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We’re Number One

At this point, it’s old news, but the accolades are rolling in for the Royals system. Both Baseball America and Keith Law have ranked the Royals farm system as the best in baseball. Unless you either just began following baseball this week or woke up from a coma that lasted more than, say, eight months, this is not news at all to you. And if you did recently wake up from a coma, congratulations on, you know, waking up from that coma. We missed you. I’ve seen a lot of articles around the internet about what this means for the Royals in terms of the future and what other number one ranked organizations have done following the ranking. I’ll give you the skinny on it before I get in to my real points. Every team who was ranked number one since 2001 has made the playoffs within five years. There are all sorts of different situations in those teams, but the one constant is that every single one of them has made the playoffs within five years. I could deal with some postseason baseball in this city.

I’m sort of interested in the Royals staying power as one of the top organizations. Looking at a few teams on this list, all but the Rays were just one time top organizations while the Rays have been the top farm system three times in the last ten years. Obviously, that’s what the Royals should be striving for. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rays as the top system in 2013 either after their array of high draft picks in the 2011 draft. That’s a fantastic organization in terms of drafting, scouting and development, and it’s what the Royals should strive to be. You knew that, though. My question is how much staying power do the Royals have in the top ten farm systems? In order to be a competitive franchise, they’re going to need to always have a pipeline of talent.

I hate to keep coming back to the Rays, but look at what they’ve been able to do in spite of the fact that they lost the biggest name in franchise history, their lockdown closer, an extremely important starter and their power bat at first base. They can just plug holes, and because they’re always incorporating younger talent, they had the money to go out and get some veteran influences in Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez because they’re not paying for guys like Jose Guillen. They can trade Matt Garza because they have his replacement in house, and he’s probably better than Garza. Maybe he won’t be right now, but within a year, I’d predict that Jeremy Hellickson is a better pitcher than Matt Garza.

The point is that the pipeline needs to continue to flow and that the organization cannot rest on it’s laurels of all these number one rankings they’re receiving now and will continue to receive until the start of the season. The pipeline is important to, but one thing I should note before getting too invested in the minors is that the minor league talent needs to become Major League talent. I’ve read this many times on the internet from disgruntled Royals fans who don’t think a good farm system is enough. They don’t fly a flag for having the best farm system. And that’s true, the guys need to come to the Majors and produce. That’s something that has a lot of people skeptical about this youth movement that the Royals have finally begun. They point to Alex Gordon being the best prospect in baseball or Jim Pittsley or Michael Tucker (who had a surprisingly nice career) or any of the number of Royals highly touted prospects who fizzled at the big league level. I don’t want to harp on this, but we have never seen this much high-end talent at once. Even if the attrition rate is higher than it has been, this system should still produce five to eight big league players and one or two stars. Now, if ever an organization could screw this up, I think it’s this one, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

It’s interesting, though, to see what’s next for the Royals in the system. They’ve got this group of players who presumably will be in the Majors in 2011 and 2012 with some slipping to 2013, but the lower levels are filled with guys who should make up the next wave of talent in 2014, 2015 and 2016. If Moustakas comes up in 2011 and absolutely rakes, maybe he’s a little too expensive for a team like the Royals who would rather invest in a more complete hitter in Eric Hosmer or Wil Meyers. The key to building a successful, winning organization is having a guy like Cheslor Cuthbert ready to take over for him. Mike Montgomery is putting up great numbers, but he’s got a bit of an injury history and John Lamb is actually better, so you sign Lamb long-term, let Montgomery walk or trade him and replace him with Jason Adam.

I think the Royals are doing this right. They have some serious talent at all levels of the organization, and I have complete faith in this regime to draft well to keep that talent flowing. The new collective bargaining agreement might make this null and void, but they have so much talent coming through that some is bound to leave as a free agent, but at that point they’ll be able to collect draft picks like the Rays have this year to restock. The beauty of having 12 picks in the first 85 or whatever it is the Rays have is that they can draft for both immediate need and future needs, which is amazing for them. My guess is that the system will be changed by then, but if it’s not the Royals will be able to take advantage of it in the same way.

I’ve been tough on Dayton Moore as have a lot of the online and offline world. He’s deserved a lot of the criticism, but one thing he also deserves is praise for this farm system. He’s not the one putting it together in anything more than a supervisory role; that’s what the people he hired do. But he hired them, and he was able to convince David Glass to open up his wallet in the draft, which is potentially his biggest victory as GM of the Royals. The jury is still out on Dayton Moore as a Major League GM. This offseason has given me hope that he’s getting it. One thing that can’t be denied, though, is that he has given hope to a city about baseball that hasn’t had hope in quite some time. Hopefully this isn’t the last number one ranking we see in the near future, and I have a feeling that it won’t be.

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