All hail the Kings of the Cactus League
Let's break down a spring training ball game. What else do you have to do?
The Kings of the Cactus League are at it again. With Tuesday’s 12-6 thrashing of the Cleveland Guardians, the Royals are now 4-1 and back in their familiar spring spot, perched atop the standings.
I know, I know…these games are meaningless exercises. But what’s spring training if we can’t overreact to a handful of exhibition baseball games?
Tuesday’s tilt was available to watch through the Cleveland broadcast, so it was a second opportunity of the spring to watch the team in action. I watched and took a few notes.
A bit of a mixed bag from Jordan Lyles in his first outing of the spring. He spun a cement mixer of a slider against Josh Bell in the first inning that was destroyed. Lyles then recovered with some nice sequencing against October hero Oscar Gonzalez to close out the frame. He opened the at-bat with a curve down and out of the zone that Gonzalez chased. Lyles followed that with some high cheese that Gonzalez was late on and could only foul off. Then came a couple of pitches designed to get the hitter to chase, but were taken for balls. With the count even at 2-2, Lyles went inside with the fastball that tied up Gonzalez for a swinging strike three.
The second inning was a bit tidier for Lyles as he located better and retired Guardians in order. Hey, he’s a veteran and got his work in, which is what you want from a first outing of the spring. The highlight of that frame was a nifty piece of defense by Bobby Witt Jr., ranging from short to shallow left to track down a flair off the bat of Joe Lampe. Witt also made a nice backhanded grab to close out the inning.
Speaking of Witt, he put together a fine at-bat in the top of the third. He jumped ahead in the count 3-0, took a fastball down the chute for the first strike and then, sitting dead red, got the same pitch in the same location. Because Witt is a professional hitter with malice in his heart, he smoked a liner down third that José Ramírez couldn’t handle. Single and an RBI for Witt.
File under water is wet: I love watching Vinnie Pasquantino hit baseballs. Even when he’s grounding into double plays.
Have I mentioned that Makiel Garcia is my favorite prospect? It’s because of things like this:
That’s just a fantastic piece of hitting. A fastball on the inner half of the plate and he keeps his hands inside the pitch and drops the barrel to muscle it out of the yard. It’s worth another look.
At bats—and swings like that—can only help his cause. Although I should temper expectations. While I don’t expect him to break with the club, it can help propel him to a strong start in his minor league campaign.
We got our first look at Aroldis Chapman in Cactus League action, chipped front tooth and all. He struck out two in his inning of work. A few things to note: First, his velocity seemed extremely strong for a first outing of the spring. Second, he apparently has simplified his delivery a bit. Honestly, it looked pretty much the same delivery as he was using last year, but Quatraro noted the change in his postgame comments, saying it was different from the start of camp. So maybe he was complicating things a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps he wasn’t lifting his leg as high as usual. Dunno. Third, he was throwing with a decent tempo, seemingly not bothered by the pitch clock. Without the pitch clock, Chapman works about as fast as his new teammate Josh Staumont, so it was good to see that he didn’t seem to have any issues. Well, he did have a moment where he was called for a violation, but it did seem like he lifted his leg with a second left on the clock. And the Cleveland broadcast speculated he could’ve been called for a balk because he was running out of time and didn’t get set before he started his windup. There’s a lot going on in baseball these days.
Scott Barlow and Dylan Coleman pitched behind Chapman, giving a look at what the Royals hope to be a better-than-solid back end of the bullpen. Barlow did Barlow things. While Coleman loaded the bases, he struck out three and was impressive in doing so. The slider was filthy, as usual.
In the five games, Royals pitchers have walked 12 and struck out 36. I love it when the math is easy and in this case, it means they’re working at 3:1 SO:BB ratio. Last year, the staff finished with a 2:1 SO:BB ratio. Yeah, it’s spring, but I’ll take any sliver of improvement I can find when it comes to pitching.
Also…It feels strange to write this for the fifth game of the spring, but it felt like Royals hitters went up to the plate with a plan of action. I mentioned Witt jumping ahead and sitting fastball earlier, but should also mention Kyle Isbel who had three nice plate appearances with a pair of walks and a single. He needs to have that strong kind of spring at the dish so he can carry that over to the regular season.
Yes, it's just spring training, but it's still more fun to win.
Craig, I agree with you regarding Maikel Garcia. Got to see him in person at NW Arkansas last summer, and they had a little talent on that team. Something about him and his play stood out, though. Kind of like a man among boys. Personally, I think Witt at 3rd and Garcia at SS might be the Royals' best infield left side.