The Royals are showing again this August that they are willing to spend money in the draft.
Last year, Kansas City spent more on its draft than any other team, doling out a team-record $11.1 million in bonuses, and this year the Royals have spent more than $4.5 million with first-round pick Aaron Crow still unsigned.
Much of the Royals’ spending sprees have been fueled by taking highly-rated players whose asking price has led them to slip in the draft–like third-round catcher Wil Myers and fourth-rounder Chris Dwyer this year and fourth-rounder Tim Melville last year.
But the Royals have also shown a willingness to take risks on players whose draft stock has slipped because of injury. Although it’s way too early to make any judgements, Kansas City is hoping that some patience with righthander Keaton Hayenga and lefty John Lamb could pay off in the long run.
For Hayenga, draft time had turned into a rather miserable experience in 2007. He was expected to be one of the better prospects in the Northwest, but that was all before he tore his labrum diving back into the bag during a game. As much as the pain in his shoulder, what bothered Hayenga was the silence.
For months the phone had been ringing with scouts calling. They were in his house to meet his family and give him psychological tests.
And then he injured his shoulder, the calls stopped.
Hayenga still had options–he had a scholarship to play baseball at Washington State and a chance to also walk-on to the baseball team, but the financial security that had been just a couple of months away appeared to have quickly vanished.
But one team didn’t go away, and for that Hayenga is very grateful. In the 31st round of the 2007 draft, the Royals drafted Hayenga–he was expected to be a top five round pick before the injury. They watched his rehab that summer and told him that come August, they’d see if they had some money left in the draft budget to sign him.
In August, the Royals had $300,000 left to sign him, even though they knew that he was a ways from getting back onto the mound. He rehabbed the shoulder injury all winter and again through the spring and early summer of 2008. He could have potentially gotten back on the mound in time for the end of the season last year, but the Royals decided it was better to hold off and wait for the instructional league.
This year, he’s shown he’s on his way back to his pre-injury form. He was able to go to spring training as a healthy player for the first time as a pro and he’s taken his regular turn in the rotation for the B-Royals. His low 90s fastball is enough to keep hitters off balance, and he also throws a 12-to-6 curveball and a developing changeup. And as a lanky tall righthander with plenty of athleticism, Hayenga has plenty of projection left in his 6-foot-4 frame. For now, he’s working on his fastball command, like most every pitcher in rookie ball.
"I leave the ball up when I’m struggling. I’ll leave it up or over the plate. I’m focusing on pitching at the bottom of the strike zone," Hayenga said.
Haynega’s season has been up and down. He had a solid stretch in mid July, but has struggled recently, allowing nine earned runs in his last nine innings as his ERA has climbed to 4.25.
Like Hayenga, Lamb missed his senior season in high school for a non-pitching related injury. In his case it was because of a fractured elbow discovered after his car was rear-ended in an accident–Lamb said it wasn’t clear at the time whether the accident or pitching caused the injury, but he noticed it the same day as the accident.
Lamb didn’t need surgery, but his arm was in a cast for his senior season, and he had just started throwing when the ’08 draft arrived.
But the Royals, who had kept an eye on him for years, drafted him in the fifth round anyway and signed him for $165,000. They figured that the injury allowed them to get a top three-round talent later in the draft.
He spent the rest of season recovering from the injury, but in spring training Lamb showed that his savvy on the mound hadn’t atrophied in his time away from pitching. He has an average to tick-above average fastball, but his best asset is his ability to throw his solid curveball and changeup at any point in the count. He shook the rust off with a 2-2, 3.95 debut with the Rookie-level Burlington Royals, but he’s been at his best since moving up to short-season Idaho Falls. Lamb is 2-1, 2.77 with the Chukars, and on Sunday he had his best start as a pro, striking out 10 in seven scoreless innings against Great Falls. He’s now 2-0, 1.59 in three August starts.
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