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The Meaning of the Royals Having the Number One Ranked Farm System

Today, for whatever reason, was the reveal day for Baseball America's farm system rankings, coinciding with their 2011 book shipping. This is a big day for the Royals (and an even bigger day for Baseball America of course), a coronation of sorts within the scouting/drafting/player development/prospect mavening set that reaches both inside and outside of the official industry walls. The number one ranking comes after a breakthrough 2010 from just about every important Royal prospect.

2010 was a huge comeback year for the organization at the player development level. Around this time last year, Baseball America ranked the Royal system, #17th. That's utterly fascinating to me. You can take that drastic change to mean: a) it was simply an astounding year for the Royals b) the same sainted BA whiffed on their ranking last year c) these rankings, um, are subject to drastic change because they are speculative as hell or d) some combination of the above. A year ago you could look at the Royal Minor League system and reasonably conclude that it was actually something of a disappointment, given that the Royals have become the Yankees of the amateur market in terms of spending. In fact, that's exactly what I wrote.

The Royals have officially acknowledged the ranking in a number of ways, including this tweet from the Omaha Storm Chasers, presumably posted from one of those computers nailed down to a dashboard inside of an astro van:

From 2001-'10, all 10 Baseball America #1 organizations made the playoffs after being named (CWS, CHC, CLE, MIL, LAA, ARI, TB, TB, TEX, TB).

Luckily for us, our own NW Royal has written about those very situations in great detail on this site. The very first thing that you'll notice is that, while the above statement is true, in a number of cases it's also actually quite complicated. A number of those teams made the playoffs with veteran clubs that didn't actually use or benefit much from their young talent. These are really fascinating pieces and I strongly recommend you checking them out if you missed them back in October. The series go through and looks at the past decade, player by player from the top systems, in detail.

What you discover in looking back at these previously crowned systems is that so many now forgotten guys were once the Wil Myers or Eric Hosmers of their day. Some became Joe Mauers or Evan Longorias, but many others didn't. Some of the biggest contributors to their teams were guys who were the #7 or #13 prospect (of whatever). Literally hundreds of examples and counter-examples are possible. I find the linking of team and system success in the Storm Chaser tweet particularly spurious. Just look at the 2010 Rangers, who were BAs top ranked team last year. There's almost no connection between the 2010 Major League Rangers and the 2011 Texas farm system.

My goal isn't to dampen anyone's enthusiasm. The Royals have built, by all accounts, a tremendous minor league cache of talent. That isn't easy to do and it has taken six years and millions of dollars. This is a huge validation for Dayton Moore, and depending on how much positive press the Royals can milk out of it, probably buys him an additional two or three years of job security. Nevertheless, it isn't a guarantee of anything. To me, it seems rather like a degree from an Ivy League school: the Royals are setup for success, and if they continue to make the right moves, it can happen, but it isn't going to be a sure thing either. In particular, and I know people don't want to hear this, a number of the team's top prospects are still at the middle stage of their minor league lives: there's still quite a bit of time for injuries, struggles, etc. In short, the opposite of the annus mirabilis that we saw in 2010.  Of the Royals top ten prospects, only Mike Moustakas has spent any time in AAA.

The Royals are in better shape than they were a year ago, three years ago, or five years ago (though we're all better off just forgetting the year that the AA Wranglers were one of the most hyped minor league teams on the internet, never happened). Now, we've got to see what prospects truly bloom, who gets hurt or traded away, and how the future of the franchise sets up. I've got nothing planned for the next five years, how about you?