The future powerhouse of the American League Central was at Target Field, and it wasn't the home team. The Kansas City Royals have a glut of talent on the way that will reverse their recent inept history and again turn K.C. into a baseball town.
The Royals have had one winning season among the past 16. The skeptics will suggest it has been such a frugal and stumblebum organization that once again the prospects will fail to meet expectations and drift away.
Not this time. Not with this many.
Remember, the Royals are not being asked to move into position to overtake the Yankees or the Red Sox. They are aiming at the Twins, the White Sox, the Tigers and the Indians.
The first three on that list are getting older and have a minimum of difference-making minor leaguers on the way. And Cleveland trails Kansas City by a good number when it comes to top-flight prospects.
Baseball scouting always will be an inexact science, but the evaluation is better than ever. The early-rounders that do not make some contribution is far lower than used to be the case. And the same applies to the elite selections: They turn into elite players at a greater percentage when ballclubs were making evaluations with fewer resources.
The Royals have been drafting near the top year after year, and the first examples that will pay off have started to appear.
The relief pitching in front of closer Joakim Soria has been a disaster. This year, the Royals decided to assist with some young arms: righthanders Jeremy Jeffress and Aaron Crow and lefthander Tim Collins.
They were rated the Nos. 8, 14 and 16 among the Royals prospects this spring. And K.C. also kept righthander Nate Adcock, a Rule 5 draftee from Pittsburgh.
There's a strong expectation that Mike Moustakas, the No. 1 prospect, will take over at third base by June. Eric Hosmer, the No. 2, might have to wait longer with Billy Butler and Kila Ka'aihue already creating a crowd at first base.
Butler is a terrific hitter. He can be a backbone of the lineup for years to come, or, if the Royals decide they have to make room for Hosmer in 2012, he could be traded for even more pitching.
The Royals have plenty of that in the pipeline -- particularly lefthanded starters. And how valuable are those pitchers?
This valuable: The Twins felt the need to give up Billy Bullock, a hard-throwing righthanded reliever, in order to keep Rule 5 draftee Scott Diamond. It's not that the Twins envision him at the top of a rotation; it's that they have such a shortage of lefty starters with a chance that they felt a need to keep Diamond.
The Royals could have lefty Michael Montgomery in the rotation by midseason. And K.C. has four other lefties --John Lamb, Danny Duffy, Chris Dwyer and Will Smith -- rated as future big-league starters.
They have an everyday catcher in the offing in Wil Myers. They landed a long-term shortstop, Alcides Escobar, as the key piece in the trade that sent pitcher Zack Greinke to Milwaukee.
Escobar's presence means that Christian Colon, the outstanding prospect from Cal State Fullerton, can be moved to second base.
The Royals will be outstanding on the mound by 2013. They will be strong in the middle of the infield with Escobar and Colon. They will have a productive catcher in Myers.
And if Butler sticks around, maybe as the DH, they will have an outstanding middle of the order with him between Moustakas and Hosmer.
This time, it's no bluff. The Kansas City Royals are about to go from being the Central's also-ran to the pursued. A few years from now, it will be K.C. fans making the summer excursion to hoot and holler in Target Field, rather than the familiar Minnesota invasions of Kauffman Stadium that have taken place over the past decade.
There's a younger generation of baseball fans in these parts that might assume futile baseball has been a permanent condition in Kansas City. That is far from the truth, of course.
The Royals started in 1969, and within five years they were putting explosive teams together. The worst beatings the Twins took for about a decade were in K.C. -- with George Brett, Amos Otis, Hal McRae, Frank White and Willie Wilson, along with Dennis Leonard, Bret Saberhagen and Dan Quisenberry on the mound.
And those days could be returning in Kansas City.
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • firstname.lastname@example.org
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