Baseball Prospectus came out with their minor league rankings this week, and they seem to confirm what everyone else has concluded - the Royals have one of the worst farm systems in baseball. Baseball Prospectus ranked the Royals at #27, ahead of only the Diamondbacks, Angels, and Marlins. Every single major publication that ranks farm systems - Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, Keith Law, John Sickels - has put the Royals in the bottom six in all of baseball, representing a steady decline for the Royals.
The Royals have, of course, had some attrition due to trades, but they have also had injuries, poor performances, and just bad drafts in recent years. However it is not all doom and gloom. Baseball Prospectus notes that the Royals "even have a bit more upside in the lower levels of their system." This echoes what Keith Law wrote about the team when he said, "of all of the systems down here on the bottom rung, none has the untapped upside of the Royals’ organization, with more guys whose scouting reports start with "if…" than any other."
The system looks fallow for now, but it could turn around in a hurry. Matt Strahm is surely going to graduate from the list of prospects, and Josh Staumont and Hunter Dozier could as well if they have good years, but there are still some players who could take big steps forward. Chase Vallot, Khalil Lee, Seuly Matias, Marten Gasparini, and perhaps even some under-the-radar prospects like Meibrys Viloria and Crstian Castillo could make a splash onto prospect lists with a strong season. The Royals will have four of the top 90 picks in this June's draft, including the 14th overall.
But the quickest way the Royals could fill up the system is if they have a firesale this July. Let's take a look at a few examples of teams making a big leap in one year up the Baseball America organizational rankings in recent history.
The Marlins had a pretty good farm system before the 2012 season, but the prospects were so far away from the big leagues, no one knew it yet. Their low A ball team had Jose Fernandez, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, of which only Yelich was ranked as a Top 100 prospect before the year. Solid players like catcher J.T. Realmuto and pitcher Adam Conley ranked lower on their prospect list.
Those players progressed and had solid seasons, but the Marlins skyrocketed up the rankings due to a firesale. In typical Marlins fashion, they dumped Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Hanley Ramirez, Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, and Mark Buerhle, receiving prospects like Adeiny Hechevaria, Justin Nicolino, and Jake Marisnick. The Marlins went from having one Top 100 prospect to having six the next year. Every single player on their top ten prospect list has already had significant playing time in the big leagues.
New York Mets
In 2013, Baseball America lamented the Mets had a "lack of blue-chip position prospects". Oft-injured pitcher Zach Wheeler topped their prospect list, with Wilmer Flores cited as one of the top hitters in the upper minors, although he didn't even profile as a starter. Lower on the list, and warranting little attention, were future Mets closer Jeurys Familia and pitcher Michael Fulmer, who would be traded to Detroit and excelled last season.
So how did the Mets improve? They traded pitcher R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays for catcher Travis D'Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who would be #1 and #2 on the Mets prospect list a year later. They selected first baseman Dominic Smith in the first round of the draft. Jacob deGrom, who had missed an entire season with Tommy John surgery, returned for a solid season to break the Mets top ten prospect list.
The Braves were once known for their strong farm system, but by 2015 it was in shambles. Jose Peraza topped their prospect list, their only Top 100 prospect, according to Baseball America. General Manager John Hart decided it was time for a complete rebuild. He traded everything that wasn't bolted to the floor, with a few exceptions.
That included even dealing Peraza to the Dodgers in a package that returned Cuban prospect Hector Olivera, who would top the Braves prospect list a year later. Top ten prospects Max Fried and Mallex Smith would be acquired for Justin Upton. A deal of closer Craig Kimbrel would net a competitive balance draft pick that would turn into pitcher Austin Riley. In one of the more inexplicable deals in recent memory, the Diamondbacks gave them pitcher Touki Toussant in exchange for the Braves also taking on the contract of pitcher Bronson Arroyo. They selected Kolby Allard in the first round of the draft. And the 2015 prospect list does not even include one of their greatest heists - acquiring former first overall pick Dansby Swanson from the Diamondbacks for Shelby Miller.
The Brewers had years of bad drafts - they hadn't had their top pick in the draft even reach the big leagues since 2008 pick Brett Lawrie. The result was a thin system full of low-ceiling players. A late season collapse in 2014, followed by a poor start in 2015 gave management the idea that a full rebuild was in order. That summer, they dealt away veterans Aramis Ramirez, Gerardo Parra, Carlos Gomez, and Mike Fiers, and received five players that would be among their top 30 prospects, including Brett Phillips. The club also selected Trent Clark in the draft that summer, and also took Nathan Kirby with their competitive balance pick. Pitcher Jorge Lopez took a big step forward that summer in AA, becoming a Top 100 prospect.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox made an effort to compete in 2016, acquiring Brett Lawrie, Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and James Shields. But the effort fell flat, and management was quick to recognize it needed a full rebuild. That means trading Chris Sale to the Red Sox and Adam Eaton to the Nationals. The White Sox had just two Top 100 prospects last year - shortstop Tim Anderson and pitcher Carson Fulmer. Those two trades alone netted them four more - Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Michael Kopech.