Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Opening Day! Questions and Concerns From the Offseason

             From the offseason to the start of Spring Training there were many questions and concerns about the 2011 Royals.  It is safe to say the majority of fans considered 2011 a lost season and anticipated the 2012 team and the raw talent of Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Montgomery.  However, spring training went far better than anyone could have hoped for.  It seems as if Royals fans have become a little more perky and excited for opening day as well as the 2011 team in general after watching spring training, and they have every reason to be.  It would be hard not to be after watching the potential of so many younger players being reached, even if it is only spring training.

Here are just a few of the bigger questions and concerns that fans were talking about before spring training started and my not seem as concerning after spring training.

Question/Concern: “Why did the Royals sign Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera?  They are no better than who we already have.  Damn Daytons Atlanta connection…”

Now:     Melky is in the best shape of his career and dominated in spring training hitting an insane .468 with an on base percentage of .471.  Melky also played incredibly solid defense and flashed some speed which earned him the second spot in the batting order.
             Jeff Francoeur has gotten hot towards the end of spring training, mashing a couple home runs while picking up a some RBI’s in the last few games.  Jeff looks genuinely happy to be in Kansas City and seems to be a very good person to have to in the locker room, not to mention his gold glove caliber arm he has displayed over spring training.

Question/Concern: “Our bullpen is still the worst in baseball, we didn’t change anything… get ready for another long season of losing late in games”

Now:     Although no big names were picked up, getting Jeremy Jeffress in the Greinke trade was huge.  He can be erratic at times but a 23 year old who can throw 100 mph that comes out of the pen is not easy to find.  Tim Collins developed far more than anyone imagined before spring training started.  The 5’7 Collins is the only lefty in the pen and has shown wicked movement on his breaking balls.
             Sean O’Sullivan returns as the long reliever/back up starter and is a very solid option if a starter gets hurt or in trouble early in games.  Aaron Crow is another case of developing way ahead of schedule.  Crow, a life long starter, will unexpectedly begin the season in the pen for Royals after showing that he has gained control of his fastball and has the ability to strike out major league level hitters after struggling in AA last season.  He also has been rumored to be dating Ke$ha, yes the one with a dollar sign, who is sadly more popular than any Kansas City Royals player.  Fancy that.

Question/Concern:  “Will Alex Gordon finally contribute on offense after moving to the outfield?  Will Kila Ka’ahue produce now that he is going to be in the majors full time?”

Now:     Gordon started slowly and most people gave up on him, then he got very hot and hit six home runs, collected 21 RBI’s, and batted .343.  Now there is talk of him hitting over 30 home runs and battling .300 this season.  While those are unreal expectations, it is a very good sign that he is healthy and seeing the ball, and maybe most importantly, he is confident.  It is very likely that he will have a career year if he stays healthy, but an all star appearance might be a little farfetched.
             Kila has shown the ability to hit with some serious power this spring.  The Hawaiian Punch cranked seven home runs while batting .397.  Don’t expect him to continue to hit for an average, but his power is for real.  He has played better defense than Billy, winning the first base job (although he will see time at DH too).  The same goes for both Gordon and Ka’ahue.  The talent is there, they have proven that much, but actually putting it together in the regular season has yet to be seen.

Wrap Up:  Yes all of this is just spring training, but it is a good sign none the less.  Spring training has eased the fans and given them something to look forward to this year.  A lot will be answered this year.  Best of luck to the team in their first series of the year against the Angels, starting March 31st at Kaufman!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Complex, New Uniforms, and... Chad Ochocinco?

Everyone knew this season was going to be different for Sporting Kansas City.  First, the team finally has somewhere to play where they can feel at home rather than being relegated to sharing a tiny baseball field with Kansas City’s semi-pro baseball team.  At the new Livestrong Sporting Park, not only will the players feel at home, but they will play at one of the nicest and most modern soccer complexes in North America.  Second, the team re-branded in the offseason, changing from the Wizards and getting more of a “soccer” name in Sporting Kansas City, as well as sexy new Uruguay-like uniforms.  Then of course came the personnel changes, losing fan favorite and Captain Jimmy Conrad in the draft, trading midfielder Jack Jewsbury, drafting CJ Sapong, and signing Mexican legend and former Guadalajara forward Omar Bravo.  Yes sir, this season was going to be very different than any other soccer season in Kansas City, but something was still missing… but what?  If two weeks ago someone had said Chad Ochocinco, you would have probably giggled and shrugged it off, but seriously, he is the missing piece, just maybe not in the way you thought. 

No one is expecting Chad Ochocinco to be Lionel Messi, but if he can contribute at all as player (I would assume at forward or midfield), then by all means Sporting Kansas City should sign him.  We know he has the leg and the athleticism from watching him kick a field goal in the NFL when Shayne Graham was injured (If you haven’t seen it you can watch here: but his knowledge of the game and foot skill are questionable.  Not only would he provide depth, but with Ochocinco comes an entire fan base.  With no NFL games to watch, what do you think all of those NFL, Bengals, and sports fans will be watching?  It would give Sporting KC more publicity and nationally televised games as well as more jersey and ticket sales.  Overall, it is good for the organization and the MLS, if he can hold his own.

It is indeed a new era for Kansas City soccer.  Because Ochocinco is so big in the United States, this move could end up getting more people to watch the MLS than the David Beckham arrival.  Of course none of this applies if the NFL ends the lockout, but for now, Ochocinco is trying out for Sporting Kansas City, no not the Chiefs, but Sporting Kansas City.  Now comes the real question, if Chad makes the team will he wear number 85?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Position Battles: Royals Spring Training

We are getting closer and closer to the regular season and the position battles are becoming much clearer.  With spring training wrapping up soon it is a good time to take an in depth look at the position battles and how they are most likely going to play.

Fourth Outfielder battle:  Ned Yost has let it be known that the starting outfielders will be Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera, and Jeff Francoeur for at least the first two or three months of the season and then he will reevaluate them from there.  That is unless Lorenzo Cain hits three home runs every game from now until the season starts, but we will just assume he won’t and that he will be optioned to the minors to start the season as planned.  So now the battle for the fourth outfielder spot lies between Mitch Maier, Gregor Blanco, and Jarrod Dyson.

Maier has put on a clinic so far this spring batting .667 with four stolen bases in four attempts.  Every spring Maier makes your eyes light up a little bit but he can never seem to get those numbers to even remotely transfer to the regular season.  Gregor Blanco has batted a modest .286 this spring stealing one base in one attempt while Jarrod Dyson has batted a very below average .167 stealing one base in one attempt. 

Fourth Outfielder winner – It’s a tie.  No one in this group has much power and everyone is an above average defensive outfielder so it will come down to options.  This most likely means the Royals will keep both Maier and Blanco, because they are out of options, and send Dyson back to the minors.

Starting Pitcher battle:  Luke Hochever, Jeff Francis, Kyle Davies, and Vin Mazzaro are all pretty much locks.  Hochevar is a former number one pick and is expected to try and take over the vacant Ace role for the Royals with Greinke gone. Francis is out of options and signed a one year contract to revive his career and is possibly the most accomplished starter on the Royals staff.  it’s a make or break year for Davies, who has shown flashes but has been very inconsistent throughout his career.  Luckily for him he is a favorite of Dayton Moore’s.  And then we have Vin Mazzaro who is young and has gotten better every year he is been in the league.  Not to mention the Royals gave up fan favorite David Dejesus to get him. 

That leaves the veteran Bruce Chen and the young gun Sean O’Sullivan fighting for the final starting spot.  Chen shockingly was the Royals best starter last season, and when healthy has been a very solid starter his entire career.   It is very exciting to see if Sean O’Sullivan, who the Royals traded Alberto Callaspo for,  can put it all together and be legitimate Major League starter.  He has the stuff to do it and is still only 23, but he can be very erratic at times.

Starting Pitcher winner – To start the year, Bruce Chen will most likely be the starter and Sean O’Sullivan a reliever.  The pitching staff is very young and any sort of veteran leadership and stability is needed, which is why Chen will probably start in the rotation.  O’Sullivan has relief experience and will start the year in the bullpen, but will most likely be the first person called on to start if anyone goes down with an injury.

Catcher battle:  Jason Kendall is out until at least May recovering from shoulder surgery, which opens the door for Brayan Pena  and Lucas May.  Brayan Pena has shown some power when given an opportunity to play, but his defense has been suspect a lot of the time.  He lost twenty pounds this off season and won best defense catcher in the Dominican Winter League, which should give Royals fans some hope.  Lucas May is a converted outfielder the Royals acquired from the Mets organization.  He hasn’t had much Major League experience but according to his minor league statistics, he has a little pop but doesn’t have much plate 

Catcher winner:  Brayan Pena.  He has more major league experience and the Royals want to see what he can do with regular playing time.  He has shown he can hit, but if his defense has really improved and the team is doing well when Kendall gets back, who knows?  Maybe he will stick as the starter for the rest of the season.  Lucas May will most likely be the back up, or at best be in a time share with Pena.  When Kendall gets back he will probably get lost in the shuffle with Manuel Pina and Salvador Perez, being younger and more talented, coming up in the organization.