06/08/2004 9:18 PM ET
Royals get arms, big bat
High school third baseman's bat full of lightning
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
|Texas' J.P. Howell, the 31st pick in the draft, is no stranger to the College World Series. (U. of Texas)
KANSAS CITY -- Manager Tony Pena won't wait long to get a look at the strong right-handed hitter the Royals believe will someday be in the middle of their lineup.
Third baseman Billy Butler, the club's first pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, has signed and will be in Kansas City on Wednesday. He'll probably put on a uniform and take some swings at Kauffman Stadium before the game against the Montreal Expos.
Butler, 18, from Wolfson High School in Jacksonville, Fla., has already signed a $1.4 million
contract after being selected as the 14th overall pick on Monday.
Deric Ladnier, the Royals' senior director of scouting, stretched contentedly as he sat alone in the
"war room" Tuesday, just a few minutes after the 50-round draft had concluded. Surrounded by magnetic boards that listed the draft choices and possible depth charts of minor league clubs, he pronounced himself well satisfied with the Royals' draft.
"I think everyone knew coming in here we wanted to get an impact-type bat and we were able to get that with our first selection," Ladnier said, referring to Butler.
"We wanted to get pitching that could get quickly through our system and be
quality Major League starters and I think we did that with the next three
selections, (Matt) Campbell, (J.P.) Howell and (Billy) Buckner."
Campbell, a left-handed pitcher from the University of South Carolina was the 29th pick of the first round. Howell,
a lefty from the University of Texas was taken in the sandwich round. The right-handed Buckner, also from South Carolina, was taken in the second round.
"The college guys are quick movers," general manager Allard Baird said. "They've
got a feel for pitching and they're playing at a very high level of college
baseball and had success. So I expect those guys to move very quickly."
The Royals' fifth pick, second-rounder Erik Cordier is a high school right-hander from Sturgeon Bay, Wisc., could be the sleeper of their draft. Because he's from a cold-weather state, he hasn't pitched many innings but he's touched 94 mph with his fastball.
"He's a guy we feel could eventually be an upper-part of the rotation guy," Ladnier said.
It wasn't until the next pick that the Royals went back to a position player with shortstop Joshua Johnson from Middleton High in Tampa, Fla. He's the son of former catcher Larry Doby Johnson, who played briefly in the Majors.
"We were able to get a skilled, tooled high school player who has a professional background," Ladnier said.
"His father played professional so he's been around the game for a long time. As
far as his development on the field as to how to conduct yourself as a
professional and knowledge of the game, he's already got that."
From there the Royals swung back to pitching, taking right-handers James Moore from Troy State, Enrique Barrera from Rosemead, Calif., Chad Blackwell from South Carolina U., and Patrick Green from Louisiana-Lafayette.
Moore and Blackwell are setup men. Barrera throws up to 97 mph. Green is another collegian expected to advance quickly.
Blackwell is a slender kid who's listed, perhaps generously, at 160 pounds on a
"He's small but he's been resilient throughout his entire career," Ladnier said.
The Royals' 11th selection, Edward Lucas, is a shortstop from Dartmouth.
"He was the league leader in hits and I believe home runs. The whole ball of wax. I believe he played quarterback if I'm not mistaken. A very interesting kid for us," Ladnier said.
Rounding out the first dozen was shortstop Christopher McConnell from Franklinville, N.J. Ladnier described him as
"a toolsy shortstop with raw power."
The Royals' 53 selections included 34 pitchers, nine infielders, eight outfielders and two catchers.
But their prize pick was Butler, the shortstop from Jacksonville.
"When you watch this kid take batting practice, the ball just jumps off of his bat. He shows the strength and the power. He's got the bat speed, he's got plate coverage," scout Cliff Pastornicky said.
"You can turn your back and not know it was Billy Butler hitting and just the
way the ball's coming off the bat, you're going to say, 'Oh, that's Butler
The Royals could find that out Wednesday.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.