CLEVELAND -- In recent years, the Royals have shown a willingness to go different routes early in the MLB Draft based on where they were picking and what the Draft board looked like. In 2015, Kansas City took high school right-hander Ashe Russell; in ’17, the Royals set their sights on their first baseman of the future in Nick Pratto. They went heavy on college pitching in ’18, with Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar and Kris Bubic.
In 2019, they locked in on Bobby Witt Jr. early and never wavered with the No. 2 pick. Last year, lefty Asa Lacy was still on the board at No. 4 after the Orioles went below slot value with Heston Kjerstad, so the Royals pivoted to Lacy.
As the 2021 MLB Draft gets going on Sunday, the Royals find themselves in a position to be ready for anything ahead of their No. 7 overall pick.
“The beauty of the opportunity we’re in is that there are going to be several options in front of us,” scouting director Lonnie Goldberg said. “One pick could change the direction of a lot of people’s Draft boards, but I know we’re prepared, I know that the work that our guys have done for what feels like over a year now trying to put this together -- I feel like we’re in a really good position.”
Day 1 of the 2021 Draft will take place live from Denver’s Bellco Theatre on Sunday. It will feature the first 36 picks and will air on MLB Network and ESPN at 6 p.m. CT. Day 2, which will span rounds 2-10, begins at 12 p.m. CT on Monday. The Draft will conclude with rounds 11-20 on Tuesday, starting at 11 a.m. CT. MLB.com will simulcast MLB Network’s broadcast and provide live coverage on all three days.
Here’s more on how the Draft is shaping up for the Royals:
While things are getting back to normal, this Draft is still different following last year’s five-round, pandemic-altered version. In 2021, there are 20 rounds (instead of the typical 40), and it’s now being held during the All-Star break rather than in June.
That has forced teams to alter their process. Organizations played catch up with players who missed out on last year’s canceled college summer leagues -- like the Cape Cod League -- while only a few months ago they could begin to meet with players and families in person rather than on video calls.
“There’s a different pace and rhythm to this year, more so than any other year I’ve been doing this,” Goldberg said. “There’s been so many different rule changes and parameters. Back up two months, and we couldn’t meet with players and families because of the COVID situation. That’s something that we rely on heavily. … For us to try to do that as much as possible, to express who we are and what we do, is definitely something we looked forward to for some time.”
Players to watch
Recent mock drafts have had Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker falling to the Royals at No. 7, and he fits the mold of their 2018 Draft arms. The high school player who could still be on the board for them might be shortstop Brady House, a power hitter who could move to third base in the future. There’s also high school righty Jackson Jobe, whose stuff grades higher than the college arms, but he comes with more risk as a high school player.
The Royals are always looking to draft impact players, but the past two years -- going from 80 combined rounds to 25 -- has illuminated the need to select the best player available.
“There’s always an area scout or a supervisor finding a player in the 22nd round or the 35th who makes it to the big leagues, and to know those opportunities may not be there pushes you to make sure you’re trying to draft as much impact as you can within the 20 chances you get,” Goldberg said. “I probably won’t draft for need unless the players on the board have equal talent and we need to fill a spot at that position.
“I’ve approached it with our staff, ‘Let’s try to sign as many really talented players as we can, and then you guys put me in a position to veer from that if we need to take from a certain position.’ We’ll play that out, but I let my guys walk me through that as much as possible. They’ll educate me on a lot of it, continue to put the pieces together, work with the money we have and try to make sure we have a really successful Draft again.”
Each team gets an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of its selections in the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. Each selection in the first 10 rounds comes with an assigned slot value, and the total for each club’s selection equals what it can spend in those rounds without incurring a penalty.
The Royals have $10,917,700 to spend, the eighth-largest pool in the Majors, with a slot value of $5,432,400 for the seventh pick.
Clubs that outspend their allotment by 0-5 percent pay a 75 percent tax on the overage, and clubs lose future picks at higher thresholds. If a player taken in the first 10 rounds doesn’t sign, his pick’s value is subtracted from the team’s pool.