Peter O'Brien is the talk of camp after exhibiting prodigious power in the first week of Royals spring training games. The 26-year old slugger already has three home runs in his first four games, and is showing off tape-measure shots in batting practice.
Despite his terrific start, O'Brien is expected to begin the year in Omaha, due to a crowded roster and the fact he still has options remaining. We should also be wary of getting too excited about his spring numbers, as there are many reasons why spring training stats are pretty worthless. Let's take a look back at some spring training heroes in Royals camp that didn't quite pan out when the games counted.
2005 Ruben Gotay
The Royals have had a hard time finding a decent second baseman since Frank White was last seen spearing hot shots on the Astroturf at Royals Stadium. Terry Shumpert and Carlos Febles were supposed to be the next great thing, only to fail rather quickly. Ruben Gotay was the next in line to become the next Royals second baseman, and he had put up some decent power numbers for a middle infielder and an ability to draw some walks. After holding his own in 44 games with the Royals as a 21-year old in 2004, he came into camp the next spring as the favorite to land a starting job at second.
Gotay gave hope to Royals fans ready for a youth movement, clubbing six home runs in Arizona, and hitting .344. That hot start would not carry over into the regular season, however, and Gotay would be under the Mendoza Line by May. He finished the year hitting .227, and was traded to the Mets the next spring by new General Manager Dayton Moore.
2011 Kila Ka'aihue
Kila had been an internet sensation for his monster 2008 season in which he clubbed 37 home runs with 104 walks. But the Royals seemed unwilling to give him a shot, instead blocking him by acquiring Mike Jacobs from the Marlins in 2009. Late in the 2010 season, Kila was finally given a chance, hitting .217/.307/.394 with eight home runs in 52 games for the Royals. Kila came into camp as the favorite to win the first base job in 2011, and solidified his spot in the lineup by hitting .397 with seven home runs and seven walks in 58 at-bats.
Kila would last just 23 games with the Royals that year, hitting below the Mendoza Line, before the Royals finally decided to go with superstar prospect Eric Hosmer near the end of May.
2012-2013 Max Ramirez
Do you remember the reign of terror Max Ramirez foisted upon pitchers in the Cactus League in 2012 and 2013? The one-time Top 100 prospect was a minor league free agent with the Royals, having suffered some wrist injuries that hurt his career. When starter Salvador Perez tore his meniscus in the spring of 2012, keeping him out for the start of the season, that opened a door for Ramirez to make the club. Ramirez responded by clobbering the baseball.
"This is the first time I've hit three home runs in Spring Training. I'm seeing the ball pretty good."
He hit .344 with four home runs in 32 at bats. But Ramirez had always been known as a good hitter and a poor defender behind the plate. The Royals elected to trade for Astros catcher Humberto Quintero to start, sending Ramirez to Omaha, where he hit .300 that year with 17 home runs. He returned in 2013 ready to terrorize the Cactus League once again, hitting .333 with two home runs, three doubles, and seven walks in 45 at bats, but once again he was ticketed to Omaha.
2015 Brett Eibner
Eibner had shown flashes of great power throughout his career, but his two weaknesses had been (a) high strikeout rates; and (b) injuries. He was finally healthy in 2015, when he turned heads in big league camp. The well-coiffed outfielder went 16-for-32 in camp with the Royals, with six home runs in the desert air. He went from not being on the radar, to being one of the final cuts of camp, before going to Omaha and hitting .303/.365/.514 with 19 home runs. That was not enough to earn him a callup, but he did impress again in camp the next year, and made his Major League debut with the Royals in 2016, appearing in 26 games before they traded him to Oakland.
2016 Reymond Fuentes
The former first round pick was acquired by the Royals in a minor trade from the Padres before the 2015 season and hit well that year for AAA Omaha. He came into camp with the Royals with an outside shot at getting some playing time, but his chances improved when presumed right field starter Jarrod Dyson injured his oblique. Fuentes had been praised as a player with a skillset similar to Dyson, with good speed, an ability to draw some walks.
Fuentes made the most of his opportunity, by hitting .386/.453/.632 in the Cactus League, even showing some power with three home runs in 57 at bats. The performance was good enough to not only land him a roster spot, but be named the Opening Day starter in right field. Fuentes had a defensive misplay the first week, and went just 5-for-21 in six games before Dyson returned and Fuentes went back to Omaha.