KANSAS CITY -- While much of the Royals’ focus for next week’s Draft will be on the five rounds -- reduced from 40 rounds in previous seasons -- they also have been preparing for the expected frenzy of signings of undrafted players once the regular Draft concludes.
Those undrafted players, who can be signed for as much as $20,000 each, will be free to sign with any club, and that’s where the Royals could have a distinct advantage.
The Royals already adhere to old-school scouting techniques, with a huge emphasis on personal contact and relationships with prospects from their scouts and scouting directors. And with the news last week that Royals ownership would not release any of their Minor Leaguers or cut their salaries, the team couldn’t be in a better spot to attract potential prospects.
“I think once that period of signing begins,” said Royals assistant general manager of scouting Lonnie Goldberg, “and calls start going out, the word will be that there’s no better organization to sign with than the Kansas City Royals.”
Of course, the Royals have not been able to have face-to-face contact with prospects since the March shutdown. But for the most part, relationships with prospects and their families have been built.
“We love that aspect, the personal relationships,” Goldberg said. “We love to get to know the family and the player. As a scout, you love being around the players and that atmosphere. So not having that face-to-face has been disappointing, but we have had to improvise just like everyone else. We’re all in the same boat.”
Day 1 of the 2020 Draft airs on Wednesday, June 10, on MLB Network and ESPN at 7 p.m. ET, and includes the first 37 picks. Day 2 begins at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday, June 11, on MLB Network and ESPN2, and spans the remainder of the 160 picks.
Comprehensive coverage will be available on MLB.com and MLB Pipeline, which will simulcast MLB Network’s broadcast. Go to MLB.com/Draft to see when teams pick, the Top 200 Prospects list, mock drafts from analysts Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, scouting video and more. And follow @MLBDraft and @MLBDraftTracker on Twitter to see what Draft hopefuls, clubs and experts are saying and to get each pick as it’s made.
Here’s how the Draft is shaping up for the Royals, whose first selection is the fourth overall pick:
State of the system: The Royals have been extremely pleased with the development of their 2018 Draft, which produced the Fab Four pitching prospects Brady Singer (No. 2 Royals prospect per MLB Pipeline), Daniel Lynch (No. 3), Jackson Kowar (No. 4) and Kris Bubic (No. 6), not to mention right-hander Jonathan Bowlan (No. 9) and others. And the '19 Draft was highlighted by No. 2 overall pick shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., the Royals' top overall prospect who many observers believe can be a franchise player.
The Royals believe their system has more depth than often given credit for. As one Royals official said, “You can have all the great rankings you want, but at the end of the day, it’s all about which system turns players into productive Major Leaguers.”
What they’re saying: “I think everyone wants that [franchise-type player] at No. 4. But everyone has different timetables. You don’t try to put pressure on that player because everyone develops at different times. But when you pick as high as we are, you are hoping you at least have less risk with the pick.”
Who might they take? In his last mock Draft for MLP Pipeline, Callis had the Royals leaning toward middle infielder Nick Gonzales out of New Mexico State.
“It seemed like the Royals were heading toward taking another college arm after having success with three in 2018's first round, but now they seem to be zeroing in on two hitters unless one of the big three prospects [ahead of them] drops to No. 4. Gonzales and Florida prep outfielder Zac Veen, the best all-around offensive talent in the high school class, are running neck and neck.”
Baseball teams don’t draft out of need, but after taking Witt and shortstop Brady McConnell last season with their first two picks, the Royals may not feel a need to go with a college middle infielder at this point.
Money matters: Each team gets an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of its selections in the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. This year, with a five-round Draft, all signing bonuses of drafted players will apply toward the bonus pool total.
For 2020, there is a $20,000 limit on bonuses for non-drafted free agents. There is no limit to the number of undrafted players teams may sign, but they cannot go over $20,000 per player. These bonuses do not count toward the pool total.
The Royals have a pool of $12,521,300 to spend, including $6,664,000 to spend on their first selection.
Shopping list: There was not an abundance of outfielder depth in the system several years ago but the Royals appear better off now: Erick Pena (No. 5), Kyle Isbel (No. 7), Khalil Lee (No. 8), Seuly Matias (No. 14), Brewer Hicklen (No. 16) and speedy Nick Heath (No. 26) have filled that void. The Royals could use help at corner infield, where they have just two prospects in their top 30 -- first baseman Nick Pratto (No. 12) and third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez (No. 21).
Trend watch: Of their first 20 pitchers taken in the famed 2018 class, all were college hurlers. The Royals didn’t take a high school pitcher in the '19 class until round 16: right-hander Erick Figueroa, out of Juan José Maunez High School (Puerto Rico).
While the Royals went heavy with pitchers in general in 2018, they aimed to get more athletic up the middle in '19, taking Witt and McConnell high up. In round 4, they took second baseman Michael Massey. It might make sense to focus on corner infielders this time around.
The recent top picks: Witt (2019), Singer ('18), Pratto ('17), RHP Ashe Russell ('15), LHP Brandon Finnegan ('15)