Robert Ford came to 610 Sports Radio in 2009 as the station’s “Royals Insider.” He currently serves as the pre and post game show host for Royals Broadcasts on 610. The Syracuse graduate has been around professional baseball as a reporter and broadcaster for over a decade.
Royals Spring Training Report for Sun, 4/1
by Robert Ford,posted Apr 1 2012 9:16PM
Of the four Royals spring trainings I’ve covered, this year’s camp was the most enjoyable. For the first three years, if I wanted to see top prospects and the future of the organization, I had to go to the back fields and watch the minor leaguers. Now, the organization’s future is in Major League camp, playing in Major League games. In the past, the Royals often had to choose between two or three undesirable options to fill a spot. Now, they have several great options at many spots and have to send quality players to Omaha. There’s a completely different mindset around the Royals organization now than there was when I got here and the morale of the Royals coaches, players, front office staff and scouts is as high as it’s been in a long time. The Royals have talked about 2012 as the year they might finally be able to make some noise in the AL Central for at least the last two years and we’re now less than a week from the start of the 2012 campaign.
With winning comes expectations and pressure and no one with the Royals will be facing more pressure than manager Ned Yost. Yost has enjoyed a honeymoon period longer than that of most managers; in 2010, he took over during the season and it wasn’t his team and in 2011, the focus was less on strategy and winning and more on development. Now, winning is the only focus. Can Yost make the right in-game moves and push the right managerial buttons? Can he help the Royals take the next step? Can he stay out of the way when he needs to? Fairly or unfairly, if the Royals struggle, Yost will likely get most of the blame. And, if the Royals struggle, the whispers will start about whether Yost can lead a young, talented team to the playoffs, especially since Yost led a young and talented Milwaukee Brewers team that imploded down the stretch in 2007 and seemed to be on its way to imploding in 2008 before Yost was fired with 12 games remaining.
No group of Royals players will be watched more closely than the five who make up the rotation. Starting pitching is the Royals’ biggest question mark and how well the team does in the standings is tied directly to how the starters do. More than anything, the Royals need Luke Hochevar to show that the pitcher who performed well in the second half last season can perform well over an entire year without the lapses of focus that seemed to plague him in the past. Hochevar needs to be the anchor of the staff. Jonathan Sanchez has to prove that his solid 2010 with the Giants was no fluke. And, Danny Duffy needs to take a step forward and establish some consistency.
Duffy is one of many young Royals players who will be watched closely. Can Eric Hosmer be the elite player everyone thinks he can be? Will Mike Moustakas pick up where he left off at the end of last season, when he was hitting everything? Can Lorenzo Cain hit enough to be a productive everyday centerfielder? And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There figures to be some regression as well as some progression; the Royals need the former outweighs the latter.
Regardless of how things turn out, 2012 will be the most exciting Royals season since the out-of-nowhere 83-win year of 2003. I’m not worried about the Royals offense, defense or bullpen, but I’m not sure how I feel yet about the starting pitching; I do know the Royals will need at least one, maybe two, of their young pitchers – whether it be Duffy, Mike Montgomery or even Jake Odorizzi or Will Smith – to win them some ballgames. I don’t see the Royals toppling the Tigers in the AL Central, but I do see the Royals being competitive all year and maybe even in the race into August. This looks like a team that will finish right around .500 which, for the Royals, would be a tremendous achievement.