SURPRISE, Ariz. -- For the better part of his five seasons in the Royals' organization, left-handed pitcher Everett Teaford watched other guys soar to the heights.
"We've got so many young guys that are just flying up the radar," he said.
Until recently, Teaford was definitely under the radar.
"I was probably under the ground," he said.
Now Teaford, from Alpharetta, Ga., and Georgia Southern University ("the Harvard of Southeast Georgia," in his words), is a contender for the Royals' pitching staff. Maybe as a starter, maybe as a reliever -- the big thing is that he's finally arrived.
Last summer, Teaford had a 14-3 record and a 3.36 ERA for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Then he was among six Royals farmhands, including hitting prodigies Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, that played for Team USA in the Pan American Qualifying Tournament in Puerto Rico.
"I never considered myself really in that group of Hosmer, Moustakas -- that next wave," Teaford said. "But it made us feel like this could be fun in Kansas City. We're all really good friends, and hopefully we can turn things around."
Teaford is in the sizable group of hot pitching prospects in the camp. At 26, he's one of their elders and is among 12 left-handers, an unusually high number for the Royals, on the spring roster.
"I remember my first Spring Training, I thought, 'Man, there's only two or three lefties between me and the big leagues.' Now, look around -- righties are the oddballs around here," he said. "We're going to gang up on 'em."
The only two lefties considered a sure thing are Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis. They're both starters and manager Ned Yost says he'd like to have at least two lefties in the bullpen, maybe more. So opportunities beckon for Teaford and the gang of lefties.
Teaford's 2009 season suffered from a split personality. He began by going 7-1 with a 2.39 ERA for Class A Wilmington but slid to 3-7 with a 5.11 ERA in the second half for Northwest Arkansas.
Then, last year with the Double-A club, he wasn't all that satisfied with the way his season was going.
"I was just tired of walking people and I'm sure the coaches were, too," he said.
So, about midseason when he had a 6-3 record, he decided to change his mechanics.
"I just started throwing the ball a little easier and being a little more free," he said. "I don't know if I was trying to muscle it and trying to be too strong, but I just kind of loosened up a little bit and things clicked, to say the least."
Did they ever. After the All-Star break, he was 8-0 in 12 games, including seven starts, with a 1.98 ERA. His 14 wins led the Royals' farm system and -- those walks he was so worried about? -- he finished with just 32 against 113 strikeouts in 99 innings.
Teaford isn't a big guy.
"I'm a real tall 5-foot-11 or a short 6-foot, whatever you want to go with," he said. "I'd go with the short 6-foot."
And he weighs just 165 pounds. But take pitching coach Bob McClure's word for it, he's very strong.
"Look at his body, this kid is cut. In a uniform, he looks scrawny, but you should see him without his shirt on," McClure said. "His chest and arms -- I'm telling you, he could be a wrestler. He's really put together, he's really built. But in a uniform, he looks like you could blow him over."
Teaford says he has a pretty standard pitching repertoire -- fastball, curveball, changeup and a little cutter -- but his fastball gained considerable velocity last year and was up to 94 or 95 mph at times.
Yost went to Puerto Rico last fall for the Pan Am competition and saw some flashes of Tom Glavine finesse in Teaford, including his ability to move the ball around and work the corners.
"I like his stuff, but the thing that impressed me most was his competitiveness on the mound," Yost said. "They'd knock the ball off the wall and he'd grab it and say, 'OK, you're next. Let's go.' He just kept coming after the hitters. He worked with a good tempo, had a great look on his face. He was competing out there with confidence, and I was real impressed with that."
Teaford was a 12th-round Draft choice by the Royals in 2006 and made steady progress, although it was not without some road bumps.
"I think it's going to help me in the long run," he said. "I've struggled and I learned how to get through struggles. Some guys breeze through the Minor Leagues just on talent alone.
"When you get to the big leagues, I feel like it's a whole 'nother jump. I feel like I've learned from my struggles when not to get down, to keep working. You're going to work through the hard times. So I think it was definitely beneficial that I kind of had rough patches in the Minor Leagues. It'll help if I ever do get to the big leagues."
Teaford's first public notice in Kansas City came after the 2008 season ,when he came to town to receive the first Mike Sweeney Award as the Minor League player who best represents the organization on and off the field. He was a frequent visitor to kids in hospitals and other centers in Wilmington, Del.
He credits his parents, Jim and Karen Teaford, for that trait.
"I've been very fortunate to have great parents that taught me how to be a good person and to do the right thing, to treat everyone with respect and to help others when they're in need, and so far, I think I've done a good job with that," he said.
His next job, Teaford hopes, will be on the Kansas City pitching staff.
"I don't care where I fit in," he said. "I just hope I fit in."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.