Peter Gammons: Spotlight on the 2017 Royals

SURPRISE, ARIZONA—This is one of those springs where the Royals needed to get out and play. Raul Mondesi, who annually roomed with Yordano Ventura, needs to play and concentrate on showing Ned Yost he is ready to play second base in the big leagues.

“We all need to play,” says Salvador Perez. “Focus on baseball.” The service in the Dominican Republic is behind him, the ceremony honoring Ventura before Saturday’s opener—where Rangers Adrian Beltre and Carlos Gomez came out and laid flowers on the mound—is behind them. All the torment of Yordano’s difficult life from the canyon his widow dug between him and his family, to the fact that so much was so poorly managed that he died without a will, drifts over everyone, but this is a minefield of a season.

Eric Hosmer remains one of the strongest clubhouse leaders in the sport and one of its best players, but he is a free agent. So were Wade Davis and Jarrod Dyson, part of the reason they each were traded, but as much as Hosmer and Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas want to continue playing together, there are several critical players who can walk out of a great small market city and move on to a large market team at the end of the season, one year after the Royals slid from two pennants and a World Championship to an 81-81 finish in 2016.

The big numbers leave Dayton Moore and the Glass Family with questions about whether or not they can afford to try to make a run at Cleveland and Detroit. Their run differential was -37. They were 13th in runs, 13th in on base percentage, 14th in OPS and last in walks. And now Ventura is gone.

Which begs the question: if they are 8-10 games back at the All Star Break, do they see what team would trade big for Hosmer as a man to lead them into November? Would they deal

Ian Kennedy or Kelvin Herrera?

Right now, they don’t even discuss it. “We think we can pull together and make another run,” says Hosmer. “This is a team that is very close, that prides itself on doing things to win games and we believe we can do it.”

It is an unusual team, the team that defies Pecota, and many layers of analytics. If one watches their work habits, they are precise, energetic. “They do their work purposefully,” says Ned Yost; I have seen things that were not purposeful, such as the time in Winter Haven, FL. A writer named Clif Keane timed Mike Torrez standing still without moving in the outfield for 42 minutes, a measure of how little purpose there was in spring training in the days we’re told were golden.

Moore went out and made two moves that may change the offense beyond it’s contact/sprint the bases style. He traded David to the Cubs for Jorge Soler; the raves for his power and strength of his hands echo across the West Side of the valley, but his attention to contact and driving the ball to center/right have made for impressive batting practices.

The other is former Diamondback Peter O’Brien. In 79 plate appearances, O’Brien hit five home runs, had a 32-5 strikeout walk ratio (in 79 plate appearances, mind you) and a .176/.228/.446/.671 slash. But as hitting coach Dale Sveum pointed out, he had a BP in which he hit eight consecutive homers at what Sveum claimed cleared 450 feet, and in trying to use the field has shown right field opposite field power like David Freese. If they can get a Brandon Moss/O’Brien DH tandem, it may make the middle of the order more dangerous.

Without Ventura, they start with a rotation with Danny Duffy—who signed an extension—with Kennedy, Jason Hammel, Nate Karns (whose 195 strikeouts and 173 hits in 184 inning belay his 5.15 ERA in Seattle), Chris Young and Jason Vargas.

Then, without Davis, they had been worried about the bullpen, but Yost says “we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the number of power arms we have. (Joakim) Soria is throwing the ball much better. Herrera is throwing very well. Matt Strahm has great stuff. Guys like Mike Minor, healthy again, and Jonathan Sanchez and Brandon League and kids like Eric Skoglund are very interesting.”

That’s all to be seen. This is difficult. Hosmer is one of those persons who always has his teammates’ backs, which, in years past, includes being willing to grab Ventura and air him out in the dugout when it was necessary. This is who he is. Go ask Boston infielder Deven Marrero about what Hosmer did for him in hard times when they were high school teammates.

The same goes for Perez. OK, his framing numbers are not great, but at a position with relationships that create conviction in every pitchers’ every pitch, they go right up San Juan Hill after him. Young is a ballast.

Sunday, Hosmer was told about the ordeal of rookie pitcher Luke Farrell, who happens to be the son of Red Sox manager John Farrell. Moore and Yost were enthused about Farrell’s outing, and Yost said “Luke was really impressive and is going to be a factor. That slider is really good.”

That was the part Hosmer knew. He was interested in Luke’s background. He was told that before he was to enroll at Northwestern, Farell was diagnosed with a golfball-sized tumor in the back of his neck. Dr. Larry Ronan at Massachusetts General Hospital tried for nine hours to remove the tumor, but it was too close to the carotid artery and had to stop.

Days later they tried again, but thought Luke might have to have his jaw shattered to get it. Dr. Ronan, a revered figure in the medical community finally succeeded. Luke remembers being told “it couldn’t come back in a hundred years.”

Two years later Farrell was pitching in the Cape Cod League playoffs, went in for a routine checkup, and learned it had, indeed come back, requiring another serious surgery and ensuing chemotherapy that weakened him. But he never gave up, pitched better and better at Northwestern as his velocity crept up, and was drafted by Kansas City in the sixth round in 2014.

Last year, as he went 6-3, 3.76 for Omaha, his velocity was 91-92 and touched 94 with sink. The slider Yost and Moore liked improved, as did his strikeout rate to 8.30 per nine innings. He studied Kyle Hendricks, went to winter ball with Licey in the Dominican, and worked on one of Hendricks’ changeups that comes out of his hand like a fastball to righthanders and cuts down and away, several MPH slower than the slider.

Luke Farrell is a remarkable profile in courage, fortitude that will play out in the ups, downs and uncertainties that is the baseball life.

“I am really glad to know about him,” Hosmer said. “That’s something we take pride in here—knowing people, understanding who and what they are. That’s very important. Luke is obviously someone we’re going to trust when he’s pitching, or as a teammate. That’s what I believe in. That’s who we are. Never underestimate the value of the trust of your teammates.

“When a young player comes up to Kansas City, they’re usually shy and quiet. It’s up to use to get to know every young player. I think I already know Luke Farrell and that he’s a Royal.”

Eric Hosmer doesn’t know where he’ll be next year, much less this August. But what he believes is part of what brought two pennants and a World Series title to Kansas City matters as much now as it did in 2015, and will until he’s told he has to go.

Comments

  1. I think it could be a big tradeoff year come midseason for this squad. Especially if they are dow at or below .500 again… look to see alot of big names parting way for prospects. If they can’t afford to resign them and they are not going to make the playoffs, the smart move is to get what you can while you can.

    • but the real problem comes if they are within reach… they could wind up setting their franchise back for 3-4 years comparatively if they put together a losing season