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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.