Both the Royals and I say goodbye tomorrow to the Valley of the Sun, or just the Valley to locals. The Royals have a morning workout at Surprise tomorrow and then head off to San Diego for Tuesday’s game at Petco Park. I also head off early in the morning to Missouri for a visit before flying to Anaheim Wednesday night in preparation for next weekend’s opening series with the Angels.
Will give a summary of my week in the Valley in the next day or two. In the mean time here are a few of today’s sights and sounds from Surprise and Peoria Park (spring training home of the Mariners and Padres).
As usual, got over to the practice fields at 10 am in time for the gates to open. Royals were having batting practice on one field and also as usual; kids, their parents and unattached adults were lined up beyond the fence chasing home run balls or pleading with batting practice fielders to lob one over to them.
It is a daily ritual and actually fun to watch the mad scramble each time one of the fence peekers yells, “Here comes one!” The tarp covering the chain link fence has small holes cut in it so people can see into the field and provide forewarning.
I saw one boy had won the battle for 6 balls already that morning. He had 3 in his hands and his dad had 3 in his pocket. They both had Royals shirts and hats on so gave the boy my Royals backpack I received earlier in the week. I don’t really have room in my small suitcase to take it back and thought he would get more enjoyment from it than me this season. He immediately put all his balls in it and wrapped it around his back. The joy of being a kid again.
Walked down and watched the final few minutes of batting practice, then over to the other fields as the extended spring training minor leaguers were also getting their BP in. One thing of interest I noticed during the last few days, I have only seen 3 left handed batters in the minor league camp all week. There may be more but that is all I could find.
The Royals have an abundance of left handed hurlers (close to 50%) but hitters from the left side are few and far between. I talked to one of the coaches yesterday and he said it has definitely changed the last few years. Anyone left handed either wants to or gets encouraged by coaches to become a pitcher due to the shortage of left handers in the game. That means, at least for the Royals, that left handed batters are rarer than swimmers at a shark infested beach (my attempt at Aussie humor).
The other reason I am told is that the percentage of Latin American players is steadily increasing and Latin Americans tend to be right handed or are pushed that way by their coaches.
Will be interesting to see if this trend continues into the majors in the next few years. The Royals have several left handed hitters on the squad right now but based on what I saw in the minors, that will change drastically in 5 to 10 years. The question then becomes, will teams stop stocking left handed pitching as all hitters will be right handed? Watch this space in the next decade to see if that subtle change occurs.
Once again, there were two scrimmage games this morning. But with the regular AAA, AA and A ball players gone, the four teams were made up of a hodge podge from the leftovers and a few pitchers doing tune ups before heading north. The higher game today actually pitted Mazarro against Odorizzi. Think Mazarro is headed to Omaha and Odorizzi to NW Arkansas. Odorizzi literally gave up a wind aided home run on his first pitch but after that it settled down and was 1-1 when I left.
Bubba and Cam Gallagher (Royals #2 pick in 2011) were on the same team for the first time since I have been here. Bubba got a two out two strike RBI single while I watched. One thing I will say, the kid is a natural born hitter, at least at this level.
After spending time watching the two practice games, I headed to Peoria Park for the main event between the Royals and Mariners. As usual got there as the gates opened. Walked around talking to a few ushers then headed back to the food stands for a drink. While there, I noticed the pitching booth empty with minders calling for volunteers at $1 for 3 balls. Have not thrown a baseball at full speed in years but there was no line so why not.
Let me preface this next bit by saying I once had a good arm capable of cutting down runners at the plate from the outfield with some regularity. I also dabbled in pitching off and on through my years. But too many 5 and 6 game softball Sundays eventually did that arm in. The first pitch hit 55 mph, #2 was up to 59 and on #3 I actually broke 61.
I felt pretty proud of myself, especially when the minder told me that was the fastest pitch (for my age) all week. Of course then another guy near my age came up and clocked 69 on his final pitch ending my brief dream of stardom. Still I felt pretty good breaking 60 considering it has been 30 years since I last threw a baseball in competition (softball became my game after college).
Commercial over, now back to the game.
Chen looked outstanding. Four innings and not a single hitter got the better of him. And that is saying something with the wind blowing out and Chen not being an overpowering pitcher. Of the 3 hits, one came when Gordon totally lost a ball in the sun. When I say totally, I mean to the point he ducked and covered as if a mortar shell was inbound.
Another important point I learned after a week of spring training in Phoenix. The sky in the day time has not a cloud to be seen and the color is so perfectly uniform and blue that even if not staring into the sun, it is nigh on impossible to pick up the ball as it leaves the variant color of the stands. The sun is also so bright and huge that once the ball gets anywhere close to it, forget seeing it until you hear it plop down on the grass beside you, which by the way is far better than falling on you.
I have seen no less than 8 balls lost in the sun in the last 8 days and the only reason I did not see more is two games were played in the safety of night.
Back to baseball. One other hit off Chen got negated by Brayan Pena firing a strike to Escobar to take out Kawasaki. I have to say that Pena is looking better and better behind the plate the more he plays there. And he is starting to hit too with hits in both yesterday and today’s games.
If Chen is anywhere close to his performance today when he pitches next Friday nght then it will be a masterful duel between he and Weaver. Put Hochevar, Sanchez and Mendoza on the mound the next 3 days and I really think the Royals have a solid chance of taking 3 of the first 4. Mendoza has been solid all spring and Sanchez also looked impressive in his AAA tune up last Thursday.
Moose is another one starting to come around. His home run today would have been out even without the favorable winds as it landed high on the grass slope. He also fought off a pitch for a very good double down the right field line that knocked in another run. So big day for Moose and for Alcides Escobar as well in smacking almost mirror doubles to left and a solid line drive single to right.
Kelvin Herrara impressed compared to his last two appearances and returned my faith that he can get the job done. As I have said before, I believe he will be the closer by the time the Royals reach the all-star break. Aaron Crow also had a solid inning, showing his mettle in pitching out of a bases loaded jam.
On the other side, Tim Collins just plain had a bad day. The most disturbing thing I saw with him was that he let Moose’s error get to him and then got even more testy when Pena came out to settle him down. What followed can definitely be classified as overthrowing the ball costing Tim 2 HR, a walk and 6 runs counting the two that Blaine Hardy allowed to score.
To me this is where Dave Eiland has to get involved. I could see from where I sat that Tim was frustrated and showed it when Brayan came out to settle him down. Eiland needs to be out there as well because I think Tim will listen to Dave far better than Brayan.
It is obvious that Tim is still excitable and gets easily frustrated with himself. And when he does he tries to throw the ball past the batter instead of out thinking him. That is a high school mistake not a professional mistake. I just hope this was one of Yost’s tests in spring training and that he has a much quicker and firmer hand come next weekend.
The other person who did not have a good day was Chris Getz. His first swing was the standard long fly ball to center. And he struck out the next two times trying to pull pitches up into the favorable right field winds. The sooner Chris gives up being a power hitter and learns to drive the ball on the ground where he can use his speed, the sooner he will be an asset to the Royals offense instead of a liability.
In the end, the Royals took it on the Chen, sorry chin, in their final tune up in Arizona. But as stated many times, these games count for nothing and should not be viewed in anyway as a precursor to the season ahead. The Royals have the potential to score a lot of runs this year. The question as always will be whether their pitching can match preventing more runs than the offense scores.
That is all for me from the Valley. I promise to provide a summary of the week in the next couple of days. Until then, take care and may all your dreams be Royal dreams.