Superfluous Eric Hosmer photo (Eric Tringali/Getty Images)

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.

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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Tags: AL Central Eric Hosmer KC Royals Mike Moustakas Wil Myers

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