Royals Spring is in full swing in Arizona

I have to admit it’s a little easier writing about a team that’s going to be playing real games soon. I can only break down lists of spring training non-roster invitees, players who might surprise fans in spring training and profiles of the Royals coaches for so long before I run out of ideas. So let’s bring on baseball and find out what the Kansas City Royals are up to in Surprise, AZ.

The obvious top story is that former Royals outfielder Aaron Guiel is back! Ok, this may have been the top story in 2002, but the Royals Prodigal Son returned from his period of playing in Japan and is back home. Before you think General Manager Dayton Moore went all Allard Baird on Royals fans, the 39 year-old Guiel signed a minor league contract and it appears he’s there to make the transition as a future coach.

Guiel was a role player for the Royals from 2002-2006, kind of like today’s Mitch Meier. Guiel played hard and was a likable fellow among Royals fans during his tenure. So welcome back, Aaron Guiel. And who knows, he might be a fifth outfielder since Paulo Orlando was injured. Well, maybe not.

The Royals signing catcher Salvador Perez to a five-year, $7 million contract with three option years was the big news of the week. If Royals pick up all of Perez’s options and he meets all his incentives, he will make $26.75 million over eight years.

It’s a good deal for Perez and the Royals. The 21 year-old Perez gets financial stability and the Royals lock up a potential star catcher during his prime years at a good price. Even if the Royals pick up all his options, Perez will be 29 when the contract ends and has the potential for a huge free agent payday if he becomes the star catcher the Royals think he will be. It also shows players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon that the Royals are willing to spend money to keep good players, which increases the chance they sign long-term extensions.

So far there’s only been two player injuries, Brazilian outfielder Paulo Orlando and catcher Manny Pina. Paulo Orlando was diagnosed with a sports hernia during physical exams and underwent surgery last week. He’ll be out four to six weeks and this takes him out of the running as a possible reserve outfielder. It has to be disappointing for the 26 year-old Orlando, who has yet to reach the Majors. After his recovery, it’s likely he’ll get into playing shape in Arizona during extended spring training and eventually report to AA Northwest Arkansas or AAA Omaha.

The injury bug also bit catcher Manny Pina, who tore the meniscus in his right knee. Pina had surgery last weekend and he will be out for a few weeks or more. This ends Pina’s chances to make the Royals Opening Day roster, likely giving the backup catcher job to Brayan Pena. After his recovery, Pina will probably report to Omaha.

For early spring training games, Manager Ned Yost is going with a six-man rotation. This gives the starting pitchers more time between starts to work on pitches or their mechanics by throwing a live session of batting practice against minor league hitters. Yost believes the non-competitive nature of live batting practice will improve the pitchers development. The Royals will go back to a five-man rotation midway though camp to condition the starters for the regular season.

While there’s plenty of competition for spots in the starting rotation and the bullpen, the field positions are pretty much set, barring injuries. The exception is second base, where Chris Getz, 28, and Johnny Giavotella, 24, will compete for the starting job. Going in, Giavotella has the slight edge. However, Getz arrived at camp stronger and in better shape than in previous years, hitting the ball with more power, according to Yost. Giavotella is coming off from off-season hip surgery, but is at full strength for spring training.

Getz has good fielding and base running skills, but still needs work with his bat. Giavotella is good with the bat, but still needs work with his defense. To that end, Getz is working on his hitting and Giavotella is taking extra fielding practice. Both players have options remaining, so there’s a possibility one of them starts the season in Omaha, if not on the bench. It all depends on who is the better player this spring.

So far, spring training is going well for the Royals. The return of a former Royal, the signing of a cornerstone in the Royals future to a long-term contract and nobody on the team suffering a season ending injury (at least for now) is good news. Yes, there’s still question marks about who will claim the final two spots in the starting rotation and injuries can happen to anyone at any time, wrecking the best of plans. But the Royals and their fans have reasons to be optimistic.

After a couple of intrasquad games, the Royals play their first Cactus League game this Sunday against the American League Champion Texas Rangers. In the grand scheme of things, it’s just a spring training game. But it signifies the return of baseball and the start of a journey that is the Royals 2012 baseball season. A season I’m looking forward to.

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