Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts in Spring Training

Turning 2 for the next 6 years. (Flickr/Minda Haas)

Count me among those on board with the Alcides Escobar extension. The Royals are making some smart fiscal moves with their young roster. Here are two reasons this works for the Royals:

First, they are going to have a ton of key guys hit arbitration at the same time. They aren’t going to sign all of their roster to these kind of deals, but by locking in some of the soon to be arbitration eligible players, they can focus on those future budgets. A huge deal for a team with resources like the Royals. Map out the future with low risk, high reward contracts and then shift the focus to the ultra key guys. If they sign, great. If not, the team still has the payroll flexibility to absorb the arbitration raises.

Second, they are targeting the easier guys to sign. Again, smart move. Escobar, like Sal Perez before him, were international free agents who signed for small bonuses. They lack the fiscal stability a guy like Eric Hosmer has, who banked $6 million before the ink was dry on his contract. The long term deals protect those players for the future. They have the motivation to sign. It makes all kinds of sense: Get the players under contract who benefit the most from inking long term deals, project a sense of commitment to the future and then bring on board everyone else.

Back to The Shortstop Jesus: We know that Escobar has some work to do offensively. In his two seasons as a regular, he has yet to post a wOBA greater than last summer’s .282. Yikes. Remember back to his player profile where I illustrated that Escobar’s approach at the plate changed on an almost weekly basis. If he’s going to improve with the bat, he’s going to need to figure out what works best for him and stick with it. He has to understand there are going to be streaks in his offensive game. Stay on track and the length of those streaks should shorten and we will see a more consistent hitter. We’re not asking for magic. If he could somehow post a .310 OBP and .300 wOBA, I’d be thrilled. Thrilled.

Yet, for all the issues with the bat, it’s the glove that got Escobar this contract. Last year, he had a 2.2 fWAR, built entirely on the strength of his defense. It’s his exceptional defense which is played at an exceptionally important position. And remember, anything above a 2.0 fWAR can be considered a solid everyday player. On the open market, Fangraphs values that kind of shortstop at around $10 million. Here’s how the Royals are breaking down his contract:

2012 – $1 million
2013 – $3 million
2014 – $3 million
2015 – $3 million

Escobar would have been eligible for arbitration beginning in 2013, so they’re committing $9 million to his arbitration years. By comparison, they’re paying Perez $7.5 million for his arbitration years. The team holds the options for 2016 and 2017, which are the first two years of his free agency time. If exercised, he’ll earn $5.25 million in ’16 and $6.5 million in ’17.

The SS Jesus can save runs. That’s what the Royals are paying for over the next several years. If his bat can come around, the rest is just gravy. Hopefully, Perez’s knee injury isn’t severe and he can make a complete recovery. With Perez and Escobar anchoring the defense up the middle for the next four to six years, the Royals have a solid foundation of glove work. That’s how winning teams are built.

Other notes from Surprise:

– With all the bad karma hovering over Surprise this week, I thought it would be prudent to point out a positive: Jonathan Broxton’s outing on Wednesday. In his first game action of the spring, Broxton was scintillating, throwing nine pitches, eight of them for strikes. And the ball he threw was in the dirt on an 0-2 pitch – clearly fishing for the punchout.

Even better than the control, was the fastball. Broxton was living around 94 mph with his fastball and on his strikeout pitch of Casper Wells, he tickled 96 mph on the stadium gun. Impressive velocity for a guy with his injury history. And even better than the velocity (yeah, it gets even better) was the fact that 96 mph pitch was a rising fastball that freaking exploded. Maybe my judgement is clouded (it was my first live baseball action of the spring) but that pitch just looked filthy. Wells had no chance.

From the Brooks Baseball player cards, this is a look at Broxton’s declining velocity the last couple of years. After his surgery, if he can throw like he did on Wednesday, that could be the bullpen bargain of the year.

The only question we’ll have is how will Broxton recover. It was only nine pitches, but he’ll need to be able to bounce back and hit the mound again. Since it’s spring, the Royals obviously have the luxury of taking it slow, but at some point they’ll need to test his power of recovery.

– Kelvin Herrera is having a solid spring with another strong outing on Thursday. He struck out four Dodgers in two innings and now has nine whiffs in six innings of work. Late arrival Jose Mijares had a typical inning of work… Three batters faced and three flyball outs. The good news with Mijares is he has yet to walk a batter in just under five innings of work. Last year, if you remember, his SO/BB ratio was an even 1.

– According to Bob Dutton, the Royals are looking at adding some catching depth. While it’s possible the Royals jump soon, I’d be surprised if they acted this weekend. They need to wait until Perez has his surgery on Friday and maybe even get a post-op report or two. If you bring in a guy like Ivan Rodriguez, you sign him for the full year. There’s no need to commit those kinds of resources to a veteran if Perez can make it back before June. Besides, this team isn’t built for 2012… The focus is on 2013. If the Royals didn’t go out and deal for another starting pitcher this winter, there’s no reason to think they’ll jump the gun for a temporary backstop.

Still, the Brayan Pena/Max Ramirez tandem does not exactly inspire confidence. I’m not sure either one of those guys actually owns a catcher’s mitt.

The Royals have done their part to stay in the news on the true opening day of the NCAA Tournament (Michigan State, by the way, ended up winning my bracket – because I know that was what you all were waiting for).   Let’s just round up some of the goings on.

SALVADOR PEREZ

Yesterday I said not to panic and even today, we probably should not.  A torn meniscus is the cause for knee surgery for the Royals’ catcher of the present and future.   We have heard no firm timetable, but the absolute best case is four weeks and the worst case seems to be somewhere along the lines of eight weeks.  Add at least a week of rehab appearances, maybe two if Perez ends up taking closer to eight to get healthy and Kansas City is realistically looking at an early May return for Salvador.

Assuming my made up logic is anywhere close, I don’t think the Royals need to jump through any hoops to find a catcher to handle the bulk of the playing time.  Brayan Pena is sub-par behind the plate and Max Ramirez is something worse than that, but both have played in the majors and both can hit a little.   I would advocate laboring through the 23 games in April with those two as the catching tandem and hope Perez returns when the Yankees and Red Sox come to Kansas City in early May.

Now, if a veteran dropped in the Royals’ lap and was willing to play everyday for a month or so and then sit the bench the better part of the year for a million bucks (yeah, that’s right, Ivan Rodriguez is exactly who I am talking about) that would be great.  I think it is unlikely and certainly do not believe Dayton Moore should be trying to trade for such a player, but it does not hurt to keep an ear to the ground.

On a long-term note, this is not a bad knee injury and while anything regarding ‘knees’ and ‘catchers’ gets one nervous, Salvador has youth on his side.  Until something begins to tell us otherwise, I think the Royals can assume Perez will come back ready to assume the heavy workload they had planned for him when he signed the contract extension this spring.

SPEAKING OF CONTRACT EXTENSIONS

By now you have  all heard that shortstop Alcides Escobar has inked a four year contract extension that will pay him a cool million in 2012 and then three million per year each of the next three seasons.   The Royals also hold team options for 2016 ($5.25 million) and 2017 ($6.5 million) with a $500,000 buyout.

Now, if Escobar never hits, but continues to be an elite fielder, this guaranteed four years of this deal probably average out at about market rate.   However, if the shortstop Jesus does hit some or, let’s dream a little, hits decently, then this is a great deal for the Royals.   The downside is that Escobar’s bat gets even worse and his defense goes with it (see Berroa, Angel), but Kansas City has to take some leaps of faith and fix some costs for the future, while also hopefully securing talent with that fixed cost.

That is what the Escobar, Perez and to some extent Billy Butler’s extension of last year does.  Nothing about any of those deals is roster wrecking if they don’t pan out and maybe, in some small part, the combination of these helps grease the wheels of future, more important and more expensive, contracts.

ONE DOWN

One possible, albeit longshot contender for the starting rotation was sent to minor league camp yesterday:  Mike Montgomery.   After his struggles at AAA last year, the demotion of the Royals’ number one pitching prospect was no big surprise and certainly a very rational move.   The lefty pitches in Kansas City this year, it is just a question of when.   I put the over/under at July 5th.

Also going down was Wil Myers, Nathan Adcock and Ryan Verdugo.  I bring up the latter two only because they had very, very, very outside shots at making the bullpen.  Adcock will almost surely start in Omaha, by the way, and might be number one in line to get a call-up if an injury occurs early in the season.   For Myers the only question this spring was where he goes, Omaha or NW Arkansas?   Consensus seems to be the south, but I kind of have a hunch that maybe Omaha might be his destination, especially if Jarrod Dyson makes the big league roster.

SPEAKING OF THE ROTATION

Neither Aaron Crow or Felipe Paulino did a whole lot to help themselves last night, so the door is open today for Danny Duffy – dominant his first time out – to stake a deeper claim on the two open rotation positions.  I am and have been a ‘Duffy guy’ since he started out striking out just about everyone in Low A ball, so count me squarely in his camp when it comes to this battle.

If the Royals are hell bent on not losing Luis Mendoza (remember, he is out of options) than I really believe the proper move is Duffy and Paulino in the rotation, Mendoza and Crow in the bullpen.   Paulino has a nightmarish performance record as a reliever, so I don’t see the point of putting him back in that role.  If he continues to flounder through spring training and carries that into three or four April starts, then you pull Paulino out of the rotation and go to Mendoza, but I don’t think you make that move any sooner than that.

xxx

 

 

The Royals committed three errors in the first inning of yesterday’s game.  These things happen, especially in spring training and especially to young teams (or really old ones, I suppose). 

Anyway, it got me to thinking about defense, which invariably leads us down the winding path that has become defensive metrics.   Here’s one thing baseball traditionalists and baseball sabermetricians have in common:  they delight in thinking up variables that are not factored into whatever defensive metric might be up for discussion.   I cannot wait for the day when (if) Fielding F/X data becomes available to the public and the discussion over whether it is properly taking into account the angle of the sun versus the direction of the breeze versus the orientation of the moon.   It all won’t matter to us here in Kansas City who ‘just know’ that Chris Getz does all the little things and Yuniesky Betancourt really is a good fielder.

I digress…

While individual defensive metrics are likely to never fully satisfy the appetite of everyone, team defensive measurements are a little easier.  Bill James, long ago and before he was somewhat banished to the peninsula of the uninformed by the newest generation of sabermetricians, came up with a rather simple Defensive Efficiency.   Nothing fancy here, Defensive Efficiency simply measured the percentage of time a team converted balls in play into outs.   Of course, outs generally come easier with Roy Halladay sawing off bats as opposed to Kyle Davies serving up rockets, so this metric does have a pretty fair pitching component hidden within it.

That’s okay, however.  Dayton Moore’s mantra has been ‘pitching and defense’ since day one.   While it is humorous (and also quite exciting, by the way) that the Royals current greatest strength is a potentially dynamic offense, we know that Moore is still focused on his original mantra.   You need look no further than trading an offensive centerfielder with suspect range (Melky Cabrera) for a talented, but inconsistent, swing and miss pitcher (Sanchez).

So while Defensive Efficiency does not separate pitching from the equation, it does serve the purpose of defining the defensive side of the game, of which pitching is probably certainly the most important component.  However, one thing the original metric did not account for was ballparks.   As is so often the case, size matters. 

Since 2007, the high mark for the Royals was converting 70.2% of balls in play into outs and that actually occurred in 2007 and almost tied (70.1%) last season.  The league leader in this category usually resides up around 72.5%, with Tampa leading in 2011 with a robust 73.5%.   Those numbers, however, do not take the spacious confines of Kaufmann Stadium into account.

Baseball Prospectus took care of that for us, by adding a park adjustment to Defensive Efficiency and giving us PADE.  This metric is produced in a form where 0.00 is league average and 1.00 mark would indicate that a team converted one percent more balls in play into outs than an league average.   

Here are the PADEs of the Dayton Moore era:

  • 2007: -0.25
  • 2008: +0.34
  • 2009: -1.60
  • 2010: -2.24
  • 2011: -0.98

Last year, Tampa led baseball in PADE with a sky high 4.80 rating.   The second best was San Diego way down at 1.79.  In 2010, Oakland (2.72) narrowly edged Tampa (2.59).   The Twins were worst in 2011 with a -2.63 mark, while the Royals’ -2.24 in 2010 was last.

In the span of one season, Kansas City went from the worst defensive team in baseball to 21st overall.   They did so playing Aviles, Betemit and Mike Moustakas at third and with two months worth of Johnny Giavotella at second.   Not to mention a rookie first baseman who, despite some rather obvious defensive skills, did commit seven errors at first.   Advanced metrics are advanced metrics and eyes tell another story, but an error is still an error…..especially at first base.

Given that the Royals were running the second worst rotation in the American League out there every day, that level of improvement is a hopeful sign.  

xxx

 

 

 

The Royals got off to a nice start yesterday, winning their spring training opener 6-1.  Billy Butler hit a home run, Lorenzo Cain went two for two, Luis Mendoza pitched two scoreless innings and it was apparently a super great day in Surprise.   If one wanted to, one could delve at great detail into what transpired on the diamond yesterday, but it would mostly be a waste of time (although it’s sure nice to have a box score to look at again, isn’t it?).  

Instead, let’s reset the Opening Day roster and narrow the focus on what the real battles this spring are.

Several weeks back, Ned Yost intimated that he would likely break camp with a twelve man pitching staff, which opens up one additional bench spot for the position players.   There is not much math to be done here as the Royals are as set in the field as probably any team heading into the season.

The catchers will be Salvador Perez and Brayan Pena.   While Pena was the odds on favorite to win the backup job even before Manny Pina was injured, he is a lock now.  We will probably see Pina in the majors at some point this season, but it won’t be in April.

First base and designated hitter are locked down by Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler, while the left side of the infield is also locked in with Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar.   Even the utility infield spot is a certainty with free agent signee and everyone’s favorite Royal Yuniesky Betancourt back in the fold.    I have grown to accept this signing and will find it tolerable  as long as Betancourt’s name is on a lineup card two times or less per week.

The remaining infield spot, second base, is Johnny Giavotella’s to lose.   As long as Johnny hits the ball hard regularly this spring and does not boot every grounder hit to him, he will be the Opening Day second baseman.  If he flounders horribly, then Chris Getz will get the nod.   There is a theory out there that Betancourt will end up playing second more than anyone else this year and it might well come true, but it won’t happen in April.   It will be Giavotella or Getz and, given both have options, the loser will be the opening day second baseman for Omaha.  

The outfield is set as well:  Gordon, Cain and Francoeur with Mitch Maier all but assured of the fourth outfield spot.  Maier is proof positive that if you work hard, keep your mouth shut and not mope about playing time, people will like you.  When people like you, they are happy to let you be their fourth outfielder.

If you are doing the math, you know that leaves one open spot for a position player.  The odds on favorite is Jarrod Dyson because he brings crazy, silly ability to the basepaths.  Although the Royals’ starting three all are viewed as plus defensive outfielders (in one fashion or another), Dyson is also a tremendous defender.  The last bench spot is really Dyson’s to lose with his only real  competition coming in the form of Chris Getz (assuming he loses the battle Giavotella) and possibly Kevin Kouzmanoff. 

I really do not believe the club will keep Getz on the big league roster to start the year, simply because he only plays second base and, again, has an option left.  It makes more sense to play Getz every day at second in Omaha while the club gets a good look at Giavotella.   With regard to Kouzmanoff you have a good deal of big league experience at third base and a right handed hitter to give Moustakas a break against tough lefthanders, but he also brings little versatility to the table positionally speaking.   Besides, how often do you really want to sit Mike Moustakas this year anyway?

Truthfully, it is Jarrod Dyson on the bench with Maier, Betancourt and Pena and the only real roster question is Giavotella or Getz.  You can watch all the other guys who get into games after the fifth inning all you want and listen to Yost and Moore discuss all their options to your heart’s content, but in the end there is not much left to be decided here.

Now, onto the pitching.   What happens with the last two spots of the starting rotation will have a tremendous effect on who makes the team as relievers.   Many/most of us believed that when the Royals announced that Aaron Crow would get a look at starting that the likely result would be that Crow would end up in the Omaha rotation to start the season.  The club, however, has indicated that should Crow not make the big league rotation, then he will break camp in the big league pen.

In addition, Dayton Moore seems to have a bit of an obsession over having lost Philip Humber one off-season ago and seems driven to make sure the out of options Luis Mendoza does not surface in Minnesota or Pittsburgh or wherever as a decent fourth or fifth starter.  Given that, should Mendoza not win a starting rotation spot, it seems very likely that he would also break camp in the bullpen.

We are getting ahead of ourselves, however. 

The rotation will have Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Jonathan Sanchez.   Some of you may debate whether that makes sense, but the Royals have already locked these three in.   From there, rather curiously, they have not assured Felipe Paulino a spot, despite the fact that he probably had as good or better 2011 than any of the top three.    While the organization will regale us with a long, long list of potential candidates, you can pretty much focus on five names:  Paulino, Mendoza, Crow, Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery.

Five names, two spots and, quite honestly, four names for one spot as I think Paulino is a double secret lock for the number four spot.  Keep in mind, Paulino is out of options and has been a disaster working out of the bullpen in his major league career.    All indicators would point to Paulino being all but a lock for the fourth rotation position.

That leaves one spot open with Danny Duffy the leader for this spot.  He could certainly pitch his way out of it and is not quite in the ‘his to lose’ position, but Danny has the inside track.  Should Duffy not win the fifth spot (and keep in mind, the Royals need a fifth starter basically right away to start the season), he almost certainly goes to Omaha and not to the pen.  Ditto for Mike Montgomery, who will have to blow everyone away to make the team out of camp.

Basically, this will be the most hotly contested spot on the 25 man roster this spring.   Again, while the Royals are likely to throw a whole bunch of names at us over the next month, the competition is really just Duffy, Montgomery, Crow and Mendoza.   Which brings us back to the bullpen.

In my opinion, there are four locks in the pen:  Joakim Soria, Jonathan Broxton, Greg Holland and Louis Coleman.    That leaves three spots open, with one of those almost certainly going to a lefty.   The enigmatic Jose Mijares has the inside track, but I would not consider him a lock.   His competition is Tim Collins and Everett Teaford.  The Royals did not spend enough to sign Mijares to make it prohibitive to cut him and both Collins and Teaford have options.   The club can quite honestly award the first, maybe only, lefty spot in the pen to the whomever pitches the best.

Now, we are down to two bullpen spots and should Danny Duffy win the fifth starter spot, you can pretty much hand both of those to Aaron Crow and Luis Mendoza.   Additional competition here comes in the form of Kelvin Herrera, Blake Wood and the other two lefties mentioned above.   Again, we will be inundated with all sorts of names this spring, but the battle really comes down those mentioned above.

If you are willing to concede second to Johnny Giavotella,  a rotation spot to Felipe Paulino and a bench spot to Jarrod Dyson, you can then narrow your focus on camp battles to the fifth starter, left handed reliever and two other bullpen spots.  

It is spring training, where the box scores generally include twenty players, so hopefully this will let you zero in on the guys who are really battling for a big league job.   While there are not a lot of open jobs, it does not mean that this spring will be boring.  In fact, this is certainly the most exciting spring in many years.  It has been a long time coming.

xxx

 

 

I’ve had a couple days to digest the Sal Perez contract extension. Makes sense to throw my thoughts out there about 48 hours beyond the BIG announcement.

– Sal will bank $3.25 million in his first three years. That’s some good upfront cash. Had he not signed a long-term deal, he would have made close to the major league minimum of $500k in each of those seasons. Let’s put him down for a net of around $1.75 million in those three seasons.

– His arbitration years (I’m going to assume his first option year gets picked up) will bring him $7.5 million. On first glance, that seems low. But don’t forget he’s already ahead close to $1.75 million before he enters what would have been his arbitration years. Move that money over, and he’s making $9.25 million for the three seasons that would cover his arbitration eligibility.

In a situation like this, we need some comps to help us frame the deal. A natural comp would be the Cardinals Yadier Molina. Like Sal, Molina entered the league as a 21 year old backstop who played exceptional defense and more than held his own in his first turn in the majors. Molina signed his contract extension just prior to his fourth big league season. That contract was for four years (with a club option for a fifth). The first three years bought out his arbitration eligibility. For those three seasons, Molina was paid… Wait for it… $9.25 million. Remember, this extension came after he played for three seasons at the major league minimum.

So the contracts are basically a wash, value-wise. The difference, of course, is the setting in which both were signed. When Molina inked his extension, he had over 1,400 major league plate appearances and had put up a line of .248/.304/.349 with an OPS+ of 69, but he played exceptional defense behind the plate. A no-hit, great-field catcher. Although the season prior to his extension, he showed signs of life at the plate for the first time since his major league debut.

Perez, on the other hand, gets his extension after just 158 plate appearances in the bigs. Hell, the dude has a grand total of 207 plate appearances above Double-A ball. He’s much less the known commodity that Molina was. Yet, he will make the same amount of money over his first six seasons. Normally, you’d adjust for inflation of salaries, but the difference in experience at the time of the signing offsets that.

The early part of this contract seems fair.

– But then we get to the option years. Amazingly, there isn’t a buyout for those seasons. So if Sal doesn’t develop into the stud we believe he will (unlikely) the Royals can walk away. Just like that. No harm, no foul.

That’s stunning.

Sure, the Royals will argue there are escalators built in based on performance and awards that can push the total of the option years from $14.75 million to $19.75. That’s nice. But there is absolutely no risk to the Royals beyond the $7 million owed to Perez through the 2016 season. It’s like going to a car dealership, having to put no money down, not having to make a payment for five years and if you wreck the car before a payment is due… No problem… We’ll just forget about the deal.

I’m going to try that the next time I have to buy a car. Will they just ask me to leave, or will I be forcibly removed?

Again, in a situation like this it helps to have comps to examine. When I think of teams locking up young talent, Tampa immediately jumps to mind. They signed two of their players with very little major league experience to long term deals: Evan Longoria and Matt Moore. Moore’s contract pays him $11 million through his first five seasons before his option years kick in. Like Perez, he has three options covering his final year of arbitration and his first two seasons of free agency. Unlike Perez, he has a buyout in each of those seasons. He also stands to pocket $26 million if all three options are picked up by the Rays.

Longoria has three options, but they don’t begin until what would have been his first year of free agency. He’s due a cool $30 million should Tampa pick up all three seasons. Interestingly, he has only one buyout. It comes with his first option and would pay him $3 million. Basically, if the Rays want out following the 2013 season, they would have to pay a 10% penalty. Obviously, that’s not going to happen, but there’s at least some protection there for the player.

For Perez not to have that kind of protection seems to be a failure on the part of his agents. There has to be some risk for the club in the option years. That’s kind of the whole point.

– Finally, we need to look at where the Royals were the last few seasons with their catching situation. Remember Jason Kendall? The Royals paid him $6 million for two years where they had miserable production for basically five months. You could make the argument he was worth more on the DL than in the lineup.

Before Kendall, there was John Buck. Before he was non-tendered to make way for the Mighty Kendall, Buck earned $5.1 million in his first two seasons where he was arbitration eligible. He’s now in the second season of a three year, $18 million deal. Nice.

Of course, Buck was partnered with Miguel Olivo who earned $4.75 million over those same two seasons. Bleech.

The Royals committed $15.85 million for four seasons of bad defense and abysmal offense. In Sal Perez, they have a premium defender and a developing offensive player locked up for the next five years at $7 million.

Well done, Dayton Moore. Well done.

Other notes…

– Bruce Chen is on Twitter. I’m pretty sure this was the Twitter moment we’ve been waiting for. His fourth tweet didn’t disappoint:

Tweeting is awesome! Thanks 4 all ur support. Should have been here long ago. I mean I should be good with technology, I am Asian

Welcome, ChenMusic.

– The Royals held an intra-squad game where Vin Mazzaro started against a lineup that featured Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer. Any wonder he gave up two runs?

And Sean O’Sullivan faced nine batters in an inning and allowed five runs to cross the plate, surrendering run-scoring doubles to Billy Butler and Perez.

If either pitcher breaks camp with this team, I would be shocked. And depressed.

– Felipe Paulino looks to be fine after battling a slight strain in his right hamstring. Hope so. I still don’t understand how he can’t be considered a lock for the rotation.

– I talked the Perez deal and other things to look forward to at spring training with Kevin Keitzman on Between The Lines on Sports Radio 810 WHB. Click here to listen to the podcast.

Damn, if it isn’t great to write about actual baseball news. (Or at least what passes for news at Spring Training. I’ll take it.) This winter has been too long… And quiet.

Let’s get to the Sunshine Points…

Lineup Is Chiseled In Stone – For Now

Ned Yost showed his cards immediately. And what he showed wasn’t the least bit surprising.

Here’s how his lineup looks for the Opener on April 6:

LF – Gordon
2B – Giavotella
1B – Hosmer
DH – Butler
3B – Moustakas
RF – Francoeur
C – Perez
CF – Cain
SS – Escobar

The real news is the confirmation that Johnny Giavotella is pegged to hit second, sandwiched between Gordon and Hosmer. Despite Gio’s less than stellar cup of coffee at the end of last season, it makes the most sense for him to hit second, given the assembly of talent in the starting lineup. The only other guys who you would consider would be Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar. Cain misses too many pitches to be counted on in the second spot. And Escobar… Is Escobar. The SS Jesus is just fine hitting ninth.

So the job is Gio’s to lose. We need to keep our fingers crossed he gets out of the gate quickly because I have a feeling that leash is going to be extremely short.

The only other lineup note is that Ned Yost will flip-flop Moose and The Frenchman based on the starter. Moose will hit fifth against right-handers while Francoeur will hold down that slot against lefties.

Lost LOOGY

It appears reports of Jose Mijares in the country and reporting to camp were greatly exaggerated. To the point the Royals don’t actually know where there LOOGY is.

Interesting.

The Royals were initially told Mijares would be a late arrival due to unspecified family issues. Then, they were told he had arrived and checked into his hotel for the spring. That would be great, except he didn’t actually check in to the hotel. In fact, his visa is still waiting for him in Venezuela.

This follows a pattern for Mijares, who is now late reporting for camp for the third year running. Add in the fact he’s had dustups with teammates in the past and you have to wonder how committed this guy is when it will come into buying into the team spirit the Royals and GMDM are trying to cultivate. Besides, when one team decides to cut ties with you and you show up late to you’re new employer, that’s not the way to make a positive first impression.

He’s not off to a good start. Because he’s not off to any start.

A First Butler

Word is, Yost will work Billy Butler into a few games at first. He made just three starts there once Hosmer was called up in May.

It would be nice to see… It can be thought of as a reward because Butler has continued to work on his glove work. He’ll never be confused for a great defender, but the guy still wants to play the field. Why not give him a start once a week and let Hosmer DH on those days? And if Butler is a complete disaster, you just stop doing it after awhile. (However, this is a team considering giving reps to Yuniesky Betancourt at third, so let’s stop pretending that Butler is some kind of serial killer at first.)

Although I’m leery. Remember last year how Yost said Butler would steal 10 bases in 2011? Yeah.

Early To Camp

The feel good story (aside from Mike Moustakas being in the best shape of his life) is the fact there have been a ton of early arrivals to camp. Ahhh… Optimism.

It’s nice that most everyone has been hanging around Surprise for awhile. This is a young team – again – and the young guys are enthusiastic about the game. We saw it last year, and we’re going to see it again this summer. Enthusiasm is difficult to translate into wins, but it’s fun to watch.

I’m good with that. Baseball kicks ass.

It took me a few days to get the rest of my notes from Spring Training written up, but things have been busy around Royals Authority headquarters lately. Here are some things that I saw on 3-26:

Edgar Osuna – His fastball was sitting 86-87, it tails somewhat into the hands of a right handed batter. He threw a very nice curveball that was 70-71 and had a changeup in the 76-77 range. He didn’t miss very many bats and the hitters were squaring him up pretty good.

Eric Hosmer – What an absolutely impressive player. Even the least experienced baseball watcher can look at him compared to his peers and see that he’s different. His body type screams power but with athleticism, and that’s pretty much what you get. I asked a few scouts what they felt about his ability to play the outfield. Some say he could do it and it’d be worth a shot for the Royals, while others don’t see it at all. Personally, I’d like to see him try and play there and prove he can’t do it. He certainly has the arm to play out there, but while he’s athletic, he can be heavy-footed and not that fast.

Regardless of where he plays defense, his bat is special. He hit a monster homerun over right-center field that bounced off of the parking lot or sidewalk outside the stadium. My brother caught video of it and I put it up on youtube. Greg Schaum of Pine Tar Press got slow motion video of the same swing. His balance and transfer of power is just picture perfect. He’s without question the guy I’d rank as the best Royals prospect in the system. People tend to lump him together with Moustakas and Myers, but at this point I think he’s got them both beat solidly.

Mike Moustakas – It’s funny to see Moustakas and Hosmer together because they have very different builds. While Hosmer looks the part of a power hitting baseball player, Moustakas is shorter and a little thicker than Hosmer. He seems to have trimmed up a bit since last year, but he’s still got the same body type.

What he lacks in athletic build, he makes up for with bat speed. The word I heard the most often when discussing his bat speed, it’s “freaky”.  He uses that bat speed to put good wood on the ball in any number of locations and speeds. He’s an amazingly talented hitter. What I’m not so sure about is his ability to stick at third base.  It may not be an issue for the first few years of his career, but if he bulks up or gains wait, his already average range could get worse. It’s not a concern today, and I think he could play a passable if not average third for the Royals on Opening Day, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Christian Colon – I hadn’t got a chance to see Christian Colon in person, so he was high on my list of targets in Spring Training. My first thoughts on seeing his build is that it’s “college shortstop” not Major League shortstop or prospect shortstop. Basically he’s kind of think for a shortstop. If you’ve seen Alcides Escobar yet, you can see what an ideal defensive shortstop would look like. He’s athletic, but thinner and looks like he can run like a gazelle. Colon doesn’t look like that. Watching him run the bases and timing some of his runs both agreed with the eye test that he isn’t a very fast runner either. So his body type doesn’t seem to be masking some athleticism. All of that to me, adds up to second baseman. People have been suggesting it, but I was uncertain until first hand experience. I’m on the second base boat now with Colon. I think it’s a good idea to keep him at SS until he absolutely has to move, but that day is coming.

Fortunately, Colon can hit the ball well. He roped a good number of the times he was at the plate while I was watching. I think his bat can play in the Majors and can do so in relatively short order. He was playing with the AAA team the entire time I was in camp, but I doubt he starts the season there. I wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up there. He’s not a bust as a pick, he was probably still the right call at the time.

Will Smith – He’s much bigger than I had thought and can be an imposing figure on the mound. His fastball was sitting 88-90 and he featured a sweeping curveball at 75 and a changeup in the 78-80 range. He gets guys out by pounding the strikezone and not issuing many walks.

Mario Lisson – He has a really solid build that in sort of Hosmer like but not as strong. He’s clearly out-grown shortstop and has been put on third. I didn’t see him make a whole lot of use of his body at the plate. He’s now 26 and hasn’t been able to prove he can hit well enough to move up the prospect rankings. He seems to be a case where the physical tools don’t coincide with the skills required to be a Major League baseball player.

Patrick Keating – He was throwing his fastball in the 90-92 range, which shocked Greg Schaum when I showed him the readings. He said that Keating was 96 in the past. Maybe he was working through something or just taking it easy, but that’s a significant drop in velocity that he hopefully fixes once he gets back into the season. He had a good breaking ball that he threw in around 76. He showed some frustration on the mound when one of his outfielders bobbled a ball. There’s a thin-line between being a fiery competitor and over-reacting. Getting upset during a Sprint Training exhibition game seems to be a little over the top. However, it was only one moment in one game. I don’t know the back story and I can’t make any judgments based on that. We’ve all had bad days and been frustrated, he could have just been having one of those days.

Wil Myers – One thing needs to be cleared up in regards to Wil Myers, he is absolutely 6’3″ or so.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these prospect notes. These are my first hand observations combined with direct discussions with scouts. I’m going to try and make it to some Minor League games this year to bring even more detailed information throughout the season.

You can follow Nick Scott on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or reach him via email brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

Episode #47 – In this last episode before Opening Day Nick runs through the flurry of Royals moves, talks about Aaron Crow in the bullpen and what he saw in Surprise. Adam Comstock stops by to make some preseason predictions. Nick also previews the Minnesota Twins 2011 season.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Music in this podcast:

Talking Heads – The Big Country

Animal Collective – My Girls

James Brown – Sportin’ Life

How to Get the Podcast:

Click here to be taken to the site to download directly.

Subscribe via iTunes

Subscribe via Zune

Subscribe via any other feedreader.

Below is a video my brother took today when we were at Spring Training in Surprise of Eric Hosmer going yard with a mammoth blast.

Yesterday was a night game for the Minor Leaguers as they took on the Texas Rangers prospects. These games are fun, but can be difficult because there are four games going on simultaneously. I was trying to catch as many interesting prospects as I could, but I kept getting pulled to another field. Then I kept missing out on guys that I wanted to see.

Jonathan Keck (LHP) – He’s a tall lefty who was pretty impressive in the high A game. He was throwing his fastball 90-92 and touched 93. It had good movement and he also flashed a really good curveball. In another organization he might get a lot more love, particularly since he’s a lefty. In the Royals organization he’s one of the many talented lefties. Someone to keep an eye on in 2011.

Tyler Graham (RHP) – Taken in the 22nd round of last year’s draft, Graham pitched in Idaho Falls last season. He pitched exclusively out of the bullpen. He’s a “max effort” pitcher. When he throws the ball it looks like he’s trying to choke the life out of it—it’s a violent delivery. With that kind of delivery, he’s not going to be moved out of the bullpen and he might have some injury issues. It also hurts his ability to throw a secondary pitch, because getting a feel for it and also hiding it from the hitters can be difficult.

Shin Jin-Ho ( C) – He’s been kind of a mystery man since he was signed in 2009 as a 17 year old from South Korea. Behind the plate, he looked comfortable. He’s a “flat-footed” catcher, meaning when he crouches his heels are on the ground. It’s a technique that much better scouts than myself say they prefer. He seemed to pick balls out of the dirt pretty well, but I never saw him catch with runners on so it’s difficult to see how he would do when he has to block the ball.

At the plate, he seemed a little over-matched in the Low A game as he got blown away with a high fastball. It was only one plate appearance, so I wouldn’t take much away from it. He’s still very young and very raw. He might never be worth what the Royals paid for him, but he bears watching. He spent all of last year in the Arizona League (Rookie) and might graduate to Burlington (Rookie) this year.

Johnny Giavotella (2B) – Giavotella is an interesting prospect.  Pretty much everyone who gets a chance to watch him likes what they see, but there is plenty of debate on what his ceiling is. Some say average Major Leaguer, some say below average some say possibly above average. What makes him difficult to guage is that he does lots of things well and no one-thing great. He’s kind of like David Dejesus in that way. I’ve gotten to see him as much as any prospect in the system and I’m a believer in his ability. There are some questions about his defense and whether it’s Major League or not.

Scouting position players can be difficult without watching them every single day. What I see and continue to see in Spring Training this year is a player who can and will get a shot to be a Major League player.  He has a decent bat with some occasional power and he has a decent glove that he works hard on.

Wil Myers (OF) – Myers continued to impress, but by not swinging the bat. I watched him walk three times in a Minor League Spring Training game. His pitch recognition and plate discipline are that good. It’s disappointing not to see him swing the bat when he can do it so well, but a guy who has the ability to take walks like that in that kind of game is advanced.

Brett Eibner (OF) – One of the guys I was really anxious to see, but kept missing when I went to his field. People that did get to see him said he looked really good and put some charge into the balls he got a hold of.

Christian Colon (SS) - His bat will play in the Major Leagues, questions linger over his glove and ability to stick at shortstop. I haven’t had a chance to see him field much so I can’t comment,  but I do like his bat. I think he has a really good season this year.