Another last-place finish for Royals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Kansas City Royals fans 30 and under must be getting tired of listening to parents and grandparents talk about the old days when the team was actually good.

With 95 losses in 2010, the long-suffering American League franchise finished in last place in the AL Central for the sixth time in 10 years. Their postseason drought, dating to the 1985 World Series, has reached the quarter-century mark.

This was a season when manager Trey Hillman got fired and general manager Dayton Moore wept at the announcement.

It was also a season when Zack Greinke, who gave fans something to cheer about when he won the 2009 AL Cy Young, dropped to 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA and complained about the organization.

And it was a season when attendance plummeted by more than 180,000 from 2009.

Could the parents and grandparents be growing weary as well?

Manager Ned Yost's message to them is do not lose hope. Help is on the way. A minor league system Moore has spent four years carefully constructing from the ground up is almost ready to start spitting out major league-quality players.

"We've got great kids coming," Yost said.

To be sure, sluggers like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer lit up the minors this year. There's also a pitching prospect, Mike Montgomery, with a lively arm. But as a discouraged Greinke pointed out after a loss last August, it takes a while to get young kids adjusted to the majors and ready to win.

So how far away are the Royals, exactly?

"A couple of years still," said Yost. "The first thing you've got to get right is the farm system. There's just no way around it unless you're the Yankees or the Red Sox and have $180 million to spend on a payroll. You have to get the farm system right. Dayton's taken four years to get that job done. I've got a pretty good guess that in the next couple of weeks our farm system's going to be ranked No. 1."

The Royals beefed up their inventory of prospects even more late in the season by unloading veterans such as Jose Guillen to contending teams in exchange for prospects.

"In terms of an organization, we're in better shape than we've been in a long, long time," said Yost. "The problem is the major league team is the tip of the iceberg. That's all you see and that's all you focus on. But what's underneath is something pretty special."

Hillman was fired on May 13 when the Royals were 11 games under .500. Yost, who had been hired as an organizational man the year before, came right into the dugout and signed a two-year contract. With him in command, they were 55-72 the rest of the way.

The only Royal to have a truly outstanding year was All-Star closer Joakim Soria. He blew a save on the final day to AL East champion Tampa, but he wound up with 43 saves in 46 opportunities and ERA of 1.78. He broke the team record for relievers with 23 2-3 consecutive scoreless innings.

First baseman-DH Billy Butler continued to show promise. His strikeouts were down and his walks were up while hitting .318 with 15 home runs and 78 RBIs.

Another first baseman-DH, Kila Ka'aihue, also showed he belongs in the big leagues. In just 52 games after being called up, the free-swinging Hawaiian hit eight home runs and drove in 24.

Wilson Betemit, playing mostly third base, showed he, too, can help. He hit .297 with 13 homers and 43 RBIs while shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt had perhaps his finest year, he hit .259 and tied Butler for the team lead with 78 RBIs.

In addition, outfielder David DeJesus was having a career year until he injured himself crashing into the wall in Yankee Stadium and underwent season-ending thumb surgery.

Yost's contract runs through 2012. By then, he says, things will be different.

"Next year you're going to start to see some of those (prospects) surfacing here and going through that adjustment period," he said. "And again in 2012, you're going to see a pretty good turnover in terms of some of these prospects getting here. Next year is going to be real interesting. But I think 2012 is going to be even more interesting."

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