Image credit: Bobby Witt Jr. (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
Unlike the NBA or NFL drafts, MLB teams do not draft for immediate need. There’s good reason for that, as even the most MLB-ready draft prospects usually take two seasons to get fully established in the majors. But as we ready for the 2020 MLB draft, it is useful to look at where teams are deep and where they are thin at the MLB and minor league level.
Also of note:
2019 MLB RECORD: 59-103
STATE OF THE SYSTEM: The system is middling right now, thanks to great success from its glut of college arms and the nosedive taken by high school position players from 2017 like Nick Pratto and M.J. Melendez as well as premium international signee Seuly Matias. A rebound year from Pratto, Melendez and Matias, as well as strong first full seasons from Bobby Witt Jr. and Erick Peña, would shoot the Royals up the rankings.
BEST DRAFT PICK OF THE DECADE: 2B/OF Whit Merrifield (ninth round, 2010). The Royals had to wait longer than one would expect for a college player, but eventually got a steal out of Merrifield. Signed for $100,000 after being picked in the ninth round of the 2010 draft, Merrifield didn’t debut until 2016. Since then, however, he’s been nothing short of a hit machine. He’s led the big leagues in hits in each of the last two seasons, with a combination of 398 hits and a .303/.358/.451 line in that time. The Royals rewarded him with a long-term deal that potentially locks him up through 2023.
WORST DRAFT PICK OF THE DECADE: RHP Ashe Russell (first round, 2015). The 1-2 punch of righthanders Russell and Nolan Watson at the top of the 2015 draft is ghastly in retrospect. Russell pitched just 38.1 innings over two seasons and has not pitched since 2016 (and he threw just two innings that year). Watson has fared better by comparison, but has not made it past high Class A and has allowed 458 hits in 340 career innings. The selection of Russell is particularly painful, considering Walker Buehler (Dodgers) and Mike Soroka (Braves) were taken within the next seven selections.
DEEPEST POSITION(S): Pitching. Kansas City’s system is undoubtedly tilted toward high-end college pitching. The team’s 2018 draft featured 20 college arms, including their first five picks. That quintet—Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic and Jonathan Bowlan—takes up five of the first 11 spots in the team’s Top 30 Prospects. Another college arm from that draft, lefty Austin Cox, taken in the 2018 fifth round, ranks No. 9 on the list.
WEAKEST POSITION(S): Corner infield. Just two of the Royals’ Top 30 Prospects—Pratto (10) and Kelvin Gutierrez (18)—project to play at a corner infield spot. Pratto endured a trying season at high Class A Wilmington, where he hit .191/.278/.310 in 2019 and will need time to achieve his ceiling. Gutierrez reached the big leagues but needs to tap into more power to profile at third base.
DRAFT TRENDS: The Royals’ last two drafts have looked more like commencement ceremonies. Combined between the 2018 and 2019 classes, Kansas City has signed just four prep players, including only one—first-rounder Bobby Witt Jr.—in 2019.