As abundant sunshine bathed the Royals spring-training facility one morning earlier this month, Dayton Moore stood near a cluster of practice fields and pointed toward the batting cages adjacent to Surprise Stadium.
Sunglasses protected his eyes, but it was clear what Moore saw in the huge images of Royals hall of famers on the batting cages.
“You see all those banners out there? None of them were here when we came,” Moore said. “You see the logo on the wall and the awnings? None of them were here when we came. You ever look at the pictures where we honor all of our players who have accomplished things? That was not here before we came. The George Brett, the Frank White, the Dick Howser fields, the Art Stewart Tower? None of that was here.”
Moore is proud of the changes made at the spring facility (where the Royals have embraced their past success) and throughout the franchise since he was hired in 2006.
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Aesthetic alterations in Arizona aside, the biggest upgrade was to the Royals’ minor-league system, which went from being ranked 23rd when Moore took over to No. 1 just two years ago. The farm system has produced the likes of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Kelvin Herrera and Johnny Giavotella.
All are expected to be key contributors for Royals this season. Fans hope those players can become playoff regulars, worthy of one day getting their own banners.
Here’s the thing: many of the Royals already have long postseason resumes, albeit in the minor leagues.
“Every team I’ve played on, we’ve won a ring,” Moustakas said earlier this year. “So, yeah, we’ve had success.”
When Class A Burlington (Iowa) won the rain-shortened 2008 Midwest League title, Giavotella hit .625 and scored five runs, while Moustakas batted .375 with two doubles and a home run.
The next year, three of the Royals affiliates made the playoffs. In 2010, Class AA Northwest Arkansas won the Texas League title, beating the Midland Rockhounds in five games.
Will Smith scattered seven hits over 6 2/3 innings in a 2-0 victory in the clinching game. In nine games during that postseason, Hosmer hit six home runs with 12 RBIs and a 1.232 OPS.
The following year, Class AAA Omaha swept Sacramento in a best-of-five series for the Pacific Coast League title. Luis Mendoza won the opener, Herrera closed out two of the victories, Jarrod Dyson batted .400 and Lorenzo Cain hit .385.
Those minor-league teammates should be at Kauffman Stadium this summer.
“We try to keep those teams together that are in a playoff race, so players could experience that at the minor-league level,” Moore said. “That’s something we try and emphasize.”
That’s a departure from Moore’s experiences at his previous stop in Atlanta.
“I was raised in the game where the minor leagues is all about development and you never emphasized winning over development,” Moore said. “But we always won at the major-league level. At Atlanta, we never lost during the time I was there.”
“When we came over here, you certainly want to put as many good players together as you can and create a wave of talent emerging upward and eventually transition into the major-leagues, but we wanted to stress winning a little more. Not at the expense of development, but we still wanted to express it. It’s a result of having good players and managers that create a competitive attitude and competitive spirit and good structure.”
Moore hopes those players soon get some postseason experience in the major leagues. The players want that, too.
“The main reason we’re here is to win baseball games, to go out and win a World Series,” Moustakas said. “We’re not here just to be here. It’s fun and all, it’s a great game, but we’re here to win. We’re here to bring home a championship to Kansas City and that’s the reason why we’re here is to go out and win ballgames.”