March 2009

Vote for Rowdy

Rowdy Hardy is at it again.  The left-handed control specialist who spent 2008 in the Naturals rotation is of course, hard at work in Surprise, AZ getting ready for the 2009 season.  Hardy, thought by many to be part of the Naturals bullpen this year, is in need of your vote on minorleaguebaseball.com.

Rowdy is involved in the bracket-style Moniker Madness tournament to determine the best name in all of minor league baseball.  This is the 3rd year Hardy has been in the tourney, getting as far as the final four last year.  Currently, he’s in the round of 16 going up against Smelin Perez for the right to advance.

So head to the Moniker Madness bracket and vote for Natural Rowdy Hardy.

RHP Julio Pimentel who was with NW Arkansas last season has opted against surgery after suffering an elbow injury during a March 13th Spring Training game.  Pimentel, who was expected to return to NWA to start ’09, will rest and hope that the ligament damage and bone fracture will heal on its own. 

The earliest possible return date for Pimentel would be early May.

News and Notes from the Weekend

As we inch closer and closer to the season, things start to take shape for the Royals minor leaguers down in Surprise, AZ.  The Royals made more roster moves, reducing the number of players in Major League camp to 44.

Among those optioned to AAA Omaha were former Naturals RHP Devon Lowery and 2008 Texas League POY 1B Kila Ka’aihue.  This ends their chances at being on KC’s Opening Day roster and all but assures that they will break camp headed for Omaha.

Minor League Spring Training games are also taking place daily for the Royals prospects.  As with major league Spring Training games, these are to get players some game work and to get pitchers arms into shape for the season.

A point to keep in mind as well is that there are 4 minor league games going on each day so just because a player does or does not play in the Double-A on any particular day is not that big of a deal.  Players are often shuttled around to different fields and games during Spring Training so that different staff members can get a look at them.  Final determinations on a players’ destination to start the season does not have to be made until early April.

Also over the weekend, the Royals presented the Championship rings to the 2008 Midwest League Champion Burlington (IA) Bees.  The Bees were a young group that cruised through the playoffs going undefeated when it counted.  The Royals hope to keep the nucleus of this team together as they rise through the minor leagues.

Many of the key members of this team such as 3B Mike Moustakas, OF Adrian Ortiz, LHP Danny Duffy, RHP Alex Calderra and RHP Matt Mitchell may be targeted to arrive in Northwest Arkansas in the 2010 season.

Why Things Happen the Way They Do

This link might make your head spin, but it does a great job at explaining what factors go into determining why some players can stay with an organization by being sent to the minor leagues, and others can’t.

It comes from our good friends at the Kansas City Star.  It is often the things like options and guaranteed contracts that can keep a player in the minors or back in NW Arkansas for an extra amount of time.

Discuss amongst yourselves, and let me know if you have questions.

The 1st Major Injury

Many times, a lot of the shaking out for roster spots is dependent on who get injured and how severe the injuries are.  Well, the Naturals roster may have been altered by an injury announced over the weekend.

Julio Pimentel felt pain in his elbow and now an MRI has revealed ligament damage.  Pimentel is getting a second opinion to see if surgery is necessary but this is probably not a good sign for his chances of being in the Naturals starting rotation to begin the season.

He was one of 4 pitchers expected to return to the rotation this season along with Blake Wood, Blake Johnson and Dan Cortes.

Also listed as being hurt is reliever Henry Barrera, a highly thought of pitcher who was expected to begin the season with NWA.  Barrera has felt some pain in his elbow, and has not pitched in a game since March 1.

Canada’s Loss is Kansas City’s Gain

No, this post is not about Kansas City finally gained their much wanted hockey team to be the tenant for the downtown arena.

This is actually about the Royals being able to continue their 2nd base experiment.

With Canada’s (somewhat shocking) early exit from the WBC last night, Mark Teahen will return to Surprise, AZ to continue his quest to be KC’s starting 2nd baseman.

Early returns on Teahen were mixed, with folks saying he looked smooth and fluid in workouts, but then he made 2 errors in his first game.  Willie Bloomquist has played well defensively in Teahen’s absence, and Alberto Callaspo remains solid at the plate.

The next couple weeks will be key for the Teahen experiment as his ability to take gain hold of that position will determine many of the backup roles on the club as well.

Eventually, the shakedown of backups and the bullpen for the big league club will eventually create a trickle down effect that will at least in part influence the Naturals opening roster.

the WBC

The World Baseball Classic…on the surface it’s a great concept but I have some major issues with it, yet I understand that many of these things have to be done in order to create the best tournament possible.

Here’s some of my issues:

1) Players representing countries that they are not from.  Examples are Mike Aviles with Puerto Rico, Alex Rodriguez (before injury) with the Dominican Republic and about half of the Italian team.

This almost has to be done though or else countries such as Italy wouldn’t be able to field anywhere near a competitive team and make the tournament watchable.

2) How some of the team’s managers handle playing time.  This has been a major issue for the USA and some question how much they want to win because of it.  It’s a tough call when you have a team like the Americans do.  Everyone is so good, do you try to win every game and keep a player like Derek Jeter on the bench the majority of the time or do you share the playing time and try to keep it equal similar to an All-Star game.

Personally, I don’t think either has much effect on winning games but the appearance that it gives is definitely not a good one.

3) The fact that it is held during Spring Training.  It will never happen at any other time of the year but this keeps it from being played at a top level as some MLB players are just rounding into form.  Also, it keeps the pitchers from being set free by their managers and throwing lots of pitches.

They instituted new pitch count and rest rules for this tournament as to keep anyone from getting overused when they aren’t fully ready.  It also evens the playing field for countries like the USA who are stocked with MLB players more concerned with getting ready for their season when they compete against someone like Cuba who will train specifically for this event.

4) The tournament format.  Is it double-elimination, single-elimination, bracket style, round robin?  It seems to be a little bit of everything.  Let me say that any baseball tournament, even a best-of-7 series to some degree is never a fair judge of which team is best.  Baseball prowess is always best judged over the course of a long season testing the team’s depth and ability to work around slumps, injuries, etc.

In a short burst, any team can look good.  Even the worst major league teams win at least 1/3 of their games and can have decent winning streaks.  So we shouldn’t be so shocked at an upset in a single game of the WBC like the Netherlands beating the Dominican or Australia outslugging Mexico.  It’s baseball and anything can happen when it’s just one game involved.

*I will point out that this last complaint is somewhat invalidated by the new pitching rules put in this season.  Since teams are not allowed to ride one hot pitcher, they are forced to have to make it more of a team effort to win games.  This does test the depth of each team more fully, but a couple great pitchers can still offset a mediocre overall staff in such a short segment.

Speaking of Australia’s win over Mexico Sunday night, former Naturals pitcher Paul Mildren not only was on the mound for the Aussies but played a key role in the rally.  He stopped the bleeding after Mexico had put 5 on the board in the 1st and another early in the 2nd.  He pitched two innings allowing only one run and providing his team a chance to rally.

Talking to Mildren last year during the Olympics, you could really sense the pride that he has for his country.  He barely missed out on making the Australian baseball team for the Olympics and he so desperately wanted to be there, especially as he watched his girlfriend be part of the experience as a member of Australia’s rowing team.  I know Paul is very proud just to get to wear the uniform of his home country, but helping them to a win should make it that much better.

Today is the day that the minor-league camp officially opens for the Royals in Surprise, AZ.  In honor of that event, we present a Kansas City Star article featuring the thoughts of KC farm director J.J. Picollo on 5 prospects to keep an eye on this season.  One is a former Natural who might be back this year, while the other 4 are on the way up and could hit Arvest Ballpark at some point this season.

Mixed Results for Former Naturals

Hey Naturals Fans…

It actually feels like baseball season today as we are enjoying temperatures of close to 70 degrees.  A bit windy here at Arvest Ballpark, but we’ll make that trade none the less.

It’s easy for us to keep tabs on former Naturals who are in big-league camp with the Royals such as Kila Ka’aihue, Carlos Rosa, Mario Lisson and Dan Cortes.  But there are also four former Naturals who are in big league camps with other teams this Spring.

The most positive showing so far has been by LHP Gilbert de la Vara, who was selected by the Astros in the Rule V draft last winter.  de la Vara must make the team out of Spring Training and stay on the big league roster all year or be offered back to the Royals.  This story about de la Vara and another of the Astros Rule V picks explains their situtation well. 

de la Vara who had a great run with the Naturals the last 2 months of ’08 tossed it well  against Venezuela in an exhibition before the WBC.

Also in Astros camp is RHP Jeff Fulchino, who despite never pitching in a home game at Arvest Ballpark became the first former Natural to make the show when he pitched for KC on June 8.  He had previously pitched on big league game for Florida in 2006 and made a great catch.

SS Angel Sanchez of the behind-the-back flip to 2nd base (twice) last season is now with the Toronto Blue Jays and was optioned to AAA Las Vegas recently, meaning he will likely open the season in the minor leagues.

Finally, C Adam Donachie is in camp with the Baltimore Orioles and faces an uphill climb to make the team as the O’s already have veteran Gregg Zaun in the fold as well as top catching prospect Matt Wieters knocking on the door.  Donachie didn’t help his case in a recent game against the Cardinals.

The Naturals are hosting a job fair for gameday positions this Saturday morning, and single game tickets will go on sale by phone and on the internet at noon on the same day.

Enjoy the great weather this weekend it definitely makes it easy to start thinking baseball!

The Strikeout

Before we get to today’s topic of the strikeout, the chaos known as the Washington Nationals got a bit crazier with the resignation of GM Jim Bowden.  And just for good measure he took a shot at free agent Manny Ramirez on his way out saying, “I have become a distraction. Unless you are Manny Ramirez, there is no place for distractions in baseball.”  Well, at least the white elephant is out in the middle of the room now.

Now on to the business of the strikeout.  Sometimes the strikeout can be overrated as a statistic but for pitchers, the K is their only way of controlling the game.  Getting a punch out guarantees that the hitter will not reach base (except in the odd case of a dropped 3rd strike, which happens about once a month).  Even pitchers who induce weak contact are often victimized by bloopers, “Texas Leaguers” or errors from the fielders that cause a negative result for a hurler even though he did his job quite well.

I bring this up because of a signing over the weekend by our parent club, the Royals.  They added power RH Juan Cruz to the bullpen with a 2-year deal, and Cruz is the real deal when it comes to getting swings and misses.  He was 2nd in all of MLB last year in that rare but fairly useful statistic.

But it’s not just Cruz for the Royals anymore with the capability to get Ks.  As the great writer Joe Posnanski chronicles in the Kansas City Star, (with a headline I wish I had thought of) the boys in blue now have multiple starters and a handful of options in the bullpen who could all be considered strikeout pitchers.

Having starters such as Meche and Grienke who account for strikeouts is nice but having power, strikeout pitchers in the bullpen is almost a necessity.  Now, anytime from the 6th inning on when the opposition is threatening, Trey Hillman can bring in any number of pitchers depending on the match-up who is a legitimate threat to get a strikeout.  That is a huge advantage for the KC skipper that cannot be understated.

The Royals pitching was good last year and will be hard pressed to improve this season.  Yet if they can raise the strikeout totals, the pitching staff could be that much better this summer.