The 2018 MLB Draft means more for the Royals than most clubs. It’s one of those pivotal drafts that will either launch the club into a rapid rebuild or prolong “the process” of getting the Royals back to respectability. Most commentators agree that the Royals have a few promising position player prospects already, especially in the low minors (Khalil Lee, Nick Pratto, M.J. Melendez, Seuly Matias, Gabriel Cancel, Rudy Martin). According to MLB Pipeline, all of their top-five, and eight of their top-10, prospects are position players. What they lack is pitching.
While I don’t think the Royals need to focus only on pitching with the four picks they have in the top 40, it’s a safe bet that they’ll spend at least a couple high picks to restock their barren pitching cupboard.
With that in mind, I’m going to take a look at some of the pitchers who may be available when the Royals pick at 18, 31, 33, and 39. Because there are roughly 20 pitchers who look like mid-to-late first round pitchers (depending on who you ask), I’ll break it up into chunks of four. Here are four pitchers the Royals might take in the first round in June in no particular order.
Ryan Weathers – LHP – Loretto High School
Weathers carries a semi-famous name. His dad David Weathers was a big league pitcher, and the polish of being a big leaguer’s son is apparent in Weathers’ game. Like his dad, Weathers doesn’t wow anyone with his athleticism, but he has a fairly simple delivery with a three-quarter arm slot. Like many young pitchers, he gets in trouble when his tempo gets too quick, complicated by a high leg kick that will be an issue with runners on base.
He competes with two plus pitches, a fastball that sits 91-94 which may tick up a bit, and a curveball in the mid-70s with late break.
His advanced command and pitching approach give commentators a sense that Weathers has a high floor with the ceiling of a solid number two pitcher. He’ll probably never be Clayton Kershaw, but Jon Lester seems like a good comp for his ultimate potential.
Logan Gilbert – RHP – Stetson University
Gilbert rose to prominence with a breakout sophomore campaign and a stellar performance in the Cape Cod League in 2017 where he threw 37.1 innings with a 1.93 ERA and 39 strikeouts against just six walks.
Scouts look at him and see a prototypical pitcher’s body, 6’5”, 200lbs with long arms and legs that demand less effort and allow him to whip the ball in from an arm slot that’s near straight over the top. He’s got a mid-90s fastball and potential plus offerings in his slider and changeup.
One of the biggest points in Gilbert’s favor is that he’s performed well this season despite high expectations. He’s currently 7-1 with a 2.69 ERA over 70.1 innings. In that time, he’s struck out 101 while only walking 15. Evaluators like consistency, and Gilbert looks like the type of pitcher who isn’t going to lose his mechanics and end up walking the whole lineup.
Kumar Rocker – RHP – North Oconee High School
At this point, Rocker may be rising too high to reasonably fall to the Royals. He’s the type of prospect scouts were bound to fall for because he has rare athleticism, electric stuff, and an effortless delivery. The son of former NFL defensive lineman Tracy Rocker, Kumar’s built like a he could play on Sundays (6’5”, 250lbs). His body reminds me of a young Bartolo Colon. If you remember back before he became “Big Sexy,” Colon used his extremely powerful legs to pump high 90s fastballs by people at will. Rocker does the same thing.
When he throws his fastball with proper mechanics, it has nice arm-side movement that will bare in on right handed hitters at 96-98. When he doesn’t, it straitens out and gets more hittable than a high-90s fastball should be. His slider is plus at times (too loopy for my taste at other times), and if he gets more consistent with his mechanics should be a devastating pitch coupled with his fastball. The changeup is an also-ran right now because he never has to use it but should develop in time.
The most important thing for Rocker’s development will be the consistency of his mechanics. Right now, they get a little off at times, and it shows, as he has a tendency to lose his command.
Cole Wilcox – RHP – Heritage High School
Georgia high school baseball is showing out with their pitching crop this year. Wilcox will probably be the third Georgia high school pitcher to go in the first round, and he, Rocker, and Ethan Hankins may all go in the top-15. While Wilcox doesn’t throw as hard as Rocker or Hankins right now, scouts love his athleticism and advanced pitching approach. He’s got a very loose arm, which should put some scouts at ease when they think of his slightly unconventional delivery.
He sits primarily 90-93 with his fastball, but with his large frame, loose arm, and athleticism, it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets into the 93-95 range consistently as he develops. HIs changeup and slider look like potential plus offerings, especially if he can consistently repeat his mechanics. Bottom line, he looks like a projectable pitcher. Scouts look at him and think the best is yet to come. His delivery probably worries some people a little, but they won’t pass up on a guy with this type of arm, athleticism, and stuff.