05/19/08 6:15 PM ET
Mailbag: What is KC looking for in Draft?
Beat reporter Dick Kaegel answers Royals fans' questions
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
-- Andrew P., Kansas City, Mo.
The Royals pick third. I'm hearing they are likely to go for an impact bat this year. That means, among others, they are looking at Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez and South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak. Alvarez is a left-handed hitter, and Smoak is a switch-hitter. The pitching crop is thinner than usual this year.
A year or so ago I heard some teams were starting to put performance tapes in iPod format so the players could review them on the plane, at home or anywhere. Are the Royals doing this?
-- Charles S., Raymore, Mo.
The Royals made iPod tapes available to many players last year, according to Royals video coordinator Mark Topping. But those, obviously, were quite small. This year most players are getting hard drives containing tapes, plugging them in and viewing them on their personal computer screens. This provides a larger picture and additional printed information.
Why was Hideo Nomo released by the Royals? Was it just performance issues?
-- Kyle K., Sheridan, Wyo.
Yes. After making good progress in Spring Training and catching Royals manager Trey Hillman's eye with a lot of strikeouts, once the season began Nomo's velocity faded and his splitfinger wasn't nearly as sharp. The Royals gave him every chance to make it.
The Royals batting order is changing quite a bit from game to game and series to series. Is this in response to the starting pitcher, to who's hot and who's not offensively, or is it because Hillman just hasn't figured out how to best get the runs out of our hitters?
-- Ricky W., Bath, United Kingdom
That's all part of it. Hillman indicated in Spring Training that he'd like to have a set lineup. Most managers would. To his credit, though, he's not averse to moving things around.
Jose Guillen struggles, so he moves him from fourth to sixth. Alex Gordon falters for awhile in the third spot, so he's dropped down for awhile to find himself, then he's moved back. He's tried Mark Teahen in the No. 2 hole and David DeJesus at No. 3.
When you don't score a lot, you need to tinker and figure out your best combination for manufacturing runs. They're obviously not going to come in bunches for this club. The encouraging thing is that Hillman had a terrible offensive club last year in Japan and wound up in the finals.
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The Royals are on pace to score a historically low amount of runs. Are there any plans to call up Ryan Shealy, who played great in Spring Training and is hitting with power for Triple-A Omaha?
-- Bill G., Oklahoma City, Okla.
Shealy is hitting some home runs -- eight through Sunday -- but he's having his problems, too, including a .222 average. Shealy has 26 hits and 27 strikeouts in 117 at-bats.
Right now, the opportunities at first base seem to be closing, with Billy Butler playing more and more there and holding his own. Shealy is going to have to prove himself over the long haul to get another chance. If Butler is edged away from being the designated hitter, there are other choices on the current roster, including Miguel Olivo, a proven power hitter in the Major Leagues.
Would Alex Gordon or Mark Grudzielanek be available to play shortstop, maybe moving Mark Teahen back to the infield to get Tony Pena Jr. out of the lineup? I believe we are a solid-hitting shortstop away from some great things.
-- Dan K., Harlan, Iowa
Someone has a solution to this topic almost every week. This scenario isn't going to happen, because neither Gordon nor Grudzielanek has the necessary range to play shortstop. Hillman indicated the other day that he's sticking with Pena as long as his defense continues to be an asset. In the meantime, Pena's hitting is showing signs of picking up.
Do you think Luke Hochevar will be in the starting rotation for the entire season?
-- Chris B., West Hartford, Conn.
Not only will Hochevar be in the rotation this season, but for years to come -- and not just because he was a No. 1 Draft choice. Hochevar worked hard on fine-tuning his mechanics and developing secondary pitches all last year in the Minors. While his statistics were mediocre, his progress was substantial, as his brief exposure to the Majors showed last September.
Hochevar came close to making the rotation during Spring Training, but he was sent to Omaha for about three weeks. He did well and was recalled when John Bale's shoulder went "dead." Hochevar's sinking fastball is his primary weapon, and when he stays on the attack with that, ground balls proliferate. He's got the stuff to be around for a long time.