Thursday, May 5, 2011

Eric Hosmer and the Future in Kansas City

For years now, the Royals have been the laughingstock of the AL Central. They haven’t finished above third in the division since 1995, and they’ve been in the bottom two in 13 of the intervening 15 years. Eight times, they’ve been dead last. They’ve made some bad trades, some head-scratcher signings, and displayed overall organizational ineptitude. However, their poor major league moves did augment the only facet of management they did well: the draft.

To say they've drafted well is to call the Grand Canyon a pothole somewhere in Arizona, or Christy Mathewson a pretty solid starter. The Royals have drafted as well as any organization in baseball, possibly with the exception of the Rays. However, the Royals have been bad, so they’ve gotten better draft picks, and they’ve taken advantage of those picks.

Now, they’ve reached a boiling point, with a minor league system chock-full of future stars. Baseball America puts out what is generally regarded as the definitive prospect list in baseball. The Royals have 9 of this year’s top 100 BA prospects, as well as 3 in the top 10. Right now, their minor league system is by far the best in baseball, and if even a portion of their current prospects pan out we could look back at this system as one of the best of all time.

First baseman Eric Hosmer, who was promoted yesterday, is the first to reach the majors, and others are close behind. Hosmer was BA’s #8 prospect on their most recent list, after a 2010 season in which he accrued a .338/.406/.571 line as a 20 year old in high-A and double-A. After beginning 2011 with a .439 average and an OPS of 1.107 in 26 games, the Royals couldn’t wait any longer. Hosmer should continue to mash in the big leagues, as Adrian Gonzalez seems to be the most common comparable invoked by scouts. A gifted hitter with outstanding ability to hit for both power and average and strong plate discipline, Hosmer has the makings of a perennial All-Star at first.

Third baseman Mike Moustakas is projected to join Hosmer in the majors by the end of this season. Moustakas currently holds the California prep school record for career home runs with 52, and he’s kept mashing at every level since joining the organization. He’s the best pure power hitter in the system, and his 36 home runs as a 21 year old in double- and triple-A have Royals’ fans’ mouths watering at the prospect of a perennial 30 home run hitter at the hot corner. Though he doesn’t project to get on base as frequently as Hosmer, he’ll pair his power with strong on-base ability, and his arm at third base will allow him to add value defensively as well. Expect Hosmer and Moustakas to be mainstays at the infield corners in Kansas City for years to come.

The flood of outstanding prospects won’t stop there, as 2012 will likely see an even larger group of young players who will continue to turn the organization’s future around. Former catcher Wil Myers is being moved to the outfield, but the number 10 prospect on BA’s list will provide an outstanding bat wherever he ends up defensively. Myers has world-class plate discipline, with a career .420 OBP in 3 seasons in the minors. Although his power projects to be overshadowed slightly by that of Hosmer and Moustakas, Myers will be yet another threat in the middle of the lineup. Shortstop Christian Colon, the Royals’ first pick in last year’s draft (and the fourth pick overall), also projects to bring his above-average glove and solid approach at the plate to the majors next season.

The Royals will also receive some help in their rotation next year, as several talented lefties could join the team and have an immediate impact. Control artist John Lamb (BA’s #18) has a devastating changeup that will be baffling major league hitters as soon as 2012. Mike Montgomery, who placed just behind Lamb on BA’s list, is a power pitcher with a big frame and an outstanding fastball. He’ll likely compete for a spot in the Royals’ rotation during Spring Training next year, and should join the rotation next year even if the organization decides he still has something to prove at that point. Danny Duffy (BA #68), another big lefty with another strong fastball, will bring more firepower to the rotation, as will Chris Dwyer (BA #83). Both are 6’3”, and both are southpaws with low-90s fastballs and devastating secondary stuff. With these four starters in the fold, the Royals rotation immediately becomes a strength rather than the weakness it has been over the past several seasons.

In 2013, newly acquired Jake Odorizzi is projected to be ready to join those four starters in the rotation. The righty, acquired in the Zack Greinke trade this offseason, placed #69 on BA’s list, has a low-90s fastball that can touch 95 and a power curve that made him the top pitching prospect in the Brewers’ organization. In Kansas City, he’s the fifth-best arm, which is an indication of just how good this staff has the potential to be. Righty Aaron Crow is a wild-card, as he had a tough year last season in double-A, but he’s yet to give up a run in 15.1 relief innings with the big club. If he gets back on track, he could be stretched out (if you’re keeping score at home, that’d be six premium starting prospects) and inserted into the rotation.

Right now, Billy Butler and Joakim Soria are pretty much alone as stars in Kansas City. Jeff Francoeur’s had a strong start, as has Alex Gordon, but the true hope for Royals fans should come from the incredible future facing this organization. Hosmer, as the first in this bevy of prospects to reach the majors, will be the face of a youth movement that will vault the Royals out of the cellar and into playoff contention sooner than you might think. Royals fans will remember May 5th, 2011 as the day their turnaround began, and by the time it’s over, don’t be surprised to see Kansas City win the organization’s second World Championship.

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