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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