Weekend (and a Day) in Review: Confusing Draft Picks, More Losses and Salvy's Derby

Only two games from the weekend, but we still have plenty to discuss.

If you don’t follow me on Twitter or missed it, you might be wondering why the Weekend in Review is coming out on a Tuesday instead of a Monday. No, it’s not the All-Star break messing with schedules. It’s cold medicines. I found myself starting to feel bad Saturday and then being full-blown sick on Sunday. So I took some cold medicine on Sunday night and settled in to start writing but that stuff knocked me out real good. I don’t recall cold medicines every doing that to me before. But anyway, better late than never, right?

With the Seventh Pick, the Royals Select…Who?

Boy did that shape up perfectly for the Royals. The draft featured four high school shortstops who could have all been picked in the top five or six and had Kumar Rocker. After the Red Sox took Marcelo Mayer at four and the Diamondbacks took Jordan Lawlar at six, the Royals had their pick of Kahlil Watson (not my favorite), Brady House and Rocker. It was sort of reminiscent of 2020 when they had their choice of Asa Lacy and Austin Martin. So it was just a matter of which player they’d pick.

And they took Frank Mozzicato, a high school lefty from East Catholic High School in Ellington, Connecticut.

What?

I wrote about first round possibilities for the Royals and some players I might like to see them take a little later on in the draft. I’d read about Mozzicato and actually liked his stuff, but I figured he’d be gone before the Royals second pick at 43, so I didn’t spend much time on him. I suppose I was right. He was not there at 43, so score one for me? The first reaction from the Royals faithful, at least on Twitter and Reddit, was mostly vitriol. And I get it. I totally get it. I wasn’t angry as much as I was just confused.

So let’s break this down a little. The pick was obviously made with signability in mind to be able to go get someone who demands a little more later. I don’t have a problem with that in general. It’s exactly what they did in 2013 when they took Hunter Dozier with the eighth pick and then Sean Manaea with the 34th pick. But nine picks is a long, long time in a draft. One thought was that maybe this was setting up for Ty Madden to fall, but he was picked by the Tigers. Another thought was Jay Allen, but he was picked by the Reds. You can see why this is riskier and riskier with every pick you have to wait. If the Royals had a pick in the first competitive balance round, I’d have been much more on board.

And then with the board setting up well for the Royals with their first pick of Day 2, they took Ben Kudrna. Kudrna is a perfectly reasonable pick in that spot, but not when your first pick hints at saving money for a splash later and Will Taylor still on the board. At 66 and 78, they had more shots at Taylor (or someone of his ilk) and took perfectly acceptable picks for the slots Peyton Wilson and Carter Jensen respectively. It just doesn’t seem to make sense with the first round strategy. And then we’ve already seen that Rocker agreed to a $6 million deal, which is about $570k over slot at seven. It seems with the Royals picks yesterday, they could have done that.

While nothing is a sure thing in the MLB draft, the industry is rarely all wrong about a player. The highest pre-draft ranking for Mozzicato was 21 by Kiley McDaniel. That’s quite a stretch just to take a high school position player who you may like, but doesn’t have the track record of, say, Rocker. It feels like the organization zigged when everyone else was zagging, which I suppose is fine, but I just don’t like it without following up with a splash yesterday.

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And here’s the thing. This may end up looking smart in the end. I’ll get to the actual pick of Mozzicato in a minute, but he may end up being really good. And Taylor may be too. And in six years, the Royals may be playing with a winning record in mid-July with Mozzicato on the mound and Taylor in center field, both All-Stars and the Royals can look back on this and rub our noses in it. But my issue here is that it’s a flawed process. We talk a lot about process over results and while we’ll take the results, a bad process will eventually bury you.

Who is Frank Mozzicato?

For all the hand-wringing over the actual pick, the Royals did get a very talented player in the draft at the top. He’s a tall lefty who has an outstanding feel for pitching and an even better curve with some serious spin. His fastball is a work in progress, but velocity can be added. It currently sits in the low-90s and has touched 94. You’d really like to see him sit 92-94 and be able to touch 96, but he’s young and that could come with some development (don’t laugh!). Scouts like his changeup enough, but there’s some work to be done on it.

What scouts really like about him, other than the very good curve, is that he repeats his delivery well and has good makeup. I don’t know much about the latter, but the former will certainly help with command, which the Royals seem to lack across all levels with their pitchers. Mozzicato threw four consecutive no-hitters during his high school season, which is at least a nice feather in his cap even if the competition isn’t anywhere near what he’ll see on the complex fields when he gets his first taste of pro ball.

My take is that I like that they added Mozzicato to the organization, but I hate who they passed on to take him, no matter what the subsequent rounds brought for them. They were handed some of the top options in the draft on a silver platter and chose to forego them for something entirely different. And given the troubles they have had with prep pitchers (okay, all pitches) in their development, it just seems like a pick that could have been spent in a smarter way. Again, time will tell here, but I really just don’t like playing the games they obviously played with this draft.

The Games

Thankfully, the Royals were rained out on Sunday, so we were only subjected to them losing two games over the weekend instead of all three. With Salvador Perez nursing a sore back and Carlos Santana likely feeling the effects of his hand hurting after a Hunter Dozier throw got it caught with a runner, both were out of the lineup. Just take a look at this:

That’s the sort of lineup that everyone complains about and then scores 12 runs. Or maybe gets shut out. Either way. Glad we didn’t have to see it.

Friday - Indians 2, Royals 1

Has Brad Keller finally turned a corner? It’s a question that many will scoff at due to the season he’s had, but it’s a fair question after his really, really strong start on Friday night against the Indians. I know the Indians can’t really hit, but they did score a bunch of runs on Saturday, so they’re at least capable. But Keller had them guessing and off balance all night long and had double digit swinging strikes for the second straight start and the seventh time all season.

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Through three, Keller struck out two per inning. In the second, he did fight his control a bit, walking the first two and then giving up an RBI single, but with two on and one out, he struck out the next two batters to get out of the inning. And from there, he really just cruised. He retired 13 batters in a row before walking Jose Ramirez in the sixth. He gave up a single in the seventh, but nothing more. And then he actually pitched into the eighth inning.

Of course, that’s where things got weird. With the game tied on a Jorge Soler home run (I’ll get to that), Keller gave up two singles to start the inning, putting runners on first and third with nobody out. That, friends, is called a sticky situation. Amed Rosario came up to the plate and hit a ground ball to shortstop. Nicky Lopez came home and, well, just watch for yourselves:

Okay, so James Hoye screwed up, first and foremost. The rule is that when if a base is occupied by two (or three, I guess) runners, the lead runner stakes claim to the base. Which means that Cesar Hernandez on third is out and Daniel Johnson gets to stay on third base. But in this situation, the base wasn’t occupied by two people because Johnson wasn’t on the base. The problem, though, is that Hoye didn’t see that he had come off the base before Hernandez had been tagged by Salvador Perez.

So he thought that Johnson was on the base and Perez tagged Hernandez, which made Hernandez out and then Johnson left the base and Perez tagged him and that was a double play. He just missed it. And maybe more importantly, Terry Francona missed that he could challenge that play, which would have cleared everything up. But he didn’t challenge, it wasn’t cleared up and with two outs, Keller walked Ramirez again, leaving Jake Brentz to face Franmil Reyes in a big situation. And he got him looking on a 1-2 pitch to send the game to the ninth.

In all, Brad Keller went 7.2 innings, gave up one run on four hits with nine strikeouts and four walks. The walks were still a little high, but that was much more what we were expecting from him this season. He’s back to throwing his slider a lot, which is his best pitch and he’s getting results from it. It wasn’t quite as good as it was against the Twins, but he had 10 whiffs on 31 swings and had 12 foul balls on it. What I really liked is where he worked with his four-seamer.

That’s the top of the zone and the edges. There isn’t a single one in the middle of the plate. There were only two that weren’t either on the edge of the zone or out of it. I love that. More of that and he might be able to have an ending to his season that he can build on for 2022.

As for the offense, Triston McKenzie really handled them, but I wanted to highlight one swing. It was Soler’s home run off Emmanuel Clase who looked absolutely unhittable with his 100 MPH cutter.

Does this change anything? Absolutely not, but it sure is nice to see that swing and the ball fly like that.

Of course, on the fourth pitch of the bottom of the ninth, Brentz put a slider in the middle of the plate to Bobby Bradley and that was the end of the game. But still, Keller was good and Soler homered, so there was at least something to celebrate.

Saturday - Indians 14, Royals 6

This game was bad and it should feel bad. The Royals scored two in the top of the fourth on a Perez home run and then Mike Minor promptly gave up six runs, including a three-run homer to Roberto Perez, his second such home run in three games. The Indians didn’t stop scoring and ended up with 14. The Royals did get the tying run to the plate in the seventh, down 9-6, but it was Sebastian Rivero as Perez had been lifted due to tweaking his back.

Rivero, who is not as good of a hitter as Perez, did not get the job done. The Indians scored four more, including their fourth three-run homer of the series and the Royals lost again. I’m not spending more time on this.

Salvy’s Derby

I was on with Soren Petro on 810 on Friday and he asked what I wanted to see in the Home Run Derby from Salvy. I wanted to see a good showing, but I wanted him out in the first round. I figured him swinging 140 times in the thin air was probably not the best thing for him. This is before we knew he was going to tweak his back, but he’s a guy you want to keep healthy. And yet, somehow I found myself disappointed when he put on a fantastic show and was out in the first round. It was just a bad luck draw for him. I saw a couple people either joke or actually believe it was rigged, but they were seeded based on their 2021 home runs, so there wasn’t anything anyone could have done.

He ended up with the second most home runs in the first round that were actually reached in the three minutes plus bonus time (Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto both had as many or more, but they got an extra minute and a swing-off). His max distance was 491 feet, which is awesome. His max exit velocity was 112 MPH. The point is that he put on a phenomenal show and may have kept going until he eventually ran into Pete Alonso in whatever round he’d have faced him. The point is that he showed he belonged, which we all knew, but was nice to confirm on the big stage.

What’s Next

Five days off from watching the Royals lose games is a really nice break, so big thanks to the weather gods for Sunday’s rainout. Now we get to wait until Friday for the Orioles to come in town. They’re one of the few teams the Royals should be able to say they’re better than, so at least they have that going for them. Of course, the Orioles are probably thinking the same thing about the Royals, so it’s hard to say. I think the Royals could come out of the break looking better with a rested bullpen, so don’t be too surprised if they surprise a little for a couple weeks. It’s all up to the starting pitching, though, regarding how tired the bullpen gets in the second half. If they can maintain what they did in the last few starts before the break with innings, maybe they can hold up for a bit.