When Frank Mozzicato delivered the news to the 30-some people gathered in his parents’ home Sunday night, he swore the house shook.
The high school lefty from East Catholic High School in Manchester, Conn., had just told his family and friends that he was going to be selected No. 7 overall by the Royals in the 2021 MLB Draft, and the excitement of that news showed on his face and filled the room.
When Mozzicato heard his named called on TV, it only became more real.
“I’m speechless right now,” Mozzicato, who turned 18 last month, said on a Zoom call with reporters Sunday night. “I’m at a loss for words. This has been my dream since I was little, to play professional baseball, so I couldn’t be more excited to start my career in Kansas City. That have a great staff, and I’m going to really excel there. I can’t wait. It’s an awesome fit. I’m just ready to go.”
The pick was surprising, at least based on the way the Draft board lined up Sunday night. When the Royals were on the clock, Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker and prep shortstops Brady House and Khalil Watson, were all still on the board. All three were near the top of mock drafts and prospect rankings heading into the three-day event in Denver.
Mozzicato was ranked No. 39 overall on MLB Pipeline’s Top 250 Draft prospects list and wasn’t expected to go on Day 1 of the Draft, let alone in the Top 10. But as the Royals debated in the Draft room over these past few weeks, the tall lefty who threw four straight no-hitters this spring kept rising on their board.
“There’s some guys when you’re evaluating and the question comes up, ‘Are you looking at the finished product? Is this what he’s going to be? Is there ceiling left to him?’ With him, it’s the exact opposite,” Royals scouting director Lonnie Goldberg said. “He just has all those qualities, and then you couple that with his makeup. He’s just got an infectious personality, smiling all the time, extremely humble. He’s just a really, really special kid. I think we got a steal.”
The Royals are getting an athletic lefty who has high upside and projectability. Kansas City will likely be able to sign him for below the allotted value for this slot ($5,432,400), giving the club some signing bonus money to save for later in the Draft.
The economics did come into play heavily here for the Royals, and they believe they’ll be able to sign Mozzicato, who is committed to the University of Connecticut.
“We felt that going into this particular Draft,” general manager Dayton Moore said, “if it fell the way it did up top, with the first six picks in front of us [and] with the fact that it’s only 20 rounds and the value that a lot of players put on themselves economically, that it may be a wise strategy to not only look at taking the best upside player or pitcher available, but also be able to maximize what we could do later on with the other 19 selections. That’s part of what we have to consider going forward.”
Six months ago, Mozzicato didn’t imagine himself in this spot. His fastball topped out at 91 mph and was below average in velocity, sitting in the upper-80s. Mozzicato could always spin his signature breaking ball, but with his junior season being canceled because of the pandemic, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for scouts to see him pitch.
In the fall, Mozzicato went to Cressey Sports Performance in Massachusetts. There, he coupled heavy lifting with mobility drills and saw his game taken to the next level.
At Mozzicato's first start in the spring, he estimated 12 scouts attended. That increased to about 15 at his second game and 25 at his third. Mozzicato’s fastball is now sitting at 91 mph and touching 93 mph consistently. He flew up the prospect rankings and would have likely continued to climb if there was even more time to see him. He was unhittable -- he went 9-0 with 135 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings, allowing nine hits and finishing with a 0.16 ERA. In the Class M state championship win in June, he struck out 17 batters and gave up just one hit.
“My main focus before the season was preparing the right way to play high school baseball, preparing the right way to win the state championship game,” Mozzicato said. “So prior to that, I’m never going to say I’m not going to get drafted, but not nearly this high or in this situation. It was just something I let happen and focused on what I was doing in the moment.”
And the Royals believe there’s more in the tank with Mozzicato's velocity, and his 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame suggests he’ll continue to get stronger with development. The spin on his breaking ball, though, is what really stood out.
“That’s one of the most incredible gifts a baseball pitcher can have,” Moore said. “You can spin the ball or you can’t. You don’t teach it. It’s an incredible gift. Just like power and speed, you got to draft it. This guy had, perhaps in our mind, the best curveball in the country, and the fact that he had so much upside, our guys fell in love with him.”
Mozzicato starting throwing a curveball when he was 8 or 9 years old, when he learned a grip and never turned away from it. His curve has a naturalness to it that’s uncommon for a lefty as young as he is.
“To be able to do that with where he’s at this stage in his life and where he’s at in his game is something you can’t teach,” Goldberg said. “It’s very difficult to teach. He already has it. He can throw hard ones, soft ones, he’s able to manipulate. He’s able to command it. And he already has a knack for it.”
The Royals' next pick will come Monday in the second round (43rd overall), and Rounds 2-10 of the Draft will begin at 12 p.m. CT on MLB Network, ESPN and MLB.com.