It’s good to be Dayton Moore right now.  

Seemingly everyday, someone comes out with a minor league ranking that is littered with Royals’ prospects.   The system has drawn such rave reviews from so many sources that it almost seems that the question is not ‘if the Royals be good’, but instead is ‘when will the Royals be good?’   Almost….

Prospects are guys who have yet to prove anything on the major league diamond and, as such, having a bunch of good ones is nice, but it doesn’t win you any games.   Keep in mind, if the Royals had acquired Alcides Escobar before the 2010 season, most everyone would have been delighted to acquire the then number twelve overall prospect in baseball.   Instead, the acquisition of Escobar this winter led many to believe that the Royals acquired a shortstop who ‘might not be any good’ or, as some of our more cynical (i.e. beat down) fans have said ‘simply can’t play.’

All that said, the top of Dayton Moore’s to-do list when he was hired was to rebuild the farm system.   Unquestionably, he has done so with spectacular results.   Now, he just has to hope that his system turns prospects into legitimate major league players.    Should that occur, all the grief Moore received (and it was warranted, mind you) for signing Mike Jacobs, Jose Guillen, et.al. and trading for Yuniesky Betancourt will be forever gone.   Heck, if the Royals are 47-33 at the All-Star Break in 2012, we will even have forgiven him for signing Melky Cabrera!

While his ability to build a farm system is beyond question, at least for now, Moore’s acumen at managing a major league roster is less established.   Now, one can certainly point out that managing the 40 man roster that, at times, might have included less than twenty ‘true’ major leaguers may have been beyond the capabilities of anyone.  I would not disagree with that, but there have been some troubling/curious organizational decisions in the past:

  • The love affair with Tony Pena Jr. was one of the first red flags.   Tony’s only real distinction as a major league shortstop was that he was better not as annoying as whoever took possession of Angel Berroa’s body after 2004.   On June 3rd, TPJ was pounding the ball at a zesty rate of .158/.178/.196 when, at last, the Royals gave Mike Aviles – a ‘Baird guy’ who the scouts didn’t think could play – a shot.   It was laughable because, even if the Royals truly were convinced that Aviles could not play, Pena Jr. (whose defense was always overrated) was so awful that virtually anyone (probably even Berroa) would have been a better option a month earlier.
  • Kila Ka’aihue and slider bat speed.   I have written too much about Kila the past three years, so we won’t waste a lot of time here.   Suffice it to say that after hitting .314/.463/.624 in AA and .316/.439/.640 in AAA during the summer of 2008, one might have expected the team to NOT trade for Mike Jacobs during the off-season.    We still don’t know if Kila can hit major league pitching (at last we’ll find out in 2011), but probably he was ready to succeed or fail in 2009.   Dayton Moore could have found out then AND kept Leo Nunez as well.
  • The Yunigma.   This trade ended up not being quite as dismal as it seemed at the time.   Yuni was awful, but not god-awful, and until Dan Cortes turns into a back of the pen monster (of which the Royals seem to have about 25 guys in the system poised to do the same), Moore didn’t give up anything of note.   Still, a bad baseball team panicked over the injuries to Mike Aviles and Jeff Bianchi and acquired a poor baseball player in what still appears to be a shortsighted move.   The lurking rumor that a year or so earlier Moore explored a Billy Butler for Yuni trade adds the spectre of fear to the whole scenario.
  • The Pursuit of the Sixth Tool.   There is value in leadership, professionalism and veteran presence:  certainly and without question.   Dayton Moore’s relentless pursuit of it, however, has become blog legend.   For every Scott Podsednik or Gil Meche that has performed reasonably well, Moore’s resume has a Guillen, Ankiel, Kendall, Bloomquist (sorry % in UK) and Jacobs who could not hit taking up lineup space with their  veteran presence.

As we move forward, will the pitfalls referenced above continue or just be long forgotten examples of a general manager trying to cobble together something resembling a major league team while he, dare we say it, stuck to The Process?

From this point forward, Moore will have a number of critical developmental decisions to make, roughly in this order:

  • When does Lorenzo Cain become the everyday centerfielder?
  • How many rookie relievers do the Royals break camp with?
  • How long does Moore wait until bringing Mike Moustakas up?  If you care, I say you hold Mike in Omaha just long enough to control him for that seventh year, but not worry about avoiding Super-Two status.   His agent is Scott Boras, who we all dislike, but is a guy that is not going away and a person you would rather not antagonize.
  • Do you move Christian Colon off shortstop?   How about Jeff Bianchi?
  • Do you give Eric Hosmer a try in the outfield?
  • How long do you stick with Alex Gordon?
  • When do you start bringing your talented group of starting pitchers to the majors?   And in what order?
  • When does Eric Hosmer get the major league call?
  • When does Wil Myers move up to AAA?

All of the above really falls into one big question:   When do you start turning prospects into major leaguers?   It is risky, because some will fail.   Some of them will fail miserably and cast doubt on the entire farm system that Moore covets so greatly.

Somewhere in 2012, Dayton Moore will no longer be able to play the ‘look at the great farm system I built’ card.   Dayton Moore surely knows this, he is not an idiot.   What he needs to realize, what we all need to realize, is that building the system was not the hard part:  making the system produce is the hard part.