KANSAS CITY -- The Royals know they're close. It should only be a year or two until they're looking at winning an American League Central title, instead of competing to stay out of the division basement.
So, with many of the guys who made up the most recent group of talent sliding from the Triple-A roster onto the Major League lineup card, the Royals spent the early rounds of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft readying the next wave.
Kansas City's first five picks were high school players with lots of potential, but no concrete timetables for when they would actually reach the big leagues. But with baseball's top-ranked farm system, time is a luxury the Royals had with these picks.
"I think that's a fair assessment," said J.J. Picollo, Royals assistant general manager of scouting and player development. "Our system, our strengths right now -- Double-A, Triple-A -- we feel good. We know we still have a long way to go before they're here in Kansas city, but we feel good about where we are with our system in that regard. But then you look on the back half, now it's time to fill in."
Widely considered one of the deepest draft classes in recent memory, there were four pitchers considered sure-fire top 10 picks: Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen, Trevor Bauer and Dylan Bundy. There was talk of the Royals coveting one of those arms, but when the four hurlers were taken with the first four picks, Kansas City had a pretty easy choice to make with the fifth selection.
Local phenom Bubba Starling, out of nearby Gardner, Kan., was the pick, much to the delight of Royals fans. A toolsy outfielder with speed and power, Starling was considered the top position player available.
While there's the small matter of his commitment to play both football and baseball at the University of Nebraska, the Royals are sure they can sign their new hometown favorite.
"It's our thought that Bubba wants to play baseball, his first love is baseball," Picollo said. "We all know he's a heck of a football player and we've got to go with what our gut tells us. Our area scout did a great job with him, knows the player very well, knows the family very well.
"In the end, we're trying to get All-Star-caliber players, championship-player calibers, and it was a risk we were willing to take. We'll work through it all summer, but we are confident we'll get a deal in place."
Filling an area of need, the Royals jumped on Manheim Township High School catcher Cameron Gallagher with their second-round pick. It was a pleasant surprise the Pennsylvania prep player was still available with the 65th-overall choice.
A prospect known for his catch-and-throw ability, Gallagher's bat caught up with his arm over the spring and he's projected to provide right-handed power. With former catcher Wil Myers moving to the outfield this past offseason, Gallagher should quickly become the club's top prospect behind the plate.
"We see him as kind of like a [Atlanta Braves catcher] Brian McCann-type player, right-handed hitting Brian McCann," Royals scouting director Lonnie Goldberg said. "[He's a] baseball player, big-bodied kid, big right-handed power, plus makeup. A guy that wants to go out and play."
The Royals got around to grabbing some pitchers, taking high school right-handers Bryan Brickhouse and Kyle Smith in the third and fourth rounds. Brickhouse has the physical tools and high ceiling to be a Major League starter. Smith is undersized at 6-foot and 185 pounds, but has good mechanics and a finesse for pitching.
Fifth-round pick Patrick Leonard, out of St. Thomas High School in Texas, was coached by former Houston Astros star Craig Biggio. While Leonard was selected as a shortstop, he's projected to move to third base and provide that hard-to-find right-handed power.
"We're always projecting our 2012, '13, '14 lineups," Picollo said. "Where's the balance going to come from? We still have some good left-handed hitters in Double-A and Triple-A, so right-handers would balance it out pretty well."
Kansas City got a pair of college closers in the later rounds, taking Oregon's Kellen Moen (eight saves, .185 batting average against) and Georgia Southern's Matt Murray (nine saves, 2011 Southern Conference Player of the Year).
In the 12th and 13th rounds, the Royals took a pair of big left-handed pitchers. Stephen Lumpkins, chosen in the 13th round, has starred as a forward on American University's basketball team and pitched in summer collegiate leagues. Drafted by the Pirates in 2010, the Royals aren't the only club that has seen pitching potential in the 6-foot-8 lefty. Local product Adam Schemenauer went to Park Hill South High School in Missouri and the 6-foot-9 prospect is committed to the University of Louisville.
"Adam started off a little slow at the beginning of the year, coming out from basketball," Goldberg said. "Probably worked out for us in our favor, because we were on him pretty good. He had a little bit of a two-week glitch where he was out. I think some teams came in early and he wasn't ready, and they probably backed off of him."
The Royals also got some players with famous bloodlines. Round 34 choice Ali Williams is related to Larry Doby, the second African-American to play in the modern Major Leagues. Shortstop Jack Lopez, taken in the 16th round, is the son of Cincinnati bullpen coach Juan "Porky" Lopez.
In addition to looking for right-handed power, the Royals wanted to add speed to the club. Outfielders Jerrell Allen, Terrance Gore, D'Andre Toney and Lee Clubb were all named as guys who can cover ground in the field.
The Royals took a player in all 50 rounds, their last choice being Kash Kalkowski, a third baseman from the University of Nebraska. Kansas City took 20 high schoolers, 24 college players, five junior college players and one college international player.
Right-handed pitching was the theme of the Draft, as 18 were taken, likely due to the glut of left-handers already in the system. The Royals did select seven lefties, though. Outfield (seven) and catcher (five) were next, with the Royals taking four shortstops, four third basemen, three first basemen and two second basemen.
Now, the only thing left to do is sign them. All of the Royals' top-five selections have college commitments, but there's little doubt in the organization that signing will be an issue.
"The group that's on this list, we would not have selected them if we did not think we were going to sign them," Goldberg said. "We think these guys want to go out and play, we believe our scouts have put us in a position to select these players and we believe all of them are going to go out and sign."
Adam Holt is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.