Royals weigh pitching with hitting needs
Never without a need for hurlers, team also seeking power
For years, the Royals concentrated on pitchers in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft. Only the last of eight straight picks of pitchers really worked well, though: Zack Greinke, class of 2002.
Since then, however, the Royals have mixed it up, and with successful results. Recent first-rounders include three other players currently having a Major League impact -- first baseman/designated hitter Billy Butler (2004), third baseman Alex Gordon (2005) and pitcher Luke Hochevar (2006).
This year is the fourth straight year that the Royals will have a selection within the top three.
MLB.com will carry every pick of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, which takes place June 5-6 at The Milk House as Day 1 coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET with a simulcast of ESPN2's broadcast of the first round and compensation picks. The remaining rounds on Day 1 will be shown exclusively at MLB.com, with live analysis on site from MLB.com Draft guru Jonathan Mayo.
Several of the top amateur prospects are expected to be in attendance in Orlando for Day 1 of the Draft, and each of the 30 Major League clubs will be represented by front office executives and baseball luminaries. Fans are welcome to attend the Draft, and admission to The Milk House is free with seating limited to a first-come, first-serve basis.
Day 2 will get under way at 11:30 a.m. ET and continue through Round 50, if necessary. Every pick on Day 2 can be heard live at MLB.com.
Here's a glance at what the Royals have in store as the First-Year Player Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
The word is that this Draft will be the year of the college hitter, with third baseman Pedro Alvarez of Vanderbilt and first basemen Yonder Alonso of Miami and Justin Smoak of South Carolina on everyone's watch list. If it's pitching on the Royals' minds, they don't have to go far to see Missouri right-hander Aaron Crow or Wentzville, Mo., high school right-hander Tim Melville. Given the Royals' need for power hitting, they're sure to be looking in that direction.
"I think you're always going to see us like pitching, and high in the Draft, I think everybody is going to be looking for bats, because later on in the Draft, they're not going to be there." -- Scouting director Deric Ladnier.
What do the Royals need most? Yep, power in the lineup. There are no real muscle men apparent in the Minor League system, so it wouldn't be a reach to suspect the Royals just might dip into the college ranks for a slugger like third baseman Pedro Alvarez, a left-handed batter, or first baseman Justin Smoak, a switch-hitter. Last year, they used their No. 2 overall pick for a hitter, but it was a high schooler, shortstop Mike Moustakas. He figures to be a while before reaching Kauffman Stadium. A college player would seem to fit the need for the Royals, someone who projects to reach the Majors quickly, a la Gordon.
The Royals stand by the old saying that you can't have enough pitching in the Minor Leagues. Beyond that, they'd like to come up with some catching talent, a rare commodity these days. After that, the priority is on infielders. "Right now, we think we have a pretty good group of young outfielders in Burlington and Wilmington," said farm director J.J. Picollo.
The Royals certainly are not reluctant to draft high school kids. Their first four picks last year were prep players -- Moustakas and pitchers Sam Runion, Danny Duffy and Mitch Hodge. Predictably, all are progressing slowly. So what it'll be this year? More College Joes than High School Harrys? Guys that will arrive in the Majors quicker? What about it, Mr. Scouting Director? "Both," said Ladnier.
Recent top picks
Gordon, No. 2 overall from Nebraska in 2005, overcame a sluggish start as a rookie last year. His strong finish carried over to this season and he's often used as the No. 3 hitter. Hochevar, the nation's top pick in 2006, narrowly missed making the rotation in Spring Training. But by late April, he arrived to fill a void and has been impressive so far. Moustakas was No. 2 overall last year and signed so late in the summer he didn't get much playing time. He's getting his shot this year at Class A Burlington, Iowa.
Marc Maddox played four seasons at the University of Southern Mississippi and was drafted as a corner infielder in the ninth round of 2006. But since Maddox didn't have overwhelming power, the Royals projected him as a second baseman. He adapted to that position quickly and, in 2006, hit .336 with the Rookie Class A club at Idaho Falls. In 2007, he leaped through two Class A levels. Then in the Arizona Fall League, he hit .321, and he began this year with Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Like most of the Naturals, he was having difficulty hitting early in the season, but the Royals like his potential.
Clint Robinson didn't stir much interest in last year's draft. The big, left-handed first baseman from Troy University (Ala.) wasn't taken by the Royals until the 25th round. Yet he was a power machine at Idaho Falls, clubbing 15 home runs with 66 RBIs in 67 games. He also hit .336 and was named the Pioneer League's Most Valuable Player. Robinson was off to a decent start this year for Burlington in the Class A Midwest League with five homers and 10 RBIs in his first 24 games.
In The Show
From the last three drafts, two players took a quick path to wearing Kansas City uniforms. Gordon (2005) made it after just one season at Double-A Wichita. Hochevar (2006) arrived quickly, but he made stops at Class A, Double-A and Triple-A before making it to the Show.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.