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Good Signs From Surprise

Remember a few weeks back when I told you not to focus on Spring Training statistics and more on approach and all that good stuff? That’s still true. That’s still very true. Spring Training is not the type of year to make any conclusions based on the number of home runs someone hits in the spring. Remember Ruben Gotay? That said, we’re at the point in the spring where things are starting to look more and more like the regular season. Rosters that started at 60+ players have been trimmed and now we’re down to 35-45 in camps. Starting pitchers are getting stretched out and going five or six innings as they work to get their pitch counts up to 100 or so before Opening Day. And players are starting to hit their groove so the pitching and the hitting is in about the same place where earlier in the spring they sort of alternate being ahead of each other.

This is the point in the spring where I personally get a little stir crazy because we’re getting close to the team that will be on the field on Opening Day, but we’ve still got a couple weeks to go. Last night was fun to think about as Mike Montgomery went four innings in his first spring start and actually faced pretty much the Reds regular season lineup. He gave up just one run, struck out three and walked one. The one walk was a huge departure from his previous spring statistics as he had walked seven in five innings. It was definitely a nice development in the spring. This is one of those instances when the statistics don’t particularly matter, but it’s great to see him have some success. I get the feeling that based on this start, the Royals see Montgomery as a rotation candidate at some point in 2011, which I wouldn’t have believed earlier in the spring. It might be that he’s a September call-up candidate, but I think he’ll see the big leagues in 2011.

The two biggest developments of the spring have been Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera. We’ll start with Gordon. After his slow start, he’s been on absolute fire. My concern here is the Gordon has been a streaky hitter throughout his career, so he might have a slow start to the season if this hot streak can’t continue. Still, from all reports I’m seeing, these hits that he’s getting are anything but cheapies. He is driving the ball with authority and it sounds like he is continuing his work with his new swing, so this improvement may be the real thing. Last night’s double apparently hit off the wall in right-center field and was an absolute laser. With a guy like Gordon, spring stats may actually mean something because he seems like the type of player who needs a confidence boost from time to time and an average hovering around .390 in spring with an OBP on the verge of .600 should do the trick.

Cabrera has pretty much made it impossible this spring for the Royals to start Lorenzo Cain over him. The amazing thing about that is that Cain has had an okay spring, but he’s going to get caught in a numbers game. Melky is also not getting any cheap shot hits as he is driving the ball all around the yard. I still think that Lorenzo Cain should start the season as the center fielder and leadoff hitter, but it’s hard to argue with what Cabrera has been able to do this spring. I don’t expect this to continue, but there’s no harm in seeing if Cabrera really has finally tapped into the potential that so many people saw in him earlier in his career.

One of my favorite players this spring has been Lance Zawadzki. He makes good contact, drives the ball, appears to have a passable batting eye and can play all over the diamond. He is a guy who contributes to a winning team, which is such a cliché to say, but you can’t win the World Series without depth and depth does not include players like Joaquin Arias. It may be the beginning letter of his last name, but I’m hopeful that Zawadzki can become the Royals’ version of Ben Zobrist. He is such an asset to the Rays that even when his power disappeared last year he was useful in their lineup to cover up for ineffective play around the diamond. I’m not sure entirely about Zawadzki’s defense, but from what I’ve heard he’s at least passable everywhere and pretty good in a few places. My guess is that he can also play outfield which is something the Royals seem to love in their utility players.

The final point I want to talk about is the lineup. I find it funny when people get up in arms about lineup structure. I read that something like the worst lineup you could possibly put out there would only cost a team four wins over the course of the season while the best would only add something like two wins. A six win swing is obviously big, but the worst lineup includes things like hitting Billy Butler eighth and Jason Kendall leadoff. That sort of thing just isn’t going to happen. Well, I hope that they won’t hit Kendall leadoff. Okay, maybe it could happen, but the other stuff probably wouldn’t. Still, the Royals need a leadoff hitter and seem comfortable with Aviles there to start the season, but an outside of the box solution might be Alex Gordon. He’s perfectly capable of a high on base percentage, he’s not a base clogger and he’d give the team untraditional power at the top of the order. I know he doesn’t fit the mold of what the Royals believe a leadoff hitter should be, but it’d sure be nice to see someone with that kind of ability to get on base at the top of the order.

So we’re just two weeks away from Opening Day. Luckily I have the tournament to focus on for the next week or so before I start to get the itch really bad. I’m tired of talking about spring stats and how they do or don’t matter and who’s in the best shape of their lives. I’m ready for the real thing!

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