Man! Baseball is back ladies and gentlemen! I can’t tell you how happy I was walking through the gates at Surprise Stadium today. Baseball filled the air and everyone at the complex was going crazy for Royals baseball. Rebuild or no rebuild, Royals fans were ready for baseball.
Some of my favorite baseball games of the entire season take place in the first week of Spring Training. It is the only time all season that you can see big league players play with guys who are in A-ball. Even in September when you get expanded rosters you don’t get guys straight from Low-A in the big leagues. With that being said, here are some thoughts I had while watching some of the Royals top prospects on day one of Spring Training.
1.) Raul Mondesi Jr. is so unbelievably talented that I want to cry every time I remember that the Royals re-signed Alcides Escobar. In his first at-bat on Saturday, Mondesi got a first pitch fastball and took a great swing. He fouled it straight back and was down 0-1. He did not bat an eye and on the second pitch was ready for the fastball again, got a slider, swung and missed, and was down 0-2. He wasn’t phased what so ever. He worked the count a little bit until he got another fastball and then absolutely hammered it over the wall in right-center field. It was a beautiful swing and produced an even more beautiful resort.
On the first pitch that was thrown when Mondesi came in on defense, there was a ground ball hit to Mondesi’s right that he calmly back handed. He proceeded to make a good throw to first for an out. The kid needs to be getting regular at-bats which he may not get at the big league level thanks to Esky and his .272 OBP. If he has to go to AAA to get his at-bats, what ever. You don’t want him sitting just for the sake of being on the big league club, but his time in Omaha should not be long so long as he’s hitting, which he will.
2.) Meibrys Viloria is going to be a big league catcher someday. Have you ever been decorating, or buying a new couch, maybe a new TV, something like that? You walk into Nebraska Furniture Mart and you’re like, “That’s the one. That’s my couch. I don’t need to see any other couches that’s the one I want.” That’s how it felt watching Viloria today. He looks like AL Gold Glove Award catcher Martin Maldonado behind the plate. The kid is built like a tank, he’s athletic, he receives the ball very well, and oh by the way, he’s put up a wRC+ over 100 in three of his four professional seasons. I don’t know when this kid will be ready to debut, as he’s probably set to spend most of his season in High-A this year, but my oh my is he impressive.
3.) Read this sentence very carefully: I HAVE NOT COME CLOSE TO GIVING UP ON JORGE SOLER YET. In fact, I think he’s due for something of a good season in 2018. With that being said, he looked awfully lost at the plate on Saturday. People strike out, it happens. It’s the way in which you strike out that deserves analyzing. In his first at-bat, Soler took some monster hacks at good pitches and just missed. He probably should’ve trimmed down on his swing with two strikes, but what ever. What was problematic for me in his second at-bat was how lost he looked against former Royals prospect Malcolm Culver. Culver threw Soler a great off-speed pitch that Soler flailed at to give him two strikes. Then Culver came back with a fastball seemingly right down the middle and Soler watched it go by for strike three. Culver caught Soler guessing and made him pay for it. Hopefully Soler can rebound tomorrow and get some momentum going at the plate. And, just for the record, I could live the rest of my life, never see him play defense again, and be perfectly okay.
4.) Hunter Dozier is perfectly capable of playing first base, but he’s going to need a lot of reps between now and Opening Day. It’s still not my favorite move, I’d much rather just play Dozier at third, but he’s definitely capable at first. There was a situation today where Jorge Bonifacio was trying to throw a runner out at home. Dozier cut it off, read the play in front of him, and then threw a runner out at home. Physically, he didn’t do much wrong. It was physically a decent play. Mentally, however, it didn’t look like Dozier knew what he was supposed to be doing. He looked unsure when he cut off the throw and then didn’t know what to do with the ball when he caught it. Then there was this:
Again. Not a huge deal, yet. Can only go up from here.
5.) Burch Smith looked smooth in his two innings of work. I am 90% sure the Royals are going to use him out of the bullpen. His upper-90’s fastball and effective-enough breaking pitch will play more effectively one inning at a time. With that being said, he looks like he could start. Last year while pitching in the Rays system, Smith only made one relief appearance. 12 of his 13 appearances were starts and I wouldn’t put it past KC to try to stretch him out if he keeps having success like he did today. Again, 90% sure he’s in the ‘pen, but he could be a sleeper for the rotation.
6.) The Royals need Bubba Starling or Billy Burns or Paulo Orlando to be adequate offensively, because their outfield defense is going to be horrid if they aren’t. Like I said above, I don’t need to see anymore of Jorge Soler in the outfield. Let him be your full-time DH. He has enough to worry about at the plate as it is. Jorge Bonifacio is an okay defender at best, and having him in the same outfield as Jorge Soler makes an already sub-par pitching staff’s job even more difficult. Royals fans need to pray that one of Burns/Starling/Orlando hits enough to play in the big leagues, because watching an outfield that consists of both Jorge’s all season is going to be absolutely dreadful.
One of the biggest keys to a successful 2018 season for KC is going to be getting Ian Kennedy back to an adequate level of performance. They may never be able to move him, but it would be nice to get at least some value out of his contract. Kennedy is an extreme fly ball pitcher, and right now fly balls are not something you’d want to intentionally induce with this defense.
7.) The Royals AAA bullpen in Omaha is going to be absolutely stacked. There is not going to be enough room in the big leagues for both Rule 5 picks, Kevin McCarthy, Tim Hill, Kevin Lenik, Andres Machado, Eric Stout, and Richard Lovelady. Some of those guys are going to have to go back to Omaha until space opens up in the big league bullpen. If Lenik, Hill, Machado, Stout, and Lovelady are all in Omaha…good luck to whoever has to deal with that.
8.) Terrance Gore is so ridiculously fast.