After objectively horrible drafts in 2016 and 2017, the Royals came into the 2018 draft with a clear objective, drafting college pitchers with 7 of their first 9 picks, and a college player with all but one (Kevon Jackson) of their first 16 picks. Not only did they draft a plethora of college players, but they made very safe picks, drafting high floor players who project to move quickly through their system. Guys like Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, Jonathan Bowlan, and Kyle Isbel are quintessential high floor guys, but don’t quite have the upside you would expect in that range of the draft. Even guys like Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, who both have nice upside, can still be seen as safe picks.
The Royals also had a clear type when it came to college pitchers, drafting big, projectable pitchers. Their 3rd round pick, Bubic, was the shortest pitcher they drafted in the first 6 rounds, at a tiny 6’3” 220 pounds. Singer (6’6”), Kowar (6’5”), Lynch (6’6”), and Bowlan (6’6”) all demonstrate the type of pitcher that the Royals want to build their rotation on. While it’s unlikely that every single one of them will be part of the Royals rotation in a few years, it’s easy to see any of them putting upwards of 200 innings per season. If you’re getting anywhere close to 200 innings from your #4 and #5, you’re likely in a pretty good spot, and I believe that’s what the Royals are trying to do.
I’m personally not sure how I feel about this strategy. I feel as if they are possibly doing this in hopes to capitalize off of the primes of guys like Adalberto Mondesi, Hunter Dozier, and Jorge Soler, however, with guys like MJ Melendez, Seuly Matias, and Nick Pratto struggling in A+, I think their timeline is a bit too far behind schedule to achieve that. Additionally, while these pitchers can move through the system quickly, even the best pitching prospects don’t always provide value straight away in the majors, and can even take a few years to put everything together (see Glasnow, Giolito, Berrios, etc.). I personally think trading Soler and Whit, and possibly even Dozier and Mondesi if the price is right, is the correct move for them at this point, but time will tell.
With that background established, let’s talk about what the Royals did in 2019. Despite taking a high school player with their first pick in Bobby Witt Jr., the Royals continued to stack their system with college players, as their next 15 picks came from the college ranks. Out of all of the players they’ve signed so far, Witt is actually still the only high school player that they’ve signed. A lot of these picks are along the lines of last years picks in terms of being safe, but I’d like to highlight a few that stick out to me.
Bobby Witt Jr. – SS – Round 1, Pick 2 – Colleyville Heritage HS (Texas)
It’s hard to find much to say about Bobby Witt Jr. that hasn’t been said already. As I mentioned previously, the Royals have a clear preference for college players, but Witt is just the type of talent that you cannot pass on. The son of Bobby Witt, the #3 overall pick of the 1985 draft, Witt grew up around the sport of baseball, and has been projected to be a top pick in this draft for a few years now. Witt possesses the potential to be a stud 5 tool SS, and you could argue that he already has 4 above average tools. He’s extremely athletic, he hits for solid power, and he could very well be a gold glove level shortstop.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) June 3, 2019
The only slight concern with Witt is his hit tool. While playing with Team USA, there was times where Witt didn’t always make consistent contact, and his approach is a bit aggressive. Despite a bit of swing and miss, Witt has great barrel control, and uses the whole field very well, hitting a lot of line drives. The Royals haven’t been the best at developing talented prep hitters, with Bubba Starling and Pratto being examples of bumps in the road, but I think Witt definitely has the talent and work ethic to fix his slight issues. Witt has a very strong case for having the highest ceiling of anyone in the draft.
Brady McConnell – SS – Round 2, Pick 44 – Florida
After losing his freshman year to injury, McConnell came back with a vengeance as a draft eligible sophomore, raising his stock just as much as anyone in the country. McConnell posted a .961 OPS, hitting 15 HR in 59 games, showing his above average power potential. Despite only putting up 6 SB, McConnell is also an above average athlete, and runs very well. Many question his ability to stay at SS, believing that he eventually moves to 2B, but others believe that his hands and infield actions might force him to CF, where his athleticism and speed may actually play best.
— William Boor (@wboor) June 21, 2019
The one major concern I have with McConnell is with regards to the Royals’ development. It’s no secret that Pratto, Melendez, and Matias are really struggling with strikeouts this year, and while he’s not on the same level as them, McConnell definitely has some issues with his approach. With 57 K to only 17 BB, McConnell definitely needs to refine his approach in order to move up the ladder, and the Royals current struggles with high K prospects makes me slightly concerned about him. In an ideal world, McConnell becomes a 20/20 threat while playing solid SS or CF, but there’s definitely some risk there. Either way, I like the move by the Royals to invest in upside with McConnell and Witt, as they’ve been fairly safe.
Michael Massey – 2B – Round 4, Pick 109 – Illinois
Remember what I said about the Royals and safe picks? Look no further than Michael Massey. Putting up consistent stats in all three years at Illinois, Massey is about as safe as they come. He doesn’t do anything at an extremely high level, and there isn’t much upside, but Massey has the tools to be a solid MLB player. In terms of offense, he possesses a compact swing and great barrel control, as well as a solid approach, which give him an overall plus hit tool. He hit above .300 all 3 years, and had a good showing with wood bats in the Cape Cod league. While he doesn’t offer much in terms of power, his 17 career HR in 645 career AB show that he has a little bit of pop. He could possibly chip in double digit HR at his peak. While Massey is a decent runner, he doesn’t steal much, only stealing 8 bases in 3 years.
90 minutes to First Pitch. Enjoying the smooth swing of @IlliniBaseball Michael Massey, #38 on the Top 50 2019 draft eligible hitters by @d1baseball
Who else made the list? https://t.co/lerbEYz1ms pic.twitter.com/9mv0zQKThO
— David Seifert (@DSeifertD1PBR) September 19, 2018
What I really like about Massey is his defensive potential. An extremely solid 2B in his 3 years at Illinois, Massey is a decent runner with good range, has solid hands, and has an arm that leads scouts to believe he can play the left side of the infield. I think these tools, as well as his solid work ethic, will allow him to be a super utility man in the majors, playing all 3 OF positions as well. I can see Massey being a similar player to Ben Zobrist and Tony Kemp, although likely closer to Kemp than Zobrist in terms of value.
Dante Biasi – LHP – Penn State – Round 6, Pick 169
Despite being the 3rd pitcher selected by the Royals in this draft, after Marsh and Gambrell, Biasi is the one who interests me the most. In his return from Tommy John surgery, Dante Biasi had a breakout year as a redshirt Sophomore for Penn State. In 14 starts, amassing 74 innings, he posted a 2.55 ERA, a .196 batting average against, and 102 K to 33 BB. Those numbers look like a lot of the guys drafted in the first round, but Biasi fell to the Royals in the 6th, which I think could end up being a steal. Despite being slightly undersized at 6’0”, Biasi has solid stuff across the board, with a low to mid 90s fastball, an above average slider, and a changeup that has been inconsistent, but has flashed potential. Biasi’s delivery is a bit odd, as he varies his leg lift timings, and has a bit of a short arm action. This video of his changeup shows the arm action, as well as his ability to apparently throw righty?
— Penn State Baseball (@PennStateBASE) April 20, 2019
If Biasi can grow his changeup into a plus 3rd pitch, I think he has solid backend rotation potential, but even if he doesn’t, I think his fastball/slider combo could make him a solid reliever.
Other Notable Picks:
Alec Marsh – RHP – Arizona State – CBB Pick 70 – 4 solid pitches. Decent all around stuff but doesn’t particularly stand out anywhere. Refining his command should give him solid #4 potential.
Grant Gambrell – RHP – Oregon St. – Round 3, Pick 80 – FB/Slider/Changeup mix. Fits big/projectable model Royals loved last year. Decent command but inconsistent stuff. Projects as an innings eating backend starter.
John Rave – OF – Illinois St. – Round 5, Pick 139 – Scrappy left handed OF. Does a little bit of everything. 12 HR and 12 SB in 62 games as a Junior. 15-20 HR and 20-30 SB potential with average defense in the OF.
Anthony Veneziano – LHP – Coastal Carolina – Round 10, Pick 289 – Big lefty who struggled early but regained velo later on in the year. Mid 90s FB and decent slider. Projects as a reliever.
Tyler Tolbert – SS – UAB – Round 13, Pick 379 – Elite speed and solid hit tool. .392 OBP with 41 SB in 47 games as a Junior. Good approach and solid defensive skills at SS. Offers next to nothing in terms of power.