Tag Archive | "Cactus League"

Five storylines from Kansas City Royals camp

This has been an interesting spring for the Kansas City Royals. Some position battles have been settled, while others are still being hotly contested. Some players have sizzled in the Cactus League, while others have struggled. There is no shortage of news as Opening Day is inching closer and closer. Here are five storylines from Royals camp:

1) Yordano Ventura will crack starting rotation

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Ventura was in a battle for a spot in the Royals rotation this spring, with his main competition being Danny Duffy. Well it didn't end up being much of a battle in the end. Ventura has dazzled this spring forcing manager Ned Yost to name him as one of his five starters. After Ventura pitched six scoreless innings with six strikeouts against the Rangers on Monday there really wasn't a choice for Yost.

"We knew this was probably the way it was going to go," Yost said after Ventura pitched six innings of four-hit ball in a St. Patrick's Night, 6-0, greening of the Rangers at Surprise Stadium. "After tonight I think we've just seen enough. There's no reason not to announce this now." -Royals.com


Yost also told Royals.com that Ventura will slide into the third spot in the rotation behind James Shields and Jason Vargas, rather than as a fifth starter like many expected. This spring, Ventura has a 1.76 ERA over 15.1 innings and has held batters to a .185 average.

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Royals Roster Breeds Little Suspense

It’s a so far, so good Spring Training for the Kansas City Royals. As of Wednesday, March 20, the Royals lead the Cactus League with a 18-6 record. There’s no major injuries. Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer are playing well. The team hasn’t done anything that makes you scratch your head, at least not yet. They even made a good decision moving Hochevar to the bullpen. In other words, it’s an abnormal Royals Spring training.

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There’s some roster spots up for grabs, but they’re more set than the Royals let on. For instance, the “battle” between Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza for the fifth starting spot. If you go by stats alone, Mendoza is clearly having a better spring, with a 0.82 ERA in three games with 11 innings pitched, giving up an earned run and no home runs. Meanwhile, Chen has a 7.90 ERA in four games with 13.2 innings pitched, giving up 12 earned runs and seven (seven!) homers. So Mendoza should get the fifth starting spot, right?

Royals manager Ned Yost says he’ll decide the starting rotation this Friday and I’m betting Chen will get the fifth starting spot and Mendoza will be a long reliever. Why? Remember, Spring Training stats are meaningless and with Chen’s 14 years in the Majors, he’ll get the benefit of the doubt. Mendoza has six years of Major League experience, but except for 2008 and 2012, he’s had limited playing time. If anything, Yost is a traditionalist and he’ll go with the longtime Royals starter Chen over Mendoza. I’d be surprised if Yost chooses Mendoza over Chen.

This isn’t a battle for a roster spot, but with David Lough having a great spring (a .500/.513/.711 line, with 19 hits, six doubles, a triple and five RBI over 20 games and 38 at-bats), He’s making an argument to have a shot at right field. But it’s likely Lough will go to AAA Omaha.

It doesn’t matter what Lough does, he’s not supplanting Jeff Francoeur in right field. Yes, over 22 games and 53 at-bats, Frenchy has a .208/.250/.396 line with 11 hits, three doubles, two triples, a home run and seven RBI. Remember when I said Spring Training stats are meaningless? They still are, even when some fans want them to apply to Francoeur.

Like Chen, Frenchy has several years of Major League experience over Lough, who debuted in the Majors last year. Francoeur provides “veteran leadership” managers like Yost want to see. Plus the Royals don’t want to have a $7.5MM a year player on the bench. Unless Francoeur suffers injury or the Royals trade him, Lough will be in Omaha. Or Yost might surprise us all and choose Lough over Jarrod Dyson as a fourth outfielder. But with Dyson’s experience and speed, it’s not likely the Royals choose Lough over Dyson. If Lough stays on fire in Omaha and Francoeur crashes and burns, Lough might get a long-term roster spot with the Royals this season.

In the battle for second base, I believe Chris Getz will start at second base and Johnny Giavotella will go to AAA Omaha. This spring, Getz has a .359/.419/.513 line and over 20 games and 39 at-bats, Getz has 14 hits, three doubles, a home run (yes, Getz hit a home run) and six RBI. Meanwhile, Giavotella has a .273/.289/.409 line over 20 games and 44 at-bats with 12 hits, three doubles, a home run and 11 RBI. Despite Getz’s higher line, they have similar offensive numbers.

But it all comes down to defense, and Getz still has the edge. Like Chen and Francoeur, Getz has more Major League experience than Giavotella and Yost will go with the “safe” bet. Now with Getz’s recent issues with injuries, there’s a good chance Giavotella will be with the team sometime this season. But his offense and defense will need to improve if he wants to stay at second.

Salvador Perez will be the starting catcher this season, but there’s competition between Brett Hays and George Kottaras for the backup catcher role. Both are veteran backup catchers and with similar spring offensive numbers (Hayes with a .241/.313/.483 line, seven hits, a double, two home runs and eight RBI, Kottaras with a .269/.424/.346 line, seven hits, two doubles, and three RBI), it’s honestly a coin flip between the two. Either player will be a good backup catcher and let’s hope Perez stays healthy so Hayes and Kottaras stay backup catchers.

Besides the starting rotation, Yost won’t make his final roster decisions until the end of Spring Training. Unlike previous years, there’s not a real bad choice for Yost to make. But whatever roster decisions the Royals make, everyone on the roster has to play to their potential for the Royals to have a good season.

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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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Big disappointment: Mike Montgomery headed the wrong way

I attended the Futures Game at Kauffman stadium last year, hoping to catch a glimpse of the prospects that earned a #1 ranking for the Kansas City Royals by Baseball America.

Photo Courtesy of Minda Haas

Let me tell you, from that one exhibition, I came away with a new twist on an old phrase:

“I have seen the future, and it is Mike Montgomery.”

On that April 4 afternoon, all the top prospects were on display. Danny Duffy and John Lamb looked good, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Wil Myers looked ok, and Christian Colon looked awful.

But Mike Montgomery stood head and shoulders above them all.

No one was surprised. After all, he lit up spring training in Arizona and was only sent to Omaha for a little more seasoning.

Fast-forward one year, and Montgomery now not only isn’t ready for the big leagues, he seems headed in the wrong direction.

While all the news in Surprise this month swirled around contract extensions and injuries, Montgomery was quietly demoted to the minor league camp as the Royals trimmed their roster. This time around, he was one of the first to be cut.

That he didn’t make the roster isn’t shocking. But his downward spiral is. The big left-hander got blasted in his two trips to the mound in the Cactus League – 2 2/3 innings, six runs, six hits, three walks.

That disappointment comes when we all hoped for a bounce-back from the dismal 5-11 record and combustible 5.32 ERA he posted in Omaha last year.

“It was a struggle for him this year,” manager Ned Yost told reporters in Surprise. “He didn’t command the ball.”

Reading between the lines, Yost seems pretty frustrated with Montgomery’s showing.

“We wanted to see him come in and… compete for one of these spots, and it just never developed. We want him to go back and get his innings. He’s a guy that we think can come help us sometime over the course of the year, but that’s up to his performance.”

Obviously, Yost saw Montgomery as an integral piece of the youth movement. But as long as the prospects flounder, Yost has to continue to cobble together a rotation of veteran castoffs and stopgaps. (Jonathan Sanchez, Bruce Chen, Felipe Paulino, etc.)

What exactly is Montgomery’s problem?

Much was made last year of his disagreement with the organization over training methods. Montgomery has been a devotee of “long-toss” exercise, which the Royals don’t fully endorse.

Without any inside information, and because Yost gives no hint to Montgomery’s health being an issue, one has to speculate that one the following is occurring:

1) Montgomery is employing his own chosen training techniques, but they aren’t working.
2) Montgomery is being forced to follow the Royals’ prescribed regimen, and it’s not working.
3) Montgomery is allowing his frustration with the organization to affect his performance, and his “coach-ability.”

This is pure speculation, obviously. But something is most definitely wrong.

Back in January, Baseball America rated Montgomery the Royals’ top prospect. But he’s slipping down MLB.com’s list. Last year, Montgomery was rated the #14 prospect by MLB.com. This year, he fills the #31 spot.

That’s not the direction you want your stock heading.

I’m sure the Royals aren’t ready to give up on Montgomery yet. But with the “player to be named later” looming out there after the Humberto Quintero trade, I wouldn’t be surprised it that player turns out to be Montgomery. If Montgomery doesn’t want to train the way the Royals want him to, he may need to be sent elsewhere.

One year ago, the Royals farm system was flush with prospects. Former pitcher and current announcer Jeff Montgomery said at that time that the team was so loaded, it could handle failure from a fraction of those prospects.

But now, with injuries and attrition, each prospect seems like a precious resource. It’s painful to see any of them fail, particularly one of the most highly touted of all.

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Making their impressions early in Spring Training

This early in spring training, it’s sort of unusual for the Kansas City Royals to have so many lineup and pitching positions already set with potentially good players. In springs past, the Royals usually had several players fighting for roster spots and many times the players who made the roster were marginal at best.

Even though spring training games just started, a few of the lesser-known Royals players have made their impressions. Some are good. Some, not so good.

Starting pitcher Luis Mendoza is making his case for a spot in the starting rotation. In last Sunday’s Cactus League debut against the Texas Rangers, Mendoza threw 36 pitches, giving up an infield hit, a walk and no runs over two innings, contributing to a Royals 6-1 victory.

Mendoza, 28, bounced around with the Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers over an 11-year professional career before figuring it out in AAA Omaha last year. Mendoza is out of options and the Royals are taking a long look to see if he can fill a spot in the starting rotation. What happens over the next few starts will determine if he makes the starting rotation, goes to Omaha or another Major League club picks him up if he goes on waivers.

Another Royals player making the most of his opportunities is third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff. In the second game against the Rangers, Kouzmanoff came off the bench and hit a walk-off two-run double in the bottom of the ninth to give the Royals a 7-6 win over the Rangers.

A year or two ago, Kouzmanoff might have been the Royals starting third baseman, especially with Alex Gordon’s struggles at third. But with Mike Moustakas solidly at third base, the 30 year-old Kouzmanoff knows he’ll likely be in Omaha unless Moustakas gets hurt. Kouzmanoff can opt out of his contract if he’s not on the Major League roster by May 1. If he has a good spring and returns to his early career form, another Major League team might give Kouzmanoff a chance.

In the Tuesday split-squad game against the San Diego Padres, catcher Max Ramirez belted two home runs as the designated hitter, contributing to the Royals 7-4 win. Then in Wednesday’s 6-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs, Ramirez smacked a two-run single in the ninth.

With Manny Pina recovering from knee surgery, the 27 year-old Ramirez has an opportunity to be the Royals backup catcher over current incumbent Brayan Pena. Being a non-roster invitee, Ramirez will need to keep playing well to make the Royals roster.

Another player who wants to make a good impression is starting pitcher Zach Miner. Well, maybe next time. In Miner’s spring training debut, the right-hander gave up a three-run homer, three hits, a walk and threw two strikeouts over 1.2 innings in a 3-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians. It’s only Miner’s first start and he will have plenty of chances to win a spot in the Royals starting rotation. And if not, there’s always Omaha.

Reliever Jeremy Jeffress pitched a scoreless inning in the Tuesday split-squad game against the Indians. While Jeffress had a solid outing, it’s his off-field issues which are a concern. This January, Jeffress was charged with three counts of domestic assault, criminal damage and disorderly conduct after an argument with his girlfriend in Surprise, AZ. The first two charges were dismissed and Jeffress was sentenced to 20 hours of community service for the disorderly conduct charge and required to attend a domestic-violence counseling class. Jeffress did not physically assault his girlfriend and apologized to the Royals and their fans for the incident.

Everyone makes mistakes and the best way to overcome mistakes is to learn from them. But Jeffress has already served a 50 game suspension in 2007 and a 100 game suspension in 2009 for testing positive for marijuana. Another failed drug test will be a lifetime ban from baseball. The 24 year old right-hander will need to make a good impression this spring to make the Royals bullpen. For now, the Royals stand behind Jeffress and he appears to be making the effort to do better on and off the field. For Jeffress sake, let’s hope he does.

To be honest, these players could have one of the best springs in their careers and still not break camp with the Royals. In past years, these players would have a good chance to make the Major League roster. But with the Royals depth, it’s likely these players will end up in Omaha. And for the Royals and their fans, that’s a good thing.

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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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The Process player profile: Mike Montgomery

8 Days: Until the Cactus League Opener

41 Days: Until Opening Night

When I came up with the concept of doing profiles of players in Dayton Moore’s process it occurred to me that “The Process” needed it’s own logo. I discussed the concept with James Tyree and he came up with this logo for what many Kansas City Royals’ fans have endearingly refer to as “The Process”

 

From this day forward any time “The Process’ is mentioned in one of my posts. Said post will proudly display this logo.

This week I’m going to focus on a player who I believe must blossom into All-Star caliber pitcher if “The Process” is going to get the Royals into the playoffs. I don’t mean a capable middle of the rotation innings eater. I’m talking about a Zack Greinke type, takes the ball every fifth day and you know the Royals have a better than even chance to win, ace pitcher. I am talking about Mike Montgomery.

The Royals drafted Mike Montgomery out of Hart High School in Newhall, CA with the 36th Pick in 2008 Amateur Draft. If you’ll recall that was the same draft Eric Hosmer was taken with the 3rd overall pick. A year ago I was really excited that the Royals had Montgomery in the farm system. Baseball America listed Montgomery as the #19 prospect on their Top 100 Prospects list. To add some shine to the varnish, Montgomery throws left handed. I was delighted to see Montgomery destroy the Cactus League last year. In April I attended the Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium. When I saw Montgomery pitch that day there was no doubt we would see him a Royals uniform by the All-Star Break.

However, the season started and the reports out Omaha become troubling, and that major league debut for Montgomery never came. Instead it was Danny Duffy who was called up when Bruce Chen went down with an injury. I’m not up to speed on how to bring a pitcher through a minor league system. Maybe the Royals organization had Montgomery “working on something” last season. I’ve heard that reason given for a spring training with terrible statistics, and I believe that would be the case. There’s plenty of pitchers who had terrible statistics in spring training that went on to have excellent seasons. I have yet to hear about someone “working on something” for an entire season. Of course, established major leaguers have bad seasons so it’s reasonable to assume that prospects can have them too. They have less of a track record in which to base their success.

Last season does not mean Montgomery is a lost cause, far from it. This spring Baseball America has Montgomery listed as #23 in their Top 100 Prospects List. That’s still good company. Montgomery is expected to compete with several other young arms for the two remaining slots in the Royals rotation. Based who has options, and who doesn’t, I don’t expect Montgomery to break camp with the Royals. I hope he pitches well enough this spring to force the Royals hand and put him in the rotation coming out of camp. If that does not happen I’m sure Montgomery will be up at some point this season. At least I hope so. The Royals need their number one prospect to be dominant. If the Royals are going to win the division, they need their number one prospect to turn into an ace. Not just an ace of a team, but an ace on a playoff team.

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The Process Player Profile: Lorenzo Cain

2 Days: Until Pitchers & Catcher report for Spring Training

15 Days: Until the Cactus League Opener

48 Days: Until Opening Night

We have reached the day when I usually consider the baseball off-season over. College Baseball got underway last night. In fact, MLB Network is televising two college games this afternoon. Spring Training will start on Monday. From here until the last out of the World Series there will be some genuine baseball news to consume. Not just speculation and sabermetric rankings. Those things can be fun, but let’s be honest, real baseball is more fun that those things. So, you will find no more off-season whining from me. Seems like I did a lot of that, of which I’m making no apologies.

As a Royals fan this Spring Training is going to be different in that there are less questions than what normally accompanies a Royals Spring Training. I think the team knows, and the fans know who their position players will be on Opening Night in Anaheim. The prospects that were discussed last spring are finally in the majors, or projected to be in the majors this season. It’s one thing to be a prospect; it’s another to produce at the major league level. We are at that point with this Royals team. Other Royals bloggers and the #royalstwitterfamily endearingly refer to this as Dayton Moore’s “Process”. The “process” of turning the Royals from the laughing stock of the major leagues to a contender through it’s minor league system.

In the weeks leading up to Opening Day I’m going to profile players that are key parts of “The Process”. These players must turn from prospects to productive or star caliber major leaguers in the next two seasons. I was tempted to start with the young pitchers that display more question marks than answers, and will have a greater impact on “The Process”. However, I’m going to start with a player I forgot the Royals even had. He was buried at Omaha behind a resurgent Melky Cabrera. Of course, you know that I am referring to Lorenzo Cain.

drawing by James Tyree

I consider Cain a key part of “The Process” because of what the Royals had to give up to acquire him; Zack Greinke. Cain needs to produce in part so the Zack Greinke Trade does not go down in the same train-robbery-category that has plagued the Royals franchise the past ten years. Specifically the trades of Jermaine Dye and Carlos Beltran, those trades yielded the Royals next to nothing. Maybe John Buck for a few seasons? Really? Granted there are other parts to the Greinke Trade, but none of those players have established the trade as a push or a win.

Lorrenzo Cain will be 26 on April 13th. He has played a grand total of 49 games at the major league level. While this is a small sample size, during that time his BA/OBP/SLG line is .302/.343/.402 with 1 HR and 14 RBI’s. Only one of those RBI’s came during his 6 games with the Royals last September. The majority of that production was during the 2010 season with Milwaukee. Last year with the Storm Chasers he hit .312/.380/.497 with 16 HR and 81 RBI’s. A solid season for sure. Cain will be tasked with replacing Melky Cabrera’s 18 HRs, 44 doubles, and 87 RBI’s.

I’m not sure Cain will be able to match that production in his first full year in the majors. I don’t think he needs to, at least not this year. He will most likely bat in the 7th or 8th spot in the batting order. His defense will not make up for the lost run production, but center field defense should improve with Cain on patrol. I think if Cain develops into a “Raul Ibanez when he was with the Royals” type player, that Royals fans would love him. Hopefully the Royals as a team would be successful at the same time. If this scenario played out the Zack Greinke trade could not be called a complete disaster.

If Cain establishes himself he will be the youngest out of the other two starting outfielders; Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur. The Royals will have control over all three players for at least two seasons establishing more line-up consistency. If things go well for Cain and the Royals he’ll be worthy of a long term contract extension in 2014. “The Process” will have made a legitimate contribution to the major league roster and we can quit making fun of it. However, the success of the “The Process” is more than producing one player that can produce at the major league level.

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Crutches

9 Days: Until pitcher and catchers report to Spring Training.

23 Days: Until the start of the Cactus League.

55 Days: Until Opening Night.

We have reached the abyss in the sports world that is marked by the Super Bowl at the beginning and Spring Training at the end. There isn’t much going on in the sports world that I care about. No, I’m not real excited about Truck Day. It’s so bad that I watched an NBA game for .05 seconds. It almost like I’m injured. Like I need some sort of assistance to help me get through these few weeks known as The Sports Abyss. What I need is some crutches.

I think I’ve found them. These crutches come in the form of College Basketball. Living in Kansas you get weird looks when you tell people you would rather listen to a meaningless spring training game on the radio over watching the NCAA Tournament. I have done this numerous times. However, if the splintering of Royals Nation into their respective college camps doesn’t entertain you, you just don’t like sports.

Basketball is not even my fourth favorite sport. There so much college basketball inventory on television it’s hard to miss. It’s on seven nights week. Even baseball and it’s 2430 regularly scheduled games takes a few nights off during the season. If you’re going to survive the winter you might as well learn to like college basketball. Why favor college basketball over the NBA? College Basketball is only two 20 minute halves. It’s quick and simple. There are a lot of teams and stories to follow. But mostly, it’s the smack talking border skirmishes that happened between two passionate fanbases. College Basketball isn’t baseball. But it is appropriate that the College Basketball regular season ends the same day exhibition baseball starts. That is why College Basketball is the crutch that gets me from the Super Bowl to Spring Training.

The picture above was created by my friend James Tyree. Earlier this week he got some of his work mentioned on HardballTalk. He’s a big Royals fan and you can expect more work from him in the future. Check out his graphics blog here

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Winter Baseball Fun: It’s In The Cards

I have been struggling to find something in the baseball world to keep my attention. Yes, the Kansas City Royals signed some contracts to avoid arbitration. What kind of contract Alex Gordon gets remains to be seen. However, I view this stuff like changing the oil in your car. It needs to be done, yet it won’t increase performance, and will only help delay an inevitable decline.

We are 31 days from the pitchers and catchers reporting to camp, 36 days until the first full squad work-out, and 44 days until the Cactus League Opener. There isn’t a lot going on right now. However, I was at my parents’ house last Sunday when I ran across something that rekindled my baseball fire: my boyhood baseball card collection!
I spent Sunday afternoon going through my collection, and it was like going back into time. The first time I pulled these cards out of their packages they came with a stick of bubble gum. I might have bought them on the way home after baseball practice. Maybe I bought them after riding my bike up the local convenience store where we would play Super Mario Brothers on an arcade game. I probably received baseball cards for a random birthday. Baseball was my favorite sport growing up, and collecting baseball cards was an appropriate outlet.

For one afternoon in January while the NFL playoffs were on the television, baseball became innocent again. When I was collecting baseball cards I didn’t know about payrolls, collective bargaining agreements, steroids, gambling, identity theft, or all the rumors about a player’s off the field deeds or miss-deeds. During this time I’m not sure if this information was public or I was sheltered from it. Either way, it seemed like a simpler time in the baseball world.

When going through the collection I studied the pictures a lot more closely than when I was a kid. Kauffman Stadium used to have orange seats, rock hard Astroturf, and dirt cutouts for the bases. It was Royals Stadium back then. I tried to tell from the shadows and angle of the sun if the picture was taken in spring training or in August. My favorite pictures were action shots, not the scripted poses.

I’m not sure how many baseball cards I have. I can tell you I only have one complete set: 1991 Upper Deck. That set is probably my favorite. But I did not buy that set when I was a kid. I bought the complete set as an adult when I was at an antique store with my Mother-In-Law. I bought it for $10. The store owners didn’t know what they had, and that was post internet proliferation. The closest I came to acquiring a complete set through buying individual packs was 1989 Topps, and 1991 Fleer. I always got a thrill out of opening a pack of cards because you never knew who you were going to get. Sometimes I got a Bo Jackson, other times I got a Rance Mulliniks, of which I already had three. Sometimes I bought “Jumbo Packs”. Mostly, my collection was built one pack at a time with allowance money.

The core of my baseball card collection is around twenty years old. Now we have access to endless information on baseball players through websites like Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Rotoworld. I can look up information on my phone at any time. However, I feel I was more dialed into baseball twenty years ago when I was collecting baseball cards. Reality is I probably had more time to be dialed into baseball twenty years ago.

Found this in the first pack of baseball cards I have bought in 20 years.

That got me thinking. Do they still sell baseball cards? They do, Topps signed an exclusive agreement with MLB in 2009. I’ve walked into a few convenient stores this week to see if they still sold baseball cards. I have yet to find one that does. So far, Wal-Mart and hobby shops are the only places I have found them. I bought two packs of 2011 Topps the other night. $2 gets you ten cards these days. A long way from $.69 for 16 cards back in The Day. I got a Tim Collins rookie card for my trouble. Royals’ fans can only hope that someday that card is worth more than the $2 I paid for the pack. I suppose I could just order the entire 2011 Topps complete set. It would be more economical to do that. But economical and fun don’t always go together. Maybe I’ll pick up a few more packs between now and spring training.

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