Spring training is finally upon us, with pitchers and catchers already having reported with the first full squad workout on Monday. For the next seven weeks, the Royals will prepare for the regular season, hoping to improve on their dismal 104-loss season a year ago.
We know not to get too excited about Cactus League performances, but are there still things to look for in spring training? We asked our panel of writers what they hoped to see from the Royals in Arizona.
Hokius: What I’m hoping to see out of the Royals this spring training is a new favorite Royal. I feel certain that Mike Moustakas is actually going to get something approaching a real deal this off-season and not return. I tried to pick Rosell Herrera but then they cut him. So I need a new guy.
I’m a hipster so he can’t be any of the popular guys like Salvy, Gordo, Merrifield, Mondesi, Duffy, or Keller. Some way to feel like I’ve connected with him would be swell. Jeremys Guthrie and Affeldt have received my affection in the past for this reason. Peter Moylan was such a cool dude, so someone like that would work. Or they could just make it easy on me and find a guy who is willing to admit his undying love for the Kingdom Hearts franchise. I think that just might be easiest. Is anyone going to spring training? Can you just ask the players who loves Kingdom Hearts for me? Much appreciated.
Josh Duggan: Honestly, I think I’d just like to see Kyle Zimmer break camp with the big league club. There’s still not much else into which we should probably invest any energy, but it would be great to see him make it through camp healthy. If he’s healthy, there’s no reason at this point to not just have him pitching out of the pen in the Kansas City.
Ryan Heffernon: I want to see if the Royals speed can get on base. We know that Whit can get on-base and that ability was perhaps his greatest asset as a baserunner. Adalberto Mondesi and Billy Hamilton struck out in 25% of their combined 2018 plate appearances while Terrance Gore and his one career hit coaxed a major league deal. That’s a lot of speed but will they have the opportunities they need on the basepaths to utilize that speed? I am also interested to see how the Royals use Gore in spring training and how it might hint at their regular season formula.
I would also love to see something from Alex Gordon. Anything. I know it’s spring training and even if he did light up the world as he did in 2013, it wouldn’t be indicative of what is to come. However, with the Royals being bad again, I am a fan of sentiment. Alex is the greatest Royal of my lifetime and he had arguably the biggest hit in Royals history. Despite his struggles at the plate in 2018, his fWAR was four times higher than his 2016 and 2017 seasons combined. It was subtle, but he did rebound a bit. Maybe he can give us a league-average swan song at the plate in 2019.
Shaun Newkirk: I just want to see nobody get hurt really. I’m not sure there are any particularly interesting storylines going into spring given the roster and the outlook of the team. Ideally you’d like to see how the younger guys fare but the team isn’t so young and the better prospects in the division are so far away that no matter what they do with a spring training invite, they are going back to the low minors.
Alex Duvall: I want to see a couple of the AAA guys step up and force the Royals hands. It’s been a while since a prospect has really forced the Royals to call them up. I’d really like to see some combination of Nicky Lopez, Richard Lovelady, Josh Staumont, Trevor Oaks, and Scott Barlow perform so well during Spring Training that the Royals don’t have an option to leave them in AAA.
Jack S. Johnson: Although the first four members of the rotation havelikely been selected with Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Brad Keller, and Jakob Junis as the probable starters, the fifth spot remains up for grabs. That final spot will either fall into the handsof 26-year-old Jorge Lopez, who was acquired from Milwaukee in July and nearly tossed a perfect game in Minnesota later that season, or Heath Fillmyer- a 24-year-old righty who pitched 82 1/3 innings in 13 starts.
Regardless of who outperforms the other down in Surprise, Arizona this spring, the one thing that is a must for the Royals is finding a spot on the pitching staff for Lopez. Throw out his 6.35 ERA, 10.9 hits per nine, and 2.6 strikeout to walk ratio in his brief two month stint with Kansas City. The repertoire he possesses stacks him up as one of the highest ceilings players the Royals will trot out to the mound in 2019. That being said, finding the niche for Lopez is what will ultimately benefit the team long term. Starting him in Omaha or as a long reliever in the big leagues is only going to waste the opportunity that presents itself with a pitcher who came three outs away from etching his name in the history books less than ten starts into his career. The upside is promising, therefore passing up a single opportunity this spring to find a suitable role for Lopez would be detrimental. Give him starts, give him the set-up duties, and give him save opportunities.
With bullpen experience in the past, it isn’t a stretch to believe Ned Yost andstaff will find themselves throwing Lopez in the 7th, 8th, or 9th if the starters path doesn’t align with him. Keep in mind, Lopez topped out at 95 MPH with cutting movement as a multiple inningpitcher in his 7 starts in 2018. The possibility of him reaching 97-98 when cut loose for one inning of responsibility is more likely than not. Bottom line, the Royals need pitching talent and Lopez has it. Exhausting all opportunities to put him on the 25-man roster is what needs to be accomplished before they open up the regular season.
Max Rieper: I’ll be looking at Danny Duffy’s velocity. He missed the final six weeks with a shoulder injury and he was knocked around at the beginning of last season before improving. Duffy is still a pretty important piece of this rebuild whether it is as the anchor of this rotation or as a trade piece to net more assets. I won’t care about his Arizona numbers so much but I will want to see if he is still lighting up the radar guns.
What are you looking for from the Royals in spring training?