CHICAGO | The clock is ticking.
The Royals now have less than two days to sign their two prize picks in the June draft — first baseman Eric Hosmer, taken with the third overall selection; and pitcher Tim Melville, who fell to the fourth round because of signability concerns.
The deadline is 11 p.m. Central time Friday.
Negotiations with Hosmer, represented by Scott Boras, remain difficult to assess, but all signs point to a likely deal with Melville, a right-hander ranked as the nation’s 15th best prospect in Baseball America’s pre-draft rankings.
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“That could go down to the last minute, too,” scouting director Deric Ladnier warned, “but I think both sides are comfortable where we are, and it will get done.”
Indications suggest Melville, from Holt High School in Wentzville, Mo., is likely to receive a bonus in line with a pick midway through the first round. If so, that would be about $1.5 million.
Hosmer is one of 10 first-round picks still unsigned and is generally regarded as the draft’s best projection power hitter at 6 feet 4 and 215 pounds.
It appears several players, like Melville, have the framework of an agreement in place. The White Sox signed shortstop Gordon Beckham, the eighth overall pick, before Wednesday’s game at U.S. Cellular Field.
Beckham’s deal for $2.6 million could set the benchmark for talks involving other college juniors but figures to have little impact on the Royals’ negotiations with Hosmer.
“We’re going to do everything we can as an organization to get it done,” Ladnier said. “I would anticipate it would go down to the deadline — like last year.”
The Royals signed shortstop Mike Moustakas, the second overall pick, to a $4 million bonus last year just minutes before the deadline.
Major League Baseball’s suggested slot value this year for the third overall pick is $3 million, but Boras is believed to be seeking a package worth more than $6 million.
Shortstop Tim Beckham, the first overall pick, received a $6.15 million bonus from Tampa Bay. None of the other top-five picks have signed.
The Royals would receive a compensatory draft pick if they fail to sign Hosmer, either the fourth or fifth pick in the 2009 draft, depending on whether Pittsburgh is able to sign third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the second overall pick.
There is no compensation for failing to sign a fourth-round pick.
Hosmer and Melville are both high-school seniors. If they don’t sign and choose to attend a four-year college, they are ineligible to re-enter the draft until they complete their junior year or turn 21 years old.
Both players have been offered scholarships: Hosmer to Arizona State; Mehlville to North Carolina. They could make themselves eligible for the 2009 draft by opting to attend a junior college.
Reliever Leo Nuñez marks his 25th birthday today as he works to regain his early-season form after spending nearly two months on the disabled list because of a strained muscle in his upper back.
“He’s starting to get there as far as getting down in the zone,” pitching coach Bob McClure said. “There’s always a question in your mind when you first come back as to whether you’re OK or not.”
Nuñez yielded one run Wednesday in his only inning after replacing Luke Hochevar in a 4-0 loss to the White Sox. That makes six earned runs and 17 hits in 10 1/3 innings in eight appearances since his July 21 return.
“Early in the season,” he said, “I was able to get the ball down (nearly) all of the time. That’s what I’m working on every day, to keep the ball down.”
Nuñez still remains on pace for the best season of his career, despite his recent slump, at 3-1 with seven holds and a 2.87 ERA in 30 appearances.
“When he first came back,” McClure said, “he was (landing) way back on his heel, and everything was up. We just tried to get back to landing flat and keeping the ball down. He’s not throwing as hard, but he’s pitching better.”
Two more suspensions
Two more players from the Royals’ minor-league system received 50-game suspensions from the Commissioner’s Office after testing positive for performance-enhancing substances.
Tests on catcher Juan Fortuna and pitcher Juan Garcia of the organization’s team in the Dominican Summer League found Boldenone.
The suspensions came one day after Class A Burlington pitcher Victor Jorge received a 50-game ban for testing positive for Stanozolol. Minor-league suspensions take effect immediately and are not subject to appeal.
Fortuna, 18, was batting .246 with no homers and 15 RBIs in 47 games. Garcia, 20, was 0-5 with three saves and a 3.82 ERA in 13 games. Both players were signed last year as non-drafted free agents.
Lefty reliever Ron Mahay is available for duty, manager Trey Hillman said, after experiencing no day-after pain in his left foot following Tuesday’s light throwing session.
Mahay hasn’t pitched since Aug. 6 because of plantar fascia, which causes pain in the bottom of his foot and his heel.
“Worst-case scenario,” Hillman said, “I’ve got it in the back of my mind, that if we get him up, and he feels it for any reason, we’ll shut him down and get somebody else up.”
Outfielder Paulo Orlando is seven for 14 in his first three games at Class A Wilmington since arriving in the trade that sent left-handed reliever Horacio Ramirez to the White Sox.
Orlando, 22, has three doubles, a triple and two home runs. He also has scored six runs and driven in three — all against his former club, Winston-Salem. He is batting .269 overall with 11 homers and 46 RBIs in 115 games.
John Buck’s hitless streak reached 25 at-bats when he went zero for three.
David DeJesus went zero for four and is just one for 16 in five games since returning from a five-game absence caused by a sore lower back and a sore left ankle.
Billy Butler had two of the Royals’ five hits. He is seven for 17 in his career against Mark Buehrle after going two for three.
The Royals have lost six of their last seven games.