The words sound like a broken record, even if they are stuck on a phrase being uttered by every other big-league general manager. Time and again last week when asked about his strategy heading into Major League Baseball’s amateur draft, Royals general manager Dayton Moore kept repeating the same three words: “Best player available.”
On Monday night, the Royals will make their first choice with the No. 21 overall selection. It is the latest they have made a pick since 1986. It is the receipt for a playoff berth, and also a sign of a new challenge history. They must scout a wider range of players, given the uncertainty of their position.
“It’s very unpredictable,” Moore said. “The top four or five guys go off the board very quickly. So you just line it up and take the best player available.”
The draft once provided hope to a fanbase suffering through the losing of a 29-year streak without reaching the playoffs. After Kansas City’s run to the World Series last October, the acquisition of amateur talent has taken a backseat to the travails of the big-league club. Yet the Royals understand building a pipeline of prospects is vital to their sustained success.
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The slot for 21st pick is a bonus for $2,184,200. The departure of James Shields also netted the club a pick in the compensatory first round. The team will select No. 33, which carries a slot bonus of $1,825,200. The Royals may miss on the top-tier talent, given their place in the draft order, but they still understand the necessity of acquiring future cornerstones.
“That’s where you rely on the good area scouts,” Moore said. “Know the players, know who really wants to play, who has a passion and a heart to play our game. Because those are the players that ultimately make it.”
The two players the Royals have been connected to the most display the disparity of their desires. One is Cornelius Randolph, a 6-1, 190-pound left-handed-hitting infielder from the suburbs of Atlanta.
The other prospect mentioned most often with the Royals is Phil Bickford, a 6-4 right-handed pitcher who the club considered drafting with the eighth pick in the 2013 draft. The Royals instead opted for third baseman Hunter Dozier. Toronto chose Bickford with the tenth pick, but Bickford turned down their offer.
From there, Bickford’s story becomes more interesting. He enrolled at Cal-State Fullerton and posted a 2.13 ERA as a freshman for the Titans. Before this season began, Bickford opted to transfer to a junior college, the College of Southern Nevada, to become eligible for this year’s draft.
Like Brandon Finnegan in 2014, Bickford could move quickly through the Royals system and aid the big-league club as a reliever this season. While Moore conceded the needs of the big-league club do play some role in the draft process, they do not obscure the ultimate goal.
“You really just line it up and you take the best available guy,” Moore said. “And Finny fit that mold for us last year. Of course we needed help from the left side in that bullpen, and he moved rather quickly. But again, it’s so unpredictable.”