Archive for Sunday, May 31, 1998

WOODLING COLUMN

May 31, 1998

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On Tuesday, the Kansas City Royals will have the fourth pick in the annual free agent baseball draft. As a matter of fact, the Royals own four of the top 47 selections in the three-day meat market.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Without a doubt, the reason the Royals have fallen on hard times has been their inability to draft successfully during the 1990s.

Kansas City's glaring weakness is its lack of quality young position players ... not that the franchise is loaded with prime young pitchers, either.

Anyway, to give you an idea of how the Royals have botched drafts this decade, here's a year-by-year look at their No. 1 picks of the '90s.

1990 -- Royals surrendered first-rounder to the San Diego Padres after signing free agent reliever Mark Davis, the 1989 National League Cy Young award winner. Davis had 44 saves in '89. He had nearly that many blown saves with the Royals.

1991 -- Joe Vitiello. a slugging first baseman-outfielder from the University of Alabama, Vitiello was projected as the next Steve Balboni, but he's been more like the next Gary Thurman. Hit an eye-opening .344 at Omaha in '94, but has been very ordinary against major-league pitching. Knee injuries haven't helped. Back in Omaha ... again.

1992 -- Two first-rounders -- Michael Tucker and Jim Pittsley. Tucker didn't blossom in KC so the Royals traded him to Atlanta where he has been a productive hitter for the last two seasons. Swap acquiree Jermaine Dye has a great arm, but doesn't know the strike zone from the Gobi Desert. Pittsley's once promising career was torpedoed by elbow surgery in '95. Now he's a 23-year-old middle reliever. Note: Johnny Damon was a sandwich pick in '92. In other words, Damon was selected after the first round ended, but before the second round started (if that makes any sense).

1993 -- Jeff Granger. Stylish southpaw shut out Kansas University in the College World Series shortly after being drafted by KC and it's been downhill ever since. Traded to Pittsburgh in the Jeff King-Jay Bell deal, Granger was released by the Pirates after the '97 season and is now at Oklahoma City, Class AAA farm of Texas Rangers.

1994 -- Matt Smith. Ballyhooed prep out of Grants Pass, Ore., who pocketed Royals' loot instead of accepting a Stanford football scholarship. Didn't hit a lick in four minor league seasons. Now Smith is trying to salvage pro career as left-handed pitcher at KC's Class A farm in Lansing.

1995 -- Juan LeBron. Puerto Rican has had three undistinguished seasons in lower levels of KC farm system. Right-handed hitting outfielder is currently at Lansing where he's hitting .260, but shares Midwest League lead with 36 RBIs. Still young -- he'll turn 21 next Sunday -- but Luis de los Santos was once young, too.

1996 -- Dermal Brown. Drafted out of Newburgh, N.Y., High and convinced by Royals to take their money to forsake a football scholarship at Maryland, this left-handed hitting outfielder was a sensation at short-season Spokane last summer, earning Northwest League MVP award. Brown appears overmatched at Class A Wilmington, however. At last check, he was hitting .169 for KC's high-level Class A team.

1997 -- Dan Reichert. With the seventh pick in last year's draft, the Royals tabbed this 6-foot-3 right-hander from the University of the Pacific who led the nation's collegians in strikeouts as a junior. Reichert impressed in short-season Class A ball at Spokane last summer, but was being hammered at Class AA Wichita before it was discovered last week he is suffering from diabetes.

-- Chuck Woodling's phone message number is 832-7147. His e-mail address is cwoodling@ljworld.com.

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