The years of building in Kansas City really began to pay off when Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas arrived in the Majors last season. The next step will be when some of the pitchers, like Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi, who are Nos. 3 and 4 on MLB.com's Top 20 Royals Prospects list, make it to the top.
And then, with the later arrivals of outfielders Bubba Starling and Wil Myers, the team's two top-ranked prospects, the project should be nearing its final stages.
"We like a lot of the position players we have, but they're young," Royals assistant general manager for scouting and player development J.J. Picollo said. "The Montgomerys and the Odorizzis and [Will] Smith and [Chris] Dwyer and those guys, they're kind of the back end of that first set of guys we've seen go to the Major Leagues. If we can compete with that group that will go there, then hopefully the guys that we were just talking about, the Starlings and the [Ramon] Hernandezes, they kind of come to the forefront."
Starling, 19, was the team's top pick, No. 5 overall, in last year's Draft. He strained a quad in the fall and missed the final 10 days of instructional league, the last few as a precaution. His potential to be a terrific all-around player remains in full force as his professional career begins this season.
Myers, who's 21 and has already spent some time at Double-A, naturally seems closer to the big leagues than does Starling, with the caveat that Myers is only one year into playing the outfield after converting from catcher.
It wouldn't have surprised anyone if Montgomery made it to Kansas City last year, after he had a solid 2010 season at three Minor League levels. But he had a difficult 2011, going 5-11 with a 5.32 ERA at Triple-A Omaha, and learning from the experience will be a big help in his future. He still leads the pack as a potential ace.
"There were a lot of factors," Picollo said. "I think some of it, the expectation when we broke Spring Training was that he would probably be up by midseason. And I think in some way, he kind of pitched to just do OK. [He] didn't compete the way he normally does, and when he realized, 'You know what? I'm not really having success here,' I think he pressed a little bit, and then eventually it turned into some mechanical changes and things we had to start addressing that were pretty much in check at the end of Spring Training. So I think there was a little bit of a snowball; he never really got on track last year.
"I think he'll be fine. In the end, I think it's going to be a real good learning experience for him. He's a bright kid, pretty perceptive ... here's an experience to draw on that will eventually help him."
Top 20 Prospects
Odorizzi, a right-handed starter acquired in the Zack Greinke deal with Milwaukee a year ago, showed his strikeout ability last season with 157 in 147 innings -- with just 44 walks -- and that puts him on the cusp of the Majors.
No. 6 John Lamb, one of several southpaws on the list, along with Dwyer and Smith, is in the first third of his throwing program following Tommy John surgery in June. The plan, if all goes well, is to have Lamb get up on a mound close to late July, and have him pitch for rehab purposes as he prepares for a full 2013 season.
Dwyer, who's seventh on the list, has a plus-plus pitch in his curveball. He put up strong strikeout numbers at Double-A Northwest Arkansas: 126 in 141 1/3 innings. But he needs to better refine his command after walking 78.
Smith is at No. 15 and probably doesn't have front-end potential, but he's close to being a polished product. He went 13-9 with a 3.85 ERA at Double-A, striking out 108 and walking 45 in 161 1/3 innings.
royals' top prospects
Under the Radar
Outfielder Ramon Hernandez is a 24-year-old Cuban defector the Royals recently signed after evaluating him in the Dominican Republic.
"We had a chance to watch him play in games and we liked him," general manager Dayton Moore said. "Several other teams were trying to sign him as well. He's not a big high-profile guy, but he's had some success in the Cuban professional league. He's been in our academy, our scouts like him and [international scout] Rene Francisco felt we should sign him."
Hitter of the Year -- Bubba Starling, OF
Starling's tools are second-to-none in the organization, and at the Class A level, polish can take a backseat to overwhelming raw ability. A product of Kansas, he was an All-State selection in three sports in high school.
Pitcher of the Year -- Mike Montgomery, LHP
Once a pro ballplayer struggles for the first time, that experience is ideally always there to draw on. Montgomery has been through it now, and he should be quick to learn from his mistakes. His stuff is still first-rate.