Sorry for the fanpost tear I've been on but I get thinking about a lot of different topics I'd like to explore. Today I want ot debate who improved the future of their ballclub the most in the last year.
The criteria for this is very open-ended. Anything that a team has done or has happened to them that has given them the most hope for improvement in the future, balanced against the issues that could plague their future, can be included.
Here are the teams I think have most improved their future:
The Kansas City Royals -
Does it get more obvious than this? On the major league level, the Royals have gone 50-65 under Ned Yost, a slight improvement over what the record under Trey Hillman was. Headscratching roster moves that they've made in the past seem to moving in the right direction as Jose Guillen, Rick Ankiel, Willie Bloomquist, and Scott Podsednik are all on other teams and they got something more than a bag of balls for Alberto Callaspo. Giving more playing time to Alex Gordon and Kila Ka'Aihue has worked out as well as they'd hoped but they actually ARE trying to give the right guys more playing time.
On the minor league level the advances are obvious. Going into the year, things looked very bleak. Moustakas and Hosmer were coming off of disappointing season and Danny Duffy had retired. As it stands now, the Royals have both the most improved and the best group of prospects in baseball. Mous, Hosmer, and Wil Myers all look like future stars. Mike Montgomery and John Lamb could give the rotation a couple of tough lefties in a few years, while Duffy and Chris Dwyer could provide good rotation depth or more. Tim Collins and Aaron Crow could be interesting pitchers out of the bullpen while Christian Colon and Brett Eibner were just a couple of interesting names added in the draft.
The Royals might not be contenders until 2013, but they could be setup to be really unbeatable in the AL Central by the middle of the decade. In Zack Greinke they either have an ace they need to lock down to a long term contract or an excellent trading chip.
The Pittsburgh Pirates -
How could one of the worst seasons ever in the major leagues give you a bright future? Well, positive notes are the promotions of Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and Jose Tabata. All three have either played well or showed signs that they will be above average major leaguers. Negatively, Jeff Clement and Brad Lincoln played very badly. However the Pirates showed signs of life by making underrated good moves by trading Octavio Dotel for James McDonald and Andrew Lambo. Just off the top of my head, the Pirates have acquired players like Tabata, Tim Alderson, Gorkys Hernandez, Brett Lorin, and Aaron Pribanic for almost nothing in return other than players that were not even in the Pirates plans for the immediate future.
On the farm, the Pirates added Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie in the draft and really added hope for the future of their pitching. Rudy Owens turned in a stellar season for Altoona as well. Players like Starling Marte and Tony Sanchez add interesting depth to the future of the lineup.
The Reds have proven that the NL Central is winnable once you get some of your top prospects up and the Pirates have secured the top pick in a loaded draft. Yes, they just might finish above .500 this decade.
On the major league level the Nationals saw Ian Desmond hold his own at the plate and potentially give them a solid SS or 2B for the next 6 years, while Ryan Zimmerman played like an MVP.. again while going largely unnoticed. Stephen Strasburg showed that he really is one of the best young pitchers you'll ever see, just that you'll have to wait until 2012 to see him again. Jordan Zimmerman returned from Tommy John surgery, Danny Espinosa was called up, Wilson Ramos was added for Matt Capps, while Drew Storen and Collin Balester could be very good relievers for awhile.
On the farm, I can't think of a whole lot that happened. Michael Burgess blew up over 21 games at AA, Chris Marrero had a good season, Derek Norris didn't have as good of a season as last year but is only 21. The main thing to worry about is that Bryce Harper is now a National. By 2014 a lineup of Harper, Zimmerman, Desmond, Espinosa, Norris should at least be exciting and a rotation of J Zimmerman and Strasburg could be the best 1-2 TJ combo in baseball. There just wasn't a lot of advancement this season on the farm that I can see, the Nationals didn't have any prospects on the BA midseason top 50.
The Braves have shown they're ready to be competitive now. Which is what makes their improved future so scary. Jason Heyward is one of the most special young players we've ever seen. However this team will need to reload as they gave 100 PA's or more to 9 players 30 or older. Meanwhile the under 30 players that started the season are Yunel Escobar (gone) Nate McClouth (bad) and Melky Cabrera (also bad) The only other players are Brian McCann who is obviously very good and Martin Prado (also good)
The pitching is getting older too but Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, and Mike Minor are all a part of the regular rotation now and all young. Johnny Vinters and Craig Kimbrel had breakout seasons in the bullpen.
The players on the farm were excellent themselves. Julio Teheran might be the best pitcher or overall prospect in baseball. Freddie Freeman had a breakout season at first base. Randall Delgado, Minor, Arodys Vizcaino and Brandon Beachy had superb years. The Braves can compete with the Royals for baseballs best farm and their pitching especially gives them a good argument.
Worst. Season. Ever. But hope!
Yes, the Mariners suck, they stink, and they can't hit. But they have improved their future immensely. Going into the year the Mariners top prospects were Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, and Adam Moore. Outside of Ackley there wasn't much star potential. Within their own system they saw Michael Pineda become one of the top 5 pitching prospects in baseball and Nick Franklin perhaps the top shortstop prospect in baseball. Additionally in the front office they turned Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, and JC Ramirez (good not great prospects) into Cliff Lee and then Lee and Mark Lowe into Justin Smoak, Matthew Lawson, Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke. Yes, the Lueke situation has been awful but unless Jack Z loses his job it won't hurt the future of the organizaiton.
The Mariners didn't have a first round pick this year but they did add some interesting arms in Taijuan Walker and James Paxton as well as infielder Marcus Littlewood. 2009 draft pick Kyle Seager also vaulted himself near the top of all second base prospects in baseball. Overall the Mariners are all of a sudden loaded in the middle infield, one of the hardest places to find good prospects. Next year the M's are positioned to pick 2nd and could add a future ace prospect, if not Anthony Rendon. Yes, the Mariners are looking up for 2012. Oh yeah, and Felix Hernandez is 24 years old and locked up til 2015.
Sorry if I didn't list your team or a team that you think totally got shafted. For one, this was obviously a really long article already. For two, I tried to pick teams that had the biggest improvements, emphasis on improvement. Tampa Bay - Went to the World Series 2 years ago, Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson were already top prospects. Texas - A hot pick to win the AL West already and started calling up their top prospects last season. Blue Jays - Very improved outlook, most of it happened on the major league level. Props to the front office however for some shrewd moves.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to the debate.