Now just three weeks away from the beginning of the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft, the Royals once again have an early pick, this year choosing fifth. The draft is expected to be one of the better drafts in recent years as the talent pool is quite large in comparison to recent years.
ESPN's Keith Law and Baseball America's Jim Callis have both gone on record recently stating they believe the Royals will be looking at a college pitcher with the fifth pick. This is based on information they have gathered from talking with people in the know.
Generally I don't like this idea, but with the recent track record of the Royals scouting department and draft history, I am willing to trust their instincts. The baseball draft is quite different than drafts in other major sports as the athletes you choose are not expected to come in and help the major league team right away, thus allowing you to often draft the best prospect available, not taking a position of need at the major league level and reaching for prospects.
This all could be a smokescreen, but this type of thinking is what has hurt the Royals in the past. When Allard Baird was the General Manager of the Royals he used this theory when trading Carlos Beltran. Instead of going for overall potential, Baird had the mindset he was looking for a catcher and a third basemen. What that does is shrink the talent pool to a smaller sample size of which to work.
Many Kansas City fans are calling for the Royals to draft local prospect Bubba Starling, if he still on the board when the Royals pick on June 6th. Starling, 18, is a 6'4" 180 lb outfielder from Gardner-Edgerton High School in Kansas. He may be the best athlete in the draft and is currently ranked the fifth overall prospect in the draft over at MLB.com.
Currently holding a football scholarship to play quarterback for the University of Nebraska, Starling is a special athlete that is represented by Scott Boras and expected to command upwards of $5 million to stick to baseball in the coming years. He is a five-tool player than is an exceptional center field prospect, and also is very advanced for his age at the plate. His ceiling is quite high.
Should he be drafted before the Royals, or if the Royals decide to go with a college pitcher there any many worthy of an early pick. The two that are expected to be off the board by the time the Royals select are UCLA 6'4" 220 lb righty Gerrit Cole and 6'2" 200 lb left-hander Danny Hultzen of Virginia. Cole is the ranked first overall in MLB.com's pre-draft coverage, while Hultzen is currently third and has been rising on the boards faster than anyone as of recently. There are some who believe he may be considered with the first overall choice.
There are still four more college pitchers included in the top 10 who would fit the bill should the rumors be true. Another UCLA product, 6'1" 175 lb prospect Trevor Bauer comes in at sixth overall. A five-pitch pitcher, the right-hander has a fastball that is 93-94 miles per hour and can touch 97. His curveball is also said to be another plus pitch.
If the Royals wanted to go with a bigger college pitcher, the seventh and eighth overall prospects would certainly fit the bill. Taylor Jungmann is a 6'6" 220 lb right hander from the University of Texas. He has three plus pitches, highlighted by a 93-94 mph fastball that can reach 98 when needed. He also features and outstanding curveball, along with a solid changeup. He is a consistent strike thrower, yet has work to do before reaching the major league level.
The eighth rated prospect is Georgia Tech's Jed Bradley, a 6'4" 224 lb lefty doesn't have the wow factor of any of the other top prospects but is very smooth with his four pitches. His fastball comes in at 92-93 mph. He appears to be a true innings eater at the next level, and likely a number two starter.
Rounding out the top ten is 5'11" 200 lb right-hander Sonny Gray from one of college baseball's most dominant team this season, Vanderbilt. His arsenal includes a 94 mph fastball with good movement, along with a top notch changeup. His slider needs work but is something than can be worked on as he progresses through the minors. His command isn't as smooth as Jungmann's, but he still has the ability to transition to being a frontline starter in the majors.
After pick five, the Royals will be off the clock until No. 65 overall.