As Max Rieper pointed out on Monday, the Royals have one of the weakest farm systems in baseball. While there is some potential high ceiling talent, it lacks impact at the top levels, good pitching, and I think depth is an issue too. Those are all the hallmarks of a poor system. Good farms aren’t built just on high end talent, but considerable depth. This is inherent in a good system. The Cubs or Royals peak system the past decade featured guys who couldn’t even crack their respective teams top ten, but would be candidates for 1-5 for many other organizations.
It seems as though the 2014 and 2015 title runs have been used as a scapegoat for the poor farm system, which isn’t really the case. If you look at the players traded away at the deadline to support those runs (and it was really just 2015), you can see that.
- Sean Manaea: the headliner of the Ben Zobrist trade to Oakland, Manaea would no longer be prospect eligible
- Aaron Brooks: the other piece of the Zobrist trade, not a prospect anymore and never really was...
- Brandon Finnegan: the core piece of the Johnny Cueto trade to the Reds. Finnegan exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2015.
- Cody Reed: Also in the Cueto trade, Reed exhausted his eligibility in 2016.
- John Lamb: wasn’t really a prospect anymore when he was traded to the Reds for Cueto after multiple injuries and poor results, but he exhausted his eligibility in 2016 too.
Other minor leaguers traded during 2014 and 2015:
- Luis Valenzuela
- Kyle Bartsch
- Jason Adam
- Spencer Patton
Even I had to look up who Luis Valenzuela was because I don’t remember him at all.
If all the guys traded in the Zobrist/Cueto trades were still somehow prospect eligible, the Royals farm system would only really go from poor to just okay. Manaea is one of the best pitchers to come through the system in some time and he “only” peaked at #45 overall. Finnegan got up to #55, and Reed made it up to #36. Call it three top 50 prospects. That’s currently near what the Detroit Tigers system looks like (per Baseball America) with Franklin Perez (35), Alex Faedo (50), Matt Manning (78). That system was just ranked (again by Baseball America) the 21st best system.
So what has been the issue? Well as you can probably guess, and something I’ve written about ad nauseum, is that the Royals just plain haven’t drafted well since Dayton Moore took full control. While he was the general manager in 2007 and 2008, the organization’s scouting director (who gets part of the credit/blame for drafts) was a holdover (Deric Ladnier) from the previous administration.
While this tweet is just over a year old, the argument remains basically the same:
Ladnier (now at AZ) seemingly did an excellent job as scouting director. Picollo was brief, and Goldberg might not have enough track record pic.twitter.com/Tqlsqk4fJS— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) December 29, 2016
In fact you could probably imagine the gap is bigger now since Mike Moustakas. Danny Duffy, and Eric Hosmer (credited to Ladnier) had good 2017 seasons.
Since 2009 (when current Assistant General Manager J.J. Picollo was then the scouting director), the Royals have had the third highest/best pick on average:
From those picks (this is just first round picks only - where the bulk of the value in a draft lies), they have accrued the 25th highest WAR (via FanGraphs):
At the bottom are the Rangers, who have been historically drafting near the back, so their poor drafting is a bit excusable. After that the Brewers, who have picked not that far from the Royals but more middle of the pack than at the front like the Royals. They also fired their GM and brought in a new analytical savvy group (and hired the now former Royals director of analytics). Since then, they have drafted the current #47, #61, #74, and #75 prospect in the minors (per BA).
The Rays once prided themselves on finding talent in the draft (as a small market team must), but despite picking on average 14th since 2013, they haven’t had much performance save for their recent #4 overall pick Brendan McKay.
The Tigers have picked near the back of the first round for most of this time, twice as far as the Royals first pick, but have produced the same as the Royals.
Then you have Kansas City with an average pick of 10.8 but a total WAR of 5.2. Those players:
Sean Manaea: 4.2
Brandon Finnegan: 0.6
Aaron Crow: -0.2
Christian Colon: 0.7
Hunter Dozier: -0.1
*Note that which team the WAR was accrued for is not being considered here, which is important surely, but would only make the Royals worse anyways
Now maybe there is some sort of argument that the Royals have traded away their best drafted players recently, but the counterpoint is that when Christian Colon accounts for 15% of your draft WAR, you are in trouble.
This image might show my point better:
The four teams around the Royals average pick values have accrued 3x, 4x, and even 5x as much value as the Royals picks (and a note here - I only looked for players that did sign with their drafted team).
In the first round, Kansas City has had twelve picks since 2009, equal to the Braves, Dodgers, and White Sox. Looking at average WAR received per pick:
Not surprisingly they are near the bottom, but their fellow 12-pickers have all fared better (with the White Sox doing the best of the group despite picks several picks lower).
I wondered if perhaps there was some reason the Royals haven’t fared well in the draft going on a near decade. Are they taking higher bust rate players? Specific types of players? I wrote the other day that the Royals might be going conservative with their draft picks.
Nothing too discernable here. The Royals have basically split their pick types down the middle from a pitcher/hitter college/prep standpoint.
To put it all to a focal point here, the Royals just plain haven’t drafted well under the current regime. While Moore gets credit for Moustakas and Hosmer, those picks were made under the old scouting director, and his current staff have struggled.
Drafting isn’t the only way to find talent, but for a small market team, it’s the best source since you are guaranteed a first round pick each year to do with it what you will (forfeit it or use it - maybe one day trade it).
On Monday afternoon I put to Twitter two separate polls, asking about the potential length of a rebuild:
Friends, this poll will be two different polls, the second poll being a reply to this tweet.— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) January 29, 2018
How long do you think the Royals rebuild will take (defined as when they open a contention window for 2-3 years)?
What is your reasonable expectation for the length of a rebuild in regards to Dayton Moore being fired?— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) January 29, 2018
Not how long do you think it will take, but how long until you think Moore is not the man to do it and should be replaced?
Responders (as of the time of this writing) answered poll one as:
6% 2-3 years
49% 4-5 years
27% 5-6 years
18% 7+ years
and poll two as:
19% 2-3 years
35% 4-5 years
20% 5-6 years
26% 7+ years
The majority of voters were assuming a successful rebuild (which I defined as 2-3 years of a contention window opening) would take 4-5 years, and a plurality were willing to give Dayton Moore the same length of time to do it.
A combined plurality of voters where willing to give him even more time, with 46% saying they would give him 5+ years to rebuild before removing him as GM.
If drafting continues the way it has been going, those opinions might change if the farm system remains barren and the losing seasons pile up.