Royals 2016 Draft Review

The 2016 MLB Draft is now in the books. Time for some premature evaluation of this year’s picks. Of course in baseball, more than any other sport, draft picks carry not only talent, but a great deal of uncertainty with them to their new ball clubs. For some of the top picks, it will require several years of seasoning before they get their shot at the “bigs”. Unfortunately most picks will never make it to the highest level.

All that being said, it doesn’t hurt to examine the haul the Kansas City Royals reeled in this year. With their earliest selection coming at 67th overall, the Royals were in a position to take a look deep into the future in terms of adding future talent to their minor league system. Did they unearth a diamond in the rough? Let’s take a look at Kansas City’s first three draft selections.

Kansas City Royals 2016 Draft Review

Round 2, Pick 67: A.J. Puckett, RHP, Pepperdine

With their one and only pick during the first day of the draft, the Royals selected Pepperdine right-hander A.J. Puckett at 67th overall. Puckett is an intriguing prospect both on and off the field. He’s a 6’4″, 200 pound right-hander with a slightly slender frame that can perhaps grow just a bit. He features an above average fastball that can reach 94-95 MPH, but his forte is a near-plus changeup at 83-85 with fantastic movement. However, his third pitch, a curveball, is further behind his other two and might only peak at an average grade. Perhaps most notably, Puckett went 9-3 with a 1.27 ERA as a junior, posting the third-best ERA in West Coast Conference history. His season included a streak of 45 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, the third-longest streak in college baseball history.

There is some variance on what Puckett may become. If he brings his command more in line and his curveball comes around, he’s a fourth, possibly third starter. The more likely outcome, though, is that the command improves a bit to become average, and there is a slight bump in his curveball to get it up to average as well. That’s more of a bullpen piece or a fifth starter.

Off the field, Puckett is an amazing story. He once was a promising football player in high school until one day while “horsing around” he hit his head. This led to Puckett suffering a left partial hematoma, and doctors decided to induce him into a coma while the swelling and clotting healed. Then he had small plates inserted into his skull. His football career was over at that point, and he turned to baseball full time.

Way-Too-Early Grade: B+

Round 3, pick 103: Khalil Lee, OF/LHP, Flint Hill HS

After selecting right-hander A.J. Puckett with their first pick in the Draft on Thursday, the Royals selected another pitcher with their second, only this time they expect him to play in the outfield. Lee, who is the 149th-ranked prospect on MLBPipeline.com’s Top 200 list, has a commitment to play college baseball at Liberty.

An athletic two-way player many initially thought more of as an outfield prospect, Lee has been getting much more traction on the mound. While Lee is just 5-foot-10, he is a terrific athlete with a delivery that works. He’s seen his velocity spike, topping out at 94 MPH. He backs up his fastball with a solid average slider and a developing changeup. He has shown an ability to stay around the strike zone. Lee was 7-0, tallied two saves, had a 0.33 ERA and recorded eighty-seven strikeouts. Offensively, the Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year hit .471, hit six home runs, and drove in thirty-seven runs. Before the draft, Lee had worked out with the Royals as well as the San Diego Padres.

Way-Too-Early Grade: C+

Round 4, pick 133: Jace Vines, RHP, Texas A&M

In the fourth round, the Royals selected another pitcher, taking Texas A&M right-hander Vines with the 133rd pick. After a season at Tyler Junior College, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound pitcher had his ups and downs. He went 6-1 in eleven starts at A&M, recording a 4.87 ERA. He averaged just under one strikeout per inning. Vines’ numbers were better across the board as a first-year player in JUCO. As a 20-year-old, he went 10-1 with a 1.77 ERA, giving up nearly seven hits per nine innings. The right-hander has some solid off-speed pitches, and he will look to round out his game at the next level. It’s possible that he may get a chance at a starting role in the minors but he will more than likely be asked to come out of the bullpen.

Way-Too-Early Grade: C+

The Royals came in at second-to-last with the 67th pick to make their first selection. Taking a pair of outfielders with its first five picks was questionable, but Kansas City still landed a nice player in Puckett. The pair of outfielders could provide a bolstered positional depth in the minor league system as well as contribute with some sort of trade value. Only time will tell if any of these young athletes will become a major piece of the Royals organization.

Overall Grade: B-

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