SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The three young pitchers walked off the field together deep in conversation; when they saw the group of front office officials standing nearby, the trio brought their conversation to the bigger group.
“Here’s a question for you,” right-hander Ben Kudrna said. “Between the three of us, which high school baseball team was the best?”
This began an at least 20-minute debate between three of the newest Royals this spring, a group dubbed the three amigos, musketeers or stooges, depending on who you ask. Kudrna (second round), Frank Mozzicato (first round) and Shane Panzini (fourth round) were all drafted out of high school by the Royals last summer and became friends almost immediately after the Draft.
Now, it’s hard to find any one of them without the other two.
“The guys are awesome,” Mozzicato said. “The first guy I texted was Ben, and we hit it off right away with the same interests and stuff like that. Then [I] met Shane when we came down after the Draft. It makes it a lot more fun. That competitive nature -- we’re always trying to beat each other out. It’s not in a mean way, it’s just how we are.
“It’s fun because even when we get off the baseball field, it’s like I’ve known these guys for my whole life.”
Mozzicato is entering his first spring in the Royals organization after it drafted the 18-year-old lefty No. 7 overall out of East Catholic High School in Manchester, Conn. He jumped on the Draft radar last spring with increased velocity (up to 92 mph) and a plus curveball with high spin, and the Royals were able to sign him for under slot value. Now that they’ve gotten him in camp, he’s already exceeded expectations -- and fits right in with his new teammates.
“It’s been my dream since I was playing Little League to be a professional baseball player, and now that it’s actually real and happening, it’s amazing,” Mozzicato said. “The workouts are awesome; you learn something new every day.”
Mozzicato, Kudrna and Panzini, the seventh, eighth and 26th ranked Royals prospects, respectively, per MLB Pipeline, didn’t make their professional debuts for an affiliate last year, instead pitching in instructional league in the fall. All three learned how much harder it will be facing pro players. Mozzicato gave up a home run to Cleveland prospect Brayan Rocchio, who played in Double-A last season, and quickly learned he can’t miss his spots like he did in high school.
“Definitely more competitive and harder, but that’s why I love it,” Mozzicato said.
Mozzicato impressed last fall and early this spring with his improved changeup, after he didn’t throw it much (if at all) in high school. It's a pitch he'll need starting games, and he knows it, which is why it’s been such a focal point.
“Changeup is the hardest pitch to hit,” Mozzicato said. “So every day in practice, our pitching coaches are making us throw it, even on a normal throwing day, just to get a good feel and a good grip of it. It’s definitely gotten a lot better, and I know I’m going to have to use it to win games.”
Mozzicato and Kudrna -- who looks bigger and stronger than he did in high school -- have tall, lanky frames that scouts view as projectable, while Panzini is a bit stockier and a prospect who evaluators could see moving up quickly. All three rely on different arsenals; Mozzicato with his curveball and Kudrna and Panzini with sliders. Mozzicato hails from Connecticut, Kudrna the hometown kid from Shawnee Mission, Kan., and Panzini from Spring Lake, N.J.
They didn’t know each other before the Draft, but you wouldn’t know that when you listen to them talk. The debate about the best high school baseball team was never settled, it just continued as they walked from the field into the facility to finish their workouts for the day.
None of them were going to let the others win.
Live BP kicks off
The Royals had their first round of live batting practice Sunday morning with four pitching prospects: Jace Vines, Yefri Del Rosario, Andres Nunez and Jose Cuas. With position players getting the day off, the group of catchers in minicamp rotated between catching and hitting.
“I was a little anxious and nervous getting up there, but now that I got it out of the way the first time, I think I’ll be OK,” catcher Kale Emshoff said of seeing live pitching for the first time. “Plus, facing Jace, a guy who’s throwing almost 100 mph for the first one out of the gate -- it was coming pretty fast to me. Hopefully the more ABs I get, it’ll get a little slower.”