Thursday, March 21, 2013

New Year, New Players, New Organization...Same Goals

Skirting Line Between Making Friends and Keeping Distance Not Always Easy

MAR 20th, 2013-Pro ball in Lexington will be back in full swing, very soon.

Before you know it, The Bank will be buzzing once more. Gates will open, ticket offices will be bustling with activity, concession stands will be serving up dogs and beers, and the ushers will take their positions. Fans will start filing in, greeting friends from seasons past and meeting new friends for seasons to come.

Here in Lexington, Kansas City's newest Class A representative in the South Atlantic League, there will be something noticeably absent from the year before:

Our boys.

Now that we're a part of the Royals' organization, the kids we knew from Houston's farm system won't be around anymore. There are new players to meet, new personalities, new lives of which we will be a small part. These players will be dealing with the same pressures on the field and off as the baby 'Stros, and thankfully our Booster Club and host parents will be there to help them along. We have a pretty good system  for that sort of thing, and some of our locals go to great lengths to make sure the guys have whatever they need while they're fighting to make their way beyond The Sally and up the ladder.

In 2012, I was exposed to some new experiences that I hadn't fully considered in my 24 years as a baseball fan. Perhaps the most memorable, sadly, was the most educational: the demotion.

If you speak to a player long enough, and they loosen up and tell you a bit more about themselves beyond batting averages and ERAs, you come to feel a personal connection with that player. Over time, you might even become friends. At that point, you are bound to that player just as you would be to any other friends you may have, and this means you're going to be thrilled when they do well. It also means you're going to be sad when they don't.

And when they get demoted, or even worse, cut, you're going to feel like someone punched you in the gut.

It honestly caught me off-guard. I was there when a few of the guys heard the news. RHP Tanner Bushue hadn't heard it yet, but he knew it was coming. He was coming off a shaky outing the same day the host families and Booster Club had their (monthly?) potluck gathering, when the boosters and hosts got to share a meal with their players. Tanner was sitting adjacent to me. I didn't know him very well, admittedly.

Still, it's a strange feeling to be on the outside looking in when one of these kids gets sent down; you're not a part of what's happening, and yet you are. From my perspective, Tanner had an expression on his face that is hard to describe. In short, he was crushed. There was no mistaking it. Here he was, surrounded by teammates and host families, all happily chatting away, and Tanner was somehow separate and alone from all of it. He just sat silently, staring at the empty space on the table in front of him, completely still. I wanted to say something to him, try to cheer him up, but you can't say anything to a player who's been sent down. Nothing that would help, anyway. All you can do is be there, if they want to talk about it. Some of them actually want to talk about it; others, like Tanner, not so much.

I know I'm not the only one who's ever felt that personal connection with a player; I was part of the Booster Club and a host for several players, last year, and I was on the periphery of their social circles. I interacted with some more than others, and for that experience I consider myself fortunate to have known them. I wasn't exactly best friends with any of them, and rightly so. After all, none of them knew who I was before they came to Lexington, and some players have a sense of apprehension from the moment they become professionals. Also, as it should be.

Thing is, every pro athlete knows that their career could end anytime. A torn labrum, serious knee injury, an unexplained "dead arm", and that's all she wrote. A life-long dream can be ended by the whims of the parent club, without explanation. One day, you're making your way up the ladder; the next, you're sifting through the classified ads. No promotional Day for you at the ballpark, no standing O on the way off the fact, it could be that no one even knows you're gone except for your close friends or family. Not even so much as a "thank you". Just a pink slip and a clubbie waiting to take the athletic tape with your name written on it in Sharpie off the top of what used to be your locker.

There are a LOT of people out there who are looking to take every possible advantage of pro athletes. They see opportunities to gain a player's trust, to work their way into that player's inner circle of trust, and some even become personal representative for the players they seek to exploit. At that stage, the player stands to lose a great deal of money. I have also, unfortunately, seen this happen to a player who IS a friend of mine, and it makes me very mindful of what I say and do regarding the players.

On that subject, many of these guys aren't exactly living out their champagne wishes and caviar dreams, if you know what I mean. For the vast majority of them, the only caviar they ever see might be on a re-run of The Real Housewives of Orange County. These kids are living on far less than minimum wage, struggling to make ends meet while sharing tiny apartments with two or three other guys, even sending a big chunk (if not ALL) of their tiny paychecks back home to help support their families. They truly do make a ton of sacrifices just to have a shot at making The Show, and to have some con man try to screw them out of what little they have is absolutely inexcusable.

OK, I've ranted on that enough. More on that in my next post, courtesy of Arizona Diamondbacks pitching prospect Seth Simmons. Seth has been kind enough to expound on a few pro baller subjects for me, and I'll be posting some of that conversation here at TGOG.

Anyhew, this year we'll be starting the process all over again, with new players, new personalities and a new organization. Different players, but the same goal. Also, the same problems, same struggles, same needs. We need to be ready to help them in any way we can. Thankfully there are some good people here, and I'm grateful that the folks at Lexington are well-prepared to help them.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What To Expect When You're Expecting...Part Trois

MARCH 17th, 2013-I'm pretty sure "trois" is French for "three". Either way, this isn't a linguistics blog. 

Here's a few more players you may expect to see here in Lexington, taking their hacks and dealing on the mound. This is in no particular order (other than alphabetical), and is a mixed list of hitters and pitchers. I'm not the most organized guy in the world, but bear with me anyway. 

Diego Goris, UT, Idaho Falls Chukars (Rookie, Pioneer League); AZL Royals (Rookie, Arizona League)

Born: 12/8/1990 in Santiago, Dominican Republic
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Ht: 6'2” Wt: 165
Drafted: Obtained in trade with Pittsburgh Pirates, 2012

2012 (combined stats):
58 games, 246 PA, 41 runs, 14 doubles, 4 triples, 13 HR, 51 RBI, 4 BB, 32 K, .333 BA, .942 OPS

Goris showed a lot of pop at Rookie-level Idaho Falls, last year, and was near the top in the league in batting average as well. One of the most glaring problems here is that he's GOT to learn to take a walk, now and then. Four walks in 246 PA is not gonna cut it, especially as he advances to higher levels. He shows a lot of versatility in the field, as he's played second, short, first, third and left field in his five seasons in pro ball. Short is probably not his best position (34 errors in 102 career games), but he's put in the most time there. He's highly projectable at 6'2", 165, and will probably gain more power as he fills out. I see him as a super-utility guy with a little pop and the occasional steal, playing most of his games either as a corner IF or in left, if he makes the majors.

Carlos Garcia, 2B-SS, Idaho Falls Chukars (Rookie, Pioneer League)
Born: 3/18/1992 in Municipio de Diaz, Venezuela
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Ht: 6' Wt: 176
Drafted: Signed as Free Agent

59 games, 241 PA, 42 runs, 8 doubles, 2 HR, 20 RBI, 10 SB, .273 BA, .347 OBP

Garcia intrigues me a bit. First off, he stole 10 bases last year, which is OK, but it should be noted that he swiped 50 in 2010 for the Royals' Dominican Summer League team. He's probably not ever going to hit for power, but the speed is obviously there. He's shown steady improvement with the glove, as well; from 5 errors in 23 games in 2010 to 8 errors in 57 games last year. However, he made an alarming 16 miscues in 39 games in 2011, which is concerning, but I'm willing to accept those numbers as an aberration. There's some projectability there, physically, but he'll likely not gain much more weight than 5-10 pounds at the most. If he does get much heavier than that, it's going to hurt his speed, and his speed is his best asset. Also worth noting: in 212 career games, his BB/K ration is just a few percentage points below 1/1. That's darn good, at any level.

Cory Hall, RHP, Idaho Falls Chukars (Rookie, Pioneer League)
Born: 5/12/1988 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Ht: 6'2” Wt: 232
Drafted: Obtained in trade with Pittsburgh Pirates, 2012

2-1, 2.15 ERA in 21 games (29 1/3 IP), 23 hits allowed, 7 ER, 12 BB, 35 K, 5 SV

Hall worked exclusively as a closer in 2012, cutting his ERA by more than 3 full runs but walking just as many as he did in 2011 while throwing 6 fewer innings. He has struck out a batter per inning since his pro debut in 2011 but also has averaged 3.7 BB/9 IP, so there's definitely room for improvement there. Hall was all-conference with Santa Clara University in 2011, pitching 105 innings and posting a 3.26 ERA. He was also all-conference with Taft Community College in 2008. Hall is solidly-built and there's no projectability left there, but he is likely to continue to develop as a strikeout artist in relief once he irons out his mechanical issues. 

Joe Lopez, RHP, Idaho Falls Chukars (Rookie, Pioneer League); AZL Royals (Rookie, Arizona League)
Born: 3/20/1990 in Winkelman, AZ
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Ht: 5'10” Wt: 180
Drafted: Signed as NDFA, 2012

2012 (combined stats):
2-2, 3.66 ERA in 21 games, 8 games finished, 3 SV, 39 1/3 IP, 47 HA, 22 RA, 16 ER, 13 BB, 39 K, 8.9 K/9

Lopez worked as a short reliever out of the 'pen in 2012, recording 10.8 hits/9 IP but mitigating his damage considerably (with a little help from his defense). A smallish pitcher, he is nevertheless solidly built. I don't anticipate his size will limit him at the higher levels. Lopez may be a darkhorse candidate to become a 7th inning specialist as he advances to the upper echelons of the minors. 

Alec Mills, RHP, Idaho Falls Chukars (Rookie, Pioneer League)
Born: 11/30/1991 in Clarksville, TN
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Ht: 6'4” Wt: 185
Drafted: KC Royals, 22nd round, 2012 MLB Draft, from U of Tennessee @ Martin

1-4, 4.62 ERA, 17 games (7 starts, 4 games finished), 3 SV, 50 2/3 IP, 58 HA, 33 RA, 26 ER, 7 HRA, 17 BB, 50 K, 5 HBP, 9 WP, 2.94 SO/BB ratio

Mills is highly projectible at 6'4", 185, but he appeared to have significant mechanical and/or control problems, last year. I say this because, while he only walked 17 batters, he hit 5 more and also uncorked 9 wild pitches in 50 2/3 innings. He may just need a little time to adjust to the pro game, as last year was his first in the pros. He showed great versatility, starting 7 games and closing out 4 more, while working in middle relief in 6 more. While the ERA is much higher than you'd like to see it, he averaged a K per inning and handled being juggled around, role-wise, about as well as anyone could. Also of note: 3.47 ERA in 23 1/3 innings at the home park, 5.60 in 27 1/3 innings in away games. I'll be watching him closely. 

Sam Selman, LHP, Idaho Falls Chukars (Rookie, Pioneer League)
Born: 11/14/1990 in Austin, TX
Bats: Right Throws: Left
Ht: 6'3” Wt: 165
Drafted: KC Royals, 2nd round, 2012 MLB Draft, from Vanderbilt University

5-4, 2.09 ERA, 13 games (12 starts), 60 1/3 IP, 45 HA, 21 RA, 14 ER, 22 BB, 89 K, 5 WP

The 2012 Pioneer League Pitcher of The Year, Selman's is a name well-known to many Royals fans, for obvious reasons. In his first year of pro ball, he averaged a monstrous 13.3 K/9 IP while maintaining better than a 4:1 BB/K ratio. A hard-throwing lefty with a lot of room left to grow, he could become a dominant short man or closer in the majors. KC has a great deal of success to look forward to from this young man. Selman may skip Low-A altogether, depending on how his Spring turns out.