We all hope that the day will come in the not-too-distant future, say in 2012 or thereabouts, where the Royals will be once again looked upon as one of the best-run franchises in baseball. If I didn’t hope for that, I wouldn’t be wasting my time with this blog; if you didn’t hope for that, you wouldn’t be reading it. (Unless you’re one of those sadistic fans of another team, who enjoy watching us Royals fans squirm like ants being chased by a kid with a magnifying glass on a sunny day.)
Anyway, if that day comes, I think it is quite likely that we will look to
If that day doesn’t come, I think it is quite likely that we will look to Thursday as a gigantic missed opportunity, the day the Royals wasted some terrific draft picks on a bunch of high-risk players who never amounted to a thing, a re-living of the notorious Colt Griffin/Roscoe Crosby draft of 2001.
That’s how important Thursday was to this franchise. And that’s how much of a gamble Dayton Moore and Deric Ladnier took four days ago.
I’ve made my feelings about Eric Hosmer clear already, but I want to emphasize that my concerns are purely in the macro sense: high school first basemen have a generally awful track record in the draft, while college first basemen have a generally awesome track record, and there was a college first baseman of equal pedigree to Hosmer in the draft in the persona of Justin Smoak. But in a micro sense, well, I’m not a scout. Hosmer was not the consensus best player available when the Royals drafted, just like Moustakas wasn’t the consensus best player available last season. But neither player was considered a reach by any means; you could find a number of independent scouts who did think Hosmer was the third-best player in the draft, and he was considered one of the top 7 or 8 players available by just about anybody.
I made the argument that the odds Hosmer will be a better hitter three years from now than Smoak is today still holds, but I’ve heard from a few people who have said, in essence, yes: Hosmer might be a better hitter in three years, particularly in terms of power. Smoak could hit
*: Immediately after I wrote this, I came across this in a Jayson Stark column:
We're hearing that when the Royals renovate Kaufman Stadium, they might be redesigning more than just the concourses and luxury boxes. They're also talking about moving the fences in -- because that step might be their best hope of upgrading their offense any time soon.
“Nobody wants to go there and hit when it's 385 [feet] to the gaps,” said one baseball man. “So why overpay for some free-agent slugger when you can move in the fences and elevate your own guys' power? The way that park is now, guys hit the ball on the screws in those gaps and it doesn't go anywhere. It dies.”
If the Royals are really thinking about moving the fences in to help their offense, I’m going to have reconsider my support of our current management. The Royals have hit 37 homers this year, and given up 69. Does anyone in their right mind think that if the fences moved in, the Royals’ offense would benefit more than their opponents? The reason the Royals don’t hit home runs isn’t because of their ballpark, it’s because THEY DON’T HAVE ANY POWER. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you can move the fences in
The Royals tried this before, you may recall, moving the fences in
I refuse to believe that Dayton Moore is this stupid. I hope he will not force me to eat my words.
Back to the draft…if we’re looking at macro trends, the most compelling macro trend is this: teams that draft for signability over ability get destroyed. The most obvious example of this in Royals history was when the team drafted Jeff Austin with the fourth pick in 1998, instead of J.D. Drew. The Cardinals took Drew with the fifth pick; three months later he was raking in the major leagues, and by 2000 he was one of the best (if also most injury-prone) outfielders in the majors.
Hosmer was not a signability pick. He was the very antithesis of a signability pick, actually – he’s a
Whatever concerns we may have with Hosmer, he was just the first in a long series of high-upside players the Royals landed. Michael Montgomery, a supplemental first-round pick (and how great is that, to get a supplemental first rounder for David Riske?), is a tall high-school lefty with a projectable build, and whose velocity already spiked into the low 90s this season. He was the best left-handed pitcher in
The Royals’ third round pick, Tyler Sample, is another tall (listed anywhere from 6’5” to 6’7”) high school pitcher with power stuff – he was expected to go earlier. What I like about Sample is that he’s from
(The worst case of this from the Royals’ perspective came in 2002, when the Royals took a college first baseman named David Jensen in the third round. This came at a time when we thought that teams were underrating the value of college hitters, and Jensen hit something like .400 his final year, so you’d think I would have liked the pick. I hated it – Jensen played at BYU, so he was doing all his hitting at high elevation, and owing to his Mormon mission he was nearly 23 when he was drafted. As it turned out, Jensen hit .225 with four homers in his minor league career and was released less than two years after he was drafted.)
So Sample’s a nice pick, especially since he’s already signed. But the guy everyone wants to see signed is Tim Melville, who the Royals took in the fourth round. I had just parked my car when I learned of the pick, which is a blessing, because I probably would have driven off the road had I found out a few minutes earlier. Melville started the season as a possibility with the Royals’ first pick, as he was considered the best high school arm in the country. He had a somewhat disappointing senior year, but was still considered a sure-fire first-round pick. Then his family circulated a report stating that they wanted Top 15 money to sign; when he didn’t go in the top 15, he started to slide.
First-round talents slide into the later rounds all the time for signability reasons. But if the Royals sign Melville, it will be the first time in the 20 years I’ve followed the Royals that they will have signed a first-round talent that fell in the draft for financial reasons. And they’re widely expected to have an excellent chance of signing him. For one, they didn’t take him in the 16th round, when teams will take a flyer on a top-rated player as a backup in case they have trouble coming to terms with one of their early picks. You don’t waste a 4th-round pick on a player unless you’re confident you can sign him, which means the Royals are willing to meet his demands. Comments from the family suggest they are more than willing to hear the Royals out.
I love this pick for another reason: Melville’s a local. The Braves have made a living the last 10-15 years by scouting the hell out of their backyard. Look at this list of local high school players drafted earlier this decade: Adam Wainwright and Blaine Boyer in 2000, Macay McBride and Kyle Davies in 2001, Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann in 2002. All six players were taken in the first three rounds out of
Not nearly as much baseball talent develops in the greater
Melville wasn’t a secret in the scouting ranks, but he’s a
If the Royals sign Melville and Hosmer, they will have two of the twenty best players in the draft. That doesn’t guarantee a strong draft, but it’s a damn good start.
And the Royals weren’t finished with their high-risk, high-upside approach. Their fifth round pick, John Lamb, is another SoCal left-handed pitcher who probably would have gone in the first two or three rounds, but was in a car accident in February that left him with a stress fracture in his throwing arm, and while surgery wasn’t needed, he’s been in a cast ever since. Ask the Phillies if they regret taking a chance on Cole Hamels after Hamels suffered a broken arm in high school. If Lamb heals fully – and there’s no reason to think he won’t – this is another great upside play.
For the second year in a row, the Royals took a Puerto Rican high school player in the sixth round. Last year it was Fernando Cruz, who lobbied to be included in the draft even though he was a high school junior (I think he completed his high school requirements), and this year the Royals took Alex Llanos, a toolsy outfielder who like Cruz will play his first pro season at age 17. The combination of age and tools is a good gamble at this point in the draft.
The draft adjourned for the day after six rounds, which meant that teams picking at the top of the draft could work the phones Thursday night and Friday morning to see what it would take to entice one of the players who had dropped because of bonus demands to sign. Which makes the Royals’ seventh-round pick so intriguing: Jason Esposito, a third baseman from a
The Royals continued to mix in a bunch of high school picks with some junior college players; they took only one player in the first 14 rounds who will be 21 by the end of the year. That player was their second-rounder, Johnny Giavotella, who played second base at the
Giavotella was a strange, strange pick. He was taken with the 49th pick, though Baseball
He’s been compared to Dustin Pedroia without the glove and Dan Uggla without the power; the comparison I like the best is the one to Chuck Knoblauch without the speed. Knoblauch won a Rookie of the Year award in a year when he hit .281 with a single home run…but he walked more than he struck out, and played heady defense, capped off by arguably the most important decoy play in major league history. Knoblauch’s listed at 5’9”,
Other picks I like: 16th-rounder Derrick Saito, a 5’9” LHP out of Cal Poly who can nonetheless bring the heat, but dropped in the draft because of some late-season struggles – he has LOOGY potential if nothing else. 18th-rounder Carlo Testa was a two-way player at
At this point, you have to give the draft an A for effort. Their first six picks are all guys who easily could have gone in the first two rounds; if they get them all signed, the Royals will have as much depth in the low minors as anyone. In particular, given the amount of pitching the Royals already have on the farm, if they add
But high school pitchers will break your heart. The Royals took 11 high school players, 3 junior college guys, and the lone college junior in their first 15 picks. It’s feast or famine, folks. This draft could turn out to be one of the best in team history; it could turn out to be a complete dud. If nothing else, though, at least it gives us something to talk about. And anything that distracts us from what’s going on at the major league level has to be a good thing, doesn’t it?