Writer's note: I wrote this article last week and then things got busy and I plum forgot to publish it. The stats that I spent a lot of time researching haven't been updated over the last five days or so, which just so happens to be when Kansas City coincidentally went on a tear and have taken over first place in the AL Central. In that time, players like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer are hitting as well as they have all season. It doesn't change the fact that they are "busts" until proven otherwise, but it does remind us all that some players require more patience than others. Not everyone on this list is a lost cause. Others probably are.
Three years ago, the Kansas City Royals farm system was being bandied about as the best group of prospects in the modern era of evaluating prospects. In Baseball America's Top 100, the Royals had three players in the top 10, five players in the top 20, and nine players in the top 100.
Think about that for a second. Nearly 10% of the top 100 prospects in all of minor league baseball were property of one team. And those were only the "top 100" prospects. And only Baseball America's opinion. Other writers and publications may prefer one player over another. The top three hitters were interchangeable for many scouts, as well as the top three left-handed pitchers.
It was a riches of prospects that made Kansas City look like a dynasty that would erupt not if, but when. When... When... When, indeed!
Three years later, we're reminded that prospects are prospects and professionals are professionals. The two are not interchangeable. When the Royals shipped off Wil Myers (and more) for James Shields (and barely more), fans and critics compared it to trading a star hitter for a number two pitcher with only two years of control left. That instead of what they should have been calling it: A great hitting prospect for a proven number two starter.
As you'll see with the following list of prospects from the Royals' 2011 system, there is a vast difference between "prospect" and "proven." You couldn't trade the vast majority of these players today for a number two starter -- and remember that most of them are still 26 and under.
Using John Sickels list of Royals prospects from 2011 for most of the following ranking system, here's an update on Kansas City's "best ever" farm system, and why a farm system does not make a franchise a dynasty on it's own:
1. Mike Moustakas
Baseball America had Hosmer just ahead of Moustakas and Myers, but they were right there at 8, 9, and 10 in their 2011 Top 100. The players ahead of them included Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Julio Teheran, and Aroldis Chapman, but also in the top 10 were Jesus Montero, Domonic Brown, and Jeremy Hellickson.
Those players have had a mixed bag of success, with Brown going to the All-Star game last season and Hellickson winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2011, but Moose has been mostly just bad.
He hit 20 home runs and was credited with great third base defense in 2012, which gave him a WAR of 3.1, but he also hit .242, posted an OBP under .300, struck out too much and didn't walk enough. That proved to be a signal of more bad things to come, as Moustakas saw his SLG% drop from .412 to .364, his OBP drop to .287, and his homers drop to 12.
He was credited with just 1.1 WAR, well below average.
In 49 games this year, Moose is hitting .155/.222/.323 and no sort of defense will make him look like more than just a utility player right now. In 2011, he was one of the top three prospects in the league's best farm system, arguably one of the best single-season farm systems of the decade, and one of the top 10 prospects in baseball thought to develop into an elite-hitting third baseman with great defense, a potential 6 or 7-WAR player.
In his four-year career, he is hitting .235/.288/.378 with 42 home runs in 423 games and has never posted an OPS+ higher than 91. He turns 26 this December.
2. Eric Hosmer
It was going to be an amazing 3-4 in the Royals lineup for a decade after Hosmer and Moustakas were promoted to the major league team. I'm sure they've spent a few games hitting in the three and four spot, but it has not been that amazing.
Hosmer, like Moustakas, has enjoyed one good season per Fangraphs. He also posted a 3.1-WAR season, his in 2013, but he's arguably worse than Moose this year. He's hit three home runs, posting an ISO of .110 as a first baseman, and slugging just .369. Fangraphs has him at -0.5 WAR in 2014 because he's also not known for his speed (though he stole 11 bases last year, he has none this season), defense, or plate discipline.
Hosmer is walking just 4.9% of the time, because why wouldn't you pitch to him?
In four seasons, Hosmer is a career .274/.327/.417 hitter with 53 home runs in 503 games. As of this writing he's posting an OPS of .666, which is pretty much on point.
3. Wil Myers
Myers has arguably been the most valuable player to the Royals out of this class, just due to the fact that they wouldn't have been able to trade for James Shields without him. Given what we knew about the performance of Hosmer and Moustakas, maybe it wasn't that crazy for KC to take a chance on losing out on Myers in order to gain a number two (number one to them) starter. Shields led the majors in innings pitched last year, posted an ERA of 3.15, and had 4.5 WAR.
Will he remain with the Royals past this year? Probably not, but what do we know of Myers right now?
He was the Rookie of the Year in 2013 for the Rays, but is also posting a .666 OPS this year. He's down to .227/.313/.354 with five home runs in 53 games and is hitting just .103 over his last 13 games. As we've seen with Moose and Hosmer, having one good season doesn't guarantee anything for what's to come.
4. John Lamb
Kansas City also dropped two pitchers in BA's top 20, with Lamb coming in the highest at 18. Again, there were points of contention in how you ordered certain prospects in the Royals system (John Sickels had him as the third-best pitcher in the system) but everyone agreed they were ALL great.
Lamb was a 19-year-old lefty that advanced all the way to AA in 2010, striking out 159 in 147.2 innings, with only 45 walks and an ERA of 2.38. There was no question that all signs pointed to: This guy is tight. A little too tight in the elbow though.
In June of 2011, it was time for Tommy John Lamb surgery and he was shut down after just eight starts. He pitched just 13 innings in 2012 and they weren't good innings, all in rookie ball. Lamb made 22 starts in 2013, 19 of them in just high-A, and he posted an ERA of 5.80 with just 7.1 K/9. His mid-90s heat is down to high-80s luke warmth.
He has a 3.82 ERA this year at triple-A Omaha with 59 strikeouts in 63.2 innings with 26 walks. At 23, it's possible that he can improve and become a good starter in the majors, but he's also allowing 10 hits per nine innings pitched, and that's really, really bad.
Before all these other guys jumped ahead of him, Montgomery was the jewel of the Royals farm system. Remember that Montgomery was a great prospect in his own right -- a 20-year-old lefty that just held his own at double-A -- and was only the fourth or fifth or sixth-best prospect in his own organization. That's incredible. That's how good this system was thought to be.
He was known to have elbow issues in 2011, but everyone expected him to bounce back just fine.
Montgomery had a 5.32 ERA in 2011, his strikeouts dropped and his walks went up. BA gave him the benefit of the doubt and still ranked him 23rd in 2012. That was a poor decision. Montgomery was even worse that season and he was sent to the Rays in the Myers/Shields deal. Was Tampa getting a steal with KC selling low on Montgomery?
He's improved in 2014, but he's now spending his fourth season at triple-A, and he's 24. He may see the majors, but probably not in a very meaningful or important manner. There's time but either way, he'll probably never do anything for KC other than being a bit part in the Shields trade.
6. Danny Duffy
Some people would say he had the right stuff, but I'd go as far as to say he had the right Duff. But Duffman. Can't breathe. Oh no!
Sickels and BA were split fairly far apart on Duffy, with Sickels giving him a B+ grade, right with Montgomery and Lamb, and BA having him at 68. Incidentally, he was still back-to-back on BA's top 100 with yet another Royals pitching prospect, Jake Odorizzi.
One reason that BA may have not like Duffy as much as Sickels did? He retired from baseball in 2010, much like KC prospect Zach Greinke had four years earlier. But like Greinke, he eventually decided that was a stupid thing to do and came back. Unlike Greinke, he is not a perennial Cy Young candidate.
Duffy wasn't great as a rookie in 2011, posting an ERA of 5.64 over 20 starts with 4.4 walks per nine innings, but he made the rotation out of spring training in 2012 and could have possibly been on his way to living up to his potential ... However, he only made six starts before getting meeting his required Tommy John fate.
He made five starts in 2013 and has pitched 47 innings this season, as both a member of a rotation and the bullpen. Duffy has a 3.26 ERA but his strikeouts are down and his walks are still not good. Four years after being a member of this all-time great farm system, Duffy has pitched 204.1 major league innings, posted a 4.40 ERA, 7.5 K/9 and 4.6 BB/9. He turns 26 in December.
But wait, there's more!
7. Jake Odorizzi
Odorizzi, or "Put it on the 'Rizzi" as I call him, could've been the first or second-best prospect in many farm systems. He was seventh for the Royals.
Originally acquired in the Greinke deal from Milwaukee, Odorizzi is a former first round pick that posted a 3.43 ERA in the minors in 2010, with 10.1 K/9 and 3 BB/9. Very good stuff, lots of potential, only 20-years-old. In fact, Odorizzi was still a top 100 prospect going into this season, just not for the Royals anymore. He was traded along with Myers and Montgomery to the Rays.
Now 24, Odorizzi is 2-7 with a 4.85 ERA, but a FIP of 3.23 and a K/9 over 10. He's got to be able to lower his walks and become less hittable while not reducing his strikeouts too much, but Odorizzi could still become the best player on this list that we've mentioned so far. Which is only saying something if you believe that Myers is going to bounce back.
Also acquired for Greinke, it's hard to say that Jeffress could've turned out to be much of a bust since he's "only" a relief pitcher. But for any RP prospect to get recognized (Jeffress was #100 on BA's list in 2009, Sickels also had him in the top 10 of a great class) it's an accomplishment.
That's about his only accomplishment.
Jeffress was purchased by the Blue Jays in 2012 and he has 52.1 career major league innings over five seasons.
9. Chris Dwyer
A not-too-shabby 2010 season saw Dwyer go 102 innings with a 3.00 ERA, 113 K, 43 walks, and he was 83rd on BA's list.
In case you need a reminder: The Royals system pretty much blew up (the bad kind) in 2011, almost right after everyone was talking about how amazing they were. This was either due to promotions (which is a good way to see your farm system lose value) or just having bad seasons (which is the bad way, obviously.)
Dwyer was the latter.
Let's just make this simple and skip the numbers: He hasn't been good or notable since 2010.
10. Brett Eibner
He never made the BA top 100, but as a second round pick in 2010, it's not surprising to see that he was someone to watch in 2011. Before he had played in the minors, this is what Sickels had to say about him:
Grade B: I love the power bat; will have to see if contact is an issue and if he can stick in center.
Well, he's still a centerfielder, and he knocked out 19 home runs last season, but Eibner is a career .219/.319/.408 hitter. He made his triple-A debut this year and is hitting .225 and slugging just .358. He may have a future as a utility outfielder, but he's already 25.
11. Christian Colon
A lot of people criticized the Royals for taking Colon with the fourth overall pick in 2010. And that criticism was well-deserved, and Kansas City doesn't deserve any good fortune for going the safe route with that pick. Wait, what's the definition for "safe" again? The only thing safe about it was that they knew they'd sign Colon, but so what? You can sign me too, Royals, guaranteed, and I'll only ask for slot.
Colon went ahead of Matt Harvey, Chris Sale, and Christian Yelich. And while it's easy to point out the good ones in hindsight, it's also fair to say that most people knew these players had a great shot to be better than Colon. The 2010 draft hasn't produced much yet outside of those players plus Harper and Manny Machado (unfortunately the Royals were just out of reach of those two and Jameson Taillon) but Colon was never a great pick.
He's currently enjoying his third stint with triple-A Omaha and has a career minor league OPS of .711.
Has 123 career major league games and a career OPS+ of 65.
13. Louis Coleman
Sickels may have nailed it with his strong adoration for a relief pitcher, but after a strong beginning of his career (2.69 ERA in 140.1 innings, 10.3 K/9), Coleman is having a terrible 2014. He was demoted back to triple-A after 17 appearances.
14. Aaron Crow
Crow shunned the Nationals in 2008 after they drafted him with the ninth pick, and the Royals snagged him with the number 12 pick in 2009. They were both wrong. Crow was an All-Star in 2011, but only as a reliever. He has never gotten out of the bullpen, and this year his strikeouts have tumbled dramatically.
15. Tim Melville
Well-liked in 2010 (BA had him 93rd the year before "the great class" arrived), Melville had a bad season that year. He wasn't noticed much in 2011, but still if hope existed there once, why not again? I don't know why not exactly, but it never did happen again. Melville is still in the Royals system, but hasn't made the majors yet.
16. Tim Collins
Much like Crow, a good reliever for three years and now having a bad season. But Collins year is much, much worse than Crow, not as bad as Coleman.
17. Patrick Keating
His numbers in 2010 were arguably the best of any relief prospect in this system and most others: 71 IP, 101 K/29 BB, 2.28 ERA.
Since then, he's been much less good and is now in the independent leagues.
18. Salvador Perez
Yay! A good one! Way to go, Kansas City!
Perez came up slowly from the age of 17, he started to get noticed a little bit as a 20-year-old that could catch and hit with some power. He was called up in 2011 and hit .331 in 39 games. The next year he hit .301/.328/.471. Last year he had a breakout as an All-Star and Gold Glove-winner that was worth 3.7 WAR.
He's tough to strikeout, he'll draw a few walks, he's got some power, he plays great defense, and he's younger than most people on this list. Perez only turned 24 last month.
While Myers probably still has a bright future and Odorizzi has done some nice things, Perez has been the best overall player out of the 2011 Royals class so far. And this is how far down you'd have to go to find him, not because everyone ahead of him was so great, but because good players can come from just about anywhere. It just turns out that the prospects ahead of him with KC in '11 turned out to be mostly bust-after-bust-after-bust.
The Royals should be so grateful that Perez exists, because without him, it would be that much worse to think about the many failures and disappointments from this class.
Yordy Ventura - Most scouts figured they liked him, but he hadn't pitched above rookie ball yet. Was the 26th overall prospect headed into this season and is posting a 3.45 FIP over his first 11 starts. Sickels had him 27th for the Royals back in 2011.
Greg Holland - The current closer, one of the best in the majors, didn't make Sickels' top 28 for Kansas City that season. His minor league stats were fairly mixed, mildly-underwhelming back then.