We all know the tale of the Royals’ recent run of glory … the team reared a group of top prospects, mixed in some bold trades, ramped up its payroll a bit and came home with a crown in 2015. It still took a series of upsets and surprising events to get to the promised land, but there’s no disputing the validity of the title. Overcoming tall odds only makes the achievement more impressive.
Some manner of rebuilding was obviously going to be required at some point. There’s a strong case to be made that the Kansas City organization should’ve pivoted more forcefully rather than overseeing two consecutive middling seasons after the parade — if not in the 2016-17 offseason, then at the 2017 trade deadline. Still, it’s understandable that the club did not wish to squander any chance at competing with its existing core.
When it finally came time to bid adieu to Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain (and eventually Mike Moustakas), the Royals gained some draft picks as compensation. The organization made clear its intentions with the ensuing 2018 draft, when it used its top five picks on collegiate pitchers. As GM Dayton Moore explained: “We wanted to make a concerted effort on getting some college pitching that we felt had high ceilings, and that could move quickly.”
In the time since, the Royals have steadfastly refused to cash in excellent veteran Whit Merrifield for prospects. There was even talk last year that the organization might pursue an opportunity to challenge for a postseason spot, though that quickly faded and the organization logged its second consecutive hundred-loss campaign.
The just-completed offseason wasn’t exactly a win-now effort. The team did add veteran players — going for another round with Alex Gordon while taking low-risk chances on Maikel Franco, Jesse Hahn, Trevor Rosenthal, and Greg Holland are hardly the — but more in the way that most rebuilding outfits do. But it also again bypassed chances to trade Merrifield, Jorge Soler, Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, perhaps Brad Keller … even backstop Salvador Perez (though he’s returning from a season lost to injury).
If the Royals think it’s worth holding onto players like those, it must be that they see a path to somewhat near-term contention. Clearly, the aim of the K.C. brass is to bounce back into contention sooner than later, rather than overseeing a half-decade-long retrenchment. There’s hope for a wave of talent. That 2018 draft class has thus far worked out as well as could’ve been hoped, with Brady Singer and Daniel Lynch rated as top-100 leaguewide prospects and fellow hurlers Jackson Kowar, Kris Bubic, and Jonathan Bowlan all considered future talents of note. And 2019 first-rounder Bobby Witt Jr. ranks as one of the game’s elite prospects; while he’s further away from the bigs, he could fly through the system. There are a few bats not far from the bigs … Nick Pratto, Khalil Lee, and Kyle Isbel among them.
The overall group of talent doesn’t exactly leap off the page. Farm-wide rankings mostly see the K.C. farm within range of average: Baseball Prospectus (12); MLB.com (17); Baseball America (18); Fangraphs (26). This isn’t a repeat of the legendary system of yore, but the Royals have a number of promising players. They’ll need that farm to yield a lot of big-league ability over the next few years if they’re to return to glory.
What’s your take on the team’s timeline back to contention? (What does “contention” mean? That’s up to you to define, but it surely includes some realistic chance of reaching the postseason.) (Poll link for app users.)