The Royals’ farm system’s much-celebrated #1 ranking lasted all of about five months. The collection of talent that earned that lofty ranking was destined to remain intact only long enough to see the big league team eliminated from contention.
By May the overhaul of the KC club began, and some of the most celebrated prospects appeared on the scene. Eric Hosmer and Danny Duffy came first, followed by Mike Moustakas, Johnny Giavotella and Salvador Perez. A committee of relievers pitched in to give KC the youngest roster (by far) in the majors.
Next season’s ranking of the Royals’ farm system should be much more ordinary, but the cupboard is far from bare. After all, three of KC’s top four farm teams made the playoffs in their respective leagues.
With the Royals’ roster now sufficiently stocked with youngsters, the remaining crop of minor leaguers may find it much tougher to earn a promotion.
In a two-part series, I-70Baseball.com takes a look at the top players that remain in the Royals’ farm system, most of whom will begin next season at some level of the minors.
First, the position players:
Catcher: The promotion of Perez leaves Manny Pina as the primary catcher in the Royals’ system. Pina is a solid defender who provides security in case of an injury at the big league level. 23-year-old Ben Theriot hit well in limited action at Northwest Arkansas.
Seemingly always in need of catching, KC took Cameron Gallagher in the second round of the June draft. Gallagher got his feet wet in the rookie leagues this summer.
First Base: One of the saddest developments of the season was the demotion of Kila Ka’aihue in May. The big Hawaiian clearly demonstrated that he wasn’t going to capitalize on the chance he was given to prove he belonged in the big leagues. Hosmer wasted no time in relegating Ka’aihue to a plan-C role. He has most likely played his last game in a Royal uniform.
Meanwhile Clint Robinson’s situation is even worse. Making like Babe Ruth on minor league pitching won’t get you a ticket to the show, as Robinson has proven. In the past two seasons, Robinson has bashed 52 homers and driven 198 runs.
Ka’aihue and Robinson are both in their latter-20s. The team has no good first-base prospect below AAA Omaha, but first baseman aren’t usually hard to find.
Second Base: 21-year-old Rey Navarro split the season between Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas. He’s probably the best young second baseman in the Royals’ system. Two candidates at Northwest Arkansas who play both second and short, Jeff Bianchi and Christian Colon, struggled this season.
Shortstop: Colon should top this list, but he hasn’t exactly impressed in a season and a half in the system. This year he batted just .257 with only 8 homers. 19-year-old Michael Antonio, a third-round pick in 2010, played well in the rookie leagues this year.
Third Base: KC might have no better prospect in its system than Kane County’s 18-year-old Cheslor Cuthbert. Signed out of Nicaraguan at just 16, Cuthbert has already played 113 games as a pro and held his own against older pitchers. There are virtually no quality third basemen ahead of him, so Cuthbert will move up as quickly as his skills allow.
Outfield: The story of the winter will be what Bubba Starling does in his professional debut. Starling will have his baptism in the Arizona Fall League and won’t be rushed next season. His development will be a long-term project.
More relevant to the big league team will be what the Royals decide to do with Lorenzo Cain next spring. Few would have expected when Cain arrived as part of the Zack Greinke trade that he would be stuck in Omaha all season. But the play of the Royals’ big league outfielders, particularly Melky Cabrera, put Cain on hold. The 25-year-old Cain did everything to earn a spot in Kaufman Stadium short of purchasing a ticket. He batted .312 with 16 homers.
Cain’s outfield mate at Omaha, David Lough, is in a similar situation. He hit .318 with 11 triples, but will most likely start in Omaha again next year.
The top outfield prospect entering the season, heralded 20-year-old Wil Myers, struggled this season, but will most likely be in Omaha as well. A healthy Myers is expected to live up to the high expectations eventually. Pacific Coast League opponents will be in for it if next season’s Omaha outfield consists of Cain, Lough and Myers.
One of the biggest disappointments of 2011 was the lack of development from Kane County’s Brett Eibner. The University of Arkansas product has power and athleticism to burn, but struggled mightily against low-A pitching. For the 22 year old, a faster progression was expected.
Other than Cain, none of the players listed here are expected to break camp with the Royals next spring. Look for Cuthbert, Myers and Colon to receive high rankings by Baseball America this winter. Starling might get ranked as well, but his ranking will be based solely on his overall athleticism.
This group won’t by any means earn KC’s farm system a #1 ranking next winter. In fact the depth at nearly every position looks limited. The two most recent drafts and forays into the Caribbean must produce depth to replace all the prospects that were promoted to KC this summer.