March Madness is gearing up, but lets not forget about the Kansas City Royals. They opened Spring Training with 10-0-1 record and are currently 12-2-1. Great news, even though not losing in 11 games would mean a lot more if it were the last 11 games of the spring, and not the first, but regardless, it is great to see. But, what is the best news of Spring Training so far? Luke Hochevar to the bullpen.
Manager Ned Yost announced the move this morning to media in Arizona, and Royals Nation – in unison – rejoiced.
It really is a sad fall for the former Royals No. 1 draft pick, but this really is a win-win for the everyone, including Cool Hand Luke. Hochevar, who has flashed his promise over his career with some dominant starts, but he is horribly inconsistent – posting the ninth worst ERA for someone with more than 100 innings since 1900. Now, he can just go to the ‘pen and just throw. I have always thought he had “good stuff” but just doesn’t know how to pitch and is a “head case.” Yost indicates that he will be a back of the bullpen guy. Maybe I am in the minority here, but I think he could excel in this role. He has multiple pitches, is labeled as groundball pitcher and he could throw an inning or two. I would not use him in tight, game-on-the-line situations, unless he can prove he can be that guy. Another plus, when Hoch starts wavering, he can pulled with no worries as opposed to when he was a starter and his innings were needed. He is an expensive non-closer relief pitcher now, but maybe, somehow, Hochevar can grow into his new role and become a good, late-inning relief pitcher. There is still hope for Hochevar, maybe this is it. I’m also hoping it will be used for motivation.
I was also hoping that this is what Yost would do. Out of the three candidates entering the Spring (Bruce Chen, Luis Mendoza and Hoch), he was the least deserving. But, it seemed almost a certainty that he would nail down the fifth spot when Hoch and the Royals avoided arbitration by agreeing on a $4.56 million contract.
This move also speaks volumes for how improved the pitching staff is. Last year Hoch was the No. 2 starter and pitched the home opener. Chen pitched the season-opener. Both guys now could miss the rotation all together. In the past, both guys would have been handed a spot. Now? Not so much. This is great news for Royals fans and an indicator that the Royals may be going in the right direction and have officially turned the corner.
Yost said that Chen, Mendoza, Will Smith and prospect Yordano Ventura are the finalists for that final rotation spot. Mendoza put together the best numbers last year, but is also very good as the long guy in the pen, so I seem him being there. Chen had a down season last year, but still notched his third-straight double-digit win season – leading the team in wins all three times. He is also a lefty and with a group of righties, he makes the most sense. I am not high on Smith. I do not think he will ever be a decent MLB pitcher, and although his 16 starts last year are a small sample size, I think it was an indicator of what he is going to be, as he got worse as the year progressed. I think he can be a productive MLB pitcher, but, not as a starter. If he earns the fifth spot, I will be very disappointed. Intriguing that Ventura – who yes has dominated so far this spring, but I will be shocked if he made the rotation of out camp. The bullpen? Now, that is a different story. I still think Ventura’s future is in there, and he may get the call-up this year in that role.
“The lack of a third pitch is one reason a lot of scouts view Ventura as a future reliever, an opinion I also hold, but his size is another significant factor,” ESPN Insider’s Keith Law said.
I agree 100%.
Still love his stuff. Dude hit 102 MPH on the gun in his last outing.
One last thing, Hochevar could be released. In doing so prior to Opening Day, the Royals would only owe 25% of the contract. Do I think it will happen? No. Could it? Sure. His numbers are not good this spring – 8 IP, 9 H, 6 ER, 6 BB, 8 K’s.