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On Tuesday, I had yet another choice to make.  The Royals were playing the Indians at 6:00 and the Royals minor leaguers would be playing at 6:30.  I figured that I would be able to see the big club play 162 times starting in about a week, so I would primarily focus on seeing the prospects.

I started at the main stadium to catch some batting practice at the cages, which are a very cool feature, because they are right inside the stadium and the guys are about 3 feet away taking BP.  I wanted to get a look at Ankiels ankle to see if he would be ready to go.  I am certainly no doctor, however he looked like he was fine to me.  He was taking full swings and not easing up at all.  I watched his ankle closely and when he turns to rotate his body, he rolls up on the outside of his foot.  I don’t know if that is how he injured his ankle, but it looks like It would certainly cause some stress.

The Major League Game

I grabbed my seat for the start of the game so I could watch at least the first inning or so before heading off to the back fields.  I guess the Royals were intent on helping me out, since they scored 5 runs in the first and let me see everything I wanted to see.

The first thing I noticed was that I was seeing the battle of 5th starters.  Talbot for the Indians and Davies for the Royals.  Every single team is “concerned” about their 5th starter, but I was reminded that it could be worse.   Davies had his fastball hitting 93 consistently and an off sped pitch at 82.  Talbot was sitting at 89 and 83 respectively.  Both guys didn’t command the ball particularly well, but Talbot was all over the place walking 3 Royals, which in itself is quite a feat.  The bottom line is that Davies looked better than Talbot and is a perfectly fine 5th starter regardless of some of the chatter you hear.

I also wanted to get a look at Aviles and Kila.  Aviles absolutely crushed a ball to the wall with Dejesus on second and Podsednik at first.   Dejesus scored and Podsednik was hustling right behind Dejesus, he was looking to get a sign from the third base coach and wasn’t getting one.  He was clearly motioning to the coach asking whether he should score or not and finally stopped at third.  It would have been a close play for Podsednik at home, and stopping him in Spring Training is probably the right call, but it was just odd that the coach was not decisive in the situation and made Podsednik ask for the sign.  I wanted to see Kila hit, but it was kind of perfect to watch him walk.  Kila also saved a double play by picking a throw from Yuniesky out of the dirt.  Brayan Pena’s home run was a bomb and afer him came Yuniesky Betancourt, time to hit the minor league camp.

Minor League Camp

The Royals and Rangers minor leaguers were playing a rare night game and had four simultaneous games going on.  The games weren’t posted, so big thanks to Adam Foster at Project Prospect for giving me the details about the games.  The first thing I saw was a huge crowd at one of the fields.  I moved over and realized Neftali Feliz was pitching for the Rangers.  He had pitched the previous day in the Rangers v Rockies games, so I was pretty shocked to see him.  I got to see Ernesto Mejia face off against Neftali which was extremely entertaining.  Mejia is a big dude and really held his own versus one of the best pitching prospects in the MLB.  He ended up striking out, but he fouled off some of Feliz’s sick curve balls and probably saw 10 pitches in the AB.

I moved over to the field that the  A ball team was on and saw Tim Mehlville pitching.  I moved in behind Adam Foster and jotted down the radar gun readings for Mehlville.  His fastball was 89 or 91 mph pretty consistently and he occasionally hit 93 and 94.  However, his command was less than spectacular.  I don’t recall seeing a single ground ball hit off of him, while there were plenty of fly balls due to leaving the fastball up.  His curveball on the other hand was extremely good and he commanded it better than his fastball.  He seemed to change speeds with the curve quite a bit as well going anywhere from 72 to 79 mph.  Mehlville is still young and can certainly improve.  I was impressed with what I saw, but he will need to work on his fastball command to become an elite pitcher.*

*Special thanks to Adam Foster for pointing some of these things out to me and letting me use his radar gun.  www.projectprospect.com is a great site.  Check it out.

Earlier in the day I had a chance to see Cheslor Cuthbert take fielding practice with Buck Coats, Kurt Mertins and Malcom Culver.  Cuthbert seemed to be the best fielder in that group.  He didn’t miss a single ball, while all the other guys did.  He exhibited very good range and good instincts.  It was only one practice, but I was impressed with his fielding.

Hosmer didn’t get on the field at all in the games I saw and there was some talk that he is maybe coming off of a slight injury.  I didn’t get a chance to talk to him or confirm this.  He was the bat boy in the A ball game and seemed to be moving around fine, so if he is injured it doesn’t seem serious.

There was one other player who impressed me: Patrick Norris.  He played CF for the A ball team and showed great speed on the bases, threw a guy out at home and played with some good range in the outfield.  He is a switch hitter who pulled the ball with a quick bat from the left side and poked one the opposite way from the right side.  It is of course  a small sample size but I liked him a lot.  He doesn’t get much love around the prospect rankings, and that is probably for a good reason.  But I will be keeping my eye on him this year.

Nick hosts a podcast about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and welcomes feedback via Twitter (@brokenbatsingle) and e-mail (brokenbatsingle [AT] gmail [DOT] com)

I arrived in Phoenix and had a choice to make.  I had to either go and see the Royals big club play a game in Tempe against the Angels or head to Surprise and try to find my way around the Royals camp and hopefully get a glimpse of some minor leaguers.  Since I will soon be able to see the Royals in action in Kansas City, I decided to head to Surprise.  When I arrived in Surprise, there were lots of cars piling into the parking lot and so I figured the Rangers were playing.  What I really wanted to do was see the Royals minor leaguers which people had told me was easy to do, but I was a little confused.  I bought a ticket for the game because I figured that I would need it to get into the spring training facilities.

The ballpark in Surprise is reminiscent of many AA ballparks.  The facility is extremely nice with a large grass outfield for lounging.  I bought myself an adult beverage and set out in search of minor league camp.  I made my way completely around the stadium and the closest I came to my goal were a couple of batting cages .  The Rangers vs Rockies game was about to start so I hit the outfield grass to watch my first game of the year.

After a few innings of the game I decided to ask one of the many friendly ushers how I could get to the back fields.  He told me to walk outside the gate and down a ways I would find a gate in the fence, which would be the entrance.  I got my hand stamped for re-entry and was on my way.

I found the barely marked gate and began walking into the Royals spring complex.  I was hoping that there was still some baseball being played on the back fields.    I heard some gloves popping and knew that there was at least something to see.   I saw some activity on a couple of fields and as I got closer I could see there were two games against Padres minor leaguers going on.

When I arrived at the games, I felt like I had stepped into a private party.  Frank White was the first face I recognized.   He was talking with some Royals front office folks and not far from him stood John Wathan.  The stands at the fields are literally smaller than the ones at the stadium where I play softball.   They may have room to hold 50 people or so.  However, you can stand right up against the fence and get extremely close to the action.  The group of people watching was an odd mixture of Royals employees, attractive young women and baseball nerds.

I am not a particularly good scout of players, but here are some quick notes on what I saw:

Ernesto Mejia and Clint Robinson are huge.  Johnny Giavotella and Kurt Mertins are not.  However, the four of them look like they would make a pretty good basketball team with Giavotella and Mertins manning the back court with Mejia and Robinson in the front court.

I noticed that recently signed Nicaraguan prospect Cheslor Cuthbert was playing on one of the fields.  I had never seen him and wanted to get a close look for myself.  He was playing third and I only saw one ball hit to him.  He didn’t field it cleanly, but he knocked it down and threw the runner out at first.  His arm seemed average, but I only got to see him make that one throw.  He was about average height, and he wore his jersey a little baggy so I could not really tell what kind of build the kid had.  At the plate he looked lost.  He flailed pretty wildly at pitches out of the zone and seemed like he had major problems hitting off-speed pitches.  I contacted Greg Schaum at www.royalsprospects.com to check my report against what he knew.  He agreed with the scouting report, however he said that Cuthbert hasn’t seen much quality pitching and is very much a diamond in the rough.  It is worth remembering that Cuthbert is only 17 years old or so and will take some time to develop.  He will likely have some struggles in the next year or two adjusting to a higher level of competition and American Culture.

The experience for me was second to none.  If you are at all into watching prospects, then spring training is a slice of heaven.  I got to chat briefly with Omaha Royals Manager Mike Jirschele, Special Advisor Ned Yost and former Kansas City Athletic and current pitching coordinator Bill Fischer.  Fischer was hilarious and seemed to have something to say about every player on the field.  He and Ned Yost traded stories of being inducted into the Wisconsin Hall Of Fame.

With the small amount of people who are at the camp hanging around, it is pretty easy to snag a foul ball.  One literally bounced right in my hands, so I grabbed it with the intention to bring it home to my son.   When I was standing next to Bill Fischer, he asked me if I wanted him to sign the ball.  I said “go for it.”  He took it and signed it:

“Bill Fischer, Wisconsin Hall of Fame.”

It kind of summed up the casual nature of the whole experience.  Players are just wandering around and if you are an autograph kind of person, they are very easy to approach.  Coaches, managers and former players are just milling about.  It was kind of like being able to step into their world for a brief moment, being allowed into the back halls of the exclusive professional baseball society.  I know not everyone gets a chance to spend some time at Spring Training, but if you ever can you absolutely should.  It is truly an experience like no other.

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Nick hosts a podcast about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and welcomes feedback via Twitter (@brokenbatsingle) and e-mail (brokenbatsingle [AT] gmail [DOT] com)

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