KANSAS CITY — Daniel Tillo itched to pitch. There he was, riding the bench at the University of Kentucky, pitching only 7 1/3 innings as a freshman in 2016. He told head coach Gary Henderson he would return, despite the frustration he felt. But when Henderson resigned that summer, Tillo transferred. He wanted to pitch regularly, he wanted to prove himself.
On Tuesday afternoon, that decision paid off as the Royals selected Tillo with the 90th overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. About a year after he decided to relocate, the 6-foot-5 left-hander will become a professional — and on the day he turned 21.
“I didn’t expect it to feel this great,” Tillo said. “Leading up to the Draft, I was excited but I was calm at the same time. Now my heart is racing.”
Tillo was the first in a slew of left-handed pitching selections the Royals made on Tuesday, the second day of the Draft. Of their eight picks, six were pitchers. Four of those were lefties.
The Royals will make the last of their selections when the Draft concludes on Wednesday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 11 a.m. CT.
Tillo chose to transfer to Iowa Western, a community college closer to his home. Iowa Western head coach Marc Rardin said almost a year to the day after Tillo told him he was going to Kentucky instead of Iowa Western, Tillo asked Rardin if he could come back. Rardin said of course.
This past season, Tillo used his mid-90s fastball, a slider and developing changeup to hold hitters to a .192 average while striking out 54 in 41 innings. He plans on signing with the Royals.
“He’s built like a starter [and] looks like a starter,” Royals director of scouting Lonnie Goldberg said. “He has a chance to be a middle-of-the-rotation arm. … This is the guy you dream on.”
Not a bad birthday present.
Round 4 (120th overall): CF Michael Gigliotti, Lipscomb University
MLB.com’s Jim Callis said Gigliotti entered the season as a potential first-round pick, but his stock dropped as he became passive at the plate. Gigliotti’s batting average dropped from .336 as a freshman to .301 as a sophomore. Still, the Royals felt he was worthy of a fourth-round selection, particularly because of his defensive range.
“Michael, in our opinion, is one of the best center fielders in the Draft this year,” Goldberg said. “He can really go get it in the outfield. Tremendous instincts to play defense, and in our ballpark it’s a true asset to what we do.”
Round 5 (150th overall): RHP Charlie Neuweiler, Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School (N.Y.)
In Neuweiler, the Royals picked the teammate of Quentin Holmes, whom the Indians drafted with the 64th pick. As scouts came to see Holmes, they found Neuweiler, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound player who throws his fastball in the upper 80s and lower 90s. His curveball, scouts have said, is his best pitch. Goldberg said Neuweiler has “a starter’s delivery.”
“We went in to see both players play on the same day,” Goldberg said. “I do think he got some helium with Quentin and his notoriety, but at the end of the year we found out guys were going in to see Charlie as well.”
Round 6 (180th overall): RHP Tyler Zuber, Arkansas State University
Zuber bounced back from a junior season in which he totaled a 6.59 ERA to go 6-1 with a 2.06 ERA in 25 games. As Goldberg pointed out, Zuber, who improved in every statistical category this season, struck out 80 batters in 52 1/3 innings.
“Nintendo numbers,” Goldberg said.
Round 7 (210th overall): OF Brewer Hicklen, University of Alabama-Birmingham
A two-sport athlete, Hicklen played football at UAB. Well, sort of. Hicklen went through summer workouts and fall camp with the team in 2016, but as the Blazers’ program had not started playing games again after being temporarily nixed by the University, Hicklen never saw game action. He was a first-team wide receiver during the team’s final fall scrimmage, but he will never play college football after choosing to sign with the Royals.
UAB head coach Brian Shoop said Hicklen is a model citizen off the field and a player to emulate on it. Hicklen, a devout Christian, thanked God and Jesus after being drafted, which he called a “blessing.”
“Real strong, athletic, physical player,” Goldberg said of Hicklen. “Lot of ceiling we think left to him.”
Round 8 (240th overall): LHP Holden Capps, University of Central Oklahoma
Capps transferred twice in his career. He began at El Reno Community College, where he spent two years before transferring to the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. After a year there, Capps transferred again, this time to Central Oklahoma.
He finished the 2017 season with 96 1/3 innings pitched. He allowed 47 earned runs and walked 40 batters in that time, accumulating a 4.39 ERA. He also struck out 92 batters.
Round 9 (270th overall): LHP JC Cloney, University of Arizona
Cloney pitched in Game 1 of the 2016 College World Series, holding the eventual title-winning Coastal Carolina Chanticleers to four hits in a shutout performance. Combined with his previous start, the outing extended a 16-inning scoreless streak for Cloney, who was named to the College World Series All-Tournament Team.
“Long track record of throwing strikes,” Goldberg said of Cloney. “Probably not going to overwhelm you with stuff, but he’s athletic, competes and throws strikes.”
Round 10 (300th overall): LHP Jordan Floyd, Kansas State University
The Royals went local with their final pick on Tuesday, drafting Floyd from Kansas State. Floyd pitched 21 games in relief for the Wildcats this season.
“He’s got a fastball up to 94, plus slider,” Goldberg said. “Real competitor. Our scout Matt Price is extremely excited and hopefully we will come to terms with Jordan tonight and get him in a Royals uni.”
Wilson Alexander is a reporter for MLB.com based in Kansas City. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.