The Royals not only hit rock bottom in the standings last year, but they bottomed out in farm system rankings as well. The team went from having the top-ranked farm system by Baseball America and many other experts in 2011, to having the 29th-ranked system last year. Success gave the Royals later draft picks, but the team has had a long dry spell in the draft that stretches to the days when they were picking in the top ten, depriving the minor league system of top-tier prospects.
Slowly, things are improving, at least according to most experts. ESPN’s Keith Law recently ranked two Royals in his top 100 prospect list - Daniel Lynch at #53 and Khalil Lee at #55 - a year after shutting the Royals out of his list. This week he came out with his overall organizational rankings, putting the Royals #21 in all of baseball, up from #27 last year. Law admits the system is mostly Lexington’s team plus Lee and last year’s draft class, but he applauds the shift in draft strategy last year. However the system is poorly ranked, due to “draft classes prior to 2017, when they bet big on some high school arms who haven’t panned out at all.”
That view seems to be shared by other prospect evaluators like those at Baseball America. Although they have not updated their rankings for 2019, they did rank the Royals 26th in August, up from 29th earlier in the year. They also applauded the 2018 draft class that added balance to the system, writing the club has “a nice mix of position players who aren’t that far off of the Top 100, but they need their college and pitching-heavy 2018 draft to match up with those hitters.”
Joel Rueter at Bleacher Report ranks the Royals 24th in baseball, after having ranked them dead-last the previous season. He notes the college pitchers selected last June - Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, and Daniel Lynch - and promising improvement by young players like M.J. Melendez make it a “system on the rise.” Rueter highlights outfielder Seuly Matias as an “X-factor”, saying that he needs to change his approach from his “20-grade hit tool, which is extremely poor”, to tap into his raw power.
Craig Edwards at Fangraphs took a more quantitative approach to a ranking by using metrics based on scouting grades to evaluate each system. The Royals were actually tied for 10th in all of baseball in the number of prospects (24) that graded 40 or 45. But they have just one player that graded 50 or higher (Matias), and no players that graded 55 or higher, illustrating the absence of upper-end talent in the system. That gives them an overall ranking of 27th.
Still, you can see the progress being made, as noted by MLB Pipline when they highlighted Kansas City as having one of the most-improved systems. Evaluator Jim Callis wrote that the Royals made a jump from having the second-worst farm system in baseball due to their 2018 draft class, highlighting later picks like pitchers Kris Bubic, Austin Cox, and outfielder Kyle Isbel as players that are already among the best in the Kansas City system.
Fangraphs writer Stephen Loftus found it typically takes two years for a team to go from bottoming out to jumping up rankings. The Royals will have another shot to improve the farm system this June, when they will have the second-overall pick. This should be a pretty pivotal summer for many of their top minor leaguers. While there are enticing tools to get excited about, many of their prospects still have glaring holes to their games that will need to be fixed if they hope to become impact big leaguers. If the Royals hope to accelerate their timetable to contention, they will need much more progress to be made.