Let’s put the disclaimer right up front. We don’t know who the Royals are going to take Monday with the fifth overall pick in what Major League Baseball officially calls the First-Year Player Draft.
That’s partly because the Royals don’t know either — more accurately, they don’t know what the four teams ahead of them are going to do. It was just last year that Seattle scrambled numerous draft boards by making an unexpected choice with the second pick.
And the Mariners, this year, have the third overall pick behind Houston and Minnesota and just ahead of Baltimore. So who knows?
But there is also gamesmanship and no shortage of disinformation in the final days coming from the clubs themselves. That stems from a desire to keep other clubs from learning their preferences but also to limit the expectations of players and their agents.
It is why Royals general manager Dayton Moore can say, with nearly a straight face, that he expects his club to select a high school shortstop. While there is one among the draft’s top tier of talent — Puerto Rico’s Carlos Correa — the Royals need pitching.
Specifically, they need an advanced college pitcher whose development track to the big leagues can conceivably be measured in months instead of years.
Scouts generally agree that this year’s draft offers three such possibilities: Stanford’s Mark Appel, Louisiana State’s Kevin Gausman and San Francisco’s Kyle Zimmer. All three are right-handed.
The question is this: Will any of the three be available when the Royals’ turn arrives?
Almost certainly, Appel will be gone. Most draft projections show Houston selecting him with the first pick. Those that don’t show him unlikely to fall past Minnesota at No. 2, but the general view is either Gausman or Zimmer — maybe both — will be available.
If so, Moore and his lieutenants are unlikely to look elsewhere. If, however, Gausman and Zimmer are both off the board, the Royals face a decision:
Do they pick a pitcher from the next tier, such as Texas A&M right-hander Michael Wacha or Duke right-hander Marcus Stroman?
Or do they shift gears and pick the best non-pitcher available? That’s what they did last year when, also picking fifth, they saw the draft’s top four pitching prospects snapped up before their turn came.
A year ago, the Royals turned to outfielder Bubba Starling, a multi-sport athlete from Gardner, Kan. This year, it might be Correa. Or it could be Florida catcher Mike Zunino or, if he somehow drops to five, Byron Buxton, a high school outfielder from Georgia.
Just remember, despite what anyone says, nobody really knows at this point.