2011 saw the Royals’ top hitting prospects take a step forward, while many of their pitching prospects took a step sideways, down or out.
Spring training saw a similar result, as many of the position players the Royals are banking on flourished, while pitching remained the big question mark.
As of Friday, the games count. But the results from spring training are worth some analysis as the Royals head north with high aspirations.
The Royals’ opening day starter, Bruce Chen, probably deserves a pass this spring. He’s been through this countless times, and he wasn’t pitching to win a spot in the rotation. He was doing what he needs to do to be ready for the season.
That said, Chen was not good in Arizona. He surrendered 37 hits in 22 innings, including an alarming six homers. Opponents batted .378 against him, and his ERA was an unsightly 9.41.
Another lock to start, Luke Hochevar hopes to put his roller-coaster highs and lows behind him. He was very solid in spring, surrendering just a 2.84 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. Best of all, he allowed just one homer in 19 innings pitched.
The stud of the spring was undoubtedly Luis Mendoza. I predicted back in late February that Mendoza could provide the surprise boost the Royals pitching staff needs. The 28-year-old righty got credit for four wins in the spring. Opponents could barely scratch out a hit against him – 11 in 16 innings. His ERA was just 0.54 and his WHIP was 0.84.
If Mendoza was the stud of the spring, then Mike Montgomery was the dud. While KC had a list of about 8 guys who were seriously in contention for rotation slots, the door would certainly have been held open for the 22-year-old Montgomery. But Montgomery flubbed the opportunity and manager Ned Yost was noticeably disappointed in the big lefty. I wrote last week about why Montgomery might be headed in the wrong direction (link).
Not far behind Montgomery was second-year candidate Danny Duffy. The Royals stood by Duffy during his painful learning experience in year one. But this spring, he looked no less lost than in 2011. He struggled his way to an 8.31 ERA and a 1.92 WHIP.
Duffy was terrible, and his main competition, Felipe Paulino, was equally bad. Paulino will start the season rehabbing an injury, most likely in Omaha, and he’ll have to earn a return to KC after posting a 7.71 spring ERA.
Horrifyingly, Duffy and Paulino were not the worst pitchers in Surprise (aside from Chen). That honor goes to Jonathan Sanchez, who got bombed this spring after coming over from San Francisco, supposedly to give the Royals an “ace.”
Sanchez gave up 17 hits and 13 runs in just 11.1 innings. His 2.03 WHIP led all Royals with more than 10 innings pitched. He was even worse in the exhibition game in San Diego, where he allowed two home runs in just two innings.
Last year’s All Star rep Aaron Crow made the switch to the rotation, made one start, then switched back after Joakim Soria blew out his arm. Crow was solid, allowing opponents to bat just .238 in the split role. He looks comfortable back in the bullpen and will look to put to rest fears that he was a half-season wonder.
Two other pleasant revelations were relievers Kelvin Herrera and Jose Mijares. Herrera has been lights-out at every level, and he was no less dominant in Surprise. He struck out 15 hitters in 13 innings, and his ERA was just 1.38. He gave up just five walks and no homers. I expected him to start the season in Omaha, but the Royals found they just couldn’t leave him behind.
Mijares also will start the year in KC after posting a 0.82 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in Arizona. He struck out just six in 11 innings, but hopefully will continue to lock down left-handed hitters in the big leagues.
One guy KC appeared ready to give up on made a solid case for himself in Arizona – Sean O’Sullivan. The big righty allowed opponents to bat just .268 against him, and his WHIP was a an impressive 1.13. He’ll start the season in Omaha, but hopefully will prove a reliable insurance plan as both a starter and reliever if needed in KC.
The relievers performed about as well as expected in Arizona. Crow shifted to the pen when Soria was lost, and Herrera and Mijares should make the bullpen collection dynamite.
But the rotation candidates, other than Hochevar, performed worse than was imaginable. Were it not for the incredible work by Mendoza, the spring would be a complete failure for the starters.
Only time will tell if Mendoza is as good, and Sanchez is as bad, as the numbers from Surprise would say they are.