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Royals Load Up On Pitchers In 2018 Draft

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Jackson Kowar (Getty Images)

The normal rhythm of the draft process is that teams cast a wide net at the start of the season, then cull names to winnow the pool to a core group of players to dissect and discuss in preparation for their first-round pick.

That didn’t happen this year for the Royals. They picked 18th, 33rd, 38th, 40th and 58th. In a draft with a clear top prospect—Auburn righthander Casey Mize—but little clarity after that, and four picks in the top 40, the Royals had few players they could move on from as the draft neared. Their net remained wide.

So the Royals’ scouts, crosscheckers and special assistants piled up the miles bouncing around the country, seeing almost everyone.

“You travel more,” Royals scouting director Lonnie Goldberg said. “All of our guys did. We were on the road more this year. You felt like you couldn’t miss anything. You had to get to the next game. We knew Day One would be so huge for our draft, so you feed off one another. So you say. ‘Screw it. I can stay out two or three more days.’ ”

As the year went along, the Royals began to believe that Mize and some of the top college hitters would be long gone before they picked, but there were few other players who could be ruled out.

With every other prospect, the Royals could see a scenario where he could still be there at No. 18. They could envision high school standouts like lefthander Matthew Liberatore or outfielder Jordyn Adams falling to their first pick. The same went for Florida righthander Brady Singer, even though he was a strong possibility to go to the Reds at No. 5 overall.

And one of those unlikely scenarios is what actually happened. The way the draft board broke, Singer fell to the Royals, and they were happy to take advantage.

The knock on Singer is that he doesn’t have that plus-plus pitch teams want to see from a top-10 pick. Picking at 18, those concerns fall behind Singer’s track record, feel for pitching and success as ace of the powerhouse Florida pitching staff.

The Royals didn’t come into the draft planning to draft college pitchers exclusively, but when Singer fell into their laps, they seized the opportunity.

When Singer’s teammate Jackson Kowar, a potential mid-first-round pick, was still on the board when the Royals selected at pick 33, it was once again an easy choice for the Royals. Kansas City then picked Virginia lefthander Daniel Lynch with pick 34, Stanford lefthander Kris Bubic at pick 40 and Memphis righthander Jonathan Bowlon at pick 58 in the second round.

By the end of the first day of the draft, the Royals had selected a full rotation of college pitchers.

“We went into draft knowing we wanted to be aggressive in acquiring arms,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “We wouldn’t walk away from high school guys if the right pitcher was there if they had a realistic value of their worth and their risk.”

But the need to keep scouting most potential first- and supplemental first-round picks also meant that when the third round began, the Royals had to rely even more on their area scouts than usual.

In 2016, the Royals had a solid draft despite not having a first-round pick. They nabbed high school outfielder Khalil Lee (third round) and college shortstop Nicky Lopez (fifth round) on the second day of the draft. This year, the Royals third- through 10th-round picks didn’t get as many front office looks because there simply weren’t enough days on the calendar to see everyone.

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Grant Gavin Chases Life-Long Dream

The Kansas City native grew up a Royals fan and took another step toward his goal of pitching off the Kauffman Stadium mound in 2018.

“Back in 2016, I saw every one of our picks in the top 10 (rounds) except for one player,” Goldberg said. “This year, there were several guys (in the top 10 rounds) I hadn’t seen”.

If the Royals’ rebuild is going to take hold, getting a few productive big league pitchers out of this draft class will be vital. That’s because the strength of Kansas City’s farm system is young position players.

“We didn’t plan to take five college pitchers, but we did talk about the importance of getting a group of pitchers to blend in with the hitters at the lower levels,” Moore said. “You want these guys to come together through the minor leagues. You want them to win together in the minor leagues.”

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