NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Silence filled the room where much of the Royals' front office stood watching the second annual MLB Draft Lottery at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center on Tuesday afternoon.
Kansas City entered the day tied with Oakland and Colorado for the best odds of landing the No. 1 overall pick at 18.3 percent each. The Royals would have picked second under the old system, based on their 56-106 record ranking second-worst in baseball.
Instead, the Royals will pick sixth overall in the 2024 Draft, held next July in Arlington, Texas, as part of the All-Star Game festivities. It’s still a lottery pick as a top-six selection, but it’s lower than where the Royals’ odds had them.
“There’s frustration,” general manager J.J. Picollo said. “There’s disappointment. You go into it thinking you might get the first pick, which is a little bit of a dubious honor, but the season’s over, you want the best opportunity to select the best players. Now we’ve dropped four slots. So it’s frustrating. It’s the system in place. There’s nothing we can do about it. There’s been a lot of good players taken in the top 10, so it’s not going to change the way we approach scouting.”
Even more stunning was who jumped ahead of the Royals. They will watch the White Sox select fifth and the Guardians pick first overall next year. The bouncing of a few ping pong balls earlier in the day meant Cleveland’s 2 percent chance at the No. 1 pick turned into reality.
The top six picks, determined by the lottery, are as follows:
5. White Sox
This all came after the Royals dropped from No. 5 to 8 last year, missing out on the lottery and watching the Tigers (No. 3) and Twins (No. 5) jump ahead of them despite having lower odds to land the top pick.
"We’re also competing in the [American League] Central, and four of the five teams now have jumped [ahead of the Royals in the past two Drafts],” Picollo said. “... They’re the teams we’re trying to beat. … Again, it’s the system in place, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it but start working on who’s going to be in that area.”
Teams that receive revenue-sharing payouts can't receive a lottery pick for more than two years in a row, and those that don't get payments can't get a top-six choice in consecutive Drafts. Because they picked eighth in the 2023 Draft, the Royals can still draw a lottery pick for the '25 Draft. If they do so, they would be ineligible for the lottery in ‘26.
The silence that engulfed the Royals’ room lasted a few seconds until someone chimed in: Remember, Zack Greinke was picked No. 6 overall in 2002. Whether picking first, second or sixth, the Royals know their first-round pick is important.
“There have been some good players who were picked [sixth] in the country,” new scouting director Brian Bridges said. “We planned and prepared for the worst-case scenario in the fall, even though we really concentrated on what we felt as a group were the top four players kind of going into this. You have to expand a little bit more on your thought and where you’re going with it, but it’s going to be fine.”
The work now ramps up for Bridges and his staff in his first season running the Royals’ Draft room. Picollo hired Bridges in September after he spent last season with the Giants and ran the Braves’ Drafts from 2015-18.
Bridges will have less money to work with because of the allotted signing bonus pools. But as quickly as the frustration came on Tuesday, so did Bridges’ urging that the Royals must move on and focus on who they’re taking sixth.
Initial impressions of Bridges have been positive, especially at Kansas City's meetings held in October at its Arizona complex, when Bridges met team scouts in person for the first time. As the Royals look to build their infrastructure and make changes to their scouting and player development processes, Bridges seems like a good fit.
The Draft Lottery was perhaps the biggest news of Tuesday’s Winter Meetings events, certainly for the Royals and other teams not involved in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes. The Royals are involved in negotiations with several free-agent pitchers as they look to address that area, but the market is slow right now as teams wait for the big dominoes to fall.
"It feels that way,” Picollo said. “We obviously know who the big ones are, but I think it's not only that top tier, but that next tier. If they would start coming to some agreements, I think we would see a lot more widespread movement, particularly in the pitching area. …
“As we go through this, we’ve got to keep adjusting our strategy to what’s happening around us. I’m very confident in our aggressiveness right now. It just hasn’t landed on an acquisition just yet.”