The countdown to spring training continues, but we’re not there yet, so for now, we’re not sure who’s in the best shape of their life, who’s going with a new batting stance or who’s supposedly taken ground balls for four hours a day all winter.
But with FanFest come and gone and the Royals Caravan trips wrapping up. many Royals gave a preview of what they’ll be saying once they get to Surprise.
This is the offseason song and dance. There are all the same cliches tossed out about wanting to do right by the team and how this year feels like it’s coming together and giving 100%. No, nothing else is really expected out of these appearances. Players aren’t usually going to express their doubts or question their team’s abilities, and maybe they shouldn’t. Confidence is part of the deal. But after a busy start to the offseason, the rest of the winter has slown to a crawl.
That doesn’t mean that everything players say this time of year is useless. Far from it. A few choice quotes have stood out, some from unexpected sources.
October 02, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland (56) delivers a pitch during the ninth inning of the game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Greg Holland hasn’t been a big name, but he could be poised for a breakout this year with the ninth inning job on a team that expects to be better. But he doesn’t care about roles. Just wins and outs. He later told Ross Martin of the St. Joseph News-Press that the team wants to play in October, and “not just October 3rd or 4th“. Sure that’s typical of what you’d expect to hear, but I sense an edge to his comments.
Martin also got some good lines from Johnny Giavotella. We all know Gio’s been fighting off the questions every time he gets called up and he’s taken issue with the labels:
Giavotella’s not going to be a Gold Glove second baseman, but he can still be an average one with the glove. It’s something he’s worked on in the minors and in spring training last year. I’d assume he’s been working on various things this winter to get better. Some could simply be recognition that could improve his positioning and the break he gets on the ball. But he’s aware of his reputation and doesn’t seem to like how it’s stuck.
There’s an easy way to shed that reputation. Get on the field and break it apart.
"He’s a guy that leads with performance as well as emotion. Seeing the reaction of his former teammates to losing him is indicative to what we expect to get from him."
The Shields trade was one that hurt when the Royals made it, but the Rays moved a pitcher who’d been in their system throughout his career and was part of a pennant-winning club. David Price couldn’t believe Shields was traded. Andrew Friedman, Rays GM, called it the most difficult move he’d ever made. Seems that Shields has demonstrated that he’s a big clubhouse guy already.
George Brett, also part of that caravan, compared the 2013 rotation to the 1985 Royals rotation. That seems…very optimistic to say the least.
On the Shields trade, Bruce Chen, Danny Duffy and Will Smith realized that it impacts their spots in the rotation or on the team, and, predictably, they say they’re okay with it. Whatever the team needs. These moves do inspire competition though, and, perhaps, that will make everyone better. Chen suggested as much in comments to Mark Schremmer of the Joplin Globe.
May 16, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy (23) signs autographs for fans before the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Duffy, recovering from Tommy John surgery, has the improvements of the team in mind as well as his own rehabilitation to discuss. He’s changed his jersey number from 23 to 41 to get “a fresh start” and has quit Twitter to focus on his recovery. He also took a jab at some of the team’s critics. But overall he’s optimistic. Last season, Duffy was the most excited player in Royals camp and he’s got the same enthusiasm this year too, even if he’s not going to be back until mid-season. He wants to be back in May, but he also remarked to Jeffrey Flanagan of Fox Sports Kansas City that the rehab process has forced him to remain patient (he also revealed that his elbow was reconstructed with a ligament from his right knee and now there’s numbness in the location where the ligament came from – something to keep an eye on).
Billy Butler has become a more visible part of the Royals organization. He’s always been involved with the community, but with things like the Country Breakfast nickname and an All-Star appearance, he’s more and more seen as the face of the franchise. He’s also its best hitter, so he’s going to be seen as a leader, a role that he hasn’t fully embraced as a big leaguer. But comments from one caravan stop suggest that this is changing. He’s speaking up and ready to rally the team together.
"“We’ve never actually had a trade that’s actually benefited our big league team,” Butler told a group of reporters. “We’ve always traded for prospects. It’s just showing that the organization is wanting to win this year. And I think it’s the first time it’s been like that in a long time.” – Reported by Lee Warren of Yahoo!"
Butler has a point there. There’s been a lot of waiting for fruit to ripen on the prospect tree, but it’s time to start serving it up to the rest of the league. The best teams compete and build at the same time. The Royals have shown that they can draft and sign amateur talent and get it into the system. They’ve stumbled going out and finding major league talent to add to that base of young talent. Now they think they have it.
These are things we’ll hear more of as spring training approaches and workouts start. Once games begin, attention will turn more towards the day to day developments, but until then, it’s the usual speeches. Here and there, interesting nuggets will pop up – and that’s a good thing. The Royals have been saying the right things, but next is hitting the field and doing the right things.