SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Over the past two or three years, the Kansas City Royals have earned praise for and reaped the benefits of a flourishing Minor League system.
Their cup runneth over last year when such homegrown products as Aaron Crow, Greg Holland, Danny Duffy, Eric Hosmer, Johnny Giavotella and Mike Moustakas, among others, all reached the big time.
"It wasn't just a one-year kind of flash-in-the pan of one group getting there," said Scott Sharp, the Royals' director of Minor League operations. "There's a lot more behind them."
where to watch
A look at where Royals' Top 20 prospects are starting the 2012 season:
Click here for the complete Top 20 list on Prospect Watch.
Injecting new life and more talent into the farm system was a primary concern for general manager Dayton Moore when he took over early in the 2006 season. His moves have paid off and Sharp believes the aura of excellence can be maintained.
"I actually think we have more talent in our system now than we've ever had," Sharp said. "It's at a little bit of a lower level, but I think there's a greater concentration of better talent. You can't dispute Moustakas and Hosmer -- I mean, high-, high-level talent -- but I think we have very good talent, and more of it than we've ever had."
The Royals Minor Leaguers break camp this week with 25 players each assigned to the full-season clubs at Triple-A Omaha, Double-A Northwest Arkansas, Class A advanced Wilmington and Class A Kane County. There are also about 70 players in extended spring training, and about 20 others rehabbing from injuries. Once the three Rookie classification teams at Idaho Falls, Burlington and Surprise and the Dominican Republic team get going later in the summer, the Royals will have about 270 players in the organization.
The Omaha Storm Chasers won the Pacific Coast League championship last season. The Northwest Arkansas Naturals and the Kane County Cougars made the playoffs.
With the Minor League season getting under way, fans can keep track of the Royals' top prospects throughout the season on Prospect Watch. And get scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more for all of the Royals' Minor League teams on the Royals' affiliates page.
The flood of talent, in Sharp's eyes, isn't stopping.
"We do feel like we have more waves pushing through," Sharp said. "If you look at the Double-A pitching staff, if you look at the prospective lineup at Wilmington, if you look at the group we have in extended spring training -- we still feel like we have three separate and distinct waves of players that are working their way through our system."
The Northwest Arkansas pitchers include such top prospects as Tim Melville, Jake Odorizzi, Chris Dwyer, Noel Arguelles and Justin Marks. Hot shots Elisaul Pimentel and Michael Mariot couldn't even be squeezed into that rotation. The Wilmington lineup will include the returning Whit Merrifield in the leadoff spot with Cheslor Cuthbert, Brian Fletcher and Brett Eibner forming a solid middle.
Debuts and Draftees
That wave at extended spring training that Sharp mentioned includes the Royals' top Draft choice of 2011, outfielder Bubba Starling, who is ranked No. 1 on MLB.com's list of Top 20 Royals Prospects. He signed too late to play in a summer league last year so the Royals are breaking him in slowly at their complex at Surprise, Ariz.
"He's going to start down here in extended and let him breathe a little bit and he'll be fine. He's doing well, adjusting well," Sharp said. "We're not sure where he'll end up, could be a short-season team or could be a full-season."
Starling, a tall right-handed hitter, figures to play center field.
"He's going through the learning curve," Sharp said. "When he first got here [for Spring Training], we were playing a lot intrasquads, essentially facing Double-A pitching because it was more of our advanced pitchers that we were getting ready to either be starters for Double-A and Triple-A or be Major League backups for Spring Training. So he got exposed pretty quick to some really high-level pitching and he's starting to adjust. And he does a great job in the outfield."
Other top Draft picks from 2011 who are also starting the season in extended Spring Training are catcher Cameron Gallagher (second round), pitcher Bryan Brickhouse (third round) and pitcher Kyle Smith (fourth round).
Outfielder Elier Hernandez, who received a $3 million-plus bonus at age 16, is one of the top international players being groomed in extended spring training. He's a power-hitting right-handed batter from San Cristobal, D.R.
Teams on TV
The Omaha Storm Chasers, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals and the Idaho Falls Chukars are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2012 MiLB.TV package will include more than 2,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.
Omaha's roster will include hard-hitting favorites from last year in Giavotella and first baseman Clint Robinson and speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson. The starting rotation will include left-handed prospect Mike Montgomery and right-hander Nate Adcock, who spent his Rule 5 season last year in the Kansas City bullpen.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.