The cloistered activity among the Royals’ top officials this week at Kauffman Stadium has little to do with the club’s plummeting on-field performance.
Not that going 6-21 over the previous four weeks isn’t a concern.
June promises to be a pivotal month for the Royals; they either shake their depressing and unexpected malaise — specifically, find some run production — or begin concentrating on the future beyond this season.
And if it’s the latter, that is likely to bring all sorts of changes throughout the organization.
This week, however, the emphasis is on the annual first-year player draft, which consists of 40 rounds and runs Thursday through Saturday. The Royals have the eighth overall pick and three of the first 46 selections.
General manager Dayton Moore and assistant general manager J.J. Picollo, who runs the scouting and player-development operations, are on record as saying — no surprise — the Royals will take the best available player.
“Trying to figure out who is going to be there at eight,” Picollo said, “and who we like at eight, that’s an ongoing process. One thing, at the top of the draft, there’s balance.
“There are good college hitters and good college pitchers. There’s a couple of high school pitchers and a couple of high school hitters. There’s balance there. I think we’ll be able to line it up and take the player we think is the best player at that point.”
All signs, however, point to a preference for a pitcher unless one of two highly regarded prep outfielders from Georgia — Clint Frazier or Austin Meadows — unexpectedly remain on the board.
Similarly, the draft’s two most-heralded pitchers, Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray and Stanford’s Mark Appel, figure to be gone. Probably with the first two picks (Houston and the Chicago Cubs), barring signability issues.
The top college position player, San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant, is also unlikely to be around when the Royals pick. So who’s left? Six pitchers stand out as the possibilities:RHP Kohl Stewart, 6-3 and 190, St. Pius X High School, Houston
Has climbed this spring on draft boards with some scouts now saying he has higher upside potential than either Gray or Appel. True or not, that means he probably won’t be available when the Royals draft.
Scouts point to a mid-90s fastball, which he commands, and a power slider.
Stewart is a two-sport star who signed with Texas A as a quarterback, but the financial pull from baseball figures to overshadow duty as backup to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.RHP Braden Shipley, 6-3 and 190, Nevada
Another rising talent, he really gained attention last summer with a strong performance in the Alaska League. Shipley is a former shortstop who didn’t become a pitcher until his sophomore season.
Now, he shows a nice fastball/change-up approach with a heater that can touch the upper 90s. Scouts also point to his “I own the plate” mentality in attacking hitters.
Unlikely to be available to the Royals. Cleveland and Miami, who pick fifth and sixth, appear interested in Shipley.LHP Trey Ball, 6-6 and 180, New Castle (Indiana) High School
An intriguing option in that some scouts still believe he has a better long-term future as an outfielder. But Ball now looms as the draft’s top left-handed prospect because his stuff just keeps getting better.
His fastball sits in the low 90s, but his clean delivery leads scouts to say it could easily jump a few mphs once he puts adds some weight to his slender frame. They also like his athleticism.
This could — could — be the Royals’ guy. There’s a good chance Ball will be available at No. 8. They aren’t likely to be overly concerned at his beanpole physique after whiffing in 2010 on the chance to take Chris Sale.RHP Phil Bickford, 6-4 and 195, Oaks Christian High School, Westlake Village, Calif.
A projectable pick with solid upside, Bickford would be an intriguing gamble for any club with a pick (like the Royals) in the upper half of the first round.
Scouts point to minor mechanical flaws like his basic delivery, which they say is easy and comes with no red flags. He works a plus-fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, but his secondary pitches require work.
Bickford should be available when the Royals pick, but the guess (just a guess) is they go with a safer option.RHP Alex Gonzalez, 6-3 and 200, Oral Roberts
Generally viewed as a safe pick for any club seeking a fast-track prospect whose ceiling projects as the middle of the rotation. Few scouts view Gonzalez as a No. 1 or No. 2 guy. (They’re not always right, remember.)
He offers a solid fastball/slider mix, and scouts say his heater plays above its low-90s velocity because it darts with cut and sink. They also like his hard slider and his solid mechanics. Few see any “wow” factor, however.
Gonzalez should be available to the Royals and, if Ball is off the board, he could be their guy.RHP Ryne Stanek, 6-4 and 190, Arkansas
The Royals appear cool toward this Blue Valley graduate who chose college after being selected as Seattle’s third-round pick in 2010. That could be a ruse, of course. Disinformation flows freely prior to the draft.
While Stanek is a top prospect, scouts express concerns at his mechanics and whether his delivery is sufficiently repeatable to be a front-line starter. Many see him as a more likely fit as a power reliever.
Other scouts contend a minor adjustment or two could unlock his potential. It will be interesting to see how the Royals view Stanek because he figures to be available when they pick.First-Year Player Draft
Baseball’s annual draft of first-year players for players who are residents in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories and non-residents attending high school or college in the United States.
Who is eligible:
High school seniors, players who have completed their junior year in college or have turned 21 years old, or previous draftees who did not sign contracts.
The draft consists of 40 regular rounds and two new competitive-balance rounds (six picks between the first and second rounds; six more picks between the second and third rounds). Clubs also receive or forfeit picks because of compensation rules regarding free agency.
It is determined by the reverse order of club’s records for the 2012 season and modified by the free-agency compensation rules.
The first two rounds and both competitive-balance rounds are Thursday (beginning at 6 p.m. Central time). Rounds three through 10 are Friday; Rounds 11 through 40 are Saturday.
The Royals have the eighth overall selection. They also have the first pick in the first competitive-balance round (No. 34 overall). Their second-round pick is No. 46 overall. They have the eighth pick in each subsequent round.
Who picks ahead of the Royals: The first seven picks belong to Houston, the Chicago Cubs, Colorado, Minnesota, Cleveland, Miami and Boston.