Billy Butler recently signed a contract extension worth at least $30 million with the Kansas City Royals.

Butler could be with Kansas City for at least the next four years, one more if the Royals pick up the $12.5 million option for the fifth year.

Apparently, he thinks the Royals will become contenders within that time frame.

But is he on to something or is the idea of the Kansas City Royals as contenders just wishful thinking on Butler’s part?

It is easy to see KC’s glass as half-empty.

After all, the Royals have a .414 winning percentage over the past 11 seasons. Incidentally, .414 was also their winning percentage last year.

In 2010, Kansas City posted an abysmal win-loss record of 67-95 and finished 27 games out of first place in the American League Central division.

Plus, they traded away Zack Greinke, ace and resident Cy Young Award winner.

In fact, Baseball Prospectus has projected the Royals to be a game worse in 2011, finishing last in their division with a 66-96 record.

But there are reasons for hope.

At the major league level, Jeff Francis is not Greinke, but he could go a long way toward replacing him if he can regain the form that helped catapult the Colorado Rockies to the World Series in 2007.

Furthermore, Butler is a talented hitter, definitely one of the team’s bright spots. He should be able to help the Royals begin to improve if he can build on his statistics, consistently solid (or better) throughout his young career.

However, the Royals biggest hope is not this year but the near future.

Six Kansas City minor leaguers were on’s list of the top 50 prospects, released yesterday. No team has ever had more than six players on the list at one time.

Eric Hosmer was ranked No. 1 among first base prospects; Mike Moustakas got the top spot at third.

Another Royals prospect to make the list was right-handed pitcher Jake Odorizzi, who came in at No. 37. Odorizzi is also notable for being one of the pieces acquired in the Greinke trade.

Also ranked were catcher Wil Myers (16th) and southpaw hurlers Mike Montgomery and John Lamb (14th and 34th, respectively).

Furthermore, Baseball America has declared the Royals’ farm system the best in all of baseball.

Jim Callis, Executive Editor at Baseball America, was quoted on the Naturals’ website as saying:

“The Royals have one of the deepest and most talented farm systems in recent memory. It’s unusual to see a team with three stud hitters like [Hosmer, Moustakas and Myers], or four quality lefties like [Lamb, Montgomery], Danny Duffy and Chris Dwyer, and the Royals have both. To show how highly we regard the Royals, we ranked it No. 1 before the Zack Greinke trade, which netted more top prospects.”

In addition, KC’s Double-A affiliate the Northwest Arkansas Naturals won the Texas League championship last year.

All of this would certainly seem to fit quite well in Kansas City’s plans.

“The first couple years coming in, talking to [GM] Dayton [Moore] and [head of player development] J.J. [Picollo], they’re saying, ‘Listen, we want to build this thing from the ground up in player development,'” Hosmer told

Another potential bright spot for the Royals: Seven of the team’s top 10 prospects (as selected by Baseball America) will be in camp with the team at the start of spring training.

Of course, it would be foolish to automatically crown the Royals champions—or even holders of a winning record—a few years down the line on the basis of prospects.

The number of top prospects who have failed to make a mark is countless.

Still, Kansas City and its fans have many reasons to hope for a brighter future and believe they can contend, in time.

Many will look to Butler to lead the way.

“I’m not trying to be [the face of the team]. I’m just trying to go out there and play the game the right way and lead by example and get this organization to be where we want to be,” Butler told

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