Baseball America Prospect Report (Sept. 1)
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Top Ten Prospects: Kansas City Royals
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By Will Kimmey
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2005.
The Royals and their fans entered 2004 with guarded optimism. Kansas City was coming off its first winning season in nine years and supplemented a young roster with veteran free agents at reasonable prices.
The Royals won four of their first six games, but then dropped six straight and never climbed above .500 again. Injuries piled up (new acquisition Juan Gonzalez played just 33 games), the pitching staff crumbled and the team elected to trade free-agent-to-be Carlos Beltran in June. Shortstop Angel Berroa, the 2003 American League rookie of the year, struggled so much that he was sent down to Double-A Wichita. The cumulative result was a franchise-record 104 losses.
“Disappointment was an understatement,” general manager Allard Baird said.
The rough year did provide a few bright spots. The club may have filled three organizational needs with the Beltran deal, acquiring John Buck to become the everyday catcher, Mark Teahen to take over at third base sometime in 2005 and Mike Wood to add depth to the pitching staff. Righthander Zack Greinke reached the majors before he turned 21 and emerged as the team’s best pitcher by season’s end. Fellow farmhands Andres Blanco, David DeJesus and Ruben Gotay also gained major league experience, and the club added prospects Denny Bautista and Justin Huber at little expense in astute trades.
“We never changed our rebuilding-mode approach,” Baird said. “We didn’t hold anybody back. If a young player is ready to come to the big leagues, he does.”
The Royals enter 2005 in the same development-first mindset. Baird planned to sign major league and minor league free agents to use as roster filler until players such as Bautista, Huber and Teahen are ready for full-time duty. The Royals have seen the Twins succeed under similar small-market budget constraints and wish to build their team in the same mold, relying on homegrown talent.
Kansas City took steps toward that goal in 2004. Baird strengthened the player-development and scouting systems by hiring Donny Rowland, the former Angels scouting director who restocked that organization’s prospect coffers, to oversee both departments. The initial returns on scouting director Deric Ladnier’s draft were positive, as the Royals added a slugger in Billy Butler, polished college pitchers with their next three selections, then a few high-ceiling high schoolers and some budget-conscious picks that emerged as pleasant surprises. Signing 2003’s top draft-and-follow, hard-throwing righthander Luis Cota, gave the organization another shot in the talent arm.
The Royals must continue to draft and develop players to aid a farm system that has gained depth in recent years but still lacks an abundance of star-caliber players. Those are the types needed to win at the major league level, and it’s much cheaper for Kansas City to produce its own than to try to sign them on the open market.
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