The Royals have been stocking up on pitchers in their farm system for years, and they continued that trend with their first two picks in the 2021 MLB Draft, but this year, they targeted prep arms earlier over collegiate pitchers. And that was by design, based on where their farm system is at after a 2018 Draft heavy on collegiate pitching that’s now filling up the upper levels of the Minor Leagues.
Kansas City had a chance in 2021 to take high school pitchers with its first two picks, and three of its first four picks in Rounds 2-10 on Monday were high school players.
The Royals took high school lefty Frank Mozzicato with the No. 7 overall pick on Sunday. It was a surprising pick in the Top 10, but that selection will likely allow Kansas City to sign him under the allotted slot value ($5,432,400) to convince some of these Day 2 picks to sign away from their college commitments or leave college early.
And the amount of pitching depth at the top of the farm system -- like Brady Singer and Kris Bubic at the Major League level, Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar at Triple-A Omaha and Jonathan Heasley and Alec Marsh at Double-A Northwest Arkansas -- gave the Royals confidence in creating another wave of arms with high school pitchers this year.
“As it kind of lined up and we compared them, we thought ceiling, ceiling, ceiling,” scouting director Lonnie Goldberg said. “Makeup and ceiling. As we came to our picks, we felt like those were the best options on the board. … And these guys can take their time. There’s not as much pressure on these guys.
“I remember back to 2014, when we took [Griffin] Foster and [Scott] Blewett, and I felt like there was a lot more pressure on those guys to rifle through the system. These guys don’t need to do that. They’ll mature at their own pace, get ready at their own pace. We’ve learned a lot from the development side and our scouting side on making decisions. We feel a lot more comfortable with where we’re at as a group.”
The Draft will conclude with rounds 11-20 on Tuesday, starting at 11 a.m. CT. MLB.com will simulcast MLB Network’s broadcast and provide live coverage. To view when teams pick, the Top 200 Prospects list, scouting video and more, visit MLB.com/Draft. 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 more on the Royals’ selections from Day 2:
Round 2, 43rd overall: Ben Kudrna, RHP, Overland Park, Kansas (Blue Valley Southwest High School)
Notable Skill: The 6-foot-3 Kudrna, the 46th-ranked Draft prospect by MLB Pipeline, is a projectible right-hander who broke out in the Area Code Games last August with a fastball that sits at 92-95 mph, a sharp slider and a good feel for a changeup. That performance and subsequent efforts at the tail end of the showcase circuit boosted him from a pitcher who seemed destined to attend LSU to a rising pro prospect. He threw a three-hit shutout to win the Kansas 5A championship game and earned Gatorade state high school Player of the Year honors. He has maintained that velocity and carried it deep into games in 2021, topping out at 97 with his fastball and 87 with his slider.
Fun Fact: Kudrna is Kansas' highest-drafted prep pitcher since Riley Pint went No. 4 overall to the Rockies in 2016.
Round 2, 66th overall: Peyton Wilson, 2B, Alabama
Notable Skill: Wilson, the 68th-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, is a 5-foot-9 switch-hitter with an aggressive swing who makes contact and has power. The Draft eligible sophomore has solid speed and a very good arm and can play all over the field. He made 55 starts at second base in 2021 for Alabama and three in the outfield, but he can play shortstop at the next level because he has a quick enough arm. He even played some catcher as a freshman and has played center field. Wilson hit .290 (72-for-248) with 13 doubles, a triple and nine home runs, while posting 31 RBIs and a team-high 46 runs scored and 10 stolen bases in '21.
Fun Fact: Wilson’s brother, John Parker, played quarterback at Alabama before entering the NFL, and he works as the color analyst for Alabama football radio broadcasts. Another brother, Ross, played baseball at Alabama and went on to play in the White Sox organization.
Round 3, 78th overall: Carter Jensen, C, Park Hill Senior High School (Kansas City)
Notable Skill: Jensen’s calling card is his bat, pure and simple. He’s MLB Pipeline’s 82nd-ranked prospect and another hometown pick. The 18-year-old catcher is committed to LSU and may be the best pure hitter among the high school catchers in this Draft. He’s a big left-handed bat who resembles Kyle Schwarber as an amateur, although Jensen is more athletic than Schwarber was at this stage in his career. Jensen has 50-grade power and makes consistent hard contact against lefties and righties, and he manages the strike zone well with the strength to be a dangerous bat in any lineup. Some scouts believe he might better maximize his value at third base or a corner outfield spot, but the Royals plan on developing him as a catcher to begin his career.
Fun Fact: In the offseason, Jensen worked out at Premier Baseball Kansas City, where he hit against pro pitchers like Cardinals right-hander Dakota Hudson.
Round 4, 108th overall: Shane Panzini, RHP, Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic High School
Notable Skill: Panzini’s fastball is one of the best in New Jersey, up to 95 mph consistently with plus life. It misses bats regularly with high spin, and there’s a lot of projectability with the pitch, as some scouts believe more velocity is to come. As with most amateur players, Panzini will have to refine his secondary stuff in professional ball. He had a slider that he threw for strikes at the Area Code Games, and he also possesses a curveball and changeup that both need work to land for strikes. Panzini is one of the oldest high school players in the Draft -- he’ll turn 20 in October -- and is committed to the University of Virginia.
Fun Fact: Panzini became the highest MLB Draft selection out of Red Bank Catholic High School since the Red Sox took Ryan Kalish in the ninth round in 2006. Panzini had a school-record 115 strikeouts in 2021, eclipsing the old mark of 108 in 1998.
Round 5, 139th overall: Eric Cerantola, RHP, Mississippi State
Notable Skill: Cerantola is a hard-throwing right-hander who pushed his fastball to 98 mph in the fall and hit 100 with the pitch in the spring. He has a curveball that hits 87 mph with incredibly high spin, which makes it a devastating pitch when it’s on. The problem for the 247th-ranked Draft prospect, though, was his command. He couldn’t land his heater for strikes this spring with Mississippi State and it got hit when he dialed it back, eventually pitching himself out of the rotation and leading to him being left off the College World Series roster for the 2021 champions. There’s a lot of upside here with Cerantola -- as high as a front-line starter -- but he needs to smooth out his delivery and throw strikes to do so.
Fun Fact: Cerantola was an eighth-round pick in the 2016 Ontario Hockey League Draft and was the top Canadian pitching prospect in the 2018 MLB Draft. He was selected in the 30th round by the Rays because of his signability, but he went to college instead.
Round 6, 169th overall: Dayton Dooney, 2B, Central Arizona
Notable Skill: Dooney stands out for his bat above everything else, with the hope that he can develop into an offensive-minded second baseman. He has a solid approach at the plate that usually turns into competitive at-bats; the switch-hitter struck out just 31 times in 170 at-bats this season for Central Arizona after transferring from the University of Arizona. There’s sneaky power from his 6-foot, 190-pound frame, too. Dooney’s running game was limited in 2021 with a hamstring injury, but he helped Central Arizona to the Junior College World Series and earned a spot on the All-Tournament team.
Fun Fact: Dooney is represented by a former Royals Minor Leaguer, Eric Chapman, who was a 30th-round pick in the 2012 Draft out of Cal-State Bernandino.
Round 7, 199th overall: Noah Cameron, LHP, Central Arkansas
Notable Skill: A native of St. Joseph, Mo., Cameron struck out 31 batters in 28 innings in 2020 -- with just two walks allowed. In the Northwoods League last summer, he struggled a bit more, with six walks in 11 innings, but he struck out nine in three starts. He had Tommy John surgery in August 2020, which is why he didn’t pitch this season.
Round 8, 229th overall: Ryan Cepero, SS, Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy (Puerto Rico)
Notable Skill: Cepero has a chance to be an elite middle infielder with his defense, thanks to plus balance, soft hands and a quick release coupled with very solid arm strength. The Hatillo, Puerto Rico native is committed to Florida SouthWestern State College, and he has a projectable bat with a long and loose right-handed swing. There’s developing strength in the barrel, which suggests the power could come as he grows into his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame. He’ll need some time to develop, but Cepero is thought to be a sleeper pick down the line.
Round 9, 259th overall: Parker Bates, OF, Louisiana Tech
Notable Skill: Bates logged a .471 on-base percentage in 2021 as a fifth-year senior for Louisiana Tech, which led Conference USA, and a .423 mark for his collegiate career. He hit .346 this year on his way to First Team All-Conference USA honors. Bates is an outfielder who can do a little bit of everything as part of his game, and that versatility attracted the Royals in their pursuit of big bats with solid approaches at the plate.
Fun Fact: Bates played his final season at the newly-rebuilt J.C. Love Field after a tornado struck the stadium in 2019. He returned to school after the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic and finished his career with 226 games in a Louisiana Tech uniform, the most in program history.
Round 10, 289th overall: Shane Connolly, LHP, Virginia Tech
Notable Skill: Connolly spent three seasons at The Citadel before transferring to Virginia Tech this spring, where he was a swingman between the rotation and the bullpen. He has big-time strikeout numbers -- 81 in 63 innings this season -- while throwing out of a sidearm slot. His slider is his primary pitch, with a fastball that sits around 90 mph and gets up to 93 mph. He has a changeup in his arsenal that will need to be developed in professional ball.