It’s June, which means the MLB draft season is upon us. Now, this isn’t like the NFL draft at all. Scouts work quietly all year in preparation, but rarely do you hear any chatter about the draft until about a week before it actually takes place. And the players that the teams select carry little to no impact on the team’s plans for that season or possibly the season after that.
Most years – with the exception of 2009 (Stephen Strasburg) and 2010 (Bryce Harper) – the first overall pick is usually surrounded by a cloud of mystery. Since most draft picks are at least 1-3 years away from being deemed “big league ready”, teams generally don’t draft for need (unless the organization is severely lacking depth at a certain position). Ergo, the concensus “best player available” is usually taken with each selection.
Since 2002, the Royals have had a fairly solid track record with the first round. They’ve picked a few duds (’03- OF Chris Lubanski; ’04- LHP Matt Campbell), but have for the most part done very well, selecting solid big league contributors (’02- RHP Zack Greinke; ’03- C Mitch Maier; ’04- 3B Billy Butler; ’04- LHP J.P. Howell; ’05- 3B Alex Gordon; ’06- RHP Luke Hochevar; ’07- SS Mike Moustakas; ’08- 1B Eric Hosmer; ’09- RHP Aaron Crow) and promising top prospects (’08- LHP Mike Montgomery; ’10 – SS Christian Colon; ’11- OF Bubba Starling).
The Royals are picking 5th overall on Monday night. The general frame of mind around baseball is that the Royals are seeking a college pitcher who is as close to big league ready as possible. Within this draft, there are three top-tier college pitchers who fit the bill:
RHP Mark Appel (Stanford), RHP Kevin Gausman (LSU), and RHP Kyle Zimmer (San Francisco).
Mark Appel (2012: 9-1, 2.37 ERA, 116 K/24 BB) is regarded as the cream of the crop and could likely be taken first overall by Houston, although nothing is certain. He has the frame (6’5″, 215) and the stuff (high-90s fastball and sharp slider) to make a rather quick transition from college to the bigs. Kevin Gausman (2012: 10-1, 2.84 ERA, 125 K/24 BB) possesses two plus-pitches (fastball and changeup), but needs to develop a third pitch. Kyle Zimmer (2012: 5-3, 2.85 ERA, 104 K/17 BB) has a powerful mid-90s fastball and a plus-curveball. He tends to leave his fastball up in the zone, which could lead to him getting knocked around a bit before he begins to remedy it.
The other two college names the Royals could consider – if the previously mentioned are gone by the time their selection rolls around – are RHP Michael Wacha of Texas A&M and RHP Marcus Stroman of Duke. Wacha and Stroman are seen in this draft as second-tier pitchers to the trio of Appel, Gausman, and Zimmer.
At 6’6″ and 200 lbs., Wacha’s frame is extremely projectible to the major leagues. He’s 8-1 with a 2.21 ERA and 107 K/17 BB in 2012 and has a plus-changeup, a low-90s fastball, and excellent command. Stroman, at least size-wise, is the anti-Wacha. He stands a stocky 5’9″ 190 lbs. But the former high school SS has what some scouts see is an MLB ready pitch repertoire. He is capable of dialing his fastball up to 98 mph, as well as a hard-biting slider/curve and a quality change-up. He’s a starter right now for Duke, but many teams may view him as a hard-throwing reliever in the majors due to his size.
Other intriguing names include a long list of highschoolers: power-hitting SS Carlos Correa (who scouts say is the best Puerto Rican prospect since Carlos Beltran), five-tool OF Byron Buxton (generally viewed as the top non-pitcher in the draft), 6’6″ RHP Lucas Giolito (who could’ve been the top pick if it weren’t for an elbow injury), LHP Max Fried (the top left-handed pitching prospect in the draft), and catcher Mike Zunino (solid both offensively and defensively – the draft’s top catcher).
If any one of Mark Appel, Kevin Gausman, or Kyle Zimmer are available at the no.5 spot, the Royals will undoubtedly take them. But if 2012’s draft is anything like 2011’s, where the Royals were selecting 5th and the first four picks were high-ceiling pitchers (3 college, 1 high school), they’ll be left to select who they deem the best player available (likely either OF Byron Buxton or SS Carlos Correa).
For what it’s worth, my selection for the Royals at no.5: RHP Kyle Zimmer (San Francisco)
The first round of the 2012 MLB Draft takes place Monday afternoon at 6 pm CT on MLB Network. Rounds 2-15 take place at 11 am CT on Tuesday, while rounds 16-40 will be on Wednesday at 11 am CT. Since only the first round will be televised, the remaining rounds will be simulcast live on MLB.com.