Well Royals fans, if you’ve been paying attention to most baseball publications recently, you will note that things are less than ideal on the Royals farm. Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, and MLB.com’s MLB Pipeline don’t feature a single current Royals prospect in their top 100. The cost of taking a “win now” approach can be hell on the future of a mid or small market club, but do not fret! The cupboard isn’t as bare as some would have you believe.
Today we will end our Official Royals Farm Report series by discussing how we got here, where our system stands in today’s MLB landscape, and look at options for where the front office could go in the near future. So without further ado, let’s dive in and unpack what we’ve dissected over the past couple of weeks.
By now, most casual fans are at least aware of some of the moves the Royals have made over the past 5 years or so to maximize their chances of bringing home a World Series title. Given the results, it’s hard to argue with the way they went about getting there. In 2011, the Royals had the best farm system in baseball. They traded Zach Greinke in December of 2010, which brought Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar into the fold. That same season saw Esky hold down the starting shortstop job and he was joined by Danny Duffy, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Salvador Perez. The team also featured home-grown talents in Alex Gordon (7.2 WAR!!!), Luke Hochevar, Billy Butler, and Aaron Crow (All-Star). The list is actually a lot deeper, but you get the idea. Not included on the MLB roster were players still working their way up the ladder. That list includes Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, and Christian Colon.
With the exception of Colon, the rest of these players were ultimately able to contribute to the Royals championship run through various trades. The deal for James Shields and Wade Davis sent Myers, Odorizzi, and Montgomery to the Rays. No doubt, this trade was a turning point for the franchise. After years and years of suffering defeat, their boys had become men. They just needed reinforcements. Unfortunately for the farm system, this means dealing players for proven MLB talent. The Royals were certainly able to spend a bit on free agency here and there, but their biggest moves came at the cost of high-end, minor league talent. Guys like Brandon Finnegan, Sean Manaea, AJ Puckett, Matt Strahm, and Cody Reed were all players that spent time on the Royals top prospect lists, but were ultimately not seen as players that would help them win during this accelerated timeframe. The core prospects had come into their own and it was time to seize the opportunity.
All of this said, we can’t sit here and blow smoke about how the club was reloading at the time. The Royals weren’t perfect at drafting or developing talent. Trust me, if you look back over the past 10 years first round draft picks and see who the Royals may have drafted v. who they actually picked, you’d probably feel ill. The draft may not be a total crap-shoot, but it’s not something that anyone can get right every single year. On top of that, there’s also the inescapable injuries that some players just can’t avoid. Kyle Zimmer may be one of only a handful of guys drafted by the Royals in the past decade that has everything you look for in a frontline, ace pitcher. Unfortunately he’s been hampered with a multitude of injuries that have set his career back time and time again. When it all adds up, this is where we are. An MLB team “projected” to lose the most games in 2018, and a franchise starting a rebuild that pundits call one of the bottom 5 farm systems in baseball.
HOWEVER, in reading the Official Royals Farm Report series and taking a step back, one can see bright spots at every position. Given a timeline of around 3 to 5 years and looking at the make up of the players in the system, there is potential for the Royals to start seeing results around that time. Ultimately that starts with players that have recently appeared at the big league level. Jorge Bonafacio, Raul Mondesi, Jr., Jakob Junis, and Whit Merrifield should all still be under team control when the next wave hits. Behind them are players near the top of our prospect rankings that play in the upper levels: Hunter Dozier (4), Foster Griffin (6), Donnie Dewees (7), Nicky Lopez (8), and Richard Lovelady (9). If we have success from recent trade acquisitions and Rule 5 draft picks then things are starting to look up a bit.
What might put the Royals back into post season contention comes from seeing the talent in the lower levels. It’s true to say that players that are ages 18 to 21 still face a wide range of outcomes. Guys like Seuly Matias, Khalil Lee, MJ Melendez, and Nick Pratto haven’t been playing professional baseball for very long. They don’t have the track record of success that you’ll find leafing through the top prospect lists. That said, the Royals have some young men that absolutely have big potential when it comes to grading their abilities. Whether it be the Joey Votto comparison for Pratto (yes, please!), the 20/20 potential and raw athleticism of Lee, the defensive wizardry and bat speed of Melendez, or the light tower power and cannon arm of Matias, this system has guys that are projectable and THAT are only scratching the surface.
So where to go from here? To pump the brakes a bit, some of these guys won’t see things go their way. Baseball is a humbling sport. Whether it be injury, maxing out ability, personal issues; an already thin system will likely see some of their most talented players hang up their cleats before they ever step foot in Kauffman Stadium. So to build a farm successfully there are basically two ways to go about it:
- Draft, sign, and develop your own talent.
- Trade major league assets to acquire minor league talent.
Some fans desire to see the team stick together and simply reload through the draft and free agency. The Royals major league club would remain intact and fans will still be able to file into The K to see some of their favorite players take the field. Given the potential for so many early picks in this years draft, it may keep trading current Royals on the back burner for a while.
In the time Moore has been in Kansas City, this is how he’s drafted in the first round not counting 2006:
- HS Hitters: 4 picks (Hosmer, Moustakas, Bubba Starling, and Pratto)
- HS Pitchers: 2 picks (Ashe Russell and Nolan Watson in the same draft)
- College Hitters: 2 picks (Colon and Dozier)
- College Pitchers: 3 picks (Crow, Zimmer, and Finnegan)
Probably not very encouraging at first glance but there are going to be 8+ major leaguers for certain out of this list, likely more. That’s really not bad given the uncertain nature of the draft. From a positional standpoint looking forward, I’d really like to see the club address pitching needs at the beginning of the draft. It really can’t be over-stated that quality pitching is worth its weight in gold. There will most certainly be talented players that fall through the cracks, so I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the front office target a player at 18 they can sign for at or below slot value, and go over slot with a later pick. This wouldn’t be new with Moore, seeing it’s how they were able to sign Sean Manaea after he fell out of the first round of the 2013 draft.
The second option for rebuilding is going to make the sentimental fans cringe. The mere thought of trading Danny Duffy, Whit Merrifield, or Salvador Perez is almost unbearable. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a quicker path to winning, this is the way to go. Trading Zach Greinke didn’t look great on paper at first, but it paid off in a BIG way. Plus, with this uncertainty on the free agent market, who knows how many extra picks the Royals will end up with. Ultimately, I think time will tell but I imagine over the course of the 2018 season we will see quite an influx in talent. If the Royals are eager to return to prominence, it’s going to start down on the farm.
Photo Credits: Bill Mitchell