14 March 2007

Royals in the Spring -- a short update

We're now a couple of weeks into spring training, and I've been tardy in posting any kind of distant commentary on it, basically because I don't think Spring Training means much other than getting in shape and there aren't tons of hot position battles in Royals camp. Remember last season when the Royals had one of the best spring training records, then Buddy Belled their way to another 100-loss season? I don't really care if they win until opening day, period. I also wanted to wait until the first round of cuts, which saw 15 sent to minor league camp yesterday. Anyway, I figured in the interest of the Royals I would do a quick rundown of ST thus far in sunny Arizona. Here's a link to the current stats.

Injuries -- Mark Grudzielanek apparently gave Esteban German an open shot at the 2B job coming out of ST with a knee problem but reportedly may be ready by opening day. Oh well, at least Esteban gets the spring to show his stuff. Really, Grudz is getting old and German deserves a shot. Oh, yeah, wait, Buddy Bell is the manager and will trot Grudz out there and force German to play out of position in CF. Just like with Huber last year and the infamous "Dougie doesn't deserve that" quote about Mientkiewicz that continues to chap my hide. At least Grudz IS coming off a Gold Glove season. He's still past his prime, tho.

Joe Nelson developed more labrum problems with surgery scheduled today, I think. He's out at least a couple months. He was a pleasant surprise in '06 and looked to be a hopefully solid set-up guy for Octavio Dotel. As it is, his injury will probably welcome Kenny Ray back to KC to start '07. Leo Nunez was probably in the mix until he got hurt by a line drive to the wrist.

Of course the most heartstopping injury for Royals fans has been the "shoulder jam" to Alex Gordon, which apparently isn't anything serious. If Gordon tore his rotator cuff or something like that, talk of a KC curse would probably start up. Forget I mentioned it.

On the field (pitchers) -- The Pipeline has Joakim-mania, and hopefully rule V pick Soria carries the hype over into the season in KC. He has the best ERA currently among Royals pitchers, even though some of his performance has been against minor-league competition, and it IS only spring training. Todd Wellemeyer is making an unsuccessful run at the rotation; Meche and Hudson have been OK; De la Rosa has been himself (lack of control, streaks of good and bad); Bannister has looked to be solid; and Odalis Perez has gotten shelled. Not what KC fans wanted to see from Odalis. At all. Still I have to say he gets to make the rotation until he gets blown up in the regular season a couple times. I'd rather roll the dice with him than Wellemeyer or Greinke (at this point). Jimmy Gobble, Soria, Dotel, Wellemeyer, and Riske look to be solid out of the pen, even though American Japan import John Bale has gotten lit up in limited action. He'll still make the team as a lefty out of the pen, I'd wager, mainly because the only other strong option is Ryan Braun, who I think will close at Omaha to start the season.

On the field (hitting) -- The biggest news, of course, is Mark Teahen giving RF a go to clear room for Alex Gordon at third. Gordon wasn't hitting to start the spring, heated up, did whatever he did to his shoulder and now Royals fans have to hope he can still produce. Also, Billy Butler has been raking to the tune of a 1.4 OPS in ST but his defensive issues will send him to Omaha. How about if we had just gotten rid of Mike Sweeney at least two seasons ago, then Butler at DH would be a no-brainer. But no, the $11 million back injury has struck again. I know Sweeney seems to be a good guy, but I don't buy that he's a winner as a team leader and I don't buy that he can stay healthy. He's an albatross, and KC needs to get him off the books. This season they're already babying him like an octagenarian, giving him limited time so he doesn't get hurt. He's a full-time DH this season, I bet. They'd be stupid to let him play defense. He's proven well that he can get injured just swinging the bat or running out a routine grounder, too, though. Give him until May 1.

On the "looking good" front, I'd place Shealy (1.0 OPS), Butler, Gathright (if he could hit more than singles), Teahen (solid while learning a new position), Gload (may be this year's version of '05 Emil), Gordon (picked it up nicely since slow start), and Huber (waiting for his next chance at getting passed by, also back at first). Reggie Sanders has been solid in limited action but will be lucky to stay off the DL (nothing against Reggie but the Pipeline is still holding out for a trade here), and to point out the absurdity of ST stats, SS Alex Gonzalez has hit for a 1.3 OPS in 8 games. Which throws all the numbers out the window. On the "not so good" front, I'd only put DeJesus (OBP under .250) and Emil (.190 BA, .238 SLG in 8 games). That puts a lot of people in the middle ground, including Berroa (0 BB, 10 Ks, 1 XBH, a shocker), Buck (only .250 BA but nice OBP and OK SLG), LaRue (nice pop at C, producing more than Buck, I say start him), German (solid but nothing spectacular), Andres Blanco (better than German but we'll see how it holds up), Costa (battling back strain now, still ought to be 4th OF), and Sweeney, who's only played 4 games.

The cuts -- Nothing earth-shattering in the 15 cuts made yesterday. P Luke Hochevar will start '07 at Wichita but will likely finish in Omaha at best, OF Mitch Maier will play CF at Omaha, LHP Dan Christensen will start the season in the rotation with Hoch at Wichita, and RHP Carlos Rosa (who also reportedly looked good in Arizona) will start the year at Wilmington but, I think, finish up in Wichita. Others cut were pitchers Dewon Brazelton (Omaha or out), Billy Buckner (Omaha? I think Wichita), Wayne Franklin (see Brazelton), Roberto Giron (ditto), Tyler Lumsden (see Buckner) and Matt Wright (Omaha, I'd think); catchers Damaso Espino (Wichita), Jared Price (Omaha) and Max St. Pierre (?) and infielders Graham Koonce and Richard Lewis (both Omaha). At least it'll be nice not to see 75 percent wash-ups in AAA for KC this season.

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