It was a long winter.
And on Monday, it’s over, in a baseball sense. The first official report date of spring training marks the start of baseball season. For the Royals, there are a number of questions to answer as they check into Surprise, Arizona.
First, the team only really looks different from the standpoint of the starting rotation (not surprising when that was the biggest problem of 2012). Jeremy Guthrie has been here already, but only for half the year. The top four starting rotation slots will go to players with a combined 14 starts in a Royals uniform, all of them Guthrie’s. That’s a complete overhaul. It could mean all the difference. Assuming a rebound by the offense (mostly seen in the performance of Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer), the Royals have given themselves the opportunity to put out a talented team on the field just about any night.
They have to stay healthy and everything has to work out perfectly to catch Detroit, but it should be a more bearable group than last year’s.
I’m interested in seeing how the team fits, specifically the rotation. I don’t put a lot of stock into team chemistry, but don’t you do a better job at your place of employment if you get along well and work well with others on the staff? As long as there’s someone available to put their foot down in the clubhouse (AND go out and perform on the field – that part’s important), I think there’s a small benefit to having a strong clubhouse. Guthrie is a leader, Shields is a leader and together, they may impart some wisdom and consistency on the younger members of the team. Hosmer and Moustakas have been close coming up through the minors and to this day, and everyone loves Salvador Perez (who, as we noted previously, stuck around after his part of practice just to catch Shields’s conditioning workout).
How will Shields adjust to a new home park and a new organization? He’s been a Ray all his professional life and even checked in with his old organization when they were loading their trucks to head to spring training. He’s a pro, so I can’t imagine he’s going to have his head stuck in Tampa Bay, but it’s a big change for him moving from an organization he’d signed with at the age of 18 when he’s now 31 years old. For that matter, Wade Davis joined the Rays organization in 2004 and is on his second organization now nine years later, and Santana is in the same boat as Shields. Maybe it gives them a chance to do some things differently now. Changing teams is nothing new to baseball, so this is probably no real concern (and Dave Eiland was an assistant for the Rays in 2011, so there’s some familiarity there).
In 2011, it was enough to see the Royals prospects reach the big leagues. Results of the season weren’t expected to be great, but as long as the new blood did well, there would be optimism. 2012 brought “Our Time” and there were expectations of improvement, but the pressure wasn’t there (or Ned Yost‘s job may not have survived April). This year, there aren’t any more excuses. There will be significant discussions in the front office if the team doesn’t get to .500 and they probably won’t be comfortable. Dayton Moore’s extension from 2009 expires in 2014, but he may not see the end of it if the Royals get past the All-Star break and find themselves well below .500.
With that, the offense has to improve. Above, in discussing the rotation, I assumed an improvement, but there’s no safe assumption everyone will pan out. Prospects bust all the time. Most scouts buy Hosmer and Moustakas as stars or at the least as regulars at the big league level, but 2013 is where everyone finds out for sure. They’re expected to hit, they’re expected to lead and they’re expected be the marquee players in the organization. That’s a lot more pressure than a slogan and the question is how they’ll handle that and how they’ll handle that preparation in spring training. How will Jack Maloof and Andre David work with Hosmer and Moustakas? Will Perez stay as productive as he’s been in his career so far? Will Jeff Francoeur return to his 2011 form or will he be toast by June?
Then there are all the position battles. While most of the team is set, the fifth starter spot, backup catcher position and starting second basemen are the positions of interest.
Thankfully, starting Monday (officially), all of these sorts of questions can start to be answered. Speculation is great, but the shelf life is short. I want the reports from Surprise and the footage of workouts. Spring training games start for the Royals on February 22nd, a mere week and a half from today.
I can’t wait.