Royals must make the most of early Draft picks
KC will likely focus on mix of pitching and bats with selections Nos. 17, 28, 40 and 56
ST. LOUIS -- Say this for the Royals in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft: They'll be among the busiest early birds.
Kansas City is one of only three teams that will have four selections within the first 68 picks of the Draft, which begins today. In fact, the Royals' four come inside the first 56.
"I expect it to be to our advantage," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "But it's an exciting time of year, and to have that many picks early on in the Draft gives us an opportunity to select a lot of good players."
The Royals' early four picks are Nos. 17, 28, 40 and 56. The first two are in the first round, making them among just six clubs that will have that many.
No. 28 is compensation for the Braves signing free-agent pitcher Ervin Santana. No. 40 is in the competitive balance round A. No. 56 is in the second round.
Of course, their first pick isn't until 17th, which is the latest they've selected in quite a while. Over the previous nine years, the Royals had picked higher than eighth just once -- in 2009, when pitcher Aaron Crow was the No. 12 choice.
"It's much harder to predict who's going to be available, and there are always a few surprises," Moore said. "That's why you have to line them up on ability and take the best available player who's there 17th, and then again, obviously, [at] 28th."
The 2014 Draft will take place through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network today at 5 p.m. CT. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 6 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 11:30 a.m. CT on Friday.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 200 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
This year's Draft is termed "interesting" by Royals assistant general manager-player personnel J.J. Picollo.
"I think it's probably more pitching-oriented than anything," Picollo said. "There's some depth in the high school pitchers. As usual, there's some quality college pitchers. I think it's probably normal from that perspective
Royals bonus pool
"I don't think there's a large number of college bats overall. That seems to be where there are deficiencies. The premium on the top bats is going to be very high. And in the high school position players, there are some good ones.
"It's an interesting Draft, because there are a lot of players that are tools-type-oriented guys, not so much the baseball-player type. The general feeling is there's some risk in some of the high school bats, and the number of college bats that are close to the big leagues is very limited."
The Royals have been scouring the country, looking at potential selections. They have 17 area scouts, six cross-checkers and several experienced ivory hunters in the front office, including legendary scout Art Stewart.
How many folks has the club had out there?
"I would say, even conservatively, 35," Picollo said. "We have three picks [in the top 40], so you do want to get as many looks as you can."
That emphasizes how important the Draft is to the Royals, a small-market team with limited resources.
"There are only a few talent pools available, and the Draft is one of them," Moore said. "We're an organization that needs to develop our own. We rely on homegrown talent, so what we do in the Draft is very important, as well as internationally. It's very important that we're very competitive in the Draft."
In about 50 words
Three of the possible top choices being considered are two Californians -- left-handed pitcher Brady Aiken and catcher-outfielder Alex Jackson -- as well as North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon. And the top three picks will be made by the Astros, Marlins and White Sox in that order. Maybe they'll match up somehow.
After several years of picking in the top five or thereabouts, the Royals have to wait until No. 17, and that means they've got to have Plans A, B, C and beyond working.
"It is a little bit more difficult in planning," Picollo said. "When you're picking fifth, you just have to figure out who the top five guys are. And maybe you'd worry about some signability -- if guys were going to take the money -- so maybe the top seven. But now we're really looking at probably upwards of 30 guys altogether, where we're trying to be able to judge who's the 17th pick."
While pitching is likely to be the Royals' biggest concern in the overall picture, that doesn't mean that their two first-round picks will be pitchers. Moore put it this way: "I don't want to be boring, but we're looking to improve in all areas. But premium position players are always very crucial. Pitching is very important as well, but you certainly concentrate on pitching and premium positions."
The Royals gambled last year by taking shortstop -- and now third baseman -- Hunter Dozier in the first round, with the idea they could sign him for less than the slotted $3.1-plus million, and they did at $2.2 million. Then they took left-handed pitcher Sean Manaea, touted as a prime pick before a hip issue, with their next pick at 34th. With the savings on Dozier and elsewhere, they signed Manaea for $3.55 million, well above the slotted $1.6-plus million. Now both are under development with Class A Wilmington.
That's the money management possible within a team's allotted bonus limits, which this year for the Royals totals $8,602,900 for the first 10 selections.
Last year the Royals surprised observers by not taking a pitcher, as expected, but shortstop Dozier, who now has become a hard-hitting third baseman. But they got a pitcher they wanted later in Manaea. This year?
Who's to say the Royals won't take another position player with their first pick, but Picollo knows where the emphasis will be.
"Pitching is going to be the primary focus," he said. "Based on the constant need for pitching. I know I've been asked a lot of questions about the rash of Tommy Johns; that is what it is. One way to look at it is the only way to beat that is to have more pitchers. So if you lose one or two, you've got more guys ready to go. So I think pitching is going to be the main area of concentration for us," Picollo said.
"Then you always like to pick up an extra bat; I think with the extra picks, there is the potential for us to take a younger player and give him time to develop. It's nice that we have three picks in the top 40, so we should have some flexibility there in what we're doing."
The mock Drafts published so far by MLB.com indicate this will be a year with a heavy emphasis on pitching. No surprise there -- "you can't have enough pitching" is an ancient baseball refrain. In a recent Jonathan Mayo take on the first 34 picks, almost a third were pitchers, with the next-heaviest emphasis on shortstops and outfielders. Oh yes, there were three catchers, too. Another ancient baseball saying: good catchers are hard to find.
"I think it's going to be a very different Draft, because it's going to be very unpredictable," Picollo said. "There's not a, 'Hey, these are the top five guys clear-cut, no-brainer'."
* RECENT DRAFT HISTORY *
Dozier, the top pick last year, is a right-handed power hitter who predictably was shifted from shortstop to third base. The Denton, Texas, kid from Stephen F. Austin State debuted last summer with Rookie Idaho Falls and hit .303 in 54 games with 31 extra-base hits (seven homers) and 43 RBIs. He went to Class A Lexington and hit .327 in 15 games.
That pushed him right to Advanced A Wilmington, where he's done well, too. In Dozier's first 50 games his average was .267, including a recent 10-game surge in which he hit .433 (13-for-30). He also had two homers and 24 RBIs.
It's an often-told story, but worth repeating for the kids who go in the later rounds or perhaps aren't drafted at all. Center fielder Jarrod Dyson, now the Royals' fourth outfielder and premier basestealer, was picked by the team in the 50th and final round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. That's so low they don't even bother picking so many players anymore. Dyson is in his fifth year with Kansas City and is a valued weapon. As a pinch-runner just last week, he stole a base to set up the tying run in the ninth inning at Toronto. That saved the Royals, and they went onto snap the Blue Jays' nine-game winning streak in the 10th.
In The Show
Original Draft selections by the Royals continue to have a strong presence on the Major League roster. They include first-rounders Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Aaron Crow (Luke Hochevar is on the disabled list). Other draftees include Dyson, Greg Holland, Louis Coleman, Danny Duffy and Michael Mariot.
The Royals' recent top picks
2013: Hunter Dozier, 3B, Class A Wilmington
2012: Kyle Zimmer, RHP, extended spring training
2011: Bubba Starling, OF, Class A Wilmington
2010: Christian Colon, 2B-SS, Triple-A Omaha
2009: Aaron Crow, RHP, Kansas City
2008: Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.