Spring Stats: Hitters Heat Up in Arizona

With the desert in the rear view mirror and the Cactus League preseason in the books, it’s about time to get things going for real.

The soaring hopes of Royals fans were tempered considerably in Surpise by injuries to Joakim Soria, Salvador Perez, Blake Wood and Felipe Paulino. The team scrambled to plug the gaps, but spring training quickly went from idyllic to daunting.

The injury to Perez was particularly detrimental to the team’s lineup, because KC lacked a big-league-caliber Plan B.

One thing is for certain, with a few exceptions, the hitters far outpaced the pitchers in Surprise. That probably comes as no surprise, actually. The combination of dry air, altitude and an off-season’s accumulation of rust would tend to hamper the pitchers. But two things are apparent – the Royals have a talented collection of hitters, and they are unsettled in the starting rotation.

But as for the hitters, no one is really shocked that Eric Hosmer led all of baseball in RBIs this spring, least of all Ned Yost.

“I feel like every time he comes us with a runner on, he’s going to drive him in,” Yost told reporters in Surprise. “I think he’s going to be a special player for us in the years to come.”

Hosmer drove in 29 runs in just 26 games, and led the Royals with a .416 average (among those with more than 10 at bats).

Possibly the most positive event of the spring was the dominance of centerfielder Lorenzo Cain. There was no question going in – he was handed the job. But rather than merely accept it, he claimed it like he was at an audition.

Cain quieted any doubters by bashing five homers in just 66 at bats, tied with Hosmer for the team lead. He batted .394, stole four bases and drove in eleven runs. Best of all, he led all regulars with a 1.255 OPS. Cain was so impressive, Yost is considering repositioning his centerfielder in the second spot in the batting order.

Right behind Cain in nearly every category was Alex Gordon, whose signing to a long-term deal was probably the highlight of the spring. Gordon added four homers, 14 RBIs, a .385 average and 1.086 OPS.

Other positives are that Alcides Escobar hit .350 and struck out just four times, and Billy Butler hit the ball with authority – four homers and seven doubles for a .672 slugging percentage.

One positive turn of events in Surprise was Yuniesky Betancourt’s showing at second base. The jury is still out on Yuni as a utility infielder, but he showed a surprising deftness around second base and may have won the starting job.

The addition of utility outfielder/infielder Jason Bourgeois may be another unexpected positive from the spring. The newcomer brought such speed and athleticism that Jarrod Dyson became expendable. In 16 plate appearances, Bourgeois produced a .375 average to go with three walks and seven stolen bases. He should prove a capable fill-in in all outfield spots and even at second base and possibly at third.

There are, of course, negatives, starting with Mike Moustakas’ 19 strikeouts to just 3 walks in 69 at bats. Had Moose not warmed up in the final week, his numbers would have been abominable. Even with the hot finish, he wound up with just 2 homers and seven RBIs, a .261 average, and a .301 OBP.

Another negative, as far as the youth movement is concerned, is the Chris Getz/Johnny Giavotella battle for the second base job. Most everyone looked forward to Giavotella becoming yet another of the prospects to claim a starting position. But Giavotella’s work at the plate during the spring didn’t make up for his less-than-stellar defense. Giavotella will start the year at Omaha, where he can play every day.

Getz was praised by Yost for remaking himself into a different player, but his .222 average and .244 SLG looks like the same old Getz.

Jeff Francoeur did not have a good spring offensively. No one seems concerned that Francoeur’s “bounce-back” year will be a one year bounce. Frenchy managed just one homer in Surprise and all his other numbers were among the worst on the team.

One player who no one cared about his offensive numbers was newly-acquired catcher Humberto Quintero. Quintero will bring stability to the catching situation in KC, but it doesn’t look like he’ll bring much pop to the offense. In eight games, he produced just four hits (none for extra bases) and one RBI.

Spring Training statistics go into the trash as soon as the teams head north. But KC fans see some positive growth from the young hitters that make this an exciting time, in spite of the injuries. Now the youngsters have 162 games to prove what they can do for real. As the Royals tell us, this is “Our Time.”

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