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Spring Training Impressions

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As NYRoyal pointed out earlier this month, Spring Training statistics, not unlike most stories you read about teams having a new attitude or players showing up in great shape, are mostly meaningless. In fact, a few weeks of regular season stats aren't worth all that much either, for players or for teams. In this decade, we've seen numerous cases of teams looking thoroughly mediocre through 60 games, or 100, or even 120 games, then suddenly something clicks, and a .700 team breaks out. And while this doesn't seem directly tied to the Wild Card itself, in the Wild Card Era, it has become much more difficult to say much of anything definite about a team's chances until rather late in the game. With all that said, lets have a looksie at the Spring Training numbers, to see if anything extreme or even interesting jumps out.

Like Pam, we share our impressions. (But we wouldn't call ourselves an Impressionist just yet!)

Good

  • The Royals have thirteen players hitting over .300, and four over .400, including Mike Aviles. Aviles, who turned 27 on the 13th, is hitting .423/.464/.538 in fairly regular action. Looking at his minor league profile, this is a standard Aviles stretch, except he's hitting .423 instead of .270.  He doesn't walk much, although he has shown some interesting power potential recently in Omaha, where he hit 17 homers and slugged .462 last season. I'm not clamoring for him to make the team or anything, but in light of the Grudzielanek situation, Aviles is a nice organizational depth guy.
  • Extend everything above about Mike Aviles to Alberto Callaspo, only with an added caveat that he's actually going to make the 25 man roster out of camp. Callaspo is hitting .359/.405/.564 this Spring. Mostly meaningless and non-indicative of anything? Yes. But still nice. Dayton's decision to extend Grudz looks more and more pointless with each passing hour, but at least he took the step this winter of bringing Callaspo. No word on how Callaspo's domestic abuse performance has been this Spring however.
  • I suppose its just something we take for granted at this point, but Billy Butler has had no trouble with Cactus League pitching, posting a .378/.452/.676 line. Remember, he's still only 21 years old, nearly a full five years younger than another "young" player like Mark Teahen. While Dayton Moore has essentially turned over the entire pitching staff, the core of the lineup remains an expression of the Baird regime. (Well, Moore has brought in Ross Gload, Joey Gathright and Ryan Shealy, but I like to pretend those moves never happened.)
  • You can't mention Billy without bringing up Alex Gordon, and like his sidekick, Gordon has enjoyed a nice March thus far. In addition to a .355/.487/.452 line, there exists the slightest evidence that some of the big problems we saw last year (uneven plate coverage and discipline)  might be getting fixed: Gordon's only struck out four times, against seven walks, and is tied with Mark Teahen for second on the team in that category.
  • The team leader in walks is David DeJesus, with eight. While it was encouraging to see the Royals stressing OBP to David earlier this month, it also seemed slightly odd, given that he's actually been solid in that category for years now. If anything, it appears that the Brain Trust has reconnected OBP with their old-school vision of a "leadoff man", but still haven't quite extended that approach to the rest of the lineup. Progress I suppose, although it would be better if we could also untie ourselves from notions like Ross Gload as a regular, top of the lineup player.
  • Justin Huber hasn't found regular playing time this spring, and through Sunday only had 18 plate appearances in Surprise. Still, he's hit .400/.474/.800 in those scattered chances, which is certainly a nice thing. Sadly, Huber's closer to the Mario Lisson side of the roster than the happier one. Nevertheless, considering that he's also struggled afield, it's a good thing he's made use of his opportunities to rake. While there remains some possibility he might briefly make the team as a Guillen replacement during Jose's steroids suspension, the more likely byproduct of his nice Spring is that he gets some more attractive minor league offers than he would have otherwise.
  • Considering the way that Arizona, along with other Spring Training factors, tends to inflate the offensive numbers, it's a bit more difficult to evaluate the team's hurlers, at least from afar. Not helping matters is that none of the starters are pitching in anything like their normal usage patterns, which can lead to some odd lines. That being said, above all else what stands out to me is Gil Meche's early performance, especially his nine strikeouts in ten innings pitched. Better yet, he's only walked two men. I've always felt that Meche lacked a consistent ability to miss bats, limiting his ceiling. Last season, while his strikeout numbers stayed comparable, he cut down on walks, which made all the difference. So far, the continuance of that control trend is reflected in the very limited data we've also seen, as well as a possible uptick in Ks. Keep your fingers crossed.
  • In just eight innings, Joakim Soria has picked up where he left off last season, at least in terms of controling the plate. He's walked just one, while striking out nine.
  • Beyond that, its hard to find too many statistically appealing performances from the pitching staff. Hideo Nomo has managed to strike out a batter per inning, but because he's allowed so many hits (17) its not as if he's actually striking out every third guy.
Bad
  • Its been strange to follow Angel Berroa this Spring. He's still Angel, hitting .263/.333/.263 in a scant 19 PAs, but now we know he can't hurt us anymore. Sure, he's the 64th Greatest Royal of All Time, but by the end of his stint as a regular player, he was so bad that he's actually made Tony Pena Jr. seem good.
  • This is fairly petty of me, but Ross Gload is walkless through 39 trips to the plate this Spring. Yea, he's hitting .308/.308/.513, and yes its Spring and time for him to be proverbialy "working things out" etc.. Nevertheless, that's the problem with Gload in a nutshell. Making an out 69% of the time hurts the lineup.
  •  Oddly enough, Shane Costa hasn't seen much playing time this Spring, but he also hasn't hit much in the odd times he's stepped to the plate either, posting a .235/.235/.300. At last check, the Royals still owned an option regarding Costa - was there anything better than the "Shane Costa is out of options!" scare across the Royals blogosphere this winter? - but above all else its interesting to see Costa's playing time eaten into by non-starters like Huber and Maier.
  • Not that we were expecting better, but Tony Pena Jr. hasn't shown much development thus far, hitting .273/.314/.333 in 34 PAs. Since the Royals seem unmoved by his lack of patience and inspired by Hillman's dream of a Bunter's Paradise, I say we just have Pena bunt every time up. Runners on or not, I honestly think it would be just as effective. Especially if every tenth time or so he tried to chope the ball over the thirdbaseman's head, just to keep things interesting. (Simmons voice) Tell me why this wouldn't be brilliant?
  • As for the pitchers, even a true pessimist like me has a difficult time finding much fault in whats transpired. Aside from a handful of minor league types who haven't pitched much, and Meche and Soria, just about no one has a nice shiny ERA or anything like that to point to. Nevertheless, its Arizona and we're still in weird usage mode. One ugly spot has been a familiar one, however. In just over eight innings, our old pal Jorge de la Rosa has been his typical self, allowing a ton of baserunners en route to an ERA over 7.00. JDLR has thrown 274 innings at the Big League level, and owns a career ERA of 5.85. But his stuff, ohh his stuff. How fantastic it is! He's got "the good face" too.            

Today's Game Thread will be posted in the diaries.-RR