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When the Hope of Prospects Becomes a Liability

It was a few years ago while coaching baseball and mowing the outfield grass that I used to spend my mornings listening to national sports-talk radio. Think what you want of Colin Cowherd but at least the guy makes for entertaining listening while you’re trying to pass a couple hours as quickly as possible.

The Anaheim, Los Angeles, Orange County, California Angels at the time had what was regarded as one of the best farm systems in baseball, and a large number of their minor league players were the envy of the rest of the league. Erick Aybar, Brandon Wood, Howie Kendrick, Ervin Santana, Kendry(s) Morales, etc, were highly regarded players with a couple of them being thought of as impact major leaguers.

Problem was though, if this truly could be considered a problem, the Angels were that team that had just enough talent to win consistently, but not quite enough of that special talent to put them over the top. After all, good players win you games, special players win you championships.

Bill Stoneman, the Angels GM at the time, was always in the middle of the trade rumors because he had all these great minor league prospects – Brandon Wood being at the forefront of those prospects – and was always in need of the one impact player to push his roster to the next level of an elite team.

He wouldn’t do it. He never pulled the trigger. In his mind, or what I can only assume without direct, inside knowledge, the players coming up were going to have to be the next in line to continue the Angels winning ways. And to trade them would mean to sacrifice what could be the chance to compete at a high level for three or four years in a row.

Cowherd used to love talking about the Angels’ philosophy and Bill Stoneman. He mocked the Angels for not trying harder to trade their “hot young prospects” (said mockingly) for a chance at established big leaguers in an effort to win championships. Why? Because all these “hot young prospects” are never sure things, and when you can trade them while their stock is sky-high to acquire established stars or highly productive major leaguers now, you should almost always do it.

Superfluous Eric Hosmer photo (Eric Tringali/Getty Images)

The Royals could be at that point soon, if they’re not already.

The Best System In Baseball is at the height of its hype. It would seem near impossible for the Royals as an organization to repeat with nine players in the BA top 100 at any point within the next couple of years. Impossible. So for all the positives and praise the organization’s drafting and scouting departments have been receiving, and deservedly so, there is almost no way of repeating this success once the draft slots start falling towards the end of round one and beyond.

So as teams like the Twins and the Tigers and the White Sox start coming back to the pack in the AL Central, the window of opportunity to compete and win the division may be coming a little sooner than any of us originally thought.

This goes back to the Angels argument from a couple of years ago: Do you trade younger prospects for already proven, established talent because your team’s chances to compete are now, or do you hold on to the prospects because of what you perceive to be your team’s own timetable is further down the line?

The answer may not be so simple.

Mike Moustakas is, or was, the poster boy for The Process. His leadership and power and ball-playerness have endeared him to an organization that focuses entirely too much on such things. He’s got power. He’s got a great arm. He’s got a great smile. He also probably won’t be as good a big leaguer as all the prospect and scouting people think he will.

With an on-base percentage relying heavily on batting average, Moustakas would seem to be more of an out-maker than any player considered a star can reasonably be. In fact his career minor league line of .280/.336/.502 is eerily similar to Brandon Wood’s, .284/.352/.536. Well, actually, it’s worse.

Now, there are things I’m not taking into consideration like park factors, position, willingness to learn to hit something with a bend, but the philosophy behind not trading a player with some obvious aversions to taking a walk, still apply. The Angels didn’t because of the promise of what Wood’s future could be and paid the price with missing out on their present.

This year’s version of the Royals may not be as good as we all think, or hope it is, but the window to compete for an AL Central pennant may be around sooner than the 2014 deadline the Royals have given themselves. Do you adjust, take some of the higher valued prospects, and trade them for more established pieces now in an effort to take advantage of the current window?

I’ve never been the biggest fan of the “bring them all up at the same time” mentality. And I don’t think that’s necessarily what the Royals are trying to do, but the First Wave of talent seems to be a lot bigger than the Second Wave, and having the majority of a roster made up of players in their first two years of service time, isn’t a recipe for success.

Bringing up a bunch of players together also means they all get expensive, together. Hosmer, Moustakas, Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, Aaron Crow, Lorenzo Cain, and on and on, will all be expected to lead this organization to its next phase of winning baseball. And they won’t be alone.

And if they all become what everyone hopes they become, they will all cost a lot of money at the same time. At which point you could trade them for younger pieces to replenish the roster, but there’s no way of knowing what the landscape of the AL Central will be at that time. The Royals know what the landscape is now, though.

Of course, since that the Royals have been this patient with The Process, there’s little reason to change course now. But they have what no team in the last 20 years in baseball has had – an embarrassment of riches in the minor leagues and not enough spots to put them all.

Trading the upside-potential of a Moustakas when his stock is sky-high for three or four years of what this team so desperately needs, a proven starting pitcher, shouldn’t be out of the discussion.

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Topics: AL Central, Eric Hosmer, KC Royals, Mike Moustakas, Wil Myers

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  • jim fetterolf

    Not an obvious replacement for Moooose at the moment, so no trade. Royals have some obvious holes in their system and the problem the team has the last few weeks is that they can’t hit RHP, so lose 3-0, 3-1, or 3-2. An overpriced veteran coming in, unless he’s Verlander, won’t be worth more than a few wins and will burn money needed to keep prospects in ’18. Better is to trade Butler or Soria, both of whom we have replacements for, to try to get an SS and 2B who can hit and some more A and AA prospects to reload the minors.

    Royals are surprisingly at .500, five games better than I expected, so I see the Process working just fine and think we let it play out.

    • Kevin Scobee

      First, Jim, let me thank you for commenting in a respectful manner that always adds something to the conversation. You’re on these pages a lot, and even though I can only speak for myself, I’m sure the rest of the staff at KoK appreciates your thoughts.

      Here’s the basis of my thought process: I don’t think Moustakas is going to be all the great a player. The warning signs are there for someone bound to, not necessarily “flop” in the big leagues, but not enjoy success at the level we’re all expecting of him. Some scouting guys, like Goldstein, love him. Some, like Keith Law, have expressed their concerns. I guess mainly it would fall in line with wherever your thoughts of scouts vs stats fall. I’d like to see more walks, but that’s just me.

      And I’m not saying “overpriced”. I just don’t think you can have a roster full of 1 and 2 year players and make a run at a division – and that’s how long we know this window is open. We don’t know what the window will look like in ’18, so take advantage of this opportunity, by trading a player whose stock may very well never be higher. Again, this is all based on the fact that I just don’t see as much in Moustakas.

      Plus, I really like Wilson Betemit, and the difference between him for two more years and a proven, dominant starting pitcher, is greater than Moustakas for the next two years and another product of the system. “IMHO”.

      That being said, I can see where you’re coming from. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And The Process, at this point, I guess, isn’t broke.

  • JamIe Smith

    I think the LAofA are a poor comparison for the current Royals. The Angels did not fail with their minor league system. They have been a competitive team for years. Were they going to trade top prospects while they were and continue to be a competitive team? The Royals could only dream of the success the Angels have had over the last decade and still have a competitive team. The Angels ownership has also spent money on free agents.

    I think the Royals are a much better comparison to the the Twins or Rays. Pretty wasted article IMHO.

    • Kevin Scobee

      Thanks for reading!

  • http://puckettspond.com Wally Fish

    Kevin,
    I agree that the Royals are going to have to move some pieces down the road, but I think they need to wait until the “1st wave” starts taking hold to see where they stand. They also need to wait and see how the 2nd and 3rd waves are setting up as that will play into the moves they choose to make in the next several years.

    Trading Moose right now would be a huge mistake IMO because he has something guys like Brandon Wood never had. His ELITE bat speed gives him a special tool that can’t be taught. You don’t trade guys like that unless you absolutely have to.

    Mike should and will contribute to this team in the near future. He might not be one of the guys they sign long term but he’s definitely a key part of the puzzle until he starts getting expensive. Given all the talent they have coming up (and 50% of it will likely fail) Moose doesn’t have to be great – he just has to be good.

    • Kevin Scobee

      Wally, the point isn’t really to single out Moustakas, although I don’t really believe in him as a star player given everything I’ve read and seen (albeit seen first hand a very, very small sample), but more to touch on the philosophy of selling high on a player while consensus industry opinion thinks his ceiling is very high.

      If all Moustakas has to be is “good”, well, for all DM’s faults he’s proven he can find a good 3B’man for very little, like he did with Betemit.

      We don’t know what the landscape of the Central will look like in 2018, we know what it will look like for the next couple of years with aging rosters in Minnesota, Chicago, and Detroit. From a purely philosophical standpoint of how to manage and acquire talent, I would much rather take my shots sooner than later.

  • benjammin

    scobee, ….my god you are embarrassing. Your stupid article is so full of holes, i dont know where to begin. Moose has taken huge steps this season and you dont have to dig deep to see them. His biggest problems coming into 2011? Major question markes against lefties, and the ability to consistantly get on base. Ok, first off, Moose has always started slow in April, so lets look at those numbers: April: .229/.304/.410 in 83 abs…Ok, now May: .339/.424/.66l in 56 abs so far. Moose also is on pace for a career high 60 bb so he is clearly taking to coaching and making the correct adjustments in order to get on base. Now the biggest and best news. Against Lefties this year: .260/.339/.580 !!!! (righties: .281/.363/.474) He is actually BETTER and more productive against Lefties!!! Picollo said, and is right, that Moose is ready for the Bigs RIGHT NOW he just lacks an opportunity. (todays interview with petro on 810).You need to do your homework before you spout your baseless opinions. You really are embarrassing yourself and this website.

  • Kevin Scobee

    Thanks for reading!!

  • henry wiggen

    Whoa! Your opinion is never enhanced by bad manners, Ben. So, slow down a bit. You present some compelling numbers but they just point to trends. Scobee’s point is that the distance between Omaha and Kansas City is a lot greater than many fans realize. If you’ve followed baseball a while, you can count the enormous number of flameouts so you know, or should know, a prospect is NEVER a sure thing. Ask Billy Beane, a classic flameout. That’s why Billy Beane approaches baseball on a purely cost/benefit/risk basis, which is all Scobee is talking about. What baffles me sometimes is that some fans just don’t want to consider the possibilities. When they bring the Moose up, we’ll see. Seems like I remember the same mania for a certain left handed power hitting first baseman who is now back in Omaha. And for Mr. Gordon as well… let’s hope he’s grown into the major leagues. It’s a hard game. Scobee might be right; might be wrong … but when you resort to vitriol, you lose.

  • http://victoriasealsbaseball.blogspot.com/ Gus

    Good blog post. I agree that based on the numbers, Moose’s weakness is strike zone judgement. He’s obviously going to put up good power numbers in his career, but big league pitchers will be quick to figure out he’ll chase pitches out of the zone. His BA and OBP numbers aren’t going to be stellar in the short term…