By Mac Stevenson
Necessity is the mother of invention. What is going to happen to happen to Kansas City’s major league baseball franchise? The present course is unacceptable.
On September 11, 1969, Kansas City Royals’ owner Ewing Kauffman announced the founding of the Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy in Sarasota, Florida. This was an innovation in MLB and the idea was to recruit young prospects with great athletic ability and turn them into major league ballplayers.
The academy wasn’t a failure; in three years, 13 players graduated from the Royals’ academy to become major league players. Frank White, who was a great second baseman for KC, became the most famous of the successful graduates.
Now is the perfect time for David Glass, KC’s current owner, to create a new baseball academy with one significant difference from Kauffman’s original camp: the new training center would be “for pitchers only”. This would simplify the original concept and make it much less expensive.
Mr. Glass paid $96 million for the Royals in 2000 and estimates of his franchise’s worth vary wildly according to various sources. Forbes recently estimated KC’s value at $1.2 billion. In any event, the KC franchise is worth far more than Glass paid for it and he could well-afford to open a pitching academy.
Despite better-than-average efforts from this year’s starting pitchers, the Royals’ bullpen is among the worst in MLB. KC’s farm system is lacking in talented, young pitchers.
The start-up procedure wouldn’t be complicated. To begin, two pitching coaches/scouts would be hired to scout high school athletes in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. The recruits would be high school seniors; they would have exceptional athletic ability, even though most had never played baseball.
Athletes fitting that description play high school football, basketball, and track throughout the four-state area. The scouts should focus on young men who specialized in the javelin on track teams; they would have strong throwing arms. It would be simple to run tests on the young prospects to discover who could throw a sizzling fast ball.
Recruited players would be taught how to throw just three pitches: a fast ball, change-up, and curve. Coaches would emphasize the most important fundamental of all—pitch control.
Prospects would have to sign a long-term contract that would bind them to the Kansas City; this would be of great benefit to Royals’ ownership as they wouldn’t have to deal with high-priced agents, just the recruits and their parents.
Once the trainees were in camp, they could go to the Royals’ home games and also receive coaching and advice from KC’s players. It would be a great life for kids just out of high school.
What would a pitching academy cost? The yearly dollar-figures to follow are speculation, but they are within reason.
Each of the first 20 athletes recruited would receive a $25,000 salary for a one-year trial period–$500,000.
Housing—possibly an army-type barracks—for the trainees would have to be built, bought, or rented–$250,000.
The Royals would have to furnish transportation for the players to and from their home to the training site in KC–$15,000 per year.
KC would have to hire the two pitching coaches/scouts to conduct tryouts throughout the four-state region and do the coaching and handle the discipline at the academy–$200,000.
The Royals would need a mess hall close to the barracks and food for the first year–$400,000.
There would be numerous miscellaneous expenses, such as group insurance, that would have to be paid–$500,000.
The start-up expenses for the first year would be somewhere in the $4 million range; that’s a modest figure considering what KC and other clubs pay for mediocre players on today’s market.
After seven to eight months of intensive training, the prospects that showed promise would be assigned to KC’s minor league teams as rookies. And then a new class of 20 youngsters would be recruited for the academy’s second year.
If the Royals recruited 20 superb athletes a year for instruction in a unique and innovative new pitching academy, at least four or five of them would become stellar major league pitchers within three to five years.
GM Dayton Moore and Mr. Glass can revolutionize baseball scouting and pitcher development with a pitching academy. And KC would have a huge head start on all the copycats that would be sure to follow. After four years, KC would have a surplus of talented, young pitchers that could be traded for established everyday players.
This move would resolve the Royals’ small-market disadvantage. Despite the naysayers, it would change how things are done in MLB. Moore and Glass should establish a Kansas City pitching academy and enshrine their names in baseball history.