KANSAS CITY -- The Royals' 2022 MLB Draft concluded Tuesday afternoon with the club making franchise history by taking 17 college players to begin the event.
But perhaps the most intriguing picks were in the prep players taken near the end, especially in two-way player Austin Charles, whom the Royals drafted in the 20th round to wrap up their selections.
A 6-foot-6 shortstop and right-handed pitcher, Charles dominated his senior season at Stockton (Calif.) High School, hitting .483 with 13 home runs and 57 RBIs -- and posting a 1.36 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings. By the end, he jumped onto Draft boards and ranked 109th overall on MLB Pipeline’s Draft prospect list.
The Royals couldn’t ignore Charles’ tools, including plus athleticism and arm, pure power and bat speed. On the mound, he’s up to 94 mph with more in the tank as he grows. And he has a deceptive delivery, quick arm action and a decent feel for his slider.
When Royals scouting director Danny Ontiveros looks at Charles, he thinks of when he first saw a current Major Leaguer back in high school.
“I saw Aaron Judge -- and I don’t want to say [Austin is] Aaron Judge -- at Linden High School when [Judge] was a little raw, but you saw the body and the athleticism,” Ontiveros said. “When you look at Austin, to me, that’s the first thing that comes to mind. Different positions, and Judge didn’t pitch, but you’re talking about a 6-foot-6 athlete, a guy that can move. [Charles] is playing shortstop at 6-foot-6 and he’s making it look kind of easy.
“It’s just a mold of clay that you can build, and the ceiling is just very high.”
Charles’ brother, Art, was drafted three times, including by Kansas City in the 39th round in 2009 -- and Ontiveros was the area scout that saw Art at Bakersfield College. Art signed with Toronto as a 20th-round pick in 2010 and has spent over a decade in the Minor Leagues, independent league ball and in Mexico as a first baseman.
Charles is committed to UC-Santa Barbara, and it seems likely he’ll attend. But Ontiveros mentioned the relationship he has with the family and hopes that helps sign Charles. It also helps that the Royals could be saving bonus pool money by taking all college players on Day 2.
“This is a tremendous family,” Ontiveros said. “Really good people, and they just do everything right.”
“It’s a win-win situation whether that’s getting drafted next month or going to [UC Santa Barbara] and developing for the next three years,” Charles told Scorebook Live California last month. “I feel like I can’t lose, and I have an older brother that’s been through the process, so I understand. I feel like I’m ready to go, it just depends on the situation.”
Charles was one of three prep players the Royals selected in the Draft, the first not taken until Round 18 in Milo Rushford, a tall, left-handed-hitting outfielder out of Walden Grove (Ariz.) High School. Day 3 of the MLB Draft looked like the first two days: Tons of college talent.
“We took six [prep players] last year and signed them, so there’s some confidence that we got a blend of some young guys and now older, polished kids that we like, that are going to move at a good pace,” Ontiveros said.
The first two picks were intriguing: Oklahoma right-hander David Sandlin in the 11th round and Baylor shortstop Jack Pineda in the 12th. Pineda slashed .300/.397/.502 for the Bears as their starting shortstop this year and fits the bill of a typical Royals player: Hard-nosed, athletic, speedy and a versatile defender.
Sandlin flew up Draft boards in the NCAA postseason this year after striking out 10 in seven innings against Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament and sending the Sooners to the Men’s College World Series Finals with 12 strikeouts in seven innings against Texas A&M. Sandlin operates with a plus curveball that has depth and horizontal action and a solid slider, and the Royals will look to start him with a focus on improving his fastball efficiency.
Both had signability question marks heading into the Draft; several reports had Sandlin returning to school after his name wasn’t called on Day 2, and Pineda is transferring to LSU next season. But the Royals should be able to persuade both to turn pro now.