I happened to watch the Spring Training game against the Chicago White Sox earlier today, and found myself taking a lot of positives from it. I thought I’d share some thoughts about the game that seem significant to me:
I’m happy with where Jeremy Guthrie is. I was worried for a while. He looked pretty bad in his first few outings of the spring. He couldn’t locate. His fastball didn’t seem to have much zip or movement. Essentially, he looked like his Colorado self (in terms of results anyway).
Today, though, he looked like the Guthrie that made the Royals eager to give him $25 million in the offseason. He made one mistake in the fifth and gave up a homer, but other than that, he was very clean. The run he gave up in the first inning was a fluke—contingent on a soft bloop to left field on a good pitch and a hit that would have been fielded but instead ricocheted off third base. His secondary pitches looked deadly today, and his fastball had some life. Most importantly, he located.
Alcides Escobar looks ready to go. Like Guthrie, Escobar looked a little lost to start the spring. He was fighting some back spasms for a few days and looked a little pull happy early in the spring. Consequently, it looked like he might fulfill the prophecy of regression many have set for him or perhaps dip even further than most are predicting.
But against the White Sox, Escobar stayed focused up the middle and to right field. He had a nice line-drive base hit up the middle and lined out to second once. That’s what he needs to do, drive the ball to right and right center. Pull inside fastball when necessary. I’m still waiting for him to lay a few down successfully. That was a big part of his game last year—bunting for base hits—and I haven’t seen him do it much (though I haven’t been able to watch most of the games). If he can once again enact the identity of a number two hitter, he will be a very good number two hitter. Makes sense, right?
This might kill me to write, but Jeff Francoeur isn’t looking terrible lately. I watched the game against Anaheim the other day and thought Hmmm, Francoeur’s swing looks shorter than usual. In that game he absolutely CRUSHED a ball over the batter’s eye in center field. Against the White Sox today, he had two doubles, both hit very sharply with good, tight swings (that is, good for Francoeur; he’ll never be Albert Pujols). I’ve been a staunch opponent of starting Francoeur in right field, and I’m of the belief that whatever is working for him now is probably fleeting. But if he has to be the starting right fielder for the Royals, I’d rather he be playing well than playing poorly.
Interestingly, this swing seems to allow Francoeur not only to hit the ball more but to foul pitches away as well. He’s always going to swing at whatever is thrown, but if he can foul off the pitches he shouldn’t be swinging at instead of missing them, he’ll give himself more chances to put balls in play.
Alex Gordon is flat out destroying the ball. It is Spring Training, and the White Sox used minor league pitching against the Royals, but Gordon is having terrific at-bats. He’s piling up extra-base hits (including home runs) and doesn’t seem fooled by what any pitcher is doing (major league or otherwise). If he carries this over into the season, the Royals will have a serious weapon at the top of their lineup, and Gordon will force himself into the All-Star game where he should have been in the last two seasons (2011 for sure).
Hawk Harrelson is a terrible play-by-play guy (the game was on MLB.tv via the White Sox Broadcast).
I realize that these are all positive (except for the last one). Maybe that’s because the game went pretty well; maybe it’s because I’m getting more and more optimistic as the season approaches. I don’t know. Right now, the Royals look ready to put their best foot forward to start the regular season. Let’s hope nothing changes that over the course of the next week.