There’s been a lot of talk of the next wave of talent both recently and in the past. Baseball America wrote a few articles about lessons learned from rebuilds and from the 2015 Royals specifically. I looked at multiple opinions of other people and I try to put some thought process into what needs to be done for the Royals to get back to the top of the baseball world.
Bring your talent in waves to allow them to hit their ceilings together. Baseball America brought us the example of the 1995 and 1996 Blue Jays. Toronto brought players to the big leagues together in an attempt to make their run last longer. The group of Carlos Delgado, Roy Halladay, Shawn Green, and others were vastly talented and supplemented with the free agent signings of Roger Clemens and other veterans. Reinforcements arrived in the form of a second wave of prospects including Alex Rios, Orlando Hudson, and Vernon Wells.
As Baseball America surmised, it didn’t work for the Blue Jays. Their problem arose, in my and several other opinions, because they allowed their pillars leave. Those pillars were also team leaders and the teams no longer had the leadership necessary to compete in the tough AL East because new leaders hadn’t been established yet. Many of these players turned out to be very good big leaguers but they never reached their ceilings together.
In the Baseball America article Lessons from Rebuilds Past, author Kyle Glaser quotes then Blue Jay GM Gord Ash as saying, “You always heard about (Tim) Hudson, (Barry) Zito and (Mark) Mulder, and from a talent standpoint Carpenter, Halladay and Escobar were as good as those guys, but they just, they were never good together. If one guy was succeeding, one guy was faltering, one was moving back and forth to the bullpen.
“Timing is critical. Trying to have them all blossom together is ideal, but in our case, it didn’t happen. I think looking back on it, I probably could have done a better job in making sure that team grew together a little better than it did.”
The Royals exemplified bringing your talent up and allowing them to reach their potential together in their 2015 championship run. We heard all about the First Wave of Talent and the Second Wave of Talent behind them in the years leading up to the World Series title.
The Royals wave of talent created by The Process traveled through the minors on the same teams and hit the big leagues together. Dayton Moore often talked about allowing these players to win championships together at the minor league level. There were times I felt players weren’t ready for promotions like when Hosmer was moved to high-A to play with Moose. But it worked out and they continued up the ladder together winning championships as they went. Not only did this group of guys win in the minors together, they grew to be good friends. They had personal relationships with each other that were forged and tested through long bus rides and time spent together during the off season. Teams that like each other often do a better job of fighting for each other.
You need high quality leadership. This is something that many teams in baseball believe in. On MLB Network, there recently was a show about the Dynasty that Almost was. Watch it if you get a chance. The show is about the Cleveland Indians of the 1990’s. At one point, GM John Hart is interviewed and he gives the impression that building around Albert Belle was a big mistake because of a lack of leadership characteristics. One lesson I’ve learned as a coach is that you can’t build on players who aren’t building blocks. There are natural leaders out there that people gravitate toward. You have them in every business and on every team. You better find those players that have that charisma and get them to buy in to be building blocks or you won’t have a successful team. You might have a good team, but they will not succeed when challenged. Too many coaches try building their program on players who can’t be built on or don’t want to be building blocks.
The Braves, Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Rays, and Royals, among others, have put an emphasis on finding players who have good character and leadership traits. According to some, the Royals have gone above and beyond in their character development program. Dayton Moore has stated many times that the Royals value character and leadership traits and they will favor those players who have high character over those who don’t.
High character, intangibles like leadership and grit, and cohesiveness are things that are really tough to measure. People try all the time. Recently we heard about an anonymous Washington National who made some comment about it’s hard to hold teams accountable or win when your best player doesn’t do the little things right and isn’t held to the level the other players are. Now, we can all say the other guys should just get over that but we are human and one thing about humans is we brood. We let those things bother us. We get irritated when the golden boy gets away with something while I’m held accountable for something of far less importance. This brooding creates resentment, and try as we might, it’s almost impossible to win over the course of 180 games resenting your teammates. Check out your work environment. I bet you can name people that just suck the life out of you. But please, don’t do that. Instead, make a commitment to be someone who is an energy giver.
Make someone else’s day better and your environment better. Make your company better. Those are the people who are built on. Championship teams are full of people like that.
One way the Royals try to create that atmosphere in their clubhouse is servant leadership. You’ve heard people talk about it before and I’ve heard Dayton Moore, Dan Glass, and Mike Matheny all mention it at least once in person. I think the Royals have the leadership they need in place with Salvy, Whit, and Duffy. Those guys are here long term and I think they are good choices for the wave coming up just before contention.