Senior Writer

Royals camp report: Hang in there, fans, future two years away


SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It's hard enough knowing who's going to be good this year, so maybe it's a little crazy to say that the Royals are going to be good in 2013.

But they are.

Trust me. Or trust Baseball America, the magazine that just ranked an unprecedented five Royals among the top 19 prospects in all the minor leagues. Or trust the scouts roaming the Cactus League, the ones who keep saying that this time, the Royals really do have the most young talent of anyone.

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Scott Miller What I like and dislike about the Royals so far this spring. Read >>
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"It's pretty much unanimous that their players are good," one rival farm director said.

It's also pretty much unanimous that the Royals are going to lose a lot of games in 2011, but that's hardly anything new. In the 25 years since the Royals last played in the postseason -- George Brett, Frank White and Willie Wilson played on that team -- Kansas City fans have seen 18 losing seasons, including 12 with 90 losses.

Too many times, the Royals have promised them a better future, and then not delivered. You can't blame them if they're skeptical, and you can't blame them if they're impatient.

Dayton Moore understands that. When you're the Royals general manager and you've got these prospects so close -- but not ready yet -- you get impatient, too.

"It makes it harder [that they're close]," Moore admitted. "You've constantly got to remind yourself of the big picture. We've got one opportunity to do it right. We've got to be 100 percent sure that every one of our players is ready to perform at the major-league level."

And that makes this the strangest of springs in Royals camp.

The last four innings of Royals spring training games (when the prospects play) are more interesting than the first five (when the 2011 starters play). The biggest names belong to the guys with the least chance of making the opening day roster.

As one semi-veteran said (besides catcher Jason Kendall, there are no true veterans here), "You've got the 25 guys on the roster, and everyone else here is a prospect."

Fantasy Writer

Breakout ... Billy Butler: Perhaps you say this should have happened last year. Perhaps you lost heart when, instead of continuing his upward climb, Butler regressed from 21 homers to 15 and from 93 RBI to 78. But you have to remember he has yet to turn 25. He already has better bat control, his strikeouts dropping from 103 to 78, than most middle-of-the-order hitters ever achieve in their careers, suggesting his career-high .318 batting average is just the beginning. He may never develop into a 30-homer threat, but if he's competing for batting titles and smacking 20 homers, that's more or less elite, even at a deep position like first base. The Royals showed their faith in him by signing him to a four-year extension, which means they want him to be a part of next year's metamorphosis and not just another trade chip.

Sleeper ... Kila Ka'aihue: Ka'aihue has never gotten much attention from the scouts, but you've no doubt heard his name mentioned more than once over the last few years. You've heard it because his numbers demand recognition. They're insane. At long last, the Royals decided to see what the 26-year-old could do, promoting him in August and giving him everyday at-bats. True, he hit only .217, which some will claim as another victory for the scouts over the statisticians, but he clearly got more comfortable over time, hitting .261 with six homers and an .878 OPS in September. This is it for Ka'aihue, his one great chance to stake his claim. He could amount to nothing, but if everything clicks for him the way it did in the minors, he could be the hottest waiver claim this summer.

Can't-miss prospect ... Eric Hosmer: The Royals have more candidates for this category than any other organization, but if you want the one prospect least likely to disappoint and most likely to become early-round material in Fantasy, it's Hosmer. LASIK surgery turned the 2009 disappointment into more than the Royals could have hoped for when they selected him third overall in 2008. He doesn't have any discernable flaws, striking out only 66 times in 520 at-bats and repeatedly driving the ball the other way instead of trying to yank everything out of the park the way young power hitters so often do. He has already mastered Double-A, which is usually the biggest reality check for minor leaguers, so Triple-A is little more than a formality. He will arrive before the end of 2011, and by all indications, he will succeed right away.

-- Scott White
Royals outlook | Depth Chart | 2011 Draft Prep

The change has come so quick that 27-year-old pitcher Luke Hochevar can look around the room and say, "Last year, I was a young guy."

On this team, he's a veteran -- with not even two years' big-league service time.

On this team, even the fans are rushing to get autographs from players with no big-league service time. They've heard about Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers and the others.

"I've been to Kansas City a couple of times, and they're all excited about what could come," Moustakas said. "Some fans ask me for my autograph, and it feels amazing. Anytime anyone asks for my autograph, it feels amazing."

Moustakas, a 22-year-old power-hitting third baseman, was ninth on the Baseball America list, one spot behind Hosmer, one ahead of Myers. But because Moustakas made it to Triple-A last year, and because he tied for the overall minor-league home run lead (with 36), he's likely to be the first of the new wave of prospects to arrive with the Royals.

Moore said the Royals are "open-minded" about keeping Moustakas on the opening day roster, but it seems more likely that he arrives sometime during the season, whether because the Royals truly believe he needs more minor-league at-bats or whether they decide they need to push back his service time for arbitration or free-agent reasons.

"As a competitor, you absolutely feel you're ready to play in the big leagues," Moustakas said. But he also said he trusts Moore and the Royals front office to make the right decision.

It's that kind of attitude that has impressed the "older" Royals -- that and the power displays they see from both Moustakas and Hosmer.

"Both those guys, they're studs," Hochevar said. "What's really cool is that everyone on the team just loves them. They're young, but they carry themselves well."

What's exciting about the Royals is that this isn't just about Moustakas and Hosmer, or Moustakas, Hosmer (a first baseman) and Myers (a former catcher converted to the outfield). The Royals also have a slew of pitching prospects ("I've never seen so many left-handers in one camp," one player said).

They even have prospects that they love who Baseball America didn't even rank.

Looking at 20-year-old catcher Salvador Perez, legendary Royals executive Art Stewart said, "If he doesn't go to the Hall of Fame, I'll go into the furniture business."

Royals people rave about the way Perez threw out speedy Jarrod Dyson trying to steal in an intrasquad game. They rave about the home run Hosmer hit in a regular spring training game. They'll even remind you that Hosmer threw 97 mph in high school, when he closed out the Florida state championship game.

"Just heaters," Hosmer said. "I didn't throw a curveball."

The Royals have thrown us plenty of curveballs before. There were prospect lists with names like Dee Brown and Angel Berroa and Alex Gordon.

This time it's different. This time it's real.

Trust me.


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