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Kansas City Royals’ farm system returning to form

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Trio of second-round picks boosting value of K.C. system

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Texas Rangers Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Two seasons ago, the Kansas City Royals met their baseball makers. 30 years after their first championship in 1985, they recaptured baseball glory in 2015. They flirted with the title in 2014, but were ultimately stymied by the legendary Madison Bumgarner performance.

The Royals went all in to have even the opportunity of winning the World Series. A small market and financial constraints disallow them from being a major player in free agency, so to acquire the high-end talent they needed in their two runs to the top, they emptied the farm system.

2015: top prospect Wil Myers as well as highly-ranked Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery (2008 first-round pick) and corner infielder Patrick Leonard were sent to Tampa Bay for James Shields and Wade Davis.

2016: again, the top prospect is sacrificed. 2014 first round selection Brandon Finnegan goes to the Cincinnati Reds with fellow starting pitchers John Lamb and Cody Reed for Johnny Cueto.

This time, the club also offered up their number two prospect and the second of their 2013 first rounders Sean Manaea (as well as pitcher Aaron Brooks) to the Oakland A’s for Ben Zobrist.

They got their World Series in 2016. It cost them a lot...a lot...of their future. But they met their goal. No regrets for certain.

The farm system then stalled with 2015 eighth overall pick Hunter Dozier, Kyle Zimmer of 2012’s first round (fifth overall), Miguel Almonte but most unfortunately Raul Mondesi, Jr., the renewed top youth in the system, hitting brick walls in their development.

Going back further, Christian Colon (fourth overall, 2010) and Bubba Starling (fifth, 2011) never developed, with Colon maxing out as a semi-regular role player and the power-speed promising Starling still trying to consistently hit the ball to the outfield.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

With players often getting signed away from them, compensation picks have come aplenty. The first round bore the organization Nolan Watson and Ashe Russell in 2015; Chase Vallot and Foster Griffin in 2014. Adversely, signing Ian Kennedy two winters ago cost them their top 2016 pick.

But in 2013, 2014 and 2015, the Royals had two first-round picks. They’ll pick 14th overall next Tuesday.

The system is definitely on the rise again, anchored by a set of fine pitchers that aren’t listed above. Back-to-back-to-back second round picks have sparked the Kansas City renaissance.

Scott Blewett (2014), Josh Staumont (2015) and A.J. Puckett (2016) are all establishing themselves as highly respected starting pitching prospects.

Blewett, 21, has been a long-term development project since day one. He’s just reached High-A in his fourth professional season, and hasn’t dazzled at any of his stops, but remains highly projectable as long as the Royals are patient. That they are being. He’s already logged 300-plus innings as a pro and is only 11 starts into High-A.

Staumont, 23, entered the season at the top of John Sickels’ Royals chart. Despite landing at the top of his organization, he barely cracked the top 100 of Sickels’ list, coming in at 96 and the lone K.C. representative in the sectioned off 100.

The highest selected player in the history of Azusa Pacific University —who also produced Stephen Vogt and spell check saboteur Kirk Nieuwenhuis— Staumont breezed through rookie ball in 2015 before encountering some struggles in full-season baseball, likely not soothed by his skipping Low-A.

Despite the hiccups, his overpowering stuff (he’s clocked in at 102 MPH) resulted in some seriously dominant punch-out results. He k’d 13 batters per nine innings in rookie ball, a number that didn’t suffer in High-A (12.2) and then got even better in Double-A (13.1).

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

His overall numbers spiked a bit in High-A but returned to form in Double-A. The organization saw through the inflated statistics and promoted him regardless.

Doubling down on their flame-throwing youngster, they sent him to the Fall League and then began him in Triple-A to begin this season. Impressively, he’s again become even better at a higher level. His K/9 remains of serious note at 11.6 while his hits per nine innings total of 5.6 is just as remarkable. Unfortunately, his WHIP doesn’t reflect that due to his 6.6 BB/9 rate.

Puckett is the newest of the group and just recently turned 22. He covered rookie and Low-A ball in his first season and is currently a rotation mate of Blewett in High-A Wilmington. He’s chucked 59.2 innings with a very good 3.77 ERA and 53 strikeouts.

He has walked a staggering 33 batters but overall his stock is trending up. In his penultimate May outing, he delivered six no-hit innings but walked six batters, a perfect microcosm of his 2017 so far.

Outside of their apparent round two success and well into the trenches of the MLB Draft, the Royals have scooped up some keepers.

2012 21st round pick Matt Strahm is an active member out of Ned Yost’s bullpen. He cracked the Majors in 2016 and posted a sparkling 1.23 ERA in 22 innings occurring in 21 appearances. A 30:11 K:BB ratio definitely put him on the map.

Back in April, Jake Junis, a 2011 29th rounder, made his debut out of the pen and his first Major League start would come soon after on May 21st.

Eric Skoglund (third round, 2014) won his MLB debut nine days later, allowing just two hits in 6.1 scoreless.

Thanks to an abundance of arms, perhaps not with the most lucrative of ceilings but some very safe floors, the Royals system looks to be back on track. Not even accounted for is the potential of first-rounders Griffin, Watson and Russell, and what they bring will only add to the developing equation in Kansas City.