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10/20/08 10:00 AM ET

Royals close to making run at success

Historically strong system could yield big-league results soon

Before the 2008 season began, MLB.com took an in-depth look at every big-league team's Minor League system. Now, it's time to recap and analyze all 30 organizations, from top prospects to the recent draft class.

There isn't much difference between the Kansas City Royals and the Tampa Bay Rays, when you come to think of it. For years, the Rays were a franchise that floundered, despite having worlds of talent coming up through the system. But a few shrewd moves and look what Tampa Bay was able to accomplish this season.

Now we're not about to say the Royals are going to be in the American League playoffs next season, but they have talent and young players who aren't all that dissimilar to what Tampa Bay has. They have some fine young pitchers, a nice crop of young hitters and a good front office.

Kansas City has been on the verge of big things for several seasons now. This winter will be telling in terms of whether the franchise is ready to make the leap and contend for a Central Division title. The feeling here, based on what we've seen in Omaha, Northwest Arkansas, Wilmington and Burlington, is that a bright future is on the horizon.

Here's a closer look at some of what went on in Kansas City's system this year.

Organizational Players of the Year

MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Matt Mitchell, RHP: For some strange reason we picked Mitchell as the preseason Player of the Year. Since we obviously had a brain cramp and can't go back and change that, let's take a look at what he did this season. Mitchell had a nice first full season in the pros, going 8-8 with a 3.47 ERA in 25 games (21 starts) for the Burlington Bees, champions of the Class A Midwest League. He finished up well, posting a 2.74 ERA over his last 10 outings.

•  Monday, Oct. 6: Washington Nationals
•  Tuesday, Oct. 7: Seattle Mariners
•  Wednesday, Oct. 8: San Diego Padres
•  Thursday, Oct. 9: Pittsburgh Pirates
•  Friday, Oct. 10: Baltimore Orioles
•  Monday, Oct. 13: Atlanta Braves
•  Tuesday, Oct. 14: San Francisco Giants
•  Wednesday, Oct. 15: Cincinnati Reds
•  Thursday, Oct. 16: Colorado Rockies
•  Friday, Oct. 17: Detroit Tigers
•  Monday, Oct. 20: Kansas City Royals
•  Tuesday, Oct. 21: Oakland Athletics
•  Wednesday, Oct. 22: Texas Rangers
•  Thursday, Oct. 23: Cleveland Indians
•  Friday, Oct. 24: Arizona Diamondbacks
•  Monday, Oct. 27: Florida Marlins
•  Tuesday, Oct. 28: Toronto Blue Jays
•  Wednesday, Oct. 29: St. Louis Cardinals
•  Thursday, Oct. 30: Houston Astros
•  Friday, Oct. 31: Minnesota Twins
•  Monday, Nov. 3: New York Yankees
•  Tuesday, Nov. 4: New York Mets
•  Wednesday, Nov. 5: Los Angeles Angels
•  Thursday, Nov. 6: Chicago White Sox
•  Friday, Nov. 7: Milwaukee Brewers
•  Monday, Nov. 10: Chicago Cubs
•  Tuesday, Nov. 11: Boston Red Sox
•  Wednesday, Nov. 12: LA Dodgers
•  Thursday, Nov. 13: Tampa Bay Rays
•  Friday, Nov. 14: Philadelphia Phillies

Daniel Cortes, RHP: Based on our gaffe, it seems only logical that we would have picked a position player for Pitcher of the Year in the preseason, but we weren't that boneheaded. We gave the nod to Cortes, and he certainly had a fine year, going 10-4 with a 3.78 ERA in 23 starts for Northwest Arkansas.

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

Kila Ka'aihue, 1B: Ka'aihue was beginning his third season in Double-A as this year unfolded and had looked very ordinary in two previous stints in the Texas League. But he blossomed this year, hitting .314 with 26 homers and 79 RBIs for Northwest Arkansas before getting bumped up to Triple-A Omaha. Ka'aihue acquitted himself well in the Pacific Coast League, batting .316 with 11 homers and 21 RBIs, earning some time with the parent club. He hit .286 in 21 at-bats for the Royals.

Alex Caldera, RHP: Caldera was a 13th-round selection in 2007 and had a fine but undistinguished debut with the Burlington Royals of the Appalachian League. He pitched with the Class A Burlington Bees this season and there was nothing undistinguished about what he accomplished there. Caldera went 12-6, leading the entire organization in victories and with a 2.89 ERA. He was second with 120 strikeouts.

Climbed the Ladder

Alex Caldera, RHP: Caldera vaulted up the ladder by going 7-0 with a 2.02 ERA in his last 10 starts. Overall, he allowed two earned runs or fewer in 16 of 25 starts, and only once did he give up more than four earned runs. His ERA from the sixth inning on was 0.36.
Caldera collects his eighth strikeout

Kila Ka'aihue, 1B: Ka'aihue also earns a spot atop the ladder for his effort this season. The trick for him will be to sustain that level of play next season, whether it's in Omaha or Kansas City.
Ka'aihue crushes a pair

Daniel Cortes, RHP: Cortes just gets better as he moves up through the Kansas City system. He improved his previous win total (10) by two this season at Northwest Arkansas, posted a very respectable ERA (3.78) and went 6-1 over his final 10 starts to make a serious run at being named our organizational Pitcher of the Year. He'll likely begin next season in Omaha, but don't be surprised if he's in Kansas City before the end of the year.
Cortes chalks up back-to-back K's

Matt Mitchell, RHP: Mitchell may not have been the Pitcher or Player of the Year, but he did win those eight games and looked sharp, for the most part, all season long. The big test next season, when he moves to Class A Advanced ball, will be whether he can handle the advanced bats.
Mitchell's one-hitter through six

Danny Duffy, LHP: Duffy, a third-rounder in 2007, went 8-4 with a 2.20 ERA in 17 starts for Class A Burlington. He closed the year with a 1.14 ERA over his final 10 starts. He has a 1.98 ERA in 118 career innings, striking out 165 and walking only 42. His career WHIP is 1.03.
Duffy delivers six hitless innings

Mitch Maier, OF: Maier's steady climb throughout the season was rewarded with a callup to Kansas City. He began the year with Omaha and batted .316 with 41 RBIs in 85 PCL games before moving on to the parent club. He hit .286 with nine RBIs in 91 at-bats for the Royals and proved he belonged in the Major Leagues. It's been fun watching the former first-rounder develop; now the Royals are hoping we never have to write about his Minor League career again.
Maier mashes a leadoff homer

Carlos Rosa, RHP: Rosa's progress has mirrored Maier's in many aspects. He's been with the organization for awhile and has made a steady climb through the ranks, a journey that saw him pitch at three levels, including the Major Leagues, this season. Rosa was a combined 8-5 with a 2.73 ERA in 19 starts at NW Arkansas and Omaha. He had a WHIP of 1.04 and a nearly 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Rosa's hitless through eight

Kept Their Footing

Mike Moustakas, SS/3B: The Royals' 2007 first-round selection overcame a very rough April in which he hit .190 for Class A Burlington, finishing the season with a .272 average, 22 homers and 71 RBIs, which were the second- and third-best totals in the organization, respectively. He hit .321 and played a steady third base in the second half of the season after being moved from shortstop, where he compared well to his counterparts, committing 12 errors in 274 total chances.
Moustakas cranks a three-run homer

Blake Johnson, RHP: Johnson also had a 10-win season in the Texas League but got hit hard in his only playoff start for the Naturals. He did enough, though, to secure a tentative place on the ladder for next season, where he likely will be alongside Cortes in Omaha. He needs to cut down on his homers allowed (20), however.
Johnson rings up his eighth K

Derrick Robinson, OF: Robinson straddled the line between this category and slipping a rung but earned the higher place on the strength of his 62 stolen bases (he was caught 17 times), which was third-best in the Minor Leagues. He is quick, there's no doubt about that, but so was Esix Snead. And Robinson will follow a similar career path unless he can be more patient at the plate and improve on a .316 on-base percentage and a .245 batting average.
Robinson gets his 60th steal

David Lough, OF: Lough might not have hit at the .337 clip he did in 2007, but he still had a solid season at Burlington of the Midwest League. The former 11th-rounder batted .268 with 16 homers and 62 RBIs. He stole 12 bases and had a better second half than first. His 2009 at the Class A Advanced level will be telling.
Lough's leadoff long ball

Blake Wood, RHP: Wood missed the first half of 2007 following back surgery but put up good numbers in 13 starts upon his return. He followed that up this season by pitching in both the Carolina and Texas Leagues, going a combined 8-9 with a 4.25 ERA in 28 starts. He tossed a pair of shutouts with Northwest Arkansas and finished up August with a 2.93 ERA in six starts.
Wood wrangles his 10th K

Slipped a Rung

Rowdy Hardy, LHP: Hardy took a bit of a hit this season with Northwest Arkansas, struggling to adapt in the rough-and-tumble Texas League. He went 6-11 with a 4.97 ERA after going 20-8 with a 2.58 ERA in his first two professional seasons. Opponents batted .311 against Hardy as he allowed 195 hits in 155 2/3 innings. Right-handed hitters batted .321 against him.

Julio Pimentel, RHP: Pimentel suffered much the same fate as Hardy, struggling to adapt to life in the Texas League. Pimentel was coming off a 12-win season in the Carolina League, during which he posted a 2.65 ERA. Fast forward to this season with the Naturals, for whom he went 7-13 with a 5.38 ERA in 28 starts. Opponents hit .307 against him and he allowed 193 hits in 157 1/3 innings. He was 3-2 with a 3.55 ERA in August, but that late rebound wasn't enough to keep him from slipping a rung.

Chris Lubanski, OF: Lubanski has long been a favorite of ours, but whereas Maier made the leap forward, Lubanski has remained in neutral. He hit .242 in Omaha and is batting .232 in nearly a season and a half in the PCL. He fanned 130 times, one shy of his career high, and drew only 38 walks, tying a full-season career low.

On the Radar

Adrian Ortiz, OF: Ortiz made his first full professional season a memorable one, starring in both the Midwest and Carolina leagues. He combined to hit .309 with three homers, 45 RBIs and 34 stolen bases. He was caught stealing 20 times but had a respectable .345 on-base percentage. He needs to be a bit more patient at the plate, as well, drawing more than the 24 walks he had this season.
Ortiz is off and running

Greg Holland, RHP: The Royals tabbed Holland in the 10th round of the 2007 Draft and he went out and put together a fine year at Idaho Falls. He followed that up with an equally impressive sophomore season, going 4-5 with a 3.42 ERA in 32 games (seven starts) at Wilmington. He had a 2.56 ERA in 52 2/3 relief innings as opposed to the 4.83 ERA he posted in 31 2/3 innings as a starter.
Holland strikes out the side

Everett Teaford, LHP: Teaford also was part of that Wilmington staff, going 8-6 with a 3.80 ERA in 28 games (23 starts). The Royals seem to be leaning toward keeping him in the rotation. He had 100 strikeouts over 126 1/3 innings as a starter, holding opponents to a .245 batting average.
Teaford ties a career high with nine Ks

Danny Gutierrez, RHP: Gutierrez is a perfect example of what you can find if you dig a little in the Draft. He was a 33rd-round selection in 2005 and, after two undistinguished seasons, put up some nice numbers this year. Gutierrez was 4-4 with a 2.70 ERA in 19 games (18 starts) at Burlington of the Midwest League, fanning 104 batters in 90 innings. He capped his season by striking out 11 in a six-inning playoff appearance against South Bend.
Gutierrez gets his sixth straight strikeout

Draft Recap

1. Eric Hosmer, 1B: The third overall pick in the draft, Hosmer signed at the deadline, or rather just a bit after it, which delayed his debut in and of itself. Then he got caught up in the Pedro Alvarez mess with the Pirates because of his agent, Scott Boras, and again had his early progress retarded. Still, he did get to play in three games with Idaho Falls, going 4-for-11 with a pair of RBIs.
Hosmer gets a Royal welcome

2. Michael Montgomery, LHP: Montgomery had a very nice debut, going 2-1 with a 1.69 ERA in 12 games (nine starts) for the Arizona League Royals. He struck out 34 over 42 2/3 innings.

3. Johnny Giavotella, 2B: Giavotella went directly to Class A and did some damage with Burlington, hitting .299 with four homers and 26 RBIs over 68 games. He stole 10 bases, drew 25 walks and struck out only 34 times in 278 at-bats.
Giavotella goes deep

Others of Note: RHP Tyler Sample (third round) struggled in the AZL, going 0-5 with a 9.00 ERA in 25 innings. His WHIP was higher than 2.00 and opponents hit .270 against him. ... C Mauricio Matos (10th round) hit .269 with seven RBIs in 78 AZL at-bats. ... OF Keven (Allen) Caldwell (12th round) hit .201 with four homers and 21 RBIs in 54 Appy League at-bats. ... RHP Chase Hentges (14th round) was 1-1 with a 4.11 ERA and a pair of saves in 15 1/3 innings for the AZL Royals. ... OF Carlo Testa (18th round) hit .294 with five homers and 36 RBIs while splitting time between the Appy and Pioneer leagues. He batted .304 in 171 at-bats with Idaho Falls.

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.