One thing I get the chance to do every year is head down to spring training for a few days to watch the Royals in action. For a baseball nerd like me, that helps me get my baseball fix that I’ve been so sorely lacking over the last few months and keeps my third quenched until Opening Day rolls around a few weeks later. People often ask me what the best things to do there are, and I give a lot of information about the Phoenix area and all that, but I sometimes go kind of light on the information of what to do at the complex, so I thought I’d dive into that.
The great thing about spring training is how open everything is. If you’re headed to Surprise for a game at 1, I recommend getting out to the complex a few hours early. I know that seems like overkill, but there’s so much to watch that once you do it, you’ll feel like you could have gotten out there even earlier. When you pull into the complex, you’ll see the big stadium, and it’s quite beautiful, but to the right is the Royals half of the complex and there are a few fields where you’ll find all sorts of action going on. Head on that way and basically pick what you want to watch. There’s pretty much something for everyone.
On the biggest practice field, the big league club takes batting practice before the game. There’s a set of bleachers there where you can sit and watch the big league club take batting practice. For someone who isn’t quite the baseball nerd that I am, you can just enjoy the beautiful weather and the crack of the bat, but I also like to watch the guys in the field and see how they handle batting practice before a spring training game. Sometimes they’re chatty with each other while other times, they really take it seriously and are working on positioning with their teammates and all that good stuff. It’s just a lot of fun to watch. If you take a little trip beyond the outfield fence to the lead walkway to the back fields, you have a chance to get a home run ball.
If you head to some of the other fields, you can see various minor league affiliates doing minor league affiliate things. One of my favorite things to do is watch infield drills for some of the young prospects with a great defensive pedigree. If you get the chance to watch some of the young shortstop prospects take infield, you won’t be disappointed. What these guys can do with their gloves is truly amazing and really shows you how athletic a middle infielder can be. The minor league fields are great, too, because you get to see the instruction happen. You get the opportunity to see a minor league coach put his arm around a guy and explain why his swing path is causing him problems or why his fielding position would lead to some awkward throws or whatever the problem may be.
There’s also a little area in between some fields where a lot of pitchers do some short throwing and little drills. I know that probably sounds boring to some, and it might be to those, but I just get mesmerized watching these guys go through their daily drills. Last year, I remember watching some of the young pitchers working on their pickoff move on that little stretch of land and it’s very interesting to see how different some of these guys are and the instruction they get from the coaching staffs.
The best thing, though, about the back fields is that you can talk to anybody and everybody. You’ll see Dayton Moore or J.J. Piccolo walking around and they’ll chat with anybody who has a question for them. A couple years ago, I saw Ryan Lefebvre on the back fields and ended up having a 15 minute conversation with him about anything and everything. It wasn’t even limited to baseball. The players roam around back there too. Chat with them. Have a great time. One of my favorite things I ever saw back there was a prospect and his mother chatting a couple years back. He was having some trouble during batting practice and got yelled at a little bit by one of the coaches. I watched him walk out of the gate and into the public area and a woman walked up to him and gave him a kiss on the cheek and a hug and gave him a mother’s pep talk. Something about that was just very cool to me.
If you want a look at some things to do around the city, I’ve got you covered here. I highly, highly recommend taking some time to get to the Phoenix area to take in some baseball and some generally great weather. It’s the trip I look forward to every season and can’t wait to get down there next week. Follow me on Twitter @DBLesky to get all my updates from my five days in Surprise. I’ll have pictures, videos and all sorts of good stuff for you.
As the 2014 season grows closer, the Kansas City Royals face the challenge of putting together a 25 man roster that has a chance to make the postseason and make some noise once they get there. Understanding that a roster as an ever-changing mechanism, the Royals have long operated under the mantra that they like to evaluate things over the first 40 games before making moves that can better the team. Sometimes that time frame is accelerated in extreme circumstances (think Eric Hosmer/Kila Ka’aihue in 2011), but for the most part, they stick to it pretty closely. So I wanted to take a look at who I think will break camp as part of the 2014 roster that heads to Detroit for the opener on March 31 of this year.
This position is one of the few where there might be a battle in camp. Salvador Perez is very clearly the starter. He’s the superstar in waiting and already an All-Star and is considered one of the league’s better defenders behind the dish. His backup, though, is up for grabs. The Royals have Brett Hayes, who is probably the favorite for the job. He has big league experience and has had some success. He’s solid defensively, but doesn’t do anything that stands out. The other candidates include Francisco Pena (son of Tony, Sr. and obviously brother of Tony, Jr.), Ramon Hernandez and Adam Moore. Pena can’t hit, but is already on the 40 man roster and he’s supposedly quite good defensively. Hernandez and Moore are both non-roster invitees and both have big league experience. Just a hunch here, but I think Ramon Hernandez claims the backup job from Brett Hayes. When it’s all said and done, Perez is probably going to catch 130 or more games, so the backup catcher isn’t the most important job on the roster, but I’d guess it’s Perez and Hernandez.
The starters are set with Hosmer, Infante, Escobar and Moustakas around the diamond. The question is whether there will be one backup infielder or two backup infielders. Fox Sports Kansas City’s Jeffrey Flanagan believes the Royals might break camp without a backup middle infielder, but I just can’t see that happening. Omar Infante hasn’t played many full seasons in his career and Alcides Escobar is no lock to hit enough to not need a day off here and there. With the DFA of Emilio Bonifacio, my best guess is Pedro Ciriaco claims that spot, though Christian Colon and Jason Donald will battle for it as well. Colon is a former first round pick (4th overall), and hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations, but the Royals would absolutely love to see him in the big leagues. By signing Infante, I think they showed he isn’t going to be a starter on this team any time soon. The other guy who could play a role in the Royals plans is Danny Valencia, a corner infielder who bats right-handed and was acquired for David Lough from the Orioles. I think Valencia is a Moustakas handcuff and his roster spot sort of depends on how Moustakas fares in the spring. I think Valencia makes the roster, so the infield is Hosmer, Infante, Escobar, Moustakas, Ciriaco and Valencia.
Again, the starters here are set, but there’s some complication with the backups that I’ll get to in a second. Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and newly acquired Norichika Aoki make up the starting outfield. If the Royals get what they hope for, these three will combine for 450 games. Gordon and Aoki can be reasonably expected to play every day, but Lorenzo Cain hasn’t shown that he can stay healthy for a full season, and this is where things get tricky. If the Royals feel like Aoki can handle center field on a regular basis, they could part ways with Jarrod Dyson because they’d have someone who could fill in for Cain for weeks at a time. If they don’t, though, Jarrod Dyson is an absolute must on this roster because Cain just can’t be trusted to stay healthy. With Dyson, the Royals have a capable defensive backup (though he does have his issues out there), and can feel comfortable if and when Cain goes down. The reason its even a question is because that backup outfielder is the 13th position player on the roster. This team is going to carry 12 pitchers, there’s no doubt in my mind about that. That leaves Justin Maxwell out in the cold if Dyson and Valencia are on the roster. Valencia and Maxwell fill similar roles as both are right-handed power off the bat. I just think Valencia holds more value as he can platoon with Moustakas while Maxwell is backing up players who are capable against both lefties and righties. My outfield best guess, as of today, is Gordon, Cain, Aoki and Dyson.
The rotation is pretty easy to project for Opening Day. Just don’t ask me about June 1 because things could be totally shaken up by then. We know for certain that James Shields is in there. We also know for certain that Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie will be in there. Bruce Chen is a virtual lock based on Ned Yost’s comments recently. So now we have a battle for the fifth spot that includes Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, Brad Penny, Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis. I think Kyle Zimmer should be involved, but it sounds like he won’t pitch until early May, so he’s likely out of this competition. I think any of the five could win the spot, but I really think the Royals are going to go with Duffy to start the season in the rotation and you’ll see something like Shields, Vargas, Guthrie, Chen, Duffy in that order.
The bullpen is both easy and hard to predict. I think Greg Holland, Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and Wade Davis are locks. That’s six pitchers with only one spot left, and this is where it gets crazy. The candidates for that final spot are Donnie Joseph, Louis Coleman, Francisely Bueno, Chris Dwyer, Michael Mariot, Guillermo Mota and Jon Rauch. Only one can make it and all have their upside. I think Mariot is the longest of long shots in this group, so let’s eliminate him. I think the Royals would really like Jon Rauch to fill a role in the bullpen, but I can’t see how they keep him over some of the younger arms, so let’s eliminate him and Mota for now. Bueno has a soft spot in the hearts of this organization, but I don’t see it. Let’s take a quick interlude here and talk about how crazy it is that Louis Coleman posted a 0.61 ERA last year and is on the bubble. I know the Royals would like another lefty out there, but I just don’t think they can ignore how good Coleman has been in his career and last year specifically. I think the bullpen goes Holland, Hochevar, Collins, Herrera, Crow, Davis, Coleman. Keep in mind, though, that the Royals could deal from their incredible bullpen depth at any point in the next couple months and open up a spot for Joseph, Rauch or Dwyer.
So there you have it. That’s my projected 25 man roster as of today. Lots can change, though, so stay tuned.
Follow me on Twitter @DBLesky