Dayton Moore sat inside a Las Vegas suite last month and conversed about the topic consuming the bulk of his time these days — the long-term future of the Royals. He expanded upon his reluctance to trade a core player, the reason for trimming payroll in the interim and the need to avoid lengthy free-agent contracts.
It all circled back to the same point. The future of the team, he says, will be built primarily through the draft. Not through free agency. Not via sweeping trades.
He telegraphed that blueprint last June, selecting 33 college players in the Royals’ initial 36 picks of the MLB Draft. As he enters his 13th season as the general manager of the Royals, Moore’s vision for the future starts there. With college talent.
But how quickly will the future become the present?
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“We’ve talked a lot about that,” Moore said. “We’ve never put limitations on any of our players.”
On the other hand, Moore added, “It’s been my experience that you move slow with your pitchers’ development. And when they’re ready, they’ll move really quick. You won’t be able to stop them.”
Theoretically, college players are closer to major-league ready than high school talent, and that played into the club’s reasoning for planting last year’s resources there. The Royals are trying to expedite the rebuilding process, even eliminating the word from the front office’s vocabulary last summer.
But they won’t the rush the arms to the majors. And there are a lot of them. The Royals had five of the first 58 picks last June and used all of them on pitchers — Florida right-hander Brady Singer at No. 18 overall, Florida righty Jackson Kowar (33), Virginia left-hander Daniel Lynch (34), Stanford lefty Kris Bubic (40) and Memphis right-hander Jonathan Bowlan (58).
Bubic will be 21 years old on opening day. The remaining four will be 22. That’s older than most players entering their first full professional season. But age alone won’t drive the decisions on where to place them within the farm system in 2019.
“You don’t want to put a pitcher at a higher level too soon, a level that they’re not confident in, because you want them to utilize all of their pitches,” Moore said. “You want them to have some escape hatches in the lineup. They don’t get out of their delivery. They don’t try to do too much. When you get out of our delivery and try to do too much, often times injury will creep in there. There’s too much effort; they get out of their delivery; they lose their mechanics. So you want to move really slow.”
Moore emphasized his optimism about the group. He insists the farm system as a whole is in a much better place than it was a year ago, and he points toward the 2018 draft class as principal rationale.
Even so, there are stages within the development that can’t be skipped. Most notably: The evolution of secondary pitches. The confidence to turn to second and third options to get the game’s best hitters out. That could be accomplished at Class AAA Omaha, at Class AA Northwest Arkansas or lower levels. It will depend on the pitcher.
“You’ve gotta be able to pitch backwards in the major leagues,” Moore said. “You’ve gotta be able to locate a breaking ball, an off-speed pitch, as well as you can the fastball. A pitcher may be having a lot of success in low-A or high-A with one particular pitch, but you know full well based on his arsenal that he’s gonna be challenged at the next level.”
The Royals aren’t committing to where any of their prospects will open the 2019 season, though none figure to be part of the major-league mix. The club likes its options in the rotation.
Moore allowed for the possibility someone could help the bullpen — the team promoted Brandon Finnegan in 2014, the same year he was drafted — but the preference is to preserve them as starters. Finnegan was a boost to a team in a pennant race. He filled a need.
Perhaps that could happen late in the season, Moore conceded. But Finnegan was the exception. It’s not the club’s preferred path for pitching prospects.
“I’ve always felt as a general rule you don’t want to move pitchers late in the year,” Moore said. “So even though a pitcher’s doing really well, and it’s July 15 or July 30 and you’ve got a month left, don’t move them up a level. Because now they get there and (think they have) to gear up. They’re going to get to a new team, a new environment; you’re going to write about it; people are going to come see them; they’re going to try to do more for their new manager and coaches and pitching staff and teammates; OK, they put forth more effort and they’re fatigued already. They get hurt.
“When it comes to progressing a player, you really only have, in my opinion, about three months to do it, and then you’re better off just riding it out.”