First round has been productive for the Royals

As the Royals finish up preparation for Monday’s 2012 First-Year Player Draft (5 p.m. Central), they should be going in with plenty of confidence and momentum

The Royals, who pick fifth overall this year, have not whiffed on their first pick for almost a decade – no small matter when you’re talking about baseball’s annual crap shoot.

The last true miss was high school outfielder Chris Lubanski, taken fifth overall in the 2003 draft. Lubanski worked his way up to Triple-A, but washed out with the Royals after the 2009 season.

Since then the Royals have used their first pick to build the core of their 2012 team:

2004: Designated hitter Billy Butler has been exactly as advertised when he was drafted: A can’t-miss hitter and a doubles machine who this year is showing enough home-run power (11) to threaten the club record (36).

2005: Left fielder Alex Gordon turned his career around last season, hitting .303 and winning a Gold Glove.

2006: Right-hander Luke Hochevar still shows signs he could be a solid No. 3 man in the rotation.

2007: Third baseman Mike Moustakas is emerging as one of the premier all-around third basemen in the league.

2008: First baseman Eric Hosmer wowed everyone with a great rookie season in 2011 and though he is off to a slow start in 2012, few doubt he’ll be a dominant hitter down the road.

2009: Right-hander Aaron Crow  was an All-Star last season as a rookie, and may either be a rotation candidate in the future or a closer.

There may be more first-round help on the way.

Christian Colon, a middle infielder, was the Royals’ first pick in 2010 and is coming around offensively (.286 through Sunday) at Class AA Northwest Arkansas. He likely will be promoted to Class AAA Omaha later this summer.
Last year’s top Royals pick, outfielder Bubba Starling, is preparing to start short-season rookie ball in a few weeks.

“Sure, we’re proud of what we’ve done in that first round,” said Royals general manager Dayton Moore, who took over in 2006 but didn’t get involved in the draft until 2007.

“It’s no secret that we have to do things through the draft. We have to pick the right player and then develop him. That’s the only plan that will work for us and our scouting department has done a great job of finding the right players, whether it’s in the first round or later.”

This year, the Royals will pick behind Houston, Minnesota, Seattle and Baltimore, and the big debate in the Royals’ war room will be whether to take a soon-to-be-ready college pitcher or the best non-pitching prospect available.

Naturally, Moore isn’t tipping his hand.

“The philosophy doesn’t change in terms of taking the best player available,” Moore said. “We’ve got the fifth pick overall. You have to just take the best guy on the board.

“But having said that, we’ve always tried to focus on pitching. I think last year we took 10 pitchers with our first 18 picks. You have to focus there because the truth is, not many pan out. You try to combat that with drafting as many quality pitchers as you can.”

The baseball draft gurus seem to think outfielder Byron Buxton of Appling County (Ga.) High School will go first to Houston.

From there, several top college pitchers are expected to be picked, and the Royals will hold their breath that one of them will fall to No. 5. Some mock drafts (yes, there are baseball mock drafts) have University of San Francisco right-hander Kyle Zimmer, a junior, falling to the Royals.

Zimmer, who is 6 feet 4, 220, throws in the mid-90s and has a terrific over-the-top curve. He is from an athletic family – his dad played baseball at the University of California-San Diego and his mom ran track for San Diego State.

Zimmer is 5-3 with a 2.85 ERA this season for San Francisco and has struck out 104 hitters in 88 innings.

“I’ve seen it reported that we’re going to take (a college pitcher),” Moore said. “But really, you just wait to see what’s there when your turn comes up. Like I said, with the fifth pick, you’ve got to take the best guy there, no matter the position.”

Because of baseball’s new slotting system, the Royals will have up to $3.5 million to spend on their first pick and a little more than $6 million to spend on their first 10 picks. Teams that exceed those caps face a levy or a forfeiture of a future first-round pick, depending on the severity of the over-spending.