In 2004 Baseball America rated Billy Butler as the top prospect in the Royal system. Nice call. Butler has developed into a nice young hitter for the Royals, and still appears to have room to grow. (It's weird that no one ever talks about how Dayton Moore and his men told the Royals to take Butler, even though they weren't yet in place in KC.)
Baseball America (nor likely anyone else) thought the Royals had a strong system heading into 2005. BA had the Royals as the 28th best system in the game. And this low standing is reflected in the list below. Back in the winter of 2004, the Royal system had been recently restocked by Allaird Baird, and new faces dominated the top of the system. In a way, this shows how Baird had done some recent good work, but it also speaks to the failure (and a few graduations, like Greinke and DeJesus) of earlier years.
Here's how the rest of the BA Top 10 list rounded out:
- #2 - Denny Bautista (P): Bautista came to the Royal system in a June 2004, trade from Baltimore for Jason Grimsley. This was considered a nice trade for the Royals at the time, and in fact I can still remember the day this trade went down. This was, I believe, the period when Baird was starting to appear somewhat decent as a GM to guys like Neyer. Heck, Baseball Blanking America had him as the second best prospect in the system. According to BA Bautista had the best fastball, the best curve, and the best slider in the system. The Orioles were 28-37 when the trade went down, so I'm not sure why they wanted Jason Grimsley. Bauista had already bounced around a few systems, and wouldn't last long as a Royal. Over three seasons (2004-6) Bautista made 19 starts as a Royal and posted a 5.95 ERA. New GM Dayton Moore sent him to Colorado in the Affeldt/Shealy trade, which means Bautista was twice part of a deal that Royals fans were pretty happy about. And wrong both times. Dude is still around, or will be, I believe. He spent last season pitching for the Pirates' AAA team, but is has been a reliever for years now.
The point here isn't an easy agnosticism about minor league rankings and it isn't to jeer at Baseball America. Mainly, this list gives us a decent snapshot of a now long-gone era and, I believe, a little bit of perspective. Mostly, it's just interesting to look back.
However, and perhaps I've made this point a few times too many, but we need to move past the notion that Dayton Moore inherited so little that he needs six years just to have a good team at AA. Because really, that wasn't the case in 2006. The system was poor and the Royals were bad. Allard deserved to be fired. But Dayton didn't take over the worst organization at any point in the history of baseball whatever.
In a limited way, you can actually see how the system of this era was actually close to working out. At least according to the limited plan in place. The Royals had graduated Greinke, and had an elite hitter in place in Butler. To supplement those two All-Star level talents, the Royals had a number of low-risk/low-upside/not-terrible college draftees who might reasonably provide adequate if unspectacular talent in a few years. It wasn't a bad starting point for a system. Only, the Royals seemed to take the "college guys will be ready sooner" concept too far and appeared to sour on a number of these players when they struggled in 2005 or 2006.
Between bad luck, bad development and in some cases just bad thinking, the Royals didn't produce a single OF/DH out of the Costa/Maier/Lubanski/Huber mix. Not one. At least not in their minds.
Nevertheless, like a chubby Venus emerging out of a sea of bad picks, there was Billy Butler.