The Kansas City Royals make their Spring Training home at the Surprise Recreation Campus in Surprise, AZ. I have no idea why a group of people got together and named a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona Surprise. Maybe the dry heat had something to do with it.
But it does give me an opportunity to make a dry pun about the surprise players the Royals may have in Spring Training. I picked a starting pitcher, relief pitcher, catcher, infielder and outfielder who could pleasantly surprise fans and the Royals enough to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Starting pitcher Zach Miner: He’s not like the last pitcher named Zack the Royals had. Still, Miner had a solid career as a starting pitcher for the Detroit Tigers with a 25-20 W-L record, 4.24 ERA, 5.5 SO/9, 3.7 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9 from 2006-2009 before being sidelined with Tommy John surgery. The right-hander didn’t play in 2010, but Miner appeared in 23 games last season between AA Northwest Arkansas and AAA Omaha, pitching to a 3-7 W-L record, 5.26 ERA, 5.9 SO/9, 3.8 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9.
Miner is 29 years old and will turn 30 during Spring Training. Two of his prime playing years were recovering from Tommy John surgery and he’s been out of the Majors since 2009. Miner will need to step up and make a good impression for the Royals to give him a spot in the starting rotation.
Relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera: You have to like a pitcher named after a unit of temperature measurement. And like the rising temperatures of Arizona, Herrera shot up through three Minor League levels in 2011 before making two relief appearances in the Majors last September. While Herrera’s outings weren’t spectacular in the Majors with 2IP, 2 hits, 3 earned runs, 1 home run and a 13.50 ERA, the Royals saw his potential and kept him on the 40-Man roster.
The 22 year-old right-handed Herrera began his career as a starter, but elbow injuries in 2009 and 2010 put him in the bullpen. The Royals will likely keep Herrera as a reliever. With the Royals already strong bullpen, Herrera may start the season in Omaha’s bullpen if he has an average or lackluster Spring Training.
Herrera does have the talent to be a starter. If the Royals are serious about making Herrera a starter, it’s likely he will be in the Northwest Arkansas or Omaha starting rotation to build up his endurance and arm strength.
Catcher Manny Pina: The 24 year old catcher named after a pineapple played three games with Northwest Arkansas and 68 games with Omaha in 2011. Pina had a line of .239 BA, .365 OBP, .372 SLG. Pina threw out 27% of the basestealers, as opposed to the 42% of basestealers he threw out in 2010.
If Pina does make the Royals Opening Day roster, it will likely be as a backup catcher behind Salvador Perez, who the Royals project as their starting catcher. However, Pina does have options left and another year in Omaha wouldn’t hurt. Brayan Pena is 30 years old, out of options and the Royals believe his role is being a backup catcher. The Spring Training performances of the three catchers will determine who is the starter, who is the backup and who will go to Omaha.
Infielder Clint Robinson: If Clint Robinson was with another Major League team, he might be a strong candidate as their starting first baseman or designated hitter. His .326 BA, .399 OBP and .533 SLG in Omaha last year were good numbers, but when Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler are ahead of you, it doesn’t matter. And being 26 years old makes Robinson more organizational depth than a prospect.
But anything can happen in Spring Training. Hosmer or Butler could get hurt, or the Royals could trade Butler during Spring Training, unlikely as that may be. If Hosmer or Butler go down, Robinson will get a chance. If Hosmer or Butler stay healthy, Robinson will get another year mashing the ball in Omaha or he may be traded to a team who could use him.
Outfielder Jarrod Dyson: The Royals have a good outfield with Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur and the potential goodness of Lorenzo Cain. Mitch Maier did a respectable job as a fourth outfielder in limited plate appearances. So what gives the 27 year-old Jarrod Dyson a chance to make the Royals outfield corps?
Dyson’s main asset is his speed on the base paths and in the outfield. Last year in Omaha, Dyson played in 83 games and in 369 plate appearances stole 38 bases and got caught stealing twice. That’s pretty good, in case you are wondering. And in his 26 games and 53 plate appearances with the Royals last year, Dyson stole 11 bases and got caught once. Still pretty good.
And Dyson’s .279 BA, .356 OBP and .357 SLG line in Omaha last year is respectable and his defense is good when he’s out in the field.
But Dyson isn’t starting outfielder material. He doesn’t hit for much power and his value is being a pinch runner and playing defense, which works for a fourth outfielder or bench player. If Mitch Maier struggles during Spring Training and Dyson has a strong showing, he could be the Royals fourth outfielder.