The Royals are trying to rely more on young, homegrown talent to build towards a contender. They have had some good young players come up and contribute such as Adalberto Mondesi and Ryan O’Hearn, and as the farm system improves, perhaps even more can make their way up.
But the organization was this close to being in a much better position for a rebuild. Assistant General Manager Rene Francisco, who is in charge of International Operations, was a recent guest with Soren Petro on The Program on WHB 810. They had an interesting discussion that I highly recommend you check out. In the interview, Francisco discusses the work of international scouting, the possibility of an international draft (Francisco thinks it will happen someday), and the signing of Japanese teenage pitcher Kaito Yuki.
Petro likes to end his interviews with four quick questions, and one of Francisco’s answers showed what could have been.
Petro: Can you tell me about a player - the best player that ever got away? You thought you had him and they got away. A story of “we almost had this guy?”
Francisco: The guy that was playing this past year with the Washington Nationals - Soto.
Petro remarks, “oh, you were close?” to which Francisco responds almost sadly, “yes.”
Juan Soto is a 20-year old outfielder who made his debut with the Nationals last year and hit .292/.406/.517 with 22 home runs in 116 games. He originally signed with the Nationals for a bonus of $1.5 million after being ranked the 22nd-best prospect in his class by MLB.com back in 2015. Last year, Soto finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña .
In fact, when Acuna woke up the morning of July 2, 2014, the first day of the signing period, he planned to sign with another team, for even less money.
“I was going to sign with the Royals,” Acuna said. “But that same day, the Braves called and offered me more money. So, I decided to sign with the Braves.”
Acuña would hit .293/.366/.552 with 26 home runs in 111 games last year with the Braves.
The world of international scouting is pretty hard to predict. The Royals wasted $8 million on Cuban pitcher Noel Arguelles only to see him never even reach AAA. On the other hand, a $65,000 investment in a third baseman in Venezuela turned into All-Star catcher Salvador Perez.
Baseball can be a game of inches, and it sounds like the Royals were very close to having two of the most dynamic young players in the game roaming around their outfield. Perhaps they would not have turned out quite the same in a different organization - player development matters! But what if....