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A History of Royals Top Prospects Part 5 (2002-2004)

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No prospects, no problem.

Kansas City Royals v St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

I have good news and bad news for you. The bad news is that there are only 3 unique prospects during this 3 year period. How bad is that? Well last period had a lot of busts, but still had 11 unique prospects. The period before that only had 4 unique prospects, but all of them made it to the big leagues and one became a legitimate super star. This group doesn't quite have that success rate.

The good news is that, through fall of 2016, there has never been a 3-year period as equally bereft of talent. Even as the farm system has started to empty again in recent years, the situation has not become quite so dire.

The other good news is that a lot of other teams top prospects from this period ended up on Royals’ rosters because they kept having to trade away anyone of any value. So there's still stuff to talk about and nostalgia to be had.

2002

Jimmy Gobble delivers a pitch
Jimmy Gobble delivers a pitch
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Number 1 Prospect: RHP Josh Beckett, Florida. Beckett came up with the Marlins in 2001 and won a world series, along with a world series MVP award for them in 2003. He was then, of course, shipped out as part of the now regular Marlins world series fire sales. His particular destination was Boston along with quality third baseman Mike Lowell.

While in Boston the oft-injured right hander put together his best season, winning 20 games along with MVP and and Cy Young Award votes in 2007. Oh yeah, and another World Series. He went to a couple more all-star games and acquired more CYA votes in 2010 before being traded to the Dodgers in 2012. Beckett never was able to stay healthy for an entire season for Los Angeles and when he became a free agent following the 2014 season which saw him suffer a season ending injury halfway through he decided to retire rather than keep finding new ways to hurt himself.

Royals prospects: 15 - SS Angel Berroa, 50 -LHP Jimmy Gobble.

Angel Berroa was the lynch pin of the Kevin Appier trade as the sole prospect in the return. Berroa was a top prospect, then a bust, then a hot prospect, then two years older than he had been telling everyone before he broke his rookie limits in 2003. He actually won the Rookie of the Year award, that year, beating out guys like Rocco Baldelli and Hideki Matsui.

Berroa, sadly, proved to be yet another Royals’ one-hit wonder. After 2003 his bat and speed disappeared. One could argue his glove vanished, too. But with stats like 24 errors and lots of negative numbers across the advanced defensive stats even in 2003 the reality is that he never really had much of one to begin with.

The early to mid 2000s Royals didn't have a lot of options, though. So Berroa was the starter through 2006. In 2007 the Royals had finally had enough, so they traded for a new starter - Tony Pena Jr. - and demoted Berroa back to the minors. That’s where he started 2008 as well before being traded to the Dodgers, where he continued to be horrible. He signed a deal with the Yankees for the 2009 season but was cut in July, the Mets took a flyer on him but also cut him less than a month later. He spent time in the Dodgers, Giants, and Diamondbacks organizations over the next two years without ever sniffing the big leagues before joining the Can-Am league. He announced his intent to retire from baseball and seek a career in soccer in July 2012, but doesn't appear to have actually followed through.

He was last seen being released from the Vaqueros Laguna in July of 2015.

Jimmy Gobble is yet another in the laundry list of highly regarded Royals pitching prospects who were probably promoted too early and achieved almost no success as big league players. Jimmy debuted as a starter in 2003, but his best season was probably as a lefty-specialist reliever in 2007. The year he had a 3.02 ERA in 53.2 innings across 74 appearances. His rookie season he had a 4.61 ERA in nine starts, every other year featured an ERA over 5.

He does hold a Royals record - that for allowing the most runs as a reliever; on July 21, 2008 he allowed 10 runs to the Detroit Tigers in the eighth inning. The Royals had been losing 9-0 entering the inning, so manager Trey Hillman left him out there hoping not to need to use any more relievers.

Gobble retired as a player in 2010, as of two years ago he was coaching for his high school alma mater’s baseball team. I encourage you to click the link and at least read his quotes at the bottom. They’re kinda funny.

Other notable prospects:

5 - 1B Carlos Pena, Oakland.

8 - SS Wilson Betemit, Atlanta.

23 - RHP Jon Rauch, Chicago White Sox.

43 - C John Buck, Houston. John Buck proved to be a crucial piece in another trade of a Royals' star - Carlos Beltran. Buck had above average power but a much more below average glove. He ended up being good enough to stick in the big leagues for eleven years, but never good enough to stand out at any time.

95 - SS Omar Infante, Detroit. Quit playing. You remember who Omar is.

Seriously? OK. The Royals outbid the Yankees for his services before the 2014 season in what was widely regarded as a coup at the time, but now means the Royals will be paying him to play elsewhere or not at all in 2017. He seemed likely to stabilize a second base position that hasn’t had a decent player covering it since Mark Grudzielanek. He started off really well, but after getting hit in the face two weeks into his first season he cratered offensively. His defense fell off as well after suffering arm and shoulder injuries. He was cut in the middle of the 2016 season. He did hit a home run in the 2014 World Series off Hunter Strickland that somehow nearly incited a brawl.

2003

Zack Greinke winds up
Zack Greinke winds up
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Number 1 Prospect: 3B Mark Teixeira, Texas. Teixeira may forever be remembered as a Yankee first baseman but he actually came up with the Rangers at the same time as another thrilling third base prospect, Hank Blalock. Teixeira also spent a couple years in Atlanta and one in Anaheim before joining the pinstripes.

Coming up with Blalock, who was actually the more highly regarded prospect, meant that Teixeira had to find a new position. He spent time in 2003 in both corner outfield spots as well as first base. By 2004 he’d pretty much settled in at first. Teixeira averaged 36 home runs per 162 games over his career but had a lot of trouble staying healthy - a trait he actually also shared with Blalock.

During the 2016 season Teixeira announced his intent to retire at the end of the year.

Royals prospects: 54 RHP Zack Greinke.

Zack Greinke, born Donald Zackary Greinke, is...something else. An often electric pitcher, Greinke is known for his oddball quotes and suffers from anxiety and depression; the diseases almost derailed his career in 2006. An interesting note from Wikipedia is that the Royals apparently had him live in with George Brett for a period of time to help him try to overcome these issues. Speaking as one who also suffers from them and based on what little I know of George Brett, I suspect that probably didn’t work very well. Greinke contemplated quitting and even spoke of trying to take up professional golf. There were also rumors he might switch to being a position player.

He was able to return in 2007 and went back into the rotation but was suddenly a much worse pitcher than he had been before. After a demotion to the bullpen he began to find his equilibrium again; he pitched very well and was much happier with the idea that he might pitch any day instead of only every fifth day.

In 2008 he returned the rotation and started to become the force he had been projected to become. In 2009 Greinke signed a 4-year contract extension, was the Royals’ all-star selection, and won the Cy Young Award. His 2.16 ERA and 242 strike outs overwhelmed the voters who felt the 16 pitcher wins he had were too few. He also had six complete games including three shut outs, that year. Other highlights include a 1-hitter against the Mariners and a 15-strike out game against Cleveland that was the Royals’ record until 2016.

After 2010 Greinke began demanding to be traded, with insinuations that he had been promised the Royals would build a winner around him but that he didn’t think it was actually happening. The Royals had several deals for the mercurial right-hander fall through before finally dealing him to the Milwaukee Brewers along with Yuniesky Betancourt for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi, and Jeremy Jeffress. You probably recognize a few of those names.

Zack has gone on to pitch very well including 2 more all-star appearances and three more years receiving Cy Young votes. He also received a Silver Slugger award in 2013 with the Dodgers. Greinke signed the thirteenth largest contract in baseball history to play for the Diamondbacks prior to the 2016 season. In the first start of his six year deal Greinke allowed seven runs in only four innings. Things didn't improve drastically and his 2016 season ended up being his worst since 2010. The Diamondbacks will hope he bounces back in a big way, next year.

Other notable prospects:

49 - 3B Wilson Betemit, Atlanta.

51 - RHP Ervin Santana, Anaheim. The Royals traded minor league pitcher Brandon Sisk for the right hander and some cash prior to the 2013 season. Santana’s devastating slider helped keep the Royals in the playoff hunt until the final week of the year before declining a qualifying offer for the 2014 season and signing with Atlanta.

53 - LHP Andy Sisco, Chicago Cubs. The Royals took him in the 2005 Rule 5 draft, which requires a player remain on the big league roster the entire season. This ended up being just fine for the Royals as he was one of their better relievers that season. His 2004 campaign was not good and he was traded to the White Sox for Ross Gload, where he pitched even more poorly. He bounced around the minors for a few years and eventually pitched in the Korean and Chinese baseball leagues. He was last seen playing for Taiwan’s E-DA Rhinos in 2014.

66 - C Justin Huber, New York Mets. We’ll talk about Huber more, later.

67 - C John Buck, Houston.

70 - RHP Jeremy Guthrie, Cleveland. Better known as an Oriole and Royal, the Royals acquired him from the Rockies in a swap of failed starters, sending Jonathan Sanchez to Colorado. Started Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. Probably still pitching.

92 - RHP Jon Rauch, Chicago White Sox.

95 - OF Jeff Francouer, Atlanta. If you want to know more about Frenchy watch this. He had an astonishing start to his career but has mostly been bad ever since, except for 2011 with the Royals where he managed to hit 20 home runs and steal 22 bases with a .285 batting average. By all accounts one of the most likable baseball players of all time.

2004

Chris Lubanski poses on photo day
Chris Lubanski poses on photo day
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Number 1 Prospect: C Joe Mauer, Minnesota. Mauer stands as a testimony both to the danger of concussions even in baseball. In 2016 he admitted he has blurry vision even years after having converted to playing first base full-time. The career .308 hitter managed only to bat .261 with 11 home runs this year, though he still had an OBP of .363.

Was long one of the best defensive and offensive catchers to play the game. The six-time all-star has also won the gold glove as a catcher three times, is a four-time silver slugger award winner and received the MVP award in 2009 when he batted .365 with 28 home runs for a 1.031 OPS while carrying his Twins to the playoffs where they were knocked out in the ALDS by the Yankees.

Royals prospects: 14 - RHP Zack Greinke, 68 - OF Chris Lubanksi.

There’s not a lot to say about Chris Lubanski. He never actually appeared in a big league game. He was last seen in the Phillies’ AA affiliate in 2011 at age 26.

Other notable prospects:

6 - OF Alex Rios, Toronto. Best known around these parts for questions about his bone density. Signed to play right field in 2015, was terrible during the regular season but came up with some crucial hits during the Royals’ playoff run. Was unable to get a big league contract for 2016.

27 - OF Jeff Francouer, Atlanta.

29 - RHP Ervin Santana, Anaheim.

43 - RHP Joe Blanton, Oakland. Pitched as a spot starter and in relief for the 2015 Royals after signing a minor league contract. Was traded to the Pirates in the middle of the year for cash when he was placed on waivers due to a roster crunch.

53 - RHP Jeremy Guthrie, Cleveland.

59 - RHP Denny Bautista, Baltimore. No relation to Joey Bats that I can find. Pitched parts of three seasons with the Royals as a starter from 2004-2006. Royals gave up reliever Jason Grimsley to get him and traded him with Jeremy Affeldt to the Rockies for Scott Dohmann and Ryan Shealy.

71 - 2B Alberto Callaspo, Anaheim. Played with the Royals from 2008-2010 as a utility infielder. The Royals traded Billy Buckner to get him and got Sean O’Sullivan and Will Smith when they traded him away.

77 - LHP Andy Sisco, Chicago Cubs.

93 - LHP Jeff Francis, Colorado. Signed a one-year deal with the Royals and was a starter for them in 2011. Had a 4.82 ERA. Eminently forgettable.

95 - OF Joey Gathright, Tampa Bay. The first indicator of Dayton Moore’s lifelong search for athleticism. The Royals acquired the light-hitting, speedy outfielder for J.P. Howell in the middle of the 2006 season. Gathright had absolutely no power, was a sub-par base-stealer, and a mediocre defender at best. He didn’t last long.

I have more good news for you, a quick look ahead shows that things are about to start getting very interesting in the next entry. And two entries from now the names are going to start to become extremely familiar. This just all happens to be the time period around and shortly after Dayton Moore agreeing to become the Royals GM, but only if they promised to actually spend some money on player development. I'm sure that has nothing to do with the Royals intentionally getting quality prospects who consistently ranked highly. What is actually more confusing is how and why the prospects dried up, lately.

You can read Part 1 of this series here, Part 2 can be found here, Part 3 can be found here, and Part 4 can be found here.