Sunday, April 3, 2011

Thoughts On The Futures Game

John Lamb pitching to Eric Hosmer. Mike Montgomery pitching to Wil Myers. Christian Colon fielding Johnny Giavotella's grounder and throwing him out at first. Is this a bizarre dream? No. Is it a sample of a Red Sox-Yankees game from 2020? God, I hope not. In this instance, it definitely is not. No, this is the Royals Futures Game, a matchup between the Northwest Arkansas Naturals and Omaha Storm Chasers. And it's a wonderful thing.

The Amazing Michelle (that's my way better half if you're new to this blog) and I spent most of our Saturday at the old ballpark, taking in the Royals-Angels game and then the Futures Game. Thankfully, it was a beautiful day for baseball, and the major league team played well. This was my first in-person look at the Royals, and I was pleasantly surprised. Of course, it's hard to tell anything from one game, but it does seem like the Royals will be better defensively and certainly in the bullpen. Yes, the defense has struggled a bit in the first few games, but I think most of that has been Mike Aviles, and I believe he is better with the glove than he has shown so far. We've seen him play a decent shortstop, so he should be able to handle third base. And if he does keep making two errors a game, he won't be playing third very long.

Meanwhile, Alcides Escobar is a lot of fun to watch. Especially after years of watching Angel Berroa, Tony Pena Jr. and Yuniesky Betancourt. It's just nice to not have to hold your breath every time a ball is hit towards the shortstop.

And this bullpen. So far, it looks outstanding. You may remember that last year, for the first month of the season, the bullpen was the weakest link by far on a bad team. That pretty much torpedoed any hope that existed at the start of the season. This year, knock wood, that looks like it won't happen. Aaron Crow looked darn near unhittable yesterday. And I think after three games, Angels manager Mike Scioscia would trade his entire bullpen for the Royals' relievers. So that's a positive. And if the rookies in the bullpen are any indication of the talent on the way to the majors, that's a big positive.

It was a lot of fun to see some of that talent actually on the Kauffman Stadium field. I'm no scout, but I have been watching baseball for a good 30 years now, and I saw lots of things to like. Once again, it's hard to tell much from one game, but I really like Mike Montgomery. Pitching for Omaha, he held Northwest Arkansas hitless for four innings. Montgomery was throwing hard (mid-90s), yet displayed a terrific breaking ball a few times. I also like his delivery--it seems compact, simple, and repeatable. It will be fun to follow him at Omaha this year and see how he does.

Overall, I thought all the pitching looked good. Chris Dwyer struggled a bit, and Danny Duffy walked 3 batters in his 3 innings (while striking out 5, so he wasn't terrible, just a bit wild). Of course, the flip side is that the hitters didn't do a whole lot. David Lough hit the game's only homer--I hope he gets a shot at the majors sometime soon. Johnny Giavotella had a couple of walks and a stolen base, plus a nice defensive play. The two hitters everyone wanted to see, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, only went 1-8 combined. I think they might have been trying a little too hard to put on a show. I'm not worried about them--what they've done in their minor league careers so far tells me they can hit.

Kudos to whomever came up with the idea for this game. The Royals should definitely make this a yearly tradition, even after this group of prospects is in the majors. Let's face it, this franchise's success will always depend on a strong farm system. So why not give fans in KC a chance to see them and get to know them? Plus, it's got to be good for the prospects to get an opportunity to play in a major league stadium. Perhaps it will reduce the nerves just a bit if and when they actually reach the majors. I really can't see any downside to having this game every year. I would hope the Royals promote it more in the future--I know a couple of fans who didn't know anything about when I talked to them this week, and these weren't casual fans either. But if this game does become an annual event, I suppose it will become well known.

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