The Kansas City Royals went pitching heavy on the final day of the Major League Baseball amateur draft.
Of the four selections made by the Royals Thursday night, three were pitchers, including second round draft pick Ben Hernandez, a high school right-hander from Illinois.
After taking Texas A&M junior left-hander Asa Lacy with the fourth overall pick in the first round, the Royals selected four pitchers with their six picks in this year’s shortened draft. Kansas City also took Baylor shortstop Nick Loftin at 32nd overall in the competitive balance round.
The Royals claimed Hernandez, from De La Salle Institute in Gage Park, Illinois, with the 41st overall pick. After taking University of Alabama outfielder Tyler Gentry at No. 76 overall in the third round, the Royals ended their draft with two more pitchers in the fourth and fifth rounds.
They selected Christian Chamberlain, an Oregon State University left-hander, in the fourth and Will Klein, an Eastern Illinois University right-hander, in the final round late Thursday.
Meanwhile, Grain Valley High School graduate Jacob Misiorowski went undrafted after being ranked at No. 160 in MLB.com’s ratings of the best 200 draft prospects. Prior to the draft, Misiorowski had switched his college commitment from Oklahoma State to Crowder College, a junior college in Neosho, Missouri. He will be eligible to be taken in next year’s draft after taking the junior college route.
Hernandez, 18, who went to the Royals at No. 41 overall, was 4-2 with a 1.81 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 45 innings as a high school junior last season, but has not pitched in 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
According to MLB.com, Hernandez was the “best pitcher” in the inaugural Prospect Development Pipeline League, in which he recorded six hitless innings over three outings. He also excelled in his appearance at the Under Armour All-America Game, striking out the side in the ninth inning. He is committed to the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Chamberlain, 20, a Reno, Nevada, native, went 2-1 with a 0.82 ERA and 34 strikeouts in four starts this season at Oregon State, including a career-high 12 strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings on Feb. 21 against Mississippi State. He worked mostly as a reliever in his first two years in college, making 37 of his 46 appearances out of the bullpen, and has recorded 140 strikeouts in 105 collegiate innings. As a freshman in 2018, he matched a College World Series record with 11 strikeouts in one relief outing.
Klein, 20, a Bloomington, Indiana native, was 1-2 with a 3.33 ERA and a team-high 33 strikeouts in four starts this season at Eastern Illinois. He was named the best pitcher in the Northwoods League by Baseball America in 2019, after going 2-2 with a 0.86 ERA, 38 strikeouts and seven saves for Lakeshore, earning all-star honors in the summer collegiate league.
Gentry, 21, an Arlington, Tennessee, native, hit .429 in 17 games during the shortened 2020 season for Alabama, and ranked second in the SEC with a .554 on-base percentage and fifth in the conference with a .750 slugging percentage. As a sophomore in 2019, he led the Crimson Tide in batting average (.310), hits (65), home runs (13), RBIs (42), slugging percentage (.552) and total bases (116), and ended his two-year career in Tuscaloosa with 17 home runs in just 266 at-bats.
Meanwhile, the American League Central rival Detroit Tigers took a few more big swings at rebuilding their lineup. And, they hope sooner rather than later.
After selecting Arizona State slugger Spencer Torkelson to open the draft Wednesday night, the Tigers used all five of their picks Thursday on hitters.
Ohio State catcher Dillon Dingler led off the draft's second day as the No. 38 overall selection. The Tigers then took LSU outfielder Danny Cabrera 62nd overall, and Rice shortstop Trei Cruz – son of former big leaguer Jose Cruz Jr. and grandson of Jose Cruz – 11 picks later.
Detroit went back to Arizona State in the fourth round, taking Torkelson's switch-hitting teammate Gage Workman. Both were drafted by the Tigers as third basemen. So was fifth-rounder Colt Keith out of Biloxi High School in Mississippi. His selection ended Detroit's run on college position players, but the Tigers remained focused solely on hitting talent.
"The first thing you're doing is trying to get impact," said Scott Pleis, Detroit's director of amateur scouting. "And then, it's hard to get bats if you don't jump up and get them, too. You start passing them, and everybody gobbles them up."
The Astros had to wait a while to make their first selection in this year's draft after having their first- and second-round picks stripped by Commissioner Rob Manfred as part of the team's punishment for breaking rules against using electronics to steal signs during games.
The New York Yankees were one of the teams to raise questions about wrongdoing by the Astros. Coincidentally, Houston took a pitcher from the Bronx at No. 72, hard-throwing Mount Saint Michael Academy right-hander Alex Santos.
While Detroit focused on adding offense, Miami went all pitching – already considered the strength in the upper levels of its system – with its six selections.
Minnesota right-hander Max Meyer was the No. 3 overall pick to the Marlins. They followed with Oklahoma high school lefty Daxton Fulton (No. 40), Ball State righty Kyle Nicolas (No. 61), Coastal Carolina right-hander Zach McCambley (No. 75), Vanderbilt lefty Jake Eder (No. 104) and USC righty Kyle Hurt (No. 134).
The defending World Series champion Washington Nationals took college pitchers with four of their six overall picks, taking Oklahoma right-hander Cade Cavalli at No. 22 overall, and then going with two other righties – LSU's Cole Henry (second round), and UCLA's Holden Powell – before selecting San Jacinto College North lefty Mitchell Parker with their final pick.
Houston wrapped up the two-day event by taking University of San Diego shortstop Shay Whitcomb at No. 160.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, MLB shaved the draft from three days and 40 rounds to two days and just five rounds. Normally, over 1,200 players would be selected, with many others signed as undrafted free agents to fill out minor league squads.
This year, the hundreds of remaining undrafted ballplayers must wait until Sunday to sign with teams – but clubs can offer maximum signing bonuses of only $20,000. That could prompt many players to opt for college rather than begin their pro careers now.
"There's going to be a lot of great players that don't get drafted because of the cap, and my brother is even one of them," said catcher Austin Wells, the Yankees' first-round pick.
Carson Wells was a star outfielder during his high school career in Nevada, but wasn't selected.
"He just graduated, didn't get to play his senior year," Austin Wells said. "So you never know what could have happened there. He could have been drafted by the Yankees, too. You never know."
Associated Press Baseball Writers Dennis Waszak, Ronald Blum, Mike Fitzpatrick and Noah Trister contributed to this report.