Robert Ford 2011 Spring Training Blog for THU, 3/17
by Robert Ford,posted Mar 17 2011 12:48PM
For the first time in a while, it’s a really exciting time to be a Royals fan. The team seems to have a plan and legitimate prospects are abundant at several positions. It’s possible that more than half of the Royals roster will be homegrown talent by the middle of 2012, at the latest. Nevertheless, growing pains are inevitable for both the fans and the ballclub.
I say there are growing pains for Royals fans because it’s been a long time since many of them had reason for optimism. Heck, many of the younger fans have never had a reason to believe the Royals were on the right track. As a result, I think some Royals fans don’t know how to process what they’re seeing.
Case in point: the tweets tinged with anger and/or disappointment I got after Eric Hosmer was demoted to minor league camp before tonight’s game vs. the Reds in Goodyear. In 12 Major League spring games, Hosmer was 9 for 19 (.474) with two homers, four doubles and a 1.000 slugging percentage (19 total bases in 19 at-bats). There’s no doubt Hosmer opened a lot of eyes in camp and put himself into even better position to earn a Major League call-up before September. However, many fans, tired of hearing they need to be patient, were less than thrilled with his spring demotion.
Since I’m not originally from Kansas City and didn’t grow up following the Royals, I know it’s hard for me to truly grasp the futility that has embodied this team since the mid 90s. None of the teams I grew up rooting for, in any sport, have struggled for as long as the Royals have. I get that fans don’t want to hear patience preached yet again because they’ve heard that for a while and, in almost every other instance in the last two decades, they were sold a false bill of goods. And, when someone finally tries to sell you something legitimate, pessimism and cynicism is an understandable and expected reaction.
When evaluating whether the Royals are truly making progress toward GM Dayton Moore’s stated goal of winning with a roster of mostly homegrown talent, look for two things above all else: incremental progress and validation from others not associated with the Royals.
As far as incremental progress goes, I’ve seen a significant difference in this organization just since I’ve been covering them. When I got here, in 2009, I saw a team with little depth and several guys few other teams would want. Last spring, I was in awe of the young talent I saw in both Major League and minor league games and I saw an organization with a little more depth. Now, I see a team with some legitimate prospects who’ve performed well this spring against Major League competition. I see an intense bullpen battle amongst rookies that may go down to the last few days of camp. And, of course, I see Hosmer hitting like he’s the second coming of Roy Hobbs.
When it comes to validation from sources other than the Royals, that’s plentiful as well. Baseball America rated the Royals system the best in the game. It’s pretty hard to find a negative word written about the Royals farm system; believe me, I’ve looked.
So there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Royals future. But, it’s still important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Rookies who look good in spring training will still likely struggle during the season (but, fortunately, there should be plenty of reinforcements in the minors who are ready to perform). And, just because a 21-year-old with only 195 at-bats above A ball has hit close to .500 this spring doesn’t mean he should be in the Major Leagues on Opening Day.