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Spring Training 2020: What we’ve learned (so far)

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We’re getting so close to the games actually counting!

Kansas City Royals Photo Day Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Royals are roughly one-third through the Cactus League schedule. Thank god. Spring training, not unlike Red Lobster’s Shrimp Fest, feels never-ending.

It doesn’t help that there is so little intrigue surrounding the Royals’ camp. Sure, we are all interested in the new chapter of the Matheny Manifesto and we’re dying to see the Rapsodo hardware scattered about the backfields, but the reality is, with the club steeped in mediocrity, there just aren’t many position battles or roster questions to focus on. Still, with ten games in the books, we can find what appears to be a little clarity. Here are a few things that jump to mind.

Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal are making this team

Both relievers have been profiled in this space so maybe, just maybe, it’s possible your dear scribe is a kingmaker. Or at the very least a back-of-the-bullpen-maker. Holland has thrown three innings, has yet to allow a baserunner and has whiffed four. And he’s required just 17 pitches to get it done.

Rosenthal has thrown just two innings, but like Holland, has punched out four batters. And he’s thrown straight gas while getting those results, tickling triple-digits on the Surprise radar gun. The encouraging thing about Rosenthal has been his command. Yes, it’s been just two innings, but did you see how he started the season last year? Besides, he walked eight in nine innings of exhibition baseball in 2019.

I wouldn’t bet on this tandem staying effective for the entire season, but if they can get in sync in the early part of the season, they can combine with Ian Kennedy to shorten games. It will be just like 2014 in at least one way.

The Duffman looks sharp

Yes, it was one start. Yes, it’s Spring Training. But we can read the tea leaves (or cactus needles) and they’re saying that you can be impressed with Danny Duffy’s Arizona debut on Sunday. Duffy threw two innings, allowing three hits and striking out three. Before the start, Duffy told MLB.com’s Jeffery Flanagan that the ball felt good coming out of his hand.

“It’s coming out really hard,” Duffy said. “I feel like I got a couple ticks more. We’ll see. I haven’t had a [radar] gun on me yet. I asked Cal [Eldred, Kansas City’s pitching coach] once, and he didn’t want to tell me. But the ball is coming out of my hand really good.

According to Flanagan, Duffy was hitting 93 mph against the A’s. For Statcast context, Duffy’s fastball averaged 92.3 mph last summer. He’s thrown the ball hard in spring training before, but this is a good sign given the velocity issues he’s experienced in the recent past.

Of course, the next start (and the one after that) will be crucial in going forward if only to see how he recovers from outing to outing. We’ve been down that road before. You will recall he missed the start of last season with shoulder tightness. Still, a little optimism feels good, doesn’t it?

Don’t buy Bubba

On the flip side, Bubba Starling is raking in the early going. He’s appeared in six games and is hitting .400/.471/.933 with a pair of dingers and a couple of doubles. (He also has two walks, two strikeouts and two RBI. Deuces wild, everyone!)

But here’s the rub: Starling is feasting against some lean competition. Baseball Reference has an indispensable Spring Training metric that measures the quality of opposing pitchers (or batters) faced. Based on the levels said pitchers played at in the previous season, it’s an excellent way to know exactly where those hits are coming from. In Starling’s case, his OppQual is 6.8 which grades out at slightly below the Double-A level.

On one hand, it’s good that Starling is performing against weaker competition. He’s doing what he should be doing. On the other hand, it kind of underscores how limited his chances have been up to this point this spring, which dovetails into the point that it’s going to be very difficult to find him playing time once the regular season begins. It’s a very crowded roster.

How much versatility do you need?

Along with the launch angle revolution and pitchers who pump straight gas, employing players who can field multiple positions has been a defining trend of the last several seasons. The Royals have stocked their roster with a number of position players who can field across the spectrum. Friend Clint Scoles makes a solid point:

Hunter Dozier can play all the corners. Whit Merrifield can play infield or outfield. With Adalberto Mondesi still recovering from shoulder surgery Nicky Lopez has only played shortstop so far, but figures to slide over to the keystone soon enough. For the other contenders for spots on the 26-man roster, Matt Reynolds seemingly plays everywhere. Brett Phillips has logged time in all three outfield positions. Starling hasn’t yet, but could. Utilityman Humberto Arteaga is a true utilityman fielding positions around the horn. Hell, even Salvador Perez has gotten into the act, dusting off a first baseman’s mitt.

Versatility makes sense, but the Royals are in a position where they don’t really need it in the old fashioned baseball sense: off the bench. They have the pieces present in the everyday lineup to slide around for a short-term solution, should the need arise.

If anything, it will make Mike Matheny’s lineup construction very interesting on a game by game basis. So you have that to look forward to.