The Royals' big challenge

For the Royals to take the next step, they need young arms like Danny Duffy to emerge. AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

The Detroit Tigers were the overwhelming favorites in the American League Central three weeks ago. Then, with the Prince Fielder signing, they upgraded to the point that it clearly makes no sense to pick anyone else in the division.

Meanwhile, a little less than 800 miles to the southwest, the Kansas City Royals are the flavor of the month when it comes to young, low-budget teams doing things the right way. Through a combination of impressive drafts and aggressive work in the international market, the Royals' farm system became the envy of baseball. In 2011, we began to see much of that talent surface at the big league level, and many envision the club having a good shot at its first .500 season since 2003 as part of a progression that would eventually bring the club its first playoff appearance since 1985 -- when less than half of the current team's 40-man roster had been born.

There is no question that the team is improving, as evidenced by its spot in Insider's Future Power Rankings. The fact that the Royals are on the upswing is not up for debate. What's fair game, however, is to question whether they can take that second step and become true playoff contenders. Do they have the goods to do it? And if so, when? People in the industry are divided on both questions.