Sometime around 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the Royals will be on the clock with a 4 1/2-minute window to make the eighth selection in Major League Baseball’s annual First-Year Player Draft.
They can only guess, at this point, who might be available.
Assistant general manager J.J. Picollo, who oversees the club’s scouting and player development operations, and his staff have put together a “board,” of course, that ranks hundreds of prospects.
And in one sense, it’s simple: You take the player highest on your list who remains available. That is fundamentally true for every team — after the first round or two.
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The early round, particularly picks at the top of the first round, often hinges on signability issues and the restrictions imposed by the signing bonus pool allotments. For these picks, intrigue is often an integral part of the process.
Or as Picollo said: “One pick can throw the whole thing into a tailspin with this system in place.”
Disinformation is rampant prior to the draft -- not aimed so much at the public in general, but rather at the prospects and their advisors (and also opposing clubs). All done in the hope of increasing negotiating leverage.
This much seems clear, however: All sorts of questions exist among the top-rated prospects.
For example: Most scouts cite college pitchers Jonathan Gray (Oklahoma) and Mark Appel (Stanford) as the top two prospects.
But Gray recently tested positive for Adderall, a legal stimulant but one banned by baseball without prescription. Will that information, which surfaced in a routine pre-draft drug test, affect his status?
Appel rejected a slotted offer last year from Pittsburgh by returning for a senior season to Stanford. His advisor, Scott Boras, continues to push for an above-slot bonus.
A team can over-pay Appel but doing so reduces its bonus-pool dollars for subsequent picks. It remains uncertain what, if any, leverage Boras has in negotiating for Appel, but clubs might opt to avoid the headache.
And ... the longer Appel remains on the board, the lower the slotted bonus money becomes. Example, let’s say he remains available, for whatever reason, when the Royals pick, here’s the question:
If Appel/Boras are viewed as troublesome for teams with the top two picks -- Houston ($7.8 million in slotted money) and the Chicago Cubs ($6.7 million) — do the Royals take him with their $3.1 million slotted bonus?
San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant is generally viewed as the best college hitter, but he struggled recently in an NCAA regional tournament. That could cause clubs to hesitate a bit. Probably not, but who knows?
The draft’s top high school players appear to be two Georgia outfielders, Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows, and pitcher Kohl Stewart from Houston. But projections, even by veteran scouts, on 18-year-olds often vary widely.
High school seniors also have the option to choose college, in hopes of securing a bigger bonus in three years, if they don’t like the offer presented by the club selecting them.
That’s where signability really comes into play because the rules prevent clubs from banking bonus-pool dollars by not signing players. Instead, the slotted amount simply is subtracted from their total pool.
This is the second year that baseball operated with bonus-pool allotments, and many observers expect more clubs picking early in the first round to seek agreements with players projected as mid-round picks.
Doing so will leave more cash available for subsequent picks.
Houston did that last year in selecting shortstop Carlos Correa with the first overall pick after negotiating a $4.8 million bonus — significantly less than the $7.2 million slotted amount.
That left extra cash for the Astros to sign high school pitcher Lance McCullers in the supplemental first round for $2.5 million when the slotted bonus was roughly half of that amount.
It’s unlikely McCullers would have signed for the slotted amount.
One player to watch Thursday night is catcher Reese McGuire, a high school senior from Washington. Most projections rank him as the No. 10-15 prospect, but he is the draft’s top catching prospect (a premium position).
The slotted bonus for No. 10-15 picks ranges, roughly, from $2.4 to $2.9 million. But say a top-five team -- let’s use the Twins, who pick fourth, as an example -- selects McGuire.
The slotted bonus for the fourth pick is a little over $4.5 million.
That means the Twins could give McGuire more than his projected slotted amount (as a No. 10-15 pick) and still have money to overspend on later picks to lure a player away from college.
One such pick, as Picollo noted, can force clubs with subsequent picks into a quick reassessment scramble -- very quick; a maximum of 4 ½ minutes, remember, between first-round selections.
The Royals, privately, don’t expect Gray, Appel, Bryant, Frazier, Meadows or Stewart to be available when their turn comes. If not, they seem likely to choose a pitcher. The Star identified six possibilities earlier this week.
But things happen.
The 2011 draft featured four high-profile pitchers, and the Royals, picking fifth, anticipated getting one. Instead, all four were gone, and the Royals selected outfielder Bubba Starling.
Two years earlier, the Royals had pitcher Aaron Crow as the No. 2 prospect on their board but, picking ninth, spent little time discussing him. When Crow remained available, they grabbed him.
“You try to be prepared,” Picollo said. “We’re working at it. I know some people say the talent is down this year, but we think there’s going to be just as many big leaguers out of this draft as in past drafts.
“In the end, I think it’s going to end up being a draft like every other draft.”
In short, the Royals aren’t sure what to expect from the clubs drafting in front of them -- the Astros, Cubs, Rockies, Twins, Indians, Marlins and Red Sox. Like everyone else, they’ll have to wait and see.