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Hok Talk: The rebuild is FINALLY beginning

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Dayton Moore has dallied, enough.

New York Mets v Kansas City Royals
Ned Yost and Dayton Moore are excited for the future.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The Royals have finally, finally, finally started their rebuild. A process that should have started before 2017 began, that in retrospect really should have started at the deadline last year, and continued to need to be started at the beginning of this year has finally begun. Have I said finally enough times? Finally.

We all thought the rebuild was going to start at the beginning of Spring Training and then Moore went on a spending spree to bring in several veterans and take precious playing time away from the youngsters. He, and several writers at this very website, thought this might make them a 70-75 win team. So, of course, they’ve been roughly on a pace to lose more than 100 games ever since.

The rebuild began in earnest when the Royals made the first trade of the regular season on Wednesday evening. Some fans are upset that Jon Jay is now a Diamondback. And to them, I ask, “Why?” The Royals were on pace to lose 100 games before the trade. He wasn’t making them competitive. He was, in fact, using a roster spot they’re going to want in a few weeks when Jorge Bonifacio returns from his suspension for taking horse steroids.

In the meantime, the Royals got a pair of young pitchers. They’re not amazing prospects but anything is better than what they had before the trade because, again, Jay wasn’t adding anything of value to this team and they at least offer a chance at value for a future team. This was a pure win from the Royals standpoint. If it still bothers you, though, you might want to brace yourself because this roster is almost certainly going to look very different come August. Also, speaking of young pitchers...

The Royals showed their hand in the draft

If you missed it - and I’m not sure how you managed that - the Royals drafted a lot of college pitchers earlier this week. We are talking 90% of the first 10 picks a lot, here. My first thought was, “How will get they get work for all of those guys at the same time at the same level?” My second thought, after reading that many felt the Royals’ first pick, Brady Singer. might be ready to join the MLB rotation as soon as next year was, “That’s way too early. None of the hitters are going to be ready, yet!” But it sounds, now, like the team is planning for him to be the crest of the next wave of prospects.

That’s great, in theory. The team certainly has lots of intriguing guys in the low minors. As I am writing this outfielder Seuly Matias has hit home run number 19 on the season. That leads everyone of every age at every level of the minor leagues. The next closest is a nearly 29-year-old journeyman outfielder with 16. If that doesn’t intrigue you, I don’t know what will.

Here’s the problem, though. Longtime reader Scott McKinney once did a study on how often prospects succeed. Fellow writer, Shaun Newkirk, put his own spin on the study. What they found is that, relative to their expectations, even top 100 prospects fail more than half the time. I did a somewhat less scientific study a couple years ago, myself, and determined that top 100 prospects reached even the lowly bar of 4-5 big league seasons of roughly league average play only slightly more than half the time.

Despite the large number of interesting hitting prospects in the Royals’ system none of them are any top 100 lists, as of this writing. Matias is making a case to be added to them but everyone else is still a ways off. If the top 100 prospects fail at rates that high imagine how often the rest of them fail. Then ask yourself how reasonable is Dayton Moore’s gamble?

The Royals are betting that enough of those guys will be really good that if they just dump a ton of nearly-ready college pitchers into the mix that they’ll all reach the big leagues in 2020 and 2021 and voila, the rebuild will be complete. But prospect failure rates suggest the Royals might see 2-3 successes out of each batch and will be incredibly lucky to find even a single star. If the percentages hold out instead of being ready to compete with a wave of young, new stars in 2021 the Royals will be ready to battle to reach .500 again.

That doesn’t have to be the end. You’ll recall that the last batch of young Royals stars battled to reach .500 in 2013 and things went pretty well in 2014 and 2015. But that was 2-4 seasons removed from having a farm system with 9 prospects in the top 100. The 2021 Royals will be 3 years removed from maybe having 1 guy in the top 100 prospects for half a season.

The other thing you’ll want to recall is that the hitting prospects in 2011 were all the next best thing to can’t-miss guys. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Wil Myers had rarely faced anything resembling adversity in the minors between them. And they have all still had their struggles once they finally got to the big leagues. Meanwhile the very best ranked hitting prospect the Royals currently have also strikes out in more than a third of his plate appearances. Strikeout rates usually get worse the higher up the ladder you climb so that should a blaring red alert klaxon with bright flashing lights on the bridge of Dayton Moore’s prospect starship.

I’ve been wrong before. I mean, I was right about Mike Moustakas breaking the home run record, last year, but I was wrong about plenty of other things. But this new “process” has all the signs of another decade spent wandering in the desert. Admittedly, this desert might be a little nicer; the team might spend most of it hovering around .500 instead of constantly losing 100 games. But a .500 desert still doesn’t come with playoff champagne.