Royals adjust to lower Draft slot
Assistant GM Picollo preparing possibilities for No. 12 pick
KANSAS CITY -- This will be a different experience for the Royals in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
For the last three years, it's been as easy as 1-2-3 for them. Those were the numbers of their picks in the first round of the Draft.
In 2006, they got No. 1 and took pitcher Luke Hochevar. In 2007, they got No. 2 and took shortstop Mike Moustakas. In 2008, they got No. 3 and took first baseman Eric Hosmer.
Oh, lest we forget, they also had the No. 2 choice in 2005 and took third baseman Alex Gordon.
But this year the Royals don't get a selection until No. 12.
That's a consequence of their September charge last season when they put together an 18-8 month and finished in fourth place in the American League Central with a 75-87 record -- their best showing since 2003. The order of selection, of course, is in the reverse order of finish in the previous season.
"Hopefully we're drafting later next year, too," general manager Dayton Moore said.
There's a new guy calling the shots this year, too. Assistant general manager J.J. Picollo has added scouting to his director of player development duties and this will be the first Draft under his watch.
MLB.com will offer live coverage and analysis of the entire First-Year Player Draft on June 9-11. MLB Network will broadcast the first round on the evening of June 9 from its Studio 42 in Secaucus, N.J., and those 32 selections also will be simulcast live on MLB.com.
Beginning with the 33rd pick, up-to-the-minute on-air coverage from the remaining rounds will shift exclusively to MLB.com/Live, where host Vinny Micucci will be joined by MLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo and Major League Scouting Bureau director Frank Marcos.
Once the first night is done, the Draft will continue with rounds 4-30, via conference call from MLB headquarters in New York, at 11 a.m. CT on June 10. Rounds 31-50 will be on June 11, starting at 10:30 a.m. CT.
Here's a glance at what the Royals have in store as the First-Year Player Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
With a much later pick this time, the Royals' scouts must have a wider range of possibilities because 11 players will be off the board by the time their turn comes around. Not only that, they lost their second-round pick by signing free agent Juan Cruz. So after No. 12, their next selection is No. 91. That's a long wait.
"It's different this year because we're picking 12th instead of first, second or third like we were the last three years," Picollo said. "So what we're looking for at 12 is different than what we were looking for at first, second or third. Really, it just gives us the freedom to take the best available player. Talking to the other clubs this year, outside of the first pick which everybody is assuming to be the kid out of San Diego State [Stephen Strasburg], it's up in the air."
From 1997 through 2002 when they picked Zack Greinke, every first choice by the Royals was a pitcher. Since then, just one of six has been a pitcher (Hochevar). But this is a Draft regarded as light in the hitting department, so it's a good bet they might turn again to pitching, especially if a prime left-hander is available.
"Pitching is always going to be there -- and left-handed pitchers in particular, and there are some good ones in the pool," Picollo said. "If there's catching available, you never have enough catching. The shortstop position is something we'd love to address." The problem at shortstop, he added, is that there always seems to be a very limited number of top-quality players out there.
High school or college players? What's Picollo's fancy? "It doesn't matter," he said. "The last two years we've drafted a lot of high school players and what it came down to is when you get to certain rounds that's usually what's available that will sign. But we're wide open this year; I asked our staff going into the year to just be open-minded. You just want to get the best available players."
Recent top picks
2008: Hosmer was stalled by a late signing and then a technical snag last year. But he's going full bore as Class A Burlington's first baseman this year, tallying 27 RBIs in his first 42 games with a .267 average.
2007: Moustakas switched from shortstop to third base last year and is doing well there. At Class A Wilmington, the 20-year-old is maturing rapidly and showing good power. In his first 46 games, he had seven homers and 35 RBIs.
2006: The nation's No. 1 pick, Hochevar reached the Majors in September 2007 and was in the Royals' starting rotation in 2008, going 6-12 with a 5.51 ERA. Sent down this spring, he was recalled to make three starts (0-2, 10.80) before being sent back to Omaha.
Picollo likes the way Moustakas is advancing, from rookie to low A to high A. "I think he's gone through a maturing process in the last year that you like to see hitters go through including having some struggles," Picollo said. "He's a guy that's starting to put things together and started to really learn himself as a hitter. Usually when they have that kind of ability and that happens, they'll jump a little bit quicker."
Right-handed reliever Aaron Hartsock, a 23rd-round choice in 2006, has just been promoted from Wilmington to Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He was a closer at Class A but his future probably will be as a long reliever. He's not an overpowering pitcher but has a good curveball. Hartsock, 25, was 12-5 with one save in 42 relief outings last year for Wilmington. This year he had 11 saves and a 0.48 ERA there in 15 games.
In The Show
Of the players taken in the last three Drafts by the Royals, only Hochevar has reached the Majors so far. While he's back with Triple-A Omaha, he's expected to be recalled when the Royals go back to five starters. He's a sinkerballer who's projected as a top-drawer starter.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.