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05/07/08 11:14 AM ET

Royals keeping Draft cards close

Local pitching stars Crow, Melville could be possibilities

KANSAS CITY -- Around here, of course, 2005 was the year of the Alex Gordon Draft.

Gordon was the overall No. 2 choice by the Royals that year after the Diamondbacks made Justin Upton the top pick of the First-Year Player Draft. Others who were snapped up early included Jeff Clement, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki. It was a pretty good crop.

Now we come to 2008, and the Royals have the third selection on June 5 at Orlando, Fla.

"I don't think it'll be like the Gordon Draft, when all those good players came out, but depth-wise, it's fine," said the Royals' senior director of scouting, Deric Ladnier. "I just don't think there's that group of elite players that there were in years past.

"I mean, there are guys that we like a lot, but there isn't that group of guys that stand out like from years in the past. ... But, that being said, we like the players that are going to be available to us."

This is the fourth straight year that the Royals will have one of the top three selections.

"So, we're going to get a good player," Ladnier added.

Who will it be?

Well, that depends on which gilded prospects the Tampa Bay Rays and the Pittsburgh Pirates select with the top two picks, respectively.

So what'll it be for the Royals? A flame-throwing pitcher? A bombs-away slugger?

Try to read something into this assessment from Ladnier.

"I think you're always going to see us like pitching. 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."

Ah-ha! So the Royals love good pitching, but they're looking real hard at those sluggers. If you've been looking at the box scores, you just know the Royals would like to score more runs.

The list of prospects includes college slammers, like third baseman Pedro Alvarez (Vanderbilt) and first baseman Justin Smoak (South Carolina). And there's first baseman Yonder Alonso (Miami), pegged as a polished hitter.

"There are a lot of those guys you've heard about that are going to be Major League hitters," Ladnier said. "Time will tell what type of Major League hitters they're going to be, but you're confident that if you go in that direction, that you're going to get a productive Major League hitter."

All of the above, and more, will be scrutinized by the Royals, but no one, in their view, anyway, has risen high above the select crowd of hitters.

"It's a group of guys that we like, but that's not discrediting a pitcher like [San Diego's Brian] Matusz, who's a solid guy, and you've got [Aaron] Crow at Missouri, so there are two college pitchers that will put themselves in that same mix ability-wise as the hitters," Ladnier said. "It's just, do you think they're better than the hitters, and do you think you're going to be able to get arms later in the Draft? I'm inclined to think so."

There's another tantalizing clue that a batsman could be right around the first-round corner.

By the way, Missouri's Crow and a Wentzville, Mo., high school pitcher, right-hander Tim Melville, are certainly on the Royals' watch list. But does a Missouri connection make them more attractive to a Missouri team?

Well, no.

"It's no different than the year we drafted Alex Gordon," Ladnier said. "We loved Alex's ability, and the kicker was he was a Midwestern kid [from Nebraska]. So it makes it that more appealing as long as you're not, in your scouting department's opinion, sacrificing talent just to take someone from the Midwest."

"I hate to be boring with it but, to me, as many good arms as we can have, the better we're going to be," said J.J. Picollo, the Royals' director of player development. "But as we assess our farm situation right now, we feel that catching is a need. It would be pitching, catching and then infielders."

The system is well-stocked with promising young outfielders, he said.

A hot high school catcher like Kyle Skipworth from Riverside, Calif., should have wide appeal. Catchers are in demand.

"It's amazing, but they're almost impossible to find," Picollo said.

Another prep player who should be snapped up quickly is shortstop Tim Beckham of Griffin, Ga., regarded as a five-tool player.

Ladnier is confident that the Royals will be well-informed for the Draft. Given additional staff, he's got about 30 experienced scouts and front-office folks out judging the talent. He's also got legendary sleuth Art Stewart, who's brought guys like Bo Jackson, Kevin Appier, Mike Sweeney, Johnny Damon and Carlos Beltran into the fold.

"We might have 10 evaluations on Skipworth and Beckham and Alvarez and Crow and Matusz by guys who have been through the fire before," he said.

On June 5-6, most of the evaluators will be having input in the "war room" at the Royals' temporary offices on the Country Club Plaza.

"We're just gonna line 'em up and take who we feel like the best player is in every round," Ladnier said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.