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How many pieces should the Royals have in the organization to compete by 2022?

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What can we learn from the last rebuild?

Kansas City Royals v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Royals are stumbling towards what looks like another 100-loss season, leaving fans to look to the future for better days ahead. The expectation is that the Royals won’t be anywhere near contention until at least 2021, and more likely, 2022, when prospects currently in the minors are established big leaguers and the club has more financial flexibility.

In the meantime, the front office has to determine which players currently in the organization will be part of the future, and which are just stopgaps to ensure the team fulfills the obligation of a 162-game schedule. Matthew LaMar wrote a bit earlier this year about who he thinks is part of the future, and who isn’t, but I wanted to look at how many players currently in the organization we should expect to be on the 2022 club, three seasons from now.

How can we determine this? Well, the Royals have done this before. In 2013, the Royals had a hot second half and reached the periphery of the Wild Card race, winning 86 games, the first semblance of contention in Kansas City in a decade. So, how many players on that club were in the organization three seasons prior to that, in 2010?

Here are the 2013 Royals hitters with significant playing time (100 PA), and where they were back in 2010.

2013 Royals hitters

2013 Royals PA bWAR Where were they in 2010? How acquired
2013 Royals PA bWAR Where were they in 2010? How acquired
Alex Gordon 700 4.3 Omaha (AAA)/Kansas City 2005 MLB draft
Eric Hosmer 680 3.5 Wilmington (High A)/NW Arkansas (AA) 2008 MLB draft
Billy Butler 668 1.5 Kansas City 2004 MLB draft
Alcides Escobar 642 0.3 Milwaukee Trade on 12/19/2010
Salvador Perez 526 4.2 Wilmington (High A) 2006 International signing
Mike Moustakas 514 -0.1 NW Arkansas (AA)/Omaha (AAA) 2007 MLB draft
Lorenzo Cain 442 3.1 Huntsville (AA)/Nashville (AAA)/Milwaukee Trade on 12/19/2010
David Lough 335 2.6 Omaha (AAA) 2007 MLB draft
Jarrod Dyson 239 1.7 Wilmington (High A)/NW Arkansas (AA)/Omaha (AAA) 2006 MLB draft
Chris Getz 237 0.1 Kansas City Trade on 11/6/2009
Jeff Francoeur 193 -0.8 NY Mets/Texas Free agent signing on 12/8/2010
Emilio Bonifacio 179 1.2 Florida Purchased on 8/14/2013
Elliot Johnson 173 0.9 Durham (AAA) Trade on 2/12/2013
Miguel Tejada 167 0.5 Baltimore/San Diego Free agent signing on 12/31/2012
George Kottaras 126 0.5 Milwaukee Selected off waivers on 1/25/2013
Justin Maxwell 111 0.5 Syracuse (AAA)/Washington Trade on 7/31/2013

Among the position players, 74 percent of the plate appearances in 2013 went to players that were already in the organization by 2010 - basically everyone but Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, and a few role players. Only Alex Gordon and Billy Butler were big leaguers in 2010, but the future was in place in the minors with former first round picks Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas leading a prospect group that would be ranked the best in baseball in 2011.

2013 Royals pitchers

2013 Royals IP bWAR Where were they in 2010? How acquired
2013 Royals IP bWAR Where were they in 2010? How acquired
James Shields 228.2 4.3 Tampa Bay Trade on 12/9/2012
Jeremy Guthrie 211.2 1.2 Baltimore Trade on 7/20/2012
Ervin Santana 211.0 2.9 LA Angels Trade on 12/31/2012
Wade Davis 135.1 -2.0 Tampa Bay Trade on 12/9/2012
Bruce Chen 121.0 1.7 Kansas City Free agent signing 3/1/2009
Luis Mendoza 94.0 -1.0 Omaha (AAA)/Kansas City Purchased on 4/2/2010
Luke Hochevar 70.1 2.0 Omaha (AAA)/Kansas City 2006 MLB draft
Greg Holland 67.0 3.1 Omaha (AAA)/Kansas City 2007 MLB draft
Kelvin Herrera 58.1 -0.1 Burlington (Low A) 2006 International signing
Tim Collins 53.1 -0.2 New Hampshire (AA)/Mississippi (AA)/Omaha (AAA) Trade on 7/31/2010
Aaron Crow 48.0 0.3 Wilmington (High A)/NW Arkansas (AA) 2009 MLB draft
Will Smith 33.1 0.0 Rancho Cucamonga (High A)/Arkansas (AA)/Salt Lake (AAA)/Wilmington (High A) Trade on 7/22/2010
Louis Coleman 29.2 1.3 NW Arkansas (AA)/Omaha (AAA) 2009 MLB draft
J.C. Gutierrez 29.1 0.1 Arizona Free agent signing on 12/13/2011

The pitching is different with just 35 percent of innings pitched in 2013 going to players already in the organization. Much of the bullpen was homegrown and in the minors by 2010 - Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Louis Coleman, and Luke Hochevar. But the starters were imported veterans, guys like Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, and of course, there was the big trade for James Shields.

But perhaps the earlier Royals model was a bit flukey and cannot be replicated. The Astros and Cubs rebuild projects have been held up as models on how to successfully contend in the modern game. Both teams finally reached contention in 2015, so how many of those contending pieces did they have three seasons prior, in 2012?

The Astros had 52 percent of the plate appearances from 2015 position players in the organization by 2012*, including key players like Jose Altuve and 2012 first overall pick Carlos Correa. The pitching side looks very similar to the Royals, with just 35 percent of their 2015 innings coming from pitchers in the organization in 2012, although ace Dallas Keuchel was already in the big leagues by 2012 and Lance McCullers was taken in the draft that year.

*-Jed Lowrie was on the 2012 team, but was traded, then returned in 2015

The Cubs had even less of their 97-win 2015 club in place by 2012. Just 31 percent of the plate appearances from that 2015 club were in the organization in 2012 - Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Jorge Soler. They had even less of their pitching staff in the organzation, jwith ust 25% of their 2015 innings coming from players in the organization in 2012, mostly from Kyle Hendricks - acquired in a mid-season trade in 2012.

Conclusion

The big takeaway is that there is no need to panic if you look at this current Royals roster and don’t see many players that will be on a future contender. Most likely, 90 percent of the big league roster will be gone by the time the Royals are playing meaningful baseball again. Much of the heavy lifting to build a contender still has to be done over the next few seasons.

What should be a bit concerning is that there doesn’t appear to be many players in the minors who look like they can be part of that future. The future lineup the Royals planned in 2010 ended up being the guys that would lead them to contention - Gordon, Butler, Moustakas, Hosmer, and Perez. This year’s Royals seem far behind in that regard, with the future looking like Adalberto Mondesi, maybe Hunter Dozier, perhaps Bobby Witt, Jr. and a lot of question marks in the minors who haven’t hit top prospect lists the way Moustakas and Hosmer did.

On the other hand, the lack of young pitching probably isn’t as big a problem as it seems. Last year’s draft class will help, particularly to find top-shelf talent, but it seems unlikely the future contending Royals’ rotation will be completely, or even mostly home-grown.

That’s not to say building a farm sytem isn’t important - it is hugely important. The best way to ensure the Royals develop a pitcher is to start out with five pitching prospects as a hedge against the typical attrition. And bringing in outside talent will depend on tradeable assets in the farm system - the Royals never net James Shields without some top prospects to offer.

But by the time you are watching the Royals in a pennant race, most of the names from the 2019 season will be a distant memory, a bad nightmare you vaguely remember.