© Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City Royals 2018 Draft Review Rounds 1-5

Had most fans been told prior to the draft that Baseball America’s #4 rated prospect would land in the lap of the Royals front office, I’m sure we all would’ve been quite excited. Unfortunately, the Royals past history with college pitchers, pitching development in general and people like myself’s opinion of other draft prospects soured that somewhat. The reality is, the Royals on draft night performed quite a coup, landing multiple college prospects who are well-regarded and rated higher than where the Royals selected them. The past development issues with other prospects bare very little impact on these guys going forward; what the Royals were doing in 2009 has changed and the injury problems college players ran into in the past has little to do with these pitchers.

1st Rd Pick #18 Overall
Brady Singer – RHP
University of Florida
6’5 210 lbs
DOB 8/4/96
Slot Value $3,349,300

After turning down the Toronto Blue Jays in the second round out of high school, Singer established quite the resume. Following a freshman campaign in which he contributed regularly from the bullpen on one of the top teams in college baseball, Singer went to the Cape Cod League, the top college Summer league in the country, and dominated. Despite pitching in just five games in the 2016 Cape season, he was named the best prospect in the league by Perfect Game while yielding a 0.82 WHIP in 22 innings with 20 strikeouts. From there, the right-hander went out and led Florida in innings while he and Alex Faedo helped lead the Gators to their first-ever College World Series title in their 11th trip to Omaha.

After being named to the CWS tournament team with his 21 strikeouts in 14 innings performance, Singer took the #1 job from Faedo and ran with it, becoming Baseball America’s College Player of the Year on the top team in the country. Working from his below 3/4 arm angle, Singer pounds the strike zone with late movement from his fastball that works from low to mid 90s, topping out around 95 mph with an extreme extension that nears seven feet. Alongside the fastball, Singer works a slider that can mirror a curveball at times that he’s become extremely adept at manipulating it to the point where he hasn’t needed a third pitch much in the college ranks. Despite that lack of need, the right-hander has a third pitch changeup that flashes good arm speed mirroring and late fade in the low 80s.

Even with the resume and the pitches, what stands out for Singer is his competitive fire and a bulldog mentality. Whether it’s yelling at the rain or nearly getting tossed for hitting a batter (30 HBP), Singer is full go and fire on the mound, ready to attack hitters with his best stuff inside, outside, up and down. If you’ve watched him there is no doubt that he owns both sides of the plate and is ready to go with the ball in his hand. The Royals brass are hoping they just snagged the next Max Scherzer with this selection.

Via Baseball America – Singer’s fastball sits in the low to mid-90s with impressive natural movement and he also has a sharp slider that has been a weapon for him in the past. Singer’s slider can be inconsistent at times, however, because of his low arm slot, which is a point of concern for some evaluators. While Singer doesn’t throw many changeups currently, scouts think he has the ability to develop at least an average changeup in pro ball, when he would be able to throw it more frequently. Teams more skeptical of Singer will see a two-pitch starter with a concerning arm slot that might lead to the bullpen, while less critical scouting departments might see a potential middle-of-the-rotation arm who has an impressive strike-throwing ability and more high-level track record than any pitcher in a deep 2018 class.

Via Perfect Game – It would be interesting to see what would happen if Singer developed more of a true slider to take advantage of his arm action and angle. He generates very good extension out of his hand according to TrackMan – which registered around seven feet, a nice boost given his 6-foot-5 frame – and also throws his fastball with a very high spin rate, as that pitch alone should allow him to be successful at the next level.

Analysis – It’s easy to look at Singer’s motion and delivery and toss questions out given the Royals history of pitching development. That said, this player was ranked in the Top 5 by the two best prospect outlets going that cover the draft and makes for an outstanding get at the 18th selection. I’m worried about the trunk torque and rotation that the right-hander currently throws with, but I have little doubt in the pitches the right-hander brings to the field. Should he stay healthy, he should be a quick mover who could figure into the middle of the rotation.

1st Rd Pick #33 Overall
Jackson Kowar – RHP

University of Florida
6’5 180 lbs

DOB 10/4/96
Slot Value $2,118,700

The Royals second pick doesn’t quite have the track record of their first pick, but it hasn’t stopped him from contributing on a National Championship club and early this year flashing better stuff than his more celebrated counterpart. The movement on Kowar’s two-seam and changeup are real, getting both sink and fade from the two pitches, while he can run his four-seam fastball into the upper 90s touching 98 mph at times. That pitch is a tad straight and, despite that velocity, it can be squared up from time to time. The curveball that Kowar uses currently has 1-7 movement from his 3/4 angle has come forward this season as he flashed its capabilities at times in the CWS giving him the possibility of a third above-average pitch with late break in the low to mid 70s. The movement leads to command issues within the strikezone and speaks to the lack of strikeouts despite the plus stuff. Ultimately, this tall and lean prospect needs to add muscle and start incorporating his back half more as he does very little with his back leg. Should he drive more off it and add muscle with his arm speed and movement, there is no reason why he can’t become a middle of the rotation starter or more.

Via 2080 Baseball – Kowar holds a tall, extra-lanky frame similar to Rick Porcello, and the way he located all three of his pitches in Saturday’s win, seemed a bit Porcello-esque as well. His raw stuff grades out as solid, but it’s the command and ability to relentlessly fill the zone that gives Kowar a chance to go near the top of the draft this June. His fastball ranged from 90-to-94 mph in this look, sitting at 92 mph with solid run and sink from his true three-quarters arm slot. He commanded the fastball consistently to both sides of the plate, showing an advanced idea of how to move his heater around the zone. Kowar got numerous swings in front of his low-80s changeup because of how well he maintained arm speed, and consistently threw an extra-deep curveball in the 75-to-78 mph range for strikes. His breaking ball isn’t overly powerful or sharp, but its above-average rotation and true 12-to-6 shape make it difficult for hitters to square up as its coming straight down on them from his 6’6’’ frame.

If Kowar were more of an arm-strength guy on top of the way he locates and mixes, we would be talking about a potential top-rotation type ceiling. He might project more safely to operate in the low-90s as a starter than be a 93-to-97 mph type guy for numerous innings, but he projects to do a lot of the things teams are looking for in a mid-rotation profile. He’s arguably as polished as anyone in this draft class, poised to move quickly in pro ball. – Adam McInturff

Analysis – The Royals need to add muscle to Kowar and get him using his back half more. If they do these rather simple things, then I have little doubt this is the most talented pitcher they have in their system and possibly the most talented prospect overall.

1st Rd Pick #34 Overall
Daniel Lynch – LHP

University of Virginia
6’6 190 lbs

DOB 11/17/96
Slot Value $2,066,700

This selection was a surprise to this writer as he was rated lower in the rankings at Perfect Game and Baseball America, but he was rising on both boards late while ranking much higher elsewhere. After struggling during his first two seasons, the left-hander found something in the Cape Cod League and ran with it during his final season in Virginia, putting up the best college season of his career. Despite being a college Junior, some in the game and Lynch’s college pitching coach Karl Kuhn thinks there is still projection to be attained in the future from the long, lean lefty. What Karl saw this last season was an improved curveball after working with him on it the first two seasons in Virginia before finding more consistency with it on the Cape with the help of Orleans Coach Nichols there.

While quite a few reports say that Lynch works backward more than off the fastball, Kuhn thinks that is overblown saying that he works out front with the fastball in the 88-93 range, topping out around 96 mph, getting an excellent extension, release height and attacking the bottom of the zone effectively with his release point. The spin rate is average, but with the extension and consistent release height on all four pitches, he’s able to attack hitters. Comfortable throwing all four pitches, his three offspeed pitches flash average to above average

Via Fangraphs – On the Cape and the first half of this spring, Lynch was a solid 3rd round prospect that pitched at 88-92 mph with mostly average stuff and above-average feel and command. In the last month or so, Lynch’s velo has ticked up, and down the stretch he’s been sitting 92-94, hitting 95 mph deep into starts with an assortment of offspeed pitches that all flash above-average. It’s obvious from observing Lynch that he isn’t a fan of the Virginia pitching style, its characteristic mechanics and reliance on breaking balls. Most scouts have viewed this as positive as they aren’t a fan of it or UVA’s overall track record with pitching (Hultzen, Kirby, Jones, etc.) either and like that Lynch knows how he wants to pitch. He throws a cutter, slider, curveball and changeup that all flash above-average, with his slider occasionally flashing plus. Lynch, like many college pitchers including Florida’s Brady Singer, doesn’t throw his changeup much but it shows enough promise that it could be an above-average pitch with greater use. 

Analysis – A few different draft writers really love Lynch and I can see why, given his length and ability to throw four different pitches at any time. I have my questions in regards to how often hitters square him up and believe he could be another Eric Skoglund type. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

1st Rd Competitive Balance Pick #40 Overall
Kris Bubic – LHP

Stanford University
6’3 220 lbs

DOB 8/19/97
Slot Value $1,786,300

Another Cape Cod League standout was chosen with the Royals 40th overall selection in this Stanford lefty. This pitcher’s game appears to be built around disrupting a hitter’s timing with a funky delivery, extended takeaway and a plus changeup to keep hitters off balance. The pitch that was eluding Bubic in his first two seasons in college was the curveball, but that pitch started to make strides this past season and appears to be getting slightly better. Working mostly in the low 90’s, the lefty has bumped to 94 mph but works primarily 90-92 mph with an upper 70s changeup that he has no problem throwing to both right-handers and left-handers while doubling up with his comfort level. The control is average in college but with the lower velo he’s going to need to improve the command to not surrender hard contact while improving the curveball. The downhill plane and over the top delivery should yield groundball results while the changeup should carve up hitters at the lower levels.

Via Perfect Game – The lefthander works from a higher three-quarters slot, allowing for sinking and running life down on the zone with his fastball which typically sits in the 88-91 mph range, touching higher whenever needed, though he’ll also subtract from the pitch just as effectively. The pitchability and feel don’t lie just with his fastball, however, as his changeup is an advanced offering with replicated arm speed and release point while showing similar life to that of his fastball but working more in the upper-70s. Bubic’s comfort level with the pitch is evident as he’ll go to it more than once during an at-bat, though he also shows a sound curveball to give him a complete three-pitch mix.

Analysis – I like fastball/changeup guys and have for a long time, but in today’s game you have to have some spin. Should Bubic’s curve continue to come forward then he’s a nice backend rotation guy given his ability to throw hitters timing off.

2nd Rd Pick #58 Overall
Jonathan Bowlan – RHP

University of Memphis
6’6 262 lbs

DOB 12/1/96
Slot Value $1,168,300

The Royals fifth selection of the draft from Memphis continued the pattern of extremely tall pitchers. Unlike Singer, Kowar, and Lynch chosen in front of him, Bowlan doesn’t have much progression needed as a mountain of a man at 260+ lbs. With that size, the right-hander is able to throw downhill while bumping velocity in the upper 90s and pounding the zone, as his less the two walks per nine rate would suggest. The changeup and slider currently rate as less than average according to some, but when on the slider combines with a fastball that Bowlan can work on both sides the plate to earn plenty of swings and misses as evidenced in his 18 strikeout performance versus NCAA tourney participant South Florida.

Via MLB.comMark Bowlan threw the only perfect game in Memphis history in 1987, and 31 years later his son Jonathan joined him in the school record books with 18 strikeouts in one game. That’s also the most whiffs in an NCAA Division I game this year and the performance gave another boost to his already rising Draft stock. The Cardinals signed Mark as a 19th-rounder in 1989, while his son should go about 15 rounds higher this June. An unheralded recruit out of a Tennessee high school, Bowlan has added about 50 pounds in college and his stuff has gotten stronger as well. His fastball usually ranges from 91-94 mph and tops out at 97. But the key to his success is his low-80s slider, which can be a sharp, plus pitch at its best but also lacks consistency. Bowlan’s changeup is decent if a bit firm and should improve as he uses it more.

Analysis – Big body with a good fastball, I think the Royals have found a bullpen piece here given his fastball and slider combination.

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Kyle Isbel @cstevensphoto

3rd Rd Pick #94 Overall
Kyle Isbel – CF

UNLV
5’11 183 lbs

DOB 3/3/97
Slot Value $594,800

The UNLV center fielder played all over the diamond for the program on arrival, starting at second base and third base until they thought to check out his athleticism in center field where they liked his skills and kept him there. A grinder type according to his head coach, Isbel improved his power significantly in his final college season upping his ISO from .156 to .286 after a Cape Cod season that was more reminiscent of his two previous college seasons. There are some concerns over whether he has the true power to hit 15-20 HR or stay in center field or make consistent contact game to game.

Via Perfect GameIsbel is a solid defensive outfielder in the middle of the diamond, and scouts who believe he can stay in center field long term see him as a potential power-hitting center fielder from the left side of the plate, a highly sought after type of profile every year in the draft. He’s a bit undersized but is physical and strong, showing big raw power with the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark in any direction, and the improvements he’s made as far as his bat-to-ball skills and subsequently his ability to get to that raw power in game situations. 

Analysis – Give me a grinder with some pop and that’s what Isbel is. Even if his power is more the 10 HR type instead of 15-20, I think the Royals have a nice utility guy here who can play multiple positions on the dirt or in the outfield. Perhaps we have Whit Merrifield’s future replacement in the UNLV outfielder.

4th Rd Pick #122 Overall
Eric Cole – CF

University of Arkansas
5’11 170 lbs

DOB 1/17/97
Slot Value $451,200

Cole is an outfielder who doesn’t do anything truly outstanding but does everything pretty well, including hit. A switch-hitter, scouts believe he is an above average hitter from the right side and average from the left. Likely a left fielder at the upper levels, some think Cole can show average power going forward despite giving the appearance that physically he isn’t likely to develop much further.

Via Baseball America – Cole is a switch-hitter with a power-oriented approach and swing. There’s some length to the path and he uses a big leg kick to get his timing and weight transferred, so there’s some understandable concern about how much contact he’ll make against advanced pitching. But he has hit .329/.416/.545 with 12 home runs this year. His approach does pay off in above-average power that could entice a team to draft him. He’s strictly a corner outfielder.

Analysis – Likely a corner outfielder, I’d like to see a carrying tool for Cole to get him to the big leagues as it stands now he looks like a Triple-A ceiling.

Gerrit W. Van Genderen

Gerrit W. Van Genderen

5th Rd Pick #152 Overall
Austin Cox – LHP

Mercer University
6’3 205 lbs

DOB 3/28/97
Slot Value $337,000

From being a low-level recruit on arriving at Mercer and struggling in his frosh season, Austin developed into one of the top strikeout pitchers at the college level the past two seasons. Tossing most of his pitches from an over the top delivery, Cox gets some arm side run while being able to attack different quadrants of the strikezone with the fastball. The pitch generally works 90-93 mph but Coach Gibson has seen it as high as 97 mph with some sink and arm side run. When asked about the higher walk rate (4.4 per 9), Gibson dismissed that as the program generally likes to work around the better hitters they face, trying to refuse to let the better ones beat you and he doesn’t see the control being an issue going forward. What he does think Cox needs to work on going forward is his command within the zone, but he did flash better work towards the end of the season in a dominant conference tournament win over VMI in which he struck out ten over six innings with just a pair of hits yielded and three walks allowed.

The left-hander works his 12-6 curveball alongside the fastball with downward movement and late-breaking movement giving it outstanding swing and miss capability while he is also able to manipulate the speed and break forming it into a 1-7 pitch as well. Coach Gibson thinks it’s a very good pitch and thinks it already is a 55 to 60-grade pitch on the scouting scale. The changeup is a “show me” pitch in the mid 80s that he will need to continue to work on to create more velocity separation to turn it into an out pitch. This season Gibson asked Austin to also work with a slider which at times may have taken away from the curve that he got better with towards the end of the season that he drops down his release point with. In the low minors that may have worked, but at the highest levels he may have to put that pitch away due to the change in the slot since it is his fourth pitch.

“I’ve coached against Sean Manaea and Kyle Freeland and he’s certainly on that path. It’s a big strong athletic body that can attack the zone with good makeup and a good work ethic, the Royals got a good one.” – Coach Gibson

Analysis – This is an outstanding selection with a decent floor and larger ceiling. Should the Royals develop the changeup while refining his attack then they have the makings of a #3 starter. Should they not, they could still have a pretty decent reliever. A very good allocation of a pick here.

Featured Photo  – Jackson Kowar celebrates the NCAA championship with his Florida teammates © Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

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