Best pitcher leads Royals to picking Hochevar
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- After a closer look, the Kansas City Royals decided they liked Luke Hochevar a lot more than they originally thought.
A few days after scouting director Deric Ladnier said emphatically that Kansas City wouldn't take the right-hander with the overall No. 1 pick, the Royals did exactly that.
"We said from the start we'd take the best pitcher available in the draft," Ladnier said Tuesday.
Kansas City is on pace to lose more than 100 games for the third straight year, and its minor league system is almost devoid of pitching prospects.
"We didn't feel like there was a position player even remotely that would be in [Hochevar's] category," Ladnier said. "When it was all said and done, we took the best pitcher. We feel like, with this young man, we have a guy who is going to get here quickly."
One reason the Royals figured to pass on Hochevar was their history with his agent, Scott Boras, whose refusal to come to agreements forced them to trade star outfielders Johnny Damon and Carlos Beltran. Boras also was the agent for pitcher Jeff Austin, the Royals' first-round pick in 1998 who sat out almost the entire year before finally signing, but then never developed.
A year ago, Hochevar first agreed, then refused, to sign a $2.8 million offer by the Dodgers. Considered one of the top college pitchers in last year's draft, he fell to the 40th pick because clubs worried about whether he would sign.
However, the Royals went ahead and picked him in this year's draft after talking with Boras on Monday night and Tuesday morning. Boras said the two sides did not discuss contract specifics.
"We didn't talk about that. I think everybody knew we had the top pitcher in the draft, the top value player in the draft," he said. "I think there were about 15 teams that wanted to draft him. We haven't talked any specifics about dollars and cents."
Hochevar said he was "ecstatic" Kansas City picked him.
"I'm ready to put my head down and work my tail off for the Kansas City Royals," Hochevar said.
The Royals previously have had trouble signing Boras' clients and wound up trading star outfielders Damon and Beltran.
Hochevar said he expected "a pretty quick negotiation."
"It sounds like the Royals are ready to get it done. I'm getting ready. I'm up to a 100-pitch pitch count," Hochevar said.
Hochevar most recently has been pitching for the independent Fort Worth Cats, where he was 1-1 with a 2.26 ERA in four starts and gained, he said, a wholly new perspective.
"It opened my eyes to know how lucky I am, playing with guys who are scrapping to play a game they love, and to see how hard those guys work in the independent league," he said.
In 2005, Hochevar led Tennessee to the College World Series and was 15-3 with a 2.26 ERA in 19 starts.
The Royals, who have based former draft decisions at least partially on how much they believed a player might cost, are gambling that Hochevar won't want to risk losing a second year from his career.
"I had a conversation with him a little while ago. He's super excited, super motivated," Ladnier said. "I think he knows how important it is for him to get out and start pitching."
Boras said Hochevar is better equipped physically than he was in 2005.
"Luke works extremely hard. He's been doing his conditioning and his programs for nine months," he said. "He's about 15 percent stronger than he was a year ago. I think the Royals benefited from another major league baseball team's opinion."
The draft found Kansas City in the unusual position of not being able to consult with incoming general manager Dayton Moore, who was hired last week off John Schuerholz's staff in Atlanta.
An agreement between the Braves and Royals prevented Moore from having any contact with Kansas City about the draft. Moore takes over Thursday.
"It sounds like he's the type of guy who's going to make some good changes and really get it going for them," Hochevar said.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press