Sports Outside the Beltway

Royals Spring Training Preview – Catchers

Geeks like me who routinely check in with the home team’s website can tell you that we are only 3 days, 19 hours and 4 minutes away from the opening of spring training.

There are twenty new faces on the Kansas City Royals forty man roster since the last time pitchers and catchers were asked to report, so I’d like to acquaint you with the men who will be vying for playing time under the Arizona sun.

Each player name will link to his stats from, followed by his 2006 numbers (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging average and OPS+).

Let’s start with the men behind the dish.

John Buck
OPS+ 76

Not long ago (2004), Buck finished tied for 8th place in rookie of the year voting, behind fellow teammates David DeJesus (6th) and Zack Greinke (4th). No doubt, his single vote was probably cast by Jeffrey Flannigan.

Buck’s OPS by Year:

2004  704
2005  676
2006  702

Buck’s OPS by Month:

Apr/Mar  553 
May      683 
June     780 
July     552 
August   680 
Sept/Oct 864

That June number is helped by his .993 OPS in June last year.

Buck’s MO is to start off slow and then figure things out. Unfortunately, aside from the aforementioned June and August of 2004, he has only posted an OPS over .800 in the month of September.

If I were Buddy Bell, I’d hire several “players” to stand around Buck at all times, wearing thermals, complaining about how cold it’s getting and talking about their fantasy football drafts non-stop.

Jason LaRue
OPS+ 65

LaRue was making steady progress as an offensive threat over the course of his career…

OPS+ by year:

1999  77
2000  74
2001  82
2002  85
2003  92
2004 103
2005 105
2006  65

… until last year, when pre-season knee surgery kept him out of the opening day lineup and rendered him relatively ineffective.

That’s one scary hole his productivity fell into, but there is hope for a rebound this year.

Here are some of LaRue’s numbers from the last three seasons, courtesy of The Hardball Times:

251  334  431  19.7  42.3  .313
260  355  452  22.5  41.6  .325
194  317  346  20.0  43.6  .220

For reference, that’s line drive (LD%) and ground ball percentages (GB%), as well as batting average on balls in play (BA/BIP).

A quick glance at those numbers shows that one of these things is not like the others.

Despite the knee surgery zapping his power, LaRue still hit line drives with the same consistency as previous years. Even a terrible player will have their BA/BAP regress to the mean (the NL average BA/BIP was .301 in ’06), and LaRue was not a terrible player before his knee injury, which could mean a nice bounce back for the man slated to back up Buck.

Paul Phillips
OPS+ 63

In seven minor league seasons, Phillips has put up a marginal 280/326/392 line in 532 games. Seeing action at the major league level almost exclusively during the September call-up period, he has hit 270/279/380 in 50 games.

After missing two entire seasons to injury, Phillips has done well to find himself a home in Omaha and will probably continue to work with the pitchers who aren’t quite ready for prime time yet.

I’ll be back with a look at the tall, slow guys standing by first base tomorrow.

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