When looking at the 2014 Kansas City Royals, two names come up more than any when talking about what has to happen for the Royals to succeed and they are Yordano Ventura and Mike Moustakas. Let’s get the obvious out of the way before we get any farther. What happened yesterday was in a spring training game. Results can look funky for various reasons that I’ve discussed more times than I want to count. Still, yesterday’s game was highlighted by Yordano Ventura being absolutely filthy and convincing one A’s official that he is destined for greatness. That’s one A’s official who went on record to Peter Gammons. Who knows how many more believe that and just didn’t talk to Gammons. In addition to Ventura, Moustakas continued his torrid spring, going 3 for 3 with a home run off a lefty and a double off a lefty. He’s now hitting .500/.581/1.077 this spring in 30 plate appearances.
Let’s start with Ventura. From the start of camp and before, the Royals wanted Ventura to take the fifth starter job and run with it. Yesterday against the A’s, he went 4.1 innings, gave up 1 run (a run that Joseph’s pitching let in) on two hits, walked nobody and struck out six. I wasn’t there for this one, but from what I understand the numbers (and they’re phenomenal) don’t do the performance justice. Everything Ventura threw was working and when he’s going that good, he might be as good as anyone in baseball. He can throw over 100 MPH and maintain it through multiple innings. He has a nasty changeup at times and his curve can be a ridiculous weapon for him.
When I saw Ventura pitch against the Giants last week, I saw him rely on the fastball a little bit too much. It’s hard to blame him. If I had a fastball that good, I’d probably fall in love with it too. Unfortunately, in the big leagues, you can’t just throw the fastball all day long, and I know that Ventura knows that. He started mixing in some off speed stuff periodically and it really helped him to keep the Giants off balance a little bit better. What’s crazy is that I’ve seen Ventura have better stuff in a game and even without his best stuff, or even second best stuff, he was able to get through a pretty solid big league lineup. He had his troubles, sure, but he showed me that he was able to pitch a little and get on track even when things weren’t going exactly as he planned.
The Royals believe Ventura is ready to throw 200 innings in a season. It’s been talked about quite a bit, but delaying Ventura’s service time seems silly to me, and it seems silly to the Royals too apparently. I think he was the very clear front runner to win the fifth starter job from the start, and after yesterday, he’s pulled even farther away from Duffy, who will likely go to AAA to start the season. I think Ventura might have his issues throughout the season at times, but what he showed yesterday, spring training or not, is what he’s capable of and I don’t think there’s anyone ticketed for the big league roster, including James Shields, who is capable of being more dominant than Ventura.
As for Moustakas, we’ve reached the point of the spring where people start to ask if we can believe in what we’ve seen so far. A lot of people point to what Moustakas has done against lefties this spring, but last year he hit .421/.476/.684 with two doubles and a homer in 19 at bats. This year’s line of .571/.625/1.571 in just seven at bats with a double and two homers is fantastic, but it’s nothing new. And that’s kind of where I am with Moustakas in general. We’ve seen him have big springs before and then as soon as the games started counting. So no, I’m not ready to say Moustakas is fixed or he can be a key cog in the Royals lineup, but I’d rather he be putting up good numbers than bad.
From seeing Moustakas last week, though, I can’t deny being encouraged. He seems to have really quieted down his swing mechanics, which theoretically should lead to less prolonged slumps throughout the season. I noticed a bit of a toe tap when he was hitting in batting practice, but don’t remember seeing that in a game, so that’s something I’m going to watch for the next chance I have to watch the team. I’ll also say that he looks like he’s in far better shape than he was last season. It’s hard to see in his uniform because he goes with the baggy style, but in shorts and a t-shirt, you can really see a difference in him. I don’t know how much of the game is mental, but I do know that there is a big mental aspect and it seems like Moustakas is in the right frame of mind this spring.
Today, March 13, is not the day that I will begin believing in Mike Moustakas again. On Twitter, I saw Josh Vernier answer a question of when that day should come and he said mid-May and I think agree with that. Considering what Moustakas has done throughout his big league career, I think we all need to see that this is more than just an Arizona hot streak, but the results to this point are at least encouraging.
The Royals could very easily win a lot of games in 2014 even if Mike Moustakas hits .230/.290/.380 and Yordano Ventura only makes seven starts because he’s ineffective. Other players can step up and help this team contend throughout 2014. Very few, though, have the ability to transform the team the way Moustakas and Ventura could. If Ventura pitches like he did yesterday more often than not, the Royals have their legitimate number two starter to slot behind Shields. If Moustakas can continue what he’s done throughout the early part of the spring, then the Royals lineup lengthens even more and takes them from an average or so lineup to one that can compete with some of the better lineups in the American League. Yes it’s spring training and I’m not getting too ahead of myself, but we caught a glimpse yesterday of what two of the bigger keys to 2014 for the Royals can do.
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