There was a lot going on at Royals FanFest this weekend, but the one event I made sure to get back for was the annual Royals Awards Show. For me, I wanted to see the gathering of former, current and future Royals and get a hint, even from a short acceptance speech, about the guys coming up that hopefully lead us to the promised land.
It didn’t disappoint.
I don’t mean to downplay some of the awards given to people behind the scenes. I admit that the baseball player part of the awards will get the most digital ink, but I do want to cover those who were awarded at the ceremony for their accomplishments.
Putting aside any discussion of religion and baseball, these people put a lot of time and effort into improving young people’s lives and giving them skills that they can use to stay on that path and, maybe, down the line, help others in turn. That’s special, and a lot of people don’t take that extra step to help these days.
The Matt Minker Award went to Andrew Layman, the Assistant General Manager of the Wilmington Blue Rocks. The Blue Rocks have been a Royals affiliate since 1993 and Layman’s been a key player in their success as a part of the developmental chain. Zack Greinke, Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have all graduated from Wilmington.
Sean Gibbs won the Art Stewart Scout of the Year Award, and with the Royals farm system at the top of every publication’s list, that’s some high praise. Art Stewart, a Royals Hall of Famer, presented the award and had the highest confidence in the players we have developing right now.
The Northwest Arkansas Naturals were named the Team of the Year by Baseball America, so their manager, Brian Poldberg, winning the Dick Howser Player Development Person of the Year Award makes sense. The thing is, he could easily win it again next year.
Mike Sweeney awarded the Mike Sweeney Award to left-handed pitcher Buddy Baumann to recognize the player who best represents the organization on and off the field. Baumann carried a 2.24 ERA in 100.1 innings for Wilmington with a 10.1 K/9 ratio and spoke with a maturity that is rare for a lot of players, regardless of age.
Wilson talked about the difference between a baserunner and a base stealer. Robinson can certainly steal bases – he has stolen at least 50 in each of the last three seasons. But what helps separate a stealer from a runner is their impact on the pitcher. Speed on first base can make a pitcher uncomfortable and “split the mind” as Wilson said. That can help the batter, which also helps the team.
Robinson was short and sweet in accepting the award. He thanked God, his teammates and the Royals and shuffled off. His speech was just like his style – quick.
Eric Hosmer was named the Frank White Defensive Player of the Year. White wasn’t available to present the award, so VP of Communications Mike Swanson did the honors and in so doing explained how special a player it makes Hosmer to be an elite hitter but also a special defender.
Hosmer added levity, stating that this was the “runner up to the George Brett Award, since Moustakas decided to hit 300 homers in a year.” And yeah, that’s probably right. Hosmer’s a good defender, but I don’t know if he’s got a Gold Glove in his future. He should be above average, so maybe this was a nice way to get him involved in the ceremony.
Then again, I can’t think of any runaway candidate otherwise.
The next award was the Paul Splittorff Award for the organization’s best pitcher. In 2010, John Lamb rose from Low A Burlington and finished the season winning a game for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in the Texas League Championship. For many, he’s the top pitching prospect in the system at just 20 years old. His speech reflected the type of player the reports tell us he is – calm, collected, no nonsense.
George Brett presented the Hitter of the Year Award that bears his name and talked about the special season Mike Moustakas had. Brett described the similarities between he and Moose – both left-handed, both drafted as shortstops but moved to third base, both early round picks. The difference, Brett said, was that while he had struggled to approach .300 as a minor leaguer, Moustakas was leading the entire minor leagues in homers.
Moustakas accepted the award and delivered the moment of the ceremony. He talked briefly about the comparisons between he and Brett, then exclaiming “I mean, holy crap, that’s George Brett!”
The impression I got from Hosmer and Moustakas is that they’re both loose, confident and comfortable with the talent they bring to the organization. I think that bodes well for the future. It’s got to be tough to have those kinds of expectations – and those comparisons – hoisted on your shoulders in your low-20s. Their performance has indicated that they can handle them, and their demeanor seems to suggest they can make it happen as well.
I also enjoyed getting the chance to bellow “Moose” while Moustakas walked to the stage.
Bruce Chen won the Joe Burke Special Achievement Award, and the video package talked about his comeback from injuries and his effort to get back up through the minor leagues for a chance at the big leagues. It culminated with highlights from his first career complete game shutout against the Rays last October.
Chen accepted the award and, as is his personality, pretended that he was struggling with the weight of the award itself. He then delivered a sincere speech that thanked the Royals for giving him a chance and letting him pitch.
Billy Butler, fresh off agreeing to an extension, accepted the Les Milgram Player of the Year Award. Butler’s not a talker, so his speech was short and direct – the usual thing you’ll hear.
I was surprised there wasn’t a mention of the extension agreement, but that a fifth year as a club option was announced hours later, I can understand that they didn’t want to prematurely announce something that hadn’t had terms finalized at that time.
Joakim Soria accepted the Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year Award from Dayton Moore and mentioned that he was nervous. He did fine, though it’s kind of interesting to see players who can go out and perform in front of tens of thousands of fans every night in high pressure situations get intimidated by a speech in front of a thousand people. Especially when it’s Joakim Soria, who is among the elite players at his position (even though few notice it outside of Kansas City or the AL Central).
Awards ceremonies in general are a little weird, and at the team level, it seems odd to celebrate another last place finish. However, there are always hard workers in an organization and community to recognize and with the talent coming up through the minor leagues, it’s a nice way to show off the elite prospects that some casual fans may know just a little about if at all.
That being said, the Royals ceremony was well done and a highlight of FanFest.