Royals stockpile college talent on Day 2

July 19th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- As Day 2 of the MLB Draft unfolded Monday afternoon, a clear theme emerged among the Royals’ selections.

College players were on their radar.

With 10 rounds complete, Kansas City has yet to select a high school player. Scouting director Danny Ontiveros followed up his first two selections Sunday in Virginia Tech outfielder Gavin Cross (No. 9 overall) and Arkansas third baseman Cayden Wallace (No. 49) with eight more players from the college ranks Monday.

It marks the second time in franchise history the Royals have selected college players with their first 10 picks, as their first 11 picks in the 2018 Draft were college players.

“Well, it wasn’t planned,” Ontiveros said. “Sometimes it just really depends on availability at the time. There’s signability questions that come up with some of the high school players. We like these players. So when you start looking at things, financially things worked out, and we really liked these players. I just kind of ended up going with it.”

Last year, the Royals had a high-risk, high-reward Draft when they took four high school players in their first five picks. Selecting prep lefty Frank Mozzicato at No. 7 overall and signing him underslot gave the Royals more money to work with later.

This year, Cross and Wallace will likely command their slot values when signing, and the Royals had to change their strategy when they lost bonus pool money after trading the No. 35 pick to Atlanta last week.

Plus, Ontiveros was happy with these Day 2 picks:

  • Round 3 (No. 81 overall): RHP Mason Barnett, Auburn
  • Round 4 (No. 115): RHP Steven Zobac, California
  • Round 5 (No. 145): LHP Hunter Patteson, Central Florida
  • Round 6: (No. 175): C Hunter Durnhurst, Ole Miss
  • Round 7 (No. 205): RHP Mack Anglin, Clemson
  • Round 8 (No. 235): RHP Wesley Scott, Walters State (Tenn.) CC
  • Round 9 (No. 265): RHP Brandon Johnson, Ole Miss
  • Round 10 (No. 295): OF Levi Usher, Louisville

“I started looking at it like, ‘OK, we got some starter ceiling, bullpen ceiling, really solid catcher… and then you got Levi Usher, who’s going to be plus anywhere in the outfield,” Ontiveros said. “You always want to get some youth and bigger ceiling to hit on, but sometimes when it’s not there, I think some people have a tendency to force it at times, and I didn’t want to do that.

“We had players that we liked and did a lot of work on. Sometimes it’s just not a fit. And we’ve got 10 more rounds tomorrow.”

Starters at the beginning
The first three pitchers the Royals selected Monday all profile as starters. Barnett, part of Auburn’s rotation in the College World Series, has a big arm and raw stuff, highlighted by a 93-95 mph fastball and a biting slider up to 87 mph with good spin. His fringe-average changeup and curveball give him a chance in the rotation. His future there will depend on his control.

The Royals were high on Zobac throughout the college season. It was his first as a full-time pitcher; he came to Cal as a two-way player, a corner outfielder and reliever. In 2022, he pitched in the rotation and relief before finishing the year as the Bears’ Friday night starter.

Zobac has a low-90s fastball, backing it up with a slider that misses bats. He also has a feel for a changeup that registered weak contact when he did throw it.

“Our analytic department loves the metrics on this guy,” Ontiveros said. “This guy was through the roof the way we evaluated him, so we’re pretty happy where we got him.”

Patteson posted a 1.82 ERA across seven starts and 29 2/3 innings -- with 41 strikeouts and only five walks -- before he had Tommy John surgery in April. He’s a lanky lefty with a fastball that sits 90-95 mph, a low-80s slider that looked sharp this spring and a mid-80s changeup that he lands with good consistency. The Royals scouted him hard in the Cape Cod League last year and during fall practice.

“There are a lot of Tommy John guys that went higher in the Draft, and we think we got somebody who would have been up there,” Ontiveros said. “There just wasn’t a lot of notoriety on him going into the year like some of the other guys. I think he was getting to that status the way he was throwing. It was a blessing we did our work early.”

Upside with the bats
The Royals believe Dunhurst’s floor is as a Major League backup catcher, with the potential to be a plus defender thanks to his above-average arm, accuracy and blocking skills. His task at the plate is to find more consistency, because there is power in his left-handed swing.

A plus defender and runner, Usher was a Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner in center field and stole 36 bases in 64 games this season. He doesn’t jump on radars with his bat, but the Royals are already thinking of the adjustments their hitting development team will make with him.

“There’s something I think Drew [Saylor], Keoni [De Renne] and [Alec Zumwalt] can unlock with this kid,” Ontiveros said. “He’s a very vertical hitter, I think they’re going to put him in some different positions because he’s powerful. This guy’s got plus raw power.”

Relievers at the end
At the back-end of Day 2, a back-end of a bullpen started to take shape. The Royals will give Anglin and Scott a chance to start at first because they did in college, but if it doesn’t pan out, they have reliever profiles -- with a chance to move quickly.

Anglin has a unique ability to spin the ball with two breaking balls, which the Royals love. The intrigue around Scott lies in his low arm-slot, sink and sweeping slider, and the Royals see upside in a potential relief role.

“I know his stuff’s going to tick up in the bullpen,” Ontiveros said.

Johnson is a reliever to begin with and brought a fiery presence to the mound for the Ole Miss national championship team, making it hard for Ontiveros not to think of a Greg Holland comp when he saw him.

“I don’t want to drop that on him, don’t want to put that kind of pressure, but I haven’t seen a kid that is that emotional and intense since…” Ontiveros trailed off and smiled. “And it’s controlled, no situation’s too big for him.”