Ca$h-Money. Maddog (@MadDogKiller): How bad of a spring does Hochevar have to have to get cut?
A really bad, no-good, awful, terrible spring. Mind you, it could happen. The Royals really don’t have a significant financial commitment with Hochevar – his salary isn’t guaranteed, and if he’s released before March 15th, he’s owed just one-sixth of his salary, less than $800,000. If he’s released after March 15th but before Opening Day, he’s owed a quarter of his salary, less than $1.2 million.
But the psychological commitment…that’s different. Contrary to how it seems sometimes, the Royals are quite aware of what people think about Hochevar. They are also aware that almost everyone thinks they’ve made a big mistake by retaining him at such a high salary – and by “everyone”, I don’t just mean fans, I mean most front offices. They know they’re bucking conventional wisdom here.
And if they cut bait with him now, they’d be admitting they made a mistake without even giving him the chance to prove it. The embarrassment that would cause makes it highly unlikely that they would do such a thing. The only scenario I could see that would earn him his release is if Hochevar’s stuff is qualitatively down this year – his velocity is gone, or he can’t throw strikes, something like that. Basically, the Royals would need an excuse – an excuse above and beyond the fact that he’s been a lousy pitcher for five years.
Once the season starts, things change. A bad first six weeks in the rotation might be enough to move him to the bullpen, if not off the team. The problem, of course, is that by that point his entire salary is guaranteed.
Sparksjay (@sparksjay): Anything about the Royals’ Spring Training start that has you adjusting the 86+/72- hopes for the season?
Is anyone seriously hurt? No? Then we’re still on course.
Seriously, there is very little that can happen in spring training that should adjust your expectations for an entire team, and most of what can happen is bad. Last year the Royals lost Joakim Soria for the entire season, and Salvador Perez for half the season, so we’re already ahead of the game there.
Every now and then a young player will show up to camp and impress the living daylights out of everyone. The problem is that for every Albert Pujols, there are ten Gary Scotts. Last year Danny Duffy showed some of the best stuff of any left-hander in baseball in March – and got me unduly excited – but that didn’t prevent him from blowing out his arm in May. (Although I still think it bodes well for him upon his return.)
So far, the only blip on this year’s radar screen is left-handed reliever Donnie Joseph, who has faced six batters and struck them all out. He has a chance to be an impact guy in the pen, but probably not until mid-season, and anyway you’re not going to change your projection for the team based on a middle reliever.
And as for the Royals’ 6-0-1 start…two years ago the Royals led all of baseball with a 20-11 record in spring training. They lost 91 games. In 1999 they led all of baseball with a 22-9 record in March. They lost 97 games.
Michael Buchanan (@ExtremeSquirrel): Does Adalberto Mondesi have the potential to become a top 10 MLB prospect?
Man, I could answer Adalberto Mondesi questions all day.
The short answer is: yes. Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks, who is admittedly Mondesi’s biggest fan among the prospect guru ranks, already has Mondesi ranked #58 overall. Remember: Mondesi 1) has played in 50 professional games and 2) is 17 years old. (He was the youngest player on BP’s Top 100 list.)
You might recall that when I wrote about Mondesi, I compared him to where Jurickson Profar was two years ago…and then had J.J. Picollo basically do the same thing. Well, on Twitter recently, Parks was asked what minor league player had the best chance of being the next Profar, and his answer was – Mondesi. So by those standards, Mondesi doesn’t have Top 10 potential – he has Top 1 potential.
He probably won’t get there, but he’s still a magnificent prospect, really unlike any prospect I’ve ever seen in the Royals’ system. He will probably open this season in Lexington, which would make him (to the best of my knowledge) the youngest Royal ever to play in a full-season league. If he makes it to Wilmington before the season ends, he will be the youngest Royal ever to reach that level. If he gets to Double-A before July of 2014, he would be the first 18-year-old Royal ever to reach that level. And so on.
Of course, he might struggle this year and get sent back down to short-season ball. He might have to repeat low-A ball next year, and not reach Wilmington until 2015.
In which case, he’ll still be 19 years old. Holy crap.
Nate Freiberg (@NateFreiberg): With the Royals thin at the corners, any chance Nady makes the team with that in mind? And does Endy have any shot over Dyson for 4th OF?
Barring injury, I would be shocked if either player makes the Opening Day roster. Nady is probably finished as a hitter, and Chavez is basically Jarrod Dyson in seven years. But I imagine that the Royals are hoping both players (and Willy Taveras, probably) are willing to accept a minor-league assignment when the season starts. Because as I mentioned in my last column, if any of the Royals’ corner players get hurt, they’re really down to Elliot Johnson as a replacement. If Nady goes to Omaha and rakes, he would actually be a viable call-up option if, say, Billy Butler goes on the DL and the Royals are desperate for DH at-bats.
This should terrify you, by the way.
David Hovey (@davidmhovey): I am a big Will Smith fan. Based on your past age discussions, would the Royals be wise to give him the #5 spot based on potential for improvement?
No. There is a very important distinction to be made here, which is that while age is an extremely important variable to consider for hitters, it is much less important for pitchers. A 20-year-old position player who is capable of being a league-average player in the major leagues is almost certain to improve significantly over time, and will probably become a star. For pitchers, that’s not the case. Just look at Rick Porcello.
Porcello is actually a good example of what is the most important variable for a pitcher’s longevity, which is his strikeout rate. As a rookie, Porcello had a very solid 3.96 ERA. But he struck out just 89 batters in 171 innings (or, if you prefer, a 12.4% strikeout rate), which is terrible. His strikeout rate has veeeerrrry slowly crept up – it was all the way to 13.7% last year – and he has yet to have a season as good as his first one.
Bill James put it this way many years ago (I’m paraphrasing): if you have to choose between a 37-year-old pitcher striking out 10 batters per nine innings, or a 27-year-old pitcher striking out 7 batters per nine innings, the 37-year-old will probably still be pitching in the majors when the 27-year-old has been forced into retirement. (The 37-year-old he was referring to was Nolan Ryan, so James was right.)
Compare Porcello to Ruben Tejada, who came up the year after and was mostly overmatched as a hitter – Tejada hit .213/.305/.282 as a 20-year-old middle infielder. Tejada wasn’t a dominant hitter in the minor leagues, mostly because he was so young for his level, and never made Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect List (Porcello was #21 twice, the first time before he ever threw a professional pitch). Few people thought Tejada was going to amount to much (my Stratomatic opponents will vouch for the fact that I was one of the few). But as a 21-year-old sophomore, Tejada hit .284/.360/.335; last year he took over for Jose Reyes and hit .289/.333/.351 as the Mets’ starting shortstop. If he doesn’t improve any further, he’s a league-average shortstop, and at 23 he’s probably going to improve further.
All of this is my typically long-winded way of saying: no, Will Smith’s age doesn’t make me think that he’s going to improve significantly. If he starts striking out a batter an inning in Omaha this year, then we’ll talk.
Brent Saindon (@basaindon): Just curious: any plans to resume “The Baseball Show”?
I included this bonus question just because it’s an easy way for me to announce: The Baseball Show With Rany & Joe should make its triumphant return next week. With the unfortunate demise of Up And In: The Baseball Prospectus Podcast with Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks, and ESPN’s Baseball Today with Eric Karabell, Keith Law, David Schoenfield, et al, we know many hard-core baseball fans are looking for their fix of sophisticated baseball discussion. So if you haven’t listened to what Will Leitch calls “my personal favorite baseball podcast”, I hope you give us a try next week.