Evaluating The Minors At The Midway Point: The Teams

The purpose of a baseball team’s minor league system is to produce a winner at the highest level. Based on that criteria, the Royals’ farm system, ranked number one in the off-season, will have to wait to receive its final grade.

Photo Courtesy of Minda Haas

But a preliminary evaluation at the mid-point of the season reveals mixed results.

The Royals farm system was so loaded with prospects in January that Baseball America actually called it the greatest accumulation of talent they had seen in 22 years of rankings.

With that kind of talent, you would think the Royals would dominate at every level of their farm system. But of course, it doesn’t work that way. Some of the prospects were certain to make the big league squad, while others would not live up to such lofty billing.

In Baseball America’s system, 100 points were given to a number 1 prospect, down to one point for a number 100 prospect, to accumulate a total ranking. The Royals tallied 574 points, the most ever by any team.

The Royals had nine players ranked in the top 100 – 8) Eric Hosmer, 9) Mike Moustakas, 10) Wil Myers, 18) John Lamb, 19) Mike Montgomery, 51) Christian Colon, 68) Danny Duffy, 69) Jake Odorizzi, 83) Chris Dwyer.

Three of the players who factored into that ranking – Hosmer, Duffy and Moustakas – have since been promoted to the big league squad. So in that sense, the farm system is paying dividends.

Several top farm hands who didn’t make the top 100 have contributed at the big-league level as well, particularly in the bullpen. The youth movement is well underway.

But as the minor league teams reach the halfway point in their season, the system is due for a check-up.

In this article, each of the top four teams will be reviewed. In two subsequent articles, the pitchers and position players will be scrutinized.

Kansas City Royals:

First, a quick look at the big league club to see the impact of the farm system at the highest level. While the Royals will not threaten for a playoff spot, rookies are gaining valuable exposure.

While Hosmer, Duffy and Moustakas have received the most attention, Aaron Crow may have achieved the most success. Shutting down teams in the late innings and even spelling Joakim Soria, Crow is living up to his potential. Crow was left out of Baseball America’s top 100 because he struggled mightily as a starter in 2010.

Crow, Nate Adcock, Louis Coleman, Tim Collins, and Everett Teaford are all seeing their first action as big leaguers, with generally positive results. Throw in Greg Holland, Jeremy Jeffress and Blake Wood and you have a bevy of young guns for the Royals to build a dominant bullpen.

Hosmer and Moustakas were promoted in the first half of the season to join youngsters Alcides Escobar and Chris Getz in an all-under-27 infield. Jerrod Dyson got some experience in his second partial season in the outfield.

Omaha Storm Chasers:

The Triple-A affiliate benefits from not only up-and-coming prospects but also big leaguers who are sent down, either due to failure in KC or to injury rehab. The Storm Chasers leads their four-team division with a 36-28 record.

Promotions have left the team with few young prospects. Montgomery has struggled thus far, while Jeffress has been tried as a starter. Johnny Giavotella has risen to the top as a second base prospect, while Clint Robinson continues to rake minor league pitching. Dyson’s ship may have sailed, but fellow outfielders Lorenzo Cain and David Lough are forced to wait for their chance.

Northwest Arkansas Naturals:

The Double-A squad is loaded with top prospects, yet has struggled to a 29-30 mark, particularly due to injuries. Myers missed nearly a month, while Lamb is headed for Tommy John surgery.

Meanwhile, other top prospects have struggled. Dwyer has been a complete disappointment, while 2010 first rounder Colon is headed for bust status. The franchise’s top catching prospect, Salvador Perez, is struggling at the plate.

On the bright side, Kelvin Herrera and Kevin Chapman are relievers on the way up.

Wilmington Blue Rocks:

The high-A squad is 32-30 and in second place in its four-team division. If Lamb and Dwyer falter, Blue Rocks 21-year-old hurlers Jake Odorizzi and Noel Arguelles may step into the void. Pitching is ahead of hitting at the high-A level, with other prospects including pitchers Tyler Sample, Tim Melville, Justin Marks and Michael Mariot.

Kane County Cougars:

The lower level of the farm system needs a boost. The Royals addressed the need by drafting high schoolers with their first five picks last week. Kane County is just 27-36 and sits in seventh place in its eight-team division.

The biggest disappointment of the Cougars’ season is five-tool outfielder Brett Eibner. Due to protracted contract negotiations and injuries, the 22-year-old former Arkansas Razorback has played in just a handful of games as a pro.

Jason Adam, a 2010 draftee from Blue Valley Northwest High School in Kansas City, has been impressive on the hill. He heads a staff of several other pitching prospects who are experiencing the ups and downs of development.

Keep an eye on Chelsor Cuthbert, who is being brought along slowly as a third-base prospect. Just 18, Cuthbert has already played in more than 50 games at three levels and is viewed as an advanced hitting talent.

While it was easy to get excited about Baseball America’s preseason ranking of the farm system, it has often been said that having potential just means you haven’t done anything yet.

Until the big-league Royals begin competing for championships, a number one ranking of farm systems is merely a consolation prize. While there will always be injuries, flops and attrition at the minor league level, the poor performance of several key prospects takes the shine off the ranking. Five months after the ranking was announced, the reality is that the big league team is still bad, and the success of prospects is never guaranteed.

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