The MLB Amateur Draft is one of the biggest crapshoots in sports. Ken Griffey Jr. was the first number one overall draft pick to make the MLB Hall of Fame last year. Often times, first round picks never pan out. Albert Pujols, one of the games best all-time hitters, was a 13th round pick back in 1999, number 402 overall. There are busts and hidden gems every year and MLB GMs can only hope to draft the right guys. Dayton Moore said in an interview earlier this year, I believe on 610 Sports Radio in KC, that the Royals will add about 75 guys during the summer, through the draft and free agent signings, and that they hope three, THREE, make it to the big leagues.
In order to have a successful MLB team, you have to nail some early picks, like KC did with Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, etc., and get a little lucky with some later picks and free agent signings. The Royals have had some weird luck with some of those later picks lately, particularly in the 29th round. Let’s take a look at 4 players in particular.
#1. Jakob Junis – 2011
Junis is the obvious place to start here, as he recently made the best start of his MLB career against the Seattle Mariners in Kansas City. Junis, a 29th round pick in the 2011 MLB draft out of Rock Falls HS in Illinois, has been a dynamite late round pick for the Royals. Junis has struggled some throughout his minor league career, but has really turned it on in the last couple of years. Junis has an ERA of 2.92 for the Omaha Storm Chasers in 2017, with 86 K in 71 IP. In 2016, Junis posted an ERA of 3.25 and struck out 117 in 119 IP. I’d argue that Junis ought to make Cahill’s next start this season, but Junis definitely figures to factor into the Royals starting rotation in 2018.
#2. Vance Vizcaino – 2014
Alright…I’m cheating a little bit here. Vizcaino was drafted by KC in the 29th round in 2014, but he didn’t sign. Vizcaino is in the KC system though, because he was redrafted by KC in the 2016 MLB Draft in the 11th round out of Stetson. This may be cherry picking a little bit, but the Royals obviously saw something in Vizcaino back in 2014, and well, they were right.
Vizcaino is currently hitting .308 for the Royals Low-A affiliate, the Lexington Legends. He’s hitting .375 over his last 10 games and has been kind of impressive in his 2 years in the Royals organization. I’m not sure what Vizcaino’s ceiling is, but he’s definitely played well after being a Royals 29th round draft pick.
#3. Grant Gavin – 2016
No cherry picking here. Gavin was the Royals 29th round pick last season out the University of Central Missouri (#RollStable) and has absolutely dominated in his time on the Royals farm. He’s been an All-Star in both seasons, and was named the AZL Royals pitcher of the year in 2016 after posting an ERA of 2.01 in 13 appearances, including 4 starts. He’s been strictly a reliever in 2017, but has posted an impressive 1.82 ERA in 30 appearances between Low and High-A. He’s struck out 69 batters and walked only 22 in 54.1 IP in 2017, and has also recorded 8 saves. Gavin features a low-mid 90’s fastball that can be dominant at times, but also throws an absolute hammer of a curveball that is completely unhittable when he’s throwing it right. Gavin may be looking at one more promotion in 2017, but should start the 2018 season in AA-Northwest Arkansas. He definitely has the potential to be a major league reliever, and could be in KC sooner rather than later if he keeps dominating hitters the way he has been. ETA: 2019.
#4. Travis Jones – 2017
I gotta be honest with ya, I had no idea who Travis Jones was before the Royals drafted him this season. The former Texas Longhorn was a highly touted prospect out of high school, but struggled a bit with Texas late in the season, and his batting average dropped down to .253 at the end of the season.
He is not hitting .253 in professional baseball. Travis Jones is hitting .420 across 3 levels of minor league baseball in 2017. He’s currently hitting .397 for the Idaho Falls Chukars, with an OBP of .465. 2 months of minor league baseball isn’t something to get too excited about, but he’s definitely a name to keep an eye on when the Royals Top 30 Prospects list rolls out for 2018.
There are funny quirks all over the game of baseball. The Royals recent success drafting in the 29th round is just another one of those quirks. There’s no guarantee that we’ll see Vizcaino, Gavin, or Jones with the big league club, but they sure are helping their own causes with their performances on the Royals Farm.