Like so many of you, I’m bouncing off the walls with anticipation for the upcoming season. I keep checking the date, as if pitchers and catchers reporting will be enough to quench my thirst for baseball. It won’t be. But it’s the methadone for baseball addicts, and I need something to curb this craving. I feel like Tyrone Biggums (for those of you who watched Chappelle’s Show).
Partially, I’m excited about the Royals’ chance at success this season, which, as many have noted, is a little higher than usual. But I’m also excited to see the many uncertain storylines play out.
With that in mind, I give you the top five storylines I will be watching closely during Spring Training.*
*There are many, many more than five, but I have to set some limits or we will be here all day. Also, these are not in any particular order.
1) Lorenzo Cain in center field
Fellow KoK writer Alan Barrington and I had a short back and forth the other day on Twitter in which we disagreed with the criticism by some that Cain is overrated. The crux of our argument is that one must first be rated to be overrated, and no one outside of Kansas City, and maybe Milwaukee, knows who Cain is. If you asked someone from New York who will start in center field for the Royals they would probably answer, What position does Eric Hosmer play again? Go Yanks! I gotta go to the free clinic real quick somethin’s burnin again.
This is part of the reason I’m interested in seeing Cain. He isn’t such a known quantity. He has potential; he hit .306/.348/.415 in 158 PA with the Brewers in 2010 and really mashed in AAA last year (.312/.380/.497). At the plate, Cain needs to be a patient hitter with line drive power and good speed. He strikes out quite a bit, but it’s not debilitating.
It’s a very safe bet that Cain will be much better in the field than Melky Cabrera. Cain has plenty of speed to cover the big outfield at Kauffman and is still making strides as a center fielder. Some say, he has Gold Glove potential as a fielder, and that means he doesn’t have to hit .330 to be effective.
I’ll be interested to see if he really has the type of defensive impact people say he can. If he has that and finds a way to be a patient, semi-productive hitter, the Royals have a great commodity in center field. If he doesn’t, they may be scrambling to find a way to stop the bleeding in center. Did the Giants call no takesies-backsies?
2) Are you sure you’re Mike Montgomery?
Last year in Spring Training, Montgomery came out firing bee-bees. People started wondering if he would break camp with the team, and rumors swirled that he took it hard when he didn’t. Of course, that decision looked justified after a very tough year in AAA, during which Montgomery’s command abandoned him like good taste abandoned VH1’s programing director.
Still, those who watched him go through last season speculate that he may be a better pitcher for it. He’s got dynamite stuff, and is still young at 22.
Many expect to see Montgomery in the majors this season, though after his fantastic spring last year, people were saying the same thing. If his command is back, and I mean for good, he’ll get his call fairly early in the year. And then, who knows? He’s the type of pitcher who could be called up and instantly become the team’s most effective starter. He and Luke Hochevar are the keys to this pitching staff.
3) Johnny Giavotella at second base
I really like Giavotella, or maybe I just dislike Chris Getz so much it makes me like Giavotalla that much more. Either way, I really want Giavotella to break out this year, and I have a feeling he will. Bill James is thinking along the same lines. He predicts a solid year from Giavotella, .295/.342/.419, at the plate. That should be right around where he is all the time.
Giavotella has to be solid with the bat because he struggles with the glove. So, while I’ll be paying attention to his progress at the plate, I’m really interested to see his progress in the field. Most speculate that he will never be a decent fielder because his lack of athleticism hurts his range. While that may be, his lack of athleticism shouldn’t prevent him from making every play within his range. In Spring Training, Giavotella needs to be worked with to make every routine play, always. I don’t mind if he doesn’t have Alcides Escobar’s range, but he needs to make all the plays he can get to.
During these exhibitions, I’ll be looking to see if Giavotella can be what we expect at the plate and take a step forward with the glove. If he can, the Royals don’t even need to think the name Getz.
4) Who’s afraid of Felipe Paulino?
Honestly, I think the answer is … the Royals. Why? Because Paulino is a wild card, one of those guys who should be pretty good but really isn’t, but people keep giving him chances because he should be good, but he really isn’t, and then he teases people with a stretch that makes them think he’s pretty good, but he really isn’t. My point is, he really isn’t that good.
Or is he?
I can’t tell, and anyone who thinks they can is delusional. Sure, Paulino had a decent stretch last season with the Royals. And yet, he finished the year with an unspectacular 4.46 ERA. He had good strikeout numbers, but his walk rate was pretty high and hitters had a .341 BABIP on him (That’s not luck either. That’s opposing hitters hitting flat fastballs really hard).
I’ll watch Paulino to see when/if he falls. Until he arrived in Kansas City, he never established himself as a consistent performer. Why should we expect him to be one here? And yet, people keep talking about how Paulino should be a lock for the rotation and how he’s so great. When will this illusion end? Will it end? I have to think it’s going to end at some point, and if Paulino struggles in Spring Training and Aaron Crow or Montgomery tear it up, will the team be willing to shift Paulino to a new role? Should they? I have questions but few answers.
5) Wil Myers against semi-major league pitching
We know Myers can rake at the minor league level, but I want a taste of what he might look like in the majors. Granted, he has more learning to do and will probably start the year in AA, barring a dynamite spring, which might earn him a ticket to Omaha. I’ve only seen Myers play once, and Montgomery struck him out in the Royals Futures Game.
It’s not too hard to imagine Myers hitting well in Spring Training. I know the Royals faithful would be tickled three shades of blue to see him mash in Surprise, and he’s certainly swinging a hot bat going into it. He hit .360/.481/.674 in the Arizona Fall League after a somewhat disappointing season last year.
With Myers in the outfield next to Cain and Alex Gordon, the final piece of the position-player puzzle is in place. This spring, we get to glimpse what we believe will be the Royals lineup that pushes them back into relevance.
Storylines that just missed the list: “Hochevar’s Two-faced ways” and “A Starling is born.”
Now, I need to go find all my baseball movies and watch them before the season starts. First up, The Sandlot.
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