By Sean Moore
March 14, 2012
You ever get the feeling you just don’t have your priorities straight? That while you have an awesome, divine thing before you, you just can’t stop thinking of something that seemingly pales in comparison? Well, believe it or not, it’s the middle of March and as much awesome basketball as I’m surrounded by, I’m continually thinking of something as trivial as baseball’s spring training. For as much as I want to concentrate my entire focus onto the holiest of months in college basketball, I can’t keep my mind off the storm that’s brewing in Surprise, Arizona.
The central Arizona town could not have been better named. Home of the spring training for the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers, what’s been coming out of this small suburb of Phoenix has been nothing but surprises. The Rangers went from being dead last in the AL West five seasons ago to two World Series visits in a row, and are a preseason favorite to make it there again. The Royals’ success, on the other hand, is not visible in the win column just yet, but their farm system is widely considered the best of the best right now. These two teams have become very familiar with each other at the beginning of the year, and I fully believe this will turn into a regular matchup late in the postseason (in a couple years.)
Let’s start with the Rangers. The back-to-back ALCS champions return this spring with a fairly identical lineup. They lost C.J. Wilson to the Angels but replaced him with Japanese phenom Yu Darvish. Big bats Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler are offensive beasts and the defense is stout with Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre and Michael Young to name a few. The Rangers’ catapult flight from worst to first was brought on mostly by Josh Hamilton’s MVP stats as well as second-year manager Ron Washington. They have reached stardom quickly and are an easy pick to make it deep in this year’s postseason as well. One of the leagues best stories the past couple years, they will face struggles winning the AL West with the new monster in Anaheim, but with the MLB’s recent addition of a wild card team in each conference, they shouldn’t have any troubles getting in the playoffs.
The Royals rise to supremacy, however, has yet to occur, and if it does, will be much more surprising. For a franchise whose last playoff appearance was in 1985 (when they won the World Series), things have been pretty boring in Kansas City the past couple decades. Besides the occasional plea for owner David Glass to sell the team or quit cheapin out, not much was being said about the Boys in Blue - until a couple years ago, that is. It was then that Mike Moustakas’ name was first launched into every mild sports fan’s vocabulary as well as many lists of MVP favorites. Well, maybe not quite- but the Royals, especially their farm system, were definitely put on the map with bold statements by writers from Sports Illustrated and ESPN that the Royals would win the World Series in as early as 2013. Perhaps this is a little bit of an exaggeration, but there’s no arguing with the fact that KC’s young prospects like Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Aaron Crow (all of which are under 24) have strong cases to turn this organization around. If there is a question with this fantasy however, it lies with money. The Royals currently have the leagues smallest payroll (the Yankees’ 201.6 million in 2011 is about five and a half times as much) and many wonder how it is they plan to pay their rising stars once they start putting up big numbers. The best defense I can find to this question would have to be that the Royals have been saving their money to pour it on these prospects instead of going around throwing it at big names. The Royals have spent the most money on bonuses in team history the past seven years with big ones getting dealt to Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Moustakas and Noel Arguelles. They are obviously committed to sticking with their homebred guys and not letting them slip away, which is something they haven’t been very good at the past decade or so (Johnny Damon, Zach Greinke and Carlos Beltran to name a few.)
Both the Royals and the Rangers are teams that just a few years ago had no where to go but up. Now, the Rangers are the reigning ALCS champs and the Royals have some of the best prospects in the league, and the future is bright for both squads. These teams could be on a shocking collision course to create quite the postseason rivalry in the next few years, but to this fan of both teams and the people of central Arizona, it’s no Surprise.