Dayton Moore was hired by the Royals during the 2006 season. Although he kinda sorta didn't oversee the 2006 Draft (the Hochevar Draft) he did begin working on rebuilding the franchise's minor league system right away. Under Moore the Royals have spent heavily on the amateur market (Moore's regime has consistently been one of the top spenders), hired a number of well-regarded player development types, and expanded the entire size and scope of the minor league operation. The Royals have more dollars, more scouts, even more teams down on the farm now. This expansion has been part of the Dayton Moore regime from the beginning, and reflects the basic nature of Moore's program. Moore got the job because of his reputation at this aspect of the game, and his entire plan has been premised on developing a first class minor league system. Ownership has been convinced that this is the only way the Royals can compete, and they have allowed Moore to do what he wants, schematically and financially, to implement his ... (wait for it) process.
While Moore's reputation regarding Major League transactions has eroded since 2008, he was able to recieve a contract extension in 2009 because of the various bonnets he's been handed for the work done in building up the minor league system. As illustrated below however, as we enter year five of the Dayton Moore regime, the strengthof the minor league system is far from a fully legitimated truth.
In part, there's been a persistent shibboleth that the system was unspeakably horrible under Baird, that Moore inherited an organization that was in total disarray, and that he needs a wide latitude and years upon years to produce acceptable results. Granted, the minor leagues were rarely a strength under Baird, but the extent to which they were bad has been overdone. Mediocre might be more accurate. Between 2001 and 2005 (inclusive) the average rank of the system according to Baseball America was 21.6. That doesn't mean Baird didn't deserve to be fired, but as we move forward this decade, we need to move away from the notion that the Royals were always 29th or 30th under Baird. They weren't. Moreover, even in 2009, the majority of actually good players on the Royals remained Baird Era holdovers.
Let's take a look at how the farm system has rated out since 2006 and see if we can draw any conclusions. Below are the system ranks according to Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus (Kevin Goldstein) and Keith Law of ESPN.
- That 2007 peak you see is the height of the Butler/Gordon era as hyped prospects. It's difficult to remember now, but by early 2007 Gordon was seen as one of the absolute top prospects in the game. Gordon had the pedigree, was praised by scouts, and posted great numbers. After hitting .325/.427/.588 in 2006, Baseball America rated him as the #2 prospect in the game. Butler wasn't as highly touted, but nevertheless was the #25 prospect that same year.
- In addition to Butler and Gordon, who were both Baird draftees, the strong rankings we see for 2007 also reflect some better Baird-era drafting further down the ladder. Moreover, Moore was extremely active during 2006, and a number of his early trades were well regarded. For example, in 2006 Moore sent Mike MacDougal to the White Sox for Daniel Cortes and Tyler Lumsden, seen as a terrific trade. Likewise, in exchange for Elmer Dessens and a willingness to pay Odalis Perez, Moore acquired Blake Johnson and Julio Pimentel. Finally, the 2007 rankings also include 2006's #1 pick overall, Luke Hochevar, rated by BA as the #32 prospect in the game that year.
- We can mostly throw out the 2008 rankings as a natural drop year, given the graduations of Gordon and Butler from the system. The rankings for 2009-2010, however, can be intepreted positively or negatively. Without benefiting from any elite Baird-era holdovers, Moore has proven that he can build a system that is generally as highly esteemed as Baird at his peak. Moore took two high school hitters in the first round in 2007 and 2008, and Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer have generated praise from the pundits. Moose has been ranked as high as BA's #13 overall prospect and in 2009 Hosmer rated as #24.
- On the other hand, it is a little disheartening to see Baseball America consider the Royals to have the only 17th best system in the game, especially considering that the Royals have had no major graduations since Hochevar (who has himself been enigmatic). BA is not only well respected in the field, they generally share Moore's own philosophies about amateur talent. While Law's appraisal is still high, it'll be very interesting to see how Goldstein ranks the system for 2010.
- What's especially odd is that there is currently more enthusiasm for the system's depth than there's been since the 1990s, and seemingly everyone has their own favorite Royal sleeper. The Royals have a number of minor league arms that seem to draw praise and interest, but that praise and interest is still either mostly tied up in potential, or it simply isn't translating into having what's seen as a better system than other folks have.
- What also might be at play here is Moore frustrating reticence at the Major League level. Since 2008 Moore has not made a huge number of trades that have added prospects. Instead, he's traded for players such as Mike Jacobs, Coco Crisp and Josh Fields. A combination of poor Major League acquisitions and (to date) an inability to continue to trade the few Major Leaguers of value on the roster for prospects has put more pressure on the other apsects of the farm system. As a result, the Royals have been thin at AA and AAA for years now.
To conclude, we should remember a number of caveats. First, that the goal for the Kansas City Royals isn't to have the best farm system exactly. Instead, its to have the best Major League team, and to win the World Series. A strong farm system is part of how you get there, and for the Royals, it's a very large part. Secondly, to varying extents, ranking systems such as these value depth, which does not necessarily directly lead to Major League success. The Cardinals had a pretty bad system for most of the decade, but they somehow came up with an Albert Pujols. One Pujols is going to produce more Major League value than six interesting pitching prospects likely will. Depth gives you options, options if someone else flames out or gets hurt, options via trade. Finally, these rankings aren't perfect, and I don't intend to present them as such. The numbers themselves are overly specific (how is BA truly specifying that the #11 team is better than the #12 team?) and from year to year they don't translate, as the actual amount of talent in the minors at any given time varies. What they do give us is a starting point, a snapshot or two. An entry into the discussion. And in the case of all three voices listed above, well-informed and well-schooled voices. Not perfect, but not idiotic either.
2010 is a huge year for the minor league system. The Royals have a number of interesting arms, but nearly all are still mostly more potential than anything else. Hosmer and Moose are carrying a huge burden as essentially the only elite position player prospects of any kind, and they both face new challanges in 2010. In short, many of Moore's kids will be hitting more advanced levels, and it is time to see their tools translate into results. (For a GREAT comprehensive breakdown of the system, see Darren's excellent summary.)
Considering that Moore's primary job has been to develop a strong minor league system and that the Royals have consistently spent and picked highly this observer can only conclude that the results have been disappointing.