Feb 24, 2018; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals outfielder Jorge Bonifacio (38) heads home on a sacrifice fly by first baseman Hunter Dozier (17) during the second inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

2018 Spring Training Diaries: Bonifacio’s Key Role

While I’m in Arizona for a few days, I plan to just give some notes from around the team from what I’m seeing while I’m soaking in the rays, which really means that I’m just fighting off sunburns. There is only so much you can glean from two or three games, especially when those games are spring training and even more especially when it’s early, but it’s still fun to see the team in action and try to start to form some opinions about the 2018 Royals. This spring is an especially interesting one after years of seeing a basically set roster head to Arizona. Now, there’s competition everywhere. It might make for a worse 2018 season, but it’s more fun in Arizona.

Dayton Moore has said multiple times that he doesn’t foresee the current rebuild for the organization taking a terribly long time, even mentioning three years as one of the time frames. I personally think that’s ridiculous given what he’s starting with at the big league level and the number of years before the minor league talent will be in the big leagues, but it’s not impossible. I mentioned this ever so briefly in Friday Notes last week, but the way that the rebuild progresses as quickly as Moore has mentioned it would be is if some of the current players who appear to be more role players than stayers become stars.

One such player that I want to highlight and have been thinking about for a little while is Jorge Bonifacio. I wrote about this before, and I still believe the Royals did a big-time disservice to him last season in his development, especially considering the overtures from the organization about him, even comparing him to Moises Alou, you know, without the pee hands. Even so, Bonifacio is a player who I think could have a really big season in 2018. I know that people make fun of stories of players in the best shape of their lives, but he looks really good, and that’s a nice thing to see from a young player. Dedication to getting into better shape doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it’s certainly a good sign for the work ethic.

I firmly believe in not putting much stock at all in spring training stats, but it’s certainly better for the stats to be good than bad, and Bonifacio is now hitting .438 with a slugging percentage of .875 with four doubles and a homer. Yesterday, he hit a ball an awfully long way that nearly got out but ended up as a double and then hit another ball about as hard as you can down the left field line. A strange bounce got him thrown out at second, but he looks absolutely locked in already. It’s an arbitrary endpoint, but from May 16 to July 30 (before Melky Cabrera took Bonifacio’s job), he hit .264/.333/.469 with 24 extra base hits in 264 plate appearances. That’s a really strong chunk of games to build on, and if he continues to look as good as he did yesterday and in some of the highlights and televised action I’ve seen, he could be in for a really big season. If he’s joined by a couple others from the group of Adalberto Mondesi, Cheslor Cuthbert, Jorge Soler and maybe even Hunter Dozier eventually, maybe the rebuild won’t take as long as I believe it will.

Some other notes:

  • Glenn Sparkman threw an inning in relief yesterday and looked fantastic to me. His fastball was sitting around 94, which Clint Scoles told me in the BP KC break room was where he was in instructs this past fall. What got me excited was his changeup that he threw twice to strike out the final hitter he faced. It’s just an inning, it was only his second outing and it was late in the game against some very minor minor league talent in the Reds system, but the stuff and the movement on that changeup absolutely plays. The Blue Jays felt he was potentially a big league talent when they made him a Rule 5 selection last year, and even though he struggled mightily, allowing seven runs on nine hits in just an inning, that means something. In his minor league career, he’s been proficient at getting the strikeout while limiting walks as a starter. In a relief role, if his fastball can play up, he can definitely be a contributor in 2018 and beyond. I’m intrigued to watch him the rest of the spring. And I apologize in advance to Sparkman for totally jinxing him and forcing him to give up 19 runs in his next outing.
  • I don’t have much to say about Michael Saunders, but he looked incredibly stiff at the plate, almost like he was standing in against live pitching for the first time in forever, but that really isn’t the case. He didn’t appear to be moving especially well either. Now, he did rip a double down the right field line in his final at bat of the game, but if he continues to look how he did yesterday, I’m skeptical he can stick. The numbers so far are pretty good, but he didn’t look the part at all yesterday.
  • A rumor emerged that the Royals were interested in free agent Neil Walker, but instead of offering him what he is likely worth, they offered him a minor league deal. I’m a noted Nick Cafardo doubter, and he was the source of the rumor, so take it for what it’s worth on all accounts, but I have a hard time believing that. I guess that’s not entirely true. I think maybe they did tell his camp that they could only offer him a minor league deal, but for one of two reasons. It could be they were approached and thought they could get a really good player on a very cheap deal. If that’s the case, I don’t hate the effort there. Why not give it a shot? The other thought is that they want Walker, but don’t want to worry about making a decision on the 40-man roster right now, so they told him he’s a lock for a spot but they need him on a minor league deal right now. Either way, I truly believe the report was likely a bit disingenuous in describing their negotiation so simplistically. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t see a team that gave Lucas Duda a big league deal not offering the same to Walker.
  • And finally, I promised some food talk, so here we go. First of all, if you’re ever in the Phoenix area for anything, go to The Mission either in Old Town Scottsdale or in Kierland Commons. The food is just so good that I go every single time I’m here, and I’m someone who likes to try new things. My recommendation is to go on the weekend for brunch and get the chilaquiles. They are life-changing. The other recommendation is The Sicilian Butcher in North Scottsdale. It’s a meatball and charcuterie-type place. I got the steak meatballs over fettuccine and wow. It’s a lot of food, but man was it good. I’ll be trying Diego Pops soon and some other places, so I’ll report back once I have something to report.
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