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.

Boost Us

We have a new addition to the team this year…YOU!  That’s right, you can be a part of the Naturals with the new Bolts Booster Club.

Having a booster club will be great as it allows fans to get closer to the players and the players always enjoy getting to know some of their fans as well.

We really hope everyone gets involved with this by calling Kiersten Garibaldi at (479) 872-9617.  Or to find out more click here.

Not much else is going on in world of Naturals baseball right now.  Spring Training camp is still big-league only with just a handful of former Naturals and potential future Naturals participating.

The Royals first games are tomorrow, so there should be some news coming out of there soon.  It will be interesting to see if guys like Kila Ka’aihue and Carlos Rosa can get off to hot starts in their bid to make a strong impression on KC management.

Getting through the Dog Days

In the baseball season, the Dog Days are the hot, lengthy days towards the end of the season in July and August.  In the off-season though, the Dog Days tend to be here in February when things can get a little monotonous.

So to brighten things up and get you pumped for the Naturals season watch this.

Of course, Spring Training helps but there really isn’t much going on right now in Arizona.  I did read a few days ago before camp officially opened that KC manager Trey Hillman was impressed with Carlos Rosa’s fastball.

It wouldn’t be a total shock to me to see Rosa in the big league bullpen at the start of the season.  There may not be a whole lot of spots open but an injury or a stellar performance from Carlos could make the difference.

He has absolutely electric stuff and it may translate best to the bigs out of the pen.  Plus, after dealing with injuries in each of the last two years (forearm strain late last season) being a relief pitcher might be his destiny.

And remember that both of his appearances with KC last season were in relief and the Royals had him working specifically out of the bullpen when called up after exclusively being a starter in the minors.

The Job I Want

This almost slipped by unnoticed but it came out yesterday what baseball Commissioner Bud Selig made last year.

Some where in the neighborhood of $18 million.

$18 million?!?!?!?!?!?

Seriously, that’s a lot of money.  Apparently, it’s more than what all but a few (all Yankees) players made last year.
 
All major sports commissioners are overpaid in my opinion but this one makes me scratch my head.  I realize that MLB is a private corporation and can pay him whatever they want.  And that corporation has made record money each of the last few years running, but that number is still just a staggering figure.

Any baseball fan wants to be “commissioner for a day” but I really want to be that now.  You’d make somewhere in the neighborhood of $49,000 for that one day.  Now that’s a nice rate.

Thawing Out

Hello from home…just like everyone in NW Arkansas we’ve been hit hard at the ballpark because of the ice.  Arvest Ballpark has been without power since late last week, so work in the office has been sporadic but the season is still just a couple months away and we’ll be ready for the home opener on April 16th.

We announced recently that KURM 790-AM would be the Naturals radio home again for this season.  So know matter where you are in the area you’ll be able to listen to every pitch.  But if you’re out of the area, the games will be webcast again on nwanaturals.com and at kurm.net.

Good story on the Royals website about how they are setting up the rotation for future years and how some of the young arms that were here last year (and may be here this year) will fit into the plans.

Who do you think is crazier…Manny Ramirez for rejecting a 1 year $25 million deal from the Dodgers, or the Dodgers for saying they are still pursuing the eccentric slugger?  I mean, really, can the madness just stop from both sides in this one?  Unbelievable. 

Stay warm.

Welcome to the New Blog

Hey everyone, it’s Steven.  I’m hijacking the Naturals official blog and making it my personal forum for whatever is going on with the team or running through my head.

I’ll keep this updated with new posts a couple times a week during the off-season and at least that much if not more once the season begins.

Hopefully, being around the team everyday as the radio announcer, I can provide a unique perspective on all things Naturals.

So what’s going on right now you’re probably asking yourself, well the last couple weeks and some very big things…

1) Royals FanFest in KC.  What a fun event with about 10,000 people coming to the Overland Park Convention Center in suburban Kansas City.  The Naturals booth was the most popular as Royals fans lined up 75 deep to spin the Prize wheel and get a Naturals souvenir.

2) The Royals Caravan Stop.  200 people came to the Holiday Inn in Springdale for lunch and autographs.  2008 Texas League Player of the Year Kila Ka’aihue and Royals pitcher Zack Greinke as well as new Naturals catcher Vance Wilson and Royals alums Dennis Leonard and Brian McRae were all there.

Kila was the most popular but everyone was awesome answering questions from the fans and sharing baseball knowledge.  Vance was a riot was some of his answers and we can’t wait to have him as part of the team for this summer.

3) The same Zack Grienke who was just here in NW Arkansas signed a 4-year contract with the Royals yesterday, meaing he will be in KC through the 2012 season.  This is HUGE news for the Royals.

So huge in face that I was doing a Grienke dance around the office yesterday.  Zack was not only one of the top starters in baseball last year, but looks like he can still get better.  The Royals were able to sign one of their own who has developed into a star pitcher and wanted to stay in KC.

It’s as big a deal as the Royals will have this off-season and provides a great boost of momentum heading into Spring Training.

Some Things Just Never Look Right

Once upon a time, the Braves were in Boston.  Now, a player who has spent his entire career with the Braves is moving to Boston.  John Smoltz signed with the Red Sox ending his run of 20 seasons with Atlanta.  This is probably the best baseball move for Smoltz, the only pitcher in ML history with 200 wins and 150 saves, who has said repeatedly that he wants to be a starting pitcher.

It is still sad to me though to see a player spend almost his entire career with one team and then change uniforms for a final year or two.  Michael Jordan never looked right as a Washington Wizard.  It is getting rarer and rarer for a player to spend his whole (major league) career with one professional franchise. 

This is one reason I love players who stay with one team for their athletic career.  Call me old fashioned or whatever you want but it is very easy to root for players like George Brett or Tony Gwynn who stay with one team.

Vance Wilson a Natural

Word came in last week that former big-league catcher Vance Wilson signed a minor league contract with the Royals.  While this is not probably significant for Kansas City, it could be huge for Northwest Arkansas.

The signing came with the caveat that Wilson will play at the Double-A level to start the season and in the same city where he currently resides.  He will be rehabbing his right elbow at the start of the year, but the 35 year-old with 6 season of big league experience will be a welcome addition to the Naturals clubhouse.  Wilson can basically serve as a player/coach type both during his rehab and once he is healthy imparting the knowledge he has gained on the Naturals players and helping to mold what promises to be another young but talented NWA pitching staff.

Some may see it as a negative to have a 35 year-old taking up a roster spot on a Double-A club, but this scenario is a win-win situation for both sides.  Vance Wilson gets an opportunity to suit up for his hometown team and get healthy while playing baseball and the Royals get a first class individual with big-league experience and a proven track record to help their Double-A franchise.