At about 6:30 p.m. central time Monday night, the Kansas City Royals will welcome the newest talent to their organization.
Will it be the UCLA pitcher who has pitched nine consecutive complete games and just broke the Pac-10 record for strikeouts in a season? Will it be a big right-hander from UConn that should make it quickly through the minors? How about the best high school pitcher to come along in years? Or will be it be the local toolshed who is considered by all to have the highest ceiling in the draft?
These are the decisions that likely face the Royals at No. 5. It’s been reported by many prognositicators that the Royals are looking for a college pitcher so that they can slot the pick in with the rest of their almost-MLB ready talent in their plan to be a contender in the next few years. If given the choice, the Royals would probably hope to get Gerrit Cole of UCLA or Danny Hultzen of Virginia. But the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Saturday that the Pirates were leaning towards tabbing Cole with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Hultzen was also in the Pirates discussion at No. 1 and will almost certainly get taken at No. 3 by Arizona or No. 4 by Baltimore.
And at No. 2, the Mariners are projected to go with a bat, likely Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon. If not Rendon, then high school shortstop Francisco Lindor.
So who does that possibly leave for Kansas City? Lots of options, the first being Cole’s teammate, Trevor Bauer. The 6-foot-1 righty throws in the mid-90s, but doesn’t have the size or velocity of Cole, who is 6-foot-4 and throws 100 miles per hour. But what Bauer does have is better results. While Cole is just 6-8 with a 3.31 ERA, Bauer is 13-2 with a 1.23 ERA. In 136 innings, Bauer has struck out 203 batters, which breaks Mark Prior’s Pac-10 record for strikeouts in a season. One downside is his workload, as he has pitched nine straight complete games and consistently throws more than 130 pitches in each start. He also has a strict long-toss regimen that reportedly has turned some teams off, possibly even the Royals, although I think the concern is overstated.
If Bauer is gone, or the Royals eventually think Bauer is going to break down, Barnes could be the college pitcher Kansas City takes. Jim Callis of Baseball America had the Royals taking Barnes in one of his earlier mock drafts and Cole in the latest, although that came before the news of the Pirates likely taking Cole. Barnes is 11-4 on the season with a 1.62 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 116.2 innings. He throws in the low-to-mid 90s, but doesn’t have the numbers or upside of the other players on this list. He will likely move through the minors quickly, however.
If the first picks are Cole, Rendon, Hultzen and Bauer, and the Royals decided they’d rather go with upside than trying to get someone who will get to the majors quickly, then they could be looking at high schoolers Dylan Bundy and Bubba Startling.
Bundy, a right-hander from Oklahoma, is widely considered one of the best high-school pitchers to come around in the last decade. Jim Callis rated Bundy higher than last year’s No. 2 overall pick, high school pitcher Jameson Taillon. And Taillon was called the best high-schooler since Josh Beckett. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has Bundy has his top prospect in this draft.
Bundy is only 6-foot-1, but has a very strong build and can squat more than 500 pounds. His fastball sits in the 94-97 range and has hit 100 miles per hour. He has a plus breaking ball and a plus cutter. He also has great command, walking only five batters this season while striking out 158. He reportedly asked for a $30 million deal, but it’s likely that was just a ploy and will sign for much, much less than that.
And then there’s Starling. His high school is less than an hour outside of Kansas City, so there is some pressure from the fan base to take the local kid. And it’s not like it would be a reach, as Callis and ESPN’s Keith Law have both said he may have the highest upside in this year’s draft.
Starling has plus-plus speed and could have plus power as well. If he was going in as a pitcher, he would probably also be a first-round pick as he has a great arm. He is also a pretty good center fielder. Athletically, there isn’t a better option. Starling is a Nebraska football recruit as a quarterback after he rushed for more than 2,400 yards last season. He also averaged 28 points per game on the basketball court.
The questions are is hit tool, as he is raw. Also, scouts didn’t much of a look at him this spring, as the Kansas high school baseball season starts later and Starling dealt with quad injury for the first part of the season. He only had 27 at-bats. He also is advised by super-agent Scott Boras, and with a football scholarship in hand, has a lot of leverage.
So who should the pick be? Of course it depends who is on the board, but assuming all four of the guys mentioned are, the pick has to be Bundy or Starling. Look, Bauer and Barnes have put up great numbers, but there is a reason these guys weren’t on a lot of radars out of high school. They don’t have the upside of Bundy or Starling.
Sure, it would be nice to get a guy who can get to the majors quickly to get in the rotation with Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, Chris Dwyer and John Lamb once he comes back from Tommy John surgery. But what is more important is getting the best talent. Bundy and Starling are those guys. If I had the choice between the two, I’d take Starling because hitters are usually less risky due to injury concerns on pitchers. And it’s rare to get a five-tool player of Starling’s upside, especially without having the first overall pick.
Hopefully, Dayton Moore will feel the same way, although I have a feeling it will be Bauer’s name called on Monday night. That’s not a bad thing, but it isn’t the best thing.
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Written by Ryan Riordan