Cactus League Game 8 – Royals at Mariners

marc w · February 29, 2020 at 10:27 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Marco Gonzales vs. Stephen Woods 12:10pm

After yesterday’s performance by Yusei Kikuchi, it’s a bit easier to feel optimistic. He sat at 96 with his fastball, and those readings come from statcast, not a wonky radar gun. Of course, he teased at this last year, too – sitting 94 and touching 96-97 early in the year before losing a tick or two as the summer wound on. But it’s safe to say his average is up this year, and he’s also picked up speed on his slider, which is now a cutter-y 90-91. That should flatten out the movement on it, but then, Kikuchi’s slider never really had much to begin with. It could be a very effective pitch at higher velos, because it’s not slurv-y at all. Kikuchi’s problem was never stuff – it’s always been about consistency, and that’s not something we can see he’s fixed in a single spring start (or even in an entire spring). But if we’re going to look for encouraging signs, Kikuchi’s start yesterday would certainly qualify.

It’d be great for Marco Gonzales to follow Kikuchi’s sterling start with one of his own. He gets to face a Royals line-up that isn’t going to terrify anyone, as this great Patrick Dubuque piece (hilariously) details. This game’s on TV, so if you’d like to tune in and actually see what Gonzales’ approach might be, it’ll be on Root Sports. The Royals are forecasted to be essentially equal to the M’s, or perhaps even a game up (thanks to a weaker division), but how we think about the two clubs is quite different. This is the power of a great farm system, or, more cynically, this is the result of a year-plus all-out PR campaign to hype up the M’s prospects. Right now, both clubs look like cellar-dwellers, but the M’s are a *hopeful* kind of celler dweller, while the Royal sub-species has a number of young players, just young players from whom much less is expected. The Royals figure to be a lot worse than the M’s in 3-4 years, but this is the kind of thinking that’s gotten the M’s in trouble in the past.

The Royals starter, Stephen Woods Jr., was an 8th round pick of the SF Giants out of a SUNY campus back in 2016. He had a solid season in the NWL with Salem-Keizer, and then a good campaign in the Sally League that enabled him to be a part of the return for Evan Longoria. He missed all of 2018, but came back to have a solid half-year for Charlotte, the Rays affiliate in the Florida State League. But at 24 and with a decent injury history and having just hit high-A, the Rays waived him. The pitching-starved Royals picked him up in December, and he’ll likely get some high-minors seasoning this year. Not a lot of info out there, but the one thing that jumps off the page with the guy is the fact that he hasn’t given up many HRs at all. He’s given up 6 in over 230 career innings, and last year held batters to a slugging percentage under .300. That’s the FSL, though, perhaps the most pitcher-friendly circuit in affiliated ball. We’ll see how he deals with this line-up:

1: Long, Jr. DH
2: Crawford, SS
3: Seager, 3B
4: Vogelbach, 1B
5: Murphy, C
6: Gonzalez, RF
7: Kelenic, CF
8: Gordon, 2B
9: Siri, LF
SP: Marcoooooo

Yoshihisa Hirano, Taylor Guilbeau, and others should get an inning today. For those wondering about 5th-starter-contender Taijuan Walker, he’s been brought along slowly, doing simulated games and the like, but it sounds like he could make a Cactus League start on Wednesday.


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