In my house, it’s a momentous day when I start looking at plane tickets to get to Arizona for Spring Training. See, I’m one of those people who starts the search sometime around early October because, hey, maybe there’s a deal. There isn’t. So I wait and then look again around the time the GMs meet in mid-November. There still isn’t a good deal. There’s usually a sweet spot sometime in earlyish December. But there wasn’t this year. So I finally bit the bullet, and bought two tickets to head down to the Phoenix area. That, to me, is the first sign of spring. It came a bit later for me this year, but I’m booked for the first week of March. Now I just have to hope that the players are booked for that as well. If not, there are worse things than getting to eat all that great food and enjoy the beautiful March weather of Arizona, but man do I want to watch some baseball. Hey, at least the two sides talked yesterday. It’s a start.
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This week, the Royals ZiPS projections were released and I wrote a little bit about them and the 2021 projections (including PECOTA). The very first comment I received wondered if the shine was off the pitching prospects some, and based on the projections, it does seem that way a bit. But I think it’s important to note a couple things with looking at any projections for players who debuted in 2021. Most guys don’t hit the ground running. Some do, sure, but most don’t. And if a pitcher had some struggles in 2021, like a Daniel Lynch, the projections don’t have a 2020 stat line to look back on in the minors. That makes it a little tougher to find optimistic projections. It’s also important to note that projections generally err on the side of caution and are generally more modest. So while it doesn’t look great for the pitching prospects, I think it’s probably worth keeping that in mind when reading what the system projects for them.
That said, you’d love to see someone projected with a sub-4.00 ERA and a 25 percent strikeout rate. As it stands right now, if those projections hold for the starters, the Royals are looking at a somewhat average but no actually good pitcher taking the ball every fifth day. On the plus side, the potential is definitely there. Lynch looked the part in August. Carlos Hernandez did too. Brady Singer could come to camp with a usable third pitch to make his other two already solid pitches better (hey, he could, don’t laugh). Maybe Kris Bubic builds on what worked for him in September as he finished strong for the second straight year. Maybe we see Brad Keller do what he did in his last nine starts (52.2 IP, 3.42 ERA, 23.8% K, 9.9% BB) and can be more of a three starter than a five. While the pitching strength in the system might seem a bit depleted, there’s still a great deal of upside here and I don’t think modest projections change much. Plus, like I wrote a few weeks ago, I actually think the lockout benefits the Royals with their big league pitchers as they’re forced to get outside training to help prepare them for 2022, which given my concerns about the big league staff limitation, I think is a good thing.
The Royals did actually make a move yesterday, signing reliever Arodys Vizcaino to a minor league deal. He’s had an interesting career. He was traded by the Yankees with Melky Cabrera to the Braves in 2009 and then debuted in in 2011 as a 20-year-old. He didn’t pitch at all in 2012 or 2013, but was part of a trade to the Cubs at the deadline in 2012 and pitched five innings for them in 2014 before he was traded back to the Braves after that season. From there, he was quite good for the Braves as their sometimes closer. He ended up throwing 168 innings from 2015 to 2018 with a 2.79 ERA and a 26.8 percent strikeout rate. But he went on the IL in 2019, ended up having shoulder surgery and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since. He did appear in seven games for the Mets AAA team in 2021 and was pretty good with 14 strikeouts in 7.2 innings, but only appeared in two games after May. So it’s hard to know how healthy he will be.
Still, if he’s healthy, this is a nice pickup. He was throwing 96-97 in spring training in 2021 before he had some elbow issues that put him on the shelf for a bit. That’s probably just a touch off his prime seasons when he averaged more than 97 MPH on his fastball, but his slider was always pure filth. It’s not a cheap gamble at $1 million for a minor league deal, but it’s also a worthwhile gamble on an arm like that. The Royals have a lot of bullpen candidates, but as much as I had no problem with a guy like Joel Payamps, who was fine, Vizcaino represents a potential elite arm, even if it’s only for 35-40 games. Of course, with his injury history, that’s pretty optimistic, but that’s a worthwhile gamble to add another high-octane arm to the mix with Josh Staumont, Scott Barlow, Dylan Coleman, Jake Brentz and Domingo Tapia.
I don’t want to get too deep into the CBA talks since they’ve dominated our thinking over the last few weeks and I wrote a bunch about it over on Inside the Crown. But we know the sides talked yesterday and we know the players walked away from the conversation not happy. Honestly, that’s not surprising. A first meeting on real issues in about six weeks was bound to be nothing more than a cursory starting point that would likely not be very different at all from what they’d discussed before. But I thought our fearless leader here at Royals Review, Max, noted on Twitter, they’re a lot more on the same page than not. It’s just a matter of actually bargaining their way to what they end up agreeing on. I would love a full spring to be held and have zero delays, but the reality is that spring training is likely too long anyway, so to cut it a little short probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. A bargaining session is progress even if nobody left it happy. The next one will be better and the next one after that will be better too. It just has to start somewhere.
Since there is essentially no news, I’ve been thinking a lot about past Royals and one thing that I keep coming back to and have written before is that I believe the Royals need to retire number 29. There’s an argument to be made that Dan Quisenberry with his 238 saves and role in the first glory years for the Royals deserves it himself, though I actually don’t think he quite gets there, at least not based on the numbers. But when you combine with what he did with what Mike Sweeney did during his 13 seasons with the Royals, I think that number becomes a bit more hallowed. I think some people will argue with Sweeney as an all-time Royals great, but a lot of that has to do with the time he played rather than him as a player.
He’s fifth in franchise history in career offensive bWAR. He’s third in career average, second in SLG, seventh in OBP, games played, hits, OPS+ and runs scored, sixth in doubles, third in home runs and fifth in RBI. Obviously he’s a Royals Hall of Famer, but I think when you combine those numbers with what Quisenberry did and meant for the team that the number should be retired for both of them. I’m not sure if this is a hot take or not, but it’s one that I’ve had for a long time and I stand by it. They’ve already pseudo-retired it since Sweeney is the last one to wear it, so why not just do it for real?