KANSAS CITY -- The Royals went heavy on college pitching in the last two MLB Drafts, and they did so again on Wednesday with their top pick, selecting left-hander Asa Lacy out of Texas A&M fourth overall.
But on Thursday the Royals took a stab at upside, selecting 18-year-old right-hander Ben Hernandez out of De La Salle Institute (Ill.) in the second round with the 41st overall pick.
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Hernandez, at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, has committed to Illinois-Chicago University. The slot value for No. 41 is $1,813,500.
Hernandez boasts a fastball in the 90-95 mph range. Scouts suggest that his best pitch is his changeup, which has devastating fade. His third pitch is a slow curveball that he throws in the 70s.
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“For a high school kid, he is really polished,” assistant scouting director Danny Ontiveros said. “He’s a touch-and-feel guy with some power to his fastball. The changeup is plus now. The breaking ball is there. And he still has upside. We were ecstatic to get him.”
Hernandez struck out 67 in 45 innings with a 1.81 ERA as a junior. His coach, Chris Hall, expected him to have an even better season before COVID-19 shut everything down.
Hall recalled Hernandez throwing batting practice in early March.
“It wasn’t fair for our hitters,” Hall told the Chicago Tribune. “Ben’s throwing 95 and mixing in that changeup and now the cutter. He was lights out. It would have been fun to see him pitch all season.
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“Ben has so much more in the tank. He looks like he’s going to lob the ball, and it’s coming at you at 90-plus.”
MLB Pipeline ranked Hernandez as the 72nd best prospect in the Draft: “The best pitcher in the inaugural Prospect Development Pipeline League, Hernandez spun six hitless innings over three outings while permitting just one walk and fanning seven. He also excelled at the Under Armour All-America Game, striking out the side in a perfect ninth inning.”
Round 3, 76th overall: Tyler Gentry, OF, Alabama
The power-hitting Gentry was a JUCO transfer who helped Walters State (Tenn.) to the Junior College World Series in 2018. In the shortened ’20 season, the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder slashed .429/.554/.750.
Gentry’s strength is that he can hit for power to all fields, and he did it against top competition in the SEC.
“He’s a guy with good speed and good power,” Ontiveros said. “And he just continues to develop.”
Gentry also held his own in the rugged Cape Cod League in 2019, with 11 doubles, two home runs and a .267 average in 44 games.
“Tyler is really mature,” Gentry’s coach, Brad Bohannon, told The Crimson White. “He’s a smart, high-character player. He has a really positive influence on everybody within our program with the way he goes about his business, because he prepares the right way.
“Everyone talks about his power, but he’s a really well-rounded baseball player. He’s a very consistent defender, he can help you win in a lot of ways. As well-rounded as he is as a player, he is as a person, too.”
Round 4, 105th overall: Christian Chamberlain, LHP, Oregon State
Chamberlain, 5-foot-10 and 173 pounds, can run his fastball up to 95 mph, but his swing-and-miss pitch is his 12-to-6 curveball. He had a 12/9 strikeout ratio at Oregon State. In a shortened season this year, he had a 0.82 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 22 innings.
Chamberlain’s claim to fame is helping Oregon State to a national title in 2018. He tied a College World Series record for strikeouts by a reliever in Game 1 by fanning 11 in 4 2/3 innings.
The Royals took Chamberlain’s former teammate, right-hander Grant Gambrell, in the third round last year. Chamberlain said in a Zoom call on Thursday night that the two remain good friends.
“He was one of the first guys who texted me after I got picked,” Chamberlain said. “I’m super excited to be joining the Royals with him.”
The one question Chamberlain has to address frequently, he said, is about his height.
“I have the body that God gave me,” he said. “You do the best you can.”
The Royals have no concern about that matter.
“He’s got some Brandon Finnegan/Tim Collins in him,” Ontiveros said. “He’s a warrior on the mound.”
Round 5, 135th overall: Will Klein, RHP, Eastern Illinois
Klein has the size (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) and power arm (95-99 mph) that could fit well in the Royals' bullpen. His walk rate dropped from 9.8 per nine innings in his first two seasons to 4.8 this season. As a starter, his velo sat around 92-94, but scouts believe he could ramp that up to the upper 90s as a reliever.
Klein’s curveball is a plus pitch as well, according to scouts. He also is working on a changeup.
“We’re just very fortunate to get him,” Ontiveros said. “He’s got that Wade Davis frame. And he’s got premier stuff.”
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB.