Royals select 'impact player' with No. 8 pick

Kansas City tabs high school catcher Blake Mitchell on Day 1 of MLB Draft

July 10th, 2023

Royals scouting director Danny Ontiveros is well aware of the stigma that comes along with drafting high school catchers in the early rounds. There is general risk because most don’t pan out; from 2010-19, 14 prep catchers were selected in the first round. Five reached the Majors, two became starters.

But Ontiveros said he’s never seen a prep catcher like Blake Mitchell.

That’s why the Royals selected the Sinton (Texas) High School product No. 8 overall in the 2023 MLB Draft on Sunday night. Mitchell was one of two high school catchers drafted in the first round this year, joining Huntington Beach (Calif.) HS product Ralphy Velazquez, the No. 23 pick by the Guardians.

“You talk about all the facets of his game -- he’s intelligent, he’s got makeup, he’s tough, he’s built right,” Ontiveros said. “It’s a double-plus arm. He can hit for power. He runs. He just did everything. … We got a lot of looks, and he never disappointed. 

“I think he’s going to be an impact player, middle-of-the-order bat, and his leadership fits everything else.”

Surrounded by friends and family at home on Sunday night, Mitchell wasn’t sure where he would go in the Draft, but knew the Royals liked him after they spent a ton of time with him over the past year. Mitchell got the call from his advisor a couple of minutes before the pick was in that he would be a Royal, and Ontiveros called shortly after.

, the No. 2 overall pick in 2019 and fellow Texas native, texted on Sunday congratulating Mitchell.

“It was a huge compliment going through the stress of the last 24 hours before that, thinking, ‘Who’s going to pick me?’ and things like that,” Mitchell said. “... It was a great feeling to get that call, and speaking with the Royals, it meant so much to me.”

Ontiveros and general manager J.J. Picollo spoke to the media late Sunday after making three picks on Day 1 of the Draft. Following Mitchell, Kansas City selected prep righty Blake Wolters out of Mahomet-Seymour (Ill.) High School in the second round (No. 44 overall) and outfielder Carson Roccaforte out of Louisiana-Lafayette with the No. 66 overall pick.

The Royals “feel comfortable” they can sign Mitchell away from his LSU commitment, Ontiveros said, and Mitchell put all questions to rest when he spoke to reporters on Monday.

“I’m going to be a Royal,” Mitchell said with a smile. “I can’t wait.”

There’s a sense that Mitchell could sign for below the $5,980,100 slot value of the No. 8 pick, which could help Kansas City spend more on better prospects in later rounds of the Draft, like what it did last year with high school player Austin Charles in the 20th round, signing him away from his commitment to UC-Santa Barbara, or OU pitcher David Sandlin in the 11th round, causing him to forego his final two college seasons to sign. Now it remains to be seen how the Royals spread their bonus pool money out across 20 rounds.

Mitchell, MLB Pipeline’s No. 14 Draft prospect, has a long track record of performance, both in high school and on the U.S. junior team

While pulling double duty as a catcher and pitcher, Mitchell won Gatorade State Player of the Year honors in both 2022 and ‘23, and he helped Sinton win the Texas 4A title during his junior season. This season, he hit .474 with 14 doubles, six home runs and 41 RBIs, posting a 1.543 OPS with 35 stolen bases, 51 walks and just eight strikeouts.

Ontiveros drew light comps to Bryce Harper as an amateur when talking about Mitchell’s hitting capability. Mitchell has the strength, bat speed and patient approach to hit for average and power from the left side of the plate. 

Mitchell will have to work on his bat-to-ball skills as he faces tougher competition, but he has raw power to tap into as he makes adjustments.

“He’s very calm at the plate, he doesn’t really expand the zone,” Ontiveros said. “He knows the strike zone. He took his walks this year. He could have pressed; [there were] a lot of people there wanting to see him. He could have chased out of the zone, but he didn’t. 

“He stole bases, found ways to help his team win. I think it’s a testament to his maturity level.”

Mitchell, who turns 19 in August, participated in the 2022 Under Armour All-America Game at Kauffman Stadium, winning the MVP Award after driving in five runs. He was also part of the USA Baseball 18U national team that won gold at the WBSC Baseball World Cup in 2022 -- he earned the win on the mound with 2 2/3 scoreless innings.

“I loved everything about Kansas City,” Mitchell said. “I performed really well, too… so I feel like it’s a great fit for me. And actually got to eat some barbecue before that game, and that was great as well.”

Defensively, Mitchell projects at least as an average receiver and blocker, and he received high marks for how he handled the best arms in last year’s Draft class, especially with Team USA.

Mitchell’s best defensive tool is his 70-grade arm strength, which he flashed behind the plate and on the mound -- reaching 97 mph with his fastball in high school. His arm allows him to produce pop times in the 1.8- to 1.9-second range, helping him keep the running game in check.

“Knowing that I have [the arm strength] in my back pocket. I don’t have to rush the transfer or release,” Mitchell said. “I just trust my arm, make everything smooth, not trying to rush it. Get the ball in my hand quick and get it out.”

Mitchell is athletic, agile and instinctual, and the Royals saw him play in the infield and outfield. But they want to see him play catcher to begin his pro career.

“If you just look at the grades across the board, it’s not just because he can catch,” Picollo said. “He can throw, he can hit, he’s got power and he’s a left-handed-hitting catcher.

“When you add all those things up, I would say if he had played another position, he would have still sat very, very, very high on our board. … It was pretty clear he was the guy for us regardless of position.”