MINNEAPOLIS -- Jeff Francoeur played in the World Series for Texas last fall, then signed with a team that seemingly had no chance of putting him back in the Fall Classic this year.
Royals General Manager Dayton Moore, the former Braves executive, convinced Francoeur that Kansas City was the place to be.
"Dayton was in my house when I was 18 and signed in Atlanta, and I have always loved what he has represented -- first and foremost as a person -- but also what he's doing here," Francoeur said. "He's building what they did in Atlanta when (John) Schuerholz got there."
That's some lofty praise, and with the Royals on a hot streak of late, it didn't sound far-fetched.
Kansas City remains a long shot to win the American League Central this year, but the Royals do appear to be turning the corner after averaging 97 losses the past seven years.
"No doubt," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, rattling off the differences he sees. "More confidence. Different mixture. Some guys who've come from winning organizations. A solid bullpen."
One of the Royals' big problems in recent years was carrying a lead from the starting pitcher to All-Star closer Joakim Soria. Rookie relievers Aaron Crow, Todd Collins and Jeremy Jeffress are making an immediate impact, and that's just the tip of the iceberg for what's coming from baseball's most talented farm system.
The big league starting pitching staff remains a weakness, but by midseason the Royals might be ready to promote one of many up-and-coming lefthanders. Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy opened the season at Class AAA. Two other lefthanded hotshots, John Lamb and Chris Dwyer, opened at Class AA.
Meanwhile, scouts continue to rave about Class AAA first baseman Eric Hosmer, whose eventual presence will turn Billy Butler into a full-time DH.
The future looks bright, but manager Ned Yost has reminded these Royals not to forget the present.
"The first day of camp Ned said, 'We're not looking ahead to 2012 or 2013,' " Francoeur said. "He said, 'This is our time.' "
Francoeur, 27, wasn't exactly a highly coveted free agent. The Royals signed him to a one-year, $2.5 million deal with a mutual option for 2012.
The right fielder has hit more than 20 home runs just once in his career (2006), and he rarely draws walks, so his career on-base percentage (.301) isn't much higher than his career batting average (.268).
But Royals insiders rave about the difference Francoeur has made in helping build a winning clubhouse atmosphere. At a time when players seem less and less hungry to stay on the field, Francoeur has averaged 155 games played per season since 2006.
The Royals also signed former Rockies starting pitcher Jeff Francis (one year, $2 million) and former Yankees center fielder Melky Cabrera (one year, $1.25 million) for relative bargains. That's what Gardenhire means by signing players from winning organizations.
And even with those veterans, the Royals still opened the year with the youngest 25-man roster in baseball.
"I'm 27, and I feel like I'm 35 in this locker room," Francoeur said.
He'll only feel older as other prospects arrive, but if the success continues, that won't bother him one bit.