KANSAS CITY -- Look for the Royals to go with the flow in this year's draft. For them, it's an old, familiar flow -- going after pitching. "As much as we'd like a positional player with our first or early picks, you don't want to work against the draft. And the draft right now presents us with a lot of arms, a lot of college pitching this year," general manager Allard Baird said.
"And that's kind of the strength of the draft. There is a limited number of college positional players, a limited number of college bats out there. We'll just have to see how they fall."
The Royals for years have concentrated on drafting pitchers with varying degrees of success.
Right now, Success Exhibit A is right-hander Zack Greinke, now on display at Kauffman Stadium.
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Greinke, from Apopka High School in Orlando, Fla., was the Royals' first-round choice (sixth overall) in 2002. He made a rapid ascent through the minors and made his Major League debut May 22 at Oakland at age 20.
Now, as the youngest player currently in the Majors, Greinke seems almost certain to remain in a rotation that has struggled all season. He's something of a rarity, a pitcher drafted out of high school who finds quick success.
For example, right-hander Colt Griffin of Marshall (Texas) High, the Royals' top choice of 2001, is still with Class A Wilmington and walking as many as he strikes out.
This year the Royals have five picks in the first 63 on the board.
"A lot of attention is being focused on getting those guys," said senior director of scouting Deric Ladnier.
The club's selections are the 14th, 29th (from the Giants for Michael Tucker), 31st (sandwich pick for Raul Ibanez), 55th, and 63rd (from the Mariners for Ibanez).
Last year the Royals had three picks in the first two rounds and all three were position players -- outfielder Chris Lubanski, catcher (now third baseman) Mitch Maier and outfielder Shane Costa.
That's not likely to happen this time around.
"Position players are at a premium. The quality of depth of position players is not there," Ladnier said. "We're going to try to focus on stockpiling some arms in the organization."
One reason is this: three of the Royals' top young pitchers -- Runelvys Hernandez, Kyle Snyder and Miguel Asencio -- had arm surgery and are in rehabilitation at Surprise, Ariz. The Royals believe they'll eventually return and be effective pitchers but who really knows?
The Royals got a head start on pitching by recently signing their 10th-round pick from a year ago, right-hander Luis Cota from Sunnyside High in Tucson, Ariz., for $1.05 million.
Past five No. 1 picks Year Player 2003 Chris Lubanski, OF 2002 Zach Greinke, P 2001 Colt Griffin, P 2000 Mike Stodolka, P 1999 Kyle Snyder, P
Within their system, the Royals could use more prospects at catcher and third base because Benito Santiago is 39, Joe Randa is 34 and no standout successors are in evidence.
But Baird said: "You never address your immediate Major League needs with this year's draft. That just doesn't happen, so I wouldn't look at it that way. You never have enough pitching. That's always the case."
So look for the Royals to be right in the middle of this year's battle for arms.
"If you want bats, you have to take them early or those go away," Baird said. "You've got a better chance of finding pitching all over the map, so to speak. Just like last year in the 10th round, we drafted Cota and he could've been a first-round pick this year."
As a budget-conscious team, the Royals are happy with the trend toward lower signing bonuses.
"Last year it went down 17.25 percent," Ladnier said.
And they're giving no hints about what players they'd like to draft.
"It's difficult to anticipate who'll be there when we pick," Ladnier said.