The Royals made the Stanford shortstop their fourth-round pick on Tuesday, Day 2 of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. He was also drafted by Tampa Bay in the second round of the 2009 Draft.
Diekroeger was great in his senior year at Menlo High School in Atherton, Calif., batting .586 with four home runs and 20 RBIs. He passed on a contract offer from the Rays, deciding instead to play at Stanford. It's a decision he said was very difficult, but in the end, he just wanted a college experience.
"I was faced with the decision of going to Stanford or signing with the Rays," Diekroeger said. "They're a great organization, and they would've been a lot of fun to play for. I didn't really base it too much on money. It was more about the experience of just going to Stanford. I didn't want to look back and say, 'What if I had gone to Stanford? What would that have been like?' And I didn't want to live with that regret of not going through the college experience that so many people have. Especially considering both my parents went to Stanford, it was hard for me to turn it down -- that opportunity."
At first, the success he saw in high school carried over to the collegiate level. Diekroeger was the Pac-10 Conference Freshman of the Year in 2010 after leading the Cardinal with a .356 batting average and 41 RBIs. He earned a spot on the All-Pac-10 First Team.
As the years have gone on, Diekroeger hasn't put up the same kinds of numbers he did in his freshman season. He's hitting just .269 this season.
"It's weird, because when you look at Kenny and you've been around him, and you watch him play and the focus that he takes to the game, his numbers don't add up," said Royals director of scouting Lonnie Goldberg. "Guys were saying this guy might be one of the first five picks in the country going into this year's Draft. We've never forgotten that. Sometimes stats can be misleading in some regard."
But Diekroeger's still been a big part of the Cardinal. He's shown versatility on the infield, starting 167 career games at second base, shortstop and third base over the past three years. This season, despite his low average, he's still driven in 30 runs and belted out a team-high 16 doubles. He's also shown a lot of improvement on defense, making just nine errors this season after committing 32 in his first two seasons.
Diekroeger said that his years at Stanford have been great, and that he's gotten out of Stanford exactly what he wanted.
"I've grown so much as a person and as a baseball player, too," Diekroeger said. "I've met a lot of great people, learned a lot. I've had a lot of great experiences. Honestly, that's exactly what I was looking for when I decided to come to Stanford over signing a contract in 2009."
The Royals have liked what they've seen since Diekroeger was that stand-out high schooler, which led them to make the pick on Tuesday.
"As a staff, we identified him coming out of high school. We loved the makeup. We were actually very interested in trying to pursue him out of high school," Goldberg said. "We've seen enough of him over his college career, been real happy with what he's done throughout the season and in intersquad. We know the kid pretty well. We feel he's one of those college players that has a chance, that still has big upside in him."
Diekroeger and the Cardinal are still in the NCAA baseball tournament, and they begin super regional play against Florida State on Friday. He said that's where his focus is right now. The Royals' focus is on getting him in blue and white.
"We're wishing him the best of luck with the remainder of the season," Goldberg said, "but we're anxious to get him out everyday, get a wood bat in his hand and have some freedom to go play."
The 21-year-old said that the fact that he was drafted lower this year than he was in 2009 doesn't bother him.
"The way I see it is that I'm getting an opportunity to play professional baseball," Diekroeger said. "Sure, the money may be different, but at the end of the day, I'm getting an opportunity to play pro baseball, and that's all that I've wanted and that's all that I need."
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.