Monday

RC Spring Training Report -- Part IV



RC returned to Eastern Command this evening, and we immediately began compiling all the data and photos we collected during our five days in Arizona. All told, we took 969 photographs and collected over 100 MB of digital video. As you can imagine, figuring out how to organize the massive quantity of information and provide it to our readers in a coherent format can be a nightmare of a task, but it is truly a labor of love.

After much internal debate, we've decided the best way to proceed is to break down our report over a few days -- there is simply too much information to digest in one post. Today we've decided to discuss the position players, including a breakdown of those who most impressed us. In the coming days, we'll report on the pitchers we saw. Most of the video we shot will be used for other RC features down the line, but we are including a few clips here.

In addition, before the season begins, RC will unveil a revised top 30 prospect list, which will incorporate everything we saw in Arizona, as well as photos of nearly every top prospect in the organization. On Thursday, RC hit the photo jackpot, as we watched every minor league pitcher and catcher in the organization work out, and we can't wait to provide you with the first look (including some video) at players such as Brent Fisher, Billy Buckner, Kiel Thibault, Danny Christensen, Chris Nicoll, and many more.

Anyhow, there's much more to come, but it's time to proceed with today's post:

---The position players who most impressed us---

  • Mark Teahen

    There are several rules when it comes to evaluating players during Spring Training, but perhaps the cardinal law is to not put too much stock in a player's March performance -- the numbers a player puts up during Spring Training have not historically correlated well with his performance during the season.



    Nevertheless, RC came away from the desert with a firm belief that the Mark Teahen of September will be the Mark Teahen of 2006. He looks much stronger this season, and he's pulled the ball with authority in batting practice and in the first four games of the Cactus League schedule. George Brett watches Teahen like a hawk during BP, and we think that -- along with the threatening presence of Alex Gordon -- have helped Teahen take his offensive game to a new, productive level. RC expects a major improvement from Teahen this season, and we're probably more excited about what we saw from him than anyone else on the Major League roster.


  • Shane Costa

    The knock on Shane Costa has always been that he doesn't use his natural strength to pull the ball (much like Teahen), instead being content with serving line drives to the opposite field. We saw Costa play extensively when he was with Wilmington, and we don't recall ever seeing him really get into a pitch. He began turning the corner last season with Wichita, improving his slugging percentage in the jump to AA, but his power numbers were still more indicative of a future fourth outfielder.


    For a short Shane Costa video, click here.

    After watching Costa launch home runs with ease during batting practice, and after seeing him knock the snot out of the ball to all fields in the games, RC now believes Costa may actually shed the fourth outfielder label this season. He looks like a completely different hitter this year, and when he connects, the ball jumps off his bat. Ironically, the two hits we saw him collect during the games were two of the weakest balls he hit, but it seemed like most of the outs he made were on hard line drives. He'll most likely head to Omaha this season, but we won't be at all surprised to see him make a lot of noise in the Pacific Coast League. We don't think 20+ HRs is out of the question. A bold prediction, yes, but Costa just has that look.


  • Mitch Maier

    RC made no secret in the past of our disappointment with Mitch Maier. We saw Maier play in Wilmington in 2004, and we were thoroughly unimpressed. For a player out of college with such a strong resume, Maier just didn't stand out at all, and we had doubts that he'd ever develop into the type of player that would justify a late first round pick.


    For a short Mitch Maier video, click here.

    Maier this week shook that pessimism to its core. The first thing we noticed is that he's a hell of a lot bigger and stronger than he was two years ago...And then we saw him hit. During batting practice, we saw impressive power, as his fly balls had good carry and his line drives had a nice zip to them. He was equally impressive in the games, showing good plate discipline and a sweet line drive stroke that produced his first spring training hit, a scorching triple down the RF line. We also got a good look at his defense, watching him effortlessly glide through the outfield while tracking fly ball fungoes. During one game, he even made a beautiful diving catch on a low line drive to right field.

    RC now believes that Maier may in fact have the tools to become a solid Major Leaguer. While we already expected to see improved numbers from him this season as he repeats AA Wichita, the massive physical improvement we saw from him has provided us with a renewed optimism about his chances of success at the big league level.


  • Alex Gordon

    There really isn't much more to say about Alex Gordon that we didn't already cover in our Arizona Fall League report. The bat speed is still there, as is the fantastic approach at the plate and the tremendous power to all fields. If anything surprised us about his what we saw from him this week, it's just how Major League ready he looks. Honestly, RC thinks the Royals could probably plug him into the lineup right now and get quality production from him. Of course we're not advocating that, but the presence and tools that he shows suggests to us that it won't be long before Gordon begins appearing in All-Star games.



    During batting practice, nobody hits the ball harder more consistently. In the first game, Gordon smashed a key two-run single to left with the bases loaded (video here), and he flew out to the left-center wall in the deepest part of Surprise Stadium. He seemingly never swings at a bad pitch, and he already looks like a Major League third baseman. During one game, Gordon snared a grounder on the line about 10-15 feet behind third base, and he threw a perfect strike to first base to nail the runner by a couple steps.

    We actually overheard one coach tell an onlooker that the Royals feel they may have drafted another George Brett. It's far too early to make that comparison, but the excitement that Gordon generates throughout the organization is very real, and very justified.


  • ---Also Impressive---



    David DeJesus is another player who reported to camp looking much stronger, and he's off to a great start. As we mentioned on Friday, DeJesus hit a 420 ft. bomb (RC's guess) to right center, and we don't recall ever seeing him hit a ball that far.



    Esteban German's speed is every bit as advertised, and he figures to be a near lock at the utility infield position. We saw him easily swipe two bases during the games, including a steal of third base on Saturday. He played at both second and third, and he looked comfortable at both positions.



    Reggie Sanders is more physically fit than 99.9 percent of his fellow 38-year-olds, and he looked solid in the few at bats we saw, pumping two singles through the hole between third and short. Let's hope he can stay healthy.



    Doug Mientkiewicz had a nice game on Saturday, collecting two hits (including a double to right center off the wall) and three RBIs. We didn't, however, get a chance to see any of his dandy glovework.

    ---Other Notes---



    Chip Ambres certainly hasn't impressed anyone with his glovework thus far, and his baserunning has also been a problem early this spring. He dropped a fly ball during the simulated game, and he just hasn't looked comfortable tracking fly balls. He had a nice game on Thursday, reaching base four times, but he'll need to show improvement if he wants to make the team as the Royals' fourth oufielder. We only saw Aaron Guiel play in the simulated game before he departed for the WBC, but he's a better defender, and he was hitting everything hard. RC gives the early edge to Guiel, but that can still change.

    The Kerry Robinson "craze" in the KC media is a joke. Anyone who has ever seen the ridiculous swings by Robinson while trying to hit a decent offspeed pitch knows there is no way that Buddy Bell and Allard Baird are going to put him on the roster. With the exception of an opposite field line drive single, none of Robinson's hits were hit hard, including his well-placed triple down the LF line.



    John Buck also has us mildly concerned. With the exception of his towering home run in the intrasquad game, he's looked pretty bad at the plate thus far. Of course, it's so ridiculously early that it's probably silly to even bring it up. If he had a track record of offensive success in the Majors, we wouldn't have even mentioned it. But he doesn't, and we haven't noticed any difference in his approach at the plate.

    Well, that's it for today. Stay tuned for our report on the pitchers, which will appear in the next couple days.

    12 Comments:

    At 3/06/2006 8:56 AM, Anonymous Nate said...

    What a great trip. Nice work.

    Did you get to see Emil handle any flyballs?

     
    At 3/06/2006 9:44 AM, Anonymous Mike said...

    Just wanted to say thanks for putting together such a great report. I look forward to reading this site all season.

     
    At 3/06/2006 1:47 PM, Blogger Max said...

    Great report. I agree its best not to get to swept up by a handful of exhibition games against AAA/AAAA talent, but its hard not to get carried away when we've had a whole winter without baseball and as of today the Royals are still tied for first place!

     
    At 3/06/2006 10:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    One question- Why not plug Maier or Costa into the OF now, and stop wasting time on Ambres who at best is a 5th OF?
    Or even put the better defender Maier into LF and Emil can DH.

     
    At 3/07/2006 1:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    if only sweeney weren't dh-ing. i love this site. that is really all that i can see.

     
    At 3/07/2006 3:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    How did Angel Berroa and Rueben Gotay look?

     
    At 3/07/2006 4:23 AM, Blogger Dave said...

    Thanks for the kind words, guys. To answer the questions:

    1) Emil didn't play much while we were there, after being pulled from the lineup on Saturday with an oblique strain. I didn't get any kind of look at his defense, but I expect that his move to LF will be beneficial to him.

    2) While I'm coming around on Costa and Maier, I'm not prepared to say that either could be expected right now to put up satisfactory numbers in the Majors. They both need more time in the minors, and that's a big reason why the Royals brought in Sanders.

    Ambres has no options remaining, so if he doesn't make the team, the Royals will lose him to a team that likes his plate discipline. But honestly, his defense looks so bad, and his potential upside is low enough, that I'm not convinced right now that it would be a big loss. I'd still prefer to keep him if possible, but I do think Aaron Guiel is a better player right now. Clearly Ambres would be the better player in a couple years, but hopefully the Royals by then will have better options in the outfield than a player with questionable talents.

    If the Royals do lose Ambres as a result of the roster crunch, there will be further uproar from the sabermetric crowd about how Baird doesn't know what he's doing. But who cares? It should be clear to anyone who's seen Ambres play that he'll most likely never be a quality option as a starting outfielder. But my guess is that most of the people who will piss and moan about his departure either 1) haven't seen him play, or 2) have no idea how to evaluate a player's potential for success without looking at a spreadsheet.

    When deciding between a pair of players who will have no place (or a very limited role) on the next good Royals team, I'll side with the player who can best help them win games right now.

    3) Gotay left after the simulated game on Wednesday for the WBC, so that and the intrasquad game was the only real look I got at him. His homer in Tuesday's intrasquad was a laser over the 379 ft. sign in right center, but that was the only thing he did that really stood out in the brief time we saw him.

    Berroa really didn't look any different, other than his new teeth. He didn't look bad, and he didn't look great. His performance didn't tell us anything about what to expect from him. I'm neither positive or negative about him based upon what I saw.

     
    At 3/07/2006 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Dave,

    You've done some real good work here. Thanks for an outstanding website.

    With Redman and Greinke out, how do you see the rotation coming out of spring training?

    Wisco

     
    At 3/07/2006 3:28 PM, Anonymous Chris Ray said...

    Hardballtimes.com listed this as the seventh item to watch for in baseball in 2006.

    7. Are Kansas City's young hitters on the way soon?

    A solid trade and good drafting have the Royals on the cusp of adding some big-time firepower to their everyday lineup. The Royals are starting to remind me of the Devil Rays with all their young offensive prospects and relative lack of pitching. The team has no real impact pitchers in the organization, but I’ll enjoy watching the progress of their hitters, especially:

    # Alex Gordon (3B, 22): Gordon put up a line of .260/.403/.460 in the Arizona Fall League, and that is apparently enough for the organization to start him at Double-A. He has 35-homer potential, and should incumbent third baseman Mark Teahen not develop some power quickly (just seven home runs in 447 at-bats in 2005), Gordon could be up by July.


    # Billy Butler (OF, 19): What Butler did at age 19 last year (.340/.404/.611 between Single-A and Double-A) is simply incredible. His bat is likely major league ready now, but defensive limitations could keep him in the minors until September. His defense likely will never catch up to his bat, but as soon as it slightly narrows the gap, he could get the call to Kansas City.


    # Justin Huber (1B, 23): Hit just .218 in 78 at-bats in a 2005 call-up, but Huber is the team’s first baseman of the future. He could potentially alternate with Mike Sweeney between first base and designated hitter this year. Huber is a pure hitter with excellent plate discipline and 25-home run power, and he hit .326/.417/.560 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2005.


    # Jeff Bianchi (SS, 19): Bianchi impressed in his 98 at-bats in rookie ball by hitting .404/.484/.705, but he is still at least two or three years from the big leagues. Nevertheless, he could soon be one of baseball’s top shortstop prospects (if he’s not already). An intriguing mix of power and great speed.


    # Chris Lubanski (OF, 21): After hitting just nine home runs the previous campaign, Lubanski took advantage of the desert air of the California League to more than triple that total to 28 in 2005. He was the #5 overall pick in the 2003 draft, and his progress this year was impressive (.301/.349/.554). He should start at Double-A and looks to be the team’s right fielder of the future.

     
    At 3/07/2006 7:28 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

    Dave,

    I've been accused of being one of those fans who can't evaluate a player away from what his stats indicate, but I'm telling you: if the Royals waive Ambres in favor of Aaron Guiel, they're insane.

    First (and we've talked about this), having Guiel and Matt Stairs on the roster is basically redundant; they're the exact same player, a left-handed stick who's going to hit .270 with a bunch of walks and decent power, good-enough range in the outfield, and little to no speed.

    With Ambres, the Royals get almost everything Guiel provides at the plate, only that he hits from the right side, has above-average speed, and the ability to steal a base. Granted, I'm assuming that Ambres will hit for a high-enough average to get on base 35 percent of the time, but I really liked what I saw out of him last year in that regard.

    Basically, I'm willing to put up with Ambres' deplorable outfield play just to get a longer look at him. I think he's the kind of a guy whose minor league success will translate to the Majors. We know what we have in Guiel and in my mind, Ambres is the better fit for the ballclub anyway.

     
    At 3/07/2006 8:02 PM, Blogger Dave said...

    To what "minor league success" are you referring? Ambres is 26 years old, and he's had exactly one-half of a minor league season with truly quality production, or at least the type of production the next good Royals team will want from its corner outfielders.

    The odds of him ever turning into the type of starting outfielder the next good Royals team won't constantly look to replace are so remote that I don't see how you can call his potential departure "insane," particularly when I think it's pretty clear that Guiel is a better all around player right now. I see that not only in his defense, which is light years better, but also in his own track record of success at both the big league and AAA levels.

    And as for the righty/lefty thing, I'd much rather have another lefty on the bench. Our starting lineup is already heavily right handed, and I think the roster itself has pretty good balance:

    Buck (R)
    Grudz (R)
    Berroa (R)
    Sanders (R)
    Sanders (R)
    Brown (R)
    Teahen (L)
    DeJesus (L)
    Minky (L)

    Stairs (L)
    German (R)
    Bako (L)

    Like I said, I really don't want to lose Ambres, because I do like his on base ability, but I won't be at all troubled by his departure. However, I'm sure we can agree that the best option would probably be to keep both and roll with 11 pitchers instead of 12. Of course, we know that won't happen.

     
    At 3/07/2006 9:05 PM, Anonymous Nate said...

    I guess I'd prefer to keep Ambres and Guiel, and flip Stairs to a team to a contender that needs to boost its bench. I just don't see where Stairs' ABs will come from. The difference between he and Guiel is negligible. Given that this team is going nowhere in '06 --- I'd much rather have an A-ball pitcher with a hot fastball.

    As for Amres' defense, I'd like to give him some more time. He looked a lot more comfortable in CF last year, and it might just take him some time to adjust to the reads in the corners. Or he might actually suck.... but I'd like to give it some time. Not because he's going to be great, but b/c I think he can be semi-useful.

     

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