 that included Rick Sutcliffe.”
Who are some of the names you should be watching this year?
Riley Pint RHP – The St. Thomas Aquinas product is the jewel of the Kansas City prep draft, ranking in the Top 4 of every major draft publication out there. A 6-4 190 lbs. right-handed pitcher with a fastball that sits 95 and touches 99 mph or greater, Pint is the blueprint of a stud righty high school pitching prospect. He’s more than just a fastball though as he’s an extremely hard worker, a talented athlete who has excelled in other sports prior, and proven he can rake with the bat as well as help pitch his team to a state title. The gift is in the arm though, and despite what some thought was a bit of the case of the “wilds” last summer he’s come back to refine his mechanics and prove he can grow in his craft. In his first outing this spring, Pint impressed Perfect Game so much that they compared it to a Josh Beckett performance that pushed him into the #2 overall draft slot at the time of his draft.
PG on the change up – The biggest revelation of the outing, however, was Pint’s changeup, which he threw 8-10 times almost all at 88 mph. Throwing an 88 mph changeup to high school hitters seems at the surface to be doing them a big favor but the movement and location on the pitch made it no favor.
If Pint continues to refine and produce during the season the way he has thus far, then it is highly possible he surpasses Starling as the highest selected prep Kansas City player ever. An LSU commit, Pint will have plenty of leverage in his draft stock that can push a player’s pick up or down depending on how firm on their desire to attend or not attend college.
Following Pint there is plenty of debate among publications as to who the second best draft prospect in the city is with a few preferring Tyler Benninghoff who I rank fifth and some others preferring the rising Ryan Zeferjahn. For this article though let’s take a look at a different name.
Joey Wentz LHP – This prospect from Shawnee Mission East was known for his light tower power that earned him invites to home run derby competitions prior to gaining some heat on his fastball and suddenly becoming a two way threat. At 93 mph off the mound with a feel for spin and a change-up, or 543-feet off the bat (home run contest) this kid’s pitching development has impressed and allowed his stock to soar. Standing at 6’6, left-handed and a powerfully thick 210 lbs. teams could be tantalized by the power bat but will ultimately need to pay him to skip his Virginia commitment on the mound.
Ryan Zeferjahn RHP – Another rising pitching prospect, Zeferjahn is converting his basketball skills into performance on the mound at Seaman High School. The Kansas commit once threw in the mid-80’s with his fastball but has recently pushed that into the low to mid-90’s. The athleticism allows Ryan to repeat his delivery and command the fastball to both sides of the plate. He continues to show progress with a curveball that works mostly in the low 80’s and a change up that produces sinking movement in the high 70’s. There are right-handed prep arms by the dozens in the draft but as specialization has taken over amateur sports there are fewer multi-sport athletes. That athleticism is helping Zeferjahn’s stock.
Nolan “Nonie” Williams SS R/S – Perhaps the other gem of the KC prep draft is Williams, from Turner High School, who reclassified himself from the 2017 class into the ’16 class last year. Turning 18 in May is a good sign as younger position prospects typically develop at a slightly better rate than average or older drafted prospects. What sticks out for Williams is the speed – 6.5 in the 60-yard dash – the plus arm in the field, and good pop from the right side at the plate. Like most of these kids, Williams is a gym rat who has pushed himself into a terrific draft position that could earn him 4th round or greater money.
Tyler Benninghoff RHP – Last summer it was Benninghoff who was pushing his stock up at ridiculous speed at Rockhurst High School, using what could be the best prep curveball in the entire class to put away hitters. The lanky 6’4 righty combines that curve with a low 90’s fastball and change-up that shows promise. A team could easily see Benninghoff’s frame and believe the fastball could tick up. That puts the righty into a position to improve his stock once in the development system.
Other players represent upside in this class as well but these five gems could be turning heads in the minor leagues sooner rather than later.
These timing of the Royals combined by this talented class is a coincidence but their presence has the opportunity to create a pool of prep talent for teams and particularly the Royals to draw from for years to come.
Follow me on Twitter @ClintScoles
Feature Photo – David Banks USA Today Sports