In a cavernous room back in Kansas City, Royals general manager Dayton Moore and his brain trust went down the team’s draft board on Monday evening and hardly believed their luck.
Now 17 picks had passed, and University of Florida pitcher Brady Singer was still available for the Royals at 18. He’d won the College World Series with the Gators a year ago. He’d become Baseball America’s national college baseball player of the year. He’d been chosen the Southeastern Conference’s pitcher of the year.
All this three years after Singer, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound right-hander from Eustis, Fla., turned down an opportunity to join the Blue Jays after being drafted 56th overall in the 2015 draft out of high school.
It took the Royals little time to phone in Singer as their first pick of MLB’s 2018 first-year player draft.
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The Royals proceeded to go pitching-heavy, choosing four more college arms with the 33rd, 34th, 40th and 58th overall picks on Monday night.
“We did have a strong emphasis on pitching this year, as we do every year,” Moore said on a teleconference following the end of the second round. “It just felt that these were the best available pitchers for us, and we wanted to make a concerted effort on getting some college pitching we felt had high ceiling and that could move quickly.
“The bottom line is the only way you tilt the field in your favor is you have pitching."
All five pitchers are juniors: Jackson Kowar, a right-hander and teammate of Singer's; Daniel Lynch, a left-hander from Virginia; Kris Bubic, a lefty out of Stanford; and Jonathan Bowlan, a right-hander from Memphis.
And all five could be part of a pitching staff that throws at Kauffman Stadium in 2021, the estimated arrival date of the bunch of prospects the Royals currently have in their poorly ranked farm system.
“I do think this group will mesh really well with this group we already have,” Royals scouting director Lonnie Goldberg said. “They’re all successful, they’re all proven, they’ve all played in big places, they’ve all done things in college baseball that obviously they’ve been very successful at.
“Each one of these guys have something left ceiling-wise, and we all think they’re gonna get better and continue to improve.”
Of their top 30 prospects as ranked by MLB’s Pipeline before the draft, the Royals count 14 pitchers. None of them was among baseball’s best prospects by either MLB.com or Baseball America's standards.
So the Royals set out to change that. In Baseball America's ranking of the top 300 players available in this year's draft, Singer came in fifth and Kowar 15th.
Both pitched in the 2017 College World Series and won the national championship last year. The success they both had with the Gators was not something the Royals, like the other 29 teams, were willing to overlook.
As they did with Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez and others, the front office has again emphasized the importance of learning to compete and win together. Minor-leaguers Nick Pratto, M.J. Melendez and Seuly Matias — three of the Royals' top four prospects — are already trying to do so at low-Class A Lexington. Outfielder Khalil Lee, drafted a year before 2017 picks Pratto and Melendez, is working on the same thing with Emmanuel Rivera and Gabriel Cancel at Class A-Advanced Wilmington.
There's a bevy of young pitchers padding their way through the system, too, including Daniel Tillo, Holden Capps and Evan Steele.
Assuming the Royals can wield their MLB-best signing bonus pool of about $12.7 million effectively, the addition of five college pitchers should infuse the organization with energy and expedite the rebuilding process.
“We believe in the wisdom of iron sharpening iron,” Moore said. “We put people together that are like-minded, that push each other. That’s how guys reach their ceilings. To Lonnie’s point, these guys happened to be there, but of course it factored in with all these guys. They’ve grown up together, they’ve competed against each other at all levels through college. They know who each other are. They’re gonna push each other. That’s part of what we were able to accomplish today.”