(So this is what I’ve become. What started as a simple post about Tim Melville is already approaching 3000 words. It’s not really about Melville at all at this point, but then, that’s usually what happens when I start an article with one topic in mind and end up rambling about another. So rather than provide fodder for those of you who like to mock the lengths of my posts (that would be, um, all of you), I’m splitting this into two parts. Which of course means that I’m the guy who needed to split an article about Tim Freaking Melville into two parts. Whatever. On with the show.)
The Royals have ten prospects that clearly stand out from the rest, and I’ve discussed seven of them – the two first-round hitters (Moustakas and Hosmer), the five lefties (Montgomery, Arguelles, Duffy, Lamb, and Dwyer), and their first two picks last year (Crow and Myers). That leaves only Tim Melville, but I certainly don’t want to leave the impression that he’s an afterthought. On the contrary, Melville is one of the organization’s most meaningful prospects, both in terms of his own talent and in terms of two positive organizational trends that he represents.
If, sometime in the not-too-distant future, The Process™ starts to work and the Royals become a perennial contender on the basis of a perennially productive farm system, we may identify the exact point at which the franchise started to turn itself around as the moment the Royals drafted Melville. Even in the moment, as I refreshed MLB.com’s draft page on my iPhone while walking towards my daughter’s school play, I was stopped cold when Melville’s name popped out. His selection was, to that point, completely out of character for the organization, and the first real sign that – at least in terms of the farm system – Dayton Moore might live up to his promise.
See, the Royals drafted Melville in the 4th round. They drafted him in the 4th round even though, if players were drafted based purely on their ability and not on financial considerations, Melville wouldn’t have gotten out of the 1st. He was a high school right-hander out of a Missouri high school who could throw in the mid-90s with a terrific curveball, and prior to his senior year there was talk that he might be a Top-5 pick. His velocity dipped a little as a senior – there’s been a lot of talk that his high school coach altered his throwing motion to his detriment – but he still projected as at least a late-1st-round talent.
But he wanted mid-1st-round money to sign, and for some reason his money demands – which weren’t that egregious – caused him to fall in the draft. The further he fell, the more teams fretted that he wouldn’t sign, and pretty soon he was in that downward spiral where teams don’t want to waste a 2nd or 3rd round pick on a player that might not sign, even if he has 1st round talent. At that point, a prospect might well fall into the double-digit rounds, where some team will finally gamble on an “unsignable” player, perhaps using him as an insurance policy in case their own top picks don’t sign.
The Royals correctly gauged his signability, stopped his fall in the 4th round, and gave him $1.5 million to sign, which is only slightly more than slot money if he had been drafted where his talent had projected him. Melville wasn’t a loser – he got the money he wanted – but the Royals were definitely winners. They got arguably the best high school right-hander in the draft in the fourth round. In his first pro season last year, Melville was a little wild and raw (43 walks and 10 homers in 97 innings) but also showed true power stuff (96 Ks and a 3.79 ERA.) His fastball is usually in the 92-93 range but sometimes higher, and has great sinking action. His curveball is a potentially dominant pitch that drops straight down but is tough to control. In this fine article, J.J. Picollo compares him to Andy Benes, which is obviously optimistic but not completely insane.
You have to understand: before Melville, this stuff NEVER happened to the Royals. It was other teams, big-market teams, that benefited when top prospects slid in the draft for signability reasons.
But after Melville, well, it’s almost become commonplace. Last year, of course, the Royals drafted Aaron Crow, who was only available in the first place because he had rejected the Nationals’ contract offer after they had selected him with the #9 overall pick the year before. Crow got over $3 million guaranteed and a major-league contract to sign. The Royals didn’t have a second-round pick, but they drafted Wil Myers in the 3rd round and gave him mid-1st-round money; they then drafted Chris Dwyer in the 4th round and gave him late-1st-round money. Meanwhile, the money that might have been used on a 2nd-round pick was spent and then some on international free agents: Korean catcher Shin-Hin Jo ($600,000); Nicaraguan third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert ($1.35 million); and Noel Arguelles, the first Cuban defector the Royals have ever signed, to a 5-year, $6.9 million deal.
The Royals spent over $11 million in the 2008 draft, an all-time draft record at the time. Counting Arguelles, they spent more on amateur players in 2009 than they did in 2008. They’ve reached a point where Kevin Goldstein, in the process of ranking every organization in terms of their minor league talent, wrote of the Royals (who placed 10th), “Some might even classify them as trailblazers when it comes to small-market teams spending big money in the later rounds, as it's still the best bargain in baseball.”
Analysts like myself have been saying this for years, as it’s one of the most obvious lessons in the game: the most cost-effective way to find talent is through the draft, and “overpaying” to draft elite talent is an investment that almost always pays off. One of the most aggravating things about being a Royals fan for the last 15 years – really, since Ewing Kauffman died – was that the Royals refused to acknowledge this very simple concept. The Royals decided to spend $2.7 million on Jeff Austin instead of $7 million on J.D. Drew. Starting in 2003 they drafted a bunch of college seniors starting in the 5th round and offered them $1,000 take-it-or-leave-it offers to save money.
As recently as three years ago, they spent $4 million on Mike Moustakas instead of $6 million on Matt Wieters or $7 million on Rick Porcello. In fairness, the decision to draft Moustakas instead of those guys is too complicated to break it down as simply a matter of money – there was a legitimate concern (albeit one I consider far-fetched) that Scott Boras simply wouldn’t let either Wieters or Porcello sign with the Royals.
Regardless, if the Royals did draft Moustakas in part to save money, it’s the last time they pinched pennies in the draft. The following year, they spent $6 million to sign Eric Hosmer; regardless of whether he was the right pick, he was certainly the most expensive pick the Royals could have made in that spot. They then spent well over slot money to sign Melville in the 4th round. Last summer, they gave Aaron Crow a major-league contract to sign, and he looked so good in spring camp that he might be the first starter the Royals call up this season if a need arises. They gave millions to Myers and Dwyer, and Myers already looks like he’ll justify the money.
Of the Royals’ top 10 prospects, seven of them would never have become part of the organization if the Royals hadn’t been willing to overspend to sign them. Moustakas and Hosmer both signed for over MLB’s mandated slot money (with the caveat that “slot money” for the top 5 picks is ridiculously low, and teams almost always exceed the recommended slot unless they’re being ridiculously cheap, as the Pirates were when they selected Daniel Moskos one pick ahead of Wieters.) Crow also signed for above-slot.
Melville, Myers, and Dwyer all got first-round money even though the Royals were able to snag them rounds later. Arguelles was the Cuban bonus baby. That leaves only Michael Montgomery, Daniel Duffy, and John Lamb as “traditional” draft picks that signed for slot.
Under a different, pre-Dayton Moore administration, the Royals’ Top 10 prospects might look more like a Top 3. For about the same amount of money as the Royals have paid Jose Guillen so far, the Royals have improved their farm system dramatically in two years.
The last two drafts have a chance to be two of the best drafts in team history. The 2008 draft, in particular, could be historic if Hosmer comes around – at this point, he’s the only disappointment in the first five rounds. Montgomery was a supplemental-1st-rounder; the Royals got scrappy second baseman Johnny Giavotella, who I think has become quite underrated, in the 2nd round. In the 3rd round they took Tyler Sample, a raw but hard-throwing right-hander out of high school in Colorado. Sample made huge strides in his control last season, and is an excellent bet to move into next year’s Top 10 rankings.
Melville was drafted in the 4th round, and John Lamb was drafted in the 5th. If the Royals’ 7th round pick, Jason Esposito, had signed, this draft would look even better. Esposito evidently agreed to a $1.5 million bonus before he was picked, foregoing a scholarship to Vanderbilt, but he had second thoughts afterwards and decided to go to college. He’s considered a possible first-round selection in 2011.
Last year’s draft doesn’t have the depth of talent, given that the Royals were missing their 2nd round pick and didn’t have a supplemental pick, but with Myers that draft has arguably more star potential.
But it all started with Melville, more or less. The Royals did give $1 million to sign Derrick Robinson out of the 4th round in the 2006 draft. Robinson was considered the fastest man in that draft but a project with the bat, words that unfortunately remain as true today as they were four years ago. And in 2001, the one time Allard Baird convinced David Glass to open up his vault for some 18-year-old kids, the Royals spent $1.75 million on their 2nd round pick, Roscoe Cr…Roscoe Cros…I’m sorry, my fingers won’t let me time his name. (The Royals would end up recouping some of that bonus money. The story of what happened is long and still not entirely clear, but after signing, Crosby never appeared in a game. I don’t mean a major-league game – I mean a pro game. One of the most-hyped Royals draft picks of the decade never so much as suited up for a minor-league game before he was released.)
Before Crosby, unless I’m missing someone, the last time the Royals went way over budget to sign a draft pick was…Bo Jackson, who got a major-league deal for over $1 million (the largest bonus ever given to an amateur player to that point) as a 4th round pick in 1986.
Between Melville, Myers, and Dwyer, the Royals have signed more high-priced draft picks in the last two drafts than they did in the 20 previous drafts. That’s a trend I can get behind.
More to come…