It’s Spring Break (From Losing)

The Royals are a little over two weeks into their Cactus League Schedule. The prospects we’ve heard so much about have been making an impact. Lorenzo Cain is making diving catches. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have been abusing baseballs. Jeremy Jeffress is hitting 100 mph and wiffing people. Salvador Perez is gunning down would be base thieves. Mitch Maier is making a case that we should change his name March Maier, which would be awesome if he played college basketball.

Surprise Stadium

There’s a lot to be excited about if you’re a Royals fan keeping track of the activity in the Phoenix Metro Area. But then, like waking up from your spring break hangover you realize none of these games mean anything. I defy any Royals fan to remember Eric Hosmer’s grand slam off some Cubs farm hand when the Cubs visit Kauffman Stadium to play real games in the middle of June.

I’m not a big statistics person. But the statistics people I have talked to tell me there are two sets of statistics that you can throw out: September statistics among non playoff teams, and spring training. There are plenty of reasons for this that I won’t get into here. But I want to share one of the most blatant examples concerning the Royals. In 2006, the Royals won the Cactus League and then proceeded to win 5 real games in April on their way to another 100 loss season. Somehow you knew things would not end well when your Opening Day starter was a rehabbed Scott Elarton.

Is it better that the Royals are winning games in Surprise instead of losing them. But is there anything we can take away from spring training performances? I think about the big picture and questions that will determine when the Royals will emerge from the basement. Is Luke Hochaver finally going to pitch like a first round draft pick who held out? Is Vin Mazzaro worth being part of the David DeJesus trade? Does Jeff Francis have anything after Tommy John surgery? Is the bullpen flying under the rest of baseball’s radar?

The Royals aren’t close enough with their award winning farm system to make a difference this spring. Sure there are a few questions like: Who will make up the bullpen and rotation? But the major questions can only be answered during the regular season. I know Royals Fans don’t want to hear this, but it’s almost like the Royals have been playing spring training games continuously since August of 2003.

Royals fans seeing the young prospects flash their brilliance in March might be the highlight of our season. But, there is one difference between now and 2006. When the Royals break camp later this month they will have the second youngest 40 Man Roster in the majors. Division rivals Cleveland Indians are the youngest. This is the first season I can remember that a Royals official glossed “youth movement” actually corresponds with youth on the field. Watching young players get better while losing will be more entertaining than watching scrapheap players get worse as they continue to lose.

As to the original question; is there anything we can take away from spring training 2010? Maybe confirmation that Baseball America, and Baseball Prospectus aren’t just trying to sell subscriptions to Royals Fans when they say the farm system is the best in baseball. (There so many of us left) There really is talent coming, and it’s fun to watch and listen to. But I fear that the spring break from losing will end Opening Day. Many of the players creating the buzz will be off chasing tornadoes and roaming the Ozarks this April. But for now, borrow some sunscreen and enjoy some winning.

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