When I arrived in Surprise over three weeks ago, I mentioned four things I planned on watching closely because I thought they were big keys to the 2011 Royals. With today being the last day of spring training, let’s revisit those four keys. What I originally wrote is in italics.
I don’t think the Royals will open 2011 with Alex Gordon, Mitch Maier and Gregor Blanco on their active roster. Which one(s) will go? The Royals don’t have much patience for Gordon, and a rough spring could punch his ticket out of Kansas City. Maier has been a good soldier who’s done whatever the Royals have asked him to do, but the Royals have several outfielders who could give them at least what Maier has given them – if not more – that have greater upside. Plus, a lefthanded-hitter who can play all three outfield positions always has value on the trade market. Blanco is a speedy, leadoff-hitter-type outfielder, but so are Derrick Robinson and Lorenzo Cain, who are younger and have a better chance of being part of the Royals future. Between Gordon, Maier & Blanco, one or two of them will be on the team at the start of the year, but not all three.
Gordon has had an excellent spring and the Royals seem cautiously optimistic about his chances at a breakout 2011. For the third year in a row, Maier’s had a great spring and, for the third year in a row, the hope is that excellent spring translates into more regular-season success. Blanco is the one who figures to be the odd man out. He was outplayed by Jerrod Dyson in all facets of the game. Royals haven’t officially announced who will make the team, but I think Blanco winds up getting moved. Cain had a solid spring as well, but the Royals want him to play every day and they want Robinson to play every day as well. Dyson should be a nice addition as a fifth outfielder who can pinch-run and be used for defense in the late innings, if necessary.
How good, or bad, is the starting rotation? All 100-game losers have horrendous starting pitching that can’t consistently get them through six innings. While the Royals rotation doesn’t figure to be great, if Luke Hochevar, Jeff Francis, Kyle Davies, Vin Mazzaro and Bruce Chen appear to be serviceable, than the Royals won’t be horrendous. They will still probably be bad, but they won’t lose 100 games.
Even after three weeks of camp, I’m still not sure how good or bad the 2011 Royals rotation will be. They’re certainly hurt by not having a sure-fire ace, a stopper who prevents long losing streaks, but that doesn’t mean the Royals can’t win with this group. Hochevar has number-one-starter stuff, but will he stop getting in his own way mentally? Francis is a veteran who knows how to pitch, but he doesn’t have the velocity he once did and needs to have pinpoint control every time out to be effective. Plus, can Francis handle a full-season workload, two years removed from shoulder surgery? Davies is a mistake-prone power pitcher, but can he make fewer mistakes this year? Mazzaro’s spring numbers weren’t great, but he has a lot of upside. Will the Royals see that upside this season? Chen is another veteran who knows how to pitch but, at this point in his career, is he a sure bet to give you five or six innings every fifth day? The rotation is the Royals biggest question mark and it may not be until mid-season before we have a firm grip on how good, or bad, the starting five are. On the plus side, the Royals have more starting pitching depth than they’ve had in quite some time, with Sean O’Sullivan, Mike Montgomery and, possibly, Aaron Crow or Nate Adcock capable of moving into the rotation.
Is Mike Moustakas ready for the Major Leagues? We know he likely won’t start 2011 in the Majors because of the financial implications tied into Major League service time. However, will Moustakas make it clear he’s ready to play everyday whenever the Royals call him up? First and foremost, Moustakas needs to show he can hold his own against lefthanded pitching. He hit just .218 against southpaws at AAA Omaha last season. And, if you can’t hit lefties in AAA, you’re not hitting them in the Majors. Moustakas doesn’t have to dominate lefties or hit a ton of homers off them, but he needs to be competitive enough against them so that he can ensure his name is in the lineup every day and that he isn’t platooned or pinch-hit for when a lefty reliever comes in to face the Royals. If Moustakas has a strong spring, he may still begin the year in Omaha, but he could force the Royals’ hand before early June.
This spring didn’t change my opinion on Moustakas’ readiness. I still think, regardless of service-time implications, that he needs to begin the year at AAA Omaha. Also, I don’t think it’s automatic that Moustakas is called up in early June. The Royals want to see him hold his own against more advanced pitching and against lefties. Moustakas doesn’t need to put up the sort of numbers he put up at AA Northwest Arkansas last year, but the Royals want him to force their hand, as GM Dayton Moore likes to say. I also think Eric Hosmer could get to the Majors before Moustakas, something I seriously doubted before camp began. Hosmer’s excellent spring is why the Royals are putting him at AAA, rather than AA, to start the season.
Which of the Royals’ heralded starting pitching prospects appears closest to the Majors? Everett Teaford, Danny Duffy and Aaron Crow have an outside chance of going north with the club, but Mike Montgomery, John Lamb and Chris Dwyer will certainly start the year in the minors. All six have a shot of getting up to Kansas City before the year is out. It’s worth watching who impresses and who doesn’t. Spring training performances aren’t everything, but they can go a long way toward determining who the club calls up when they’re in a pitching pinch.
The answer to this question is Montgomery, and it’s not even close. The hard-throwing lefty showed three above-average pitches and, if his command continues to improve, there’s little doubt in my mind he’ll finish the year in Kansas City. Duffy’s probably the second-closest among the starters. Crow will be used out of the bullpen this season with a starting spot more likely for him come 2012.
Thank you to everyone who read my blog all spring. I appreciate the feedback both on Twitter (@raford3) and in the comments section. Keep checking this space and my Twitter feed for future blog postings. I won’t blog every day during the regular season, but I do plan on posting something at least once a week.