RC opens up the mailbag...

Before diving in to today's mailbag feature, RC wants to point out two excellent pieces in today's KC Star. The first is a great article about Alex Gordon by Bob Dutton, which is bound to get anyone who reads it more excited than ever about the Royals' top prospect. The other is a wonderful column by Joe Posnanski, who has finally arrived in Surprise after a few weeks of covering something that was going on in Italy. Poz's column was written as a response to a letter from an optimistic young Royals fan, a fourth grader who most certainly figures to become a devoted RC reader as soon as he discovers us.

With that out of the way, RC is ready to tackle some questions.

Q: Bill from Olathe, KS, asks:
Hey RC, love the site. While you were in Arizona, did you come away with any opinions of players who you expect to have better or worse than expected seasons?

A: RC: Ravings about Shane Costa and Mitch Maier aside, we didn’t really see anything that hinted to us whether or not a player is destined for a surprising season. But we’ll give it a shot.

Mark Teahen looked awfully good in batting practice and the games, so RC wouldn’t be shocked to see a very nice improvement from him this season. We’re not expecting him to set the world on fire this year, but we do think he could move pretty close to league average third base production in his second full season.

We’ve noticed that a lot of “experts” are calling Emil Brown’s 2005 season a fluke while predicting regression, but RC actually expects Brown to put up even better numbers this year with a full Major League season under his belt. Brown looks like a very competent big league hitter, and he presents very few weaknesses offensively. His swing is short and well-balanced, and he has good power to all fields.

RC still loves Brown's swing.

Andrew Sisco is one player we wouldn’t be shocked to see some regression out of this season. It doesn’t have anything to do with anything we saw from him in Arizona, but he still struggles with his control, and he still allows too many baserunners to expect a repeat of his 2005 ERA (3.11). We hope we’re wrong, but even if we’re not, it’s important to remember that Sisco is only 23-years old and still has that great fastball and slider. Even if 2006 is a disappointing year for him, his future remains awfully bright.

Q: Jason from Kansas City, MO, asks:
If you had to guess, what do you think the 25-man roster will look like when the Royals break camp?

A: RC: It’s really not that difficult to guess, as all but about two or three spots are already decided. This is our best guess at this point:

C: Buck, Bako
1B: Mientkiewicz, Sweeney, Stairs
2B: Grudzielanek
3B: Teahen
SS: Berroa
UT: German
OF: DeJesus, Brown, Sanders, Guiel, Ambres
SP: Elarton, Hernandez, Mays, Bautista
RP: MacDougal, Burgos, Sisco, Wood, Affeldt, Dessens, Peralta

When Redman returns to the rotation in mid-April, Guiel or Ambres will be sent away. Of course, there are a couple of other possibilities. First, the Royals may make their fourth outfielder decision in Surprise, in which case you’d likely see another utility infielder like Joe McEwing added to the roster on a short-term basis. Of course, in order to do so, the Royals would have to add him to the 40-man roster, but that wouldn’t be a problem in our scenario, since Jimmy Gobble’s departure will have cleared a spot. In addition, there remains the possibility that Zack Greinke could be added to the 60-day DL (we sure hope not!), which would open up another spot on the 40-man roster. Also, we’re not sure whether or not Bobby Madritsch can or will be placed on the 60-day DL once the season is underway, but that would open up yet another spot on the 40-man roster.

RC believes Guiel has a strong chance to break camp with the Royals.

Of course, if Affeldt or Wood wins the fourth spot in the rotation, then Bautista goes to Omaha, Gobble makes the team, and you could see an infielder already on the 40-man roster – such as Ruben Gotay or Andres Blanco – break camp with the club on a short-term basis.

Still, the whole point of carrying 14 position players through the first two weeks of the season is to maximize the manager’s in-game flexibility, and since both Ambres and Guiel are more advanced offensive players than McEwing, Gotay, and Blanco, it makes the most sense to us that the Royals start the season with five outfielders. Of course, flexibility lends itself to both offense and defense, so maybe the Royals decide it would be best to carry an additional infielder.

Q: Tom from Kearney, NE, asks:
RC, I see that you got a look at Jeff Bianchi while you were in Arizona. Did it look like there were any lingering effects of his back injury last season? Where do you think he’ll play this year?

A: RC:None at all. We saw Bianchi take ground balls and participate in fielding drills for hours on end with a couple of other Royals minor leaguers (Shawn Hayes and Darren Fenster) who also missed significant time last season to injury, and he didn’t look any worse for the wear. Of course, RC didn’t have access to the training room, but Bianchi on the field didn’t appear to have any physical limitations.

Jeff Bianchi looked healthy when we saw him.

The Royals are reportedly going to take it slow with him, so he’s expected to remain behind at camp until they’re certain he’s ready to return to game action. Translation: RC expects Bianchi to stay behind for extended spring training and report to Idaho Falls this summer.

Q: Chuck from Gladstone, MO, asks:
I get worried every time I look at a spring training box score and see that Kerry Robinson or Joe McEwing had a couple hits. Is there any chance that a good spring showing from either will result in them making the team? I just can’t put up with another season of seeing Joe McEwing in the lineup.

A: RC: Well, we already discussed McEwing’s possible inclusion on the 25-man roster when the Royals break camp, but even if that happens, he’s not likely to be around once Redman returns to the rotation. In fact, if McEwing doesn’t break camp with the team, it’s hard to imagine him accepting a minor league assignment with Blanco, Gotay, Mike Aviles, Mike Coolbaugh (when his broken forearm heals), and possibly Chris Clapinski all slated to head to Omaha.

The playing time for Super Joe doesn’t figure to be there, so he may head elsewhere, or even retire. While it makes our stomachs churn to see him in the lineup, McEwing is a leader on and off the field, and we’d love to see him become a coach someday. We don’t know if that’s in his or the organization’s plans, but the Royals could do worse.

Regardless of what happens, RC wants McEwing to mothball that first baseman's mitt.

As for Kerry Robinson, RC is quite certain that you have nothing to worry about. It would take a few injuries to land him a spot on the big league club, and even then he’d be a player the Royals would frantically look to replace. If you’ve never seen Robinson hit, the best way to describe him is that he’s somewhat similar to Tom Goodwin, only with less movement in the box, less speed, less on-base ability, and (gulp) less power. His spring training stats may look gaudy, but they’ve been put together with a hodgepodge of Texas Leaguers. No chance he makes the club in front of Guiel and Ambres.

That's it for today. If you have any burning questions for a future mailbag segment, be sure to send us an e-mail.


RC Spring Training Report - Part VI

In the time since we returned from Arizona, many of the questions about the pitching staff have been answered, so the bullpen picture has become very clear. The Royals will carry 12 pitchers once Mark Redman returns from the DL, so that leaves seven relief pitchers who will head north with the big club. Of those seven, Mike MacDougal, Ambiorix Burgos, Andrew Sisco, and Elmer Dessens are locks for the bullpen. Jeremy Affeldt and Mike Wood are still battling with J.P. Howell and Denny Bautista for the final starting rotation spot, but right now it appears that Bautista will likely get the nod. That means Affeldt and Wood will probably head back to the bullpen, which leaves one open spot on the pitching staff.

Therefore, the battle for the final spot comes down to two pitchers: Jimmy Gobble and Joel Peralta. While Peralta appears to be the obvious choice, the fact that Gobble has no options remaining means that the Royals will give him every possible chance to win a spot on the club. If Gobble is exposed to waivers, the Royals will lose him, and they know that. Meanwhile, Peralta has an option remaining, so he could be sent to Omaha for a spell if the Royals decide to keep Gobble around.

Of course, if Affeldt was to win the final rotation spot, the decision to keep Gobble would be that much easier, as Buddy Bell has stated that he'd like to have two lefties in the bullpen. In such a scenario, both Peralta and Gobble would head north to KC, while Bautista would return to Omaha to get more starts.

Regardless of what happens, it will be interesting to see how everything unfolds. RC fully expects Bautista to win the fourth rotation spot, but anything can happen.

As time passes, our observations from Arizona lose relevance, so we've limited our reports to a few sentences about each pitcher we saw, accompanied by a photo.

  • The Locks

    The first thing we noticed about Ambiorix Burgos was that he's put on some weight in his midsection since last season, in addition to adding a mean-looking chin goatee. The second thing we noticed is that he still throws really, really hard, and he's still got that nasty splitter. We saw him throw a perfect inning in relief, dialing his fastball up to 95 mph. He was sidelined for about a week after taking a liner off the forearm, but he's back in action now, and RC expects good things from Burgos this season.

    We saw Elmer Dessens pitch once, and he looked exactly like what the Royals signed him to be -- a guy who can throw strikes and eat innings in the middle innings. His presence helps to ensure the Royals won't have to dip into the low minors for innings this season, and that's perhaps his greatest value to the club. Dessens was throwing his fastball consistently in the 88-90 mph range, and he subtracted about 10-12 mph from his breaking ball. He's currently playing for Mexico in the WBC, but he should be back soon, as Mexico has already dropped its first game of round 2.

    Robert Meiklejohn MacDougal looked like he picked up where he left off in 2005. In the lone appearance we saw, Doogie pumped the radar gun up to 97 mph while tossing a perfect inning, keeping the ball low and coaxing three groundouts. He's made several appearances since that time with mixed results, but hopefully Mac can retain the control he found last season. When he's on, nobody in baseball is as unhittable as Mike MacDougal.

    Andrew Sisco threw twice while we were in Arizona. In his first outing, he was efficient and effective, working a quick 1-2-3 inning. His second outing was a disaster, as he failed to get out of his inning while allowing three earned runs on two hits and two walks, the majority of the damage coming with two outs. Sisco did look a bit slimmer than last season, but it didn't seem to affect his velocity. He's now made five appearances this spring, and his poor showing last Saturday is the only blemish on what has otherwise been a fine string of outings.

  • The Battle

    We saw both Joel Peralta and Jimmy Gobble make one appearance apiece, and we were particularly impressed with Peralta. He was summoned to clean up Kyle Snyder's mess, so he entered the game with the bases loaded and no outs. His splitter was nasty, and he stranded two of the three baserunners, the other scoring on a sac fly. All told, Peralta threw two perfect innings in relief, using his fastball, slider, and splitter to perfection.

    Jimmy Gobble's performance was less spectacular, but effective. He threw one scoreless inning, yielding one hit and no walks. RC doesn't want to lose a young lefty who's shown occasional flashes of low to mid-nineties fastballs and sharp breaking balls, but we fear his tenure with the Royals may be approaching an end. Most of the teams in baseball were reportedly lining up to claim Peralta off of waivers if the Royals had passed, and we think the bullpen would ultimately be better served if he was a part of it. If it comes down to Peralta vs. Gobble, RC would prefer the former.

  • The Prospects

    RC was pleased with Juan Cedeno in our first look at him in a Royals uniform, despite a rough outing in his first appearance. He ultimately struck out the side in his inning of work, but not before allowing four hits and three-run HR to Aarom Baldiris. Still, his delivery looked crisp, and his fastball was coming in at 93-94 mph. The Royals plan to have Cedeno start games this season, so we look forward to seeing what he does in Wichita.

  • Leo Nunez pitched twice while we were in Arizona, and he looked very solid both times. We're not sure if we saw the extra weight he reportedly put on over the winter, but we did see Nunez get his fastball up to 96 mph in his second appearance. It doesn't matter how many times we see it -- we still laugh uncontrollably whenever we see a little guy like Marvin throw the ball that hard. Thankfully, the Royals have ticketed Nunez for the minors this season, where we hope he'll get a chance to log some significant innings before coming back up to KC. The kid's got a special arm, and RC can't wait to see the final product after some seasoning in the minors.