You know how I always say that spring training stats don’t mean much and that I don’t think teams should be making decisions based on spring performance? Okay, so that will still be true next week, but if you’re going to glean something from the spring, starting next week is the time when it becomes remotely okay. Players participating in the World Baseball Classic will be back with their teams. Starting pitchers will be going five, six, maybe even seven innings in games. Big league hitters are facing mostly guys who will be in the big leagues and vice versa. It’s still not a good evaluation environment, but it’s at least closer to the regular season.
For me, the first two weeks of spring and the last week and a half are my favorite parts. It’s that middle that gets old fast. Luckily for me, I’ll be coming to you from Surprise next week, so I’ll get to enjoy that all in person.
- I mentioned this on Twitter the other day, but I feel like it’s worth expanding upon. After a leadoff homer in the game on Wednesday, I mentioned that it seems pretty likely now that Raul Mondesi is winning that second base job. Barring a collapse of epic proportions over the final couple weeks of games, he’s outplayed his competition. We can argue what outplaying someone in the Cactus League actually means another day. He showed during his trial last season that he was not especially close to being a big league hitter. We’ve talked about the swings and misses and the lack of plate discipline. Sometimes in smallish samples, the numbers can lie, but his .185/.231/.281 batting line might have actually been better than he looked. All that said, the difficult thing with Mondesi is that while the odds are against him being ready to be a quality big league hitter at this stage of his development, if he did somehow figure things out during the offseason, there’s a chance he’s the Royals best player. That title probably belongs to Lorenzo Cain, but it’s not crazy to think that if Mondesi could somehow hit around .270, he’d carry a .300 or so OBP with a .400 or so SLG based on the power he has from the left side. Combine that with his speed and hopefully better defense at second base than he showed last year, and he could be insanely valuable even without hitting that Part of that is an indictment on the rest of the team, but still, the Royals have to decide whether they believe the Cactus League or believe what they’ve seen before. I’d still start him in AAA, but I understand if they want to see what they can do with him at the big league level to start.
- The WBC injury to Salvador Perez is something I haven’t really touched on since it happened. First of all, it’s obviously phenomenal news that he’s going to be okay because he’s one of two players the Royals simply can’t afford to lose (Cain being the other). To me, I think this underscores a couple things. The first of which is the Royals absolutely need to keep Perez rested. Think about the scare that went through all of our minds and definitely the minds of the Royals front office. Obviously resting him doesn’t preclude an injury from happening while he’s on the field, but I think what happened really highlights his value to this team and organization. This is a yearly broken record, but Perez simply needs to rest more often. It goes even beyond the fact that he gets tired at the end of the year and follows up good first half with lackluster second halves. It’s that he is extremely valuable and you need to take care of your valuable assets. The other thing that it brings to light is how teams approach the WBC. If I was running a team, I would never stop a player from playing for his country, but at the same time, I wouldn’t be happy about it. I don’t love Danny Duffy pitching out of the control of the organization. I don’t love Eric Hosmer doing things at full speed before he might be ready. Sure, injuries can happen anywhere, but I would much rather these guys be under the organization’s watch. I’m not sure there’s anything to do about that, but it’s my two cents.
- Statcast has brought a lot of things to light that are insanely interesting to me and one of those is launch angle for hitters. As we start to see more and more success stories with guys working to increase their launch angle, it got me thinking about the Royals and all the ground balls they seemingly hit. Well, as you know, the Royals added a fair amount of power this offseason between their acquisitions of Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss and the return of Mike Moustakas and a hopefully healthy season from Alex Gordon. I found it interesting that of the players expected to be contributors to the 2017 Royals, the two highest launch angles from 2016 belonged to Moss (21 degrees) and Soler (18.8 degrees). Gordon and Moustakas were both at 15.3 degrees, so the Royals have some guys who will launch the ball now. For what it’s worth, Salvy averaged 16.8 degrees as well. If you were curious about the ground ball machine, Eric Hosmer, you’d have to go way down the list. He averaged seven degrees. No, that isn’t a typo. What’s encouraging is his swing on his home run in the WBC the other night. That was definitely pretty. Maybe he’s making adjustments. If he does, look out. While you’re waiting to find out if he does, go to baseballsavant.mlb.com. It’s a wonderful site and I recommend it to any baseball nerd.
- On the subject of Soler, I don’t even know how many times I’ve been asked if we should be worried about his performance. Look, I get it. He has five hits in 32 at bats and he’s seemed lost at times. I think we’ve seen some encouraging signs of late with some hard hit balls and he seems to be driving it a bit more. It’s also encouraging that he’s worked a few walks in the early going. I think he needs some time to get on track with his new team, so no, I’m not worried yet. Something that I don’t see happening but that you should keep in your back pocket is that he does have an option remaining. I can’t even imagine the backlash and outrage if he were to get sent to AAA, but if he continues to struggle into the season, it may not be the worst thing. Where the Royals are lucky is that they’ve seen Jorge Bonifacio and Hunter Dozier each have really, really good springs. They’re both going to be contributors at some point in some way, so if the Royals need to go that direction they can. All that said, I think Soler is about to get hot and carry that into the season. Just a hunch, I guess.