Without a doubt, the Kansas City Royals have led the way when it comes to how a MLB club should treat their players and employees this off-season. Despite being in one of baseball’s smallest markets (only Milwaukee and Cincinnati are smaller), the Royals have remained committed to keeping and paying their Minor League players, something that not every Major League club has been apt to do. Despite the Royals being a mixed bag on the field since their World Series championship of 2015, off the field, the Royals have been a first-class organization, with general manager Dayton Moore seeming to lead the charge of “good will” when it comes to doing business as a baseball organization.
Due to this draft being shortened to five rounds due to the COVID pandemic, the pool of undrafted players who would be able to sign as free agents was expected to be deeper than ever. With players able to sign up to $20,000, MLB teams were looking to get some value on players who normally would be drafted within rounds 6-40 any other season. The Royals were expected to do well when it came to acquiring non-drafted talent, as Moore’s penchant for building the farm system, and the organization’s reputation recently, were expected to be swaying factors with potential prospects.
And thus far, it seems like the Royals’ “good will” has produced a valuable crop of talent from the undrafted free agent pool as expected:
According to Baseball America’s undrafted free agent tracker, here is a list of the players the Royals acquired following the five-round Rule 4 draft:
- Saul Garza, C/DH, Louisiana State | Link | Scouting Report (No. 379 on BA 500)
- Kale Emshoff, C, Arkansas-Little Rock | Link | Scouting Report (No. 174 on BA 500)
- John McMillon, RHP, Texas Tech | Scouting Report (No. 357 on BA 500) | No. 3 on top undrafted seniors list
- A.J. Block, LHP, Washington State (No. 20 on Baseball America’s top undrafted seniors list)
- Tucker Bradley, OF, Georgia | Scouting Report (No. 317 on BA 500)
- Chase Wallace, RHP, Tennessee | Scouting Report (No. 440 on BA 500)
Emshoff seems to be the real prize of the bunch, as he is the highest ranked of any of the Royals’ signees and a power-hitting catcher who provides insurance should MJ Melendez not work out down the road. Emshoff was one of best players available on the market who wasn’t selected in the 2020 draft, as his stock took a hit due to missing 2019 due to Tommy John. Emshoff had gotten off to a hot start in 17 games with Arkansas-Little Rock, as he was posting a .417/.527/.800 slash before play was stopped due to COVID.
According to a piece from Lynn Worthy of the Kansas City Star, it was the genuine nature of the Royals scouting staff (specifically scout Matt Price) that convinced Emshoff to sign with the Royals over other organizations:
“Probably the one thing that stuck out the most was how they handled scouting me,” Emshoff said. “Matt Price was just awesome. What a great guy. He preached nothing but family. He wasn’t trying to sell me like a used car salesman. Some of the other clubs were saying, ‘We’ve got this, this, this and this, come here.’
“Matt and the Royals weren’t like that. They were like, ‘Hey, you know what you’re getting into. We’re a family. We don’t cut our minor-leaguers. We pay our minor-leaguers.’ It spoke loudly to me.”“How the Royals won the recruiting battle for a free agent with ‘light-tower power’” by Lynn Worthy; Kansas City Star; June 15th, 2019
In addition to the power-hitting Emshoff, the Royals also added some college positional talent with LSU catcher Saul Garza and Georgia outfielder Tucker Bradley. Garza has some power potential, but it will be interesting to see where he fits in terms of position at the professional level, for many prospect experts think that he won’t stick at catcher and most likely will transition to DH or first base. As for Bradley, he was having a tremendous 2020 with the Bulldogs, but unfortunately, he missed most of 2019 due to injury, and thus, saw his stock suffer due to the COVID shortened NCAA season in 2020. It is not out of the question to think that Bradley could have been a third or fourth round pick had the NCAA season fully played out.
Furthermore, Bradley’s swing may remind some Royals fans a former Royals first round draft pick.
With the remaining signings, Moore continued to stockpile the system with college arms, as Wallace from Tennessee, Block from Washington State, and McMillon from Texas Tech add valuable depth to the pitching corps in the Royals system, which already seemed deep enough after the draft. Furthermore, as college arms, they can advance through the system quickly, important considering that this will most likely be a lost year when it comes to Minor League play.
Without a doubt, the Royals have done their part to continue to stockpile talent in the Minor Leagues, which has seemed to be Moore and the Royals’ no. 1 priority since 2018. After years of trying to compete during that 2014-2017 window and being more active in the free agent market, Moore has gotten back to his roots as a general manager, and seems committed to building depth and talent in the Minor League system. And so far, it seems like Moore has done a good job in this area, as the system, which seemed pretty bare as recently as the start of 2018, has gotten a big boost from the past three drafts.
However, while Moore and the Royals have done their due diligence during this time of unprecedented stoppage, MLB unfortunately has not held their end of the bargain when it comes to ensuring that a 2020 season will actually happen. After declaring on draft night that “100 percent” a season would happen in 2020, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred backed up a little on his words after it seemed owners took offense to the MLBPA wanting to end negotiations and just “report” after the owners’ latest rejected offer.
As a Royals and baseball fan, the negotiations have certainly been disheartening. While the owners have certainly been frustrating through this process, and Manfred has lacked any kind of leadership or vision in this time as well, no sides have really come out looking good this summer. We should be having baseball being played at Kauffman and other MLB stadiums across the country. Instead, baseball fans continue to wait and see via Twitter and the news, as negotiations continue to stall, with the prospect of a season getting less and less likely by the day.
In many ways, the lack of a 2020 season would be a gut punch to Royals fans as well as the Royals organization as a whole. John Sherman took over ownership of this team and seemed intent on bringing back a winner to Kansas City. New manager Mike Matheny looked to have changed his tone a bit since his days as manager of the Cardinals, and seemed motivated to build a winning team on the field through the young talent in the organization. And the prospects in the system, especially Core Four pitching prospects (Singer, Lynch, Kowar and Bubic) seemed to be on their way in terms of development, as well as banging on the door when it came to pitching in Kansas City this season.
These are all stories that will be missed should baseball not happen in 2020. And there are many more too that I’m not mentioning or overlooking. Maybe Royals baseball wouldn’t have been much better record-wise in 2020 (and all simulations are sort of suggesting that too). Maybe the Royals would have been a 65-70 win team, ultimately, only a tiny improvement from the previous two years. But Royals fans won’t know, and will continue to never know should a select group of owners have their way and bury the season this summer. Just when Royals fans were starting to build a bit more hope after two lackluster seasons, MLB comes out and crushes those minute dreams, not just for Royals fans, but all MLB baseball fans in general.
At least Royals fans are used to these kinds of gut punches happening.