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Deconstructing The Process

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Probably before the Royals take the field on Monday night, almost certainly by the time they have lit up the Twins for three runs in the bottom of the first, Kansas City fans will know who the next big prospect in their system will be.   It is nothing new for the Royals picking early in round one, but not much else about the 2012 Draft is familiar.

Gone are the recommended slots from the commissioner’s office with the only penalty for not adhering to them was a mean look from Bud Selig.   In their place comes a prescribed bonus pool for each team’s picks in the first ten rounds.   The penalty for exceeding them by even just five percent is a punitive tax and the spectre of the loss of draft picks in future drafts.   Personally, I think this is probably a bad development for the Royals, but no one really knows how this new system will play out.

What we do know is that Kansas City has a total of $6.1 million to spread across Rounds 1 through 10, during which time the Royals have ten picks.  While the Royals first round pick is assigned a value of $3.5 million, they can spend as much or as little of their total allotment of $6.1 million as they want on that pick.  

There are two kickers to this process.   First, if a team does not sign one of their picks in the first ten rounds, the value of that pick goes away and cannot be used on another.  If the Royals are unable to sign their 8th round pick, as was the case last year with Evan Beal, the $139,000 assigned to that pick is deducted from the allotted total of $6.1 million.   In addition, any bonus in excess of $100,000 given to any pick from Round 11 on counts against the first ten round allotment.   There will be no more $750,000 signing bonuses to a 16th round pick like Kansas City did last year to sign Jack Lopez away from his college commitment.

For the first couple of years of this new system, I think teams will be focused a great deal on the signability of a player at or near the value assigned to that pick.   One never knows exactly how a system works and hence, how to work said system, until one actually sees it in action.   Until the teams figure out the nuances of this, or Scott Boras figures it out for them, my guess is the picks are going to sign right around the value assigned or not at all.   Three times in the Dayton Moore era players picked by the Royals in the first ten rounds have not signed, it will be interesting to see if that number increases.

It will also be interesting to see if drafting of college seniors with no leverage who will sign for $1,000 returns.  The Royals got Mike Aviles that way, but not a lot else.  However, if you want to sign this year’s Wil Myers (and no, I have no idea who that is) it may require using your round eight through ten picks on guys who will sign for next to nothing.   Again, I’m not a fan of the new system, but don’t really know enough to hate it, either.  I know a Jack Lopez is likely playing shortstop for the University of Miami this spring instead of being in the Royals’ system if the 2011 Draft had been subject to the new agreement.   Good for college baseball, I suppose.

The big plus of the new system is the signing deadline is in mid-July instead of mid-August.   That means that we will get to see almost every signed draftee play at some level yet this year.   Going back to 2011, that would mean Bubba Starling (if he had signed, which may have been unlikely) would already have a half season of rookie ball under his belt and likely two months in Kane County by now instead of still playing instructional ball in Arizona.   Starling is not a great example, because he probably slides even further in the draft based on signability and ends up playing football instead.

Anyway, ifs, buts, candies and nuts.   How about the players?

It is no secret that the Royals are looking at advanced starting pitching.  It’s a slippery slope when teams start drafting for need over talent, but in this case the need and the talent might coincide nicely.  Greg Schaum at Pine Tar Press, Baseball America, and many others spend much more time actually watching and analyzing these guys than me, but with three good college right handers near the top of the board, the Royals would seem to be in nice shape to take a talented player at a position of great need with the number five pick.

The options are Mark Appel of Stanford (who is likely to go either first or second), Kevin Gausman of LSU and Kyle Zimmer of San Francisco.    All three throw hard, sitting in the mid-90s and touching higher with their fastballs.   Appel follows up with a slider and developing changeup.  Gausman brings along a good changeup and two seam fastball,  and offers both a curve and slider with mixed results.   Zimmer, who became a full-time pitcher just last year, couples his fastball with a hammer curve and developing changeup.

Any of you who follow the draft at all have read more in-depth analysis of these three.   Of the three, particularly knowing that Appel is likely to be gone by number five, I prefer Kyle Zimmer.   John Manuel of Baseball America compared him to Jesse Foppert, which is both good and bad.   Foppert, just a year after being drafted, was ranked as the top prospect in the Pacific Coast League and was in the majors a year and one half after signing.    For those keeping score at home, a similar path would put Zimmer in the majors by Opening Day of 2014.   Now, Foppert’s story does not have a happy ending, as he went under the knife and never made it back from Tommy John surgery, but therein lies the hazard of drafting pitchers.

Now, anything can happen and we only have to look back to last summer when the Royals, hell bent on taking the best of what was left of five talented arms, saw them all go in a row and ended up with Bubba Starling.  It seems unlikely that Appel, Gausman and Zimmer will all be gone before Kansas City picks, but it is possible.    Should that happen, the organization will be faced with taking an arm that is, at least in some circles, thought to be a step down from the three mentioned above (Max Fried, Lance McCullers Jr. and Marcus Stroman are among names that have come up) or seize on one of the three top position players in the draft.

Those three are high school outfielder Byron Buxton (who it would seem almost impossible that he will still be there), Florida catcher Mike Zunino and Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa.   All three are excellent prospects, but all three reside in positions of non-pressing need for the Royals.   Here is your slippery slope, folks, do you start sliding because your major league rotation is problematical at best and your minor league pitching prospects have not come along as quickly as expected?

Is there a play to get a pitcher at five, who might sign for less than the value of that slot and use the extra money to get talent with some signability issues later on round two or three?  There is some logic to that approach, but it is risky as well.

How the Royals, and the rest of baseball, manage this new era of drafting will be almost as interesting as who Dayton Moore and his braintrust actually end up selecting on Monday night.

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As we count the moments until the 11 PM Central deadline and anxiously await the fate of Bubba Starling and the future of Cornhusker football, now would be a good time to refresh where the Royals stand on their top 30 picks.

UPDATE: The Royals have signed Starling for a reported $7.5 million bonus spread over three years. About a million less than I expected. The three year spread veers from the normal five year spread for a two sport athlete and is probably why Starling’s number fell a little below what most draft gurus expected.

The following table lists those picks and (if known) their signing bonus. The slot figures apply only to the first five rounds. After those rounds, MLB demands that bonuses not exceed $150,000. Players in bold have signed. The table is current at 11 PM Central.

The Royals have committed $12.955 million in known bonuses. The record for bonus payouts was set last year by the Washington Nationals who spent $11,927,200. Obviously, the Royals would appear to have broken the record, although other teams are spending tons of cash at the deadline. There will be other teams who spent more.

Bookmark this post for the next time one of your friends complain about the Royals not spending money.

The second day of the draft is in the books and the numbers break down as such:

- 13 High School players
- 17 College players

By position:
- 17 Pitchers
- 12 Right-handers
- 5 Left-handers
- 5 Outfielders
- 5 Infielders
- 3 Catchers

The Royals sprinted out of the gate taking high school players with their first five picks. It’s an interesting gambit and one that suggests Dayton Moore is confident enough with both The Process and his status as the general manager to essentially restock the lowest levels of the minor league pool.

These high schoolers, Bubba Starling included, are all the rawest of prospects. There aren’t any hidden gems in this group like Wil Myers. This was a draft that will represent the restocking of the second wave of The Process.

I feel this also tells us that Dayton Moore is extremely comfortable in his position and is under no pressure from ownership. There is no Eric Hosmer in this group – no player who is two or three years from making his debut. These are all players who will fall into the organization as role players. Some will develop, many won’t. But we won’t see the fruits of this draft for several years. If Moore was under any kind of pressure, he would have pushed for college players in the early rounds. Guys that would be closer to the major and could slot into this team with the first wave of The Process. Of course, that was the stated plan as far as we thought we knew, the Royals were targeting a college pitcher. That plan was foiled when Seattle went off the plan and passed on Rendon to take Hultzen.

No, this was a draft to restock the lower levels of the minors. It’s too bad in a deep draft such as this, the Royals didn’t have the Tampa Bay luxury of multiple picks in the first, second and third rounds. Jealousy on my part. But given the way the Royals have been able to draft in the last several seasons, you have to think about what could have been if they had been able to score just one or two more picks in the early rounds.

A couple of other draft notes:

– Jerrell Allen, selected in the eleventh round, after a run on pitching by the Royals. He’s a – stop me if you’ve heard this before – a speedy outfielder.

– Fifth round pick Patrick Leonard played for Craig Biggio at St. Thomas High School in Texas. He’s a shortstop – stop me if you’ve heard this before – but he will have to switch positions.

– The Royals stayed local in the 12th round, selecting Adam Schemenauer from Park Hill South High School.

– I didn’t do a deep search, but after Starling, the Royals didn’t grab any other top 100 talent in the draft according to Baseball America. Keith Law at ESPN has their third rounder – Bryan Brickhouse – rated as the 84th best talent.

Last night’s game went pretty much according to plan. Vin Mazarro coughed up six runs on five hits. The defensive lapse in the first inning recreated the circus atmosphere of year’s past. Eric Hosmer picked up a couple of hits. Off-plan, somehow Alcides Escobar picked up a pair of hits. But he airmailed another throw to first. (Oops… That was the day before. Sometimes, all these Royals games seem to run together.)

Really, what that game boiled down to was which starting pitcher would create the biggest implosion… Mazarro and his general ineffectiveness. Or Kyle Drabek and his inability to locate. That’s the kind of starting pitching matchup which causes me to look for other things to do for the first five innings… Guys like Mazarro and Drabek drive me insane. The Royals did OK against Drabek. He threw 99 pitches in just over five innings and only 56 strikes. He also uncorked four wild pitches. Too bad Mazarro was worse. By the time the starters had exited, it was a 6-5 game in favor of the Jays. The Royals couldn’t break through against the Jays pen and that’s the ballgame in a nutshell.

With the fifth overall selection in the 2011 June Amateur Draft, the Kansas City Royals select: Bubba Starling. And with those words, a legend was born. Stories of the Gardner, KS native will be told in Royals circles for decades. The direction and nature of those stories at this point are unknown. This is what makes the baseball draft — hell, any draft really — so interesting. It’s the unknowns in sports that make things so much more interesting.

Bill James was on a recent episode of Joe Posnanski’s* podcast and said that without some inherent randomness, sports aren’t very interesting. The draft represents some of the most wild randomness available, and Starling is the epitome of that.  He’s a toolsy, athletic high school senior who plays baseball in the midwest. It’s the perfect combination of factors that make for an unpredictable draft pick. The added bonus of being from a local school is what puts this draft pick into “legendary” status. If Starling is a great player, then it’s obvious that he’ll be the legendary hero. If he never makes it to the Big Leagues, he’s a legendary bust. If he becomes a decent but not great player like Alex Gordon, he’s a legendary “what could’ve been”.

*Yesterday was Posnanski’s last day as a Kansas City resident and now that he and Jason Whitlock have departed, the sports writing landscape in Kansas City seems so barren. That’s not a knock on the guys plying their trade now, but rather how important they were to our local sports scene. When I was granted my credential to Royals games, one of the first things that jumped in my mind was a chance to meet Joe Posnanski. Unfortunately, we never crossed paths. I wish him luck and I’m excited to see who can try and fill those two pair of very different but very large pair of shoes.

The first impediment to having the Bubba Starling legend lie on the positive side of the ledger is his commitment to the University of Nebraska to play football. In his brief press-conference yesterday, he mentioned that possibility a number of times. High school kids with scholarship offers have the most negotiating power, because as any successful negotiator will tell you, options are leverage. Bubba Starling doesn’t have to sign with the Royals, he could just go play football if he so desires. The more real that threat looms, the higher the price tag goes.

Given Starling’s options of:

A: Millions of dollars to play baseball

B: Dorm food, lodging and mandatory classes to play football

Which, combined with the fact that the Royals used their only pick in the first 65 to select him is enough evidence that  he is likely to sign. It’s more likely that Starling doesn’t sign and re-enters the draft in 2012. His agent is Scott Boras, who won’t make a dime if Starling plays football, and if there’s anything I know about Boras, it’s that he likes making lots of dimes. So, while the football card will be played loud and often, it’s not much of a possibility.

With options and negotiating leverage, comes money. It seems logical that Starling’s bonus will be close to, if not the highest paid by the Royals in franchise history. Deals like that aren’t easy to come by, so it’s quite certainly going to take right up until the deadline to sign the contract. If that does happen, Starling won’t make his professional debut until 2012, which is unfortunate. He’s such a raw player that he could use as much seasoning as possible. Spending time in a short-season league in 2011 will speed along his development.

Once he signs and becomes officially a part of the Royals organization, what kind of player will the Royals have? What will Starling become? These are questions that nobody has the answer to. We go back to the randomness aspect of this whole situation. Bubba Starling will be Bubba Starling, and that’s all we know. The Royals feel like he was the best player available to them when it was their turn to draft, and they’ve done a very good job of identifying high school talent.

The real story here is that the Royals didn’t seem to draft for need or for immediate help. Maybe that was just the luck of the draw, but it does seem as if Dayton Moore is sticking to his Process. A process, which it seems isn’t about producing “waves” of talent. Waves of talent is a theory of hoping to win followed by expecting to lose. It’s a failed process. One that the Royals can’t afford to subscribe to. What they have shown with the selection of Starling is that they are going to load the system with talent and continue to pile it on. Dayton Moore isn’t trying to build a team, he’s trying to build a franchise.  It’s the more difficult, but ultimately more successful endeavor.

It will take at least five years to know if selecting Bubba Starling was the right move yesterday. He may just be the local super-star that the Royals and their fans are pining for. But if the franchise continues to go about their process in this manner, it won’t matter because while a single bad draft pick can drown a team, it’s not enough to ruin a franchise.


Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

Episode #055 – In which I discuss the newly drafted Bubba Starling and what that draft pick means. I also talk about some recent news, the struggling Royals and potential changes to the MLB Draft.

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Foster The People – Helena Beat

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Does the draft come at the right time, or what? After getting swept by the Twins and their Double-A caliber lineup, it was a bucket of cold water thrown in the face… The future is still pretty grim. Especially with our starting pitching.

With the focus still on the future (for another season at least) the good news is the Royals hold the fifth overall pick in what is shaping up to be a very deep draft. And speaking of pitching, word on the street is the Royals are seeking a college arm. That makes sense, given that the Royals kick started The Process this year. The pitching rotation remains Kate Moss thin, so GMDM and the scouting department have been charged with finding a little starting pitching meat. That comes from a college arm, which will be on an accelerated path to the majors.

In this draft, there are at least three premium college arms: Gerrit Cole from UCLA, his teammate Trevor Bauer and Virginia’s Danny Hultzen.

For fun, here are how three mock drafts from national prospect watchers have the first five picks:

There are a couple of things to note from these mocks… Pittsburgh will go for a pitcher at number one. It’s a guess between Cole and Hultzen. Rendon to Seattle at number two is a definite. Arizona is big on Hultzen at three, but if the Pirates grab him at number one, the whole draft goes haywire. And as you can see, there’s no consensus for who goes fourth and fifth.

Of the scenarios above, I’d bet the Royals would be delighted with the one presented by Baseball America. If Cole is there at number five, he’s going to be wearing Royal blue. The Baseball Prospectus mock is the one I’d bet on if the Pirates grab Cole with the top choice.

One name that hasn’t found it’s way into the top five is local product Bubba Starling. The question is, if the top three college arms are off the board at number five, will the Royals go local and draft Starling? The local angle in the draft is always heavily overplayed. Sure, armchair GMs blast the Royals for missing on Albert Pujols, but it’s not like he was nabbed immediately after the Royals passed. Pujols lasted until the 13th round. Plenty of teams missed – multiple times. Just because he was in the Royals backyard, wouldn’t necessarily give the team an advantage. The top guys are known by all the teams and they’re all scouted and most of them are cross-checked. There aren’t many mysteries in the early half of the draft.

That doesn’t mean the Royals aren’t feeling pressure when it comes to Starling. And since it appears Starling will be on the board when the Royals pick number five, that will present an extremely interesting situation. Do the Royals bow to pressure of media and fans to choose Starling, or will they stay the course and address their need for pitching? Can you imagine the uproar if the Royals pass on Starling and he goes on to become a superstar? Especially if their pick in this draft is a whiff. That’s pretty much a worst case scenario. Because this is the Royals we’re talking about, I feel obligated to bring this up.

Myself, I think they’ll stick with pitching. They want someone they can place on the fast track and contribute soon as The Process starts rolling. However, if the three college guys are off the board, I think they decide they can’t pass on Starling.

We’ll find out this afternoon.