It’s Mizzou Day at the K today, so maybe some Tigers out there will be at the game and won’t abandon Kings of Kauffman when I say that I’m an alumnus of the University of Kansas and have been a of the basketball team since about 1990.
That means I saw a lot of Roy Williams. He seemed to have a pattern of pulling in one big recruiting class then taking the next season off, getting roleplayers into the program instead. Then he’d be right back to getting stars. Bill Self took over in 2003 and since has brought in strong classes every year. Maybe the results aren’t there every season, but Self has lost players to the NBA and kept a strong team year after year. Roy had a few down seasons after strong classes would graduate.
Turning to the Royals, if you’ve followed the franchise for any length of time – and I’ve been a fan since kindergarten – you know that the Royals have been in a rebuilding mode since about 1995. Blame what you want: bad draft strategy, penny-pinching, plain old bad luck. The Royals have been bad and for a very long time.
With Dayton Moore’s hiring, the Royals shifted to focus on building the farm system. They added rookie leagues, increased scouting and signing bonuses, and committed to using player development as their means of turning things around. The shift resulted in being named the top farm system in baseball by everybody but the Pope (who probably doesn’t follow minor league baseball).
Eric Hosmer and Danny Duffy have already reached the majors. Others, like Tim Collins, Louis Coleman and Aaron Crow have made their way up to the bigs as well. Fans await the arrival of Mike Moustakas and Mike Montgomery.
Those are the key members of what is being referred to as the “first wave” of Royals prospects. In the past, the Royals really only had two or three players to constitute any minor league hope at all. A secondary wave was unheard of.
It’s too early to speculate on what the future holds. Crow has been great out of the bullpen, Hosmer is already the best player on the team and the rest have been good at times and have looked like what they are – rookies – at times. Monty and Moose haven’t made it to the majors yet, but have had their struggles.
While that first wave is important, what makes this system different from the past is a chance to continuously develop players who can come up to the big leagues within the next year or two. In a weak division, if things fall the right way, the first wave could put the Royals in contention while the second wave is arriving. These are guys like Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Christian Colon, Chris Dwyer, Salvador Perez and John Lamb (once he makes it back from Tommy John surgery).
Even beyond that, though, the Royals have a third wave of players – I’m thinking of Cheslor Cuthbert, Jason Adam and Kevin Chapman among others – that may be a few years away, but should be hitting the big leagues as some of the first wave players are in their arbitration years.
Every year from now until 2015, the Royals should be adding players whose performance and scouting profiles suggest future big league success. With no assurance that they’ll all reach their potential (and most won’t), it puts the Royals in position to build their roster from a stream of players, rather than having years like 2009 where nobody made a major league debut until rosters expanded in September (and then it was Dusty Hughes and Victor Marte).
Such development also safeguards against the bust potential of some. Mike Montgomery is struggling with control in Triple A, and Moustakas is getting a reputation as a slow starter. Lamb’s injury may keep him out for rehab and recovery until 2013, so that large group of other players is vital.
An X-factor in this discussion is continued activity in the international market (Perez, Cuthbert and Noel Arguelles are some key signings from outside the US). The Royals are rumored to be in on outfielder Elier Hernandez of the Dominican Prospect League. He’s 16 and says he most resembles Andruw Jones.
And don’t forget that the MLB Amateur Draft is Monday. The Royals will surely add other impact players that way, and, in the case of college players, may be just a couple of years from reaching the majors. Early speculation has the Royals getting their pick of Dylan Bundy, Trevor Bauer or Bubba Starling in the first round. Bauer’s the only college player of those three, but could make quick work of the minors IF he’s the first round pick of the Royals. Bundy and Starling would have a few additional years of development before reaching Kansas City.
The Royals have a chance to simultaneously contend while bringing in new talent year after year. It’s optimistic, and sure, the best laid plans don’t always work out, but with the right breaks, the Royals will be reloading year after year instead of taking on another five year plan.