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Looking Back at the Top Royals Prospects for 2005

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.
  • #3 - Mark Teahen (3B): Teahen was another part of Baird's 2004 rebuild of the system. We're all pretty familiar with Teahen around these parts, and while a lot of people seemed never to be happy with him, he gave the Royals 676 games of versatility and decent production for a cheap price. He was never a star, but it's just as important your minor league system produce enough guys like Teahen. And part of the problem is that it hasn't been able to.
  • #4 - Chris Lubanski (OF): The man that Art Stewart told Joe Posnanski he'd remember seeing for the rest of his life when he took BP at the K. Or somesuch. The toolsy Lubanski (5th overall pick in the 2003 draft) was rated the "best athlete" in the system by BA that year. A major drafting miss by the Royals, most had given up on Lubanski well before he left the system. Lubanski never appeared in a Major League game with the Royals, and is now in the Blue Jay system.
  • #5 - Justin Huber (C): Yea, do I even have to do this one? Huber was acquired by Baird from the Mets in exchange for Jose Bautista at the 2004 deadline. This was another deal that was pretty well liked. Somewhere, it all went downhill, and fast. Huber was seen as positionless (and look, these guys know how to field a good D) and fell out of favor seemingly instantly. Huber got 175 PAs with the Royals over three years and is now planning to play 2010 in Japan. I wish him well. He's my favorite player.
  • #6 - Luis Cota (P): Cota, a converted shortstop out of Arizona, was a tenth round pick in the 2003 draft. Darren touched on Cota a little in this post about that Draft. Cota is still around, and spent last season in Burlington (the Iowa one, as if it matters). At this rate, he'll make his debut with a Major League team in 2020.
  • #7 - Shane Costa (OF): Maybe you've noticed a trend. Costa was a second round pick in the 2003 draft. The Royals seemed as if they were in a hurry to get Costa to the Majors. And then, they kinda moved on. Between 2005 and 2007, the Royals gave Costa 449 PAs as an outfielder. Costa only hit .254/.289/.366 during those years, and did not make the team out of Spring Training in 2009. He probably would have been called up last season, only he was unfortunately injured. The Royals did bring him back for 2010.
  • #8 - Mitch Maier (OF): Bizarrely made a minor cause celebre thanks to Dayton's weird old outfielder fetish, Maier was another new guy. The Royals took Maier with the 30th overall pick in the 2003 draft. A college hitter, the plan was to have Maier be a decent contributor to the Royals sooner rather than later, and to some extent, under a different administration, that could have happened.
  • #9 - Donald Murphy (2B): A 5th round pick in the 2002 Draft, Murphy got the bulk of his playing time with the 2005 Royals. Between 2004 and 2005 Murphy hit .191/.265/.347 in 364 PAs. The A's picked him up in 2006 and he got decent playing time in 2007-8, when he was probably actually ready for it. Spent 2009 in the Baltimore system, and has mashed as a AAA hitter for awhile now.
  • #10 - J.P. Howell (P): Howell was the 31st overall pick in the 2004 Draft out of Texas. Howell struggled as a Royal in 2005, and was traded to Tampa Bay for Joey Gathright in Dayton's first move as GM in 2006. We've talked about this trade a time or two. Long story short: Howell has done more for Tampa than Gathright did for the Royals.
  • 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.