Tag Archive | "Good Spring"

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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Fourteen Players, Three Roster Spots

For the first time in several years, the Royals lineup, starting rotation and bullpen is pretty much set, barring injuries. But opportunities exist for some players to get a spot on the bench.

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It’s likely Manager Ned Yost will go with 12 pitchers and a backup catcher. Add the eight position players and the designated hitter and there’s only three reserve player spots available. How many players are vying for those three spots? Fourteen.

Of the fourteen, three of them are long shots. Infielder Brandon Wood signed a Minor League contract and is a non-roster invitee. A former top prospect with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Wood’s last stint in the Majors was 99 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011.

Royals Minor League infielder Anthony Seratelli is a non-roster invitee who provides Spring Training depth, but little else.

Non-roster invitee outfielder Luis Durango played 39 Major League games from 2009-2011 with the San Diego Padres and Houston Astros. He’s likely be in AAA Omaha’s outfield or could be released.

The next group could make the club, but a few things are going to have to go their way. Non-roster invitee Xavier Nady is an 11-year Major League veteran who’s played with several different teams. He’ll get an opportunity as a reserve outfielder or first baseman.

Former Royal and non-roster invitee Endy Chavez will see some time in the outfield during Spring Training, but barring a great spring performance or injuries to other players, Chavez has a slim chance.

The Player to be Named Later in the James Shields/Wade Davis trade is utility infielder Elliot Johnson, who played 123 games for the Tampa Rays last year. Being the Royals newest player, Johnson will get a long look as a backup to shortstop Alcides Escobar.

Non-roster invitee outfielder Willy Taveras provides some speed and seven years of Major League experience. If he has a good spring, he could be a reserve outfielder if Jarrod Dyson falters.

Royals infield prospect Christian Colon only has two seasons of pro baseball, but if he plays well, he might be in the mix for second base. But if the Royals think he needs more seasoning, he’ll go back to the Minors.

Outfielder David Lough played 20 games last year for the Royals, but Dyson will have to stumble for Lough to make the club.

And there’s longtime Royals farmhand Irving Falu, who played 24 games for the Royals in 2012. Seeing how few opportunities the club gives him, it’s likely Falu ends up in Omaha, even if he deserves a real shot of making the club as a utility infielder.

The next group is the most likely to make the club, due to their contributions to the Royals last year or their veteran status.

Whoever loses the second base battle between Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella will end up on the bench, so that leaves two spots on the bench.

Outfielder Jarrod Dyson had a solid 2012 filling in for the oft-injured Lorenzo Cain. Dyson isn’t much of a hitter, but he’s got speed and plays a decent outfield. If Cain stays healthy, Dyson is a good fourth outfielder and will take the second spot on the bench, with one spot left.

So who gets the last reserve roster spot? I believe the Royals will give it to six-time All-Star and 2002 MVP infielder Miguel Tejada. He’s not the player he was ten years ago, but as a bench player in a limited utility role, he can play a serviceable third base, shortstop and even second. Perhaps “veteran leadership” is a baseball myth, but Tejada has the right attitude to provide guidance for a young team.

Sure, some fans might think the Royals have no business giving a roster spot to a 38-year old player whose best days are behind him. But he’s not taking the starting job of a younger player and you have to admit he’s probably a better player than Yuni Betancourt.

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At least they have a chance

For 2013, the Kansas City Royals invited nine pitchers, four catchers, four infielders and four outfielders to Spring Training in Surprise, AZ. This year’s list of invitees are a mix of young prospects and veteran Minor and Major League players wanting a shot at the Majors.

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It’s a long shot for any of these players to make the Opening Day roster. They need an extraordinary spring training and other regular players to succumb to injury or poor performance. And the Royals would need to add them to the 40-man roster. If the team has to rely on these players to win in 2013, they’re in trouble. I’ll list the players invited and who I think could make the Opening Day roster.

Pitchers (9): RHP Blaine Boyer, RHP Sugar Ray Marimon, RHP Michael Mariot, RHP Brian Sanches, LHP Atahualpa Severino, LHP George Sherrill, RHP Yordano Ventura, LHP Ryan Verdugo, RHP Dan Wheeler

Most likely to make the roster: Ryan Verdugo, Dan Wheeler

The 25-year-old Ryan Verdugo spent most of 2012 with AAA Omaha, had a 12-4 record with a 3.75 ERA. He had a forgettable Major League debut last July, lasting 1.2 innings, giving up eight hits and six earned runs against the Seattle Mariners. He’ll need an impressive spring training to make the Royals Opening Day roster. And if he does make the Royals roster, it’s probably as a reliever.

Dan Wheeler is a 13-year veteran reliever with a career 3.98 ERA in 589 games with 640.2 innings pitched. He has a good 2.86 SO/BB ratio and does better against right-handed batters with a 4.04 SO/BB ratio compared to a 1.70 SO/BB ratio against left-handed batters. If he has a good spring, he could offer veteran leadership for a young bullpen.

Catchers (4): Adam Moore, Manuel (Manny) Pina, Max Ramirez, Julio Rodriguez

Most likely to make the roster: Manuel (Manny) Pina

If it wasn’t for a knee injury during last year’s spring training, the 25-year-old Pina would be the backup to Brayan Pena after Salvador Perez‘s knee injury. Pena signed with the Detroit Tigers this offseason, so Pina could be the Royals backup catcher.

Infielders (4): Christian Colon, Anthony Seratelli, Miguel Tejada, Brandon Wood

Most likely to make the roster: Christian Colon, Miguel Tejada

If Johnny Giavotella and Chris Getz falter, the Royals may give the 23-year-old Christian Colon a shot at second. Yes, he spent most of Minor League career as a shortstop, but Alcides Escobar is the starting shortstop and he’s not going anywhere. Second base is the best chance for Colon to make the big leagues, and the Royals should give him every chance to do so. The question is, will they?

If this was ten years ago, the Royals signing Miguel Tejada would be a big deal. But now it’s just a once great player trying to make it back to the Majors. For most of his career, Tajada played shortstop. If the six-time All-Star and 2002 MVP has any hope of making the club, he’ll have to do it at second base. He’s played a few games at second and it’s rumored the Royals may add him to the 40-man roster. It would be nice for the 38-year-old Tejada to make a comeback and have a good season, but not at the expense of a younger player like Colon.

Outfielders (4): Endy Chavez, Luis Durango, Xavier Nady, Willy Taveras

Most likely to make the roster: Endy Chavez, Xavier Nady

Remember Endy Chavez making his Major League debut with the Royals in 2001? If not, it’s understandable, since he only played 29 games with a .208 batting average. After bouncing around with seven other teams, the 34-year-old Chavez is back with the Royals. He’s become a part-time outfielder, who only appeared in 64 games with the Baltimore Orioles in 2012. He did play 21 games last season in right field, so fans can hope he supplants Jeff Francoeur this season. It’s not likely to happen. If Chavez isn’t on the Royals roster, he’ll probably be in Omaha.

The 34-year-old Xaiver Nady is an 11 year Major League veteran who’s spent the last few years as a backup outfielder/pinch hitter. A career .270 hitter, he’s got power potential and he hits well against left and right-handed pitching, but with players like Jarrod Dyson and David Lough ahead of him, Nady is probably Omaha bound.

A few years ago, many of these players would be seriously vying for roster spots. But today these players are organizational depth and “Plan B” players. And that’s a good thing.

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It’s about time for the Royals to play ball!

The Kansas City Royals 2012 season is about to begin, but some questions still remain.

Friday night in Anaheim, the Kansas City Royals begin their 2012 season against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. After a relatively quiet off-season, spring training featured the signings of Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon to long-term contracts. But the spring also featured a major knee injury to Salvador Perez and season-ending Tommy John surgery for Joakim Soria. As the 2012 season begins, some questions remain for the Royals.

How will the starting rotation fare?
The Royals starting rotation is LHP Bruce Chen, RHP Luke Hochevar, LHP Jonathan Sanchez, RHP Luis Mendoza and LHP Danny Duffy. They’re not going to strike much fear in the hearts of opposing teams, but it should be a better rotation than last year. Bruce Chen is the Opening Day starter and while he’s not an ace, he’s a better Opening Day starter than Scott Elarton (ahh, those were the days). Hochevar improved during the second half of the 2011 season and hopes to improve in 2012. Sanchez should be a solid contributor if he cuts down on his walks. Luis Mendoza played his way into the rotation with a good spring. Duffy is a work in progress, but still has a lot of upside.

The starting rotation is the weak link of the Royals. But if the starters can pitch deep into games and not give up a lot of runs, the bullpen and offense have a chance to win games. And if any of the starters falter, pitchers like RHP Felipe Paulino, LHP Mike Montgomery and RHP Nate Adcock could join the rotation sometime in 2012.

Who will be the Royals closer now that Soria is gone for the year?

The loss of Soria isn’t good, but it’s not devastating. RHP Jonathan Broxton, RHP Greg Holland and RHP Aaron Crow have the ability to close games. Broxton closed for the Los Angeles Dodgers and has the experience. Holland hopes to improve on his successful rookie season and Aaron Crow hopes to bounce back from last year’s second half struggles and regain his first half All-Star form. And some believe RHP Kelvin Herrera has the stuff to be a closer and may have an opportunity to close this year. Yost is non-committal about choosing a closer, preferring to let the guys decide who plays their way into the role.

Who will be the backup catcher when Salvador Perez returns?
It’s likely to be around the All-Star break before Perez returns as the starting catcher. Meanwhile, Brayan Pena and Humberto Quintero will share catching duties, with the possibility of catching for certain starting pitchers. Pena did a serviceable job behind veteran Matt Treanor last year and Quintero makes up for his weak hitting with good defense. Yost will likely give both players a chance to play their way into the backup catcher job or end up catching in AAA Omaha.

Will Johnny Giavotella stay in the Omaha gulag forever?
No, but he needs to improve his defense at second if he wants to stay in Kansas City. Many fans see the “power” of Chris Getz fading quickly and if Giavotella’s defense is in the same neighborhood as Getz, Giavotella will be back. Unless Yost falls in love with Yuniesky Betancourt and makes him the starting second baseman. Well, let’s hope not.

Will the Royals outfield repeat their success of 2011?
Not exactly, but unless injuries come up, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Jeff Francoeur should play close to their 2011 levels. Gordon has found his position in left field and Cain’s strong spring shows what he could do in center. Of the three, Francoeur is the most likely to regress but if he stays consistent, he’ll be fine. And the Royals have the capable Mitch Maier and the speedy Jason Bourgeois to back up Francoeur, Gordon or Cain if needed.

So how will the Royals fare in 2012?
Many baseball pundits believe the Detroit Tigers are the team to beat in the A.L. Central. The Cleveland Indians might be a good team, or they might not. The Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins are in a down year and aren’t expected to do much.

If the Royals starters don’t give up a lot of runs, if the bullpen doesn’t blow leads, if the defense is solid and the offense plays up to their expectations, the Royals have a chance to win the A.L. Central. But if the Royals stumble in April and May like they have in the past and the other Central teams stay around .500, the Royals might find themselves in a hole they can’t get out of.

My optimistic prediction: 89-73, winning the A.L. Central by a couple of games over Detroit and making the playoffs. The Royals become the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, shocking the baseball world with a game seven walk-off home run by Chris Getz, winning a World Series Championship over the St. Louis Cardinals. (ok, the Getz home run might be a bit too optimistic).

My realistic prediction: 82-80, second place in the A.L. Central behind Detroit and missing the playoffs. Not a World Series Championship, but still a good season and something to build on for the future. Even that may be too optimistic, but after many years of futility, I’m ready for the Royals to be a competitive team. Whatever happens, I’m ready for the 2012 season to begin.

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Royals bullpen: who’s in, who’s out

We keep hearing that there’s very little competition at the day-to-day positions in Royals camp. Other than the mess that Yuniesky Betancourt and the other second basemen are in, the roster could have been filled out prior to spring training.

Having Salvador Perez go down created intrigue that wasn’t expected at catcher. That problem was resolved for the time being with the acquisition of Humberto Quintero.

But the bullpen situation is another matter entirely. When Joakim Soria was sidelined with a serious elbow injury, it only further muddied the waters. The Royals have so many questions to be answered it’s hard to know where to begin.

In the words of Inigo Montoya, “Let me explain… No there is too much. Let me sum up.”

First, Soria’s injury ended, for the time being, the conversion of Aaron Crow to the starting rotation. He’s now fully entrenched in the bullpen and will probably end up closing some games.

Manager Ned Yost most likely will try a closer-by-committee approach, using Crow, Jonathan Broxton and Greg Holland in that role.

So if the Royals starters include Jonathan Sanchez, Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen, then a couple of rotation spots will affect the pen.

Felipe Paulino and Luis Mendoza are out of options, so they are going to be given every opportunity to stick. Paulino showed potential last year, but has been rough so far this spring. Mendoza was great at Omaha last year, and has had a good spring.

But Danny Duffy has been solid thus far and has the most potential. It’s hard to envision him not coming to KC. The numbers don’t add up.

The Royals have room for eight relievers. Crow, Broxton and Holland are locks. That leaves five spots.

Guys who had bullpen roles last year are right-handers Louis Coleman, Blake Wood and Nathan Adcock, and left-handers Tim Collins and Everett Teaford.

Add to the mix righty Kelvin Herrera and lefty Jose Mijares. Both have been very good so far this spring, but there isn’t room for both.

Wood is temporarily out of commission, so we’ll count him out for now.

Adcock has already been sent to minor league camp.

Injuries to Wood and Soria probably take most of the decision making out of Yost’s hands.

Best case seems to me to have potential starters Mendoza and Everett Teaford join the bullpen mix for now. That gives another righty (Mendoza) to work with, and two guys who can go long innings or make necessary starts.

Herrera would probably benefit from some time in Omaha, so he’s a logical cut. If the Royals don’t keep Mendoza in the pen, however, then Herrera becomes a more important right-handed option to keep in KC.

Seems like what was a mess a few days ago now lines up pretty clearly like this:

Starters (5): Sanchez, Hochevar, Chen, Duffy, Paulino.

Middle Relievers (5): Righties Coleman, Mendoza; Lefties Collins, Teaford, Mijares.

Closers (3): Righties Crow, Broxton, Holland

If the Royals are willing to go with Mendoza in the bullpen, this would look on paper like a balanced, experienced group holding down the fort until Soria returns.

Some wonder if Soria will ever return. Either way, the confusion of the Royals bullpen seems to be resolving itself.

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Meet the newest Royals, Humberto Quintero and Jason Bourgeois

With catchers Salvador Perez and Manny Pina being out for 2-3 months with knee injuries, the Kansas City Royals made a trade Tuesday, acquiring catcher Humberto Quintero and outfielder Jason Bourgeois from the Houston Astros for minor league left-hander Kevin Chapman and a player to be named later. To make room for the newest Royals, the team put Perez and Pina on the 60-day disabled list.

Ever since Perez’s injury, the Royals expressed interest to acquire a catcher outside the organization. There were rumors the Royals invited Ivan Rodriguez to camp, but it ended up being just rumors. Instead, the Royals went the trade route, getting Quintero.

The 32 year-old Quintero is a nine-year major league veteran, playing for the San Deigo Padres from 2003-2004 and with the Houston Astros from 2005-2011. He’s been a career backup catcher, appearing in 379 games. Quintero appeared in 88 games in 2010, the most he’s played in a season.

Quintero’s career line is .234/.268/.321, so the Royals didn’t get him for his hitting. They got him for catching and throwing ability and his major league experience. For now, Quintero expects to play two to four days a week, splitting playing time with Brayan Pena.

It was clear the Royals didn’t see Max Ramirez as a solution, despite his good spring offensive numbers. In fact, Ramirez only started a handful of spring training games as a catcher, so the Royals didn’t have much faith in his catching abilities. Cody Clark doesn’t have major league catching experience and it’s likely the Royals believe Clark would be a better fit for AAA Omaha, where they also need catching help.

There is one concern and hopefully it’s a minor one. This spring, Quintero was out with a bulging disk in his back but returned to action over the weekend. At least it’s not his knee.

As for Bourgeois, the 30 year-old outfielder has four years in the majors, playing for the Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers and Astros. Bourgeois played 192 major league games in his career with a .262/.307/.324 line with 431 plate appearances and 22 RBIs. His speed and versatility are his main assets, with 46 career stolen bases, with 31 of those in 2011. Bourgeois also hits well against left-handers, with a .328 batting average compared to .205 against right-handers.

Bourgeois is not a everyday player, so Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Jeff Francoeur have little to worry about. But with his versatility of playing all outfield positions and some second base, players like Mitch Meier and Jarrod Dyson have some competition for the reserve outfielder job. Who knows, maybe Manager Ned Yost might have Bourgeois in the second base mix between Johnny Giavotella, Chris Getz and Yuni Betancourt. It is spring training after all.

Probably not. The Royals see Bourgeois as a right-handed reserve outfielder who’s a cross between Meier and Dyson. The odd man out in this situation could be Dyson, who bats from the left side but doesn’t have the versatility of a Bourgeois.

Both Bourgeois and Dyson have options remaining, so it’s likely one of them makes the Opening Day roster and the other one goes to Omaha. If Bourgeois goes to Omaha, he would serve as outfield depth in case someone get injured. If Dyson goes to Omaha, he would get more playing time, perhaps improving his chances of developing into an everyday outfielder. If either player makes the Royals roster, it will be as a reserve outfielder.

The Astros get Chapman, a 24 year-old left-handed relief pitcher who played two seasons with A+ Wilmington and AA Northwest Arkansas. His career ERA is high at 5.06, and he gave up 9.1 hits per nine innings. But his strikeouts per nine innings is 12.4, so Chapman gets a lot of strikeouts. Chapman projects to be a reliever if he makes it to the majors. And that could be soon, since he’s with the Astros.

The other player the Astros get is our old friend player to be named later. It’s uncertain who it is, but according to Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow, this player was a big reason the Astros did the trade. Don’t worry, Royals fans, it’s doubtful the PTBNL are either outfielders Bubba Starling, Wil Myers or pitcher Jake Odorizzi. It better not be, if Dayton Moore wants to keep his job. And if Royals fans want to keep their sanity.

Quintero and Bourgeois are not long-term solutions for the Royals. Quintero was acquired to fill the gap of Perez and Pina being gone for half the season and Bourgeois was acquired to provide outfield depth and perhaps give Dyson and Meier some competition as a reserve outfielder. For now, they fill some holes, if nothing else.

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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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Will Kyle Lohse Change

Last week we talked about Jake Westbrook.  Today we look at the other half of the back of the St. Louis Cardinal rotation.

Kyle Lohse has had an adventurous 4 years in St Louis.  Signed as a free agent before the 2008 season, he posted arguably the best season of his career in 2008.  The Cardinals rewarded him with a multi-year deal, although the fanbase had some misgivings about it based on the size of the contract he was awarded.  Eager to prove his doubters wrong he started 2009 on fire, finishing April with 4 victories and a sub-2.00 ERA.

Then things derailed.  He was hit on the right forearm by Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton in his next start and was never quite as dominating. He did two stints on the DL before the All-Star Break, then had an ERA of 5.72 the rest of the season.  During the first two months of 2010 he was actually worse (ERA 5.89).  Lohse was eventually diagnosed with exertional compartment syndrome in his right forearm and had surgery to repair the damage.  He gamely came back to the rotation in August of that year; opponents said thank you by hitting .389 on balls in play off him the rest of the season.

After a full off-season of rest, and a good spring, Lohse seemed ready to reprise his 2008 form, and early in 2011 he did.  Through the first two months of last season he posted a 2.13 ERA and a 3:1 K/BB ratio.  Lohse was back.  Then he got hammered by the Cubs on June 4 at home and spent the next three months with an ERA north of 5.00.  In his last August start against Pittsburgh the light appeared to come on again; in September, when the Cardinals needed him most, he was sterling.  In 4 September starts he posted a 1.37 ERA an a 4:1 K/BB ratio.  His playoff outings were ultimately forgettable, although for his first 5 innings in Philadephia he was awesome.

Lohse lives and dies with his change-up.  Last season his change-up was his most devastating pitch, and more valuable than any season since that 2008 campaign.  Nineteen percent of his pitches were a change-up in 2011, the highest percentage of his career.  He compensated by throwing fewer curveballs and sliders; of the former he threw 37% fewer than he had in 2010, the latter about 12% fewer.  His slider was pretty effective (wSL of 4.1 by Fangraphs), but his curveball was just average (wCB 0.3), so that decision on which pitch to throw less frequently was the right one.  What’s interesting is in his previous good season with St Louis, his curveball was far more dangerous (wCB 5.9) even though he threw it about the same frequency (6.7%) as he did in 2011.

Although controlling and spotting his change-up is key to his overall success, it is the ability to throw the curveball to good effect that will define Lohse’s season.  It may be he lost the feel on that pitch due to the forearm injury; it hasn’t been there for him since the 2008 campaign, based solely on the weighted pitch values posted at Fangraphs (-1.0, -1.0, and 0.3 the last 3 seasons).  If Lohse can regain that pitch in 2012 he will be the dominant, consistent pitcher he was in 2008.  If he can’t, he will likely continue to have stretches of sublime pitching intermingled with stretches of throwing BP to major league hitters.

Watch for Lohse’s curveball during his spring training starts.

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All They Need Is A Chance

Recently, the Kansas City Royals extended Major League Spring Training invitations to eight pitchers, three catchers, three infielders and three outfielders. Seventeen young men who dream of making their Major League debuts, or hope to make it back to the Big Show. This year, the Royals have the majority of their 25-man roster set. However, a few openings remain and injuries or poor performances from other players could provide these players a chance to make the 25-man roster on Opening Day.

Photo Courtesy of Minda Haas

Pitchers: Francisley Bueno, Chris Dwyer, Tommy Hottovy, Zach Miner, Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, Brandon Sisk and Will Smith.

Most likely to make the roster: Mike Montgomery, Zach Miner, Jake Odorizzi

Mike Montgomery is one of the Royals top prospects. Just 22 years old, Montgomery has a lot of upside, despite his 5-11, 5.32 ERA 2011 season with AAA Omaha. If Montgomery has a strong Spring Training and other starting candidates falter, he could make the Opening Day roster, or debut sometime in 2012.

Zach Miner spent 2011 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but appeared in 23 games between AA Northwest Arkansas and Omaha. Through 2006-2009, Miner compiled a 25-20 record with a 4.24 ERA with the Detroit Tigers. If Miner does well in Spring Training, he may win a spot in the Royals starting rotation if the team believes their pitching prospects need more time in the Minors.

Jake Odorizzi is a prospect who spent his 2011 playing for Class A Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas. Like Montgomery, Odorizzi could make the team if he has a strong Spring Training or other starting rotation candidates falter. However, it’s likely the Royals would prefer Odorizzi to start 2012 with Northwest Arkansas or Omaha for more experience.

Could make the roster: Chris Dwyer, Will Smith

Chris Dwyer is another prospect, but with an 8-10 record and 5.60 ERA over 27 starts in Northwest Arkansas last season, Dwyer will need a good Spring Training to make the Opening Day roster. Dwyer is likely to be a part of the Northwest Arkansas or Omaha starting rotation.

Will Smith had a good 2011 with Northwest Arkansas, leading the Texas League with 13 wins and was named Northwest Arkansas Pitcher of the Year. While Smith is not as touted a prospect as Montgomery, Odorizzi or Dwyer, he has a chance to make the Royals starting rotation. However, it’s likely Smith will pitch for Omaha.

Long shots to make the roster: Francisley Bueno, Tommy Hottovy, Brandon Sisk

Francisley Bueno, a 30-year old Cuban left-handed starter, is a veteran of Minor League, Korean and Mexican league baseball. Bueno appears to be more organizational depth than a legitimate starting rotation candidate.

Tommy Hottovy was born and raised in Kansas City and was a longtime Boston Red Sox farmhand before signing with the Royals this off-season. The 30 year-old left-hander made eight relief appearances with the Red Sox in 2011, but with the Royals strong bullpen, Hottovy is likely organizational depth more than a candidate for the Royals bullpen.

Brandon Sisk started the 2011 season with Northwest Arkansas and later promoted to Omaha, where he went 4-2 with a 1.41 ERA in 25 relief appearances. Sisk is a prospect, but not a top prospect. He has a chance to make the Royals bullpen, but it’s likely Sisk will start 2012 in Omaha.

Catchers: Cody Clark, Max Ramirez, Julio Rodriguez

Most likely to make the roster: Max Ramirez

Max Ramirez spent eight years in the minors and had catching stints with the Texas Rangers in 2008 and 2010 as a backup. If Ramirez makes the Royals Opening Day roster, it will be as a backup.

Could make the roster: Cody Clark

Cody Clark is a longtime Royals farmhand who spent his 2011 with Omaha as the backup to Manny Pina. Look for Clark to be a backup to Pina again in Omaha.

Long shot to make the roster: Julio Rodriguez

Julio Rodriguez came over from the Wilson Betemit trade last year. The 22 year-old spent 2011 in High A ball and is more of a prospect than a candidate for the Opening Day roster. He could end up in Northwest Arkansas.

Infielders: Tony Abreu, Irving Falu, Kevin Kouzmanoff

Most Likely to make the roster: Irving Falu

Irving Falu is a long-time Royals farmhand and at 28 years old, he’s less of a prospect and more organizational filler. If he makes the big club, it will be as a bench player, unless Johnny Giavotella has a disastrous Spring Training and the Royals decide to keep Yuni Betancourt and Chris Getz on the bench.

Could make the roster: Kevin Kouzmanoff

Kevin Kouzmanoff is a six-year Major League veteran with the Indians, Padres, A’s and Rockies. Once a touted prospect, Kouzmanoff’s production has steadily declined from his career high .275 batting average in 2007 with the Padres. The Royals see Kouzmanoff as insurance in case Mike Moustakas has an injury and lands on the disabled list. If Kouzmanoff isn’t on the Major League roster by May 1, he can opt out of his contract and become a free agent. If Kouzmanoff bolts, the Royals hope Moustakas stays healthy.

Long shot to make the roster: Tony Abreu

Tony Abreu spent 2011 in Reno, the Diamondbacks AAA affiliate, playing second base and shortstop. Abreu has Major League experience as a bench player for the Dodgers and Diamondbacks and will likely be a part of the Omaha infield in 2012.

Outfielders: Greg Golson, Wil Myers, Paulo Orlando

Most Likely to make the roster: Paulo Orlando

Paulo Orlando is a six-year Minor League veteran who is yet to make a Major League roster. If he does make it in 2012, it will be as a fourth outfielder, usurping Mitch Meier. At 26, Orlando is more organizational depth than a prospect.

Could make the roster: Greg Golson

Greg Golson is another long time Minor League veteran, who’s had short Major League stints with the Phillies, Rangers and Yankees. Golson might make the Opening Day roster as a fourth outfielder, but that’s only if Golson has a monster Spring Training and if Meier and Orlando stumble or suffer injury.

Long shot to make the roster: Wil Myers

Wil Myers is one of the Royals top prospects and had a good Arizona Fall League after a down year in Northwestern Arkansas due to a knee injury. While Myers has a bright future ahead of him, the Royals would prefer Myers to begin 2012 in the Omaha outfield to get playing time as a starter. If Jeff Francour has a long-term injury or is traded, Myers could be patrolling the Royals outfield this season.

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Royals Season Review: An Entertaining 71 Wins

Once again our roommates here at I70 Baseball are headed off to the post season after a wild month of September. We Royals fans once again get to watch the playoffs with mild detachment. If they’re anything like Wednesday’s epic finale to the regular season we’re in for a treat. However, we may not see a night of baseball like Wednesday for several years. There will be a lot written about that night, and there are not enough superlatives to describe it’s awesomeness.

The season finale was kind of disappointing for the Royals, losing 1-0 to the Wounded Critters err Twins. Putting that game aside I think this Royals team was the most entertaining bad baseball team I’ve watched. Before I switch gears into off-season mode I’d like to highlight what are my most memorable parts of the 2011 Royals season. Notice I said memorable, that doesn’t exactly mean good.

Spring Training: Coming into spring training the Royals were deemed to have the best minor league system in baseball. They didn’t disappoint. The young guys played well in spring training. The Royals won the Cactus League. It was a nice break from losing even if the games didn’t count. Unfortunately, they started the regular season with the only the young guys in the bullpen.

Saturday, April 2nd: This was the only Royals game I attended this year. I live 3 hours from Kauffman Stadium and clearing my schedule enough to get up there becomes difficult. But the games I do attend are big deals. We bought tickets to this game in early March because it also included the Futures Game. Those were the guys we wanted to see anyway, not Hiram Davies. Just so happens the Royals beat the Angels 5-4, and the Futures Game displayed a Mike Montgomery mowing down batters. On that day I was sure he’d have been in the rotation by July. Even though that didn’t happen it was still an awesome day.

The Next Day, April 3rd: Matt Treanor wins the game with a walk off HR in extra innings. The Royals take 3 of 4 from the Angels. The #smallsamplesizebutstill appears on Twitter.

Perfect Game, Perfect Meltdown, April 20th: Luke Hochaver is dealing. You know? He takes a perfect game into the 6th inning. You know? And the 6th inning goes like this for Hochaver: Single, Balk, Double, 5-3 ground out, 4-3 ground out, Balk, single, double, walk, double, and finally a strike out to ends the inning. You know? It becomes a microcosm of Hochaver’s season. You know? Awesome for most of the game, but is susceptible to what becomes known as a “Hochaver Inning”. You know?

The “That’s What Speed Do” Game, April 29th: With the game tied 3-3 in the 8th, Alcides Escobar hits a shallow fly ball to deep short/shallow left. Caught by shortstop Alexi Casilla, Jerrod Dyson tags up at third and is safe at the plate. Royals take the lead 4-3, and eventually win by that score. When asked about the play in the post game interview, Dyson said “that’s what speed do.” Unfortunately, Dyson couldn’t hit well enough to stay with the Royals for the rest of the season. I question weather he remains in the organization for the 2012 campaign.

April 30th: The Royals beat the Twins 11-2, and finish the month of April one game above .500 at 14-13. Good start. Too bad it didn’t mean much

Hosmas, May 6th: Finally, the long awaited MLB Debut of one Eric John Hosmer. Royals fans are excited. Hosmer goes 0 for 2, with 2 walks. Royals lose to the A’s 3-2. But this wasn’t about one game it was about the future.

Royals Visit Yankee Stadium, May 10th-12th: Royals Drop the first game 3-1. In game two Eric Hosmer hits his first home run, and the Royals win in 11 innings. In the third game the Royals take Ivan Nova behind the woodshed in the 2nd inning by putting up a 6 spot. And oh yeah, Eric Hosmer hits his 2nd home run. Royals win 11-5 and take 2 of 3 from the Yankees at the Stadium. I consider this to be the highlight of the season.

More Historical Futility, May 16th: Vin Mazzaro solidifies the David DeJesus trade as terrible by giving up 14 runs in 2.1 IP. Royals lose to surging Cleveland by 18 runs.

Danny Duffy MLB Debut, May 18th: With injuries to Bruce Chen and Sean O’Sullivan; Vin Mazzaro sent to Omaha; Danny Duffy gets his shot at the rotation. Duffy has an OK start: 4IP, 4H, 2ER, 6BB, 4K. He does not factor into the decision. Royals lose to the Rangers 5-4. Danny Duffy will stay with the Royals rest of the season.

Gold Glove Escobar, June 1st: It’s the top of the 8th in a scoreless ball game. The Angels have two outs and the base loaded. Alcides Escobar robs Alberto Callaspo of a base hit in shallow left and throws across the diamond for the put out at first. Escobar had tons of defensive highlights this season, but for some reason this play sticks out to me. Good pick up, that guy. This was also the same game Billy Butler hit a double…until it was reviewed and determined it was a walk-off home run. Royals win 2-0.

Mike Moustakas MLB Debut, June 10th: Mike Moustakas makes his much anticipated MLB debut in Anaheim. Moustakas goes 1 for 3 with a walk. He homers in his next game. He won’t homer again until September. There was a six week stretch that Moustakas looked over matched and lost at the plate. But he worked his way through it, and will be a major league contributor going forward.

#countrybreakfast, July 25th-28th The Royals roll into Fenway Park for a four game set with eventual AL Wild Card, Boston Red Sox. The first game goes 14 innings, but also includes a long rain delay. The Royals win 3-1. This game ended in the wee hours of the morning. This is when the Twittersphere gave Billy Butler the nickname; Country Breakfast. It is thought to be the first time fans on twitter gave a player a nickname and it stuck. It was even mention on Sports Center.

The Royals get throttled in the middle two games of the series. But Luke Hochaver pitches 7 strong in the series finale. Royals win 4-3 and get out of Boston with a split.

Johnny Giavotella MLB Debut, Aug 5th: Johnny Giavotella was on no ones radar in spring training. In August he replaces the much criticized Chris Getz. He immediately begins hitting. His first game batting line is 2 for 3, 1B, 2B, BB, RBI. We have ourselves a 2nd Baseman.

The Gangs All Here, Aug 10th: I’m not sure what is in store for the 2012 Royals. We know this group of position players is together for several years barring a trade or injury. If they go on to win a World Series I will remember this day as the turning point. Salvador Perez makes his MLB debut. To make room on the roster the Royals make the anticipated release of Kyle Davies. Just so happens the Royals played the Rays on this day. An organization the Royals should try and emulate. Aaron Crow and Joakim Soria combine to give up 5 runs in the bottom of the 9th. Rays win 8-7. This line up stays together for the rest of the season and suddenly the Royals have a potent offense.

Francoeur’s 9-3 Put Out, Sept 7th: There have been over 200,000 major league baseball games played. Most of them are pretty normal. But there are so many of games that a something extraordinary happens often. This was one of those plays. I originally heard this play on the radio. As soon as I got near a computer I looked for the video. Jeff Francoeur has made some spectacular plays in the outfield this year. Whatever his shortcomings at the plate, he entertaining to watch in the field. I’m glad he’s been signed to a two-year deal. Royals mailed in this game, lost 7-0 to the A’s.

Thus brings us to the long cold off-season. It’s been a fun year and I can hardly wait till March when spring training get into full swing. With any luck and some excellent moves by the Royals front office the 2012 season review will take me twice as long, and I’ll have to break it up into two articles.

nobody on the road, nobody on the beach.

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