This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.
The Royals have earned a reputation around baseball in recent years as owning arguably the best farm system despite (or maybe, as a result of) not having a winning record at the Major League level since 2003. Elite talent such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Danny Duffy all reached the Majors in 2011, as expected. The Royals also got contributions from former top picks like Aaron Crow and less-heralded farmhands like Tim Collins.
That said, the Royals still have some nice talent growing at lower levels. Triple-A Omaha, which sent up everyone from Johnny Giavotella to Kila Ka'aihue and Lorenzo Cain, ended up winning the Pacific Coast League crown and advancing to the Triple-A National Championship. Double-A Northwest Arkansas won the Texas League North Division and earned a MiLBY Award after turning a triple play in a combined no-hitter this summer. Class A Kane County went to the Midwest League playoffs, but Class A Advanced Wilmington and short-season Burlington and Idaho Falls all finished in last place.
Royals Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Salvador Perez, Northwest Arkansas (79 games), Omaha (12 games), Kansas City (39 games): Perez hit .290 with 10 homers and 53 RBIs in the Minors before upping his game a notch in the Majors, where he batted .339 with 21 RBIs in 39 games for Kansas City. He was a Texas League Mid- and Postseason All-Star before getting a quick taste of Triple-A, where he hit .333 for Omaha. A good chunk of his production came in one week, when he slugged three grand slams and knocked home 20 runs in a span of seven games.
"Outstanding receiver and game caller," said Scott Sharp, the Royals' director of Minor League operations. "[He] can shut down an opponent's running game, throws behind and really knows how and when to use his arm. Great presence behind the plate, runs the field. Pitchers love throwing to him and his teammates love him. Great makeup, aptitude. [His] offense really took a step forward this year -- he does not strike out much and showed improved power to all fields."
First base -- Clint Robinson, Omaha (134 games): The Pacific Coast League All-Star is the clear-cut choice at first for the Royals after leading the system in hits (164), homers (23) and RBIs (100) at Triple-A. He basically duplicated his stellar stats from 2009 at Double-A, positioning himself for his Major League debut in 2012.
"An offensive force," Sharp said. "Left-handed power with tremendous ability to use the entire field. He has patience at the plate and good strike-zone discipline. He continues to improve defensively and has taken some reps in left field."
Second base -- Johnny Giavotella, Omaha (110 games), Kansas City (46 games): The Royals' second-round pick from 2008 ranked fourth in the system with a .338 average, second in hits (153) and third in RBIs (72) for the Storm Chasers before getting extended Major League time.
"Can flat-out hit," Sharp said. "A compact swing that is very simple and not prone to long slumps. He hits the ball in the right-center gap well and shows pull power when needed. Improves defensively every day and turns a good double play, makes all the routine plays and if he gets to the ball, it is an out."
He was a two-time PCL All-Star in a season in which he batted .398 with 25 RBIs in 29 June games.
Third base -- Mario Lisson, Northwest Arkansas (89 games): Lisson, 27, spent his third season at Double-A and showed a balanced attack, batting .293 with 15 homers, 15 steals, 45 RBIs and a .372 on-base percentage in his first full season back after shoulder surgery. Known for his glove, the Venezuelan infielder set career highs in batting average and homers.
"He made adjustments in his swing and showed good power early in the season but got tired as the season got long," said Sharp. "Very good glove at third base and the ability to move all over the field."
Shortstop -- Christian Colon, Northwest Arkansas (127 games): We're reluctantly going with Colon here, who is clearly one of the organization's top-rated prospects but didn't exactly produce a memorable season at Double-A. Colon entered the season as the system's top-ranked shortstop but hit .257 with eight homers and 61 RBIs in 127 games. He had 17 steals but finished with just a .325 OBP.
"A true professional player, he knows the game and where to be on the field at all times and what it takes for him to help his team win," said Sharp. "He played a very steady shortstop and had some games at second base as well. He handles all the balls he gets to. He's best when he is using the right-center gap offensively and handles the bat well enough to be a No. 2 hole hitter at the Major League level."
Lorenzo Cain, Omaha (128 games), Kansas City (six games): Cain had a breakout year at Triple-A with career highs in homers (16) and RBIs (81). He ranked third in the system with 152 hits, fifth in homers and second in RBIs. He's playing winter ball this offseason and will aim to make the Major League roster out of camp next spring.
"He's a tremendous speed-oriented player who covers huge areas in the outfield," said Sharp. "Good jumps, routes and reads on the ball and has the ability to outrun the ball. Offensively, he continues to learn to drive the ball in the right-center gap and utilizes his power and speed combination."
Brian Fletcher, Kane County (91 games): The Auburn product's .560 slugging percentage ranked fourth in the Royals system after a season in which he hit .328 (good for fifth among Royals hitters) with 14 homers and 60 RBIs for the Cougars. Of his 112 hits, 45 went for extra bases.
"Born to hit," Sharp said. "He knows how to center a baseball and makes consistent solid contact. He has power to all fields but best gap-to-gap. He's a steady left fielder who works hard on defense and has taken some reps at first."
David Lough, Omaha (114 games): The 25-year-old quietly posted solid numbers at Triple-A, hitting .318 with nine homers and 65 RBIs as a constant in the Chasers' lineup. He hit over .300 five of his sixth months while splitting most of his time in the top three spots of the lineup. Sharp thinks he can expand his speed on the basepaths.
"He's a very steady player who shows a combination of speed and power," Sharp said. "A simple, low-maintenance swing that is left-center oriented. His speed plays on the bases first to third, but he needs to improve his ability to steal bases as he is capable of 20-25 at the Major League level."
Designated hitter -- Anthony Seratelli, Northwest Arkansas (129 games): Seratelli is a nice story, a switch-hitting infielder who went undrafted but was given a chance by the Royals in 2007 after making waves with an independent club. The Seton Hall product showed good pop and speed in his second straight Texas League campaign, hitting .282 with nine homers, 65 RBIs and 35 stolen bases while seeing time all over the field.
"He can occupy many roster spots as the only position he hasn't handled is catching," Sharp said.
While the bulk of his at-bats came as a first baseman, the Texas League All-Star also saw time at second, short, left field, right field and DH. He batted in every spot in the Naturals' lineup and made only five errors all year. Kansas City sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he was batting close to .400 after a dozen games.
Other notables include a pair of Naturals -- Wil Myers, an outfielder with a higher prospect status who struggled at times and finished hitting .254 with eight homers and 49 RBIs, and Derrick Robinson, a switch-hitting center fielder who stole 55 bases but hit .251 with one homer.
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Greg Billo, Kane County (27 games): Billo's absurd 1.93 ERA in 135 innings is impossible to overlook. He struck out 119 and walked just 35, holding hitters to a .228 average for the Cougars and won the MiLBY as Class A Starting Pitcher of the Year after going 9-5 and even picking up a save in 27 outings (including 18 starts).
"Velocity continues to improve and he knows how to pitch," said Sharp. "He's very deceptive and hitters have always had difficulty centering the ball. He had a tremendous year and was consistent from start to finish."
Other worthy candidates include Jake Odorizzi, who went 10-7 with a 3.73 ERA and led the Royals system with 157 strikeouts at two levels, and Luis Mendoza, who went 12-5 with a 2.18 ERA at Triple-A and was briefly credited with a no-hitter.
"[Odorizzi is a] power and finesse-type right-hander who commands the zone with three pitches and knows what he is doing," Sharp said. "He has an advanced concept of pitching at a young age. He has the ability to shut down any lineup on any given night."
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Will Smith, Northwest Arkansas (27 games): Acquired by the Royals last summer, Smith led the system with 13 wins in 27 starts for the Nats. He threw a pair of complete games, owned a 3.85 ERA and struck out 108 in 161 1/3 innings.
"He had a tremendous second half of the season after starting off slowly," said Sharp. "He's very competitive, savvy and tough on the mound. He's got a four-pitch mix that he continues to refine. He's pitched at a high level at a young age and continues to improve."
Relief pitcher -- Kelvin Herrera, Northwest Arkansas (23 games), Omaha (14 games), Wilmington (eight games), Kansas City (two games): Herrera clearly climbed the ladder to success, appearing at four levels and posting stellar numbers at each stop. Overall in the Minors, he went 7-1 with a 1.60 ERA, 14 saves and 70 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings.
"I am really happy for Kelvin as he battled some lost time the last two years and did a great job going from A-ball to the Majors," said Sharp. "Power and command. How many guys can throw 100 mph, put it where they want and show a plus curveball and changeup? He got better as he progressed and he gained confidence. He transitioned well to the bullpen and has a great calm demeanor for pressure situations."