The drafts prior to 2002 could serve as a blueprint for how to build a perennial loser.
That all changed with the selecting of Zack Greinke in 2002.
During the late 1990s, the Royals were accused of drafting lesser-talented prospects just to avoid paying big money to rookies. Those days appear to be over however, as the team has gone after some high dollar prospects and is beginning to see some return for the investment.
Looking back at the last decade, it appears the Royals have performed adequately at drafting players with big-league ability. Of the players that make the Royals farm system the best in baseball, most were acquired via the draft.
The drafting of Greinke in 2002 appears to be a turning point in the team’s history. Perhaps they stopped drafting college pitchers that appeared easy to sign. Or perhaps the team began paying above slot money for picks taken in rounds 2 through 5. Or it could be the team just finally got one right with Greinke, who lived up to his considerable billing.
Whatever the reason, the Royals have used the draft to turn a moribund farm system into the envy of the league.
In two previous articles I detailed the drafts of the later half of the 1990s, and took a look back at the disastrous draft of 2001.
This article breaks down what appears to be a string of adequate, if not exceptional drafts.
2002 – No one would have blamed the Royals if they’d drafted anything other than a pitcher in the first round. They had come off a string of drafts that saw nine pitchers – Dan Reichert, Jeff Austin, Matt Burch, Chris George, Kyle Snyder, Jay Gehrke, Mike Stodolka and Colt Griffin – produce absolutely nothing. But the team pulled the trigger on Greinke. Like him or not, you can’t argue that Greinke wasn’t a good pick.
With their fifth round pick, the Royals took Donnie Murphy, who was for a time seen as the team’s future second baseman. He is still floating around the big leagues as a backup.
In the 15th round, they team chose Kila Ka’aihue. It now appears Ka’aihue will never make it as a big league hitter, but he was a steal as a 15th rounder.
Grade: for picking a superstar and a potential big league first baseman in a lower round, the Royals get an A.
2003 – The Royals, holding two picks in the first round, took Mitch Maier, then outfieldr Chris Lubanski. In the second round they took Shane Costa, who saw three seasons of action in KC as a reserve outfielder. So essentially they took three outfielders who were never better than backups.
With their sixth round pick, they took fire-balling Ryan Braun, who was for a couple of seasons seen as a key component in the bullpen.
With their seventh round pick, they chose Mike Aviles.
Grade: for getting Aviles with a lower pick, but getting little from the three outfielders, the Royals get a C-.
2004 – The Royals took Billy Butler, who at the time was still hoping to make it as a third baseman. He later tried the outfield, before finally settling as a DH/occasional first baseman. His bat will keep him the league for quite a while, but his value is tempered by his limitations in the field.
Then they went for pitchers. With two more picks in the first round, KC took Matthew Campbell and JP Howell. In the second round they, they took Bill Buckner and Erik Cordier.
The best thing that came from drafting those four pitchers was what they brought on the trade market. Howell was dealt for Joey Gathright and then had two solid seasons in the Tampa Bay bullpen. Buckner was traded for Alberto Callaspo and then saw some action with Arizona. Cordier was traded for Tony Pena, Jr.
Grade: they got the talented, but limited, Butler and some mediocre big league pieces through trades. Overall, they got little considering they held three picks in the first round. The Royals get a B-.
2005 – The Royals used the second pick in the draft to take Nebraska product Alex Gordon. He was billed as the next George Brett. But fans are now holding their breath to see if he can sustain his first bit of real big league success.
In the second round, they chose middle infielder Jeff Bianchi, who has been too infrequently healthy. When he’s been on the field, he’s torn it up. He’s currently trying to reassert himself as a prospect at Northwest Arkansas.
Grade: because of how long it took for Gordon to succeed, and because they got nothing else, the Royals get a C+.
2006 – The Royals held the first pick in the draft for the only time in their history. They used it on Luke Hochevar. You could play the “what if” game in every draft, but it bears mentioning that the Royals picked Hochever over Evan Longoria and Tim Lincecum.
The Royals took pitcher Blake Wood in the third round. Derrick Robinson, an outfielder whose path to the big leagues is blocked by a raft of centerfielders was picked in the fourth round. Everett Teaford, a AAA pitching prospect, was taken in the 13th round.
Grade: it’s particularly crushing to morale when your franchise doesn’t get a star when it holds the first pick in a draft. While it’s not uncommon for #1 picks to disappoint, the Royals need for Hochever to become at least a solid starter, if not an ace. Based on early results, Hochever and others deserve no higher than a C-.
2007 – With the second pick in the draft, the Royals raised some eyebrows by taking third baseman Mike Moustakas. Though they’d just taken Alex Gordon two years previous, they saw Moustakas as the top high school hitter in the draft and pulled the trigger.
With their third round pick, the Royals took Danny Duffy, who could be the first of their minor league pitchers to get the call to the bigs. In the 11th round, they added David Lough, a top outfield prospect, and in the 25th round, they selected minor league masher Clint Robinson.
Grade: inconclusive. At this point, it becomes too speculative to give grades, but the four prospects mentioned above look like an excellent haul. All four should get a shot at the bigs within the next year.
2008 – This has the potential to be a stellar draft. The first pick, Eric Hosmer, has already cracked the big league lineup at just 21. Success is not guaranteed for Hosmer, but he has the look of a star.
With a compensatory pick the Royals took Mike Montgomery with the 36th choice of the draft. Also 21, Montgomery is on the cusp of the big leagues and was named the second best left-hander in all the minors over the off-season. If he can stay healthy, he figures to be a front-line starter.
There is potential in the second and third-round picks – Johnny Giavotella and Tyler Sample. Tim Melville, taken in the fourth round, was regarded as a first-round talent with sign-ability issues. In the Royals system, he’s had pitch-ability issues and remains at Wilmington.
The Royals took John Lamb with their fifth-round choice, and he looks like a steal. He is just 20 and has shot through the system. He was named the ninth best left-hander in the minors.
Grade: inconclusive. This could wind up being a franchise-changing draft. So far Melville is the only disappointment.
2009 – Aaron Crow rebounded from a disappointing 2010 to be one of the surprises of this season. He’s thus far turned in just one poor outing out of the bullpen. What remains to be seen is whether he’ll stick as a dominant reliever or convert to the starting rotation.
Third-round pick Wil Myers was rated the number two catching prospect in the minors. Still just 20, Myers’ bat was so far ahead of his defense that he was converted to outfield to speed his path to the bigs. While there are quite a few outfielders blocking his path, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in KC at some point in 2012.
Results thus far are hot and cold for fourth-rounder Chris Dwyer, but fifth-rounder Louis Coleman out of LSU is already contributing in the Royals’ pen.
Grade: inconclusive. To have two picks already in the big leagues would point to this being a successful draft, even if they are relievers from college programs.
2010 – Christian Colon was taken very high – fourth – for what he brings to the table, talent-wise. He hasn’t set any worlds on fire yet. But he is a leader and solid character who will probably wind up playing second base.
The Royals have high hopes for second rounder Brett Eibner. But for all his potential as a pitcher and outfielder, his position has yet to be determined and he hasn’t been able to stay healthy enough to progress. He is 22 years old and played only two games at the low-A level.
Fourth-round pick Kevin Chapman is being groomed as a reliever at Wilmington. At 23, he should rise quickly.
Grade: inconclusive. Considering the top players taken were college guys, there isn’t as much time for this group to play out. If Colon doesn’t become a quality middle-infielder, this draft will be a disappointment.
The draft is never a sure thing. But considering the number of players the Royals have drafted who are now considered top prospects, the results appear positive. Compared to what they did in the late 1990s, these recent drafts would have to be considered nothing short of excellent.
The depth in the farm system has reached the point that it’s not in a make-or-break situation based on any one prospect. But for the Royals to really feel good about their drafts, they need for Gordon and Hochevar to become solid contributors, if not stars.
The jury is still out on Moustakas and Colon, but some of the other picks, particularly Crow and Hosmer are giving the Royals hope that their drafts have been a success.
Fans have much to hope for in the next several years. Going into the 2011 draft, the Royals have the chance to continue to build depth and fill holes in the system. Let’s hope they can continue to develop the farm system that has become the envy of all of baseball.