First Impressions Go A Long Way
Four Royals position players debuted on Opening Day and made some great first impressions.
If you hadn’t heard, the Royals played a regular season baseball game yesterday. It lasted a long, long time, but the Royals came out on top in the crazy game. I thought about writing a Jayson Stark-esque article about the ridiculous stats from this one game that were so bizarre like Wade Davis striking out both batters he faced after striking out two all spring. Or maybe Nicky Lopez hitting the fifth farthest fly ball of the game after averaging the fifth lowest batted ball distance in baseball last year. Or maybe it’s Brad Keller giving up two doubles in the first inning after allowing two all of last year. But instead, I want to talk about some of the amazing debuts we saw.
First, can we just take a second to appreciate how insane this game was.
A win is better than a loss, but that was some stress. And it felt like a better win than many. Comebacks will do that. Anyway, let’s get back to the four big debuts from the Royals lineup.
The day started with the Royals soon-to-be-number-retired former left fielder, Alex Gordon, throwing out the first pitch, and then Benintendi had an adventurous first inning. He made an ill-advised dive on a sinking line drive from Nate Lowe that led to a three-run double, but then he channeled his inner Gordo to make a leaping catch up against the wall. He only went 1 for 5, but did score two runs and worked a walk for a decent enough start at the plate to his Royals career. He saw 24 pitches in six plate appearances. If he keeps seeing four per, things will be just fine. Only Jorge Soler and Ryan O’Hearn saw at least four pitches per plate appearances last year.
Santana walked three times in his Royals debut. Three! That’s as many as Salvador Perez had in 37 games in 2020. It led me to tweet this during the game:
While that is obvious hyperbole, the Royals really haven’t had many hitters with patience and I’m pretty confident Santana is one of the two or three most patient hitters to ever play in the organization. He saw 32 pitches in six plate appearances. He also hit two balls at least 109.3 miles per hour, which were the second and third hardest hit balls of the game, only behind Jorge Soler’s monster home run.
There’s something extra special about big league debuts, and Isbel is one who many were looking forward to because it both wasn’t expected and was a nice surprise after Bobby Witt, Jr. was sent to minor league camp. He absolutely looked like he belonged, even playing a ball off the wall incredibly well in that rancid top of the first inning. It was nice that he was able to get up in the first and even nicer that he was able to make solid contact for a single and a run batted in. His next hit was the one that impressed me the most and is one of the reasons why I’m confident he can be successful as a big leaguer right away. He went the other way on a 96 MPH fastball from Kyle Cody and hit it on the nose - 106.1 MPH - to left field. He also legged out an infield single, which was nice icing on the cake. He wasn’t as great with seeing pitches, seeing 19 in five plate appearances, but for a first game, it’ll do.
Michael A. Taylor
I saved the best for last here because Taylor had a monster first game with the Royals. He might be the reason the Royals won the game with two assists at home plate in the first three innings of the game. What could have gotten out of hand was controlled because of his big arm in center field. But he was also fantastic at the plate with hits in his first three at bats including a 402 foot home run hit at 107.7 MPH that brought the Royals to within two. And just because I showed you everyone else’s pitches, he saw 17 in five plate appearances.
So let’s take a look at the other Opening Day Royals position player debuts in the Dayton Moore era, just because it’s hard to imagine too many that could have been better than these. Okay, Benintendi’s wasn’t truly amazing, but they all were part of some huge moments in the game yesterday.
This was the Alex Gordon debut, but did you remember that Ross Gload and Tony Pena, Jr. also made their debuts? Of course not.
Alex Gordon - 0-3, 2 K
Ross Gload - 1-4, 1 R
Tony Pena, Jr. - 2-3, 2 3B, 1 BB, 2 R
The TPJ game. It was all downhill from there.
Only one debut this year and it was Jose Guillen. He wasn’t good, but could have probably been worse that year. Of course, he couldn’t have been much worse in this one.
Jose Guillen - 0-5, 2 K
Remember when the Royals first thought they were “ready to win” because of a moderately okay showing in 2008? That was 2009. It’s also the famous 18-11 start to the season, so there’s that.
Coco Crisp - 1-5, 1 K
Mike Jacobs - 0-3, 1 K, 1 HBP
Miguel Olivo - 2-4, 2 K, 1 2B
Three more debuts in 2010, but they were no longer operating under the assumption they could win. And that worked out well given the new faces they brought in.
Scott Podsednik - 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K
Rick Ankiel - 0-4, 2 K
Chris Getz - 2-4, 1 SB
All three of these players did not end up as Royals greats.
The Royals signed two outfielders to small deals in the hopes that they would turn things around and either be a part of the future or great trade chips. One was Jeff Francoeur, the other was traded for Jonathan Sanchez. But hey, at least they got good performances in 2011 from them. Oh yeah, they also randomly had Matt Treanor for some reason that I don’t remember at this time. Oh, and some shortstop you may have heard of.
Melky Cabrera - 3-4, 1 BB, 1 SB
Jeff Francoeur - 1-4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K
Alcides Escobar - 1-4
Matt Treanor - 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K
No position player made their Royals debut in 2012 in spite of the pleas of it being “our time.”
Another year of no position player debuts. James Shields did make his first start for the Royals and was really good!
It’s not often (probably) that a team picks up a new leadoff hitter and a new number two hitter and makes it to the World Series, but that’s what happened with the 2014 gang as they added a new right fielder and second baseman. This was before Omar Infante got hit in the face and never quite seemed right afterward.
Nori Aoki - 0-5, 2 K
Omar Infante - 0-4,1 BB, 1 RBI
The last time the Royals scored 10+ runs on Opening Day, there were two players added to the lineup for a little extra thump. Theoretically. One worked out well all season while the other had some big postseason hits before riding off into the sunset as a champion. One was also a big switch hitter who walked three times in his first game with the team. Hmm...
Kendrys Morales - 1-2, 1 2B, 3 BB, 2 R
Alex Rios - 3-4, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 SB
So yeah, these two debuts rival the ones we saw yesterday. Pretty good.
The champs opened up with one Royals debut and it was the great Rey Fuentes, playing right field and hitting ninth. If there’s one thing you can say about his Royals debut, it’s that he certainly played.
Rey Fuentes - 0-3
When Morales left as a free agent, the Royals tried to strike lightning again with another veteran to be their DH. It didn’t work.
Brandon Moss - 0-3, 1 K
There were actually fewer Royals debuts in this season than I would have expected with the free agent exodus after 2017, but Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar re-signing kind of quieted that. One name here might cause some to be upset, so beware.
Jon Jay - 1-5, 1 R, 1 K
Lucas Duda - 1-4, 1 HR, 1 R, 3 RBI
It was actually this Opening Day that I thought of in the first inning yesterday. The Royals jumped out to a 4-0 lead and ultimately lost 14-7. Yesterday didn’t play out exactly the same, but it sort of did.
This was another year with a lot of Opening Day debuts, which is to be expected coming off a 104-loss season. These additions weren’t quite as exciting, though. Nor were they as good in their first game.
Frank Schwindel - 0-4
Chris Owings - 0-3, 1 BB
Martin Maldonado - 0-4, 1 K
Billy Hamilton - 0-4
Only one debut here and it was for a Royals player who, in a different time, might have been brought back for another year, but we don’t live in another time.
Maikel Franco - 0-4, 3 K
So there is the history of position players making their Royals debuts on Opening Day in the Dayton Moore era. If you were thinking that it would be hard to match what we saw from the new guys yesterday, well, you’re right. It was a pretty special day for those four.