Royals’ Farm System: Best of the Decade?

Even before trading away Zack Greinke, the Royals were widely considered to have the best farm system in baseball. With Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress now in the fold, some prospect analysts believe the the Royals’ farm system may be historically good.

Is this a case of hyperbole, or do the Royals really have one of the best farm systems ever?

Ranking farm systems and prospects is always a fairly subjective task, but using Victor Wang’s research to value prospects is one of the more objective ways to compare farm systems. Wang looked at Baseball America’s Top 100 prospect lists from 1990-1999 and broke the players into five groups: players who ranked in the top 10, 11-25, 26-50, 51-75, and 76-100. Pitchers and position player’s were looked at separately. Wang then tracked the production of each player in the first six years of his career (the years under team control).

Erik Manning then took Wang’s data and calculated the average surplus value derived from each type of prospect:

* I valued top ten pitching prospects at $16 million (I think the discrepancy is related to sample size rather a difference in talent).

Using these values, I looked at every farm system dating back to 2004 to see how today’s Royals system stacks up. I analyzed the top 20 players in each system using John Sickels’ ranking for players who didn’t make BA’s Top 100 list.

Prior to this year’s Royals, the top three systems of the past decade were the 2006 Arizona Diamondbacks, the 2006 Los Angeles Dodgers, and the 2007 Tampa Bay Rays.

Led by two top ten prospects in Justin Upton and Stephen Drew, the farm system of the 2006 Diamondback’s rated the highest, posting an expected $228.3 million dollars in surplus value. In addition to Upton and Drew, the Diamondbacks’ farm system featured several blue-chip position players. Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin, and Chris Young all ranked in the top 25 on BA’s Top 100, and Carlos Gonzalez ranked 32nd. On the pitching side, the lone Diamondback to crack the Top 100 was Dustin Nippert (67), but Matt Torra, Garrett Mock, Micah Owings, and Enrique Gonzalez all received B grades from John Sickels.

The 2006 Dodgers ranked second. Nine Dodgers made BA’s top 100 in 2006, but only Chad Billingsley (7) and Andy LaRoche (19) cracked the top 25. The lack of elite prospects limited the expected value from the Dodger’s system to $208 million.

Right on the heels of the 2006 Dodgers were the 2007 Rays. Delmon Young and Evan Longoria both ranked in the top ten, but Reid Brignac was the only other position player to rank in the top 75. Wang’s value system heavily favors position players, so the pitching-heavy Rays fell just a bit short of the Dodgers, with an expected total of $205 million dollars of value.

To compare these systems to the current Royals, I had to predict how BA will rank Royal prospects on their upcoming Top 100 list. Looking through their system, I think a whopping 11 Royals will find their way onto BA’s list. On the position player side, Eric Hosmer will likely rank in the top ten, Wil Myers and Mike Moustakas in the top 25, and Christian Colon somewhere between 51 and 75. Out of the Royals’ hurlers, I expect John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, and Jake Odorizzi to all rank in the 26-50 range, Danny Duffy and Chris Dwyer to rank between 51-75, and Aaron Crow and Jeremy Jeffress to finish at the tail end of the list.

According to Wang’s research, these eleven prospects, combined with Kansas City’s nine next-best prospects (as rated by Sickels), will be worth a projected $227.3 million in surplus value, almost identical to the 228.3 million the system the Diamondbacks had in 2006 was expected to provide.

You can make a case that I might be too high or too low on particular player, but even with a few subtle changes, the overall conclusion remains the same- the Royals have a great farm system, but it’s not objectively stronger than the system the Diamondbacks had in 2006.

An additional point of interest is that despite having great farm systems four years ago, both the Diamondbacks and the Dodges finished below .500 last season. The Rays have been able to sustain success, but their efforts have been bolstered by some outstanding trades and free-agent signings.

The strength of the Royals’ farm system gives them a great foundation for success, but a look back at two of the best farm systems in recent memory provides a cautionary tale for those predicting a Royals dynasty. As we have seen, a great farm system does not guarantee major league success down the road.

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83 Responses to “Royals’ Farm System: Best of the Decade?”

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  1. Patrick says:

    And if anyone can mess it up… Lets face it – It’s GMDM.

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      • mowill says:

        Keep talking trash about Moore. He is assembling talent the way the Braves did in the late eighties and early nineties and the more talent you have the more you have talent that breaks out. I believe Sabean is considered a moron too, and we all know how that ended.

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      • Joe R says:

        Sabean also made very good offseason moves. Instead of signing old guys to long term deals, he gave out low risk high reward contracts to guys like Huff, Burrell post-release, etc, and it paid off.

        Dayton Moore is a wonderful scout and has built a great farm system. But he’ll have to change his views on player valuation if he’s going to fill in the gaps that the farm doesn’t fill if the Royals are to be successful, and so far he’s shown no sense of shrewd deal making in the free agent market.

        GMDM is the epitome of all that is good and bad about old baseball guys, really, and I’d feel more comfortable in the Royals’ near future success if they brought in a business mind to complement what is obviously a good talent evaluating mind in Moore.

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      • David says:

        Joe R – Moore’s not that old, he was born in 1967 which makes him 42 or 43. When he was hired by the Royals back in 2005, he was actually considered a rising young star in scouting.

        mowill – the thing with Sabean is that he threw away hundreds of millions of dollars on players who didn’t make a significant contribution to the Giants’ WS run. Aaron Rowand was a replacement level player (-0.1 WAR) during the regular season, and relegated to the bench during the postseason. Barry Zito was a decent enough 5th starter (1.3 WAR) during the regular season, but did not make the postseason roster. So, for a total of 1.2 regular season WAR and no impact in the playoffs, the Giants paid these guys over $31 million. In general, blogs like FanGraphs have focused their criticism on Sabean’s big money free agent signings, as well as a few puzzling trades (which, to be fair, often worked out in the Giants’ favor). I think they’ve given him credit where it’s due, for making some shrewd cheap signings as well as stockpiling some great young pitchers.

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      • Darryl Downy says:

        Then, the thing about Sabean is he’s not unlike the ‘thing’ about Epstein and Cashman, both of whom also throw money down the drain. And they, BTW, are joined by every other GM is sport.

        Fact of this matter though is that Sabean was/is made out to be a sophomoric talent, but as the team he constructed proved, it’s really his critics who are talentless. It’s about time fans realized what they really are – fans, and just because some shmuck like Cameron can entice readers with his over-the-top opinions does not mean he knows jack about the game. Which he obviously does not. #6

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      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        There is considerable circumstantial evidence that the Zito signing and possibly the Rowand signing were more the handiwork of former Giants Managing Partner Peter Magowan who was trying to replicate what he did when he first took over the Giants, and signed Barry Bonds to the biggest contract in baseball history at the time. That is likely the reason why Magowan is no longer the Managing Partner and Brian Sabean is still the GM.

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      • Joe R says:

        @David – age is just a number, really. For example, Peter Gammons can chew a man’s ear off over FIP, while hoards of 20-somethings still evaluate by Wins, batting average, RBI, and other sneaker-selling stats. “old baseball” is a mindset.

        Obviously old baseball isn’t a bad thing, as you’d have to be an idiot to think you can look at a kid’s college statistics and say “FIRST ROUNDER!”, as a scout might say “He has to start his swing early on fastballs, I don’t like him for my team”. Obviously knowing a kid can barely turn over an 85 MPH fastball spells impending doom once those become 95 MPH.

        Moore needs a little help in other areas, and has shown by struggling to sign good value-vets, opting instead for guys like Guillen and Frenchie (and Kendall, well, the contract wasn’t bad, but it was unnecessary given the roster construction). I can see the team taking off if he’s given the supporting cast for decision making, since the Royals will continue to draft well with GMDM at the helm.

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    • name says:

      i guess this sort of begs the question: is pitching talent often overevaluated in regards to trading prospects

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      • sidnancy says:

        I’d guess it’s more likely that pitchers get hurt; why else would pitchers ranked #11-50 be worth more than the ones ranked 1-10?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Because pitcher’s value is based on max velocity and size, and not so much on whether they can get hitters out or not? That’s a possibility.

        Guys like Farnsworth are a scout’s wet dream. He’s a physical specimen that really fills out the uniform, and he throws gas.

        There is no way to look bad drafting him because of his natural attributes. He’s the kind of guy that would light up an MLB Combine (if they had one). The only guys that get more attention than these types are propsects who have a dad that played MLB.

        I’ve seen both Folty (#19, 2010 HOU) and Blair (1st Rd, StL 2009) pitch in HS. They weren’t the best prep pitchers I have seen (we were 1-1 versus Blair), but they were big (‘specially Folty) and they threw gas.

        The thinking is that they have everything you can’t teach and can probably learn a lot of what you can. Problem is that a lot of guys don’t “learn”. Once they get to the point that they cannot blow everyone away, reality sets in, and not everyone can adjust.

        The calls of “can he get guys out?” are often drowned out by “Did you see how big he is?” and “OMG! He is lighting up the radar gun.”

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  2. Keith-in-Law says:

    They’re still the horseshit Royals. I guarantee they won’t make the playoffs any year this decade.

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    • Bill says:

      A decade is a long time. They have good foundation – arguably worse GM’s (Sabean, Coletti) have won with that.

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    • Alex O says:

      Yeah I think I would have to disagree…especially if you consider that the MLB will probably add an additional wild card at some point during that time. We’ve seen plenty of teams make huge turnarounds when nobody expects it, and a quality farm system is how they do it.

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    • Greg says:

      Incredibly ignorant comment. Maybe if the Royals were in the East. In the Central, they’ve got a pretty good shot. The unfortunate thing is that the Royals build this great system, and even if it works out, you end up like the Rays selling guys off. Baseball is so broken my heart sinks. Not sure if I could handle it without my fantasy league.

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      • B N says:

        Not sure why the Royals should have to sell off players any more than other teams in the middle of the road. Their revenues this year were 155m according to Forbes. While this puts them in the bottom 5, let’s look at their division according to revenues:

        CWS: 194
        Tigers: 188
        Indians: 170
        Twins: 162

        The Twins have revenues that are only only 7m higher, but have just retained their two star players. Even more comforting for the Royals, their revenue is not actually THAT bad for a team that hasn’t competed in half a generation. If they could be competitive, you have to think they could raise that by 15m at least. Maybe more.

        That would put them solidly in the middle of the road for their division. Moreover, it would place them among the cluster of teams with earnings around 170m, which also includes Arizona, the Brewers, Cleveland, Cincinnati, etc. While this is not exactly in the top half of the league, it’s definitely enough that one can strategically retain some players without shipping them all off.

        To be quite honest, while the Royals look more pathetic due to their performance and smaller metro market- if they hadn’t been so brutally mismanaged they could be very much like the Diamondbacks.

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    • Johnny Rapeseed says:

      He’s technically right. The decade’s over in a week.

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      • Jim says:

        No Johnny, move to the back of the class. This decade has over nine years to go.

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      • Johnny Rapeseed says:

        The 2010s have nine years to go but the 201st decade A.D. has nine days to go. Potato potahto.

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      • Marshall says:

        @Jim – In the Gregorian (common) calendar, the year 0 AD doesn’t exist, therefore Johnny is correct that the decade ends this year (1-10 AD was the first decade). However, going by the astronomical or ISO calendars, the year 0 does exist and corresponds to 1 BC in Gregorian/Julian.

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      • Doug Lampert says:

        Dates (years, decades, and centuries) are ordinals, not cardinals. When we talk about the date we speak of the twenty-first century, not twenty one centuries.

        When we speak of dates we’re putting things in an order, that’s the classic defining feature of ordinals. Dates are not cardinals, as I type this it is NOT twenty-four days in December all at once, it’s the Twenty-fourth day in december (note the singular, the count is of position in an ordering).

        They year is the two thousand and tenth year, not 2010 years. Again singular because it’s an ordinal count, not a cardinal sum.

        There’s no zeroth place in line, no zeroth day of the month, and no year zero. Scientists prefer to have absolute references and to subtract, so they use a notional year zero, but it’s no more real than the fact that many scientists (archeologists and paleontologists) use a calander based on date “before present” where the “present” is defined to be 1 Jan 1970. I don’t think it’s actually that date. But it’s convienent to have a reference for some purposes.

        In summary, there is no year zero. You can define one if you like for convienence of calculations, but that no more makes it the year zero than today is 1 Jan 1970 because that’s the “present”.

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    • Evan Kirkwood says:

      Remind me again how many times a team with <90 wins has won the AL Central this decade.

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  3. DrBGiantsfan says:

    The D’Backs have clearly suffered from being unbalanced on the hitting side. As you pointed out, the Dodgers lacked elite prospects and they also lacked depth on the pitching side.

    Yes, you have to supplement the homegrown core with FA signings and trades, but they don’t have to be high profile. As the Giants have shown, filling in the holes is a lot easier when you have a great young core than when you don’t.

    Count me as one who thinks Dayton is building something special here.

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  4. Matty Brown says:

    Excellent article. I don’t mean to nitpick and you already addressed thus issue; but I feel that Montgomery is a top-25 pitcher. (then again, the research indicates virtually no difference in value between a top-25 and top-50 pitcher.

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  5. Ja' Boy says:

    Moustakas is a top 10 guy after a .999 OPS season split between AA and AAA as a 21-year-old, no?

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    • You could certainly make an argument that Moustakas belongs in the top ten, but he’s not a top ten guy for me for three reasons. First, there are serious questions about his defense at third. Second, at only one level has Moustakas walked in at least 8% of his plate appearances. And third, he really struggles against lefties.

      Moustakas is a very good prospect, but not quite an elite guy.

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      • AJ says:

        There is no non-dickish way to say this, so I’ll just go for it.

        Your opinion doesn’t matter. Baseball America is what Wang has used and you have utilized here. It would have been far more instructive to post this after BA released their top 100. If either Myers or Moustakas make the top 10, the Royals gain 9 million which puts them over the top of the Diamondbacks. If both make it, then it puts them significantly over the top.

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      • Paul says:

        Are you going with what you think BA will do, or your own projections? Based on their content, it looks to me like there will be very strong consideration given to Myers for the top 10. Also, no doubt Lamb is top 25 for them, he may even sneak into the top 10. I’m also not so sure Colon doesn’t make the top 50 since he got all those ABs at Wilmington and held his own, and he’s still technically a SS.

        Also, I don’t think any of your Moustakas arguments are going to hold up with the BA folks. They don’t hold splits and home/road against a player if scouts generally dismiss them, which it seems they have. They focus on how he ended at AAA, which was was outstanding after a rough start. And BA had more scouts and managers than not say Moustakas is fine with the glove, and more than a couple say he’s now a plus defender. Based on their content to date, if he’s not top 10 for them, he’s very close.

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  6. Brian says:

    Look at the astute signings this off season as an indicator of future success. Wait, this seasons signings are a joke.

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  7. tbr says:

    It’s all pretty subjective, and this is based on BA’s rankings. But BA said the Royals top three are virtually interchangeable, so you might find more than one in the top ten. Now, go over to Baseball Prospectus and talk to Kevin Goldstein and you will find Mike Moustakas is the top prospect, with John Lamb second, followed by Hosmer, Myers, and Montgomery. And he puts Odorizzi behind Duffy, Dwyer, and Jeffress. Conclusion? It’s all guesswork at this point, and comparison to earlier systems is meaningless because those systems were in entirely different contexts (ie, how strong was that year’s prospect crop in general as opposed to this year’s).

    Two things, though, that prospect mavens tend to cite when rating a team’s system overall are the presence of elite level hitters and a mix of arms and positions. With three elite hitters and a good balanced mix of pitchers and position players, something that the other three mentioned systems did not have both of, the Royals have it way over all the others.

    As for being the horseshit Royals, well, the Rays were the horseshit (Devil) Rays. Things can change.

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    • Tony says:

      Let’s not forget that there was stretch there in the late 80’s and early 90’s when the Yankees were horseshit yankees too.

      Also there are some @BenBadler who have forecasted the Royals having four or five players in the top 25. Not sure how that changes the math, but it’s got to improve it a bit.

      Also, Dayton Moore has really shown signs of improvement. If it was 2008 Franceour would have been signed to a 4/$25M contract by Dayton.

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      • Joltin' Joe says:

        Maybe if Frenchy has a good year Dayton will give him his multiyear deal.


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      • CircleChange11 says:

        … or that mangement has give DM the green light to rebuild.

        We always assume the GM is the one making all the decisions. BUt, perhaps the owner has instructed him to “sign free agents” and “make this team competitive” so that “I can make some money”.

        Or, DM could have made some bad mistakes on his own, and is now in a position where the Royals want to get of the “rebuilding or not” merry go round and get to it.

        The problem is that making a competitive team from within takes time, and there aren’t that many patient people in society.

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  8. NEPP says:

    ~wonders how many washed up former Atlanta Braves this farm system will net the Royals in future trades~

    ~also wonders if the Royals will break 50 wins in 2011~

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  9. Locke says:

    Really great article. I will agree with some posters about undevaluing Mous, and I think when the ba rankings do come out, kc will be the clear winner in this format. Best ever? Impossible to say. Best in the last 10 years? Definitely.

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  10. Will says:

    For some reason, the Royals are always less than the sum of their parts. They need someone who actually wants to win to set the tone, and … whether they knew it or not … they just traded him away.

    The way they treated Greinke was textbook Royals. Make someone slog through years of losing, subject him to public humiliation, then, as soon as he matures and expresses a desire to win, trade him for more prospects, who will slog through years of losing …

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Except that expression to win was an expression to be traded. There are serious questions as to whether Greinke can pitch to his potential unless he is completely happy/comfortable in his situation.

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      • tbr says:

        It wasn’t an expression to be traded, it was a temper tantrum that resulted in the firing of his agent, followed by a demand to be traded NOW.

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      • Paul says:

        Exactly. I’m a big Greinke fan and I’ll be rooting for him in Milwaukee, but they are keying on guys like Moustakas and Hosmer to “set the tone.” Moustakas for one has talked in interviews about how excited he is to get up to KC, put the team on his back, and BE the rebuilding effort. I really do like Zack, but he’s just frankly not a team guy. He likes to win because it’s a personal challenge for him. It’s instructive that he’s always gravitated to individual sports like tennis, golf, and swimming. It seem clear that he viewed both hitting and pitching the same way, individual opportunities to compete. Moustaksas and Christian Colon are the key guys for them. Same for Montgomery, who was kicked off his high school basketball team for fouling out of too many games. A kid doesn’t do that if he’s only concerned about himself. John Lamb is the son of a scout. On and on, the point is they have shifted to not only acquiring good players, but guys who will lead the rebuilding effort because that’s just who they are. Zack is not that guy, and if he would have stayed, he would have just been the quirky ace, not the leader of the staff.

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      • wobatus says:

        Paul, I am not sure being kicked off your basketball team for fouling out of too many games is necessarily an indication of being a team player, or somehoe shows that Montgomery is not out only for himself. Doesn’t necessarily means he is only out for himself either, but I don’t follow the logic you are using in suggesting it somehoe proves something about his character.

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      • Paul says:

        Wobatus: It was his basketball team, senior year, he was a post player. Playing your ass off on defense in the post to the extent that you foul out enough to get kicked off your team (I believe this was some sort of conference rule) is a pretty good indicator of a team oriented guy to me. Especially since while he was no star, with his size and athleticism he could have at received a DI-A or DII scholarship if he happened to blow out his arm in baseball.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Playing your ass off on defense in the post to the extent that you foul out enough to get kicked off your team (I believe this was some sort of conference rule) is a pretty good indicator of a team oriented guy to me.

        … or it could be because he was a goon.

        In my HS years we had a “post player” that eventually became an NFL Lineman for 10 years (Detroit Lions). He fouled a lot, often with his elbows. I don;t think it was so much because of his committment to the team but rather “he could” and “no one could really stop him”.

        We don’t really know how guys will respond until they get into the situation. If words and impressions were reality, there’d be a whole lot more Medals of Honor given out.

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      • Paul says:

        CircleChange: Fair enough, Danny Fortson comes to mind. Should have clarified that Royals scouts were on him from the previous summer, when he wasn’t a real big name. They stayed on him through the basketball season, and the “team guy” thing was their impression, not that he was a goon. They were ecstatic that he fell to them in the supplemental first, and they figured it was due to a lot of teams assuming he might be a goon based on the story, but Royals scouts went to the basketball games and stayed on him all year, and they (supposedly) knew better.

        Whether he really is a goon or not, the point is that they are drafting guys who they *think* are big on leadership and team-oriented.

        Here’s another example, Greg Schaum interviewed Melville a while back and the young pitcher ended the interview with a lot of rah-rah about how he and his compadres were going to build a winner. It wasn’t boilerplate stuff in context, especially because that’s not how Schaum does interviews. The context of his comments was important, but it’s even more important to juxtapose them against interviews of past Royals prospects. I won’t name names, but it was pretty routine that guys would just come off as bonus babies interested in the lifestyle. Not surprising at all to me that they are where they are in part because of drafting and signing guys like that.

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    • RM says:

      “For some reason, the Royals are always less than the sum of their parts. ”

      That reason is most likely that the team is owned by David Glass, the man who was the CEO of Wal-Mart for over 20 years. From what I understand, he runs the Royals pretty much exactly the same way he ran Wal-Mart: as cheaply as possible in order to maximize returns. In Kansas City, the better you perform, the more likely you are to be traded, since ultimately the owner won’t hang on to any contracts that would negatively affect the bottom line. I can’t imagine a team is likely to excel under those conditions.

      If you think about it, having an excellent farm system fits into this philosophy perfectly, as talent will never be cheaper to acquire than while developing. I’ve read that MLB fines teams for spending too much; it’s too bad for Royals fans it doesn’t do the same for spending too little.

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  11. CircleChange11 says:

    The DBacks team was pretty much wiped out by injuries. Let’s see most teams Lise their ace, and still compete.
    Byrnes hamstring killed his huge contract.

    Didn’t the DBacks go to the playoffs twice since 06? They had a pretty good window and a lot if things seemed to go South.

    KW and BS and RA have won recent titles. If DM turns around the sorry Royals, who is left to ridicule?

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    • TexasRanger says:

      We always have the sorry corpse of Omar Minaya to spit on! Also Mike Rizzo is setting himself up for some serious lawls in the future

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    • Dwight Schrute says:

      As a Tigers fan I think Dombrowski deserves some heat. He has had the top payroll in the division I believe the past 4 years and has nothing to show for it. They also have one of the worst farm systems in the league too so it’s not like he has all this young talent waiting in the wings. To his credit he has aquired to studs in Cabrera and Verlander though.

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    • David says:

      well, the really bad GMs don’t have a job right now. we can always fall back on ridiculing Bill Bavasi, Steve Phillips, Jim Duquette, etc.

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    • Adam says:

      Um, no, The D-Backs went to the playoffs once, in 2007, and were very mediocre in 2008.. And have been pretty terrible in ’09 and ’10.

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  12. B N says:

    I think that the methodology here is a bit hazy. This doesn’t tell us if the Royals farm is the best or close to the best. Only time will tell us that. Instead, it tells us how much a particular algorithm values them then compares it against the valuations of other teams’ prospects recently. In this way, it gives a pretty good concept of the trade value of the prospects in the system.

    Unfortunately, it gives a pretty junky estimate of the playing value of the system. I mean, we’re saying the 11th guy is worth about 12m less than the 10th guy? Talk about discretization error. That issue alone can lead to serious variance swings, even from year to year for the same prospects. Plus, the ranking scheme assumes that rankings across multiple years are directly comparable- which we just plain know isn’t true. A significant percentage of the value at the top is captured not by the top 10 guys, or even the top 3 guys, but by the once-every-few-years guys like Pujols. Young hitters that you could practically plug into a line up out of the draft, if you needed to.

    Moreover, the whole Wang methodology itself appears to be based upon win shares over bench, if I’m correct. Like linear weights, I’m pretty sure these have the unfortunate effect of implying that 2 players worth 1 win share is worth 1 player worth two win shares. Clearly, due to the constraints of putting at most 9 players on the field, that is not true. I would hazard to say that using this approach to examine farm system has the following drawbacks:

    1. Year to Year Prospect Pool – It overvalue prospects in a weakened farm system (i.e. after a crop graduates into the majors).

    2. Linearity of Valuation – It seems prone to undervaluing top players, who are typically worth more than their linear value due to the non-linear constraint of playing time and positions.

    3. Discretization Bumps – In particular, the glaring one at the top is likely to cause issues. Again, this will tend to undervalue top players and overvalue others.

    The issues surrounding top players is rather concerning. Looking at 2010, for all hitters with at least 50 PA and a non-negative WAR (about 400), the top 40 players accounted for over 30% of the WAR. The top 10 accounted for 18%, and the top 5 for 5%.

    If you plot the rank of the player against the fraction of total WAR they produce, it is in no way linear. It comes out way closer to a logarithmic curve. So basically, a disproportionate amount of WAR comes from the top players (unsurprising). However, due to playing time constraints, the actual value of such WAR is probably still undervalued. This approach to evaluating farm systems further increases this divide between real value and linear value, due to the big bin at the top.

    All told, I am not sure if I know that much more about the quality of the Royals farm system at this point than I did coming in, because of this iterative biasing effect. Which is not to say that I don’t appreciate the attempt, but I do feel like the methods being applied could use some improvement.

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    • Luke in MN says:

      There’s probably some non-linear aspect to the value of top players, but I doubt it’s all that much. A 1 WAR guy is going to have somewhere to play in the bigs where he replaces a truly replacement-level guy. If that’s the case, his 1 WAR is truly equal to 1 win that the team wouldn’t have had without him and is therefore equal to each one of the 6 wins a 6 WAR player provides. If you can trade people around enough, I don’t see why player value would be all that non-linear.

      And as to your problems with the roughness of the estimate, well…it’s a rough estimate. What do you want? Do you really think there’s some (worthwhile) way to do this with more precision?

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      • B N says:

        Well, a few matters. Firstly, a 1 WAR (full season) guy might not necessarily end up with a roster spot for a full season at least. Since WAR is a counting stat, everyone who plays half a season with 0.5 WAR could very well be a 1 WAR player over a full season. Or at least a 0.8 WAR player or something (if they have a bad platoon split, etc). Hence, there’s tons of possibly above-replacement play that goes to waste due to a lack of roster spots.

        Especially on a single team, this is extremely obvious. If I take the Rangers last year, and trade away Josh Hamilton for 8 1 WAR full season players… what have I done? Probably, I’ve lost 7 WAR at one position and created a logjam where I can’t even play all the guys I’ve picked up. Hence, those 1 WAR guys probably each fall down into being 0.5 WAR guys, if that, for the purposes of that squad. Hence, your total WAR across the league won’t really be representative. The Yankees can afford to stock 1 and 2 WAR guys and play them infrequently enough that they only accumulate 0.5 or 1 WAR. Even more generally, your bench is generally filled with guys who would produce above-replacement play but who simply don’t play. Assume you have two 1B, one who will put up 2 WAR and one with 1.9 WAR, with identical splits. Who will play? The 2 WAR guy, always, unless you give the other guy a day off. Does that make the 2 WAR guy a 0 WAR player? Of course not, but he’ll still produce almost no WAR.

        There are many good reasons why you wouldn’t want to divest yourself of such logjams either. For example, looking at batters with at least 50 PA and a WAR > 0, there are 75 batters who posted a WAR under 1 but if allowed to play a full season of 162 games (Multiplied by 162/Games Played), would have had a WAR over 1. That’s out of about 360 total candidates. While these may not be “true talent” values, it does give one pause to think of how much “above replacement” play actually never plays during the year.

        Certainly enough to be a pretty meaningful value, I’d hazard. Looking at that same sample of players, who totaled 720 WAR overall, if they all played the season at the same quality they would have had 1045 WAR. Now, we can state with some certainty that some of that would be lost due to platoon issues, injury, etc. But you have to admit that at least some significant portion of that is just due to playing time limitations.

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    • phoenix2042 says:

      wow i am thoroughly impressed, if slightly overmatched, by your research and knowledge of statistics. So i think i understand the problems with linear methods of valuing prospects and the methods employed by the author. But how would you fix it? What kind of algorithms would you use to evaluate the farm system besides the ones used here. Would you say that just waiting to see how they all produce is the only option? Or is the author’s method flawed, but as good as is possible now? Basically, how would you correct the valuations here and what conclusions do they reveal?

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      • B N says:

        Well, the fundamental issue that we end up having with valuations is that we tend to use linear weights. Instead of those, we could probably use a more generalized parametric fit. I mean, best-fit linear weights can be calculated using an optimization algorithm.

        I would like to think that we have enough data to be able to get decent confidence on a non-linear curve fit. Especially for value, I would think a good approach would be to establish a valuation conversion that converts wins to dollars in a non-linear fashion. For this, we basically only have two variables:

        Performance: WAR/Inning
        Time: # Innings Played

        Right now, we basically calculate valuation like this, where C is some constant:

        $ = C * WAR/Inning * Innings

        I would think a better approach would be something along the lines of:

        $ = f(WAR/Inning) * Innings

        Where f is a non-linear function, rather than just a constant multiplier. This leads to the question of what we use to replace the constant multiplier. I would say we know at least the following things:

        First Derivative is Positive: df(x)/dx > 0
        Second Derivative is Positive, at least up values that project to 20 WAR per season: d^2f(x)/dx^2 > 0
        Expectation should be related to C: So prodsum(f(x), P(x)) = C*E[x]

        The first constraint says we definitely value players with higher WAR more than ones with less WAR. The current linear approach also takes this, or else it would be pretty broken.

        The second one captures what I have been saying previously, that being able to get more WAR out of one spot is disproportionately valuable. Basically, better to have one 2 WAR guy than 2 1 WAR guys. And much better to have 1 8 WAR guy than 8 1 WAR guys.

        The final one ensures that the function should end up with the same total sum as the WAR to conversion factor we already use. That’s nice, since it allows more easy comparison between the linear and non-linear approach.

        In general, this form of equation has the main advantages and drawbacks:

        – Captures the common knowledge that the real value of a 9 WAR player is worth more than 9 below average players (1 WAR guys), since you have finite batting/fielding positions and roster spots.
        – Maintains total $ sums, so the total value for a league will be equivalent.
        – Conceptually pretty easy to wrap one’s head around, if one already understands WAR.

        – Treating innings linearly in terms of value may be inappropriate. In particular, this will inflate the values of players who produce at a high level over a short period. In some respect, any function of small sample performance will do this, but this one exacerbates it. With that said, the limited sample should at least keep those guys in the realm of reasonable WAR.
        – Depending on implementation, may end up needing year to year calibration (which WAR itself needs, by calculating a replacement player).
        – Need to be careful about how the shape of the function deals with production that is only found in small sample sizes (i.e. 0.1 WAR in 1 game projects to 16 WAR over a season). Basically, the function has to either tail off to devalue outliers like that, or you just plain can’t use it on such outliers and get meaningful values.
        – Other unnamed disadvantages, which every approach has.

        I can’t say I LOVE the approach I’m noting here, but it seems like a band-aid style improvement over a standard linear approach. The next step up would be to use a two-variable function that incorporates both innings and quality of said innings, but that greatly complicates matters. It would be unreasonable to simply do a function on WAR itself, since this is intended to incorporate the additional value of improvement due to the limitations on playing time.

        The question then becomes what form of equation is best suited for this. For that, I’m all ears if there are opinions. There are a lot of options and unfortunately I simply lack the time to enumerate them in a comment box. It would almost certainly have to take into account the fact that there are only 9 game positions. I’ll think on it more, at some point.

        With that said, for this particular issue- the biggest overall problem is the discretization effect between 10 and 10+. I would hazard to say that one approach to correct this would be to use clustering or quartile bins to discretize at least, rather than what appear to be arbitrary bins. That way, you would end up with basically A, B, C, … prospects in terms of how they clump in value based on their rankings. Since you can cluster based upon multiple variables, you could actually not even have to aggregate all the different prospect ranking systems and just use them all as separate variables.

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    • wobatus says:

      Pujols was only 42 on BA’s top 100 in 2001, his only season on the list. I had grabbed him the year before in my league (we are allowed to draft minor leaguers, amateurs, whoever). Then I traded him 3 years later for Carlos Beltran, Jason Giambi, Brandon Webb and assorted dross. Doh!

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    • vivaelpujols says:

      This does tell us if the Royal’s farm system is projected to be the best, which is all we care about since we can’t look into the future. You can’t just look at which farm system eventually turned out the best – that’s results based analysis and assumes singular outcomes when in actuality there are a million possible outcomes. You have to find a way to look at prospect quality in a predictive sense, and I see nothing glaringly wrong with Wong’s methods.

      There is no evidence for prospect value being nonlinear. Wang’s research is based off of real data, and that shows what it shows. The entire point of grouping prospects into 1-10, 10-25, etc., is because it’s impossible to tell apart the Pujols’ from the Gordon’s. You can only do your best to project them based on scouting, stats, etc.

      As for the weakened talent pool, yeah, that’s a concern, but I doubt the aggregate prospect talent level changes drastically from year, and even if it does, that shouldn’t effect the ratings much which are ostensibly done on an A/B/C scale rather than a numerical ranking.

      I honestly don’t even understand your last couple of paragraphs.

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      • B N says:

        Actually, Wang’s analysis specifically shows that prospect value is non-linear with respect to order ranking. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be a huge jump between the 1-10 guys and but barely any jump between 11-25 vs 26-50, then a big dive for the value of the 50+ guys. If it was linear, you would not see that.

        So if Wang shows that it’s nonlinear with respect to his bins, which appear to be hand picked (I mean seriously, what serious algorithm would produce evenly spaced bin clusters like that?), that exactly proves my point.

        I never stated that there was anything wrong with Wang’s methods. As with every approach, you have to take your first cuts at it and then revise. It’s generally very very hard to find the flaws in an approach until you’ve tried it. In this case, Wang’s bins appear to cause a huge divide in value and also indicate that this divide probably happens at an arbitrary ranking (as opposed to one that minimizes in-category variance with respect to out-of-category variance).

        Ultimately, this tells us that the Royals are good. It also tells us that according to using this method, it projects to be about as good as other great farm systems in the last decade. However, it also suffers from the issue that one prospect hovering between the 10-11 divide causes a value shift of $12m in value. Taking these rankings as having some uncertainty, that bump alone could be accounting for 5-10% of the total projection value.

        My last two paragraphs were noting a way around this. Rather than making prospect bins: 1-10, 11-25, … etc by hand

        You run an algorithm on your data set that generates clusters of prospect draft positions that typically have less variance between their values (in-category) than they do with draft positions not given that set (out-of-category). There are different specific algorithms to use, and they can be applied off the shelf pretty easily. That way, you end up with bins that go 1-c1, c1-c2, etc… but that your data supports as having some specific differences.

        That way, you avoid the issue of having two bins of 11-25 and 26-50 that appear to be basically the same. And alternatively, you may end up seeing meaningful ranking divisions within the 1-10 ranks that show that certain prospects in that region are more valuable.

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  13. jirish says:

    I have no numbers to back any of this up, but it just seems to me that the Royals are astute at picking raw, untested talent; above average at developing that talent, and abysmal at ushering that talent into the big leagues.

    I do think Yost is probably a good manager for the developing guys and he’s in place for the whole year. I’m not so sure that Dayton Moore is the best guy to be setting the roster and signing complimentary pieces. They ought to move him out of that job and have him be in charge of the amateur side of things.

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    • tbr says:

      Too soon to say when it comes to Dayton Moore, as he has been GM for such a short time and hasn’t had any guys ready to usher into the majors since he took over. But very true of the Allard Baird era – which was less the fault of Baird than it was of ownership.

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  14. MC says:

    They’ve been so horrible and inept for so long that it’s incredible it’s taken them this long to build up a farm system.

    They should be 3-4 All-Star prospects deep at every position by now. When did they last have a winning season? In 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue?

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  15. YalkyPalky says:

    Fuck Keith-in-Law. That guy is a bigger douchebag than CircleChange11.

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  16. bobo says:

    I think you are overestimating the Jeffrees and Odorizzi rankings, I think Odorizzi is a 60-80 prospect and i’m doubtful that Jeffrees cracks a top 100.

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  17. DornCounty says:

    A few things to realize for non-Royals fans…

    When Dayton Moore was hired our owner(Glass) had an intentional change of heart. He decided that he didn’t want to be the laughing stock of baseball anymore. From that point(when DM was hired) the Royals have changed their whole minor league culture.

    Prior to that time all the way back to when Kaufman died, the Royals were in a “streamlined” mode. Meaning we did not invest in our system and really only paid our #1 draft picks. In fact we had several drafts where outside the #1 pick we offered $1000 signing bonus’ to the rest of the picks.

    I can’t say this enough, when DM arrived our minor league system was a waste land, both from a prospect standpoint and structural/developmental standpoint.

    Glass&Moore have committed to this “process” of using the minors to keep KC contending. The only question that remains is how much long term commitment (see $$) Glass will give the team and DM. From the early 70’s through the 85 series KC was known as a pioneer in regards to it’s farm system. If Glass continues to support(see $$) the process the Royals will continue to improve and contend much like normal frachises do. Hell we could even catch lightning and make a WS. If Glass pulls support, then we will go back.

    IT’s hard to non-Royals fans to understand that for a period of time KC was owned by a trust, whose primary purpose was to balance the books and were not baseball people. When the team finally sold to Glass he first tried to run it the “Wal-Mart” way. That just doesn’t work. DM was his mea culpa.

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  18. Bob says:

    Some have reasonably questioned the year-to-year prospect pool quality. For whatever it’s worth, the BA 2006 prospect list (when the D-Backs and Dodgers ruled the farmhand world) included:

    Position players (no particular order)

    Hanley Ramirez
    Jay Bruce
    Prince Fielder
    Dustin Pedroia
    Adam Jones
    Ryan Braun
    Andrew McCutchen
    Kendry Morales
    Daric Barton
    Nick Markakis
    Billy Butler
    Ryan Zimmerman

    If anything, that looks like an *unusually* strong group five years on.

    How about hurlers?

    Jared Weaver
    Gio G.
    And Mark Pawelek (Just kiddin’, cub fans.)

    Pitchers not nearly so strong. But on balance, it seems the ’06 top 100 was a solid group.

    Anyway, I do think the current KC group will be the most productive of any recent system–but unless ownership is willing and able to *shrewdly* commit to a mid-level payroll, the Royals will remain at best an 80-85 win team.

    What to do? Once the primo position guys make it to the majors, ink them to long-term deals a la Longoria. (Kansas City won’t get a deal THAT good, of course…but a deal along those lines for Moose, Myers, and Hosmer would be well-advised, rather than trying to milk those guys for 3 years at near the MLB-minimum.)

    Pitchers? Use the Wainwright contract model: 6 yrs./$36M after his 2nd season…but the more costly last two years ($9 & 12M) are club options automatically triggered by good performances. Security for the twirler, and, as it turned out, an amazing bargain for the club.

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    • tbr says:

      Yeah, in an ideal world…but you know it in’t gonna happen with Moustakas and Hosmer at least because they are clients of one Mr. Scott Boras.

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      • Paul says:

        Note that Greinke was not represented by Mr. Scott Boras, and that didn’t turn out so well. if they were afraid of Mr. Scott Boras I suspect they would not have drafted those guys in the first place. Unless their plan is to draft superstar caliber high school players, sign them to record bonuses, utilize them cheaply through their arb years to produce a .500 team, then turn them loose. Boras clients from the draft almost never leave him.

        So your logic is not to play devil’s advocate, it’s to claim that Glass, DM, et al. are intentionally building a team that they know they can’t sustain long-term. The direct evidence we have indicates that they fully intend to engage Boras clients (Hochever, Mous, Hosmer) and pay them. And they will be able to, by the way, because if this system produces as it should, they won’t have Gil Meche’s $13m in the last year of a deal where they had to give him this extra useless year to get him to go there. Or Guillen last year, Farnsworth, Frenchy, giving up a draft pick for Cruz, etc.

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      • David says:

        Paul – I think you’re missing the point, which is that Boras clients almost never sign long-term extensions before they reach free agency.

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      • Paul says:

        David: You’re right, but that’s only because he thinks players give up way too much cash in exchange for security. As the original comment indicated, everybody believes that about the Longoria deal. If I’m not mistaken, Andruw Jones signed an extension with the Braves well before free agency. Boras begged him not to, but let’s call this an example of Dayton and his staff having the kind of relationship with players that they are willing to go that route. And he was not exactly a pauper as a result of that deal.

        But again, I’ll just say that there is no evidence that they won’t sign guys when they actually DO reach free agency. Again, they drafted them and claim that the org. is going in a new direction. If Hochever doesn’t re-sign I don’t think anybody will complain. The real test will be with Mous and Hosmer (assuming they reach star status, of course).

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  19. Joltin' Joe says:

    I was looking at historical standings and noticed that the Royals managed to win 83 games back in ’03, when they still had Beltran. It probably won’t happen this year, but I could see them getting back to that level of competency if the stars align, in say, a season or two. Chicago’s not exactly built for the future, Cleveland blows, Detroit is still middle-of-the-road and Minnesota is still the favorite, but I think KC’s farm system will give them a chance sooner rather than later.

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  20. mcneo says:

    Top 10 best players this year in MLB and their BaseballAmerica Prospect #:
    Josh Hamilton 1st in 2001 (Ranked 4 times, 33 in 2003)
    Joey Votto 43rd in 2008 (Ranked twice)
    Albert Pujols 42nd in 2001 (Only ranked once)
    Ryan Zimmerman 15th in 2006 (Only ranked once)
    Adrian Beltre 3rd in 1998 (Ranked twice)
    Jose Bautista Never Ranked
    Evan Longoria 2nd in 2008 (Ranked twice)
    Matt Holliday Never Ranked
    Carl Crawford 52nd in 2002 (Ranked twice)
    Troy Tulowiski 15th in 2007
    Robinson Cano Never Ranked (Tied for 10th best WAR in 2010)

    I’m still very skeptical of Baseball America’s prospect list, which put Aaron Crow and Noel Arguelles on the list without any experience in the minors. 3 of the 11 most valuable guys in the majors this year never even made the list. Basically, I think their list sucks. But I’m a Royals fan, and I’m jaded. I’ve seen plenty of prospects come and go. I just keep telling myself that some of them have to pan out, because there are just so many; but in the back of my head, I just know most of these guys are going to bust.

    And this is part of why I think the “prospects” don’t matter:
    The Royals had 4 top 100 prospects in their rotation in 2010:
    Zack Grienke – 14th in 2004
    Luke Hochevar – 32nd in 2007
    Kyle Davies – 53rd in 2005
    Bruce Chen – 4th in 1998

    Several of their position players were top 100 prospects too:
    Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Alberto Callaspo, Wilson Betemit
    Even Jeff Franceour was a top 100.

    So, yeah. Lots of guys made some list. Circle me unexcited.

    Frankly, I don’t even care if the team doesn’t win. I like baseball. I just want them to try, so I’m happy that Yuniesky Betancourt is no longer in KC. I’m even happier that Zack will put forth maximum effort next year. Best of all, I’m really happy that KC should have a competent defense team in 2010 that shouldn’t strike out so much that they’re boring. Next year (2011), I’m hopefully that they will not do the following 3 things:
    1) Make lots of errors
    2) Strike out
    3) Walk the other team alot

    And I actually think I might get my wish.

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  21. gradygradychase says:

    If not include Moustakas (and Myers) in the top 10, what it would look like to be your top 10 rankings?
    Trout, Harper, Teheran, Hosmer, Montero, Brown, Hellickson, Chapman, Belt, Ackley…isn’t it?

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    • patrick says:

      i dont think you’ll find a single list that has belt rated more highly than myers and moustakas

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      • Paul says:

        Exactly right, and I would add Ackley because a lot of people don’t think he should be at 2B, but he showed so much in the AFL that he BA should definitely have him there.

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  22. Jamie says:

    One thing that gets left out of the discussions about the Royals is near future ability to acquire talent through trades. Their payroll will be really low in 2011 and lower in 2012 (Meche and Kendall will be coming off the books). Having the type of depth in their organization could produce some very solid trades to fill holes where needed. Can you imagine the type of talent the Royals could acquire for their current crop of prospects (not in the cards but food for thought)?

    2011 will see the Royals start to rollout several of these prospects. Collins and Jeffres will be very talented setup men in front of Soria. I believe Moustakas will be a May or June callup.

    Very little is expected of the Royals in 2011 but I think they will win 70-75 games due to little pressure and the influx of talent.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Wouldn’t trading their prospects be a step backwards?

      What they need are good MLB regulars at a low cost under team control, so they can keep payroll low enough that they add some FA’s that either fill a needed role or make an impact that bumps them up a level of competitiveness.

      KC does not have enough ML level talent to trade away prospects. That’s something you do when the ML team has specific needs and the farm is full of prospects. KC is far from that.

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  23. Pat the Pragmatist says:

    I am not a Royals fan, but as a baseball fan I hope they can develop a competitive group this tine. Maybe they failed to develop a good team before, but this group is this group, the past results of other squads don’t really matter.

    Maybe they can get some balance this time. A decade ago they had a good offense but not much pitching. Since then they have drafted many pitchers, but have came up a little short on position talent.

    As a fan, I want to see a team that has gone a quarter of a century without going to the post-season and has had 7 straight sub .500 seasons turn it around. Only the Nationals/Expos have been out of the post-season longer and that might not have been the case if it had not been for the 1994 strike.
    The Pirates and Orioles have longer sub .500 streaks.

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  24. Nathan says:

    The Royals problem in the past has not been that they traded away their good players, as conventional wisdom would have it. It is that they simply didn’t develop enough good players to compete. The farm system has not been consistently good and deep for the last twenty years, and consequently the MLB team hasn’t been able to succeed.

    People wonder why guys like Damon, Dye and Beltran were traded away. They were traded because there wasn’t enough talent around them to let them compete, and there’s no point in keeping them just to max out with an 80-win season.

    Everyone says the Royals have lost because they traded away their best talent. I would argue that at no point since 1994 have they had anywhere near enough talent come up through the farm to make the playoffs, even if they had kept every single player.

    This time will probably be different. A time is coming in the next 3-5 years when Butler, Soria, Moustakas, Hosmer, a handful these pitchers, and maybe even Alex Gordon or Wil Myers will all be in the majors at once. Nothing similar has happened in decades. And it is the offseason moves in 2012-13 that will matter. The recent mixed bag of MLB transactions–Betemit, Chen, Meche, Farnsworth, Jacobs, Francoeur–is totally beside the point. They don’t even tell us whether or not Dayton Moore knows how to build a winning MLB roster, because these moves obviously are not intended to build a winning roster. Moore knows this team is going nowhere this year. These moves are just to fill roster space, and perhaps catch lightning in a bottle that can be sold to the baseball gypsies come the trade deadline.

    We won’t know whether Moore can construct a competitive MLB team until he tries to do so. And only a fool would believe that he has been trying to do so for the last few years.

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  25. this article was exactly what i’ve been looking for! I found your blog bookmarked from a friend of mine. I will also bookmark it. thanks!

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  26. camisadelgolf says:

    Here’s an idea for a piece. Using hindsight, which team had the best group of prospects in the past decade? For example, going into 2007, the Reds had these prospects in their system even though their top-10 list looked quite a bit different:
    Joey Votto
    Josh Hamilton
    Jay Bruce
    Johnny Cueto
    Drew Stubbs
    Homer Bailey
    Travis Wood
    Paul Janish
    Daryl Thompson
    Jared Burton

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  27. Appreciate you sharing, great blog article. Want more.

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