The future of the Royals and much of the franchise's leadership plays on four gigantic television screens. The organization's massive lift began inside this windowless room on Kauffman Stadium's sixth floor behind a locked door and up a flight of stairs from the Craft and Draft bar.

Lonnie Goldberg, the team's scouting director, is watching video of his top two picks when he's asked his thoughts as Brady Singer and then Jackson Kowar — two highly regarded right-handed pitchers from Florida — fell to the Royals' 18th and 33rd picks.

"(Shoot)," Royals scouting director Lonnie Goldberg said. "We're going to end up with both these guys? Never in a million years."

Goldberg's job security and an enormous amount of the Royals' future success depends upon his being right on a draft class that is without precedent for the franchise. He and the rest of the decision makers viewed this as a once-in-career opportunity, with five of the first 58 picks and the largest bonus pool in baseball.

Old-timers in the organization are reminded of the 1992 draft, which netted Johnny Damon, Jon Lieber and Michael Tucker in the first 44 picks. A more recent and optimistic example would be the Angels' 2009 class — Mike Trout, Patrick Corbin, Garrett Richards, Randal Grichuk and Tyler Skaggs in the first 80.

It's hard to imagine the Royals managing through their current darkness without Goldberg being right on this class — potential star pitchers at the top, productive hitters below.

It's hard to imagine an end to the losing anytime soon if he's wrong — the way the 2012 class looks, for instance.

The Royals are betting their future on a strategy that turned heads around the game. They have traditionally valued high school players in the draft, believing in the generally higher ceilings and the organization's ability to develop.

At least a few rival evaluators wonder if the Royals are prioritizing time over talent here, with two independently wondering if owner David Glass issued a directive to speed the process after seven full seasons passed before a winning record the first time general manager Dayton Moore oversaw a rebuild.

"There was no directive," Goldberg said.

Still, the selection of college pitchers with each of the first five picks was not coincidence. Teams do this every year, in all sports. They talk about "best player available," but that's a fundamentally subjective term, and is shaped not only by different evaluators having different opinions but different teams having different priorities.

The Royals saw a hole in their farm system. They'd traded some bright pitching prospects — most notably Sean Manaea in the Ben Zobrist deal three years ago — and missed on some others. Others like Foster Griffin, Scott Blewett and Josh Staumont retain organizational confidence but have yet to see significant progress.

"I don't feel like we settled," Goldberg said. "We took guys we really liked, guys that we're going, '(Shoot), if he puts all this together and we can get him to do this, then we have another animal.'"

The class is fascinating. Singer had been projected by some as a Top 5 pick, and went Top 10 in every dummy draft the Royals did as preparation. Goldberg said the financial discussions had not yet begun, but that he didn't know why Singer was still available.

Watch the video and it's easy to see what the Royals like. He's 6-foot-5, and athletic enough to repeat a funky and deceptive delivery, with three good pitches now and a reputation as the most competitive ol' cuss in the draft.

The comparison that comes most often is with Aaron Nola, taken seventh overall by the Phillies in 2014 and now with 283 strikeouts and a 3.17 ERA across 269 1/3 innings the last two seasons. Nola has a quick delivery, throws lots of strikes, and possesses a superior understanding of pitching and his own talents that makes him better than his raw stuff.

"I'll be honest, I didn't think Nola was going to be this good," Goldberg said. "I liked him, thought he was a good pitcher, but I didn't think he had upper rotation stuff. So I've learned from that. He's taught me something."

You may have the video of Singer unfurling a string of f-bombs when a start was interrupted by rain. Goldberg saw it, too, many times. The first time, he called his area scout to ask if there is anything else he should know. Once he heard the context — Singer was directed to warm up by the umpire, knowing a delay would end his start — Goldberg thought of it as a positive.

"That's him," Goldberg said. "That's how he's wired. That's why he's freaking good. He's different."

That's not the best Singer story, though. Before the season, questions surrounded Singer's changeup. It was seen as the pitch that would largely determine his future, and draft status. With a good changeup, he could be a middle-of-the-rotation guy, minimum. Without it, something much less valuable.

So, as the story goes, in one of his first starts this spring watched by a large number of scouts, Singer shook off his catcher into nine consecutive changeups. Nine. Threw them for strikes, too, and got outs. The assumption was that it was a message, a figurative middle finger at the doubts.

"I wasn't there but I've heard the story," Goldberg said. "We talked about it in our draft room, too. We didn't know if he did that as a middle finger, but that's what we all thought: 'OK, you guys want to see this? Here it is, bam-bam-bam.'"

Kowar was Florida's No. 2 pitcher, but seen by many scouts to possess a higher ceiling than Singer. He's 6-foot-5 and all legs, with higher velocity, and the kind of changeup that's difficult even for a hitter sitting on it.

His delivery is a little rough at times — he can get side-to-side, in scout speak — which makes it difficult to finish the pitch. If that changes, then the Royals could have a frontline starter.

"I didn't want to walk away day one without at least two advanced, high-ceiling college pitchers," Goldberg said. "I knew that. But then Brady falls into your lap, and that wasn't part of the equation. Then Jackson, and it's rolling from there, because you can't go wrong if you take pitching — guys that throw strikes, guys that have makeup, guys who strike guys out at a high level."

In some ways, the glut of picks helped the Royals be ready for Singer's fall. In a typical draft, they would focus on a small group of players expected to be available with each pick. Because the Royals had so many, they essentially homeworked everyone.

That prepared them for Singer, prepared them for Kowar, prepared them for everyone else.

Royals scouts saw each of the last four starts by 6-foot-4 Virginia lefty Daniel Lynch, whom they selected 34th overall with a bet on his rapid improvement with arm action and frame that promise more. Kris Bubic is a 6-foot-3 lefty from Stanford with a fastball up to 94, developing off speed pitches, and the pitcher of the year in the Cape Cod summer league.

Those are just the four picks officially considered in the first round. The Royals had centerfielders Kyle Isbel and Eric Cole ranked consecutively. Austin Cox, a 6-foot-3 lefty from Mercer, was eighth nationally with 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

The draft's biggest wild card is probably Zach Haake, a 6-foot-4 righty from Kentucky taken in the sixth round. Haake's fastball as been up to 97, with a changeup and slider that both rate as plus. Goldberg said if you took names off the scouting reports, Haake's might've been the best of anyone they selected.

He developed some arm problems after throwing some 120 pitches in his first start transitioning from the bullpen. But two Royals scouts watched two innings of a showcase in Houston that they called as good as any college pitcher all year.

"That was against Florida, actually," Goldberg said. "They were like, 'It was stupid.'"

This is the group that will largely determine the Royals' future, and Goldberg's. He will presumably have another intriguing decision next year with a very high pick, but scouting directors don't see opportunities like this often. Five of the top 58 picks means a fair expectation of production, and soon, the beginning of another rebuild done by virtually the same group that led the first.

"We'll never have this again," Goldberg said. "I'll be shocked if we ever have it again."

 

Sam Mellinger is a columnist for The Kansas City Star/TNS.