It would make a nice story to cite the offseason between 2001 and 2002 as the birthplace of a new Royals regime, an overhaul in organizational drafting philosophy. In 2001, the team was captured by a sideshow act, Colt Griffin, that held few skills beyond the ability to throw a baseball as hard as an 18-year-old ever could. The next year, of course, the team looked for pitchability from their prep pitcher first rounder — and found their city’s great hope, Zack Greinke. But what could have been a symbolic upheaval wreaks now merely of coincidence, as the farm system — and the process for acquiring talent — has barely improved. Coupled with the occasional resistance to give successful prospects an opportunity, headlined by Internet favorites Kila Ka’ahiue and Disco Hayes, and the Royals’ problems seemingly extend to every department of their organization.
This is not to say they don’t have young talent, and with a particular shade of rose-colored glasses, couldn’t be projected for a successful future. Top ten picks yield prospects, and while neither Alex Gordon or Mike Moustakas or Eric Hosmer have yet had the success for which they were projected, each still harbors reasons for optimism. Behind Greinke, the best draft pick from this decade has been Billy Butler, who I still believe will flourish into a dominant hitter during his forthcoming arbitration seasons. And while I can’t claim much faith in Luke Hochevar‘s future, I’m a bigger believer than most in regards to Aaron Crow, who has three pretty good starting bullet points on a scouting resume: fastball velocity, fastball movement and fastball command. It shouldn’t take a lot of pitching instruction or time to smoothly develop their second option behind Greinke.
If there’s further reason for optimism, it’s a subtle loosening of the purse strings the scouting department has been afforded in the middle rounds. The team isn’t wasting their time on polished college players that will help a Major League roster soon, but instead buying out college commitments from extremely talented and extremely raw young players. The poster boy of this approach will be Wil Myers, whose $2 million bonus as a third-round pick is one of the ten biggest the Royals have ever handed out. Myers then followed it up with a .426/.488/.735 debut in 18 Pioneer League games, quickly validating the Royals new middle-round strategy. That is, if Chris Dwyer or Tim Melville or Tyler Sample all didn’t already do it, all pitchers given above-slot bonuses in the fairly early rounds. And that’s to say nothing of consensus top prospect Mike Montgomery, who was a more agreed-upon talent entering the 2008 draft, but still is providing great value for a 36th overall selection.
So, on the positive side, I do see a wealth of pitching that, even when accounting for attrition, should provide the pieces of a good pitching staff. But what of these problems developing position players, and perhaps more concerning, struggling to properly develop Moustakas and Hosmer? Given the mid-market organization’s relative inability to lure free agents, developing offensive pieces will be the key to their success. This is also a team that simply must begin to plunge into foreign waters, as — brace yourself — their last homegrown international player to have any semblance of Major League success is probably Runelvys Hernandez. Dayton Moore, who was second in-command of an organization with a top-notch international scouting department, should know better. But that isn’t the first time we’ve said that.