Prospect Season officially has begun. We're unveiling a new minor league Top 20 Prospects list each weekday, and you can keep up with them here. We'll soon begin working on our Draft Report Cards and organization Top 10 Prospects lists, which we'll expand to Top 30s for the Prospect Handbook.
The Royals are enduring their 15th losing season in the last 16 years, but they finally have some realistic hope for the future. Kansas City has three of the game's best hitting prospects in third baseman Mike Moustakas, first baseman Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers, and the top collection of lefthanded pitching prospects with John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, Chris Dwyer and Danny Duffy. Beyond those guys, the Royals also have a number of other intriguing farmhands, including righthander Aaron Crow and third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert.
Right now, Kansas City is the favorite to occupy the top spot when we unveil our next talent rankings in the 2011 Prospect Handbook. Let's take a quick look at the last 10 No. 1 organizations, all of whom reached the major league postseason within four years of that ranking, and their Top 100 Prospects:
|2001 White Sox: Jon Rauch (No. 4), Joe Borchard (23), Joe Crede (36), Matt Ginter (44), Dan Wright (61).|
|2002 Cubs: Mark Prior (2), Juan Cruz (6), Hee Seop Choi (40), David Kelton (45), Bobby Hill (48), Nic Jackson (68), Carlos Zambrano (80).|
|2003 Indians: Brandon Phillips (7), Victor Martinez (16), Cliff Lee (30), Travis Hafner (46), Jeremy Guthrie (70).|
|2004 Brewers: Rickie Weeks (5), Prince Fielder (10), J.J. Hardy (19), Brad Nelson (48), Manny Parra (69), Mike Jones (84).|
|2005 Angels: Casey Kotchman (6), Dallas McPherson (12), Erick Aybar (39), Jeff Mathis (67), Kendry Morales (76), Brandon Wood (83).|
|2006 Diamondbacks: Justin Upton (2), Stephen Drew (5), Conor Jackson (17), Carlos Quentin (20), Chris Young (23), Carlos Gonzalez (32), Dustin Nippert (67).|
|2007 Rays: Evan Longoria (7), Reid Brignac (17), Jeff Niemann (35), Jacob McGee (37), Elijah Dukes (79), Wade Davis (97).|
|2008 Rays: Evan Longoria (2), David Price (10), Jacob McGee (15), Wade Davis (17), Reid Brignac (39), Desmond Jennings (59), Jeff Niemann (99).|
|2009 Rangers: Neftali Feliz (10), Justin Smoak (23), Derek Holland (31), Elvis Andrus (37), Taylor Teagarden (73), Max Ramirez (84), Martin Perez (86).|
|2010 Rays: Desmond Jennings (6), Jeremy Hellickson (18), Wade Davis (34), Matt Moore (35), Reid Brignac (54), Tim Beckham (67), Alex Colome (68).|
The Royals stack up very nicely against their predecessors. Moustakas, Hosmer, Myers, Lamb and Montgomery all will appear in the upper half of our 2011 Top 100 list, and the only top-ranked organization with more firepower was the 2006 Diamondbacks, who claimed six of the top 32 spots.
While the Twins are clearly the class of the American League Central, they're not a juggernaut. The Indians are rebuilding, and the Tigers and White Sox need to do the same. With the talent they have on the way, the Royals could be the second-best team in the division by 2012 and legitimate contenders the following season.
I mentioned the Pirates' lack of success with No. 1 overall picks, especially compared to other Pittsburgh sports franchises, in the last Ask BA. That's not the result of the Bucs going cheap, however. While Benson was the only consensus top talent in his draft, neither King nor Bullington was a signability pick.
Texas lefthander Greg Swindell was rated the best prospect in the 1986 draft, but Pittsburgh opted for another Southwest Conference star, Arkansas third baseman King. The Pirates thought King might move as quickly as their 1985 first-rounder (some guy named Barry Bonds) and be easier to sign than Swindell. The two players got identical $160,000 bonuses and Swindell joined the Indians, who selected him with the second pick, after just three minor league appearances. King didn't get to the majors until 1989, didn't become a regular until 1992 and hit .258/.320/.417 in 894 games for Pittsburgh.
Clemson righthander Benson was the clear No. 1 talent in 1996, when some scouts wondered if he was the best college pitching prospect ever and if he might shoot straight to the big leagues. After signing for a record $2 million, he needed two years to get to Pittsburgh but won 21 games in his first two seasons there. He showed signs of becoming the ace the Pirates envisioned, but he blew out his elbow in spring training in 2001 and had repeated shoulder problems in future years. All told, he went 43-49, 4.26 in 126 starts with the Bucs.
In 2002, we rated Ball State righthander Bullington the fourth-best prospect available, behind high school outfielder B.J. Upton and prep lefthanders Scott Kazmir and Adam Loewen. The team considered all four players but owner Kevin McClatchy wanted his club to take a college product who could help the club more quickly, so Pittsburgh went with Bullington, who held out until late October before signing for $4 million. GM Dave Littlefield didn't excite the fan base when he described Bullington as a No. 3 starter on draft day, and he couldn't even live up to that billing. He tore the labrum in his shoulder soon after reaching the big leagues in 2005 and never won a game for the Pirates before they waived him in 2008.
I'm not worried about Morrison's power at all. He put on batting-practice shows nearly as impressive as teammate Mike Stanton's in the minors, and Morrison is going to hit home runs. While he has gone deep only twice, he has hit 19 doubles and five triples, and he's slugging .456—more than respectable for a rookie who just turned 23.
Morrison has had a fine debut, hitting .293 and reaching base in 42 consecutive games, tying Mark Teixeira for the longest streak in the majors this season. His hitting hasn't suffered even though he has had to learn how to play left field on the fly after being a first baseman for most of his career. He's not Stanton, but Morrison will hit for a high average with at least 20-25 homers per year once he gets established in Florida.