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---
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.