A Pitch Of A Different Kind


Spring Training is beginning to hit its stride with the first game of the spring already upon us, today. The buzz of baseball is gaining momentum, all the way up until the point of Opening Day. However, before baseball fans can sink their teeth into the 162-game marathon of a season, a slate of spring training games must be attended to first. These spring training games guarantee a few things: less-than-perfect first outings, a lot of names you have never heard of or will ever hear over the Kauffman public address speakers, and finally, seasoned veterans hitting the showers early after only working up a light lather during their limited inning-work load.

While some vets choose to find a place to get a quick workout in off the tee or take some extra groundballs on a vacant  infield before hitting the showers, many rush to the clubhouse to exchange their baseball spikes for a pair of golf spikes. I’m sure it’s not unordinary either for a manager to relieve himself early from a split-squad game only to make the short drive to the local course for his 3:30 p.m. tee-time.

Seeing as golf and baseball go hand-in-hand when it comes to spring training, and even during the regular season on off-days for pitchers with ailing backs (insert Josh Beckett joke here), it’s only appropriate to play-through a few holes of golf with a bag filled with clubs made up Royals’ pitchers vying for spot in the rotation or bullpen for 2013.

August 22, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher

James Shields

(33) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Driver: RHP James Shields

This selection is one of the obvious choices when one takes into mind the role of a driver. Usually the first club out of the bag, the long-bomber has two jobs: be juiced with power and take that golf ball for a long, long ride. Shields has filled both of those roles time and time again with his former team. The young ace has record six straight seasons of 200 innings or more and becoming known for registering the heat for all nine innings, while limiting his walks to 60 or below in five of those six seasons. He’s also no stranger to the power-arm role, delivering back-to-back seasons in 2011 and 2012 of 200-plus strikeouts (225 and 223 respectively). If Shields can continue to prove he’s a consistent 200-inning, 180-plus strikeout kind of guy, this trade alone could save Moore’s reputation in KC.

3-Wood: RHP Ervin Santana

Some years you can’t help but want to give this guy a giant fist bump, or some years it seems like he just needs a hug to ease the pain. When you leaf through his numbers over the last nine seasons, you see some numbers that jump off the page from a healthy stand point. Unfortunately, you also catch a glimpse of some misfortune when it comes to the injury bug. However, when healthy, Santana is going to provide the support for Shields the Royals need in-order for this No. 1-2 combination to elevate the franchise out of futility and well past mediocre. 2008 showed the flashes of power and command, compiling 219 innings on the mound with 214 strikeouts to only 47 walks. Just like any golfers 3-wood, you need the power to get down the fairway, but the control to stay out of the hazards. Santana’s issue has been command over the past few seasons with his walks being closer to the 80s, rather than the 50s.

3-Hybrid: RHP Wade Davis

The game of golf has changed and lately, you find many golfers carrying the flexibility of the hybrids as opposed to the stiff and rigid play of the irons. Well, as the second key piece to the Shields-Will Myers swap, Davis provides that flexibility in a big way. Even though all reports for now say Davis will be holding down a spot in the rotation, his versatility over the past few seasons shows why he was a big acquisition in exchange for Myers and Co. Last year with the Rays, Davis appeared in 54 games to punch out 87 hitters in a little over 70 innings of work out of the bullpen. During 2010-2011, Davis went a combined 23-20 as a starter, something which the Royals would welcome with open arms seeing as consistency has not been a staple of the starting rotation as of late. At the end of the day, Davis is going to play a big role in the rotation, and if need be for short-handed reasons or glaring need; Davis will fill a bullpen spot quite nicely.

4-Hybrid: LHP Danny Duffy

We know this much with the young Duffy:  he’s got some big league “stuff.” Yost and the Royals are unsure of where Duffy fits in at the moment. He’s still nursing himself back to health after Tommy John Surgery, but showed his excitement for his return to the mound, even if it was only for the chance to throw 15-20 rust-shaking fastballs. Rumors have swirled that Duffy’s return would actually call for him to patrol the bullpen, until a spot in the rotation opened up, if even one ever actually does. However, because of his youth and promise, the Royals are going to make it a point to keep him around and involved until he’s ready to fully assume hold of a coveted spot in the rotation.

5-Iron: RHP Felipe Paulino

While Duffy’s role is in limbo right, Paulino’s may be easier to figure out. The righty showed signs early on last season that he was going to have a quality contribution to the rotation. However, much like Duffy, injuries tanked his season. Through seven starts he posted a 1.67 ERA with a 3-1 record. Apparently, the Royals saw enough flash of ability to ink him to a $1.75 million contract for the 2013 season. This leads me to believe that the Royals see him as a candidate to break camp with the team, however, a crowded rotation could designate Paulino for bullpen duty. With the pedigree of a starter, Paulino will likely eat up innings in long relief. Few golfers would venture to pull their 5-Iron out when asked to pick their favorite club, which is why Paulino fits this duty just fine. He may not be a front-runner for the next poster-figure of the Royals, there will be plenty of opportunities for him to prove his worth.

6-Iron: RHP Nathan Adcock

Manager Ned Yost has shown his loyalty to Adcock over the last few seasons, regularly calling for Adcock as one of the first arms from the pen. The big righty has displayed versatility with being able to swing from the pen to the rotation for spot starts, but has also showed consistency in relief. The nasty factor isn’t necessarily in Adcock repertoire, but being able to fill multiple roles allows him the opportunity to stick with the big league club. Adcock logged just over 60 innings of big league service with the Royals in 2011, but struggled with control at times, which had a hand in his ERA inflating to 4.62. If he eliminates allowing the big fly in relief situations, he’ll prove to be a useful arm on the active roster.

Jun 3, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher

Kelvin Herrera

(40) delivers a pitch in the seventh inning against the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City won the game 2-0. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

7-Iron: RHP Kelvin Herrera

Many golfers have little problem with hitting their big clubs for distance, but we’ve reached the pivotal part in golfers game where the short game rules. The 7-Iron is a club that gives you the freedom of hitting with power, but also the control to lock-in for a crucial stroke. Herrera, who is relatively new to the big league scene, showed brilliance at time in 2012, logging over 80 innings while putting his 100-mph arm on display to blow away opposing hitters. His combination of power and pure filth, his mid- to upper-80s slider, shows why the Royals have high hopes and faith in Herrera’s ability out of the pen. The young righty has the potential and the nastiness in his pitches to blossom into a coveted closer at some point in his career.

8-Iron: LHP Everett Teaford

Honestly, either RHP Louis Coleman or Teaford could play the role of the next two clubs, simply because their ability to work through some jams and tough job assignments. Teaford, however, gives some left-handed depth in the pen dominated by righties. Teaford has consistently posted 30+ strikeouts over the past two seasons with a combined 90 innings of work at the big league level. He doesn’t dazzle you with his pitching, but he’s gritty, which is just what you need sometimes when you’re sitting a few paces off the fairway or a short stroll from the tee box to the pin. Teaford’s job could be at risk however with an abundance of starting pitchers vying for a few precious starts, and the likeliness of a couple being demoted to relief duty if they can’t scratch out a rotational spot.

9-Iron: Coleman

Afore mentioned, this really is a push between Teaford and Coleman. Coleman has been a familiar face over the past few seasons and a very recognizable delivery from the mound. His funky pitching style keeps hitters off-balance at times, but at times he failed to fool the big bats, surrendering 10 HRs in 2012 in just 50 innings of work. The plus side in his innings of work this past season was 65 strikeouts. He’s got the arm and ability to work out of jams, but too often he struggled with his control, allowing for the offensive explosions at time. Again, Coleman could be an odd-man out if the Royals choose to load their bullpen with some of the big arms which fail to make the rotation.

Pitching-Wedge: RHP Aaron Crow

The former All-Star and Mizzou star, Crow has transformed from a promising rotation prospect, to a quality set-up man for the ninth frame. Crow struggles with consistency, flashing signs of shear dominance, to spurts of struggle and futility. The young arm has posted back-to-back seasons of 65 strikeouts, but in 2012 Crow entered into eight save opportunities, but blew six of eight chances. He won’t have to struggle or worry about not breaking camp with the Royals, and will enter the season as the undisputed set-up man to the closer.

Sand-Wedge: LHP Tim Collins

When it comes to a specialty club, there isn’t another club in the whole bag that golfers despise having to resort to. However, for the Royals, Collins provides a safety blanket in tough situations. When games are tight and the pesky lefties head to the plate, it’s almost a sure thing that you’ll see the bullpen gate fly open with the 5-foot-7-inch lefty not far behind. Just this last season alone, Collins was just shy of 70 innings of work, but racked up 93 strike outs. In 2011, Collins posted 67 innings with 60 strikeouts, bringing his two-season tally to 153 punch outs through only 136.2 innings of duty. Golfers all around the world would give just about anything to have that type of proficiency when chipping out of the sand.

August 11, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher

Tim Collins

(55) pitches in the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Royals defeated the Orioles 7 – 3. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Putter: RHP Greg Holland

For many years, Royals fans became accustomed to welcoming former closer Joakim Soria (now with the Texas Rangers) into the game for the critical save opportunities. With Soria no longer with the Royals, Holland has stepped up to the fill the role vacated. For much of last year KC relied on Jonathan Broxton (now with the Cincinnati Reds), but after being dealt midway through the season, the job was handed to Holland. In 20 chances, Holland iced 16 saves, while piling up 91 strikeouts through 67 innings of service. Barring injury, Holland will have little competition this spring for the closer role considering his success in the past season. If he can sustain his efficiency through last season, Holland will play a hand in what the Royals hope, is quite a few more wins than the Royals are accustomed to in recent times.

While none of this is exact science, you can see how a pitcher’s strength or skill set would transfer to the game of golf. Just recently, Jeff Francoeur took the time to organize a team scramble tournament, selecting Herrera, Paulino and Coleman to his team. While spring training is a time for players to readjust their minds and bodies to the everyday grind of baseball, it’s also a time for a little relaxation and team bonding.