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Royals make pitching a Draft priority

KANSAS CITY -- It typically takes a few years for Draft picks to make their way to the Major Leagues, but the Royals' need for quality starting pitching may have had an impact on the selections made in the 2012 Draft, which concluded on Wednesday.

The Royals kicked things off on Monday by making pitcher Kyle Zimmer the fifth overall pick. Zimmer starred at the University of San Francisco this season, and the Royals see him reaching the Major Leagues in a hurry.

"I think ability-wise, he has the ability and stuff to do it up here now," Royals director of scouting Lonnie Goldberg said. "I would say within two years. I know I've heard Kyle mention he doesn't want any limitations put upon himself."

The Royals expect to have Zimmer signed in the next few days, according to Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo. The signing could come as early as Thursday, as the Kansas City Star reported that Zimmer was at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday to take a physical.

There was a definite theme of pitching on the Draft's second and third days. Of the team's 14 picks on Day 2, eight were hurlers, five of them left-handed. Seven of the first eight picks made on Day 3 on Wednesday were pitchers. By the time all 40 rounds were completed Wednesday evening, Kansas City had selected 24 pitchers.

"We've said this the last several years: Projection high school pitcher is what we like to get," Picollo said. "We did target anybody we thought had projection upside, high-ceiling type players. You'll notice there were a lot of left-handers we took, as well. That's another common theme for us, a philosophy."

The selection of Zimmer was followed by back-to-back southpaws on Day 2: Vanderbilt's Sam "Crazy Legs" Selman and Colin Rodgers, a high school pitcher from Louisiana. Other Day 2 pitchers included choices from some of the country's top-ranked high school and community college programs, as well as an in-state left-hander Hunter Haynes, from Mexico, Mo.

On Day 3, the Royals picked right-hander Hayden Edwards out of Blue Valley High School in Oxford, Kan., making him the most local selection in this year's Draft. Edwards was a standout on a Blue Valley team that finished as the state Class 5A runner-up. He's currently committed to play at the University of Kansas.

"Big, tall frame, another player that we feel we've known for quite some time," Goldberg said. "We're going to take it slow with him. We'll get with him and get with his family, congratulate him and then figure out what we're going to do with him between now and July 13."

Haynes wasn't the only Missouri kid snapped up by the Royals. They chose outfielder Fred Ford in the seventh round, an outfielder from O'Fallon, Mo., who attended Jefferson College. Pitcher Ashton Goudeau, from Union, Mo., was picked in the 27th round and attended Kansas City's Maple Woods Community College, the alma mater of Albert Pujols.

But it wasn't all pitchers. The Royals picked position players in rounds four and five. Kansas City has high hopes for both Stanford shortstop Kenny Diekroeger and high school catcher Chad Johnson. Diekroeger was drafted in the second round by Tampa Bay in 2009, but opted to play for the Cardinal. Three years later, the Royals still see a lot in him.

On Day 3, the position players were more overshadowed by a high number of arms, but round No. 17 saw the selection of outfielder Ariel Estades, a high schooler out of Puerto Rico. A couple of kids from big college programs came later in the day: Arizona State catcher Beau Maggi in the 24th round and Arkansas first baseman Sam Bates in the 28th.

In the end, Goldberg outlined the overall approach the Royals took.

"We decided as an organization to approach this draft hoping to get [easy-to-sign] kids that we knew, that knew us and knew our system and get them out and playing. That was something we stressed," Goldberg said.

Day 3 was an especially happy day for a pair of Royals employees. National cross-checker Junior Vizcaino saw his son Vance selected by the Mets in the 31st round. And Austin Norris, the grandson of senior advisor to the general manager Mike Arbuckle, was picked by the Phillies in the 39th round.

The next step is signing the draftees, and the Royals announced shortly after the Draft's conclusion that they had already signed five of their top 15 picks: Rodgers, Ford, eighth-round center fielder Alfredo Escalera-Maldonado, 14th-round catcher Parker Morin and 15th-round pitcher Dylan Sons.

Picollo said he expected more signings over the next few days. After the players are signed, they'll go to mini-camp, which begins Friday. And after a couple weeks, it's off to short-season teams.

"More than anything, we want them to get their feet wet in professional baseball this summer. That's really the goal," Picollo said. "Understand what our routines are, what the early work schedule's like. Get accustomed to playing everyday. More than anything over the years I've been involved with this, that's the biggest adjustment, [for] high school players in particular, but even college players. You get six off days every summer. That's it. That's the biggest adjustment."

Kansas City Royals