Royals players grateful for thaw of Spring Training
Volunteer corps of early reporters looks ready to go
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Maybe it was warming up a bit back in Kansas City, starting to melt that foot of snow, but it was nothing close to the sublime climate Wednesday at the Royals' training complex. Sunshine, 73 degrees, green grass.
And, on one of several bullpen mounds, right-handed prize prospect Yordano Ventura was cracking pitch after pitch into the catcher's glove. Ah, spring.
"He's a special talent, that's for sure," pitching coach Dave Eiland said. "It jumps out of his hand."
These are voluntary workouts but the University of Tennessee's Luke Hochevar isn't the only volunteer here. It seems like most of the Royals team is doing something or other even though the official reporting date for pitchers and catchers isn't until Friday with the first official workout Saturday.
It doesn't take much encouragement for players to arrive early for Spring Training.
"When you're looking out here and it's 70 degrees and back home you just left 7 degrees, it's kind of a no-brainer -- 'Let's go to Arizona,' " coach Rusty Kuntz said.
"I just know it's a whole lot easier to get loose in this weather than back in Kansas City."
So Hochevar and Ventura and several other pitchers were loosening up on the mounds. Over on the main practice field, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were among hitters lashing line drives all over the place.
The reporting date for infielders and outfielders isn't until Feb. 19, and the first full-squad workout is on Feb. 20. The first Cactus League game is just one week later, a pretty fast turnaround.
"You don't need time anymore," manager Ned Yost said. "These guys are all in shape. It's not like it was in the old days where players showed up to get in shape because they'd had jobs all winter long. Our guys work all winter on their conditioning and they're in shape when they get here."
Yost, 58, broke into the big leagues as a catcher in 1980 when things were different.
"We all worked in the winter. I laid tile and was a forester for two years and marked timber," he said. "Back then, when I came to the big leagues, the minimum was 16 grand. Look what it is now."
Today's big league minimum is a half-million bucks.
"Everything's different, the kids are different," he said. "They grew up in a different environment than we grew up in. They grew up with cell phones, video games, Internet, social media. We didn't have any of that. We read the paper, we played outside. It's a different group. You've got to be able to adapt to them, what makes them tick, what makes them go."
They were going briskly Wednesday morning at the complex, which is pretty busy year-round.
Although the Rookie classification team at Surprise will be eliminated, there's still the Arizona Fall League and the instructional league. Players on injury rehabilitation are always in and out.
"The strength and conditioning room is abuzz every day, the rehabbers are in and they're always updating and checking and monitoring all of our players," Yost said.
Kuntz mentioned that the Royals had their top prospects at Surprise for a winter camp. They do one-on-one drills, of course, but there's more for the youngsters in classes with Minor League field coordinator Tony Tijerina.
"They have an hour skull session and talk about life in baseball, what it's like to work with reporters, how to be respectful, things to say, things to stay away from. And the tweeting issues and all the things that young guys run into. They have about 30 guys, 15 pitchers and 15 position players, and it's great to see those guys interact like that," Kuntz said.
"A lot of them, like Lane Adams, [Cheslor] Cuthbert, Jason Adam, these kind of guys, are going into their first Major League camp and wonder, 'What am I supposed to do, how am I supposed to act, how am I supposed to dress?' T.J. [Tijerina] and his coordinators answer from their experience. They cover everything -- even where they're supposed to park in the parking lot. So it's great."
Over the next several days, the parking lot will be filling up as more players arrive to join in. They shouldn't have trouble getting loose; the weekend temperatures are supposed to push 90 degrees.
"Just having them here running around and seeing them kind of gets you back in the baseball groove again," Kuntz said.