I’ve said a few times that spring training doesn’t mean much until it maybe means a little bit more than nothing. As we embark on the final couple weeks of games, this is when it starts to mean a little bit more. It’s still not that vital, but the games begin to resemble real baseball games a little bit more, which means we can glean a little something from what happens day in and day out. Luckily, I have the opportunity to be in Arizona for the next few days where I’ll catch the next four Royals games. And luckily for you (or unluckily if you stumbled on this page hoping to find anybody but me writing about the Royals), I’ll share some thoughts from each game over the next few days.
Vargas Shows Some Good, Some Bad
While Nate Karns is the relative unknown in the Royals rotation, I’m most worried about what Jason Vargas will do during the 2017 season. You all know he missed a huge chunk of 2015 and most of 2016 and had Tommy John. He’s a veteran who never relied on elite stuff anyway, so it’s hard to say how he’ll come back. If he’s the Vargas of 2014, the Royals rotation has a chance to actually be pretty good. We just don’t know, though.
What he showed in Scottsdale against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday was kind of what I expect from him throughout the season. He was uneven. By my count, he didn’t locate a fastball where he wanted it until the third inning, but he made it through the first four innings with just one run allowed on a home run to Chris Herrmann. What stood out to me was how good his changeup was, and that’s something that he’ll need to carry with him during the season. It wasn’t always a swing and miss pitch, but it helped him to retire batters on weak contact and eventually set up his fastball to look better than it did in the early going.
He exited in the middle of the fifth after throwing 74 pitches. What concerned me is that by that time, he looked like he was tiring. I guess that’s not a huge deal because there’s still a couple more starts left for him in spring training, but I’d like it for him to not look like he’s on the verge of a blowup with only 74 pitches. The fastball was still sitting around 85-88 mph, but he was definitely starting to wear down. Ultimately, I was satisfied with what I saw, but there are some things that could be problems during the regular season.
O’Brien Went Bye-Bye Again and Merrifield Played First
I’ll start with Peter O’Brien because his home runs are oh, so impressive. The pitch he drove out in the second inning was absolutely mauled. It was his seventh homer of the spring. He’s looked really impressive at the plate. Of course, power was never the concern. He strikes out an awful lot and yes, he struck out in this game. He also hasn’t shown enough patience to offset the strikeouts, so there’s a track record to account for and he just doesn’t have it. Still, he’s had the type of spring so far that if he was fighting for a job, he’d have won it. The problem is there just isn’t a place on the roster for him. Plus, he has options.
What he’s done is he’s put himself on the radar for a potential callup if the Royals suffer any kind of injury where he can slide into the DH role. He basically has to be a DH because he just isn’t good enough defensively to be relied upon regularly. Basically, an injury to Brandon Moss, Eric Hosmer, Jorge Soler or Alex Gordon could open up that spot for him because if Moss is hurt, he’s the DH and if the others are hurt, Moss could slide into their positions.
Whit Merrifield was an interesting point in my head because he played first base yesterday. It’s not the first time he did and it won’t be the last, but it caught my attention because I feel like he’s been moved around the diamond a lot more lately. While Christian Colon has played some shortstop in recent days, it sure seems like Merrifield is being worked on as more of a super-utility player than he was earlier in camp. It could very well be in my head, but I think the competition for starting second baseman might be down to Christian Colon and Raul Mondesi at the moment. Of course, Two-Hit Whit reappeared yesterday, so maybe he’ll make a late charge anyway.
Soler Gets Off the Schneid
Jorge Soler came into Tuesday’s game 5 for 41. That’s not good. I’m sure a lot of it is trying too hard to make a good impression on a new team and a new fan base. As our very own Clint Scoles has mentioned a couple times on Twitter, a bad spring is nothing new for Soler. He hit just .145/.200/.327 last year in Cactus League play. Still, he needed something good to happen and something good did happen when he hit a home run to left field in his second at bat of the game. It wasn’t a terribly impressive home run like O’Brien’s was, but it was a home run and it had to alleviate some of the tension.
After the game, Ned Yost mentioned that Soler was in minor league camp for a couple days just to get some extra at bats. He certainly got them with 16 over a couple days, so the hope is that he’s gotten going and he can leave the ugly start behind him. I’ve mentioned a few times how important Soler is to this offense. He’s one of a very few Royals who I think could become a superstar. Even if he falls short of that, he needs to have a big year for the Royals to score runs, so hopefully this was the start of something big.