Baseball America ranks the Kansas City Royals minor league system as the best in all of baseball. All those consecutive years of losing have brought them some really high draft picks, and they’ve used those picks on some of the best blue chip prospects in Major League Baseball.
There’s been a change in the structure/hierarchy of the system; and as it stands these are the affiliates: AAA- Omaha Storm Chasers, AA- Northwest Arkanas Naturals, High A- Wilmington Blue Rocks, Low A- KANE COUNTY COUGARS (Switched this season from Burlington) Rookie- Burlington Royals, Rookie- AZL Royals, Short Season- Idaho Falls.
The Cougars are one of six minor league teams located in the Chicagoland area (the most of any metro area); they are the only one affiliated with a major league team. The other five: Joliet Slammers, the Kevin Costner owned Lake County Fielders, Gary Southshore Railcats, Schaumburg Flyers (who once let me sit in their dugout for a story assignment- pretty cool!), and Windy City Thunderbolts are all independent.
(Or as I sometimes call it, an excuse for the players to put off community college and get on with their lives)
The Cougars play in Elfstrom Stadium, in Geneva, IL; the “city of energy.” The park, located just off Wind Energy Pass, added a second deck during its 2009 renovation. The Cougars used to be affiliated with the Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles and Florida Marlins.
By Paul M. Banks
On the night I visited, former Cougars ace Trevor Cahill was getting lit up by the White Sox at The Cell in Bridgeport. Cahill was an American League All-Star last year, and his bad start was an extreme aberration from the fine 2011 season he’s been having. Also starting that night was the A’s second baseman of the future, Jemile Weeks (brother of Milwaukee Brewers infielder Rickie Weeks, and the 12th overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft). He was a a Cougar; as was Huston Street, Andrew Bailey, Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez, former World Series MVP Josh Beckett, and Cubs All-Star pitcher and funnyman Ryan Dempster.
As you can see, the 111 person list of former Cougars in MLB is quite impressive. So who’s #112? Possibly, the offspring of Joliet, IL native Jesse Barfield. His son Jeremy Barfield is a powerful hitter. Travis Banwart and Anthony Recker could get there soon too.
Those are all current A’s farmhands.
Next to “The Show” from K.C. to K.C. (with a couple stops in between of course) could be former Arkansas Razorback Brett Eibner, rated the #10 overall prospect in the Royals system. The power hitting second round draft pick got a $1.25 million signing bonus and projects to be in the Royals lineup by 2013.
Then there’s Bubba Starling, the 5th overall pick in the MLB draft that took place last week has to make a major decision soon: Royals farm system or QB at the University of Nebraska? Should be choose baseball over college football, Kane County is a likely starting point for him.
Then there’s former Jason Adams, who pitched the night I came to the ballpark. Unfortunately, it was one of his off nights.
“He’s been so good, he’s so young. Just had one off night. In low A ball, consistency is what you lack,” said Cougars manager Vance Wilson, an 8-year veteran of MLB with the Detroit Tigers and New York Mets.
“Roger Clemens had days like this, Greg Maddux had days like this, and they learn from it, and they learn to be more consistent in their next start, that’s what you hope to see from a kid like Jason, how he responds to it,” said Wilson, a former catcher (which is the trend these days, most prominent baseball managers are former catchers).
Adams joined the Cougars after opting to sign with the Royals instead of playing collegiately at the University of Missouri. As a high school senior in Overland Park, KS (prime Royals fan country, in an area affectionately known as “Cupcake Land”), Adam went 4-3 with a 1.51 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 41.2 innings, while issuing just seven walks.
“It is frustrating because it is a stats game, and it is a production game. And you realize that the only thing you can control is the next pitch, and you have to focus on getting it down in the zone,” Wilson said.
Other prospects to look out for in the Kansas City (but not in Kane County) system include power hitter supreme Mike Moustakas. The 3B was the ’07 #2 overall pick with a $4 million signing bonus. Then there’s Wil Myers, a catcher taken in the third round of ’09 who has risen through the ranks quickly.
And most importantly, Eric Hosmer.
Hosmer, the #1 overall prospect in the system, was the #3 overall pick in the ’08 draft and his $6 million signing bonus broke the club record set by Alex Gordon ($4 million). He projects to be the team’s #3 hitter of the future.
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