Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

I spent yesterday in Royals Minor League camp and here are my notes:

Jason Adam – As I reached the field, Jason Adam was pitching against some of his fellow Royals teammates. The scouts were all clustered up and keeping a close eye on him. His name has been circulating amongst the scout circle, so there were plenty who wanted to get a firsthand look. I’m no scout, but what I saw was very impressive. He was fastball was in the 94-96 mph range and he was locating his curve ball for strikes.  He seemed to be using the curve as an out pitch and it was working. It had nice break, but he was leaving it up in the zone. Had he been facing a higher level of competition it probably would have been crushed. He’s only 19, so it’s not a concern at all. He seems very advanced for his age and should rocket up Royals prospect lists this year.

Sal Perez – I’ve heard good things about Sal, but I’ve never seen him in person. He’s bigger than I expected. He’s not only tall, but has thick legs. He isn’t fast in the first place, so if he gets much bigger he could really lose speed and possibly mobility. He’s only 20, so it’s highly likely that he will get bigger which is a concern.

At the plate, he was crushing the ball. He hit an absolute no-doubter to left on a Kevin Pucetas hanging curve and later he crushed a line drive opposite field that hit about a foot below the top of the fence. His power seems absolutely legit and I expect him to mash at AA Northwest Arkansas this year. If his defense is as good as some say, he is a good bet to be a good to possibly great Major League catcher. The building hype seems to be legit for the young catcher.

John Lamb – Lamb was throwing his fastball 88-91 mph with a really nice 68-72 mph curve and a 77-78 mph changeup. His fastball velocity wasn’t as high as it’s been in the past, but I heard he might have a muscle strain that had him going a little easy, it’s not a concern though. His control, which is his hallmark was on display. He was extremely efficient and wasted very few pitches. His fastball had really good movement. He could run it in on the hands of a right handed batter, and it seemed that he could also run it in the other direction when he wanted

Wil Myers – Myers was rotating through all three outfield positions. I would imagine it’s so he can get a good look at reading balls from all three fields. Though he’s certainly going to be a corner outfielder, balls in general are easiest to read from CF because there is usually a lot less bend in them. So it’s a good place for him to work on his defensive instincts, and does need work in that area.  He’s still clearly trying to get the hang of the position after shifting from catcher this off-season. He’s pretty athletic, but not athletic enough to make up for poor reads in the outfield.

His defense though, isn’t what he’s known for, that would be his bat which was on display. Watching him next to other minor leaguers you c an see what makes him different. His wrist strength is phenomenal and that’s a skill that nearly every Major League hitter has. He can put his bat on the ball and react at the last possible moment and still hit the ball hard. And hit the ball hard is exactly what he did when I saw him. He smashed three balls right up the middle, including one that hit pitcher Kevin Pucetas in the leg and had all on-lookers saying “oouuuch”. Myers though, didn’t react. He was running full tilt to first base throughout. It’s not a knock on him, in fact it’s to his credit. His mindset was to go all out down the baseline regardless of what was happening on the field. I was impressed. He also took a walk on around six pitches which in these Minor League intra-squad games are very rare, I think it’s a credit to his plate discipline.

Kevin Pucetas – He was acquired in the trade with the Giants for Jose Guillen, so really he doesn’t have to be good at all to make that trade a win for the Royals. Fortunately, he is a decent pitcher. He didn’t have that special stuff that other pitchers have, but his stuff did seem to be able to play in the Majors right now. He could be a contributor to the Royals bullpen today and might get a look at some point in the season. He’s not Lamb or Duffy, but few are.

I’m going to see the Royals again today so look for more notes tomorrow. If there’s anyone you’d like me to try and get a look at post it in the comments. I’ll also be tweeting things as they happen tonight at about 8:30 Central time. You can follow at http://www.twitter.com/brokenbatsingle

Jason Adam – As I reached the field, Jason Adam was pitching against some of his fellow Royals teammates. The scouts were all clustered up and keeping a close eye on him. His name has been circulating amongst the scout circle, so there were plenty who wanted to get a firsthand look. I’m no scout, but what I saw was very impressive. He was fastball was in the 94-96 mph range and he was locating his curve ball for strikes. He seemed to be using the curve as an out pitch and it was working. It had nice break, but he was leaving it up in the zone. Had he been facing a higher level of competition it probably would have been crushed. He’s only 19, so it’s not a concern at all. He seems very advanced for his age and should rocket up Royals prospect lists this year.

Sal Perez – I’ve heard good things about Sal, but I’ve never seen him in person. He’s bigger than I expected. He’s not only tall, but has thick legs. He isn’t fast in the first place, so if he gets much bigger he could really lose speed and possibly mobility. He’s only 20, so it’s highly likely that he will get bigger which is a concern.

At the plate, he was crushing the ball. He hit an absolute no-doubter to left on a Kevin Pucetas hanging curve and later he crushed a line drive opposite field that hit about a foot below the top of the fence. His power seems absolutely legit and I expect him to mash at AA Northwest Arkansas this year. If his defense is as good as some say, he is a good bet to be a good to possibly great Major League catcher. The building hype seems to be legit for the young catcher.

John Lamb – Lamb was throwing his fastball 88-91 mph with a really nice 68-72 mph curve and a 77-78 mph changeup. His fastball velocity wasn’t as high as it’s been in the past, but I heard he might have a muscle strain that had him going a little easy, it’s not a concern though. His control, which is his hallmark was on display. He was extremely efficient and wasted very few pitches. His fastball had really good movement. He could run it in on the hands of a right handed batter, and it seemed that he could also run it in the other direction when he wanted

Wil Myers – Myers was rotating through all three outfield positions. I would imagine it’s so he can get a good look at reading balls from all three fields. Though he’s certainly going to be a corner outfielder, balls in general are easiest to read from CF because there is usually a lot less bend in them. So it’s a good place for him to work on his defensive instincts, and does need work in that area. He’s still clearly trying to get the hang of the position after shifting from catcher this off-season. He’s pretty athletic, but not athletic enough to make up for poor reads in the outfield.

His defense though, isn’t what he’s known for, that would be his bat which was on display. Watching him next to other minor leaguers you c an see what makes him different. His wrist strength is phenomenal and that’s a skill that nearly every Major League hitter has. He can put his bat on the ball and react at the last possible moment and still hit the ball hard. And hit the ball hard is exactly what he did when I saw him. He smashed three balls right up the middle, including one that hit pitcher Kevin Pucetas in the leg and had all on-lookers saying “oouuuch”. Myers though, didn’t react. He was running full tilt to first base throughout. It’s not a knock on him, in fact it’s to his credit. His mindset was to go all out down the baseline regardless of what was happening on the field. I was impressed. He also took a walk on around six pitches which in these Minor League intra-squad games are very rare, I think it’s a credit to his plate discipline.

Kevin Pucetas – He was acquired in the trade with the Giants for Jose Guillen, so really he doesn’t have to be good at all to make that trade a win for the Royals. Fortunately, he is a decent pitcher. He didn’t have that special stuff that other pitchers have, but his stuff did seem to be able to play in the Majors right now. He could be a contributor to the Royals bullpen today and might get a look at some point in the season. He’s not Lamb or Duffy, but few are.

In an annual tradition that excites me almost as having pitchers and catchers report, Forbes released their valuations and rankings of the teams of major league baseball.

Your Kansas City Royals rank 25th.

Money (pun intended) quote:

Early last season the Royals became the first MLB team to lose 600 games since the start of the 2004 season. The team averaged 97 losses a year from 2004 through 2010. Even though the Royals averaged just 20,191 fans (53% of capacity) per game at Kauffman Stadium in 2010 the team was profitable because it is among the biggest recipients of welfare from the league’s richer teams and fielded a modest player payroll ($72 million).

Let me bottom line this for you:  The Royals are bad.  They’ve been bad for a long time.  Nobody goes to the games.  And David Glass and his brood are still flush with cash.  There.

None of this should surprise you.  We’re fans.  We know the team has been awful and we know that attendance is sparse – with the exception of dollar hot dog night and Cardinal games.

We’ve all suspected that Glass is making serious coin.  Obviously, that’s something that doesn’t show up in the papers (like the standings) or it’s not something you can actually witness (like poor attendance.)  Long time readers know, I’m all about the market and capitalism and people making as much money as they possibly can.

David Glass purchased the team for $96 million in 2000.  Forbes currently values the team at a whopping $351 million.  We should all be so lucky to have a 265% return on investment.

Here’s the Royals payroll from the last five seasons, compared with operating income from those years:

Now we begin to understand.  While we’ve applauded Glass for green lighting payroll increases, he’s obviously doing so with the understanding that income remains consistent from year to year.  The Royals have posted an operating income between $8 and $10 million each of the last five years.

Obviously, the Royals player expenses will shrink dramatically in 2011.  After about $90 million in expenses (including bonuses and benefits) team payroll will open at roughly $35 million.  Given that the Opening Day payroll last year was $70 million, that means around $20 million went to additional expenditures.  Since the Royals don’t figure to be sending money in trades (since they don’t have any bad contracts – except for Kendall, naturally) and the potential bonuses are few and moderate, let’s just estimate an additional $10 million in expenditures.  That would bump the Royals to a total of $45 million – or roughly half of their 2010 total.

That would put them in the neighborhood of the San Diego Padres – baseball’s most profitable team in 2010, with an operating income of $37 million.  Of course, the Padres are in a larger market, but the similarities between the teams are notable.  After maxing out at $90 million in player expenses for the 2006 season, San Diego held steady a couple of years before really slashing in 2009.  Last year, their player expenses were at $51 million and revenues were at $159 million.  Those numbers are extremely close to what the Royals will post in 2011.

According to Forbes, last season the Padres were gifted more than $30 million… And Moorad and Moores pocketed $37 million last year.  It’s not difficult to understand why revenue sharing is so controversial. (Yes, I brought it up. No, I don’t want to get into that debate here and now.) Reduce that number just a bit because of market size, and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Glass family is set to realize a profit of nearly $35 million this year.

There are a couple of reasons to own a professional sports team.  One is ego.  Chicks like a guy who owns the team.  Not surprisingly, Glass seems devoid of ego.  Another reason is money.  Clearly, you make some cash in this line of work.  As I said before, I don’t begrudge the man his profit.  But when you make too much money and your product isn’t very good, things can get kind of dicey.

Glass is a walking PR disaster, but someone should convince him to explain what he’s doing with the windfall he will realize this year.  Spending more on the draft? Perfect.  Expanding scouting operations in Latin America? Excellent.  A simple promise to add payroll as The Process begins to show significant strides?  Yes, please.

Right now, Glass is set to take a beating from the East Coast media and plenty of folks from Kansas City (I’m thinking talk radio bloviators) for slicing the payroll.  I’m on record as supporting what Dayton Moore is doing, and as I said earlier, I’m all for someone making a profit.  However, a baseball team and it’s fans have an emotional relationship – not a business one.  The Royals need to get out in front of this and explain that despite what should be huge profits, Glass and Moore continue to position this team for the future.  It’s a tough sell given the history of this team and regime.  Still, they at least have to try.  Stuff this crap about competing this year… Nobody with half a brain buys that.  Continue to talk about the future.  And tell us where the money will be spent.

Otherwise, it’s going to get rough.

Still, it’s a good time to be the owner of the Royals.  A very good time.

The lesson from all of this?  If you had $100 million rattling around your pocket in 2000 and didn’t try to buy the Royals (or just about any other similarly valued baseball team) you are a sucker.

Like seemingly everyone on the Royals this year, Luke Hochevar is entering his age twenty-seven season.   There is a bit of mysticism surrounding that age in some baseball circles.   At age twenty-seven lights are supposed to come on, career years are to be had, peaks (or more hopefully new plateaus) are supposedly reached.

The Royals could certainly use a breakout season from their Opening Day starter.   Even if Luke Hochevar simply becomes a solid major league starter as opposed to an ace, it would still go a long way towards making the 2011 Royals a little more respectable than what we fear they might actually be.

The question, quite obviously, is can Luke Hochevar become something other than the guy who has compiled a 5.59 earned run average over his first 378 major league innings? 

While it is not an exact science, Baseball Reference offers us comparable pitchers at the same age and it takes something a strong stomach to read the list when it comes to Hochevar’s age twenty-six comparables:

  • Dan Wright
  • Don Schulze
  • Ryan Rupe
  • John Thomson
  • Doug Waechter
  • Jose Acevedo
  • Johnny Babich
  • Mac Suzuki
  • Joaquin Benoit
  • Ryan Bowen

In case you were not sure just how disappointing that list is, only John Thomson managed to have any sort of real career as a starter.  He started 146 games, threw 880 innings and posted an ERA of 4.42 after turning twenty-seven and actually had one very good year (age 30) in the middle of that.   Benoit reinvented himself as a solid reliever and is still pitching, but the rest of that group pretty much spent their age twenty-seven and twenty-eight seasons playing themselves out of major league baseball.

However, if you squint just right and wake up in just the right mood, you can find some other pitchers who might give us some hope:  Gil Meche and Chris Carpenter.

Admittedly it is a bit of stretch, but entering their age twenty-seven seasons, both Meche and Carpenter carried (to then) career numbers that included an average of 6 strikeouts per nine innings and over 3 walks per nine – same as Luke.   In fact, Meche was walking four batters per nine innings.

Now, Meche by this age had tossed 628 innings and Carpenter has hurled almost 800.   Both had career ERA’s a shade below five.   Obviously, they were more experienced than Hochevar and, while neither had yet become the pitcher that would make them a lot of money, Meche and Carpenter had been more successful than Luke.  

Carpenter had a miserable age twenty-seven season (5.28 ERA) that included a stint in the minors and ended in injury.  He pitched in six minor league games in 2003 and then exploded as one of the premier pitchers in the National League in 2004.   Meche, on the other hand, had a decent age twenty-seven season (4.48 ERA in 180+ innings) and parlayed that into his five year deal with the Royals.   He proceeded to be a legitimate number two type pitcher for the next two and one-half years. 

Let’s take liberty with age for a minute and add Wandy Rodriguez to the mix.  In his first three seasons (ages twenty-five through twenty-seven), Rodriguez threw 440 innings with an ERA of 5.17, 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.6 walks.   While older, Rodriguez was roughly at the same point in his career innings wise as Hochevar currently is.   In the three seasons since, Rodriguez had compiled a 3.36 ERA, struck out over 8 batters per 9 innings and walked less than three.

Can Luke Hochevar emerge as another Meche or even Wandy Rodriguez?   Will he sink into his dismal list of comparables and be lucky to have a John Thomson like career?   Or will he simply continue on as Luke Hochevar, the guy who tantalizes us with strings of quality starts followed by a few poor runs?   For that matter, can he even stay healthy for an entire season?  Especially one spent at the front end of a major league rotation.

There is no science in any of the above.   Some of you might come up with better or, depending on how you look at it, worse examples of pitchers at similar points in their careers who went in both directions.   What will happen to Hochevar in 2011 remains to be seen.

Truth is, Hochevar could fall flat on his face and not really have an effect on what Dayton Moore is trying to build for 2013 and beyond.   Of course, should Luke take a step forward into even ‘Meche territory’, it could help accelerate The Process and make even contending in 2012 at least a possibility.

Episode #46 – The first ever Royals Authority live event captured in all it’s audio glory. Craig, Clark and Nick discuss the upcoming season, the rotation, Herb Washington and more.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs046.mp3|titles=BBS

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Thanks to everyone who came to the event at the Well last night. Excellent way to prep for the upcoming season and always good to talk Royals with a bunch of passionate fans.

Late night means late post… But no shortage of info to digest this morning.  From Dutton, it appears the Royals are inching closer to a set lineup that looks something like this:

3B Mike Aviles
SS Alcides Escobar/2B Chris Getz
1B/DH Billy Butler
DH/1B Kila Ka’aihue
CF Melky Cabrera
RF Jeff Francoeur
LF Alex Gordon
C Brayan Pena/Lucas May
2B Chris Getz/SS Alcides Escobar

This strikes me kind of like the rotation… It is what it is.  This team lacks a true leadoff hitter (at least one that has been promised playing time… Ahem…) and it also appears to lack a true number two.  Of course, we all remember The Jason Kendall Experience batting second from last season.

According to Dutton, the Getz/Escobar middle infield combo will share number two duties depending on the handedness of the starting pitcher.  Frankly, neither one excites me hitting high in the order.  Still, difficult to be outraged over something that Ned Yost really can’t help.  I mean, he could start Lance Zawadzki instead of Getz, but that’s essentially swapping a number nine hitter for a number nine hitter.  Offensively, it feels like a bit of a push.

Here’s what Yost had to say about Aviles hitting at the top of the order:

“I like Aviles at the top,” Yost said. “He’s a guy who has a chance to hit .300. He’s a guy who can steal bases. He’s a guy who will give you a decent at-bat, and he finds a way to get on.

“He’s a free-swinger type but, more than anybody else in our lineup, he’s got the magic wand. His hits find holes. In the leadoff spot, you’re looking for a guy who can get on base any way that he can and start the merry-go-round.”

Of course, Yost mentions OBP fourth in a list of qualities that make Aviles his “ideal” leadoff man.  Sigh. It’s that free swinger rap that caught my attention.  Last season, he swung at 50.8% of all pitches, well above the major league average of 45.6%.  It should also be noted that over his career, he’s seen an average of 3.51 pitches per plate appearance.  Major league average over those three years is 3.82.  Nope, Aviles may own a “magic wand” but he’s not the type of hitter you want at the top of the order.  Still… I don’t know who else there is given the chosen (or promised) starting nine.

The rest of the order is fine by me.  Although Cabrera seems an odd choice to hit fifth, but as mentioned, there are already four guys in the lineup who should hit eighth or ninth… There’s still too much mediocrity and not enough spots at the bottom of the order. They’ll flip Gordon and Francoeur depending on handedness of the pitcher and who’s hotter at the moment. (Stop laughing.)  Overall, this lineup features four right handed hitters, three leftys and a pair of switch hitters.  That’s a decent balance and will give Yost license to tinker around the heart of the order.

As a final reminder, the Royals Authority live event is tonight. Come by The Well at 7421 Broadway in Waldo if you’d like to talk baseball with Clark, Craig and myself. I’ll be setting things up around 6:00 p.m. and we’ll do some introductions aat 6:30.  At 7:00 we’ll begin recording the Broken Bat Single podcast and  have some audience participation. After the podcast, we’ll just hang around and talk baseball. I had hoped that the Royals would be broadcasting the Spring Training game tonight but alas, all great plans of mice and men….

We’ve reserved the V.I.P. room so that the rest of the bar won’t be forced to listen to our baseball-nerd ramblings. It’s on the main floor in the back, just ask any bartender where it is or look for the group of people that look like they  live in their mothers’ basement…thats us.

There are still some spots available if you’d like to come, you can RSVP in the comments below. There is no cost to attend and there isn’t any basketball on, so you have no excuse to stay home. So come on out, talk some baseball and enjoy some good beers and hopefully some intelligent baseball discussion at The Well. If you don’t come, we’ll make Clark write 20 love poems to Jason Kendall and nobody wants that.

There is an excellent that this column will be out of date before Monday night.   Ned Yost hinted after today’s loss to the Rangers that roster moves might come as early as Monday as the Royals attempt to pare down the active roster from 40 to the Opening Day 25.

Sunday morning, Bob Dutton summed up the position battles quite well.  He throws a few extra names into the equation to account for the players still in camp, but the truth is there is very little going on that is new.

At catcher, it seems a virtual certainty that Jason Kendall will open the season on the disabled list.   An aging veteran, rushing back from major shoulder surgery and coming off a disappointing offensive season – it seems appropriate to give him an extra couple of weeks.   That also provides the Royals some time to further evaluate Brayan Pena and Lucas May or, at least, delay the decision.   Given that both are out of options, I cannot see any reason not to start Manny Pina in AAA.

As Dutton details, the infield situation really comes down to whether Kansas City wants to see Chris Getz try to hit on an everyday basis.  The options are Lance Zawadski or Pedro Feliz (yes, Irving Falu is in the mix, but he really isn’t) and it is hard to see a reason why to not give Getz one more shot if those are your options.   Truthfully, Getz will have somewhere from sixty to ninety days to give the Royals a reason not to play Mike Aviles at second when Mike Moustakas gets the call up.  Obviously, Billy Butler, Kila Ka’aihue, Alcides Escobar, Wilson Betemit and Aviles are locks. 

Even Dutton admits that the starting unit was ‘set in the off-season’ and that mentality held even after the Royals acquired Lorenzo Cain.  Correctly, the organization wants Cain to play every day:  he will start out the year doing so in Omaha.   My guess is a lot of you who read this site (and those of us who write it) probably would prefer otherwise, but it is what it is:  Melky Cabrera is your centerfielder.   With Gordon, who has had a great spring, and Franceour, who has not, flanking Melky, it has long been assumed that Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier (both out of options) would be the fourth and fifth outfielders.   Recently, there have been rumblings of something different.

Jarrod Dyson, who probaby had the centerfield job a Melky Cabrera and Lorenzo Cain ago, is back in the mix.   What Dyson brings is tremendous speed on the bases and in the field.  While the jury is well out on whether Dyson can hit at all in the majors, he is at least different from the very sameness of Maier of Blanco.

Would it be completely silly to carry a player who would be used solely for late inning defense and pinch running?    That Ned Yost has been giving Wilson Betemit time at first lately, specifically to ‘play first if Kila or Billy is pinch run for’, tell me that Yost is at least considering the idea.

The pitching staff is not a whole lot clearer than it was last Monday although it now seems certain that they will break camp with just four starters:  Hochever, Francis, Davies and Chen.   Come mid-April, they will need to pick either Sean O’Sullivan or Vin Mazzaro for the fifth starter and make another roster decision at that point.   There is an outside chance that Mike Montgomery gets the nod here, too, but as much as we and the Royals would love to see him in the big league rotation that is probably a move best saved for summertime.

The bullpen, as ludicrous as it sounds, is quite likely to head north with EIGHT pitchers.  The obvious are Joakim Soria, Robinson Tejeda and Jeremy Jeffress, but after that it gets pretty muddled.   Little lefty Tim Collins is a near lock, but a rough outing a few nights ago did not help his cause.   Ned Yost, the man who would prefer to have two lefties in the pen, sure as heck is not going to Kansas City with the only southpaw being Rule 5 Robert Fish, who he has seen throw two innings in his life.  So, make Collins a lock after all.

The inside track right now for two more spots would seem to be Kanekoe Texiera and Luis Mendoza.   This organization is a sucker for new deliveries, better arm angles and solid spring performances.  Hey, it worked for Bruce Chen last year, why not try it, again?

Mendoza and Texiera would seem to be in direct competition with Blake Wood (who seems to be headed to Omaha), Greg Holland, Louis Coleman and even Aaron Crow (although I think that is unlikely).   Could it be as simple as the fact that Texiera and Holland already have 40 man roster spots?  On a team that is frankly going to use 2011 as an extended spring training, that might be the deciding factor.

That leaves two more spots in this eight man pen:  one permanent and one available only until April 16th when the team will need a fifth starter.   Given what he has done this spring (and yes I know it is just spring), Nathan Adcock would seem to have pitched himself onto this team.   As a Rule 5 guy he obviously have to stay on the 25 man roster all year, but he seems to have done enough to at least start down that road.

Speaking of an open spot and Rule 5, enter lefty Robert Fish.  This acquisition was extremely curious given that Kansas City already had one Rule 5 pitcher in camp and that it occurred relatively late into camp.   Fish throws hard and from the left side, which is a good way to get a shot.   It might be enough to keep Fish around through mid-April and decide if he is worth trying to work out a deal to keep him as I think it is unlikely Ned Yost wants to nurse two Rule 5 guys through an entire season.

The Royals could break camp with an extra infielder (Zawadzki would be the one given Feliz’s $800,000 deal should he stick with the big club), but I have a hunch they will introduce an extra reliever to the Opening Day crowd on March 31st.

The hits just keep coming… The latest a 15 hit attack against the Mariners on Thursday night.  The top of the order did the heavy lifting with Jarrod Dyson collecting three hits and Lorenzo Cain and Billy Butler picking up two each.  One of Butler’s hits was a solo home run off Felix Hernandez.

As much fun as it is to see Dyson and Cain experiencing spring success, in a way it’s bitter sweet because of The Promises. You know the two youngster will probably be doing their thing in Omaha to open the year.  Oh, well…

Speaking of young players, now that Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have been reassigned to minor league camp, doesn’t that take some of the luster off these spring games?  I’ve written before about how once the initial excitement that baseball is back, these exhibition contests fall into a somewhat boring pattern.  Usually.  I didn’t feel that way this month and it was mainly because of the young players.  Too bad there isn’t more TV coverage because the MLB radio guy covering the Royals just couldn’t do them justice.  Twitter was more compelling.

I know a bunch of people (lucky people) who are going to Surprise in the next couple of weeks, and they plan to stick to the back fields to watch the minor leaguers.  That’s a capital idea, as they say.

Luis Mendoza didn’t hurt his chances with three innings of one hit ball. Included was four strikeouts.  He’s now thrown over 10 innings and allowed just two hits and two walks.  Both of those free passes coming on Thursday.  Not that I have confidence in him to repeat that performance once the calendar changes.  Still, as I said before, sometimes there is something so crazy about a particular spring stat that it makes you take notice.  Two hits (and no runs) in 10 innings is that kind of stat.  Couple that with a supposed change in his mechanics and you can understand how the Royals would give serious consideration to the guy who struck out just four batters per nine in Omaha last year en route to a 4.10 ERA.

He’s certainly in the bullpen mix from here on out.

And finally, have you made plans to join us at The Well next week?  Check the sidebar for details, but lets just say if you show up, you’ll be witness to history as rumor has it that Nick, Clark and myself have never been seen together in public. That’s because we never leave the house. Except for beer and baseball…

Jason Kendall is coming back, and there is not a damn thing you can do about it.

Actually, that a thirty-six year old, fifteen year veteran busts his rear end to get back from major shoulder surgery is admirable.  Jason Kendall will get paid $3,750,000 whether he is ready to play March 31st or August 31st.  That he is pushing himself this hard to return early is truly commendable.

Jason Kendall takes a lot of heat, much of it deserved, on this site and others, but the truth is that much of it is not his fault.   It’s not his fault Dayton Moore offered two years and six million dollars.   It is also not Kendall’s fault that Ned Yost and Trey Hillman insisted on batting him second even though he had not posted an even average OPS+ since 2004.   As major league managers, it is also their fault, not Kendall’s, that they played him every day.

Sure, Jason doesn’t have to be such a jerk on the days when he is not in the lineup and he can be a bit of a condescending assclown when it comes to dealing with the press and fans.   Still, we cannot fault a guy for wanting to play baseball and busting his ass to do so.

Playing baseball, however, is the key phrase in all the above and Jason Kendall is not what he used to be when it comes to that skill.   Last season, Jason hit a very skinny .256/.318/.297 for an OPS+ of just 71.   His traditional OPS of .615 was the worst mark among all catchers with more than 300 plate appearances, as was his slugging percentage.  

It is not that the Royals had a ton of options to amp up the offense from behind the plate, however.   While almost all of us think Brayan Pena brings more offense to the position, his 2010 line of .253/.306/.335 (OPS+ of 76) was decidedly Kendall-esque.   Lucas May, in admittedly small sample size of just 39 at-bats, was an anemic .189/.205/.216.

Defensively, we all know that judging catchers is tremendously difficult..  You don’t really need to be a ‘baseball man’ to watch a shortstop play and see if he is a great defender or a poor one.   Discerning a great catcher is much harder, however.   How many times have you given a catcher credit for a pitcher’s good outing?   How do you tell if he even deserves the credit?   We don’t see how many hours a catcher spends studying opposing batters or if he manages to translate those hours of study into an effective game plan.

What we are left with is an inexact science of stolen base percentages, passed balls, wild pitches and the almost absurd ‘catcher’s earned run average.’   As inaccurate as those are, here’s a quick look at the three Royals’ catchers last year:

  • Passed Balls per 9 innings:   Kendall (.053), Pena (.027), May (.444)
  • Wild Pitches per 9 innings:  Kendall (.309), Pena (.401), May (.556)
  • Stolen Bases per 9 innings:  Kendall (.89), Pena (.77), May (.78)

Pena actually was tagged for a passed ball half as often as Kendall (and no, I did not forget a zero in front of May’s number), but I am not sure 337 innings of work on Pena’s part is enough to make much a case.  

Although wild pitches are technically the fault of the pitcher, I do put some stock in the fact that a good defensive catcher does have some role in his hurlers getting tagged with wild pitches.   Using that logic, Kendall was better than Pena who was better than May.

While Pena and Kendall both threw out 29% of potential base stealers, runners took liberty with Kendall more than they did with Pena.   Again, I am not sure this, like any of the above really tells us who is the better defensive catcher.    Frankly, the best defender in the organization is probably Manny Pina, who NO ONE will ever bat second.

The funny thing about this whole situation is that it is very possible that none of these three is a legitimate everyday catcher and yet, the Royals might well break camp with all three of them on the twenty-five man roster.   Here is something even funnier:  I might actually advocate doing so.

Now, as Craig mentioned yesterday, there is really no use for a third catcher, particularly in the American League.  A third catcher who cannot hit and field who plays behind two guys who can’t either is bordering on the insane.    Even more insane is that I think it is unlikely that either Bryan Pena or Lucas May, both out of options, make it through waivers if the Royals try to send them down to the minors.   Baseball is funny that way.

   With no need for a fifth starting pitcher until April 16th and carrying an eighth reliever being even more ridiculous than a third catcher, it opens up a temporary twenty-five man roster spot.    With essentially a free spot to burn, we are faced with these undeniable truths:

  • If healthy, Jason Kendall will play most days.   We can rail against it all we want, but you know it and I know it.
  • We don’t know if Jason Kendall is healthy.
  • Manny Pina has played 17 games above AA ball.
  • The Royals’ catcher of the future, Salvador Perez, has played no games above A ball.
  • Brayan Pena and Lucas May are out of options.

While the possibility remains that Jason Kendall opens the season on the disabled list, my guess is he won’t.   Assuming that Kendall is active, the Royals will be faced with the gnawing uncertainty that he may or may not be truly healthy and, given the pace at which he returned, could be susceptible to re-injury.

As Nick suggested on the most recent podcast, it might make the most sense to go with the veteran Kendall backed by the defensive minded Pina, IF Kendall is healthy.   (Again, by ‘most sense’, keep in mind that we are operating in reality here – the one where you know that Jason Kendall will play virtually everyday.)  Not knowing if Kendall is healthy and will stay healthy dictates that someone with major league experience join him on the roster.   

Enter Brayan Pena, who has hit one year and not hit the next and is, by most accounts, becoming a tolerable catcher.   He is a likable guy, good clubhouse guy considering he almost never gets to play and almost certainly will break camp with the team for the simple reason that he is better than Lucas May and more experienced than Manny Pina.

What about Lucas May then?    He came to the Royals along with pitcher Elisaul Pimentel in exchange for Scott Podsednik.    May did not show a lot in a brief stint with Kansas City last season, but is still a work in progress.   There is some sentiment that he might have some offensive upside…..for a catcher.     Having been in the organization for less than a year, one would think the Royals might like to take a longer look at him.

Now, the world will not end if the Royals try to pass May through waivers and get him a minor league assignment.   Heck, I just spent the better part of this column telling you that none of the Royals’ catchers are very good.    Still, they really don’t know what they have in May and almost certainly would prefer to have Manny Pina catch everyday in Omaha and Salvador Perez do the same everyday in Northwest Arkansas this year.

Keeping May in some fashion protects younger more viable catchers in the system from being rushed to the majors to be a backup should an injury strike down Kendall or Pena.     If the Royals had a roster squeeze, this would not be worth the effort, but they don’t.

The decision to play Lorenzo Cain in Omaha has apparently been made:  an unfortunate side effect of promising Melky Cabrera playing time this winter.   With that the five outfielders are set and the Royals can maintain their hold on the out of options Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier. 

The infield is down to a) is Wilson Betemit healthy and b) can Chris Getz hit?   Lance Zawadzki and Pedro Feliz await those answers and probably, if the Royals really wanted to, one of them could stake claim to this temporary spot in place of the third catcher.   Keep in mind, however, keeping Feliz comes with an $800,000 price tag and the caveat that we will actually have to watch him hit.

In my mind, it will probably be easier to sneak an out of options player through waivers in mid-April than right before breaking camp.   By then, organizations will have their minor league rosters set and be a little less likely to jump on a marginal player from somewhere else.  

So, three catchers?  Really?   It doesn’t make any long term sense at all, but for a brief couple of weeks this spring, it might be the prudent thing to do.

Episode #045 – In this episode, I discuss the Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer getting cut from the Major League team, Alex Gordon Dominating and the Spring Training battles. Clark Fosler joins me to discuss the bullpen and I preview the 2011 Cleveland Indians.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs045.mp3|titles=BBS

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Follow Clark on Twitter @cfosroyalsauth

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Music used in this podcast:

New Order – Ceremony

Tom Waits – Heartattack And Vine

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