The Star’s annual baseball preview special section will be published soon, and while we’ll be looking ahead to the 2016 season, let’s take a few minutes to look back.
Before the 2011 season, when the Royals were coming off a 95-loss season, The Star’s special section featured about the bumper crop of prospects coming up through the system.
One article in the section, done with the help of Baseball America’s JJ Cooper, focused on the Royals setting the record for the most players in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect list. They had nine players on that list and were the first team in the history of Baseball America’s rankings to have five players listed among the top 20.
Using a scale of 100 points for the No. 1 prospect down to 1 point for No. 100, the Royals collected a record 574 points. That point total hasn’t been matched since (only the 2015 Cubs with 450 points would have even cracked the Top 10).
Back then, we looked at the top 10 teams (in terms of points) in the history of Baseball America’s prospect list and how they fared. The 1999 and 2000 Marlins ended up winning the 2003 World Series.
The 1992 Braves eventually won a World Series, three others NL pennants and had seven playoff appearances. They are the only top-ranked farm system to have more success than that 2011 Royals group — however, this Royals team is still playing.
“The list, looking a few years back on it, I think it holds up,” Cooper said by phone. “Obviously, it took them a little while, and there was some ups and downs there. Always going to have regrets; I regret that Salvador Perez isn’t on that top 100. He moved so quickly. We thought he was pretty good, but we had no idea that he was this good, especially this good this fast.
“The other thing that stood out at the time was they had those guys and they had Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain, who they acquired, who were not prospects but were. They didn’t qualify to be prospects because they had too many at-bats at the big-league level, but they weren’t in the sense big-leaguers, either.
“What really stood out about the Royals club is they had so many guys who all arrived at the same time.”
Cooper mentioned that Kelvin Herrera was just on the outside of the Top 100 and that Yordano Ventura was one of the key players to come just after that class.
Perhaps the easiest way to see the change in the Royals’ fortunes that this wave of talent made, let’s compare the lineups from the final game of 2010 and the final game of 2011:
Jarrod Dyson, CF
Mike Aviles, 2B
Billy Butler, DH
Kila Ka’aihue, 1B
Wilson Betemit, 3B
Alex Gordon, LF
Yuniesky Betancort, SS
Brayan Pena, C
Mitch Maier, RF
SP: Sean O’Sullivan
Note: That team lost 3-2 in 12 innings to the Rays, who started Wade Davis
Jarrod Dyson, CF
Johnny Giavotella, 2B
Billy Butler, DH
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Salvador Perez, C
Mike Moustakas, 3B
Lorenzo Cain, RF
Mitch Maier, LF
Alcides Escobar, SS
SP: Bruce Chen
Note: Alex Gordon made 151 starts in left field that season
Upgrades all over the place over the course of a year, right? Unfortunately, the Royals’ slogan for 2012 was “Our Time,” and expectations were high that the young guys would make an immediate impact. In the end, however, it has all worked out.
Revisiting the 2011 list of best-ever farm systems
Here is the list of best farm systems, as rated by Baseball America, from our 2011 baseball section, which I updated to reflect playoff success. I also left the original notes on some of the teams.
1. 2011 Royals (574 points)
Significant names: Eric Hosmer (8), Mike Moustakas (9), Wil Myers (10), John Lamb (18), Mike Montgomery (19), Christian Colon (51), Danny Duffy (68), Jake Odorizzi (69), Chris Dwyer (83).
Playoff success: 2015 World Series champions; lost 2014 World Series.
2. 2006 Diamondbacks (541 points)
Significant names: Justin Upton (2), Stephen Drew (5), Conor Jackson (17), Carlos Quentin (20), Chris Young (23), Carlos Gonzalez (32).
Playoff success: Lost 2007 NLCS, lost 2011 NLDS.
3. 2000 Marlins (472 points)
Significant names: Josh Beckett (19), A.J. Burnett (20), Brad Penny (22).
Playoff success: Won 2003 World Series.
Note: The Marlins placed eight players on the Top 100 Prospects list in 2000. At the time, that tied the record for most Top 100 Prospects. Several of those prospects ended up disappointing. Abraham Nuñez (30), Wes Anderson (43), Julio Ramirez (60), Pablo Ozuna (62) and Chip Ambres (80) all failed to live up to the hype. In this case, age discrepancies played a large role — Nuñez was 3 years older and Ozuna was 4 years older than each claimed to be at the time. If their actual ages had been known, neither would have ranked in the Top 100. Take those two players away and the Marlins would not have ranked in the top 20.
4. 2008 Rays (466 points)
Significant names: Evan Longoria (2), David Price (10), Jake McGee (15), Wade Davis (17), Reid Brignac (39), Desmond Jennings (59), Jeff Niemann (99).
Playoff success: Lost 2008 World Series; lost in 2010 ALDS.
5. 1999 Marlins (441 points)
Significant names: Alex Gonzalez (17), A.J. Burnett (21), Braden Looper (23), Mike Lowell (58).
Playoff success: Won 2003 World Series.
Note: The Marlins’ fifth spot here is somewhat misleading. Pablo Ozuna was ranked No. 8 overall after a .357/.400/.494 season as a 19-year-old middle infielder in the Midwest League. Those numbers looked a lot less convincing once it became known that he was actually 23 at the time. For the Marlins’ 2003 championship team, Lowell was arguably the best position player, Looper was the closer and Gonzalez was the everyday shortstop, so this group did play a significant role on a championship team.
6. 1992 Braves (440 points)
Significant names: Chipper Jones (4), Ryan Klesko (8), Mark Wohlers (13), Javy Lopez (78).
Playoff success: Lost 1992 World Series; lost 1993 NLCS; won 1995 World Series; lost 1996 World Series; lost 1997 NLCS; lost 1998 NLCS; lost 1999 World Series.
Note: The Braves had some notable flops among their seven Top 100 Prospects in 1992 — David Nied, Keith Mitchell and Mike Kelly never lived up to expectations — but any group that produces a Hall of Fame candidate like Jones as well as three other longtime regulars is a class for the ages. This class allowed the Braves to rebuild on the fly when Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream, Alejandro Peña and Greg Olson all started to age.
7. 1991 Dodgers (439 points)
Significant names: José Offerman (4), Raul Mondesi (14), Henry Rodriguez (29), Eric Karros (94).
Playoff success: Lost in 1995 and 1996 NLDS. Was leading division when strike hit in 1994.
Note: The Top 100 Prospects list goes back to 1990. In 1991, the Dodgers became the only team of the first decade of the list to place eight players in the Top 100. They also placed pitchers Jamie McAndrew (40) and Kiki Jones (43) on the list.
8. 2006 Dodgers (430 points)
Significant names: Chad Billingsley (7), Russell Martin (42), Jonathan Broxton (63), Andre Ethier (89), Matt Kemp (96).
Playoff success: Lost 2008, 2009, 2013 NLCS, lost 2014 and 2015 NLDS.
Until the 2011 Royals, the Dodgers’ eight players on this list shared the record for most Top 100 Prospects with the 1991 Dodgers and 2000 Marlins. Several of the players have not panned out — Andy LaRoche (19) has had shots at big-league jobs and failed; Blake DeWitt (82) has been average at best; injuries have caused Scott Elbert (55) to remain prospect eligible; and then there’s flat-out bust Joel Guzman (26). But the core of the playoff teams in 2008 and 2009 were built through this prospect class.
9. 1995 Astros (426 points)
Significant names: Billy Wagner (17), Richard Hidalgo (34), Bobby Abreu (52), Phil Nevin (59), Scott Elarton (63).
Playoff success: Lost in NLDS in 1997, 1998 and 1999.
10. 2010 Rays (425 points)
Significant names: Desmond Jennings (6), Jeremy Hellickson (18), Wade Davis (34), Matt Moore (35), Reid Brignac (54).
Playoff success: Lost in 2010, 2011 and 2013 ALDS.
Much like the 2011 Royals, the success of this group is still to be determined.
What’s become of those Royals?
The Royals had nine players overall on that Top 100 list. All but one had an impact of some sort on the Royals’ World Series title and their 2014 American League championship.
Eric Hosmer (ranked No. 8): Hosmer was the Royals’ cleanup hitter in the World Series, and has 29 RBIs in 31 career postseason games. He has won three Gold Glove awards, and his dash home in Game 5 is the iconic moment from last year’s World Series win.
Mike Moustakas (9): Moose has six career postseason home runs, second-most in Royals franchise history. He batted .304 in last year’s World Series. Moustakas was an All-Star in 2015 and finished 21st in American League MVP voting.
Wil Myers (10): He was the key piece in the blockbuster 2012 deal that was initially known as the James Shields trade. That, of course, is now referred to as the Wade Davis trade.
John Lamb (18): Lamb never appeared in a game for the Royals, but he was part of the trade that landed Johnny Cueto last summer. Cueto was brilliant in his lone World Series start and in the pivotal Game 5 start against the Astros in the ALDS.
Mike Montgomery (19): The left-hander was also part of the 2012 trade with the Rays, although he was later dealt to the Mariners.
Christian Colon (51): Mr. Postseason. He’s had 168 plate appearances over the last two seasons, but he scored the winning run in the 2014 Wild Card Game and then knocked in the go-ahead run with a single in Game 5 of the World Series against the Mets. He has a 1.000 batting average in the postseason.
Danny Duffy (68): Duffy has made 80 starts among his 94 career appearances. Duffy, who appeared in three games in the 2015 World Series, could be a starter or in the bullpen this season. Either way, he’s a key member of the pitching staff.
Jake Odorizzi (69): Another piece in the Wade Davis trade, Odorizzi is part of the Rays rotation. When Shields left for the Padres, the Royals received a compensatory pick in the draft and used that on Nolan Watson last year.
Chris Dwyer (83): Dwyer was a September call-up in 2013, and he tossed three scoreless innings. He was at Class AAA Omaha the last four seasons. He is now in the Orioles’ organization.