KANSAS CITY — The Royals’ first five selections in the 2018 Draft had one thing in common: They were all college pitchers.
Right-handers Brady Singer (No. 18), Jackson Kowar (No. 33) and Jonathan Bowlan (No. 58) and lefties Daniel Lynch (No. 34) and Kris Bubic (No. 40) were the Day 1 additions to a farm system in need of college arms, according to general manager Dayton Moore.
Day 2 of the Draft on Tuesday was largely similar for the Royals, as they once again prioritized polished collegiate players over high school talent. With one of the more depleted farm systems in the Major Leagues, Kansas City hopes the crop selected this week can help revitalize its Minor League system.
Round 3: OF Kyle Isbel, UNLV
Kansas City chose Isbel as an outfielder, but he played a bevy of positions for the Runnin’ Rebels. He’s similar to current Royal Whit Merrifield in that he is comfortable both in the outfield and infield.
“He came here as a second baseman, we moved him to third because we had a need there, and then we had a need in center field this next year,” UNLV coach Stan Stolte said. “He went out there and played it so well we just kept him there.”
It makes sense that the club projects him as an outfielder, as two of the Royals Top 30 Prospects, Adalberto Mondesi and Nicky Lopez, are middle infielders.
Isbel is graded to be a strong contact bat with decent power. As a three-year starter for the Runnin’ Rebels, Isbel is a polished talent, a safe addition to a farm system that has been burned by less-experienced high school players.
In 2016, Isbel earned Collegiate Baseball’s Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American Team honors, but his junior season may have been his best. He slashed .357/.441/.643 and hit 14 home runs, doubling the total of his first two years combined.
Round 4: OF Eric Cole, Arkansas
Cole, Southlake, Texas, primarily plays right field, but has spent some time at designated hitter. His season is not over, as the Razorbacks begin Super Regional play in the College World Series this weekend.
He may already know where he’s headed after he leaves Fayetteville, but he doesn’t see this as a distraction to the team’s goal of a national championship. If anything, he thinks it’ll help.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that are about to get drafted, or have been drafted already,” Cole said. “Kind of like our last go-around, we feel like. So we’ll all kind of be playing for something since we know this is more than likely our last time putting on Arkansas jerseys.”
Cole is a large reason for Arkansas’ success, as he is one of the anchors of their batting order. With 13 homers, he’s tied for the team lead. He will inject a powerful bat into the Royals’ farm system.
Born in New Jersey, Cole grew up as a Yankees fan, even after moving to Texas. At Arkansas, however, he said about half of his friends and coaches are Royals fans, so he knows a bit about the team.
“I know they’ve got a big fan base,” Cole said. “I’ve been to some games. It’s a cool park. It’s a good organization to be a part of, and I’m excited to get there.”
Round 5: LHP Austin Cox, Mercer
Cox has been the Bears’ ace for the past two seasons, starting 15 games as a sophomore and 17 as a junior, both team-highs. He operates with a fastball that usually floats around 94 mph, a power 12-6 curve, a slider and a changeup.
He logged a career-high 124 strikeouts this past year, and he cut his ERA from 5.69 to 4.52. While he allows a fair amount of good contact and runs, coach Craig Gibson thinks that comes as a positive.
“Our league is an offensive league, the ballparks are smaller. … I think he was the premier arm in our league this year,” Gibson said. “He’s given up some hits, but he’s a strike-thrower. His pitch count would get up sometimes because he strikes out so many guys.”
Cox attended First Presbyterian Day School in Forsyth, Ga., where he was also a captain of the football team. First Presbyterian is the alma mater of former Royals pitcher John Rocker and current Triple-A Omaha lefty Richard Lovelady.
As the sixth college pitcher drafted by the Royals, Cox made it an even three lefties and three righties added to the farm in the first five rounds.
“We wanted to make a concerted effort on getting some college pitching that we felt had high ceilings, and that could move quickly,” Moore said after wrapping up Day 1.
Round 6: RHP Zach Haake, Kentucky
Haake spent just one year with the Wildcats, mostly appearing as a reliever. He finished the 2018 season 2-4 in 15 appearances with an 8.47 ERA, but he struck out 36 batters in 34 innings.
Prior to joining the big blue, Haake pitched at Arkansas State for one year. He finished his time with the Red Wolves having appeared in 11 games with a 6.57 ERA.
Haake then transferred to John A. Logan College, a junior college in Carterville, Ill., and had a stellar season with the Volunteers, going 8-1 with a 2.52 ERA and being named the No. 6 junior college prospect in the country by Perfect Game.
Round 7: RHP Tyler Gray, Central Arkansas
Gray was the 10th player picked by the Royals, and the eighth college pitcher.
He bounced between starting and relief roles in his first three years with the Bears before settling in as the team’s ace as a senior. He finished this season with a 3.32 ERA in 14 starts, including two complete games.
Gray has good stamina, topping the 100-pitch mark 10 times during his senior year, including a 137-pitch marathon against Northwestern State.
Round 8: OF Jackson Lueck, Florida State
A switch-hitter, Lueck provided excellent power for the Seminoles, usually batting in the two-hole. He came in as a corner outfielder out of Orangewood Christian in Orlando, Fla., but was often used as a designated hitter at Florida State.
Lueck batted .245 during his junior year, a drop-off from his sophomore season’s .318 clip. He improved his power, however, as his homer total rose from nine to a team-high 15.
In the 2017 ACC Tournament, Lueck went 7-for-16, mashing two homers and knocking in seven runs, including a walk-off shot against Notre Dame in the first round. His strong performance earned him ACC Championship MVP honors as he led the Seminoles to their seventh ACC Tournament title.
Round 9: OF Kevon Jackson, Queen Creek (Ariz.)
Jackson, the first high school player drafted by the Royals, is a speedy 5-foot-8, 160-pounder who bats from the right side. In his senior year, he hit .364 in 29 games with five triples and two homers.
Jackson is just the fourth position player chosen by Kansas City, all of whom are outfielders. He projects as a solid contact bat with a good glove and speed in center field.
He is the first Royals draftee born in the 21st century — Jan. 14, 2001.
Round 10: LHP Austin Lambright, Central Oklahoma
Lambright played one season at Central Oklahoma after transferring from Abilene Christian. He finished the season with a 3.32 ERA in 25 appearances, starting in four games but mostly being used as a reliever, earning three saves. He struck out 52 in just 43 1/3 innings.
Lambright’s twin brother, Brandon Lambright, is a pitcher in the Colorado Rockies’ system, and was chosen in the 27th round of last year’s draft. Both are from Friday Harbor, Wash.
The Draft concludes on Wednesday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 11 a.m CT.