The MLB Draft is tonight and the World Champions will be in a similar seat as the rest of us, watching as other teams make pick after pick. This is their penance after signing Ian Kennedy to a contract in the offseason. While it will hurt to watch the 29 also-rans from 2015 pick in front of them multiple times, it is a good time for the Royals to take a look back and review their work from previous years.
Heading into 2017, I have little doubt the Royals will have a bottom-third farm system rating from the experts and in my opinion it is likely to be a bottom five system. This is due obviously to the trading of multiple players the last few years and the graduation of others to the major leagues. With a thin system though, the Royals need to ask themselves if they should have done better with each draft class. To do that they must review the drafts of the past so let’s start there.
2011 – (List of Players Paid $500k or more) Bubba Starling, Cam Gallagher, Bryan Brickhouse, Kyle Smith, Patrick Leonard, Jack Lopez, Jake Junis, Christian Binford – When you add up the bonuses of these eight players you get to over $13m in spending, that number is nearly half of what the Royals have been allowed to spend on big money players in each draft since the new CBA. This draft was supposed to be the fat one that fed the system for years but the results are that Royals whiffed it in a major way. Put in a difficult position no doubt; coveting Bundy but watching the Mariners select Danny Hultzen changed the chances of him falling to the Royals. That forced their hand to select local star Bubba Starling, or go a different route, leaving GMDM and Scouting Director Lonnie Goldberg in a difficult position. It hasn’t worked out as many players in that first round have turned into solid contributors while others appear on the precipice of becoming stars. Beyond Starling’s lack of major league contribution though is the fact that those seven others have not turned into major league contributors.
Major League Players Drafted – Aaron Brooks (9), Terrance Gore (20), Spencer Patton (24)
The positives – Terrance Gore represents the biggest contributor to the Royals on the field from this draft and while he is exciting I doubt one can expect him to do much in his career besides being a better version of Quintin Berry. It has taken Jake Junis some time but it appears to be clicking for him at Double-A this season and he might be ready to force himself onto the 40-man roster soon with the chance at becoming a backend rotation arm. Transformations in Cam Gallagher’s stance have produced results this past month and have Gallagher looking like a future backup backstop. Things aren’t going well for Bubba in terms of the bat, but the defense remains outstanding and the base running and power are still there, there is a little time left.
The trades – Kyle Smith returned Justin Maxwell which created this great moment.
Patrick Leonard was part of the Wade Davis and James Shield return.
Spencer Patton was traded for Jason Frasor.
Aaron Brooks was included in part of the Ben Zobrist deal to the A’s.
2012 – Kyle Zimmer, Sam Selman, Colin Rodgers, Kenny Diekroeger – This one hurts even more than the 2011 draft as the Royals actually made a great selection with their pick and have had terrible luck. There is little to no doubt from most scouts that Zimmer has the pitches to perform at an above-par rate at the major leagues. He’s just been unable to stay stay out of the trainer’s room. Had Zimmer been healthy, the Royals could likely have avoided making a sign for Kennedy, and perhaps continue to force others into the rotation, but things just haven’t worked out. As for the others, lefty Sam Selman has never been able to get the ball over the plate at a decent enough rate to make any impact. He also saw his velocity back off from the mid 90’s in the Pioneer League to the high 80’s, to topping at 90 during his brief appearance at Triple-A. High schooler Colin Rodgers had Tommy John soon after getting drafted and has never been much of a prospect. Diekroeger’s problem wasn’t so much the Stanford swing as it was that he just didn’t have the skills to perform.
Major League Players Drafted – Daniel Stumpf (9), Andrew Triggs (19), Alec Mills (21)
The positives – The Royals 21st and 22nd round selections in Mills and Matt Strahm had excellent seasons last year and have built on that at the usual difficult pitching environment of the Texas League. Both pitchers have a chance to be backend starters down the line while Strahm should at the very least end up as a major league relief pitcher who could give lefties fits.
The trades – The Royals traded Andrew Triggs to the Orioles for cash, the junkballer has since made a couple appearances in the big leagues.
2013 – Hunter Dozier, Sean Manaea, Cody Reed, Carter Hope, Zane Evans – This draft helped produce a World Series championship as much as any other. On top of that title it has produced many organization players and a couple players that still have the chance to contribute to Kansas City in the future. This by far has been Lonnie Goldberg’s most successful draft since taking over the scouting director duties in Kansas City.
The positives – The development of Cody Reed helped acquire Johnny Cueto and the talent level of Manaea added Ben Zobrist to the 2015 roster that produced Kansas City’s first championship in thirty years. Besides those two, the Royals added third baseman Hunter Dozier who is having a resurgence after a couple of difficult seasons at Double-A and Andrew Edwards, a reliever with a chance at contributing in the bullpen. Pitcher Glenn Sparkman was off to a heck of a start in the minor leagues prior to Tommy John in April of last year. It appeared he had a chance at landing in the back of the Royals rotation before the surgery; perhaps his recovery will find him back on that track. In addition to Dozier and Sparkman, catcher Zane Evans has a little bit of pop and a shot at being a major league contributor as a backup.
The trades – Sean Manaea was the main arm in the Zobrist deal.
Cody Reed was one of the major pieces in the acquisition of Johnny Cueto.
2014 – Brandon Finnegan, Foster Griffin, Chase Vallot, Scott Blewett, Eric Skoglund – It’s too early to say that anyone in this draft is a bust or are not going to make it but by now you want to see some positive strides in players by now and among the big money guys only Vallot has flashed. The three high-dollar pitchers haven’t seen their stuff improve enough to get hitters out at a good enough rate in the minor leagues
The positives – First baseman Ryan O’Hearn may have pushed himself into the Royals Top 10 prospects with a strong season in High-A but needs to carry the power over to prove he is Eric Hosmer’s heir. O’Hearn’s college teammate, Corey Toups, has used the suspension of Raul Mondesi to show that he is Double-A ready and could challenge organizationally for a utility or second base role. Catcher Chase Vallot has the greatest upside of the players in the organization, flashing 20+ HR future power with only his catching skills holding him back from a High-A promotion at still just 19 years old. Should the defense not progress, there is little doubt the bat has enough power to hold first base down if he should need to move.
2015 – Ashe Russell, Nolan Watson, Josh Staumont, Anderson Miller, Garrett Davila – We haven’t seen Russell and Davila in full season ball yet but rumors of Russell’s velocity dip combined with Watson’s Low-A results aren’t a good sign for the Royals two first round picks.
Not enough information is known from these picks yet but the start to Watson’s career isn’t a good one as first round picks who get off to poor starts in Low-A typically don’t find positive results further down the line.
Summary - The Royals system needs better results than they have received over the last five drafts, even when one considers the four players dealt away that helped towards winning the World Series. In reviewing these results the two things stand out: The Royals haven’t dipped enough into the college positional player pool early in the draft and the results they have received from college pitchers far outweigh what they have gotten from prep pitchers. Third baseman Hunter Dozier remains the only positional player the Royals have drafted in the first round during Lonnie’s time at the helm. This year’s draft may not be the one to change that with just one pick in the first 100, but with a chance at having two or three picks early in next year’s draft the Royals may want to add to the system that way.
Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports – September 16, 2014 Brandon Finnegan against the Chicago White Sox