I remember checking the internet on my phone for the first time in almost a week after our cruise ship docked back in Galveston. The Royals were in first place in the division, but had only been about four games up on the Minnesota Twins for most of the previous month. Naturally, after a “we’re back” text to my parents, I pulled up Kansas City Royals news.
Then, my heart sunk. On July 8, Alex Gordon was carted off the field with a groin injury. It wasn’t season ending, thank God, but I read that he would be out for a few months.
Throughout July, the Royals kept winning. Then, on July 28, Kansas City made the big move to replace Gordon in the short term and add to the team in the long term by trading for Ben Zobrist. This, just two days after acquiring the best starting pitcher on the market in Johnny Cueto.
The Royals paid a reasonable but heavy price to secure three months’ worth of Cueto and Zobrist. Kansas City parted with five players, three of whom were particularly notable: Cody Reed, who was in the middle of an ascendant season and would rank as Baseball America’s 34th best overall prospect at the season’s close; Sean Manaea, who BA had ranked as the 81st best prospect at the beginning of the year; and Brandon Finnegan, who BA had ranked as the 55th best prospect at the beginning of the year.
Yes, the Royals had built the core roster of their 2015 world championship team on the back of the best farm system in the league. But postseason heroes Zobrist and Cueto were acquired because the Royals had a pair of top 100 prospects that they had in the first place. In other words, winning teams need good farm systems, too.
Unfortunately, it is 2024 and not 2015. The Royals are the opposite of champions, which hasn’t stopped them from telling Jackson County residents to give them a bunch of money without any details. They have been exceedingly bad at baseball at the big league level. It’s been a mess.
But worst of all—yes, worst of all—the Royals farm system is incredibly bereft of talent.
Recently, Baseball America released their top 100 prospect list for 2024. This is not some publication that throws around half-cocked thoughts into the Great Internet Content Machine. BA has been around since 1981 and is arguably the most respected baseball publication in the country. It’s been strictly subscription-based for its whole existence, and so a lot of fans don’t see its best and most notable pieces of content in their entirety.
So, let me, a BA subscriber, tell you how many prospects the Royals have on the top 100 list. That number is 0, zero, zilch, nada, goose egg. None.
Do great baseball players always rank on the top 100? No. Notably, a pair of Kansas City’s most beloved players in recent history—Whit Merrifield and Salvador Perez—never appeared on a top 100 list. But those kinds of guys are the exception to the rule. Top ranked players almost always do well, and most players who play a long time appear somewhere on the list.
Unfortunately for the Royals, it gets worse. Baseball America also published a list of the 15 prospects who barely missed the list—aka, the 101st through 115th best prospects in the league. There are no Royals on that list. And at the bottom of the piece, BA listed an additional 92 prospects who received at least one top 100 vote from the staff. Only one Royal got any votes to appear in the top 100 out of the 207 total prospects involved (the 100 on the list, the additional 15, and the 92 who received some votes): Blake Mitchell, the Royals’ first round pick from 2023.
It is unfathomable to me how the Royals could be at this point with their resources. Sure, they have graduated some players like Bobby Witt Jr., who ranked at #3 before the 2022 season. But they haven’t done that enough, as their record has indicated. Furthermore, the Royals have had a top-nine selection in the MLB draft and the accompanying large bonus pool for five consecutive seasons and they’re in this spot.
This is not the first time that I have written about this. And until they fix it, it won’t be the last. That’s because a team’s farm system and player development arm is the engine that makes the team go. It’s not just about producing talent on the field: it’s about continually producing talent so that a team can make trades to improve its big league roster.
I’ve loved Kansas City’s offseason so far, and they have significantly improved the big league roster. But put it this way: if the 2015 Royals had the 2024 Royals farm system, they simply could not have made the trades they did—because the Royals had four players on the midseason top 100 in 2015, and they had strength from which to deal.
Having a player like Witt on the team is a luxury that Royals fans haven’t had in a long time. That’s something going for this team. However, as we’ve seen with Mike Trout and the Angels, one player can’t drag an MLB team to the promised land. Before you can start churning out great players, you have to start churning out great prospects. We’re not even there yet.