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The Team is Taking Shape

Today is the day where I feel that we’re finally on the verge of the season. Why is that you ask? Excellent question! Boy I have such smart readers. Today is the day where the 10-day weather forecast shows the weather for Opening Day. Is it likely to be accurate? Not a chance, but the point is that the calendar shows the date. As of right now they’re saying 57° with showers. I can deal with the temperature, but let’s hope for a dry day. The Royals made some news yesterday by setting their rotation for the early part of the season as well as making a couple of interesting bullpen choices with a few days still remaining in camp.

As it stands right now, the Opening Day rotation is Luke Hochevar, Jeff Francis, Kyle Davies and Bruce Chen. They don’t need a fifth starter until a couple of weeks in, so Vin Mazzaro is going to stay in extended spring training to get some work in there. Sean O’Sullivan will head to the bullpen. I may be completely off about him, but as you all know, I have never liked Sean O’Sullivan. I think his fastball isn’t hard enough to be as straight as it is and I just don’t think he has the ability to dominate a Major League game. I do think he might be able to be a quality short reliever and let his stuff dial up a little bit, but it doesn’t appear that’s the role that he will fill in the bullpen. Instead, because he was sent to the bullpen for the start of the season, a much more deserving pitcher in Greg Holland will have to start the year in AAA.

It seems weird to be clamoring for a guy like Holland who struggled in big league action last season, but that fits his pattern perfectly. He gets to a level, struggles for awhile before figuring it out. His big league career, as short as it is, follows that already. In his first seven appearances, he got lit up to the tune of an 8.25 in 12 innings. In his next eight games, the ERA still wasn’t great at 4.05, but he struck out 13 and walked nobody in 6.2 innings. Holland gets the strikeout like nobody else in the Royals bullpen. I believe we talked in a previous post about his winter ball numbers where he struck out over 17 batters per nine innings. His command is a little too wobbly for him to be a closer at any point, but if you need a big strikeout, there’s nobody better right now than Holland and unfortunately he’ll be a Storm Chaser.

The good news, though, out of the bullpen is that Louis Coleman is still with the big club in Spring Training, and it’s looking more and more like he and Tim Collins both will open the season in the bullpen as rookies for the Royals. Bob McClure recently said that he thought Coleman was the best pitcher he’d seen this spring. Hyperbole? Yes sir. The fact is, though, that he didn’t need to go that far. My guess is he makes the team because of Bob McClure’s love of him. Having said that, I seem to be wrong on every bullpen hunch I have, so there’s every chance he’s been optioned to Omaha by the time I finish writing.

I’m a big proponent of playing the service time game and keeping players in the minors until you get an extra year out of them and working with options, but my opinion is that the bullpen is not the place to do that. Relievers are so fickle from year to year that it’s not actually prudent to try to get an extra year out of them because the odds are that you’d be paying big money for that extra year and the player won’t even be as good as his rookie season. If a reliever is ready, let him pitch in the show. I’ve seen studies that I can’t recall at this very moment that show that the 27-32 peak is true on average, but varies based on the player and position. That is why leaving Holland in the minors because he has options while keeping a guy like Luis Mendoza in the bullpen is a terrible idea. I should say that Luis Mendoza has not yet made the team and he can be sent to the minors easily as he’s not on the 40 man roster.

I need to remind myself, though, that the bullpen isn’t worth getting worked up over. The starting rotation has the potential to struggle big time which means that there will be plenty of bullpen innings to go around and the I-29 shuttle will probably be filled with relievers at least in the early going. I hope this is the last season that the Royals use April as a sort of extended spring training for the bullpen because they need to be in the business of winning games. I get that 2011 is almost a lost season before it starts, but it’d be nice if they didn’t use the month to try out guys like Luis Mendoza.

The other big news is that Mike Montgomery was sent to AAA.  I think the general consensus among fans (and maybe even front office folk) is that Montgomery would start the year in AA since he didn’t accumulate a ton of innings in 2010. The longer he lasted in camp, the more people thought he had a chance to make the Royals out of spring training in a bullpen role. Well, my thought process last week was that Montgomery was closer to the Majors than we thought. I think his strong outing versus the Reds the other day did wonders for his chances of being a Major Leaguer in 2011. He’s just one level away now, and I don’t think the Royals would hesitate to move Bruce Chen to the bullpen at any point if they feel that Montgomery’s time has come.

Just nine more days…

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