The Best Farm System In The History Of Whatever, Again

In just nine short years, just two playoff appearances, and two 100-loss seasons, the Royals place among the farm system elite has finally been regained. Rejoice. The draft and development guru we were told Dayton Moore was when he was hired way back in 2006 has proven all he needs is just under a decade to build a system worthy of a top 10 ranking.

Baseball America this week released its midseason Top 100 prospects and the Royals landed six (SIX) players in the tally. (subscription required)

The impressive thing about the rankings isn’t that Bob Witt Jr. made the cut, that would have been obvious, it’s that Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez made the cut as well after falling out of prospect status a season ago. The Royals’ hitting development has clearly taken big strides since the ending of the 2019 season and it’s showing up in the production of its most high value assets.

So now that the farm system has come around, and the Royals major league team has found themselves a nice little winning streak, should fans expect some trades that trim the fat to further bolster what clearly is the organization’s strength, the minor leagues?

Not so fast, says Moore.

In his media availability this week Moore made quite of few, uh, head scratching comments. Let’s leave aside the contradiction of saying for the past few seasons that the team needs to be “more transactional”, and then this week basically saying they’re not actively looking to trade anyone, and focus on these gems:

If you’re going to trade major league talent that you control you certainly, in my mind, want to try and get back other major league players…to build your roster in a more complete and balanced way.

“…we’re going to continue to trust our scouting and player development to product prospects, and not necessarily rely on trades to strengthen our farm system.”

Ignore for a second the comment about needing to get major league talent in return. No, it doesn’t square with the mantra from years past that the Royals want The Process 2.0 to be more sustainable, and because of that you should be targeting the best talent possible regardless of where they are in their development. You can at least understand the point he’s getting at if you accept that Moore believes the team can compete in 2022. Maybe they can, maybe they can’t, but if that’s the philosophy, fine, target players for 2022.

It is an issue with the Royals in general that they’re constantly looking for “balance” both in player archetypes and in roster building. They’re not looking for players with one elite skill*, say power for instance. Or building a roster with one elite trait, say power for instance. It’s about being well-rounded. Well-rounded is how you get a position player roster filled with mostly redundant players, all with the same skill set, none providing you with a trait you don’t already possess.

*Okay, yes, Jorge Soler. One. One in more than a decade.

The other answer he gave during the presser is one that really raised my ire. The reporter asked the question: “would you take back players that you’re going to have to wait several years on or are you of the mindset that anyone you take back at this time [sic] needs to be someone that’s going to contribute next year?”

And this was the answer:

“I guess it just depends on who the player is and what the upside of the talent – what position they play, when do we think they are major league ready. We’re not going to just do a deal just to do a deal.

Players that are free agents at the end of this year are more likely to be discussed and when you’re talking about players you don’t control beyond 2021 there may be a more upside play, a young prospect, as long as they’re not interfering with the development of some of the players we have under control. As long as they’re not blocking the path of somebody else.

For example, if we feel like we have quality catching at every single level or quality shortstops at the four full season teams, we’re probably not going to go out and trade for a prospect shortstop or a prospect catcher that’s going to need to play because they’re going to take development time away from someone we already believe in in the organization.”

I really hope the word “probably” is carrying a lot of weight in this statement because the idea that the 180 players in the minor leagues are the only possible 180 players available that you believe in is wild to me. The Royals have their guys and that’s that.

This is the kind of thinking that led to Ned Yost’s “we’ve never been wrong about a player” statement a few years ago, and it’s exactly the kind of thinking that leads to Ryan O’Hearn playing right field and not producing while two replacements are in Triple-A and are producing. The Royals have decided on their guys that are going to be good, and that’s that.

It’s as if the Royals have pre-ascribed spots for players at each level in the organization and no production, or lack of production, will change that thinking. The guys they believe in will play, and the guys they don’t believe in as much, won’t. Don’t worry about getting an answer as to why the players that are chosen are, or when is the time to move on from a 71 OPS+ player over his last three seasons. They’ve simply “never been wrong” about a player.

I knew that philosophy occurred at the major league lever, I didn’t realize that philosophy occurred at each level of the minor leagues as well.