SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Burch Smith was so amped up that he plunked a teammate in batting practice for the Kansas City Royals.
Manager Ned Yost was more worried about the follow-up pitch from the Rule 5 draft pick, and he liked what he saw.
”A young guy, first time in camp, it tends to be a little nerve-wracking,” Yost said. ”First time you’re throwing BP and you’ve got the manager and coaches standing behind. Your natural tendency is try to be impressive. Here we go, you drill somebody.
”I’ve always been attuned to the next pitch. Does it send you off the edge and give you even more anxiety? Every time he’s come close to somebody, the next pitch has been a strike. And that’s a good sign.”
Kansas City will have to keep Smith, a hard-throwing 27-year-old right-hander, on the roster all season or offer him back to the Tampa Bay Rays.
”Different uniform, a new opportunity,” Smith said.
Smith was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in back-to-back years but did not sign. He signed instead with the San Diego Padres, who took him in 2011 after his junior season at Oklahoma. He was in the majors by 2013, going 1-3 with a 6.44 ERA in 10 games, seven of them starts.
He went to the Rays in 2014 as part of a three-team trade.
Smith pitched only 5 1/3 innings in 2014 and none the next two years. He had Tommy John surgery in 2015 and a setback in 2016.
”Not a fun couple of years,” Smith said. ”In ’14, they called it a UCL strain. In ’15, I got the Tommy John and in 2016 a fractured bone tunnel, one of those holes they drill you for your ligament.”
In his first rehab start in 2016, he said the elbow did not feel good and he came off the mound. X-rays detected the fractured bone tunnel.
”I didn’t have to get bone surgery, just a lot of rest, just healing,” Smith said. ”Dr. (James) Andrews said I’m only the fourth case he’s seen in nearly 5,000 Tommy John surgeries. It’s pretty uncommon. I think it’s just one of those things that happened.”
Smith was healthy in 2017 and made six starts in the Arizona Fall League, where he struck out 29 and allowed only 12 hits in 20 1/3 innings. Royals scouts clocked one of his fastballs at 100 mph, and he was consistently in the upper 90s. When the Rays did not protect him by putting him on the 40-man big league roster, the Royals got him in the Rule 5 draft.
Smith is not concerned about lighting up radar guns in spring training.
”I’m more worried about staying healthy and staying on the field,” Smith said. ”The velocity and all the other stuff will come.”
Smith is a rotation candidate, but could make the team as a power arm out of the bullpen.
”For right now I’m a starter,” Smith said. ”They said come in and be ready to start. That’s how I’ve prepared. I’ve always been a starter. I like to start. We’ll see how that plays out.”
Here at Royals Review, we use images all the heckin’ time in our work. Every single article we write has a featured image, and some articles feature more images interspersed throughout the text. Thankfully, our access of USA Today and Getty Images supplies us with a fountain of relevant pictures, many of which are simply astounding. I have the utmost respect for professional sports photographers, who do great work under pressure.
So imagine our horror when, when the offseason starts, the fountain just stops. Days turn into weeks turn into months as we pull up our image search tool and see the SAME IMAGES again and again.
It wasn’t so bad after 2015, when the Royals won the World Series and we got to see images of the parade every time we wanted to write something, but it was torture after 2014 when we kept seeing shots of the San Francisco Giants parade because the psychopaths at USA Today and Getty kept using the Kansas City Royals tag in those pictures. It’s been pretty bad this year too, because we repeatedly saw Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Mike Moustakas mournfully waving goodbye as they glided away into the expensive sunset of free agency.
Regardless, every year there’s a photo day at spring training where all the players get their pictures taken and suddenly dozens upon dozens of photos pop up in our image feed and it’s like Christmas again.
I was tipped off late Wednesday night by Danny Duffy, who stayed up to watch the U.S. women’s hockey team beat the Canadian team for the Olympic gold medal.
Sure enough, Thursday, February 22 was indeed photo day. I was excited. Now, usually spring training portraits look like this:
That, of course, is Alcides Escobar. This is a perfectly pleasant portrait. Nothing wrong with it. It even shows off the Royals’ 50-year anniversary patch. But it’s not particularly interesting; there are literally thousands of pictures that just popped up in the USA Today and Getty databases just like that.
However, some pictures do exceed expectations. I wrote about the Royals’ best spring training photos in 2016 and 2017. This year is no different. Here are the best pictures from 2018 spring training photo day.
When I started writing this, Merrifield’s glorious subbled mug and saucy stare greeted me on the very first page. I was excited. It is, of course, a beautiful picture. Merrifield is trying to seduce you through the screen, here, and I’m guessing when he told Petersen that he was going to do this pose, Petersen tried to argue before being seduced himself and agreeing to snap the pic.
I did not crop this at all, by the way; this is the whole thing.
The only thing wrong with this is, and I implore you to move on and not read the rest of this sentence if you have OCD and haven’t already noticed, that a stray red thread attached itself to Merrifield’s hat and is painfully conspicuous against the blue background.
The only reason that I know this is Perez is because of the number on his jersey, which is itself partially cut off. I’m not entirely sure why this picture needed to be taken, but whatever. Perez wears a blue belt, if you wanted to know. And he certainly has fingers. He’s probably sponsored by Franklin gloves, too? Eh, whatever.
The hero Gotham needs and wants, or something
I have used spring training portraits for literally years and I have never seen one so bizarrely lit as this. There are multiple pitchers who have pictures like this, but Herrera is the most interesting one.
Is Getty trying to position Herrera as an evil figure now? He’s pretty good, but I don’t think he’s going to be blasting the Dark Knight soundtrack when he comes out for a save. Maybe if he blows a save?
Also, and I literally just noticed this, but the harsh lighting highlighted the thinness of Herrera’s pants and you can clearly see the MLB logo on the tucked in portion of his jersey. I just…why?
Who is Kevin Lenik and why does he have a bat for killing zombies
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Alright, I’ll admit it: I had never heard or seen the name of Kevin Lenik before I looked at the info on this picture. Sometimes dudes just slip through the cracks. Apparently, Lenik is a pitcher, and he escaped my radar because he went undrafted, was just picked up by the Royals out of independent ball last year, and is a 26-year-old.
That’s right. He’s a pitcher. Why is he holding a bat? Why is the bat full of nails? Is there tetanus involved? Who knows.
Nothing funny about this, just a good old fashioned behind-the-scenes picture. Kinda takes a bit of the mystique out of these pictures though when you realize they’re just being taken in some lunchroom somewhere.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Raul Adalberto ‘THAT’S NOT MY NAME’ Mondesi
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Ok, so hear me out: Raúl Mondesí played for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He had a son, who he named Raúl Mondesí Jr., so the elder Mondesí became Mondesí Sr. Then he had another son, who he named Raúl Mondesí as well, but that son’s middle name was Adalberto and I guess even a different middle name means that he can’t go by Mondesí Jr. Anyway, Raúl A. Mondesí went just by Raúl Mondesí, but not Raul Mondesí Jr., until he recently decided to just go by Adalberto Mondesí for this season.
What were we talking about?
This is not a portrait. This is a dude putting on gloves. I did that earlier today and no one took my picture. And if you did, how on earth did you get inside without my cat running to sniff you?
Also, this player is a minor leaguer without a Royals number. I haven’t seen this player play in person so I didn’t know what his face looked like. Good luck if you know. Guess in the comments below, I suppose.
Mike Moustakas had a disappointing season in 2016. He only appeared in 27 games, producing 25 hits and 12 runs. However, the team at SportsLine was all over Moustakas from the start in 2017. The result: He bounced back and finished last season with 151 hits, 75 runs and 38 homers, a Royals franchise record.
Their model had him as a top-eight third baseman, and anyone who listened to that advice probably made a run at their league title.
SportsLine’s model is powered by the same people who powered projections for all three major Fantasy companies. And that same group is sharing its Fantasy Baseball positional rankings for 2018.
In fact, when it came to ranking players in Fantasy Football, SportsLine’s Projection Model beat human experts this season when there were big differences in ranking. And the model was the closest to the hole overall, meaning it best pinpointed where every player would finish each week. That could literally be the difference between winning your league or going home empty-handed.
One sleeper you need to be all over this season is Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, who posted an impressive 1.92 ERA and 0.86 WHIP over his final 16 appearances last season.
However, drafters are sleeping on him again this year. The team at SportsLine projects a bigger season for Verlander (21.9 ADP) than pitchers like Clayton Kershaw (5.3 ADP) and Madison Bumgarner (18.2 ADP), both of whom are going higher in drafts. Don’t sleep on Verlander — he could be your ticket to the playoffs.
Another fantasy baseball sleeper you need to jump on: Red Sox outfielder J.D. Martinez. He homered once every 10.87 plate appearances in 2017 and finished the season with a career-high 45 homers, 131 hits and 104 RBIs.
Among hitters with at least 400 at-bats, Martinez ranked higher than players like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt in head-to-head points per game last season, making Martinez an explosive offensive threat for those who draft him.
Still, Martinez has an ADP of 42.3. SportsLine says he’ll get you the same production as outfielders like Stanton (11.6 ADP), Bryce Harper (12.4 ADP), and George Springer (29.7 ADP).
Don’t get me wrong: everyone loves a good underdog story! This is especially true when the overdog is the ball-deflating New England Patriots. But you forfeit your ability to be an underdog when the discussion around your team goes from “this team probably isn’t going to be very good” to “just how bad is this team.” That’s, like, the Maginot Line of sports evaluation. Once it’s crossed, you better just wave off any chance of a short-term victory.
The Kansas City Royals have Blitzkrieg’d their way across that line and are going to be really, really bad this year. PECOTA, one of the best projection systems around, calculated that the Royals would win 66 games in 2018. Yeah, it’s PECOTA and has consistently underrated the Royals for years, but the Kansas City Star article title about the projection was “For Royals, the annual PECOTA projections are more dire than usual.” That is not a good omen. If you don’t think that projection is viable, just close your eyes and think of what an 80-win team would look like the next year without its three best position players and their most productive starting pitcher.
Just to be devil’s advocate, let’s magically conjure 20 additional wins from the depths of the Kauffman Stadium fountains. That in and of itself probably involves Alex Gordon going back to 2011 production, ripping the tags off a few mattresses, Bubba Starling to play like peak Lorenzo Cain, sneezing with both eyes open, 50 home runs from Hunter Dozier, not one major injury, and quite possibly the second coming of Jesus Christ. That puts the Royals at 86 wins, which has secured an American League Wild Card spot only twice out of 12 chances since the modern two-team format was adopted.
Look, the Royals are gonna be awful and there’s nothing you can do about it.
But being awful represents a great opportunity: you can do whatever you want without any consequences. You might as well try some stuff out that you couldn’t if you were competing. If it fails, nobody cares! It’s a lost season, but without any smoke monsters or ex-Lord of the Rings actors. Losing more just gets you a great draft pick. And if it works, then congratulations! You found a gem tucked inside a giant mound of dirt. You can’t do stuff like that if you’re worrying about your day job. Indiana Jones would have been a very short series if the eponymous archeologist couldn’t go adventuring and had to teach undergrads forever.
In reality, unfortunately, teams do not take full advantage of the beautiful, hellish sandbox that is rebuilding. Teams and front offices are usually at least tangentially committed to a veneer of professional appearances, and so the only bizarre things that happen are usually due to incompetence rather than the gleeful exercise of the “why not” doctrine.
All this is to say that the Royals should totally install Terrance Gore as the starting center fielder because that would be amazing.
Yost also will have his eye on Gore, the speedster who will have to prove he is more than a one-dimensional player at the Major League level.
”Gore has continued to improve each and every year,” Yost said. “He’s so much better offensively and defensively from where he was two years ago.”
INJECT IT INTO MY VEINS.
With respect to Gore, he is actually a two-dimensional player, those dimensions being defense and baserunning. Dude can fly, and when you combine his sharp route running and feel for playing the outfield out get an excellent defender. It’s that third dimension that’s really the problem. Gore hits like Jeff Goldblum portrays characters as something other than a slightly different version of Jeff Goldblum, which is to say that he doesn’t.
In 14 MLB plate appearances, Gore has one walk and no hits. In the minors, Gore’s pedestrian .244 career average is compounded by his 44 extra base hits. Yes; that’s 44 total, which works out to a little over six extra base hits per season of his career. His only hope is maintaining his robust 10% minor league walk rate in the big leagues and swiping 50 bags at a high success rate.
Basically, Gore’s ceiling is probably 2015 Billy Hamilton. That season, Hamilton put up a triple slash of .226/.274/.289, good for a 53 wRC+. But his defense was elite and he stole 57 bases at an 88% clip. All in all, that was good for 2 Wins Above Replacement per Fangraphs. Despite hitting 47% worse than league average, Hamilton somehow managed an average season.
Is that going to set the world on fire? No. But to create a league average player from nothing, a player that is affordable and did not require prospects to acquire, is super valuable.
Is that likely to happen? Is it a good idea to invade Russia in the winter? WILL THE ROYALS EVER NOT EMPLOY ALCIDES ESCOBAR?*
*The answer to all of those questions is, clearly, no. Escobar will be a Royal for the next two decades at least. #deathtaxesescobar
Gore is one of the easiest guys to root for on the team, and I’m not sure it’s possible for it to be more fun to watch him play. And there is no downside to him playing a lot this year. He might be bad? Please. The team’s gonna be bad. Embrace the weirdness. And if Gore is really unplayably bad, to the point where his plate appearances would be better served giving someone else a chance? So be it.
Whit Merrifield has gone from an afterthought to the American League stolen base champion. He has gone from more than 2,500 at-bats in the minors to the Kansas City starting second baseman.
He began last year with Triple-A Omaha, his eighth straight season to open in the minors. He finished it hitting .288 with 19 home runs, 32 doubles, 78 RBIs and a league-leading 34 stolen bases.
”The most impressive thing to me about Whit Merrifield is his work ethic and how he has gone from just being an organizational player to a very, very solid major league player,” Royals manager Ned Yost said Wednesday. ”I don’t think anybody three years ago would have projected Whit to be the player he is today.
”Everybody thought he’d be a nice utility player in Double-A, a nice utility player in Triple-A. I’m not sure anybody could project him to be anything more just maybe a utility player at the big league level. Maybe. And he’s worked so hard and developed himself into much, much more than that.”
The 29-year-old Merrifield was a 2010 ninth-round pick after helping lead South Carolina to the College World Series title. He was never considered a prospect.
”My path to where I am, I think it gives some guys a little bit of hope that don’t have the prospect’s headlines or people really haven’t taken notice to what they can do,” Merrifield said. ”You get your shot, take advantage of it; you can play at this level.”
”It’s pretty cool,” Merrifield said. ”I didn’t really know that it was close. I wanted to get to 30 and someone told me, how does it feel to be tied for the lead in the American League? I had no idea. So I tried to revamp it a little bit and be a little more aggressive on the basepaths. I ran a little more than I should have. I ran in situations I probably shouldn’t have. I wanted to win that title and it worked out.”
He became the fifth Royals player and the first since Johnny Damon in 2000 to lead the AL in stolen bases. The others were Amos Otis (1971), Fred Patek (1977) and Willie Wilson (1979).
While Alcides Escobar is back at shortstop, Merrifield will have to adjust to new corner infielders. He said chemistry needs to develop between the first baseman and second baseman, as they learn each other’s range.
”I’ve played with the guys that are competing at first, so I have a little chemistry with them,” Merrifield said. ”Other than that, it’s just about catching a ground ball and throwing it to first. So I think I’ll be fine.”
Maybe not that simple. Eric Hosmer is a four-time first base Gold Glove winner, but he left to sign with the San Diego Padres. Throws to first base will have to be more precise this season as Hosmer has saved his infielders a plethora of throwing errors over the years with his ability to scoop the low throws and use his 6-foot-4 height to reach the high tosses.
”Hos is one of the best first basemen in all of baseball,” Merrifield said. ”There’s a lot of room to miss with him. It’s a luxury not everybody has. I think we kind of got a little spoiled with it. Whoever is going to play first base for us, we have some good first basemen with some good talent, but there is only one Eric Hosmer over there playing first, so we might not have as much room to miss as before.”
Orlando has entered spring training in a competition with Billy Burns for the Royals‘ starting job in center field, the Kansas City Star reports.
The 32-year-old nearly racked up 500 plate appearances for the Royals in 2016, but he struggled last season while hitting .198/.225/.302 over 39 games. As a right-handed hitter, Orlando could fall into the small side of a platoon if the Royals deem the switch-hitting Burns to be the better option against right-handed pitching, and if the team decides not to add a more proven player to take over the job via free agency. Over parts of three seasons with Kansas City, Orlando is a career .274/.300/.406 hitter over 823 plate appearances.