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 looking at some of the pitchers who may be available when the Royals pick at 18, 31, 33, and 39 (to get caught up read part one of this series). Because there are roughly 20 pitchers who look like mid-to-late first round pitchers (depending on who you ask), I’m breaking it up into chunks of four. Here are four pitchers the Royals might take with their first four picks in June in no particular order.
Cole Winn – RHP – Orange Lutheran High School
Winn is rising on draft boards right now. He was mocked to the Royals at 18 by 2080 Baseball, but honestly he may go before that if he stays consistent until June. He’s filled out in the last year, which should put some scouts’ minds at ease, and he’s consistently throwing his fastball in the 90-94 range.
His big-ticket pitch is a curveball that flashes plus with tilt that makes it more of a 1-to-7 than true 12-to-6. With more consistency, it’s a 60-grade pitch. He’s got an above average slider and potentially average changeup, as well.
The big question with Winn is how much development is left in him. Right now, his ceiling looks like a future 2 starter, but if there’s something more to unlock, if he can turn his changeup into a plus pitch or if he’s capable of plus command or if he adds more velocity, he may have ace potential. But it’s tough to see those developments in him right now.
Ethan Hankins – RHP – Forsyth Central High School
I never thought I’d be writing about Hankins as a potential pick for the Royals, but here we are. Hankins’ fall from the top of the draft board is a textbook example of the precarious nature of prep pitchers. No matter how much heat someone has (and Hankins had about as much as anyone can), scouts still know very little about what will happen to 17 and 18-year-olds in the next few months (let alone years). Hankins was supposed to be a top-5 pick, maybe even 1-1, but a shoulder injury, and some lackluster performances in his return from it, have spooked scouts.
When he’s not fighting off a shoulder thing, Hankins’ stuff is electric. He probably has the best fastball among the prep pitchers, sitting mid-90s and touching 98 with tremendous life. The delivery looks smooth and low effort thanks to his big, 6’6” frame. Basically, he just lays his arm out there and a 98 mph fastball explodes out of it. His changeup is his best secondary pitch, which I always like in a prospect (less pressure on the elbow). His curveball and slider aren’t there yet, but he only needs to develop an average breaking pitch if his fastball stays electric and his changeup becomes plus. If he finds an above average breaking pitch, he’ll have ace stuff.
Hankins scares scouts because he was phenomenal in the summer and struggled early in the spring with an injury, though he seems to be back on track lately. That said, it’d still be surprising if he falls to the Royals. Keith Law still thinks he won’t make it out of the top-10. If the Royals luck into him, they’ll have to pay him over slot to get him to walk away from a commitment to Vanderbilt, which means they’ll have to do some interesting things with their compensatory picks.
Mason Denaburg – RHP – Merritt Island High School
Alex Duvall posted a detailed look at Denaburg earlier this year. Denaburg is a stellar athlete who fits the bill of a true project. He’s a collegiate quality football player (as a kicker and punter) and a collegiate quality catcher, as well. But all of those interests have kept him from focusing on pitching until recently, and scouts aren’t sure how tough a sign he’ll be with the opportunity to go to Florida and maybe play football and baseball.
What Denaburg has going for him is that he throws really freakin’ hard—mid-90s, touching 97. There isn’t a ton of movement on that fastball, but that’s another thing on the list of things that make him a project. Denaburg’s more of a great athlete who throws really hard than he is a pitcher right now, which may have led to the injury that shut him down this spring. Scouts may be too worried about the bicep injury he had (and the resulting drop in velocity) to take a chance on him in the first round. He has a curveball and changeup. His curveball flashes but is wildly inconsistent. His changeup is nothing remarkable.
Denaburg is high risk, high reward, and with the Royals track record developing pitching … well, think of that what you will. He won’t move quickly through any organization, and he may struggle in the minors until he develops better command and secondary pitches. He may also be a tough sign with his commitment to Florida and the lure of playing both baseball and football.
Konnor Pilkington – LHP – Mississippi State University
Pilkington will probably be around for the Royals compensation picks. He’s got a prototypical pitcher’s frame at 6’3”, 225, but his stuff isn’t electric. It’s just solid. Electric stuff means you go in the first round. Solid stuff, plus good results and solid mechanics, means you go just after the first round.
Pilkington throws from a high, three-quarter arm slot and sits 89-91 with his fastball. He doesn’t have a particularly loose or strong arm so his motion, while consistent, doesn’t generate the type of leverage you’d imagine someone with his dimensions might. It looks like he has really long legs even for a 6’3” guy but shorter arms. Maybe if he had longer arms he’d throw harder. His slider and changeup are both average pitches.
Pilkington’s ceiling is as an innings eating number 3 starter. There isn’t much to unlock with him so he may move quickly through the minors.
Photo Credits: Brian Paglia