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Kansas City Royals 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Royals 2011 MLB Draft Selections

How can you be a fan of the MLB Draft and not love the Royals picking local hero Gardner-Edgerton HS (KS) OF Bubba Starling with their first round pick? It really is a tremendous story. I can’t even begin to imagine how much Starling’s development is going to be scrutinized by obsessive fans (that’s said with much love, by the way) of the minor leagues. It’ll be like Aaron Hicks times one billion…

I’ll be honest and admit that I don’t have a great feel for what kind of player Bubba Starling is at this point. In many ways, his scouting report reads as Generic High School Dual-Sport Five-Tool Centerfielder/Pitcher, if that makes sense. He runs, he throws, he shows classic light tower power, and he catches anything and everything hit to him in center. Even his much discussed (alright, much maligned) hit tool improved a ton over the past year. As the pre-draft note says, Starling is “everything you’d look for in a prep player.” What worries me are the reports already trickling out of instructs that the Royals have had to make drastic changes to both his swing and throwing mechanics. Said reports are often spun in a positive light – after the changes were made, Starling looked great! What a quick study! – but the thought of investing $7.5 million on a high school player and then almost immediately changing some of the fundamental ways he plays the game makes raises a teeny tiny red flag for me. This hardly qualifies as hard-hitting analysis, but I’ll say it anyway: no player in this year’s draft has as drastic a difference between best-case and worst-case scenario as Bubba Starling. He is the quintessential boom/bust prospect. I realize there’s a chance he’ll have value almost no matter what based on his speed and defense alone (pretty sure first round prep outfielders with other worldly tools have to actively go out of their way to keep from advancing through a system…as a Phillies fan, I present you Exhibit A and Exhibit B), but I’m talking “boom” with respect to his draft position. If Starling isn’t an everyday player, he’s a major bust in the eyes of the majority. If he’s not a middle of the lineup fixture, he’ll always be known to fans as an underachiever. If he’s not a consistent All Star performer, his name will always be spoken with a ting of regret that he never was able to truly put it all together. The expectations are sky high for the young Kansas, and rightfully so.

[plus speed; really good bat speed; patient approach; plus raw power; 88-93 FB; very good 73-76 CB that could be plus in time; 6-4, 180; plus CF range; hit tool is legit; everything you’d look for in a prep player, including rapid improvement in last year]

Plus raw power, good arm, and physically strong: that’s Manheim Township HS (PA) C Cameron Gallagher in less than ten words.

The “local” guy that I’ve seen this year a few times – 90 minutes away is local, right? – has had himself an oddly inconsistent year for a potential top five round draft prospect. He reminds me a good bit of Tyler Marlette, except with a tiny bit (we’re talking teeny tiny) less arm strength and a good bit more raw power and physical strength. So, basically, he reminds me of Marlette except for three pretty big differences – maybe that’s not the best comp after all. Gallagher is still a very raw defender, but steady improvement throughout the spring has led me to believe he can remain a catcher, assuming he doesn’t experience another growth spurt. The raw power is undeniably his biggest strength and there are some who think he’s got enough bat to handle first base if the whole catching thing doesn’t pan out. Not sure I’m buying into the bat that hard, but also not sure he’ll be moving to first any time soon.

Maybe it is just a byproduct of my simple mind making the association between fellow The Woodlands alum, but The Woodlands HS (TX) RHP Bryan Brickhouse’s scouting profile reminds me a little bit of a less athletic Kyle Drabek.

RHP Bryan Brickhouse (The Woodlands HS, Texas): 88-92 FB, 94-95 peak; 75-77 knuckle CB; solid 80-85 SL with upside; emerging low-80s CU; good athlete; 6-2, 190

Some versions of my pre-draft high school pitching rankings had Santaluces HS (FL) RHP Kyle Smith in the back end of the top ten. Getting him this late is a major coup for Kansas City. His secondary stuff is as good as any non-first round prep arm in the country, and his fastball, athleticism, quick tempo, and, yes, intangibles all point him in the direction of becoming a very good big league starting pitcher.

RHP Kyle Smith (Santaluces HS, Florida): 88-92 FB with late burst, 93-95 peak; potential plus CU; excellent 77-78 CB; great pitchability; quick worker; good athlete; 6-0, 170

I like the move by Kansas City to get St. Thomas HS (TX) OF Patrick Leonard away from the infield, so he can instead concentrate on hitting. Leonard should be fine defensively in right field; his chances of showing a bat capable of handling the demands of a corner outfield spot are less than fine. Funny how a position switch can totally flip a player’s future: Leonard went from an interesting hitter with defensive questions at third to a prospect likely good enough to handle right field who might not have the bat to carry him in the outfield.

Leonard has a fun mix that includes an above-average hit tool, impressive power upside, good athleticism, and above-average arm strength. Questions about his defensive future keep him lower than his bat warrants, at least for now.

I have to give it to Kansas City for unearthing Caribbean JC LHP Cesar Ogando. Even with a few thousands of names in my files, Ogando slipped through the cracks. He’s got his youth, size, and a fastball peaking at 94 at the wonderfully named Excellence Games (per Baseball America), but was scary wild (24 BB in 31.2 IP) in his pro debut. That kind of thing happens when you are nineteen and trying to figure out how to get your 6’3”, 210 pound body familiar with throwing a baseball harder than 99.999999999% of the planet consistently in the strike zone for the first time as a professional. Or so I would guess.

There’s definitely some sleeper potential with Oregon RHP Kellen Moen. The former Ducks reliever was tried as a starter after signing because he has shown the makings of three solid pitches, but I think the difference between his upper-80s fastball (90ish peak) and the low-90s fastball (93-94 peak) makes him a better option in the bullpen, now and in the future. His breaking ball looks better in relief as well: we’re talking a mid-70s loopy curve compared to a much tighter upper-70s breaker. I understand the Royals wanting to get him as many innings in as possible, but he’s a reliever all the way for me.

I’m looking forward to seeing the big, talented South County HS (VA) RHP Evan Beal pitch for the two-time defending national champs in the future. College was a good choice for him. Assuming he stays injury free, he’s got the chance to be a very early pick in 2014.

I’m not sure what the Royals see in Cal State Bernardino RHP Aaron Brooks that I’m missing, but I would have rather targeted another bullpen senior sign (e.g. Kellen Moen) for half the price than spend close to six figures on a pitcher without an above-average offering. Of course, what do I know? Brooks was outstanding in his debut, getting that sexy mix of strikeouts and groundballs that drives all the real baseball groupies wild. Brooks was just far enough off the beaten path as a college prospect that we’re free to speculate that his signing scout must have really fought for him during pre-draft meetings.

The numbers that Brooks (73 K in 79.2 IP, 2.74 GO/AO) were more in line with what I expected out of Georgia Southern RHP Matt Murray’s debut. Murray’s numbers were fine (58 K in 53 IP), but it was a surprise to see his nasty sinker/slider combo get as few groundball outs as it did. I remain intrigued at his upside, either as a back of the rotation starter or a steady, groundball inducing (hopefully) 7th inning reliever.

Georgia Southern JR RHP Matt Murray: 88-92 FB with heavy sink; ground ball machine; solid upper-70s SL; better than solid CU that has come on a lot since getting to school; CB; 6-4, 240 pounds

I’m all in on incoming Louisville freshman Park Hill South HS (MO) LHP Adam Schemenauer (Round 12). A 6’9” lefthander with a fastball that hits 93 MPH and above-average athleticism? Sold! He’s a long way away from being what he’ll eventually be (if you follow), and the track record for jumbo-sized prep pitchers isn’t as strong as the handful of pro outliers might have you think, but I’m a sucker for upside and Schemenauer has it in spades.

Hey, speaking of upside… American LHP Stephen Lumpkins (Round 13) is a 6’8″ lefthander with a fastball that hits 92 MPH and above-average athleticism. Bonus points for being the rare college prospect to come out of a family member’s alma mater. My three siblings and I all went to private universities in the northeast (sure, DC stretches the limits of “northeast,” but let me have this one), never once considering the potential ramifications to our baseball prospect watching. Ah, to be eighteen again to go back and realize the importance of spending four years somewhere warm. Lumpkins, like Ogando, struggled with control in his debut, but, also like Ogando, his struggles can be forgiven for now.

I would have bet anything that UCLA 1B Dean Espy (Round 15) would wind up back in sunny Southern California for another year after his disappointing junior year. He found his missing power stroke after signing, but there’s still not enough power upside or plate discipline to envision him as a big league player. He’s yet another prospect in purgatory: a first baseman only without the bat to carry him there. Sad.

Deltona (FL) HS SS Jack Lopez (Round 16) might have been one of those players who benefited from my pet theory that defensive studs up the middle, especially at shortstop, benefit from three years of college more than any other type of prep prospect. If Lopez had decided to attend Miami and showed himself to be competent with the bat over a few seasons, his standing as a plus defender with a playable bat could have made him a first rounder. Then again, by bypassing school, Lopez wound up getting the same bonus as second rounder Cameron Gallagher. Maybe it’s for the best for all involved (except Miami, but they at least already have the college version of Lopez, Stephen Perez, in tow) that Lopez is getting an early start on the pros.

Plus defensive tools will keep Lopez at short until the day he retires from the game to go sell life insurance (or whatever it is ex-ballplayers do these days).

I have a hard time explaining why, but I just plain like Virginia C Kenny Swab (Round 21). He does everything pretty well, but nothing so spectacularly that you’d notice a specific play he was involved in during the course of a game. At the end of that game, however, when you think back to what players could help a big league club someday, you remember the athletic, confident, strong armed Swab and come away impressed with his righthanded pop and balanced swing. I’d love to see Kansas City get creative and get the most out of Swab’s athleticism by using him at a variety of positions.

Here’s what was said here about Mr. Swab back before the season started: “He’s got a live bat with above-average power potential, but it’ll take some serious lineup juggling from Brian O’Connor to get him the at bats he’ll need to boost his draft stock. As is, Swab is a potential 10-20th round player based on upside alone.” Not a bad preseason prediction on a fairly unheralded junior college transfer, right? In the at bats Swab’s earned this year, he’s impressed. Good power, good patience, good defender, good arm, and good positional versatility. He’s not a star by any means, but he’s a good player. That sounds pretty good to me.

Louisiana Tech 3B MarkThrelkeld (Round 25) gives you just about what you’d expect from a pla…you know what? Just check the pre-draft notes on Threlkeld below. That says it all, I think.

Threlkeld gives just about what you’d expect from a player this far down the ranking: huge raw power and a strong arm. The reason Steranka gets the one spot edge over him is because of Threlkeld’s questionable defensive ability.

The Royals convinced Chris Dwyer, draft-eligible Clemson lefty, to sign a few years ago, but couldn’t come to terms with Clemson LHP Joseph Moorefield (Round 26) this time around. Moorefield will take his low-90s heat and intriguing four-pitch mix back to Clemson rather than make the jump to pro ball. He’ll be joined on a stacked Clemson staff featuring a slew of future pros like Kevin Brady, Dominic Leone, Scott Firth, David Haselden, Mike Kent, Jonathan Meyer, Kevin Pohle, Matt Campbell, Daniel Gossett, Patrick Andrews, and Kyle Bailey. Not bad.

SO LHP Joseph Moorefield hasn’t gotten a lot of notice outside of Pickens County, but lefties with low-90s and four usable pitches don’t often get overlooked for long. His control is probably his biggest question mark right now; it’ll probably be the key in determining his role for the upcoming season which in turn could be the key in determining his 2011 draft stock. 

I was so sure that Rock Falls (IL) HS RHP Jake Junis (Round 29) would end up at North Carolina State that I recently had to delete his name of their roster in my college draft follow list. Junis has the three pitches – solid upper-80s fastball, good hard curve, and a solid change – to start as a pro and should go down as one of the great overslot signings of this year’s draft. Well done, Royals. Brickhouse, Smith, and Junis is a heck of a trio to build on.

RHP Jake Junis (Rock Falls HS, Illinois): 88-91 FB; good upper-70s CB with plus upside; solid CU; great athlete; 6-3, 200

Seems like the Royals like to gamble on size when it comes to their overslot late round high school pitching picks, no? 6’7” Mercersburg Academy (PA) RHP Christian Binford (Round 30) certainly fits the bill. Binford was below the radar for much of the spring, but has shown flashes of three average pitches in the past. Child of the 90’s that I am, I always think of Binford Tools and JTT (so dreamy!) when I hear his name.

Despite missing the entire 2011 season with a broken wrist, Southern Illinois 1B Chris Serritella (Round 31) went ahead and got himself drafted. That’s pretty badass. I’m just crazy enough to think that another year or two at Southern Illinois could turn Serritella into a viable righty mashing platoon bat at first base.

An unfortunate wrist injury has knocked Serritella out of action. Luckily, he retains two full years of draft eligibility to help rebuild his depressed stock. I still might take a chance on him this year because of his phenomenal track record against righthanded pitching.

There was lots of positive buzz surrounding the well-traveled Nova Southeastern OF/RHP Andrew Durden (Round 38) as a hitter this spring, so it came as no surprise that Durden was announced as an outfielder on draft day. However, his only pro experience so far is made up of 6.1 innings pitched for the AZL Royals. I’m intrigued and confused all at once; call it intfusion or, better yet, I’m contrigued.

South Carolina 3B Adrian Morales (Round 49) was first mentioned on this site back in February of 2009. Ah, memories. Morales should serve a purpose as an organizational soldier capable of helping out young pitchers by playing solid defense anywhere in the infield. Any upside with the bat is a bonus.

Morales’ best tool is probably his defense, but a lack of offensive upside slots him in as an organizational player at the next level. 

Final 2011 MLB Draft High School Catcher Rankings

1. C Blake Swihart (Cleveland HS, New Mexico)

The hardest prospects to write about are the ones at the top of lists like this. What more can be said about Swihart that hasn’t already been said? The Texas commit has shown all five tools (hit, power, defense, arm, and speed) this spring, an extreme rarity for a catcher at any level. I realize speed is easily the least important tool you’d need to see in a catching prospect, but Swihart’s average running ability works as a proxy for his outstanding athleticism. In that way, Swihart is the prototype for the next generation of catchers. After an almost decade long flirtation with jumbo-sized backstops (e.g. Joe Mauer and Matt Wieters), baseball is going back towards an emphasis on athleticism and defense behind the dish.

A no-brainer to stick behind the plate (the aforementioned athleticism and reported 95 MPH-caliber arm from the mound will help), Swihart’s biggest tool is his bat. Plus opposite field power and consistent line drives are not the norm for a typical prep prospect, but Swihart’s hit and power tools both project as plus in the future.  I stand by my belief that Swihart will catch for a long time as a professional, but his great athleticism and plus bat might convince a team to fast track Swihart’s development by switching him to third base or right field. It should also be noted that Swihart has a little extra leverage because he’ll be draft-eligible again in 2013 after his sophomore season.

2. C Eric Haase (Divine Child HS, Michigan)

The biggest question mark on Haase is how the Westland, Michigan native wound up committing to Ohio State in the first place. Lack of allegiance to his home state university aside (I kid!), Haase profiles similarly to Blake Swihart, except without Swihart’s switch-hitting ability. Despite the typical risk involved that comes from selecting a cold weather prospect early, he’ll still find his way ranked near the top of some clubs’ draft boards. Strong defensive chops, plus athleticism, a strong pro-ready build, and a balanced swing will do that for a guy.

3. C Riley Moore (San Marcos HS, California)

One of the draft’s fastest risers, Riley Moore does two things really, really well. Moore can throw with the best of them and Moore can hit the ball a long way. Plus arm strength and plus raw power will get a young catcher very far on draft day. Throw in an above-average hit tool and really nifty footwork behind the plate and you’ve got yourself a young player with the potential to be a first division starter.

4. C Elvin Soto (Xaverian HS, New York)

Of my many odd player evaluation biases, one of the weirdest is my affinity for players from non-traditional locales. Something about the possibility of untapped ability just gets me all worked up, I suppose. Like Eric Haase before him, in Soto we have another cold weather prospect with a well-rounded skill set. I see big promise with the bat, a pro-caliber arm, and the potential for plus defense in the very near future.

5. C Garrett Boulware (TL Hanna HS, South Carolina)

Without the benefit of meaningful statistics, two of the most difficult things to assess at the high school level are plate discipline and pitch recognition. Boulware’s patient approach to hitting has gotten raves from everybody I’ve heard from, so, with the absence of BB/K data, I’m ready to take those positive reports and run with them. There is a chance Boulware gets moved off the position, but I think his above-average arm and good but not great hands should keep him a catcher for at least a few years.

6. C Cameron Gallagher (Manheim Township HS, Pennsylvania)

The “local” guy that I’ve seen this year a few times – 90 minutes away is local, right? – has had himself an oddly inconsistent year for a potential top five round draft prospect. He reminds me a good bit of Tyler Marlette, except with a tiny bit (we’re talking teeny tiny) less arm strength and a good bit more raw power and physical strength. So, basically, he reminds me of Marlette except for three pretty big differences – maybe that’s not the best comp after all. Gallagher is still a very raw defender, but steady improvement throughout the spring has led me to believe he can remain a catcher, assuming he doesn’t experience another growth spurt. The raw power is undeniably his biggest strength and there are some who think he’s got enough bat to handle first base if the whole catching thing doesn’t pan out. Not sure I’m buying into the bat that hard, but also not sure he’ll be moving to first any time soon.

7. C Austin Hedges (JSerra HS, California)

I don’t feel too bad about ranking Austin Hedges lower than most because, when it comes down to it, what do these rankings really mean anyway? I hope they are a good resource for fans checking in on their team’s newest draft pick, but they won’t influence what happens on draft day one iota. Despite my lack of love, Hedges is a potential first rounder. Words don’t really do his defense justice, but I’ll give it my best shot all the same. Austin Hedges is already one of the 30 best defensive catchers in the country. I’m talking pro, college, and anything in between. Young catchers who can pull off a plus-plus arm, fantastic hands, and all-around plus receiving ability are few and far between. The bat is the problem. He has a long way to go before being labeled a finished product, but, as of now, I’d have to really squint hard to see a future where Hedges ever hits more than one of the league’s lesser 8-hole hitters. Selfishly, I’d love to see him go to UCLA on the off-chance that he’d get some time on the mound and really put that cannon of a right arm to work.

8. C Nicky Delmonico (Farragut HS, Tennessee)

Delmonico is another player who could realistically sneak into the first round who I’m not quite as high on as others. He’ll get the last laugh on draft day, so I don’t feel too bad breaking him down now. In Delmonico, I don’t see a standout tool. His arm works alright and there is some power upside, but there is no one part of his game that makes you stand up and take notice. In his defense, well, I like his defense. So many had written him off as a catcher, but in my brief looks and the scouting reports I’ve read, I don’t see anything that makes me think he’ll have to move to first anytime soon.

9. C Tyler Marlette (Hagerty HS, Florida)

Marlette has as much upside at the plate as any high school catcher sans Swihart, but questions about his defense continue to suppress his stock. The shame of it is that he has above-average defensive tools – he’s surprisingly natural behind the plate – but lacks the polish that comes with years of practice at the position. The aforementioned upside as a hitter works in much the same way. In batting practice Marlette is a monster, but he’s more of a gap-to-gap hitter in game action thus far. A solid defensive catcher with plus power is a heck of a prospect, of course. An iffy defensive catcher who may or may not stick with gap power is less exciting. This is where teams who have seen Marlette multiple times over a couple of years have a huge leg up on what I do.

10. C Grayson Greiner (Blythewood HS, South Carolina)

Regular readers of the site knew I couldn’t get past the top ten without throwing a major upside play in there somewhere. Greiner is a little bit under the radar, partly because of a really strong commitment to South Carolina. I mentioned earlier that teams are moving away from bigger catchers, but Greiner’s picture perfect 6-5, 220 pound frame could have a few teams backpedaling on that strategy just a wee bit. With that pro-ready frame comes, you guessed it, plus raw power and really intriguing arm strength. With that pro-ready frame also come some mechanical issues that need to be ironed out, but that’s a problem for the minor league instructors, not the faceless baseball draft writer.

11. C Greg Bird (Grandview HS, Colorado)

Bird came into the year a big prospect, but much of the hype that came with catching Kevin Gausman last year seems to have disappeared after Gausman went off to LSU. The Colorado high school catcher has a little bit of Cameron Gallagher to his game. Both prospects are raw defensively with impressive raw power that has been seen firsthand by area scouts at the high school level. That’s an important thing to note, I think. We hear so much about raw power, so it is worth pointing out when a player has plus raw power and average present power. That’s where I think Bird is currently at. There might not be a ton of projection to him, for better or worse.

12. C Brandon Sedell (American Heritage HS, Florida)

Sedell is a pro-ready backstop from a high school program with a deserved reputation of being a pro ballplayer producing factory. His calling card is his tremendous raw power, though it is limited somewhat to the pull side. He won’t win any Gold Gloves for his work behind the plate and his throws down to second won’t evoke comparisons of the Molina brothers, but he sets up a nice target for his pitcher and moves around laterally better than you’d expect from a big guy. He gets bonus points for his extensive experience catching high velocity arms. This may be a little nuts, but I feel as though the recent pros that have come out of American Heritage in recent years (most notably Eric Hosmer, still the most advanced high school bat I’ve ever seen) have brainwashed some scouts into thinking the game comes easy to all prep players there. Sedell isn’t Hosmer, but he’s still a damn fine pro prospect with big league starter upside.

13. C BreShon Kimbell (Mesquite HS, Texas)

Kimbell is unusually strong, very athletic, and a gifted defender. He also has shown big raw power in the past, but inconsistencies with his swing mechanics make his trips to the plate hit or miss, no pun intended. Some good pro coaching could turn him into a high level pro prospect in short order. Also, BreShon – a fella with a name like that is obviously destined for greatness, even though I sometimes read it as Bre$hon.

14. C Brett Austin (Providence HS, North Carolina)

First Austin Hedges, then Nicky Delmonico, and now Brett Austin – my trio of lower than expected rankings is finally complete. It all comes down to what you want in a catcher, I guess. I’ll take defensive ability, raw power, mature hitting actions, and arm strength, in that order. If you don’t have a plus tool in any of those four areas, I’m a little nervous. Austin’s defensive work has been spotty this spring, and he’s not assured of starting his professional career as a catcher. I’d generously give him a 55 on raw power – damn good to be sure, but not on the level of a handful of players ranked above him – and his arm is average on his best day. He’s got impressive athleticism and arguably the best foot speed of any prep catching prospect, so a position switch – second base, maybe? – could actually help his pro standing in my eyes.

15. C AJ Murray (Westfield HS, New Jersey)

Fast-rising prospect poised to make me look stupid for having him this low. Area scouts rave about his athleticism and sheer physical strength.

And now for five more guys that I couldn’t bear to leave out, but knew that if I started to write a little something about them then I’d wind up writing about high school catchers forever. With two weeks until the draft, that’s a no-no. Five additional high school catchers that I’m high on with very brief thoughts on each:

16. C Daniel Mengden (Westside HS, Texas)

A good low-90s fastball has most preferring Mengden on the mound, but I’m going to stubbornly stick by him as the receiving end of a pitcher-catcher battery, thank you very much. Why do I like him as a catcher? Well, you already know he has a plus arm back there and his defensive actions are all very good. I also have liked what I’ve seen out of his swing so far; it is the kind of level, line drive producing swing that might not generate a ton of raw power, but will help him keep the ball off the ground and into the gaps.

17. C Taylor Nichols (Faith Academy, Alabama)

Quick draft day math problem for you: plus power plus plus arm strength minus strong college commitment (no offense South Alabama) equals potential top ten round catching prospect.

18. C Hunter Lockwood (LD Bell HS, Texas)

No weaknesses in Lockwood’s game, just a really solid, well-rounded skill set.

19. C Aramis Garcia (Pines Charter HS, Florida)

Similar to Nichols in that he’s best known for his power bat and power arm.

20. C Dylan Delso (Broken Arrow HS, Oklahoma)

Like Greg Bird and Brandon Sedell above, Delso has no problems catching high velocity heat. Archie Bradley’s prep catcher approves.