Spring Training Debut: The Good and Bad
Wednesday, the Kansas City Royals came out on the field in Surprise, AZ with a new type of swagger as they hope to improve more this season and make a run at the AL Central. The Royals faced the Texas Rangers and it was a game that they would want to forget.
The Royals ended up losing 12-7 as the Rangers were able to get off to a good start in the first inning by going up 6-0. After the second inning, the score was 9-1. The Royals were able to cut the lead to 9-5 after the third inning, but that is as close as they could get.
The Royals pitching got hammered throughout the day as the Rangers managed to get 20 hits off of the Royals pitching staff. Horacio Ramirez was the starter and his performance is not something that the Royals are looking forward to when Opening Day begins. He only lasted two-thirds of an inning, gave up seven hits and six runs (three ER), including a home run off of Hank Blalock.
Unfortunately, Brandon Duckworth was in the same boat as Ramirez.
Duckworth came in relief of Ramirez and went two-and-a-third innings with four hits, three earned runs, a walk, including two home runs off of Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz. After Duckworth was finished, the bleeding slowed down a bit until the seventh and eighth innings, when the Rangers tacked on three more runs.
The positive side of the Royals performance was their hitting. The Royals showed the ability to drive in runs with men on base. Mike Jacobs had a solid debut for the Royals going 1-for-3 with a home run in the third inning off of Matt Harrison. Billy Butler showed some strides of power as well with a home run in the third inning off of Harrison.
Butler went 2-for-3 on the day.
The Royals didn't get to see much out of Alex Gordon as he drew two walks. Gordon showed great patience at the plate, but he did not get a good ball to hit. Mark Teahen had a decent game hitting as he went 1-for-3.
However, he is still adjusting to the transition of playing second base for the first time in his MLB career. Teahen made two errors on defense (one throwing, one fielding).
Royals fans expected this out of Teahen, hopefully he won't cost the Royals any games this season. Even A-Rod had a hard time adjusting to a position he never played before. He made 13 errors in his first-year playing third base, but he panned out over time fielding in that position.
The error count will be on Teahen this year if the Royals continue with this transition.
As everyone can see, the Royals dealt with the good and bad in their first spring training game. The Royals were able to bounce back by beating the Rangers 7-2 yesterday. Now for a little sneak preview of the 2009 MLB season for the Kansas City Royals.
Who will be the starting five for the pitching rotation?
Zack Greinke, Gil Meche, and Kyle Davies seem to be locks for the No. 1, 2, and 3 slots in the rotation. The only difference in this rotation is that Greinke will be the "ace" this time around as Meche will have to prove himself and earn his money this season. Meche is most likely to never be the "ace" in the starting rotation again.
The real battle is for the No. 4 and 5 slots in the starting rotation. Luke Hochevar, Brian Bannister, John Bale, and Horacio Ramirez are in the running as of right now.
Luke Hochevar hasn't panned out as a No. 1 overall selection in the 2004 MLB Draft. The former Tennessee Volunteer went 6-12 with a 5.51 ERA and 72 strikeouts last season. Hochevar has a good fastball with a decent slider and sinker. He still needs work on his curveball and changeup to be a more effective pitcher.
Hochevar also needs to be more confident in his pitch selection and where he wants to go with the ball. Hochevar gave up a lot of hits and runs as a result last season. He could possibly start the season back in AAA or as a middle-reliever until he can build his confidence up again.
Brian Bannister was a former AL Rookie of the Month that went 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA during his first full season as a starting pitcher for the Kansas City Royals in his rookie campaign.
Angel Berroa held this honor many times to become the AL Rookie of the Year, but Royals fans know what happened to him after that. I hope this is not the start of a trend in Kansas City as Bannister had a disappointing 2008 campaign.
Bannister went 9-16 with a 5.76 ERA and 113 strikeouts. Many Royals fans thought that Bannister would improve and eventually be near the top of the starting rotation.
Due to his performance last season, he might not even have an opening day job unless he wants to take a limited role as a reliever to earn his job back.
John Bale started out last season 0-3 in a starters' role until he broke his left pitching hand after his third losing decision. He was out for most of 2008, but in his final 10 games of the season, he was able to convert his ERA from 7.16 to 4.39.
Bale would be a good middle reliever for the rotation, but he might have something to prove as a starter.
Horacio Ramirez is the newcomer of all these four guys fighting for a starting role in the pitching rotation. He went 1-4 with a 4.34 ERA last season for the Chicago White Sox after getting traded by the Royals when he was in the minor league system.
Ramirez is also a left-handed pitcher with the ability to turn in a lot of double plays and ground ball outs. A shoulder injury when he was playing for the Braves a few years ago has held him back a bit. Ramirez is looking forward to try to return to his young form.
The final two spots of the rotation should be held by Bannister and Ramirez when Opening Day begins on April 10th vs. the Yankees.
The Bullpen Woes
The Kansas City Royals traded away Leo Nunez for Mike Jacobs and Ramon Ramirez for Coco Crisp. Those were not bad moves as GM Dayton Moore did address the power hitting and the veteran leadership along with the outfielder presence.
The Coco Crisp was not exactly a necessity because the Royals could have went after a second baseman or another reliever instead. With that being said, who is going to fill the bullpen needs for the Royals?
Let me take that back, the bullpen still needs help...
Kyle "Wild Man" Farnsworth could be the setup guy in the rotation. He has had a history of good and bad when it comes to throwing pitches. His fastball is a hit or miss waiting to happen. When Farnsworth is in a groove, he can hit locate the fastball and slider with precision.
Unfortunately, when he is not hitting his spots, its just a matter of time before a "bean ball" comes into effect. He has a tendency to blow games when he does not locate the ball well. This acquisition by GM Dayton Moore is by far the riskiest move of the offseason.
Royals fans, it gets worse.
Jimmy Gobble and Joel Peralta are still part of the bullpen. I can see these guys giving out Christmas presents to power hitters right now. The positive effect of this bullpen is that the Royals still have Ron Mahay. We'll see how long that lasts.
If the Royals do not address the bullpen, another year will have to wait for them to contend for the AL Central.
Will Joakim Soria pull out an encore?
Joakim Soria is coming off a year in which he was the only Royals representative to play in the MLB All-Star Game last season. He was nearly automatic with 42 saves, 66 strikeouts, a 1.60 ERA and a 2-3 record.
The Royals have found their version of "Mariano Rivera", but will get more opportunities to close out ball games this season? The bullpen is a question mark right now and if they can not hold leads for the Royals, Soria will be less of a factor this season.
Soria will have an encore performance, if not better than last season. The Royals improved hitting lineup should make up for the bullpen's possible mistakes and help Soria get more chances to close out ball games.
Will Mike Jacobs be a one-hit wonder for the Royals?
Mike Jacobs is making a name for himself so far in Spring Training, but will that translate into another solid season in a different uniform? Jacobs hit .247 with 32 HR and 93 RBI last season for the Florida Marlins.
His batting average was the lowest of his career, but he had a career high in HR and RBI. You can compare his numbers to Adam Dunn in a sense. Mike Jacobs had a solid last year in Florida, but is he the guy that the Royals need to jump-start their power hitting production? Fans will be on the Jacobs watch this season.
Will Alex Gordon be an All-Star third baseman this season?
Alex Gordon has the potential to be a great power hitter in the Major Leagues. He also has the potential to be a perennial All-Star one day. This could be the year that Alex comes out of his shell and makes a huge improvement on his production to become an All-Star representative for the Kansas City Royals. Gordon hit .260, 16 HR, and 59 RBI last season.
The knock on him is that he looks at too many pitches. As a result, he gets caught looking at strikes. Gordon has worked hard this offseason to be more aggressive at the plate and take a few more chances with balls that could be questionable strikes. This season could be the breakout year for Alex Gordon.
The Mark Teahen transition to second base. One word: WHY?
As a Royals fan, I do not understand this move. Teahen has never played third base in his baseball career. I know the Royals want to give him as much playing time as possible to get some better production, but he is too big to play the position.
There is a reason why Teahen only plays third baseman and outfielder. He is by far the best outfielder on the team and has good range to make all of the throws at either position.
The downside to Teahen is that he is not athletic enough to play second base. Second base is one of the toughest positions to play in baseball. You have to be ready for double plays, ground balls, line drives, and be aware of where the runner is at when he is slides to second base.
The runner can either take your knees away or slide in a position that can throw your timing off as a second baseman.
The Royals need to just let Teahen play his natural position or try to trade him for some more relievers in the bullpen or a legit second baseman. The Royals could be trying to get some value for him with this move, but we'll see how this transition goes.
Does anybody have "E"s instead of "K"s to keep track of his errors?
Jose Guillen and Billy Butler
Jose Guillen led the Royals in HR and RBI, but his locker room antics in the middle of the season have caused him to possibly be a cancer if it keeps up. Guillen also led the team with strikeouts and his production declined from when he left Seattle.
He has to be more patient at the plate and he can start by not swinging at dirt balls all the time. Guillen has a bad habit of doing this and it hurts the team. Guillen needs to be more of a leader, stop whining, stop throwing tantrums and play baseball.
Billy Butler had a jersey giveaway as part of the Royals debuting their new Powder Blue jerseys vs. the Twins last season on Apr. 7. The first 20,000 fans to show up at Kauffman Stadium received a free Billy Butler powder blue jersey at the gate. The Royals organization learned a valuable lesson that day. Never do a free jersey giveaway promotion again.
Butler was sent to Triple-AAA Omaha over a month later. Butler needed to lose some weight and work on his hitting as he only batted .263 with 1 HR and 18 RBI before the move. He returned right before the All-Star break and showed some improvement the rest of the season.
He finished 2008 hitting .275, 11 HR and 55 RBI. If Butler can manage his weight and improve his hitting more, he will have a productive season in Kansas City.
The Kansas City Royals will make a huge improvement from last season's ballclub. They will drive in more runs and become a better offensive team. As far as the pitching is concerned, Greinke and Soria will be studs, Davies and Mahay will be solid and the rest will show a lack of inconsistency.
Gil Meche is on his last leash with this group of pitchers. He got paid and now that he has lost his job as the "ace" of the staff, he needs to prove that he is worthy of his contract. If he does not turn it around, look for him to possibly be on the trading block at some point next season.
The biggest blow that will prevent the Royals from contending in the AL Central is the bullpen. The bullpen will continue to blow a few games for the Royals that will take them out of the AL Wild Card hunt. The Royals finish third in the AL Central with an 82-80 record behind the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins.
David DeJesus will lead the team in batting average again and become the team MVP.
All-Star Selections: Alex Gordon, Zack Greinke, and Joakim Soria
New. Blue. Tradition.