Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Royal Treatment: Live From Spring Training, Part III

Here are some rantings, ravings, and other belated notes from Friday's game:
- Yaz Yabuta looks nowhere near Major League ready. His straight-overhand delivery doesn't add movement to his ball, and given that he throws 90-92mph. (or at least did) on Friday, he is nowhere near deceptive enough. He didn't mix and change speeds enough to be effective - his off-speed pitches hovered in the low-to-mid 80s. I hope the Royals reconsider him for the back of that bullpen role. In fact, at this point, I might say that Nomo has a better chance of experiencing success in that short relief role than Yabuta. Maybe McClure is helping him work on a pitch, but quite simply, he looked incredibly vulnerable and got absolutely and positively shelled.

- Ryan Shealy finally looks capable as a Major League hitter. He showed some plate discipline and, even more importantly, at least looked to be regaining the timing and velocity of his swing. He mixed and matched off-speed and fastball pitches well. I like his size and presence at the plate. I hope he comes back strong and wins a legitimate starting role at first base out of spring.

- Mike Aviles' batting stance looks remarkably similar to that of Mike Sweeney's. Similar tweaks and similar stance overall. I watched him play late in the game Thursday and Friday, and I'm hoping he eventually succeeds Esteban German as a valuable .290-hitting (or so) utility infielder. Although he hasn't committed fewer than 22 errors the last three seasons, I think he can be at least as mobile as "Estey". He has decent pop, but must take a backseat to Callaspo offensively and isn't good enough defensively to start at shortstop.

- Alex Gordon appeared to be lunging in front of some off-speed pitches and trying to pull them, a la 2007. He is as surehanded as they come defensively, at least from the naked eye. He demonstrated good range once again by moving into the shortstop's "territory" in the infield to field ground balls, and displayed great instincts and a good arm in the field.

- Tony Pena's approach at the plate, quite frankly, stinks. With runners on base, he lunged and missed at pitch #1 and then promptly grounded into an inning-ending double play at a ball outside the strike zone on pitch #2. His defensive attributes don't nearly overcome his ginormous offensive shortcomings. Although he graciously signed my autograph on Friday, I'm not holding him as a shortstop of the future.

- Callaspo looked very good in the field and at the plate. I hope the organization considers him as a true everyday player this season. I love his crouch and his approach.

- Damon Hollins looks absolutely atrocious in the outfield. He lost two fly balls in the sun. I understand the sun has caused several problems among many teams' outfielders this spring, but give me a break. DeJesus and Gathright each caught multiple fly balls in the sun. Use your shades appropriately. Hollins will not make this team because of his outfield defense, offense be damned.

- In addition to Hollins' circus approach on a sunny afternoon, Tony Pena lost a pop fly on the infield and let it drop. Mike Aviles could have caught the ball, but Pena had priority, and a complete lack of communication obviously took place, leading my father to boo (which he rarely does, mind you). Pena needs to get his act together to make this team, but a free pass absolutely shouldn't be given by Hillman, et al.

- ALSO: Pena got picked off at first base. Not a good day for the elf-looking shortstop.

- I didn't watch Ron Mahay too closely, but he looked good. Fastball lower '90s, good deception.

- I didn't watch Brett Tomko closely enough in the fourth inning, but as I commented in another Royals Review thread, his stuff really didn't look too bad in the first three innings. Honest, it didn't. Fastball 90-92, good mix of curveballs, keeping the ball low, plenty of swings and misses, and even a few strikeouts. I think Tomko could still be serviceable in a relief role, but stamina will force him being anywhere near a league-average starter in 2008, unfortunately. 15 win stuff? Doubtful. 4.50 stuff in relief role? Probable, if he'll even be used there.

- Joey Gathright can absolutely fly down that line. He beat out a bunt easily and I believe (not sure) he beat out another infield single. Spectacular speed.

- I love everything about Billy Butler at the plate. I've read some scouts believe his swing is too unorthodox, but there are few flaws in his plate approach. He'll hit at least .290/.350 the next dozen years.

Throughout this entire trip, we've stayed at the beautiful Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. The architecture and aesthetics are second to none, but the service is questionable at best. We tried to organize a last-minute Saturday night event, asked for concierge help on more than one occasion, and have - literally - gotten no help.

Other events that we have done were real-life chess playing, croquet tournaments, swimming at the water park, desert Hummer-driving and "nightlighting", shall we say, and (of course) soaking in the sun and baseball.

If anyone has any extra questions about the trip, let me know. I'll write more on Sunday on the flight home (we leave in the late afternoon, and should arrive in Kansas City around 10pm, before I return to school the next week, ugggggghhh). I'll let everyone know more about our non-baseball related activities.

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