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The View From Surprise

By Hunter Abbey

Well, I made my annual pilgrimage to sunny Surprise Arizona. While the trip is technically a chance for my in-laws to see my 8 month old daughter, it is really my chance to dump the kid on someone else while I get some time at the ballpark. While I could wax poetically about all of the players I saw, I want to keep this post at a higher level, and give you some over-arching thoughts and impressions from my two game, and one practice session visit.

Difference Between Big Leaguers and Minor Leaguers
When you are down here, you get the chance to see a wide variety of players. From my time watching young Michael Antonio take BP, to watching Jason Giambi and his grey beard take muscle bound hacks at the dish, you see the whole spectrum. Many minor leaguers have big league stuff, but when you watch these guys you really get to see how far even elite prospects still have to go to be useful major league players.

This was perhaps not exemplified any better than in the Friday game between the Cubs and the Royals. I can’t recall the exact inning, but midway through the game, Patrick Keating got his inning of work. When he first came out there, I was pretty impressed. His fastball had good life, and he really went after hitters. He did run into some trouble though. He would break off a great breaking pitch, but then miss up with the fastball. He would throw a good fastball, but then show no feel for a breaking pitch. This is a guy with outstanding minor league numbers, great stuff, who has the chance to be in KC at some point. You couldn’t help but be impressed by his stuff, but also plainly see his shortcomings.

In the bottom half of that inning, the Cubs threw Kerry Wood out there. While Kerry has had his ups and downs, there is no doubt that he is a big league pitcher. It was after Wood went out there that you could see the difference between an early 20s guy trying to carve his way, and a big league vet.  Wood’s “stuff” wasn’t necessarily more impressive to the eye, but the guy did not make mistakes. Everything stayed down. If he missed, he missed off the plate and down. If his breaking ball wasn’t sharp, it was in the dirt. Where Keating was “efforting,” Wood had a plan, worked fast, and didn’t make the crucial mistake.  While I am excited about a lot of these young guys because the stuff is there, the consistency and mental aspects have a long way to go.

No more mental mistakes
I don’t need to tell you how awful the Royals have been in the field the past few years. If you are reading this, you have likely screamed at your TV just as often as I have. I have been to spring training for four years now. Every game I have ever seen I have watched us make at least one terrible play on defense. It might have been booting a ball, it might have just been a mental error, but it ALWAYS happened. Now, when it happened in the past I’d say, “it’s just spring training, and that will work itself out.” Of course, it didn’t.

This time around, I saw none of those plays (well, other than Melky losing a ball in the Arizona sun). Don’t get me wrong, I did see an error or two, but they were not the mind numbing brain farts we are used to. What the team may lack in experience and/or skill, they seem to be making up for by looking sharp. Those mental mistakes that have seemed to plague this team for the past several years were not there for the two games that I saw. We may still lose 95 games, but maybe we won’t look like a clown college while we are doing it.

Understand what ST is all about
I can’t help but read on the message boards out there about some guys who aren’t performing and others who are and should be starting over them. I will say that you absolutely cannot judge Spring Training performance by the boxscore. In his first outing, Aaron Crow threw almost exclusively fastballs. Eric Hosmer’s majestic grand slam, which literally brought chills to me, was against a guy who will NEVER see meaningful time in the big leagues.  Guys are working on hitting the other way, throwing a new pitch, etc.

Which brings me to Mr. Alex Gordon. A lot of people have lamented over the fact that despite a great OBP, he has just one hit in ST. I will say this: don’t worry too much just yet. Siezter has had interviews talking about re-inventing Gordon’s swing. Sometimes that kind of stuff is just lip service, but it is different. While there, I watched Gordon taking extra hacks in the batting cage, away from everyone else. There was a coach in there, and they weren’t just getting extra hacks. He truly was “working” on something.

Now, I have no clue if he has an idea at the plate, if he is working on something specific, or what that might be. I do know, however, that he appears to be trying to do something different and it is still early March. Right now, that is what all guys are trying to do. Over the next couple of weeks, players will stop working on their “new thing” and begin letting it fly. I am not trying to tell you that Gordon will dominate, but I am saying that you shouldn’t get too worried or excited about anyone’s line this early in the game.

Make a trip
Here is where I get to do my plug on behalf of the Surprise City Council: GO  TO SEE SPRING TRAINING. I am telling you, there is just something about leaving the end of a cold winter in the Midwest, seeing all the green grass, being in the sun, and watching baseball. Going early and seeing the guys practice is such an experience. I cannot reiterate how awesome it is to go the park at 10, be within 7 feet of big leaguers separated only by a chain link fence, sit in the sun, and drink a beer while you know everyone back home is still living in 45 degree hell.

Quick hits
I didn’t want to go too far with individual players, but some quick thoughts:

  • Lorenzo Cain is much bigger than I thought. I really pictured him as the typical athletic CFer, but he has a frame that could really get big with good weight. After seeing him, my comparison is Marquis Grissom with better plate discipline. Early in his career should be athletic, but as he ages can pack on weight and be a decent power guy.
  • Jeffress throws hard. When I watched him, I didn’t get to see the gun, but could tell with a blind eye he threw hard. Seeing a guy throw 95 doesn’t always look that different than 91. But when you can just see a guy and say, “I don’t know how hard that was, but it was moving” you know he was bringing it.
  • Hosmer is much bigger than he was last year. I watched him in AA last year and he was tall and slender. He looks much bigger now, and it looks like good weight.
  • Duffy and Dwyer aren’t ready yet. Both have the stuff, but still lack the feel to get major league hitters out consistently.
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  1. TCreecy
    March 7, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    100% agree on the ST numbers thing. People are going to see Hosmer killing the ball and while it’s impressive, you have to look at who he’s doing it against(mostly AAA guys, etc) You always want them to do well no matter who they face but you can’t overreact one way or the other. Aaron Crow is a perfect example of this. Last spring he was looking great. So great that many wanted him to be in KC opening day(even if it was out of the pen.) Well, we all know how his season went in the minors.

    On the flip side though, I do want to say that Salvador Perez is the guy that seems to be the most impressive(at least thus far.) He’s coming out and showing some great things behind the dish defensively and from what I’ve heard(from people there) he’s not doing too shabby with the bat either. If he can solidify himself in KC with this current group of kids coming up, it would go a long way to helping build this roster even more.

    Anyway, great read rook. Now hit the showers but don’t drop the soap!

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