Every year, it’s become a tradition for a few friends to come over to my house for the Super Bowl. I make nachos, a good friend always makes buffalo chicken dip, another makes wings and another always brings wings and we have a great time watching the game, chatting about nothing in particular and picking our favorite commercial. Silently, as the game goes on, I realize we’re one step closer to baseball taking center stage after the Super Bowl ends. Yes, I enjoy the game and when there’s a finish like last night’s game provided, I’m into it and not even thinking about baseball. But then the game ends and my mind shifts completely. Yes there’s still college basketball, the NBA and the NHL, but to me, all those are time killers. My first thought always turns to the spring and what it means for the Royals.
I usually write an article about why you shouldn’t pay attention to spring statistics and all that, but at this point you know at all, so I’m going to confine that to a paragraph here. There are multiple reasons spring statistics don’t mean much. I’m going to mention them in no particular order here. The Arizona air makes hitters look fantastic. Anyone remember Mitch Maier’s .513/.620/.692 line from a couple seasons ago? That was a year after he hit .475/.530/.814. I know Maier has a bit of a cult following among many of the ladies in Kansas City, but that’s pretty outrageous. Those Maier spring lines has replaced the Ross Gload .643 spring slugging percentage from 2007. Another reason is the small sample size. Eric Hosmer led the Royals in at bats last spring with 83. While that’s a chunk, it’s simply not enough to judge. And the other big reason is the competition. After the fifth inning, many teams are using minor leaguers and guys who have no shot to make the big club. Add in big league guys who are working on things, and statistics are just unreliable. Now, you CAN look at how someone is playing and make some judgments on that, but even those are risky just because of the limited time to see them.
Having said all that, teams continuously use spring training to judge players and base their opening rosters on, which irks me, but probably will not change any time soon. The Royals have already said they want to use spring training to evaluate Miguel Tejada, although I’m hopeful that’s more for his approach, bat speed, etc. than to watch his numbers. If that’s the case, I’ll allow it. But even the second base battle between Johnny Giavotella and Chris Getz (and maybe Miguel Tejada and Christian Colon) will be decided based on spring training. So no matter how many of us give warning about the perils of spring training statistics, it doesn’t seem to stick with big league clubs a lot of the time. Because of that, there are some spring stories that people don’t seem to pay much attention to, but could be huge for the future of the Royals, even later in 2013.
Every year, I like to look at he list of non roster invites to be a part of the big league camp during spring training. For those who are unfamiliar, a non roster invite is someone who is not on the 40 man roster but is going to be with the big league club for an undetermined amount of time. Pretty much every year, someone surprises from that list and makes the big league roster. Often, these players can make an imprint on the minds of the front office that stick with them for a long time. Usually the players who have that impact are guys who do the little things well. And while that’s a phrase that annoys me, it’s one that baseball people love to use to describe players who don’t really light up the stat sheet. I feel like sometimes it’s almost a defense mechanism to preemptively answer the fans who are upset about any particular player getting a lot of playing time. Often times, the “little things” are described in a very compact word – grit.
If you’ll think long and hard back to 2011, a certain pitcher impressed Royals brass a ton. He had a great spring, but the Royals felt he just wasn’t quite ready, so they sent him to AAA in order to put the finishing touches on his repertoire. That pitcher was Mike Montgomery who was just so impressive in 2011. Of course, that was the peak of his career to this point, and he never made it back, but he put himself in a position with a great spring to be the first starting pitcher called up when the Royals had a need.
Tomorrow I’ll take a look at some of those non-roster guys who could really make their name known even more than they already are to Royals brass. It’s a bit of an eclectic list that lacks the star power of some previous seasons, but the Royals farm system is in recovery mode after losing prospects to a combination of trades, graduation to the big leagues and attrition. So while there isn’t he Eric Hosmer or Wil Myers in the 2013 group of non roster invitees, there are a couple of intriguing names who could find their way onto the Royals roster by the end of the season or even before, and maybe even by Opening Day for some of them.
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