Through the first six games of the Royals Cactus League schedule, the boys in blue have found a way to win them all. It’s only spring training, but I’m sensing some serious optimism based on this, which is kind of silly, but it’s also fun when your team wins no matter how little it matters. It’s hard to put too much stock in a game like yesterday’s when the Royals faced the Brewers “Q” squad, but they do have the best run differential in baseball this spring so far (fueled mostly by a blowout over the Diamondbacks) and the offense is pretty much clicking like we all hope it can. I’ve seen the story before, just take a look at Eric Hosmer’s 2012 spring, but I’d much rather see good things than bad of course.
As you all know, the Royals are mostly set across the roster and whether you believe that should be the case is now irrelevant as spring as started and the Royals don’t care what you or I think. Okay, that might have been a little harsh. The big battles of the spring are for the second base job, backup catcher, fifth starter and last piece of the bullpen. All have seen some ups and downs in the first week alone, so I thought it might be fun to check in on where we are with these few battles of the camp. I hope to have a much clearer picture when I get back from Surprise the week after next, but until then, we’re going off stats and what we’ve heard on the radio.
This battle started with a clear cut front runner in Chris Getz, and I think he’s still out in front, but I’m not sure it’s quite as clear cut as it was even a week ago. Getz’s calling card is his fundamentals and he’s made some mistakes (shocking, I know) over the first week, getting picked off, making a couple of errors and just generally playing differently than what the Royals have touted about him since acquiring him a few years ago. It’s far too early to make any offensive judgments, but Giavotella has made some really nice plays defensively and it sounds like he’s had some better at bats than what we’ve seen from him in his time in the big leagues. You can’t discount Miguel Tejada or Elliot Johnson for the job, but Tejada has gotten off to a slow start and Johnson left yesterday’s game with a minor injury. Getz is still the leader, but the race is a little tighter.
The knock on Kottaras is his defense, and he’s actually been pretty good in the early going in limited duty. Brett Hayes has been his usual self as well. I think this battle is one we’ll see some movement on when Perez leaves to play in the World Baseball Classic next week. For now, I still give Kottaras the edge, but we can update this battle here in a week and a half or so.
Has anyone impressed in the early going more than Donnie Joseph? He’s faced six batters and struck them all out. If you were wondering, that’s quite good. The bad news for Joseph is that Dan Wheeler and Louis Coleman have been nearly as good, and I think the Royals really value a veteran presence in their bullpen, so Wheeler might actually be the favorite in the early going. Francisley Bueno has struggled a bit this spring so far and he has the least upside of any of the four. The wild card is Michael Mariot who I think has very little chance right now to make the team, but he’s been really impressive in three early appearances. He’s a guy who was mostly a starter in the minors, but might be able to play his stuff up a little out of the bullpen. I think he’s likely to be someone who rides the I-29 express over the next few years, but he can be a real big help as soon as 2013.
So that’s it. No more battles. Oh wait.
This is the battle people are probably paying the most attention to because I think it’s a matter of looking at an area the organization has made some mistakes in the eyes of many fans. The three main candidates, of course, are Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza. Will Smith is the wild card in all of this, but for him to win the job, we’d have to see a trade, an injury and a blowup by the three in front of him. All four of these pitchers have had one appearance this spring and three of the four have been excellent. The one exception is Luke Hochevar who went 1.2 innings, gave up two runs, walked three and struck out two. Chen and Smith have each pitched two perfect innings while Mendoza went four innings and gave up just one run. My preference here is that Luis Mendoza wins the job, but he’s still got a ways to go before we can see my preference become a reality. Luke Hochevar was and is the clear leader in the clubhouse, but the race has become much closer with three great performances and one rough one.
So we’re only about a week in and this exercise will look very different probably in even a week from now, but I think it’s fun to check in and see where we are as we edge closer and closer to seeing what the Royals roster may be on April 1 in Chicago. The five National League games in the season’s first couple of weeks could make a difference in how the Royals shape their roster, but whatever it is, there’s a level of interest in each and every one of the 25 players that I don’t really remember from season’s past. And the good thing that might come out of a very long spring training is that there’s more time for leaders to emerge in battles and actually have the sample sizes to make the decision a little more legitimate.
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