Now, more than ever, the ability of the Royals player development system to produce both stars and useful Major Leaguers, stands out as the question dictating the viability of the Moore regime. Last week, I contacted two Royals bloggers who follow the minors closely, as well our own RR contributor and "minor league guy" Darren/nwroyal.
Keith is the man behind The Royal Tower, while Kenneth writes The Pipeline, two well-run and regularly updated sites that make the lives of all of us easier. Meanwhile, Darren can be credited with not only raising the bar on prospect coverage here at RR, he's spared you all from Will overload. You can read Darren's work on Royals Review here.
Unfortunately, I bothered these guys BEFORE the Betancourt trade, although in some ways that may be a good thing. Dan Cortes comes up a few times, so you can consider this a time capsule of what we thought before the trade that shook the faith of millions took place.
RR: Do you have a particular team or element of the system (pitchers, position players, high school guys, etc.) that you really like to follow?
Keith@ The Royal Tower: I enjoy following the whole system, but I think I like to follow the pitchers just a bit more. I love nothing more than to watch a pitcher's duel. I'd like to think I know a little bit more about pitching than hitting, so naturally it's more interesting for me to predict, project, and follow.
Kenneth@ The Pipeline: Every level has its attractions for me. At AAA, you hopefully have the guys who are close to making it, even though with the Royals the last few years it's mostly been retreads with a couple C-level prospects at Omaha. AA seems to be where the Royals like to put their prospects to the test -- if you remember, a few years back, Baird seemed to like to ignore AAA and move guys straight from Wichita to KC. It's not quite like that nowadays under Dayton Moore, but NW Arkansas is now usually the team to watch each year in the minors part of the organization. The Carolina League is a competitive league, so you get the feeling the prospects that make it at Wilmington are worth their salt. Unfortunately, that hasn't always been the case for KC -- take Rowdy Hardy, for example, who dominated the Carolina League a couple years back but couldn't hack it at AA. Dan Cortes also hasn't exactly excelled in AA. Burlington is also a good test, more for hitters than pitchers as it's a good pitchers' league. I had hoped Moustakas would do better there this year -- his lacking OBP has been a disappointment. The rookie leagues are a crapshoot -- you've got Idaho Falls in the hitter-friendly Pioneer League, which I think veils a little bit what a guy is bringing with the bat, kinda like when the High-A team was in High Desert. You've got Burlington in the Appalachian League, which may be the most competitive rookie league, and then you've got the AZL Royals in another very hitter-friendly environment.
I guess that's a long way of saying, no, there's no particular team I like to follow. I'd say at the moment, I'm wanting desperately to see some good position prospects emerge. You've got Hosmer doing OK, not great at Burlington, and you've got Moustakas scuffling along in Wilmington, and then it's level. Chris Lubanski had me going early in the year until his mysterious hamstring injury that he's missed a great deal of time for. I'd rather see the Royals take a couple good college position players early in the draft, just one time, and work the pitchers around that rather than the other way around. I can understand, I guess, going after Aaron Crow, but with Grant Green, a bonafide top college SS on the board? Wow. I guess I see the organization's needs differently than the front office.
Darren @ Royals Review: I've gravitated towards following the draft. The interest level and amount of information about it has exploded in the past couple of years. The Royals drafts use to be a one player affair--our top pick and then a bunch of junk after that but the Royals have had some deep drafts the past few years. Teams are figuring out that the current slotting system is an uneven playing field and it will reward those who are willing to buck the system. The Royals are one of those teams and I think its a really smart move. And what other area of the Royals organization can you say "they are doing something really smart"?
RR: Who would you label as the top prospect in the system?
Darren@ Royals Review: I go with Eric Hosmer. He hasn't taken off yet but he gets on base and supposedly has huge power potential. John Sickels reported just the other day that he talked to a scout who was still high on Hosmer but thought he had developed some mechanical issues that were hurting him. I think (or perhaps hope) that he will break out in the 2nd half like Moustakas last year. I think when he get up and running he will be a classic slugger like we haven't seen on a Royals team in a long time: big power, lots of walks and doesn't hurt you in the field.
Kenneth@ The Pipeline: Right now I'd have to say Wilmington lefty Danny Duffy, his recent struggles aside. The easy answer is Moustakas or Hosmer, but I really think Duffy can be something special. Moustakas had a great second half at Burlington last year but it looks at this point, with a .300 OBP and 18 BB/51 K in 77 G/297 ABs at Wilmington, that he's not exactly tearing up Advanced-A ball, but, then again, it is the Carolina League, so all is not lost. Hosmer has a similar BA, better OBP and worse SLG at a level one lower and has shown much more patience at the plate. It's easier to see the power coming along with time with Hosmer, and it has to be taken into account how the Midwest League favors pitchers. The only other top prospect candidate at this point is Dan Cortes, and his struggles with command have seemed to come back -- 35 BB/32 K over his last 10 starts. In my mind, I can see Duffy being a top-two starter, maybe a third starter eventually in KC. I don't see Cortes being any more than a back-of-the-rotation guy at this point, if that. On another note, I like what we've seen out of Mike Montgomery this year in Burlington. Another win tonight (July 9) and 1 or less earned runs in 9 of his last 10 starts. He's gonna be rocketing up a lot of Royals prospect charts.
Keith@ The Royal Tower: For me, it's Aaron Crow. Partially due to the lame season's of Hosmer and Moustakas, but it's more a credit to Crow's talents. He throws three above average pitches with command. The layoff is going to affect him initially, but he's going to get to KC quickly once he's back in the groove.
RR: Do you have a favorite "sleeper" prospect?
Keith@ The Royal Tower: I think saying Disco Hayes would be kind of lame at this point...who doesn't love him? I'll throw out two -- Keaton Hayenga and John Lamb. Hayenga's got fantastic stuff and it'll be interesting to see how his command comes along as he continues to get further away from labrum surgery. Lamb is more of a pitchability guy now, but he's tall and lanky and could add some ticks to the fastball. He already "knows how to pitch," and if his stuff can come along...he could really be a good one.
Darren@ Royals Review: David Lough has been someone I've liked--he's in the middle of what looks to be a breakout season. He's kind of a David DeJesus guy--not huge power and kind of a tweener in the OF--but his bat will play and he will give good production at a low cost. I'll throw out one more guy who I'm big on is Yowil Espinal. He was a big (for us, at least) international signing for us 2 years ago. He's a SS who is having a great year for the Burlington Royals. He has big time tools on offense and defense. Every part of his games has taken a big step forward and I don't think he'll be a sleeper for very long.
Kenneth@ The Pipeline: I suppose Montgomery isn't really a sleeper at this point. He was a supplemental 1st rounder, after all. How about NWA OF David Lough or Burlington (A) OF Nick Van Stratten? Lough had a great start at Wilmington and has continued to hit at NW Arkansas in his first taste of AA. Plus he seems to have a decent arm and defense. Van Stratten doesn't hit for power but has speed and defense and has stayed on the field while keeping his BA over .300 at Burlington. Lough doesn't walk much, tho, and Van Stratten has shown some good discipline. I'd like to see what Van Stratten could do in the Carolina League.
RR: Who has been the most disappointing prospect this season?
Kenneth@The Pipeline: Probably Cortes, who has been touted as the top pitching prospect just in time for all his command problems to resurface. The recent arrest is just the cherry on top, even if it was somewhat innocuous. Mario Lisson would be a close second, but I don't know how seriously anyone took him as a prospect. He got a 40-man slot to keep him out of the rule 5 draft, then stunk in AA last year, stunk AGAIN in AA this year, then got a promotion to Omaha for some reason, where he has somehow stunk slightly less than he did in AA. Then you've got the Wilmington trio of Moustakas, Derrick Robinson and Adrian Ortiz, Moustakas being the biggest disappointment there. A .300 OBP, and leading the team in errors, meaning he's probably gonna need to be moved off 3B too? If that's not disappointing... Robinson's BA has declined, his steal rate is down, so he's now a 2-tool player -- speed and D. I had high hopes for Ortiz this year, too, and he hasn't hacked it in Wilmington, and doesn't have the excuse of a lack of playing time.
Keith@ The Royal Tower: There have been more than a few disappointments, but I'll say Derrick Robinson. I've been touting him for a while, but his bat just isn't progressing as it should. If anything he has gone backwards.
Darren@ Royals Review: Dan Gutierrez--simply because he hasn't thrown a pitch this year and I predicted before the season began he would be our top prospect when 2009 ended. He has battled injury, personal issues and had a spat with the Royals regarding his recovery from injury. Also, Moustakas and Hosmer apparently talked him into joining Scott Boras Corp.--but that also has a positive side because Boras wouldn't take him unless they thought he had potential.
RR: Typically, the Royals' system is presented as improving, but still immature. In particular, is there anyone in Omaha (other than Kila) who we should be excited about, or who at least could help the team soon?
Darren@ Royals Review: "Disco" Hayes is down there and he could help the team but I'm not sure how much the Royals believe in him. Mario Lisson is better than TPJ...(crickets chirping). Omaha is kind of a wasteland but we have got some talent starting to show up in Northwest Arkansas.
Kenneth@ The Pipeline: My answer would be, not that I see, or at least nobody that's a "prospect". If the Royals hang on to lefty Lenny DiNardo, he could help some maybe at the MLB level, but then again, why wouldn't he be there already if they thought he could help? Chris Hayes is a cult hero among Royals fans, but I'm unconvinced. He's gotten guys out at every level, but at some point his speed is gonna meet its match with the bats. I'd love to see him become the next Quiz, tho. With his blog, he could be the Quiz's match in several ways.
I like to think the Quiz could have written a good blog. I thought going into the year that Carlos Rosa could maybe chip in in KC, but he has really struggled out of the pen for Omaha. I'd rather they had kept him in the rotation, but he wasn't staying healthy there, so that's a tough situation. Position-wise, it's pretty bereft in Omaha. Tug Hulett has done nothing in his sparse chances, Irving Falu has had a solid year in AAA but doesn't dazzle, Lubanski and Shane Costa have been hurt, Ryan Shealy too, I also had hopes (I've been saying that a lot) that Travis Metcalf would be a good pickup from the Rangers, but that hasn't panned out, either. Scott Thorman, a Dayton-ex-Brave pickup, has been great for Omaha but I have a feeling he'd probably struggle in KC.
Keith@ The Royal Tower: A few relievers come to mind, namely Disco and Carlos Rosa. I know Rosa's had a down season, but the stuff is still plenty there. He's hit 96 and 97 multiple times on the stadium gun at the games i've been to. Infielder Irving Falu would be a better option than the two no-hit SS's were currently employing. He can play all over the infield and has even played some right field. He might be a switch hitting Bloomquist type, which has a bit of value. Injuries really hurt Chris Lubanski's shot to potentially help the big league team earlier this year as he was having a nice little opening to the year. Overall there are some guys that could play roles on the Major league roster, but no one other than Ka'aihue that will likely make a major impact.
RR: How would you describe the state of the system as a whole right now? How confident are you in Dayton Moore's ability to build a strong enough minor league/player development system for the Royals to win the AL Central and beyond?
Keith@ The Royal Tower: System is doing well, but it could be a whole heck of a lot better. Unfortunately our three top prospects coming into the year have stumbled a bit in Moustakas, Hosmer, and Cortes. On the other side of the coin, other young players have emerged as very real prospects such as Bianchi, Lough, Parraz, and Espinal. I'm going to cop out a little here, but I think we still need a couple more years to see how Dayton & Co. (the "Co." are the people who make the picks) will really do with the minor leagues. What I do know is him and his staff are not afraid to take who they truly believe is the top talents in the draft, not just in the first round, but in subsequent rounds as well (highlighted by this year's draft). Not only that, but they have heavily increased efforts to find talent in the international field (also highlighted this year with Korean C Shin Jin-Ho and Nicaraguan 3B Cheslor Cuthbert). More talent is coming into the system now than at any point in the past two decades, and while there will be busts/disappointments, this is the way to build long time because some players will work out, and not just work out, but become star players.
Kenneth@ The Pipeline: The state of the system is better than the Baird years, which isn't saying much, but I wouldn't exactly put the Royals in the upper echelon of major league systems. I'd give it a solid C, when the Royals need it to be at least a B to compete. I think Moore has concentrated too much in recent times of building up the pitching side of the ledger and leaving the position side as an afterthought. As others (namely Rany Jazayerli, but others) have pointed out, he seems to have a good idea of potential future value but horrible idea of present value of certain players. Signings like Guillen and Farnsworth trouble me, as does the Jacobs trade when the Royals had Kila Ka'aihue waiting for a chance to play, at a much cheaper cost. Obviously the Royals aren't gonna be able to buy their way to the top, so they have to build it. I wrote recently I think Moore is a good assistant GM, but he hasn't convinced me that he's a good GM yet. The whole ex-Braves thing aggravates me, too. Are we really gonna build our way to the top using players the Braves get rid of? He basically uses his 25-30 draft signings each year, plus picks up whoever the Braves don't want anymore in the offseason and during the season. My confidence in Moore is low, but I'm waiting to be convinced.
Darren@ Royals Review: The state of the Royals system continues to improve. The Royals have several good prospects on each team from Northwest Arkansas, Wilmington, Burlington-IA, Idaho Falls, Burlington-NC. The Royals last two drafts look very good so far and we are seeing fruit from their increased budget on the International front. The Royals have a lot of pitching depth and their hitting depth is improving.
I think Dayton Moore can build a minor league system that is as strong as any in the AL Central--but it won't matter if we keep signing the Guillens and Farnsworths of the world. A very good farm system--by itself--probably won't translate into a division title. I don't see Moustakas and Hosmer being ready in time to help while Greinke is still here (I hope I'm wrong). David Glass won't want to keep spending record amount on the draft if we don't start seeing wins as the big league level. Also, the Royals need to have the guts to flip some guys for prospects this year. So I would say I'm torn--I really like the direction of the minors but loathe the direction of the big league club--I have a hard time reconciling those two things. I guess I keep hoping that Moore will have an epiphany about the big league club.