I had the opportunity this week to do a little Q&A with Baseball America's J.J. Cooper. With BAs Prospect Handbook shipping, the winter prospect talk has ramped up. Baseball America can be found here. You can buy the Prospect Handbook here. Stay tuned for Part 2, with questions from Darren/NW Royal.
RR: When you talk to people in the game, does anyone NOT think the Royals have the number 1 system?
Cooper: Not really. I haven't heard anyone suggesting that the Royals aren't No. 1, and most of those discussions were taking place before the Greinke trade.
RR: People have used the phrase "historically good" (or the equivalent) in talking about this system. Is it that good?
Cooper: We've been doing the Prospect Handbook for 11 seasons now. During that time, the Royals are at least in the discussion for the best farm system of that span. Jim Callis and I were discussing this point on a podcast where we both agreed you have to include them in the discussion. John Manuel feels like they may be a tick below the best of the past 11 years because they have less big-league ready talent than say the '08 Rays (who had Longoria ready to go) or the '03 Indians (with Victor Martinez, Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee and Travis Hafner all essentially big-league ready).
RR: In last season's rankings the Royals weren't even in the top 10. Do you feel like last year's ranking was probably too pessimistic or did the Royals simply have a gigantic 2010?
Cooper: The Royals may have been a little low heading into 2010, but a lot of the climb can be explained by what happened during the season. Rewind a year ago and Hosmer and Moutstakas had brutal years. Wil Myers had 22 pro games. Aaron Crow hadn't played. Only one member of the Top 10 (David Lough) had even played in Double-A. One of the factors in determining where a team ranks is where the talent is distributed. When a team is as bottom heavy as the Royals was in 2010, you have to rank them a few spots lower. It's the same reason the Rangers dropped significantly in this year's talent rankings. Obviously the more prospects you have who have played and succeeded in Double-A and above, the higher likelihood that those prospects will succeed.
RR: How do you evaluate the struggles of Alex Gordon at the Major League level? Were there problems or limitations that seemingly everyone missed?
Cooper: I haven't really found anyone who can adequately explain to me what happened to Gordon. I know there are scouts now who don't like his swing, but no one was saying that when he was climbing up as a prospect.
RR: The development of ____ in 2011 is the most important subplot within the system.
Cooper: I don't think there is any one player whose development is crucial for the Royals because of the depth. That being said, Kansas City is relying more on Myers, Moustakas and Hosmer than any one pitcher, just because of the significant amount of pitching depth. The Royals don't really have many long-term anchors in the current big league lineup, and they won't be signing any in the next few years, so the big three hitters have to produce.
RR: To this untrained eye, it appeared that the Royals went college-heavy in the 2010 draft. Was this just the way that class shook out, or part of a larger strategy for the Royals?
Cooper: I think it was strategy. They had drafted all these high-ceiling high school players who were all set for a roughly 2012 ETA. It made sense to fill in around them with some college players who will move quickly and can be right along that same timetable. Kansas City still signed some high ceiling guys like Jason Adam and Eibner is really more of a slower-moving but higher ceiling guy, but Colon and some of the relievers they have drafted (Coleman, Keating) and traded for (Collins, Jeffress) fill in some holes.
RR: A few years ago, the Royals were possibly the least-talented/most-hopeless organization in baseball. Who holds that title now?
Cooper: I don't think anyone has hit the deadly duo of an awful big league team and no talent on the farm like Kansas City had several years ago. Most of the teams at the back end of our org talent rankings in the Prospect Handbook are teams who have significant talent in the big leagues (like Milwaukee, Florida and the White Sox).