The Royals’ current farm system is drawing raves across the baseball world right now.   When the final organizational rankings come out, it is a safe bet that Kansas City will be rated number one by pretty much everyone who does any rating system.  

In fact, the gushing about the Royals current crop of prospects has reached such a level that some learned Royals’ fans and writers have almost become sarcastic about it.  Will McDonald at Royals Review has some greet tweets now and then poking fun at the perception of how good the Royals’ system truly is.   

There is one good reason for caution and sarcasm with regard to this:  nobody hangs pennants in the outfield signifying having the ‘Number One Minor League System – 2011′.  

Simply put, great prospects are not locks to be great major leaguers.   Some don’t become major leaguers at all.   As Royals’ fans, we have seen more than our share of prospects go nowhere and, as a result, we often speculate that we’ll be ‘lucky to have two pitchers actually come through as major league starters’.   There is logic to that statement, particularly given the history of the Kansas City Royals in this regard.  

I decided to take a look back to the number one system in baseball in 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays, and see what happened to their Top 10 prospects.   This is hardly scientific and probably a five or ten year review of the number one systems and what happened to all of their Top 10 would be better, but I just came off a three cities in three days trips (one of which was Vegas), so this is what you get.

The Rays finished 66-96 in 2007, coming in last in the AL East for the ninth time in ten seasons, and being rated to have the number one minor league system in baseball prior to 2008 marked the second consecutive year they had garnered that award.  (They flew no flags in the outfield in Tampa to signify this, by the way.)   Their Top Ten prospects prior to 2008 were:

  1. Evan Longoria
  2. David Price
  3. Jake McGee
  4. Wade Davis
  5. Reid Brignac
  6. Desmond Jennings
  7. Jeff Niemann
  8. Jeremy Hellickson
  9. Ryan Royster
  10. Chris Mason

Okay, Evan Longoria is a superstar.   David Price is an ace and, along with Niemann and Davis, they comprised sixty percent of the Rays 2010 rotation.   In 2011, Hellickson is likely to join them as a member of the starting staff.   Brignac, after serving in a utility role for two years, is probably going to play everyday for the Rays in 2011.   McGee  and Jennings both got cups of coffee last year.

All told, it is possible that the first eight guys on the above list will be on the 2011 Opening Day roster and probably all as regulars – at least at some point during the season.    Five of the above Top Ten were major contributors on the 2010 Rays squad and Hellickson might well have been if Tampa had not had solid starting pitching already in the majors.

So, that gives  you some hope, doesn’t it?   Take the top eight names from the Royals list (via Baseball America) this year:

  1. Eric Hosmer
  2. Wil Myers
  3. Mike Moustakas
  4. John Lamb
  5. Mike Montgomery
  6. Christian Colon
  7. Danny Duffy
  8. Chris Dwyer

If five of those guys were regulars on your 2013 Royals and all eight were on the 2014 roster, that might lead you to believe Kansas City would be in pretty good shape. 

Now, their is a big difference between the Rays and the Royals.   Tampa’s 2008 starting rotation consisted of James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Edwin Jackson, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine.   Not sure, but I think I’ll take that five over the five the Royals are prepared to trot out this coming spring.   The Rays also had former number one picks Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton in their outfield and had just dealt another number one, Delmon Young, to Minnesota for Garza and Jason Bartlett.

Given all that, it seems unlikely the the Royals could make a meteoric rise of 30+ wins in one season like Tampa did between 2007 and 2008.    In fact, just because the Rays’ 2008 Top Ten has done so well means nothing when it comes to the Royals 2011 group.   Mabye they’ll do better, maybe they’ll do worse.

The point of this column is not that the Royals are the next Rays, but only to point out that, in one instance, a large number of prospects really did translate their potential into performance.  That one data point at least gives us Royals’ fans something to dream about.