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The Dog Days of March?

Games like yesterday lead me to believe that Spring Training is just a little bit too long. The Royals are now 23 games into their spring schedule and without having seen the game, it looks like they’re just bored and ready to get to the regular season. At this point, the roster is looking pretty well set with just a couple of competitions for spots still up for grabs, and even those may not be competitions anymore. The bullpen looks to be pretty well set with the exception of maybe one spot. This isn’t 30 years ago (or maybe even more) when the players came to camp in February to get ready and in shape for the season. They come to camp in shape. They don’t need all this time to get their timing down. They’re ready.

Last night, the Royals committed five errors after not having committed more than two in any game this spring. Guys who don’t commit errors like that were the main culprits. Escobar committed one, Aviles two and Lorenzo Cain two. It just doesn’t happen for those guys, and it did last night. There has to be a lack of focus, and quite frankly I don’t blame them. One thing I like, strictly from the box score, is that Jeff Francis struck out seven in five innings of work. Keep in mind that he probably pitched with a pretty bland repertoire as he’ll be facing these same Angels in just over a week in the second game of the regular season. Obviously teams have scouting reports on him, but without checking, my guess is that the Angels haven’t faced very much of Jeff Francis throughout his career. It makes sense for him to stick to mostly fastballs and changeups so they can’t get an up close look at the stuff with movement.

I’m getting tired of Spring Training, too. The interesting storylines are mostly gone as the majority of the prospects are back in minor league camp. There is one potential interesting story with Aaron Crow still on the big league roster in Surprise, but my guess is that he’s one of the final cuts and goes to AAA. I’d personally rather see him continue to start rather than pitch out of the bullpen in the big leagues. Crow seems like the type of guy who might have a future in the bullpen, but I’d rather see him fail as a starter first before I have to do that. His stuff is just too impressive to limit to one or two innings at a time if you don’t have to.  Other than that, there was one positive last night and it was Robert Fish getting absolutely lit up. I haven’t written much about him because it didn’t seem to be worth the space, but he’s clearly in the mix for a roster spot, and that is a huge mistake. The other potential huge mistake in Luis Mendoza finally had a rough outing. It’s weird to root for guys to be bad, but if it’s the only way to keep them off the roster, then so be it.

We’ve talked a lot about positives this spring and what we’ve seen that has been good. Alex Gordon has been very encouraging, though we have to remember that he’s probably always going to be a streaky hitter. Kila Ka’aihue has been a bright spot in camp. Hopefully he can become a star at the big league level and force a decision soon. Some of the young pitchers have been outstanding, particularly out of the bullpen. In my mind, one of the biggest positives that we haven’t talked about is the fact that Alcides Escobar is hitting. After last night’s game he’s hitting .375 for the spring. He’s still not walking quite enough, but he also doesn’t strike out much at all, so that balances out pretty decently. He’ll probably never get on base quite enough to be a leadoff guy, but he’s hitting the ball with some authority as evidenced by his three home runs. Yes, one was inside-the-park, but it would have been a double if the outfielder didn’t slip. It seems weird to say, but the number nine hitter may be a big key in the Royals lineup.

As a team, the Royals aren’t walking nearly as much as they were in the early going, but they are still third in the American League in team walks this spring with 98 through 24 games. Combine that with their potent bats and they have a .375 team OBP, which is tops in the American League. They are also tied for third in the league in home runs through 24 games. The more amazing thing about that list is that the Orioles, who train in Florida, are the team they’re tied with. That Orioles offense might be potent, but they have to get Jake Fox at bats. Of course, the statistic that’s getting a lot of attention is the stolen bases, of which the Royals have 43. That’s an insane number. That extends out to 290 over the course of the season. If they’re going to do it in the regular season, they need to be more efficient, though, as they’re successful just 72% of the time.

All in all, if I learned anything from last night it’s that the players are just as anxious for the regular season to get underway as we are as fans. One of my favorite things to do after a game is look over the box score. I’m a stats nerd, so that shouldn’t come as any surprise, but I just love to examine and see if anything jumps out at me. You can’t do that with spring box scores. For one, they don’t mean anything and for another they’re always formatted a little bit differently. I’m ready for the regular box scores. Eight more days and we’ll have them.

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