The Kansas City Royals haven't had much on-field success in the last decade — or two.
But the Royals appear ready to make a step forward with a large group of top-level prospects beginning to break through to the major league level.
Kansas City had five players on MLB.com's list of the game's top 50 prospects earlier this year. The Houston Astros, the RedHawks' parent club, had just one — No. 31 Jordan Lyles.
Two of the Royals on the MLB list, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, have reached the majors this year. A prospect who wasn't on the list, Aaron Crow, made this week's All-Star Game after making his debut this season.
Houston hasn't been down for as long as Kansas City has been. But the Royals' approach of building from the lowest levels of the minor leagues up through drafting and player development is one Houston would like to emulate.
“If you look at the concept, I think that's exactly where we're headed,” Astros director of player development Fred Nelson said.
But Nelson cautioned that the influx of talent might not be as dramatic as it has been in Kansas City, at least among players drafted in the first round.
From 1992-2008, the Astros finished below .500 just twice. The Royals haven't finished better than .500 since 2003 and just once since 1995.
“When they were drafting first, we were drafting in the middle of the pack and further back,” Nelson said. “That being said, that concept is exactly what we're looking for.
“Our major league club over the years has gotten a little old and expensive.
“We're just in the process of rebuilding it back up.”
The problems go deeper than where the Astros have selected, though.
Houston didn't have a true first-round pick three times in the last decade, losing the picks as compensation for free-agent signings.
Their 2007 pick went to Texas after the Astros signed Carlos Lee. The Rangers used the pick on Blake Beavan, who they turned around in a trade for Cliff Lee last year and who made his major league debut for Seattle last week. Texas also received a supplemental first-round pick from the signing, drafting Julio Borbon with the pick. Borbon has played 215 games for the Rangers in the last three seasons.
That's nearly twice as many games as the Astros have gotten from their top picks the last 10 years.
“I think we're over the dry spell,” Astros general manager Ed Wade said before the season. “It's part of a process to get good and to stay good. We know what we have to do. We think we're sort of underestimated with regard to the level of prospects we have.”
Only Jason Castro, who was scheduled to be Houston's starting catcher this season before a spring training injury ended his season, and Brian Bogusevic have reached the majors.
Bogusevic was drafted as a pitcher but reached the majors as an outfielder.
But Nelson is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, even as the Astros' minor league affiliates, including the RedHawks, have struggled to produce wins.
“Team-performance wise, I don't think this has been what we would've expected this year,” Nelson said. “But when you look at individual players, you see some good progress.
“Unfortunately for Oklahoma City, that is mainly at the level starting at Double-A on down. We've pretty much indicated that we're in a rebuilding mode. The last four drafts have shown the influence of our change, but it takes time to move up through the system.”