Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Royal Treatment: Live From Spring Training, Part I

OK, for my summary, I'm just going to copy and paste what I have written over at Royals Review. It's long-winded and detailed - so feel free to skim some parts if you must.

Considering the amount of Spring Training fans, like myself, blogging directly about their experiences in Surprise, I am determined to hop on the bandwagon of this blogging experience. This entry will mark the first of three Spring Training segments that I will provide here at Royals Review. However one wishes to describe it, today seemed to take place over several stratospheres. I arose at roughly 6am (Central Standard Time) only to catch a plane to the southwest, rewind the clocks two hours, and begin my day anew in beautiful Surprise, Arizona. That's right - the February and March home of our beloved Royals.

My father, uncle, cousin, and I met at the Phoenix airport, rented a beautiful BMW, and drove directly to the Surprise Stadium.

- The first game we attended was the Thursday, March 13 contest between the Royals and the Los Angeles Angels, which would eventually, as we all know, conclude in a glorious comeback 6-5 victory for our Boys in Blue. Although I walked around the ballpark for roughly one and a half innings, I thought I would share my experiences at the ballpark, from a "scouting" and "non-scouting" angle. Keep in mind that these are merely notes, and this isn't necessarily meant to be interpreted as formal writing. Also, because of meaningless of statistics in one game - let alone in Spring Training - these opinions should be interpreted as a grain of salt.

- After cruising nicely through the first two innings unscathed, starter Jorge De La Rosa struggled mightily through the second inning. Although he was consistently hitting 92-94 with his fastball with a 10-12 mph. difference on his changeup and 12-14 mph. difference on his fastball, he appeared to be tipping his pitches, changing his arm motion and velocity noticeably on off-speed pitches. My uncle noted that he landed in different spots on the mound, and I added that he was not repeating his mechanics for different situations (runners on base, types of pitches thrown, etc.) He fell behind many hitters, going 3-0 on at least three, and left many first pitches over the sweet spot of the plate, such as the solo home run and double he allowed. Although he allowed a respectable four hits and two runs in four innings, he could have exited with a much worse line. In the third inning, third baseman Alex Gordon saved him by converting a nifty 6-3 double play. Overall, the same old Jekyll De La Hyde manifested himself on Thursday, and after the game, we concluded that, a) he had not improved considerably from last season, b) he still possessed good stuff but had very little idea how to harness it, and c) probably was not a frontrunner to make an 11 or 12 man pitching staff. At age 26, De La Rosa's career as a starting pitcher might be on the line, although, in my opinion, given his peripherals against lefties, he should still be considered for a 'LOOGY' role.

- Despite a leadoff bunt attempt on the first pitch, Joey Gathright continued to work pitchers deep into counts. Despite going 0-for-4, he drew one walk (on four pitches) and drove in a run.

- Mario Lisson appears awkward at the plate and in the field. Although physically he appears remarkably athletic, his hand/eye coordination and rhythm need improvement. Before this spring, I have not watched him play, so interpret this opinion with a grain of salt.

- Damon Hollins, inexplicably, continues to rake. He hit a 2-RBI double in the second inning against Angels lefty starter Joe Saunders, and hit a towering two out home run on a Scot Shields fastball in the 6th inning. My uncle and father still strongly emphasized that he would not make the 25-man cut as a fourth outfielder. However, given a possibly looming Esteban German trade, Justin Huber release, Mark Grudzielanek injury, or Jose Guillen suspension, I'm considering Hollins as a strong possibility, especially with the amount of playing time he has received this spring, let alone hitting ahead of Mark Teahen, John Buck, and organizational darling Ross Gload in the starting lineup.

- Alex Gordon will provide Gold Glove-caliber defense for many years to come at third base. I use the term "Gold Glove-caliber" because we all know that Gold Gloves favor popular players who are superb offensively. As mentioned above, he converted a nifty double play by scooping up a ball, tagging third base (which was about 3 feet behind him) and throwing to first, barely edging out the runner in time. Gordon covered and converted plays from ground which appeared to be well into shortstop territory. Gordon needs to begin working the counts, hitting lefties better, and hitting inside pitches better, and hopefully he will become the hitter we know he can be at the plate. In essence, we hope he becomes the next George Brett. Gordon only drew two plate appearances today, exercising some much-needed plate discipline by walking in the second inning.

- John Buck looks much improved at the plate. He implemented a leg kick and drilled a single and double.

- Brian Lawrence could become the 2008 version of Wayne Franklin - a once-serviceable, even above average, starting pitcher whose stuff has declined to the point of mere AAA fodder. Lawrence was throwing in the mid-to-upper 80's in innings five through seven. To his credit, he generally kept the ball down past the fifth inning, but he was crushed in his first appearance, giving up three hits. Fastball 86-87 and offspeed 76-80. Not nearly enough of a speed/off-speed difference to be effective in any Major League role.

- Despite allowing a towering home run to a Halos' AAA player in Terry Evans, Mike Maroth settled down to show moxie on the mound in retiring the next three batters in order. Fastball 87-89, change-up 74-76, curveball 75-77. Mixed speeds well; nice difference in pitches; solid, repeated mechanics which made him serviceable in Detroit.

- Joel Peralta looked spectacular in the ninth, throwing his typical 91-93 mph. fastball, and using a dandy breaking ball to strike out two batters. Although he does have one option left, he should make the big-league roster and provide a similar role to last season - a 6th or 7th inning middle reliever capable of pitching effectively for multiple innings.

- Mike Aviles showed a decent approach at the plate and fielded his only ground ball attempt cleanly and smoothly. No hitches in his mechanics, good enough footwork, and a solid throw. No real complaints, but then again, it was only one play.

- Billy Butler disappointed this afternoon from the offensive angle. He grounded into a tailor-made double play, shuffling ever so slowly to first base along the way. He also appeared to swing out in front of several off-speed pitches. It was generally not the same well-disciplined, quick-mechanical Billy Butler we've grown accustomed two in his 3+ years in the organization. Chalk it up to simply one of those days for Billy B.

- On a brighter note (in my opinion), Hillman offered hope of possible change in the shortstop position by starting Alberto Callaspo there this afternoon! I didn't get much of a chance to observe Callaspo offensively (other than notice his crowded stance), but he converted a 6-3 double play.

Highlights of the day included taking a picture of my 9-year old cousin posing with Royals manager Trey Hillman, almost getting Frank White's autograph, and taking roughly 50 pictures of in-game and out-of-game action throughout the ballpark. I have supplied the Royals faithful with the pictures below.
For future reference, I would love to someday partake in a Royals Review gathering at Surprise Stadium, or meet up before the games for a little Minor League scouting or ice cream (yes, ice cream).

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