Northwest Arkansas’ Naturals are having a good season with the best record in the Texas League, 37-24, as of Monday, and they’ve been rewarded. Nine players will be on the North Division roster for the league’s all-star game on June 30 at Midland, Texas.
Five Naturals were voted into the starting lineup: second baseman Johnny Giavotella, third baseman Mike Moustakas, outfielders Paulo Orlando and Derrick Robinson, and designated hitter Clint Robinson. Also on the squad are pitchers Mike Montgomery, Edgar Osuna and Mario Santiago and outfielder Tim Smith.
The Naturals’ manager, Brian Poldberg, will skipper the North squad. Hitting coach Terry Bradshaw and trainer Tony Medina also will be on the staff.
The 24-man rosters in the North and South divisions were selected by a voting panel that included league officials, managers, coaches, radio broadcasters and beat writers.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas keeps lighting up the sky at Springdale, Ark. He blasted a couple of two-run homers for Double-A Northwest Arkansas on Thursday as the Naturals completed a four-game sweep of Tulsa. That brought his Texas League-leading average to .394 and he was tied for the league lead in homers, 10, and RBIs, 33. And that’s despite missing 12 games because of injury.
Royals manager Ned Yost, who assessed Moustakas before taking the managerial job, was asked about the Moose’s rise toward the Major Leagues.
“He swung the bat for me very, very well. Played very good defensively there. I mean he’s getting closer,” Yost said. “There’s no thing like just going out and playing and getting experience at that level. The thing that I keep looking at in these guys is they’re getting closer. When he is ready to go, we’ll know when that time it but he’s definitely getting closer.”
Could Moustakas be thrown out onto the Kauffman Stadium diamond right now?
“I don’t have to throw him out there now so that’s something I don’t have to think about,” Yost said. “If there was something that happened and we needed a third baseman, well, then we’ll sit back and look at it. But that’s not the case now and again I try to look every single day I try to look how we can make our club better with the guys here. He’s definitely in the plans for us long-term but, as of today, we keep going with what we’re going with and we’ve done all right.”
Right-hander Aaron Crow pitched that victory for the Naturals, improving his record to 2-3. . . . Eric Hosmer’s double in Single-A Wilmington’s 9-2 loss at Lynchburg put him second in Carolina League with 16. He was leading the league with a .384 mark. . . . Twelve-year-old Dylan Peters of Olathe, Kan., was in the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat on Friday night. He wrote an award-winning book, “Tic Talk – Living with Tourette Syndrome” and has spoken to thousands of kids in the Kansas City area about accepting and comforting those who suffer from personal challenges.
Two of the Royals’ top draft picks are hitting up a storm. First baseman Eric Hosmer, their No. 1 choice in 2008, was leading all Minor League hitters with a .409 average for Single-A Wilmington with 42-for-110 through 32 games. He had 14 extra-bases hits including one homer and 21 RBIs. Third baseman Mike Moustakas, the first-round in 2007, was right behind at .408 (29-for-71) for Double-A Northwest Arkansas after missing the first three weeks with an oblique injury. He had nine doubles, six homers and 20 RBIs in 18 games. Those stats were through Monday.
Moustakas went 4-for-5 in the Naturals’ 7-3 victory over Tulsa on Monday. Left-hander Mike Montgomery held the Drillers to four hits and two walks in six innings and is 2-0 since moving up to Double-A. Moustakas, though, went 0-for-3 in Tuesday’s 4-1 win and he slipped to .392. . . . Shortstop Rey Navarro hit his first home run for Wilmington, his first since being acquired from Arizona in the Carlos Rosa trade, in a 6-5 win over Lynchburg. Catcher Salvador Perez celebrated his 20th birthday with a homer as well, his second. . . . Hilton Richardson’s two steals for Single-A Burlington in a 6-4 loss at Cedar Rapids gave him 12 in 13 attempts. . . . Jean Hinman, who works community projects through the Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, Kan., was in the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat on Tuesday night.
When it was mentioned to Royals manager Trey Hillman that some scouts thought Mike Moustakas might make a catcher some day, he gave it a verbal shrug.
“I think he’s athletic enough to do anything. The body type profiles more to a corner than up the middle or behind the plate,” Hillman said.
Moustakas, though, is likely to stick at third base where the Royals feel he’s a better fielder than he’s given credit for. Hillman especially likes his arm.
Moustakas was among seven non-roster players cut on Thursday and there are likely to be more roster reductions soon, particularly after Friday morning’s “B” game is in the books.
Zack Greinke says he’s not thinking about that Opening Day date with the Tigers, not yet anyway. “Just trying to think about pitching good right now. I’m not there yet but it’s better than it usually is at this time of spring,” he said. “Just the command. The changeup’s way better. And fastball command has been pretty good – it just has good life on it but mainly the changeup is way better than it usually is this time of year. Usually the secondary pitches are bad early on in spring.” . . . Against the Rockies the other day, Greinke faced his old batterymate, Miguel Olivo, and struck him out on a changeup. . . . The only telecast from Surprise this spring will come on March 23 when the Royals will meet the Chicago Cubs at 3:05 p.m. CT. But the MLB Network will carry three KC games – next Monday night against the White Sox, March 21 against the Rockies and March 26 against the Dodgers (the last two on tape delay).
David DeJesus put it succinctly when he talked about Rick Ankiel’s performance in Tuesday’s intrasquad game: “Everything he hits is a home run.”
That was true. He belted two solo homers – one off Luke Hochevar, one off Minor Leaguer Danny Duffy – as his team rolled, 6-0. He teed off on Hochevar’s changeup and Duffy’s breaking ball. In his other at-bat, Ankiel didn’t hit the ball – lefty Adam Bostick struck him out. Alberto Callaspo, batting right-handed, also homered off Duffy.
DeJesus had three at-bats and belted a triple, a double and a single.
“I just wanted to stay relaxed at the plate,” DeJesus said. “It’s way different doing (batting practice) with the pitchers behind the screen. When you get out there with no screens, you feel like you lock in a little better and it’s definitely always good when you get your first day with three hits.”
He could have had two triples but stopped at second base because he knew the inning was going to be halted at that point anyway. (Three innings were waved off because the pitchers had reached their pitch limit.)
Ankiel thought he got a little help on his second home run by the light Arizona air. “Definitely an Arizona home run,” he said.
Manager Trey Hillman liked what he saw from his offense – there were 13 hits in the five innings – despite skipping live batting practice early on in camp.
“I don’t think we were too far behind considering we didn’t take batting practice the first two days,” Hillman said. “If we hadn’t done well offensively today, by at least one side, I’m sure these guys would’ve grumbled that we missed those two days. But it looked like the mistakes from the pitchers got hit. They got some balls out over the plate.”
But he saw some good things from his pitchers as well.
“Hoch left a changeup up but other than that, he pitched very well, was very efficient. I thought (Aaron) Crow did a real good job. Even though he fell behind, he did a real good job of getting back in the count,” Hillman said.
And he was impressed by Rule 5 draft choice Edgar Osuna, a left-hander.
“You can see the pitchability,” Hillman said. “This is the second time in a row I’ve seen a good breaking ball – it’s got depth and sweep to it. He’s deceptive, especially with the changeup. He’s not afraid to throw to both sides of the plate. He threw Billy Butler a nice cutter inside and followed it up with a changeup and it resulted in two foul balls. But the only reason is because it was Billy Butler. He could’ve struck a lot of right-handed hitters out with that pitch coming in glove-side instead of using the changeup away.”
Most of all, though, Hillman liked his defense. The only error was a wide throw by Hochevar.
“Very clean. We had one error. I was very pleased with the defensive play,” Hillman said.
For Wednesday’s second intrasquad game, Hillman is switching the lineups around. Ankiel will be back but as a designated hitter; ditto for Jose Guillen. Mike Moustakas will get a shot at third base and several other non-roster players are in the two lineups as well. The pitchers will include Brian Bannister and Dusty Hughes.
Before Tuesday’s intrasquad game, Mike Aviles threw from shortstop for the first time in camp. He’s recuperating from Tommy John surgery in his right elbow so he was cautious but made about 15 of the long throws without a problem. He played second base in the game.
Outfielder Scott Podsednik was nicked in the hand by a pitch that glanced off the knob of his bat but he was OK.
Closer Joakim Soria has had no problems with the shoulder that troubled him early last season, according to manager Trey Hillman.
“He’s looked real good, he really has,” Hillman said after Saturday’s workout. “I tried to not to badger him but I’ve asked him probably three times how his body feels without getting specific about the shoulder but he says he feels very good. His command has been very good, his mechanics have been very free and easy. So far so good with him.”
One of Hillman’s goals is to keep Soria out of the two-inning save situations that he converted five times last year. A six-out save usually runs up so many pitches that Soria isn’t available the next day.
“You might still see the four-out but I’d like to stay away from the six-out,” Hillman said.
The Royals accelerated their schedule on Saturday afternoon, fearful that predicted rain would strike before the workout was finished. But the forecasters were way off. The Royals finished in mid-afternoon under sunny skies. “About an hour ago it was supposed to be blowing 35 or 40 miles an hour with the rain right behind that,” Hillman said. “I’m glad they missed, I’m glad we were able to stay out on the field. Really, in my opinion, we’ve already had enough adjustment days. This has been more like Florida Spring Training early on than Arizona.” Earlier the Royals had to adjust the schedule three straight days because of chilly, wet weather. . . . Rain is still forecast for Sunday. The Royals are scheduled to move into Surprise Stadium for batting practice at 9 a.m. MT as the city of Surprise holds a FanFest for the public. At 12:30, a home-run contest is scheduled between Minor League players from both of the complex teams. The Royals will use Mike Moustakas, who had 16 homers for Class A Wilmington; Ernesto Mejia, who led the Venezuelan Winter League with 14, and Scott Thorman, who whacked 20 in the Pacific Coast League last year. The Texas Rangers will deploy Justin Smoak, Chad Tracy and Mitch Moreland who combined for 54 homers last year. Tracy is the son of Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy. . . . The Royals’ pitching schedule for the intrasquad games on Tuesday and Wednesday has been adjusted. On Tuesday, Luke Hochevar, Aaron Crow, Adam Bostick and Edgar Osuna each will throw two innings and Danny Duffy and Francisco Rosario each will throw one inning. On Wednesday, the two-inning pitchers will be Brian Bannister, Dusty Hughes, Carlos Rosa, Bruce Chen and Nelson Payano with Josh Rupe going one inning. The “innings” won’t necessarily be three-out innings. “We’ll monitor it by pitches,” Hillman said. “Typically it can go 15 per inning. If it goes to 17, if we feel like a guy’s conditioning is OK, we might let him go 17 to get through a hitter or something.”
— Dick Kaegel
Four of the Royals’ Top 10 prospects, as recently defined by Baseball America, will get a priority evaluation in the Major League Spring Training camp.
Pitcher Aaron Crow, rated No. 2, is on the 40-man roster and third baseman Mike Moustakas (No. 4), pitcher Danny Duffy (No. 8) and outfielder David Lough (No. 10) have also been invited.
The other six in the Top 10 are pitcher Mike Montgomery (1), catcher Wil Myers (3), first baseman Eric Hosmer (5), pitcher Tim Melville (6), pitcher John Lamb (7) and pitcher Chris Dwyer (9). They’ll be in the Minor League camp in the same complex at Surprise, Ariz.
Of the four Top 10ers in the big-league camp, Baseball America cites as Moustakas as the farm system’s best power hitter and best infield arm and Crow as having the best fastball and best slider. And, in the publication’s projected 2013 (yes, 2013!) lineup, Lough is seen as the center fielder and Moustakas as the right fielder (that Alex Gordon guy is still at third base) and Crow as the No. 4 starter. Duffy isn’t listed but neither is the projected bullpen so maybe he’s sitting out there in 2013.
Other up-and-comers from the Minors, already on the 40-man roster, that will get close scrutiny include catcher Manuel Pina, shortstop Jeff Bianchi, outfielders Jarrod Dyson and Jordan Parraz and pitchers Noel Arguelles, Henry Barrera, Edgar Osuna and Blake Wood. Arguelles is the Cuban lefty the Royals signed for $7 million. And guys like slugging first baseman Kila Ka’aihue and shortstop-third baseman Mario Lisson will be back for another try.
It should be an interesting camp for getting an eyeful of the Royals’ future hopes.