The Art Of Presumption

Does a loaded farm system preclude ineptitude at the highest levels?

Can talent overcome history?

What goes into developing a prospect and why do they fail?

These are all questions that have to be answered as young players inch their way into big league duty and they have to be addressed one way or the other before crediting an organization before the fact.

The Kansas City Royals are one such organization.

All I keep hearing—ad nauseam—is how the Royals have the “best” farm system in baseball; that they’re bursting with young players on the way up and will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.

Whether or not that assertion is accurate remains to be seen—we won’t know until we know—but to automatically anoint a moribund franchise like the Royals as a team to be watched is ignoring the wretched history of both their current management team on and off the field and their poor history of building with young players.

GM Dayton Moore has been nothing short of awful in his time as Royals GM. Amid the muck of horrific maneuvers in both trades and free agent signings in his 4 1/2 years on the job are the egregious signings of Kyle Farnsworth, Willie Bloomquist, Jason Kendall, Horacio Ramirez and Jose Guillen and his trades for Mike Jacobs and Odalis Perez. He also dumped Jorge de la Rosa for essentially nothing.

The product at the big league level has been embarrassing. There’s no other word for it. Moore is on his third manager after the retirement of Buddy Bell and the firing of Trey Hillman; it’s Ned Yost and Moore now, joined at the hip—either they’ll take the step into prominence or go over the cliff like Wile E. Coyote in a puff of smoke…together.

This winter alone, he’s made two decisions that don’t fit into any category other than ridiculous. Signing Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera as anything more than cheap roster filler made no sense; it makes even less sense to sign them and expect them to play regularly.

He traded Zack Greinke for a large haul of the Brewers top prospects and got them to take Yuniesky Betancourt‘s contract off his hands as well. The Greinke trade has the potential to be a win for the Royals.

A few of his other calls have panned out. He acquired Joakim Soria in the 2006 Rule 5 draft and, as alluded to earlier, has built a farm system that is said to be among baseball’s best.Getting Brian Bannister for Ambiorix Burgos worked well enough; Gil Meche—despite criticism for the $55 million contract Moore bestowed upon him—was terrific for the first two years of the contract (record aside) and it was only overwork at the hands of the clueless Hillman that undid Meche and resulted in the pitcher getting injured. This too falls at the feet of Moore for not taking a stronger hand in keeping his player healthy.

But nothing short of a 2008 Rays-like leap into contention can rehabilitate Moore’s floundering reputation as a baseball boss.

Can it happen?

I have my doubts and not only because of Moore’s history. I have my doubts because of the myriad of factors that go into developing a young player into a competent big league contributor.

Having not read any of the “experts” regarding the Royals hot prospects, I can look through their statistics and reasonably determine exactly whom they’re expecting to arrive and immediately lead a renaissance in Kansas City.

Here’s a primer on how to do this if you’re looking to similarly examine any team’s minor league system: First, almost entirely ignore Triple A. Triple A is a moneymaker for their ownership and they want to win as many games as they can with somewhat marketable and recognizable borderline big league players. In general, it’s a mill for veterans who can fill in briefly at the big league level and is packed with players in their late 20s-early 30s—most of whom won’t contribute in the majors unless there’s a fluke or epiphany (or a nicely corked bat or cleverly scuffed ball).

Second, look at the numbers and the ages. For Triple A Omaha, the Royals did have a couple of names that might help them in the coming years—LHP Tim Collins and RHP Louis Coleman are two such prospects. After that, go down the line and look at the numbers of the players with the minor league affiliates from Double A on down. Check the ages first—if they’re in Double A and are 25 years old, it’s a red flag; then look at the numbers. If a hitter can do something like get on base, hit the ball out of the park, walk or steal bases, he may have some use down the line. For pitchers, look at their strikeouts, walks and hits to innings pitched ratios and how many homers they allow. ERA can be misleading, but it’s part of the puzzle.

Based on these aspects, here are the players I’d suspect are among the “hot” prospects the Royals supposedly have: 2B Johnny Giavotella; 1B Eric Hosmer; 3B Mike Moustakas. In the lower minors there are bats William Myers and lefty arms Buddy Baumann and John Lamb.

Talent-wise, the Royals future is bright.

But….

But can the major league staff develop these players? Will they be given a legitimate chance to play? Will Moore do something stupid like trade them for a useless and misjudged veteran player along the lines of Francoeur or Farnsworth?

It takes more than talent to succeed.

Manager Ned Yost‘s history is spotty in terms of developing youngsters. Intense to the point of over-the-edge, Yost was well on the way to steering his young Brewers team into a brick wall late in the 2008 season before he was fired. Had Yost been allowed to stay on the job, I don’t believe they would’ve righted the ship as they did under Dale Sveum and made the playoffs.

How many young and promising prospects did Yost have under his command in his six years as Brewers manager and how many made it? Rickie Weeks was up-and-down under Yost before coming into his own this season with a large amount of nurturing from Brewers former bench coach Willie Randolph. Prince Fielder isn’t the type to let any manager bother him one way or the other. J.J. Hardy was a solid bat and glove for a couple of years. Ryan Braun became a star. And Yovani Gallardo pitched well for Yost.

There weren’t any players for whom it could be said that Yost was a problem. As the 2008 season wound down, it was Yost’s explosiveness under pressure that laid the foundation for his necessary ouster.

The Royals have some top prospects that stagnated under Hillman. Alex Gordon has been injury-prone and, so far, a bust after being the second pick in the 2005 draft by the prior regime. I love Luke Hochevar‘s stuff, but he’s gotten blasted; he did show marked improvement under Yost. Kyle Davies may be one of those pitchers whose talent causes people’s mouths to water, but never puts it all together. Kila Ka’aihue has put up ridiculous numbers in the minors but, for some unfathomable reason, has never gotten a true chance to play every day in the big leagues. When he did get a shot late in 2010, he struggled.

Some prospects can’t be denied regardless of developmental incompetence.

Some can.

There’s no template for teaching youngsters to play in the big leagues, but there has to be a certain amount of inherent maturity. This has been evident in clubs that have had youngsters arrive seemingly from nowhere and take over their respective clubhouses in leading their teams to prominence. The Yankees with Derek Jeter; the Rockies with Troy Tulowitzki; the Rays with Evan Longoria; and the Giants with Tim Lincecum are examples of this.

Can this happen with Hosmer? With Moustakas?

For all the borderline libelous allegations levied against former Athletics manager Art Howe in the ridiculous Moneyball, one thing Howe was never credited for with the Athletics was how he didn’t screw up the young players by scaring the life out of them.

In all of Howe’s managerial stops with the Astros, A’s and Mets, there were young players who made their debuts and went on to have All Star careers and more. Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, David Wright, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Jose Reyes among others all broke in with Howe as their manager.

You know their names.

They weren’t busts.

This is a subtle, notable and unappreciated accomplishment for a manager to have on his resume.

We’ve also seen the stifling of young talent until they’re petrified to make a mistake; to get hurt; to ruin the club’s faith. Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy were supposed to be cornerstones of the Yankees growing their own pitchers rather than flinging money at the free agents.

For all the babying, rules and overprotectiveness, Chamberlain’s stock is non-existent as they’ve ruined what once looked to be the heir apparent to Roger Clemens with the nursemaid routine and jerking him between starting and relieving, pitch counts and special treatment.

Kennedy was traded away because no one in the clubhouse could stand him, he didn’t listen and he was awful.

Can the Royals avoid this?

Is it safe to assume that because they have all that youthful exuberance on the way to the big leagues that they’ll begin to improve and win in the next 3-5 years?

I don’t know.

Judging from the way they’ve run their organization up to now under the current regime, there are more questions than simple ability and opportunity can answer; judging from Moore’s history, I’d be concerned he’s going to do something very, very stupid with the young players.

It’s not as if there’s no basis for this belief.

The evidence is overwhelming and all the talent in the world is no match for rampant stupidity. Will the talent the Royals have accumulated in their minor league system account for the repeated gaffes by their GM?

We’ll see.

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  1. #1 by Jane Heller on December 30, 2010 - 4:20 pm

    I remember when Alex Gordon was supposed to be the Next Big Thing. Too bad he didn’t live up to expectations.

  2. #2 by Jeff on December 30, 2010 - 5:55 pm

    I wonder if there’s a special place for washed away prospects… the Alex Gordons, Brandon Woods, Todd Van Poppels… part of me feels sorry for them, but then again, their bank accounts are way fatter than mine so they can kiss it for all I care. Making it big in the Big Leagues is tough. It’s not for the weak. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  3. #3 by Joe on December 30, 2010 - 6:25 pm

    People outside the Royals organization have the ability to scout too. And they are the ones that come up with these lists. So this is mostly viewing from the outside.

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