“Pitching is the currency of the game”: A review of the Royals 2020 draft picks

“Pitching is the currency” of baseball is a phrase that Dayton Moore has used throughout his tenure as general manager of the Kansas City Royals. And it makes sense. Pitchers are harder to predict than hitters when it comes to Major League success. (It is a reason why some baseball experts believe in the “There is no such thing as a pitching prospect” principle, though that is starting to change, thanks to changes in technology and development pioneered by places like Driveline Mechanics). And thus, organizations are better off stocking as much of it as possible in their farm system, as most will not work out due to a variety of factors. Furthermore, a surplus of depth can be used as assets in various trades, as Moore helped building Pennant-winning (and eventually World-Series winning) teams in 2014 and 2015 by trading pitching assets (Mike Montgomery, Jake Lamb, Sean Manea, Jake Odorizzi, Brandon Finnegan, etc.) for veteran talent (James Shields, Wade Davis, Ben Zobrist, and Johnny Cueto).

Currently, the strength of the Royals’ farm system is the pitching depth, and Moore, in a shortened 5-round draft structure due to the COVID pandemic, only added to it further. That was amplified by the first round selection of Asa Lacy, arguably the best pitcher available in the draft, who somehow fell from a top-3 pick to the Royals’ laps at No. 4.

Let’s break down each of the Royals’ six draft selections from the 2020 MLB Draft. I did assign grades for each prospect and rankings at the end. However, please note that these grades aren’t “projection” grades, but more grades about how I “felt” about the pick at the time. Thus, these are subject to change, but essentially, based on research and analysis from other more qualified Royals prospect experts, these grades and rankings are essentially my “gut reactions” of each Royals pick.

Asa Lacy, No. 4 overall, LHP, Texas A&M

The Lacy selection came as a surprise to many, as it seemed pretty certain that he was going to go No. 3 to the Miami Marlins, maybe No. 2 to the Baltimore Orioles if they were looking to add to their pitching corps. However, the Orioles pivoted and decided to draft Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad instead of Vanderbilt infielder Austin Martin, and the Marlins selected University of Minnesota pitcher Max Meyer instead of Lacy, which left the Royals with either Martin or Lacy to select at No.4, which seemed unthinkable at the start of the draft.

While Martin was an accomplished hitter with the Commodores, the Royals decided to go with pitching, as Lacy has perhaps the best stuff and strikeout ability of any pitcher currently in this draft class. Lacy struck out 130 batters in 88.2 IP a year ago, and this year, he had struck out 46 in 24 innings of play. Command and control have been his biggest issue, but he has done some work to improve both areas, as his K/BB ratios have improved from 2.82 his freshman year to 3.02 his sophomore year to 5.75 his junior year (granted, that probably would’ve regressed once they hit SEC play, but it shows that he was improving). Much like Singer, Lacy is known for his fire and competitiveness on the mound, and he also sports four very good pitches (fastball, changeup, slider, curve), something that Singer doesn’t have (Singer is a fastball-slider guy, though he is developing his changeup which he didn’t use much in college).

Initially, I was disappointed that the Royals selected Lacy over Martin, as I felt that the latter would have added some much-needed depth in the infield, and he also showcased an elite “contact” tool that is not very common in the Royals system. However, Lacy is a polished pitcher who can move quickly through the Royals system, as some experts believe that Lacy can be utilized in a pennant run this year ala Finnegan in 2014. While many still feel that Daniel Lynch is the Royals system’s best pitching (and overall in some cases) prospect, Lacy could swing that line of thinking with a solid Minor League campaign in 2021, as he is expected to pitch in High-A Wilmington and could make a push for Double-A in the second half of the year, similar to Singer and Jackson Kowar in 2019.

Grade: A

Nick Loftin, No. 32 overall, SS, Baylor University

If there is one reason to feel better about the Royals passing up on Martin, it’s because Moore drafted Loftin at No. 32, a player who projects as a utility-type in the mold of Whit Merrifield at the Major League level. In his first two years of play, Loftin averaged a batting average of .319 and actually walked (40) more than he struck out (37) over 458 at-bats. While he did strike out more than usual this year (11), it’s obvious that Loftin has an elite hit tool that could bode well for him at the professional level.

Loftin played shortstop for the Bears but has played multiple positions, including three infield positions (3B, SS, 2B), and even some OF. At 6-1, 180 pounds, he’s an athletic type of player and has a good work ethic from all reports. Add in the fact that he played against pretty good competition in the Big 12, played with Team USA for summer baseball, and started to showcase some power, and it’s safe to say that Moore may have gotten good value for the compensation round pick. Moore said he would have been comfortable taking Loftin at No. 4, and while that may have been hyperbole, it does show that Loftin had the potential to go higher in Moore’s eyes and that the Royals were lucky for him to fall to No. 32.

Grade: A-

Ben Hernandez, No. 41 overall, RHP, De La Salle Institute (IL)

Hernandez was the lone prep prospect drafted by the Royals in this year’s draft. A lively right-handed pitcher out of the Chicago area, Hernandez gained some steam this past summer pitching in the Under Armour All-American showcase. Hernandez may have been a bit of an over-draft (prospect experts had him in the 75-100 range), but it may have been a move by Moore to save money at the No. 41 slot. His best pitch is his changeup, as many scouts say that he has a plus changeup that could be devastating at the professional level.

Without a doubt, Hernandez may be the biggest risk of this draft for the Royals, as high-school arms are much harder to project than college ones, and the Royals haven’t had much recent success with them either (i.e Ashe Russell). Furthermore, when watching Hernandez on tape, he doesn’t incredibly impress. Without a doubt, he will get a lot of time and attention in the instructional league, and unlike Lacy, the Royals will probably take their time with Hernandez in terms of moving up the system. He does have a commitment to UIC (University of Illinois-Chicago), but considering that school is not much of a baseball powerhouse, it seems likely that Hernandez will sign with the Royals.

Grade: B

Tyler Gentry, 76th overall, OF, University of Alabama

The Royals’ second and last position player selected in this draft, Gentry brings a solid pedigree as a hitter and comes from a great college baseball conference in the SEC. Gentry played a year of junior college at Walters State and hit .379 with 18 home runs and drove in 72 RBI in 203 at-bats for a team that went the NJCAA World Series in 2018. He did regress a little and struggle with strikeouts a bit in his sophomore year at Alabama (19 walks to 51 strikeouts in 210 at-bats), but he still managed to hit .310 and park 13 home runs for the Crimson Tide. He was off to an incredible start in 2020, as he was hitting .429 with four home runs and 21 RBI in 56 at-bats before COVID stopped play. Furthermore, he has walked 10 times and struck out 10 times, which showed that his contact and plate discipline had been improving in his second year at Alabama.

Gentry could have been a possible second to compensation round pick if the full year played out, but instead, he feel to the Royals in the 3rd round, which seemed to be right where he was being projected by most prospect experts. Gentry is a corner outfielder, which limits his value at the professional level, since defense isn’t his strongest suit. Also his contact issues remind me of Brady McConnell, a 2019 pick, who struggled in his first year of professional ball in Idaho Falls a year ago. However, his hit and power tools are intriguing, and could make him a solid asset in this system if he is able to transition and develop those two tools further in the Royals’ farm system.

Grade: B+

Christian Chamberlain, No. 105 overall, LHP, Oregon State

In the 4th round, the Royals selected Chamberlain, a left-handed pitcher out of Oregon State, a Pac-12 powerhouse. Chamberlain has gotten some comps to former Royals reliever Tim Collins, as Chamberlain has great stuff, but isn’t particularly big at 5’10. What’s interesting about Chamberlain is that he started out as a reliever with the Beavers, as he only started six out of his 43 appearances in his first two years at Oregon State. However, he made the transition to the rotation this year, and was looking solid, as he posted a 0.82 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 4 starts and 22 innings of work before COVID stopped play.

Chamberlain mostly likely will be a reliever at the professional level, but it would not be surprising to see the Royals test Chamberlain out as a starter in Low A or Rookie ball to begin the year in 2021. He has a three-pitch mix according to reports, and his 12-6 curve has gotten good reports from some scouts. But he was a bit hit and miss over his time at OSU, as he posted a 3.83 ERA and 7.44 H/9 rate during his sophomore season with the Beavers, not exactly impressive metrics. That being said, this isn’t terrible value at 105 overall, and he could be a lefty out of the pen in a Tim Hill mold who could provide some value to the Royals in a couple of seasons.

Grade: C+

Will Klein, 135th overall, RHP, Eastern Illinois

Klein is a big hoss of a pitcher who stands at 6’5 and can touch 100 MPH on the radar gun. He made a name for himself in the Northwoods League, a college wood bat league, last summer, as he struck out 38 and walked only 8 in 21 innings of work. At Eastern Illinois, he was used primarily as a reliever his freshman and sophomore seasons, but was transitioned to the rotation as a junior, much like Chamberlain. Klein’s numbers haven’t been great though as a reliever or a starter, though his metrics as a starter were slightly better in 2020, though that was a limited sample size. He posted ERAs of 6.62, 5.51, and 3.33 from his freshman through his junior year respectively. His control and command need some work, for even though he displayed excellent command and control in the Northwoods League, his K/BB ratio had an average of 1.35 in his first two years with the Panthers, which is pretty poor. He did improve it to 2.54, which is much better, but one has to wonder how that would have regressed over the course of a full season.

Klein is a classic “stuff over stats” prospect, and most likely, his destiny will be in the bullpen. If his upper 90’s stuff carries over to professional ball, than it is possible that the Royals could get a Josh Staumont-esque pitcher who could become a late innings option down the road. With so much pitching depth, I imagine that Klein and Chamberlain will probably pair together at Low A or Rookie ball together, though I feel more confident about Chamberlain because of Chamberlain’s command and the fact that Chamberlain faced better competition in college. That being said, if Klein can continue to develop his control and command, than it’s possible that this pick could be a dark horse for the Royals that could provide fruit to the Royals bullpen in 2-3 years.

Grade: C

Royals Draft Pick Rankings

  1. Lacy: Perhaps best overall pitcher in the draft, and a steal at No. 4. Will boost an already great pitching corps in the Royals farm system.
  2. Loftin: Great hit tool, and budding power. Could be a Whit Merrifield-lite at the Major League level.
  3. Gentry: Love the hit tool and power. Not sure about his defense, for his corner infield profile limits his versatility. But he could be an underrated bat in this system.
  4. Hernandez: Young, projectable talent, but carries some considerable risk. I haven’t been a big fan of the high school pitchers in the Royals system, but perhaps Hernandez can buck that trend.
  5. Chamberlain: Probably a bullpen arm, maybe a LOOGY ultimately. But I like his command and pedigree and think he could be a fast mover in the Royals system.
  6. Klein: The tools and stuff are there, but I am not impressed with the metrics from college, especially at a small school in Eastern Illinois that plays in a weak conference. But he has the profile to be a great bullpen arm, so it will be interesting to see how he develops in the Royals’ system.

15 thoughts on ““Pitching is the currency of the game”: A review of the Royals 2020 draft picks

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