Spring Training 2011: Kansas City Royals Question Of The Day

SURPISE, AZ - FEBRUARY 27: Jeff Francoeur #21 of the Kansas City Royals gets greeted with a h five at the dugout after hitting a home run during a spring training game against the Texas Rangers at Surprise Stadium on February 27, 2011 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

The Kansas City Royals are blessed with baseball's top crop of prospects, but while they mature in the farm system, the big club's got some work to do, starting with a group of young starting pitchers still trying to establish themselves.

There are questions surrounding all 30 MLB teams during Spring Training, and Rob Neyer intends to answer them with his 30-part Question of the Day series. Today, he takes a look at the Kansas City Royals.

This one's trickier than most, because I wrote about the Royals just two days ago.

The Royals of this moment are exceptionally interesting, except almost all of that exceptionally is due to players who won't be on the Opening Day roster, indeed might not even begin to populate the 25-man roster until August or September.

The phenomenal strength of Kansas City's farm system has been well-documented this winter, to the point where it's patently ridiculous to even suggest that someone else might have a better farm system. According to Minor League Ball's John Sickels, the Royals are blessed with three of the top seven hitting prospects, four of the top 25 pitching prospects. Better yet, most of these guys are just a step or two away from the Big Boy League.

Yes, things are going to get mighty interesting when the likes of Mike Moustakas and Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer and Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi (among others) start arriving in Kansas City. Even they won't be enough, by themselves, to lift the Royals into serious contention. But they should make one hell of a start.

What about these Royals, though? The ones we'll see on Opening Day, and seem like mortal locks to lose somewhere between 90 and 100 games?

There are definitely some things to watch. Will Alex Gordon finally hit like he's supposed to? And even if so, will that balance his "defense" in left field? Will Alcides Escobar bounce back from a lousy 2010? Can Bill Butler stay on pace for the all-time record for GiDP? Will Jeff Francoeur draw more walks than his age?

Some of these are actually relevant to the Royals' long-term future. Most are not. With the possible exceptions of Escobar and perhaps Butler, if the Royals are ever competitive again, very few of the hitters on this year's Opening Day roster will still be around to play key roles.

It might be different with the pitchers, though. The Royals are stacked with pitching prospects, but the success rate of even top pitching prospects is, what? Fifty percent? 

Probably a lot less, actually. At least in the short term. Sickels give B+ grades to four of the Royals' starting-pitcher prospects. All four will probably pitch in the majors. One of them might be very good. One might be decent. And one or two will probably scuffle a lot. And you can forget about timetables. It might happen immediately, it might take 200 innings, or it might take 600 innings with a routine Tommy John surgery mixed in there somewhere.

All of which is to say this: The Royals are undoubtedly targeting 2012 or '13 as the beginning of their Drive to Relevance, but that's probably not going to work out unless they're getting real contributions from starting pitchers who do not rank among John Sickels' Top 25. They'll probably need at least something from the group of starting pitchers they've got right now, which includes "No. 1 starter" Luke Hochevar (5.60 career ERA), Sean O'Sullivan (5.65 career ERA), Kyle Davies (5.49 career ERA) and Vin Mazzaro (4.72 career ERA).

Each of those four is still fairly young and relatively cheap. But can the Royals find even one good starter among them? Or since one probably won't be enough, two?

The smart money says no, probably not. But the Royals need to find some surprising answers, and this would be a great place to start.

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