Over at the Rangers’ camp on Sunday morning, Brian Bannister got the start in the Royals’ ‘B’ game. He pitched two innings, but he was leaving the ball up in the zone, and the Rangers made him pay for it in the first inning. A Royals official we spoke with speculated that the high winds were likely causing Bannister’s problems, and shortly thereafter, Bannister came by and confirmed that the winds had changed his game plan. We did see him snap off a couple of nice breaking balls, and on the day, Bannister surrendered two runs on three hits in his two innings of work.
The high winds on Sunday affected Bannister’s performance
Of course, his outing ended with a scare. Immediately after a Royals coach announced that Bannister was facing his last hitter, the batter lined a pitch off of his left knee. Bannister recovered to pick up the ball and record the out, and then dropped to the ground. Trainers and coaches rushed to his aid, but after a minute or two, Bannister was able to walk off the field. He didn’t seem terribly concerned about his knee afterward, but he did mention that it was starting to swell up a bit as he was driven back to the clubhouse. Luckily, it doesn’t appear that he’ll miss any significant time.
At the minor league camp on Saturday, a pair of teams squared off in an intrasquad matchup. Pitchers were limited to pitch counts, each going two innings, and the Royals rolled out a few highly touted prospects. Chris Nicoll, Brent Fisher, Bryan Casey, and Harold Mozingo, among others, all took turns pitching in the game. Among the position player prospects, the Royals trotted out several interesting players, such as Chris Lubanski, Joe Dickerson, Nick Van Stratten, and Mario Lisson.
Mozingo threw well in his outing on Saturday
Of course, nobody was more impressive than Fisher. Saturday’s intrasquad game was our first opportunity to see Fisher throw to batters, and it didn’t take long for us to realize that his ridiculously excellent numbers in the Arizona Rookie League the last two seasons were no fluke. Indeed, the young lefty was on full display, hitting corners with ease and dropping his plus curveball at will. His curve has a very sharp two-plane bite, and left handed hitters in particular seemed to have little chance at making solid contact. Fisher struck out several batters in his brief outing, including Lubanski, and nobody got good wood on any of his offerings.
Fisher was dominant on Saturday
Fisher’s teammates rave about his ability to hide his fastball, which appears as though it’s coming from behind his body. Shortstop Chris McConnell told RC that even though Fisher’s velocity doesn’t seem overwhelming, it appears to come in much harder than it actually is, due to his deceptiveness. Fisher will be a very interesting guy to watch this season, as he’ll finally get a chance to face off against more advanced hitters, most likely in the Midwest League.
Speaking of McConnell, the 21-year old shortstop is swinging a hot bat this spring. McConnell got off to a terrible start in Burlington last season, hitting .172 in 69 games before being sent back to the Pioneer League. He never quite got comfortable at the plate, changing his batting stance back and forth between a crouched position and an upright stance. However, the Royals identified that his problem was actually a hitch in his swing that caused him to drop his back shoulder, making it more difficult for him to drive the ball consistently.
McConnell cruises into third for an RBI stand-up triple
McConnell explained to RC that because of the hitch, he would often drop the bat head and pop up pitches that he should have been able to capitalize on. The problem appears to be fixed now, and his performance in the intrasquad games has been very solid. He followed up a 2-for-3 on Saturday with a 1-for-3 effort on Sunday, including a stolen base and an RBI triple to deep center. Hopefully McConnell is well on his way to putting his forgettable 2006 season behind him.
On Sunday, we got our first look at Julio Pimentel, who the Royals acquired from the Dodgers in the Elmer Dessens trade last season. Pimentel put up very solid numbers out of the bullpen in his month at High Desert last season, and the Royals appear set to move him back into a starting role this year. He came out throwing hard on Sunday, and his fastball showed a nice tailing movement that bore in on right handed batters. He also featured a hard, sharp breaking ball, and even though his command wasn’t stellar, very few batters got good swings off of him.
Pimentel is an imposing presence on the mound
During batting practice on the minor league fields, several hitters put on impressive displays. Jeff Bianchi showed an excellent line drive stroke, sending lasers to all fields. Nick Van Stratten, a Winnetonka graduate selected in the 10th round of last year’s draft, sent several balls out of the yard, including a mammoth shot on his last swing to straightaway left field that hit high off a light pole. Indeed, Van Stratten has been impressive thus far this spring, showing off a wide range of tools, and his work ethic has made fans of many of his teammates.
Van Stratten is a local kid from Winnetonka High School
We also got our first look at Nick Francis, who the Royals selected in the 15th round of the 2006 draft. Francis is an imposing physical specimen – his build is similar to that of Shane Costa – and the ball was jumping off his bat during BP on Sunday as he sprayed low line drives all over the field. Francis generates impressive bat speed with a huge swing, and he appears to be a guy who could generate some solid power numbers as he develops.
Nobody was hitting the ball harder than Francis on Sunday
On the other side of the physical spectrum is speedster Derrick Robinson, last year’s fourth round pick. Robinson hit in the group after Francis, and we were very encouraged by the cuts he was taking from the left side of the plate. Last season with the Arizona Royals, the switch-hitting outfielder hit .357 from the right side of the plate, but just .194 from the left. However, on Sunday Robinson actually looked much better hitting left handed than right handed, serving line drives up back up the middle with ease.