The Royals made a trade for two players in the Rule 5 draft and also acquired a minor leaguer in that phase of the draft.
Tampa Bay RHP Burch Smith – Smith is a right-handed pitcher that dealt with injuries in ’15 and ’16 after making the majors in ’13 with the Padres but is 27 and has pitched extremely well this last year for the Rays Triple-A squad and this past Fall League season. Working 94-96 mph with his fastball next to a hard breaking mid 70’s curve and a plus changeup Smith has three pitches that are of major league quality. Had the injuries not occurred then Smith would’ve likely established whether or not he was a major league quality pitcher by this time but at 27 years old he will likely now get an opportunity to prove himself during spring training. I’d give him a 75% shot of making the Royals club out of spring and would probably bump that up some should the Royals find a new home for either Jason Hammel or Danny Duffy this offseason. At 76 plus innings this past season he could compete for the fifth starter spot or fall back to a long man role from the Royals pen.
Arizona RHP Brad Keller – A member of the Diamondbacks Top 10 prospect list according to Baseball America prior to the season struggled at Double-A this past year, allowing over a hit per inning and a 4.68 ERA. All three pitches from his hand profile as average at best with a low 90’s fastball, a firm change, and a sweepy slider.
Via Baseball Prospectus Eyewitness Reports – Big, sturdy frame, thick throughout, high waist, long legs, broad shoulders with slope, moderate hunch; quick rock, stiffness with some effort into leg kick, keeps his posture through significant collapse on back leg; long arm action, deep circle, downhill with front-side extension to high three-quarter slot, will drop to true three-quarter, mild drag, average arm speed, gets late to slot; long stride, gets low, does not leverage height, release point a good 9-10 inches below standing height, firm strike with stress on front knee and groin; mild recoil, generally clean finish; struggles to repeat with balance, will get offline early, lacks fluidity, control-over-command profile; fast worker, up-tempo cadence, quick from stretch, 1.19-1.30
I’d give his chances in the 25% range at breaking with the club with a better chance of him returning to the D-Backs or the Royals working out a trade to get him to the upper levels of their system.
Triple-A Phase – The Royals selected RHP Daniel Duarte after he pitched in the Mexican League this past season. Listed at 6’0 170 lbs he registered a 1.118 WHIP and a 1.96 ERA in 37 bullpen appearances in the league last year. The pitcher turned 21 years old just this month and has pitched well in the Dominican Summer League for the Rangers organization previously.
The Rule 5 Draft will take place later today with a good chance the Royals make a selection with their 15th pick and a couple roster spots with which to play. While prospect-hounds love to talk about this draft and reminisce about Joakim Soria and Josh Hamilton, it should be said that the roster rules have changed since those days. It’s much less likely that either of those players would be eligible under today’s rules. That said, there have been recent picks that have impacted major league rosters in Marwin Gonzalez, Justin Bour, and Delino Deshields. Still, with the 15th pick in this draft, it’s somewhat of a longshot to think they could get that type of player tomorrow. Although there are a few players I wouldn’t mind seeing the Royals give an opportunity to make the squad this spring.
Yankees LHP Nestor Cortes – I would be surprised if the Yankees and their loaded farm don’t see multiple players chosen in this draft. This lefty isn’t one that stands out in the crowd physically at just 5’11” and 205 lbs., but hitters haven’t been able to do much against him at any level with a career 2.08 ERA and a sub 1 WHIP. The concerns might be there about making him a starter with a shorter frame and career high of just 106 innings, but the Royals wouldn’t need to worry much about this year. Leaving a minor on the roster as a long man to use in games that getaway is a relatively easy proposition. The stuff doesn’t jump off the paper with a high 80’s to low 90’s fastball, but he offers deceptive changes in speed to the fastball with a decent pair of secondary pitchers.
Mets RHP Adonis Uceta – Uceta possesses a talented arm that can run it up to 97 mph next to an extremely deceptive changeup. That helped him limit both RH and LH hitters to a sub .170 batting average against him this past season. The Mets have done a great job of developing power arms and with the results this past season for this 23-year-old, it should open the eyes of the Royals front office to take a look at adding him to their bullpen.
Diamondbacks 1b Kevin Cron – A player with no place to go with Paul Goldschmidt ahead of him, the Royals have a spot open should Eric Hosmer sign elsewhere. A better defender at first than both Frank Schwindel and Ryan O’Hearn, this right-handed slugger is a combination of those two at the plate, featuring a little bit better hit tool than O’Hearn but a better plate approach than Schwindel. If the Royals are looking at cutting payroll then giving Cron a shot at making the opening day roster could be worth consideration.
Blue Jays C Max Pentecost – This is an odd one for a team that is already carrying four catchers on their 40 man roster but some believe he is the most talented player available in this draft, although his injury history will likely scare teams away. The Royals, as a noncontender and with a deep roster, can carry Pentecost for spring while they look at him to see if he can handle the rigors of catching regularly. Should he show the Royals that he could do that, Kansas City could more seriously look at trading Salvador Perez to boost a farm system as they move towards a rebuild. The bat and arm are enough for Max to be an impact major leaguer if the body can handle the day to day activity.
Rangers LHP Anthony Gose – A rebuilding team can do things others likely can’t and Gose was throwing around 100 mph in 11 appearances last year. The Royals have a need for a centerfielder and while Gose has shown he can’t hit much they could offer him 30-50 games, let him show off his defense in the spacious stadium while letting Cal Eldred work on refining his pitching skills to try to make a relief pitcher out of him. Not likely, but a fun idea nonetheless.
In the end, I think a relief pitcher is the most likely idea for the Royals selection if they’re serious about trading Danny Duffy, Scott Alexander, and Kelvin Herrera.