For several years now the Kansas City Royals have had one of the better farm systems in Major League Baseball. Most teams should be so lucky. The Royals haven’t been able to translate this advantage into success on the field and there would seem to be one very good reason for this.
You can’t win the World Series with the AAA Storm Chasers. It takes time to scout and develop major league talent. While developing young talent can be exciting, it usually comes with long periods of growing pains while the fans wait for the team to assemble all of the necessary pieces to win consistently. And if you’re a mid-market team like the Royals, then you hope that you have enough players developed each year to keep costs down.
But the patience may be paying off for Royals fans as they are now getting a glimpse at what a winning, home-grown baseball team looks like in Kansas City. Mike Moustakas, who was a 1st round draft pick in 2007, had 20 home runs and 73 RBIs last year in 560+ at bats. Despite having a slow start in April, Moustakas has shown signs that his bat is coming alive hitting 3 home runs in the last week. Moustakas isn’t available for arbitration until 2015 and doesn’t become a free agent until 2018. Moustakas is still far from the player the Royals want him to be though. He drew only 39 walks and struck out 124 times last year. However, if Moustakas can learn some discipline at the plate he is sure to be the guy holding down the hot corner for years to come at Kauffman stadium.
There is cause for optimism for Moustakas as his first year stats are not all that dissimilar to the numbers that outfielder Alex Gordon put up in his debut year. Gordon, another 1st round pick from 2005 also struck out in excess of 130 times with only 41 walks. You won’t hear anyone complaining about Alex Gordon though as the Royals have developed him into a player that turns in a 300 plus batting average every year. Now hitting in the 3rd spot in the lineup, he is currently batting over .320 this year and already has 6 home runs to go with that average. Gordon is signed through 2015 with a club option for the 2016 season.
Gordon’s breakout is exactly what the Royal’s front office is hoping will happen for Eric Hosmer this year. Hosmer, yet another first round pick from 2008 broke into the league in 2011 with 19 home runs and a .293 average. As with other rookies, the walk rate could have been better but this was certainly a better rookie season than most expected. Unfortunately it was followed up by a lack luster year in 2012 as his average dipped 60 points. His average on balls in play (BABIP) for 2012 was a head hanging 255. Hosmer is still incredibly young and should be able to correct his issues from last year. Balls in play for 2013 are already up to 326. Hosmer is available for arbitration next year so this season he is the player to watch as the Royals have been pretty open about how much they expect from him. In fact, they probably expect him to be Billy Butler…at least by the numbers.
Billy Butler, if you’re keeping track, is also a 1st round draft pick, consistently hits for average and power. In his 7th year playing for the Royals he has racked up 107 home runs and over 500 RBIs and will probably get his 1,000th career hit before you finish reading this page. This is the type of production the Royals want from Hosmer and it’s also why Butler’s 2015 option is starting to look like either the window for a home grown championship team or the year the Royals break out the check book and pay up.
While Butler is the type of player that all teams hope to develop, possibly the most important and likely the most overlooked piece to this young organization is Salvador Perez. At 23 years old, Perez already holds the Royals franchise pick-off record for a single season. The Royals believe that he will become one of the game’s best defensive catchers in years to come, something that no championship team can be without. And the kid can hit as well. In over 140 career games, Perez is hanging onto a 300 plus average. The Royals feel so good about Perez that despite his apparent lack of experience, they have him signed through 2016 with options all the way through 2019.
In a weak division, this offensive core might be enough to keep the Royals out of the basement for the foreseeable future but to be yearly contenders we’re still missing something.
Check back tomorrow for a look at the pitching staff.