Kansas City tabs Wolters, Roccaforte to round out Day 1

Royals stick to their identity with selections of prep right-hander, collegiate outfielder

July 10th, 2023

The Royals are typically looking to add up-the-middle, athletic players to their organization through the MLB Draft. On Day 1 on Sunday night, they added three.

After selecting high school catcher Blake Mitchell with the No. 8 overall pick, Kansas City went to the mound in the second round, drafting prep righty Blake Wolters with the No. 44 overall pick.

With their Competitive Balance B pick (No. 66 overall), the Royals selected center fielder Carson Roccaforte out of Louisiana-Lafayette.

“We stuck to what we think our identity needs to be,” general manager J.J. Picollo said. “We need to be able to compete on the mound, you need a leader and impact player behind home plate -- it’s not easy to find -- and then we really value outfielders who can cover ground and play the outfield at a high level.

“So just to look at the start of the Draft with another 18 picks to go, we’re off to a pretty good start when we think about the identity we want to stick to. And that’s really staying up the middle.”

The Royals are getting a big presence in Wolters, who at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, was ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 41 Draft prospect. A year ago, he was sitting in the low-90s and committed first to Purdue and then Arizona.

After giving up basketball his senior season and committing himself to baseball training, Wolters took a massive step forward with his velocity and physicality this spring. The Royals saw him pitch at the Perfect Game National Showcase in Florida in 2022, and began building a relationship, following him through the fall.

And when they saw him breaking the velocity record with 97.5 mph at the annual PBR Super 60 Showcase in January, Wolters was rising on Draft boards. He was named the Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year after recording a 0.43 ERA in 49 innings to go with 106 strikeouts this season.

“We’re just trying to get these physical athletes that have some feel,” scouting director Danny Ontiveros said. “And the way we’re developing guys right now, and seeing some progress with [2021 Draft picks Ben] Kudrna and [Frank] Mozzicato, we feel like he’s just going to fit in with that group.”

Wolters, 18, settles in at 94-95 mph during starts and pairs that heater with a plus slider in the mid-80s, as well as a slurve pitch he can manipulate to get swing-and-miss. He does possess a changeup but rarely uses it; that will likely be the first thing the Royals address when he gets into their system.

“The spin is off the charts,” Ontiveros said.

Wolters throws strikes and projects average control, having done a good job of harnessing his stuff as it’s taken off in 2023. Because of his physicality and power, Draft experts compare him to fellow Illinois prep product Bobby Miller, now a Top 100 prospect in the Dodgers’ rotation, “though Miller didn’t throw nearly this hard in high school,” according to Pipeline’s scouting report.

With Roccaforte, the Royals added an athletic outfielder to their system. After a monster 2022 season that featured 16 homers, 68 RBIs and 25 stolen bases -- one of just three NCAA Division I players to reach 15-plus homers and 25-plus steals -- Roccaforte then struggled in the Cape Cod League.

Roccaforte’s power cooled off this season (eight homers), but he did showcase gap-to-gap power and speed with a career-best 26 doubles, which ranked fourth in D-I.

Scouts appreciate Roccaforte’s hit tool and speed and believe, with the right adjustments, more power can be unlocked. The 21-year-old has played all three outfield positions and first base in college, profiling as an above-average defender with good instincts and fluid motions -- which made for a smooth transition to center field this season.

The Royals project him to be a center fielder.

“There’s a little bit of similarity to Jim Edmonds when you watch him play in the outfield,” Ontiveros said. “Edmonds was a really good outfielder, moved real fluid, took great routes, great breaks, and you feel like [Roccaforte] does that. There’s some J.D. Drew -- sloped shoulder, easy swing.

“The way [Roccaforte] plays, it’s very smooth and fluid. Those are lofty comps, body comps more so, but we believe he can play center field.”