Monday, January 22, 2007

Ryan Shealy Interview

During the Royals Caravan stop in Omaha last Wednesday, I had a chance to do a brief interview with Royals first baseman, Ryan Shealy.

Q: Since Doug Mientkiewicz signed with the Yankees recently, you've got to feel pretty good about the confidence the Royals have in you.

A: For me, it was just great to have a chance to play. For so many years over in Colorado I was behind (Todd) Helton, so coming over here, just being in a fresh environment and having a chance to actually you said, it builds confidence and it's something that I hope to build on this year.

Q: Ross Gload will probably back you up at first base. Any indications whether that is true or not?

A: I'm not really...I know he's a left-handed bat and I'm a right-handed bat, and I know he's played a little bit of outfield. He's been a solid player for years now too. He was actually with Colorado. We were both sort of in the same boat behind Helton. He's a good player. He'll get his at bats somehow, but I feel like if I do what I can do, then I shouldn't have anything to worry about.

Q: You've always hit for power, but I think Royals fans were a little surprised by your glove work last season. You only had three errors in a Royals uniform in 51 games. Is your defense something you pride yourself in?

You know, it is certainly something that hasn't come easy. I work on it as much as I can throughout the course of the season and during the offseason. It is something I take pride in and something I can still improve on and something I plan on improving on.

Q: Did you have a chance to work with Doug Mientkiewicz one on one last season?

A: I asked him a few questions. He was real good about talking. As far as right-handed first basemen go, he's about as good as they get defensively. It was good to pick his brain because he's very good defensively.

Q: What do you think about the offseason moves the Royals have made?

A: I think it's been great. It shows that we're committed to getting better and committed to winning. They were definitely moves we needed to make. We're in a tough division. There's a few teams that are battling each other each year, so hopefully for years to come we're going to be right in the thick of things.

Q: Do you think there is a good balance on the team right now between veterans and less experienced players?

A: Yeah. That was one of the biggest things I noticed when I got over here. Between Grudzielanek and Reggie Sanders and Mientkiewicz for a little bit, and Paul Bako--the guys we had here last year were good older guys. Grudzielanek will be back and Reggie will be back and those guys, as a young player, they are going to help you because they've seen everything there is to see. I would pick Grud's brain all the time because we played right next to each other, so I think it's a good mix. And then on the flip side, you've got Teahen who is starting to establish himself, and hopefully I'll do some good things. Alex Gordon is waiting in the wings. In my opinion, it is a very good mix.

Q: So, the pieces are coming together?

A: Looks like it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Glass Says Royals Will Contend in 2007

According to this AP article, David Glass is saying that the Royals are going to contend for the AL Central in 2007.

The article also goes on to quote Glass as saying that he, along with the other owners, were berated by the commissioner lately because of the escalating salaries in baseball. Selig ought to be happy that teams like the Royals are trying to be competitive. If he wants to get on anybody's case for escalating salaries, he ought to give Steinbrenner a call. The evil Yankees had a $198.6 million payroll last season, compared to the $47.2 million the Royals spent.

Come back tomorrow for my interview with Royals first baseman Ryan Shealy.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Ryan Lefebvre Interview

During the Royals Caravan stop in Omaha on Wednesday, I had a chance to sit down one on one with Royals broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre to talk a little Royals baseball.

Q: You've been with the Royals now for eight seasons. Has it been everything you thought it would be when you came over from Minnesota?

A: It's actually been more. I thought I'd be with the Minnesota Twins forever. Going to the University of Minnesota and playing baseball there and starting with the Twins...and I've told few people this--my original plan was to come to Kansas City, get more radio experience because I was mostly a TV guy in Minnesota, and then maybe return to the Twins. It ended up being much better than I thought it was going to be. And now, here I am going on my ninth year and I have no desire to go anywhere else.

Q: You've developed a certain chemistry on the air with Denny Matthews by badgering each other with trivia. How did that develop? Was it something that happened off mic or did it just develop naturally on the air?

A: Probably both. I knew Denny and Fred (White) when I was with the Twins. But when I took the job, he (Denny) and I realized we both had a lot in common. Both of us had a father who was a baseball coach. Both of us played baseball in college. Both of us started very young in the major leagues. I think Denny was 25 or 26. I was 24. Both of us are still single. So, we just had a lot in common and man we laughed that night at that first dinner and that really broke the ice. And on the air, I really took my time. I certainly wasn't going to come in and say, "Hey, let me show you how good the new guy is." Denny is the voice of the Royals. I accept that. I believe in it. I'm his number two guy and I'm fine with that. But he gave me a lot of credibility as well by bringing me in during his innings and asking me baseball questions. We just get along. We laugh a lot. And frankly, the team has not been very good since I've been here so you have to find a way to keep things entertaining. When it's 11-3 in the eighth inning, every pitch isn't that important so you get off on other things. Sometime it's baseball related. Sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with baseball. But we have a really good time.

Q: You told a story on the air early in the 2006 season about a woman who was around 100 years old. She was a huge Royals fan and she listened to you every night and you were a big part of her life. And in fact, she actually died while listening to a Royals broadcast. Do you remember that story?

I do. Her first name was Bobbie. We still have the pamphlet from her funeral up in the booth. She listened to the Royals game every day. And as you say, she passed away while she was listening to a game. We did a little more research and realized that she was listening during one of Denny's innings, so Denny killed her. [We both got a chuckle out of the joke.]

Q: Were you aware of how engrained the Royals Radio Network is among Royals fans? Or did Bobbie's story help to crystallize it in your mind?

A: I guess I wasn't that aware. I was aware of it in Minnesota--knowing how important the Twins were to certain fans. But then I came to Kansas City and two things stood out. We have the biggest radio network in the American League as far as affiliates. And then things have changed since I came to Kansas City, but when I first arrived they only televised about half the games. So it was a good market to be a radio announcer because for half the games the only option you had was on radio. But TV is important and we should be televising as much as we do because other teams are doing it. But for all those years the Royals did not believe in televising a lot of home games because they wanted people to come out to the ballpark. That only strengthened the marriage of the fans and the radio broadcast.

Q: Talk to me a little about taking over for Fred White when you did. Fans were not happy about it, but they didn't seem to take it out on you, did they?

A: I think three things came into play. Number one, the Kansas City fans were fair. They were not happy that Fred left. I knew that coming in. I expected it. It was hard, but I expected it. But the fans in the end were fair. They didn't expect me to be Fred. Number two, Denny supported me. Fred supported me on the air. There was the instant credibility there when Denny and Fred were saying, "Give this guy a chance to prove himself." And number three, I know that it's all about the players and the fans. We are just a conduit. People may say they listen to us, but they are really listening to the Royals. If Denny and I had a talk show and were just goofing around and there was no game, I don't think our listenership would be the same. So, I just always knew it was about the broadcast. Not about Ryan Lefebvre. It's about the broadcast. So the support from Denny and Fred, and the fans just being fair and taking their time before they wanted to accept me and just knowing my place--I guess the  combination put it all together.

Q: Things have changed a lot since you've come to Kansas City. When you got here, the Royals had players like Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon. And then they had some down years. Now they appear to be on the verge of competing in a year or two. Do you sense that?

Gosh. I have no idea. I'm so bad at predictions--only because injuries. The Royals could suffer an injury and that sets them back. The Twins and the White Sox and the Tigers could suffer injuries and that catapults the Royals. You just never know what's going to happen. But I do know that the pitching is going to be better. Ever since I've been a Royals announcer, the Royals have never really struggled scoring runs. It's never been a big problem. But pitching has been a huge problem. They've always been at the bottom of the league in ERA. The Royals are going to be more athletic. When they were in their glory years in the 70's and 80's that was their trademark. They were just an athletic team offensively. And they are stockpiling the minor leagues. So when the Royals are going to get back to being a perennial contender in the Central, I don't know when that is, but I truly do believe they're headed in that direction.

Q: Do you sense optimism in Kansas City, not just because of the Gordons and the Butlers, but also because of the philosophy change to stockpile young arms?

A: Yeah. Yeah. I think so. And I think Royals fans for the most part are just optimistic people. I think the people in Kansas City, and the region around Kansas City, including Omaha, are just dying to love this team. They have not become apathetic yet. Even if they are angry, it still shows that they have a passion for the team.

Q: They sure showed up in 2003.

A: They did. And it didn't take them very long to show up in 2003. By the second homestand we were packing the place because the Royals were 9-0 and then 16-3. And so, I think there is kind of an eternal optimism for the Royals in Kansas City. The team actually played well in the second half (of 2006). That was two different seasons. The bulk of the damage was done in the first half. In the second half, Dayton Moore comes in and he had an impact right away. Of course, he denies it. And you might say, how does a GM have an impact when they come in? It's because you (as a player) have a new set of eyes on you now. You're not anybody's guy. You're not Allard Baird's guy anymore. Dayton Moore is going to say, "Hey, is this guy any good?" There's no emotional attachment there. I think that just naturally peaked concentration and peaked performance somewhat. So I thought they played much better in the second half. Going down to the finish line in Detroit--sweeping three games in front of sellout crowds--the Tigers had to win one game to win the division, the Royals sweep them...their only road sweep of the year. That was huge. The question is, can you sustain that after being off for five months. We'll see.

Q: Fans seem to be confused about the constant change between signing a bunch of veterans versus going young. The Royals have switched back and forth numerous times in the past ten years. Now they've appear to have a better balance between veteran and younger guys. Would you agree? Or you you think the Royals are out of balance one way or the other?

A: The answer to that question is...does it help you to win games. If you are not winning games, and when you are not winning, you are always going to look for a reason why you are not winning. But every team, even when they are young, they have to have some veterans to show the guys the way. Going with a youth movement takes a lot of courage. You are not going to win right away. You're not going to win the next year. You might not win the next year. Then fans become impatient and more teams than not will then veer away from that youth movement maybe a year or two sooner than they should because they panic. The teams who have a youth movement that works--it's a long term youth movement. It takes years for it to happen. It takes a lot of patience. It takes luck. It takes drafting the right guys. It takes guys staying healthy. There are so many factors. In 2003, the year the Royals were in it up until the last two weeks of the season, in some ways it was good, but in some ways it put the Royals off track a little bit.

Q: That's when the Royals went out and got Brian Anderson...

A: Then the next year they signed Juan Gonzalez and Benito Santiago, but there was an opportunity. The Twins had lost some players to free agency. The White Sox had lost some players to free agency. The Royals were coming off their first winning season in forever. And so they saw an opportunity and they kind of went for it. But they did veer off of course. So going young does take some courage. It takes some time. Another thing we're not accustomed to in Kansas City, which we have to get used to is--having really good players in the minor leagues. That's okay. But since we've been so bad for so long, if we have a good player in the minor leagues we have this mentality that says, "Let's get him up! Let's bring him up!"

Q: Well, Omaha has been seen as a graveyard hasn't it? A place where veteran players go to see their careers die?

A: Yeah. I think that's going to change under Dayton Moore. This is going to be a legitimate level of minor league baseball. I think having a player in Double-A who should be in Triple-A, that's okay. Having a player in Triple-A that could play in the major leagues, that's okay. That's what good teams do.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Alex Gordon Interview

After the Royals Caravan presentation in Omaha yesterday, I joined several other reporters in a group interview with Alex Gordon. Here's a portion of that interview.

Q: There have been comparisons between you and George Brett. How much pressure is there on you with such high expectations?

A: I can't compare myself to George Brett. He's a hall of famer. I'm just a Double-A player. Hopefully there's some way I can live up to him, but there's no way you can follow in his footsteps. He's been a great player.

Q: How much will having some guys with a little more experience in the major leagues help you throughout this spring to develop to where you want to be?

A: A lot. I remember coming into my first Spring Training, Sweeney, the first thing he did was come up to me and say, "You need anything? You need any help?" And there was a lot of guys, like Stairs, I could go on and on...but a lot of the older guys took the younger guys under their wings and just showed them around. So, I think that's a plus when you come into a new environment.

Q: How much time have you spent with George Brett?

A: Basically just Spring Training. He was around me a lot in the batting cage and taking ground balls. But that was about it. He asked me to go out to dinner one time and we never got to that so I'm going to have to call him up and have a nice little steak or something.

Q: What's going to be different for you going into Spring Training this year compared to last season?

A: Last year I knew that I was going to leave the big league team. I was kind of out of the picture. I was just happy to be there. But now, after going through a full season and being successful I'm looking to make the big league team and hopefully get a starting spot.

Q: What's it going to take for you to make the big league team?

A: I'm flying out tonight and I'm going to start training and I'll be training throughout Spring Training. I'm just going to do everything in my power to be ready to go and hopefully get the rust off from the winter.

Q: Have you practiced in the outfield?

A: Last Spring Training I think they wanted me to take a couple of balls in the outfield during batting practice, but nothing since then.

Q: When was the last time you played the outfield?

A: Ninth grade in high school I think. Left field. I made a couple of diving catches so I felt pretty comfortable out there. I like to think that I'm a pretty decent athlete so I could make that transition.

Q: Has Teahen been taking anything in the outfield?

A: I have no idea. You'd have to ask a coach or talk to Teahen. But like I said, that's his job, his third base job. I'm just the back up right now.

Q: Some people are saying that you feel bad that Teahen is having to answer questions about you.

A: I've heard that there's been a lot of questions, saying I'm coming in, but he had a great season. He was player of the year for Kansas City. I think that's the questions they should be asking him.

Q: What is your relationship with Mark like?

A: We talked a couple of times. They only time I've seen him is in Spring Training. He's a good guy and we get along just fine. I'm hoping that we can be on the same field together because I think we both could help the team out. I think it would be exciting to see us on the same field.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Royals Caravan Notes

Here are a few random quotes from the Royals Caravan stop in Omaha today:

Royals Third Base Coach Brian Poldberg on Buddy Bell's health:

"I talked to Buddy yesterday. From the time the surgery happened to yesterday, his voice has got a lot of life in it. He's energetic. He's ready to get started. He's ready to put everything from last year behind him. And from what I've heard from people who've seen him, they say he looks like he's back in playing shape too. So, he lost about 30 pounds. He feels good and he's ready to go."

Ryan Lefebvre on Mark Teahen's recovery from offseason shoulder surgery:

"I saw him throw last week on the caravan. He's throwing 90 feet. Frank was saying that they anticipate that he was going to be ready for Spring Training. "

Poldberg on Jason LaRue's role:

"He gives us a little more depth and leadership behind the plate. He and John Buck are going to go out and battle for the starting position. The hottest bat will probably play. The guy who handles the pitching staff (better) will probably play a little bit more. It's going to be a competition in Spring Training to see who takes the job. It'll probably be good for John Buck. He'll have a little bit of pressure on him to go out prove (himself) and take the everyday spot. Jason LaRue is there to back him up and maybe take his spot if John Buck doesn't do the job."

Frank White on Ryan Shealy:

"My first year managing in Wichita, Ryan was with Tulsa. I was very impressed with his ability to stay inside the ball and drive the ball straightaway, and to left center and right center. Kind of like a minor league approach. He's gap to gap, but he's the prototypical guy in his approach. He doesn't swing outside of himself and he's always in control of his swing."

White on Alex Gordon:

"When Alex came to Wichita this past season, I thought I had a rock star on my hands. It's really kind of neat to see how many people really really loved him and followed him. I had more camera crews coming from the Lincoln area and Omaha area...and radio shows from this area talking about Alex. He's a true professional. He's a great guy. He's very mentally tough. He plays hard. He plays a lot. For last year to be his first year in pro ball...about the 70 game mark he got a little tired. Then he went to the All-Star game and they played him all nine innings of the game, which I didn't like. But after that I gave him a day off. After that, he bounced back and just really took the league over. He won every award I can think of in minor league baseball. But he didn't stand apart from his teammates. They really loved each other. They played hard together. They pulled for each other. They held each other accountable. They just did a lot of great things, and he was the center of it. As he went, the team went. I think that's why everybody is hoping that you get to see a little bit of this in Omaha. And I'm sure he's hoping to jump over Omaha. If you have an opportunity to see him play, you'll definitely be impressed--not only offensively, defensively, and base running-wise--he was just a complete player for the Royals last year and it was really a joy for me to manage him last year."

White on the possibility of the Royals embracing the moneyball philosophy:

"I spent four years with the Red Sox. And it's interesting to see how everybody wants to get to the same place, but they all take different roads to get there. In Boston, we won the division in 95. Then in 96, they went to the computer approach. They brought in a guy that basically went by numbers on a player and we fell flat on our face the next year. Sometimes the numbers don't give you everything you need. Because sometimes you need speed and that number might not correlate with speed. Sometimes you pick up a guy who is hitting seventh in the line up and then you ask him to hit fourth for you--which is a totally different thing. So, I like our approach because you've got people looking at people. People talking to people. People evaluating people. It's a puzzle you have to put together, but you've got to put the right ingredients into the puzzle before it will work. You can have a lot of offense and no speed and it's hard to win. But you've got to have a good balance of what you really need."

[Lefebvre added that Dayton Moore has created 13 new positions (coaches and scouts) in the baseball operations department.]

Here are a few photos from the event:

[From left: Brian Poldberg, Frank White, Alex Gordon, Ryan Braun, Ryan Shealy]

[Anybody notice how much Alex Gordon looks like a young George Brett?]

Q & A Interviews Coming

I attended the Royals Caravan this afternoon in Omaha and in the coming days I'll be posting several interviews with Ryan Shealy, Ryan Braun, and Ryan Lefebvre (it's the "All Ryan" show). I also joined with other reporters in a group interview with Alex Gordon and I'll be bringing you portions of that as well. I'm planning to post one interview per day, starting tomorrow, so check back.

Royals and Brown Reach Agreement

The Royals and Emil Brown avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year contract on Tuesday that is believed to be in the range of $3.4 million. Brown has proven that he can drive in runs and he can play either left or right field, but I'm still not sure where he fits in the big scheme of things given that Reggie Sanders will start in right field and, in all likelihood, Mark Teahen will start in left.

But who knows how things will shake out during Spring Training? Alex Gordon might not be ready yet to take over third, which would leave Teahen there. Or somebody could get injured. And the odd man out in the outfield would fit nicely into the DH spot if Sweeney goes down.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Keith Law has a column entitled Royals have a potential star in Gordon currently running on ESPN's website that you might be interested in reading. He makes the case that Alex Gordon will be "the best player to man the hot corner in Kansas City since George Brett."

That would be impressive if it turns out to be true given that guys like Kevin Seitzer (who logged a 200-hit season in 1987), Gary Gaetti (who hit 35 HR with 96 RBI in 1995), and Dean Palmer (who hit 34 HR with 119 RBI in 1998) have played the position after Brett. And let's not forget the current third baseman, Mark Teahen, who appears to be on the verge of becoming an All-Star.

Here's another one of Law's observations that will make Royals fans everywhere smile: "With him [Gordon], Butler (a masher who's likely to end up as a designated hitter), and left fielder Chris Lubanski in their 2008 lineup and a few more arms in the system, the Royals look like they're on a quick path toward respectability, with contention just a little bit further down the line."

Hat tip: to Mike K. for the heads up about the article.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Royals Sign Alex Gonzalez

My first thought after hearing that the Royals had signed shortstop Alex Gonzalez was that Angel Berroa's run in Royal blue was finally coming to and end. Not so fast says Dayton Moore, in an article in the Star:

“I don’t anticipate that happening,” Moore said. “Our judgment in our organization is that Berroa had a down year but he still has more talent at this stage of his career than Gonzalez has. This gives us more depth, that’s all it is.”

Are we really still talking about potential in a guy who is 28 and played four and a half seasons? Honestly though, I'm not sure that Alex Gonzalez is a better alternative. At 33, Gonzalez he's far past his prime. He doesn't hit for average (.243 career average), he hasn't shown much power since his days with the Cubs in 2002-2003, and his fielding percentage of .967 in 2004 at shortstop (the last time he had a chance to play the position semi-regularly) is comparable to Berroa's .964 lifetime fieling percentage.

I wouldn't mind if we just gave light-hitting Andres Blanco a shot to back up Berroa. Or how about Angel Sanchez? He hit .313 with 70 RBI for High Desert in 2005 and he hit .282 with a .339 OBP and a .691 OPS in Wichita in 2006. Seems like he ought to get a shot at some point.

Gobble Signs One-Year Deal

You've probably heard by now that Jimmy Gobble signed a one-year deal with the Royals for $712,500. Gobble is the last man standing in the bullpen that Allard Baird put together that was so highly touted. Even though it had a lot of potential, the combination of guys being rushed to the big leagues with guys who just couldn't throw strikes gave the Royals one of the worst, if not the worst, bullpens in baseball in recent seasons.

When Gobble came out of the pen last season, he put up decent numbers. He had two saves with a 4.68 ERA. Overall his ERA was 5.14 (he started six games) and he struck out 80 guys in 84 innings. Let's hope that he continues to improve and that the Royals leave him in the pen.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Mientkiewicz Signs with Yankees

Doug Mientkiewicz's stay in Kansas City was a short one. He is headed to New York to play for the evil Yankees next season. They reportedly have reached a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. The Royals already have a bit of a logjam at first base, especially after trading for Ross Gload recently. With Ryan Shealy being the starting first basemen and Justin Huber sort of waiting in the wings, Mientkiewicz didn't fit into their plans.

I liked having Mientkiewicz around. He was willing to spend time with Huber to teach him the ropes at first base. He seemed to have a knack for getting the big hit. And on a team full of youngsters, he was one of the few veterans who could offer words of wisdom when times were tough. RR wishes Mientkiewicz well--even though he's about to put on enemy garb.
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