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One of the first Spring Sunshine stories comes via Brian Bannister who reports his shoulder feels great and he s in top physical condition.

It really shouldn’t be a surprise his shoulder is feeling good. Once it was determined (by a doctor outside the Royals organization) that he didn’t need surgery, it was fairly obvious that a winter of rest followed by a conditioning program would whip his shoulder back into shape. He was suffering from a dead arm. When that happens during the season, the pitcher normally takes a start or two off from the rotation – and in extreme cases can land on the DL for a couple of weeks – before returning as if nothing happened. When the dead arm occurs at the end of the season, like it did with Bannister, the rest period can be followed by conditioning to build strength and stamina.

It really wasn’t a surprise Bannister ended the season on the shelf. Thanks to Trey Hillman s Starting Rotation Chainsaw Massacre, Bannister was pushed to the limit last year. In five starts beginning July 10, he averaged over 111 pitches per start. Previously, he had averaged 95 pitches per start.

I doubt it was coincidence that in his two starts following his stretch of five where he was overworked, he threw a total of 10 innings and allowed 14 runs on 16 hits while striking out only four batters. Hillman didn’t notice anything was amiss or he was negligent as hell as he kept sending Bannister out to work long outings while getting his brains beat in. Bannister finally reached his breaking point on September 2 when he lasted only 1.1 innings. That was four days after he threw a season high 119 pitches in a start in Seattle.

Bannister has exhibited what we ll call a lack of stamina in the past. In his rookie season in 2007, he simply ran out of gas in September when he posted a 7.30 ERA and struck out only six batters while walking eight in his final 25 innings. In 2008, he was pitching OK through June 23 when he had a 4.47 ERA, allowing 11 home runs in 99 innings to that point. However in that start in late June he threw 113 pitches. That came just two starts after throwing a career-high 127 pitches against the Rangers. From that point on, he wasn’t the same pitcher. Over his final 84 innings, he had a 7.29 ERA and allowed 18 home runs.

I could be way off, but I really think the accumulation of starts with high pitch counts hurts Bannister. Say what you will about how pitchers are treated, but understand that not all pitchers are created equal. While someone like Zack Greinke can throw 120 pitches and feel fine, someone like Bannister can throw 100 pitches and feel exhausted.

It s an indictment against the Royals that they apparently haven t figured this out.

More notes:

— Jose Guillen arrived late to camp due to the death of a sibling. Never an easy situation, but apparently the death was unexpected, which can make it even more difficult to deal with. Positive thoughts go out to Guillen and his family.

— Apparently, we’re going to get a new lineup everyday from SABR Trey and the Royals. Maybe they’re using us as a focus group. Here s the latest as reported by Dutton:

Podsednik – LF
Kendall – C
DeJesus – RF
Butler – 1B
Ankiel – CF
Callaspo – DH
Gordon – 3B
Betancourt – SS
Getz – 2B

Honestly, that makes my head hurt.

Hillman just seems kind of slow, doesn t he? No reasonable follower of baseball would construct a lineup like that. However, Hillman will throw that order out for a couple of games in April, the Royals will score less than two runs a game and we ll never see it again.

It s kind of like when he hit Mike Jacobs and Miguel Olivo back to back early last year. That lasted a handful of games before Hillman realized he was short-circuiting any kind of potential rally with a couple of out machines together in the lineup.

He gets it. Eventually.

By the time you are reading this, the first workout of the pitchers and catchers could be underway. Awesome.

Time for the first edition of spring notes.

Let s start with a little old news. Hopefully, it s a semi-fresh take. Anyway, here s Trey Hillman s top choice for a lineup as reported by the Star s Bob Dutton:

Podsednik – LF
Getz – 2B
DeJesus – RF
Butler – 1B
Ankiel – CF
Guillen – DH
Gordon – 3B
Betancourt – SS
Kendall – C

A few random, knee-jerk thoughts:

— Any lineup that fails to feature Alberto Callaspo who was the team’s second best hitter last summer is a bad lineup. There can be no debate about this.

— The outfield alignment is screwed up, but we knew this was going to happen.

— Podsednik won’t get on base enough to justify a high position in the lineup. In writing about him for the Royals Authority Annual (on sale soon!) it was obvious he s entirely dependent on a high batting average on balls in play to elevate his OBP. He walks in less than 8% of his plate appearances.

— If you re going with Getz in the lineup, I suppose he s fine at second. He makes plenty of contact and won t kill a rally with a double play. Last year in 76 double play opportunities (when he was at bat with a runner on first and less than two outs), Getz hit into only four double plays. Nifty.

— There are three guys who are made for the number nine spot in that lineup and there really isn’t a number four hitter in the bunch.

— I don’t get why SABR Trey is looking to slide Butler down to the cleanup spot. He seems perfect for the number three.

Here’s my ideal lineup:

DeJesus – CF
Getz – 2B
Butler – 1B
Ankiel – RF
Callaspo – DH
Gordon – 3B
Kendall – C
Betancourt – SS
Podsednik – LF

The best hitters on the team occupy the number 1, 3 and 5 spots in the order which gives the Royals the best chance at a big inning – Something that s going to be rare with this offense. Ankiel is probably the best long ball threat at this point, so he gets the cleanup spot by default, although if Gordon shows some thunder, I wouldn t have an issue with flip flopping them in the order. I also wouldn’t be adverse to a Gordon/Josh Fields platoon at third.

I’m not happy with putting Kendall and Betancourt back to back in the lineup, but what else can you do? Cross your fingers and hope they make the final outs of the inning (which will happen over 70% of the time) and then Podsednik can be a de facto second leadoff hitter.

— Player Inventory is the catch phrase of the spring. Holy crap, I wish I were making this up.

This new buzzword comes to us thanks to the previous season when the Royals lost Mike Aviles, Alex Gordon, Gil Meche, Coco Crisp, Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies for extended periods due to injury. Look, the Royals weren’t contenders last year, no matter what. Take the starting left side of the infield, the starting center fielder and three-fifths of the starting rotation of any team in the league and they aren’t going to have the depth necessary to cover all the loses. No way.

It s a nice idea, but if a similar scenario happens this year, the Royals would again lack the proper depth to replace all those parts. The Royals always seem to be trying to close the barn door after all the animals have escaped.

— I prefer to play what I call roster math. As Dutton points out, there are several players on the 40-man roster who have options remaining that may ultimately come into play when it comes closer to Opening Day.

For example, there s the heated battle for the backup spot in the Royals outfield. Mitch Maier doesn’t have any options left while Brian Anderson does. Of course, Anderson has a major league contract that will pay him $700k while Maier will make only around $420k. It would have been great if someone noticed this early in the off season.

Chris Getz also has an option left, which could come into the equation if he struggles badly this spring. Although it would be an epic upset if he didn’t break camp with the team.

— One related roster math note that received considerable attention was this take on Betancourt:

Something to remember: Betancourt has options remaining. While he has sufficient service time to refuse the assignment and become a free agent, he would void whatever remained of his $9 million contract through 2012 by doing so.

If Betancourt struggles, and Aviles returns to form, the Royals won t hesitate to make a switch. That won t likely happen by opening day, but the way each plays this spring bears watching.

I really wonder about this. We re talking about the same organization that gave Tony Pena, Jr every opportunity to prove his worthlessness before they finally gave up. Do we really think they would be quick to option Betancourt, a player who costs much more money and who cost them a prospect in the trade that brought him to KC? Besides, there s a ton of evidence that GMDM coveted Betancourt for years. Years. No, I don t think he s going to cut the cord on Betancourt so quickly.

Although it would be great if Betancourt was optioned and he declined and voided his contract. Unfortunately, stuff like that doesn’t happen to the Royals.

— The Royals slogan for 2010 is It All Happens Here. What, exactly is it? Bad fundamentals? Buck nights? Zack Greinke shutouts? Drunken nights on the party porch? The possibilities are endless. I suppose that’s the idea.

There’s a TV commercial that goes along with this slogan and can be viewed here. When you watch it, it’s apparent that they’re de-empahsizing baseball and instead trying to sell all the other periphery that goes on at the stadium. By my count, there were roughly 35 cuts in the commercial – three of which featured actual baseball being played by actual Royals. The same number of cuts that featured food.

Okay, let’s get the ‘Scott Podsednik’s wife in a bikini at every game’ out of the way right now.

There is a very high level of the ‘winter doldrums’ descending on the Royals’ blogsosphere as we wait for spring training to begin. Part of that is it is simply that time of year and part is that the Royals made a number of moves this off-season, almost none of which were of the exciting variety.

Last week, we took a quick look at my perception of the 25 man roster that is likely to break camp at the end of March. Last Friday, the official Royals site had comments from Trey Hillman that included, but were not limited to:

  • Getz will be a second baseman first, then shortstop.
  • Callaspo will be at second, then short
  • Fields will be a third baseman and some left field and we might throw him over to right, too.

In the discussion of trying Getz at shortstop (a position Chris claims to have played a lot ‘pretty decently’ in the minors), Hillman also talked about waiting for Mike Aviles to get healthy, but never once mentioned Yuniesky Betancourt.

While all that is moderately intriguing and certainly gives us indication that we might see the same lineup two days in a row, maybe three times all next year, it probably does not make many of you any more excited about 2010 then my discussion of the 25 man roster did last Monday.

So, today, what would make you excited? Let me focus that a little more: what ONE move could be made by the Royals that would get you excited about 2010? This move could be an acquisition, a signing, maybe even just a position change or promotion of a minor leaguer. Is there one?

While no one move is going to vault this team into contention, I think it might be possible to at least raise hopes that we have something to look forward to in 2010 besides Zack Greinke every fifth day and hoping to avoid 100 losses. Maybe there is no one move that will generate interest beyond the usual anticipation of a new season, but throw some out there because I want to be interested.

We’re in that annual lull before pitchers and catchers report. That’s something like 13 days away. Not that we’re counting.

To pass the time, here are some random questions. Feel free to let loose in the comments. Maybe we can get some solid debate going.

— Are there any remaining free agents you would like the Royals to sign? You have to imagine anyone left at this point wouldn’t bust the budget, although some (Johnny Damon) still harbor illusions of a multi-year, many multi-million dollar deal. Other interesting names include Carlos Delgado (coming off an injury) and Jarrod Washburn (coming off a spectacular flameout for the Tigers.) Of course, the three I mentioned would still stretch the Royals budget, so maybe we have to look a little harder for some less expensive talent.

Is there anyone out there who catches your eye?

— What current Royal prospect excites you the most? I d have to go with Wil Myers but I’m extremely intrigued by Aaron Crow Hopefully, we’ll get to see him face some major league hitters early in camp.

— Will Trey Hillman make it through the season? This was one of Kaegel’s 10 questions last month and it was the only one of the 10 that was relevant.

Can you see any scenario where he get s the axe next summer? Will it be a double digit losing streak or a slow start or a 90 loss season that will doom the Royals skipper? Or is he safe and certain to return in 2011?

— What pre-season type books will you purchase? I m thinking of books like Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America Prospect Handbook and of course, the Royals Authority Annual (details forthcoming!) Can’t forget magazines, too. I used to buy Bill Mazeroski s annual every spring and read it during spring break. I think I still have a bunch at my parent’s house in a box somewhere.

— With the announcement of Apple’s iPad last week, MLB.com was present to tout their MLB.tv deal and how sweet it will look on the new device. Now, when you visit the official Royals site or the MLB.com front page, you’re greeted with an invitation to buy MLB.tv for the 2010 season. I bought MLB.tv last year for the first time and was incredibly disappointed. The high def feeds dropped way too often and the condensed games were too slow in appearing once the game was over and the DVR feature was non-existent. By May, I was wishing I had paid for the Extra Innings package on Time Warner. That s how much I hated MLB.tv I was thinking I should have given more cash to Time Freaking Warner.

So now my question is, should I give MLB.tv a second chance? And if you’re going to buy a package for the full season, are you going to go with Extra Innings on cable or MLB.tv on your computer?

Time to hit the comments. Answer all, answer one or answer none. Or ask your own question.

A couple of links to pass your time:

Fan Exchange is aggregating various projections into a kind of super-projection. As an added bonus, you can make your own projections for the 2010 season and then store your numbers on the site and revisit them during the season. You can also create a group and compete with other prognosticators to see who has the clearest crystal ball.

Here are the current Royals projections for hitters. At first glance these look pretty solid.

Diamond Futures is a site dedicated to prospects that recently ranked the Royals as the 12th best system in baseball. Like other prospect sites, they rank the top prospects. However, they give hitters scores weighted by league and other factors for power, discipline and speed while pitchers are scored on dominance, stamina and control. They take all that and plug it into a system to project future success. It s an interesting system that – for you prospect hounds out there – is well worth your time.

The end result is a letter grade assigned to players. Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow received A grades, placing them in the top 1% of all minor leaguers.

— Rany has a riff on the quote from a Royals official who said everybody thought we had the greatest offseason in the history of whatever. He then proceeds to post several links of negative reaction about the Jacobs trade and the Farnsworth signing among others as proof that not everyone felt that way. However, I fear the joke is on Rany because the Royals don t have the internet.

Still, that quote is alarming on many levels.

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