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Tournaments | Story | 10/24/2014

Royals rise in Jupiter, too

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Perfect Game

JUPITER, Fla. – Throughout the Kansas City Royals’ unexpected, if not even improbable, march into this month’s World Series, manager Ned Yost endured what many – including his players – felt was an unfair share of criticism in regard to his managing skills.

Yost is thick-skinned and has deflected much of the criticism but in a recent article written by John Perrotto and published by USA Today Sports, Yost admitted that in the last year or so he has changed the way he oversees his players.

“I always tried to push them to be more like me instead of letting them be themselves,” he told USA Today Sports. “I learned last year that if you let a young group that has energy and they’re excited to play the game, be themselves, you’ll probably be in a better position.

“So it’s been fun watching them development and being themselves. You can see they’re a loose group; they play hard for each other. (I’m) just letting them be themselves. It was a big lesson I learned.”

While Yost prepared to turn his American League pennant-winning Royals loose for Game 3 of the World Series Friday night in San Francisco against the National League champion Giants, a different, even younger Royals ball club – with a head coach and general manager that believe, like Yost, in letting their players be themselves – played their own game more than 3,000 miles away at the PG WWBA World Championship.

The Royals Scout Team, in the loose but caring hands of general manager Keith Connolly and head coach Casey Fahy – both scouts in the Kansas City Royals organization – are following the big club’s lead in hoping something magical can happen over the next couple of days at the Roger Dean Stadium Complex.

“It’s really cool because they’re doing their thing and we’re affiliated with them so it’s almost like we’re kind of (representing) them down here. I hope we get to play as well as they do,” Royals Scout team right-handed pitcher Patrick Raby said Friday morning.

“This is my first time being down here and it’s going to be pretty special just being out here with all my friends and everything, but especially now putting on (the jersey) with the Royals across my chest, it’s going to be really cool.”

Everybody wearing Royals Blue has an extra bounce in their step these days, which kind of goes with the territory when an MLB organization reaches the World Series for the first time in 29 years. And then to be able to go about your business wearing replicate Royals big-league jersey is only going to add to that bounce.

“Obviously, this is an exciting time of year for us as an organization,” Fahy said. “Getting the chance to get down here and sharing it with some other people and being out on the field and representing the organization in that way is definitely a positive and it’s something we’re excited about doing.”

Connolly is the man who assembled this roster but he gets a lot of help. He depends on all of the Royals’ area scouts nationwide to select prospects from their respective regions for the Royals Scout Team roster, and only those that haven’t already made a commitment to play with their regular travel ball organization.

“We appreciate (putting on the uniform) more now than any other year,” Connolly said. “We’ve been doing this for a lot of years … and it’s getting harder to get the elite players who aren’t committed to travel teams the year-around; we don’t pull them off those teams.”

The Kansas City scouts have assembled a powerhouse roster to be sure with players coming from all across the country with a high of eight from Tennessee.

It includes 21 prospects that have committed to NCAA Division I schools and five ranked in the top-115 nationally: Perfect Game All-American 2015 right-hander Donny Everett (No. 24, Vanderbilt); 2015 outfielder Chad Smith (No. 74, Georgia); 2015 catcher Domenic DeRenzo (No. 115, Oklahoma); 2016 shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald (No. 71, Louisville) and 2016 right-hander Tyler Thompson (No. 112, uncommitted).

The Royals Scout Team opened play here on Friday with a convincing 10-1 win over Georgia PG Texas Orange, thanks in no small part to a seven-run top of the seventh inning.

2015 high-follow Tanner Mann-Fix (Appalachian State) hit a home run and a triple and drove in four runs; DeRenzo tripled and doubled and Zeke Dodson (2015, No. 318, Lipscomb) singled, recorded a sacrifice fly and finished with three RBI.

Raby, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound Vanderbilt commit from Knoxville, Tenn., was a difference-maker from the start, working the first three innings without allowing a hit, a walk or a run and striking out six. Twenty-three of his 38 pitches went for strikes and he threw fastballs that sat consistently in the 88-90 mph range.

“It’s not really about the results, it’s about how I feel and how I prepare myself for this weekend,” Raby said before making his first Jupiter start. “It’s all about how we play as a team and hopefully how I did with all my stuff. I’m not going to change my mindset from how I pitch anywhere else, I’m just going to try to go out there and execute pitches and have the mentality like, ‘You know, I’m better than you and I’m going to try to get you out.”

Of working in front of a multiple of scouts sitting in row after row of golf carts that ring the field, Raby said: “It can be very overwhelming but it can definitely pump me up and get me ready for everything. I’m just going to try to treat it like another start and not get too over-excited; don’t let the highs get too high and the lows get too low and just try to keep it as normal as possible.”

That is exactly the kind of mental toughness Connolly was looking for when assembling this roster and the kind of mental toughness many of the current big-league Royals possess. Connolly knows what it means to these prospects –and to the Royals’ scouting department – to be performing on a stage as enormous as this one and wants everyone to take advantage of it.

“It’s beneficial for the kids but it’s beneficial for our scouts, too,” he said, talking about the value of getting all of this young talent in one place where they can be observed and the Royals organization can get to know them a little bit better. He promises the pitchers that they will get their innings and the position players their at-bats and after that, like Yost, he just lets the youngsters go out and play.

“It’s going to be kind of goofy,” Raby said of the team’s personality playing under Connolly and Fahy. “We’re going to have a lot of fun while we’re playing, but while we’re playing we’re going to be serious, too. We’ll try to win every game and try to move on into the playoffs and everything, but we’re going to keep each other loose and try not to get too serious to where we’re kind of choking ourselves.  We’re going to have a lot of fun but be serious at the same time.”

When Fahy was asked about specific game-time management, he went into a detailed explanation of his game-plan:

“We told them last night that we want to win but we’re not going to manage you to win,” he said. “We’re not going to bunt and we’re not going to hit-and-run – we’re not going to do any of those things – we’re just going to let you play to your own naturalness. We figure we’ve done a good job by evaluating their ability and knowing we got some of the better players that we possibly could have, that will take over and give us the best chance to win.”

Sounding a little bit like Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore, Fahy told PG that when the area scouts are studying the prospects they will recommend for the team, they are looking for the guys that are the best athletes and have a good feel for the game. They have to have a high energy level and play the game the right way with a lot of aggressiveness.

Kind of sounds like the Royals’ first baseman Eric Hosmer, who was the Most Valuable Player at the 2007 PG WWBA World Championship playing with the Braves Scout Team, and the Royals selected with the third overall pick in the 2009 June Amateur Draft.

 “A lot of these guys we’ve seen throughout the course of the year and we know them a little bit, so we expect them to perform the way we think that they can,” Fahy said. “We don’t try to put pressure on them but we want them to get excited about it to make they perform at a level we think that they can.”

He could have been describing that 25-man roster that wearing Kansas City Royals uniforms that spent Friday afternoon preparing to play Game 3 of the World Series in San Francisco Friday night.

Instead, he was describing a 25-man roster made up of high school juniors and seniors that were also wearing “Royals” across their chest and preparing to play a second pool-play game at the PG WBBA World Championship on Saturday – and play it with a little bit of a bounce in their steps.

“They can tell their buddies back home when they’re watching the World Series that they were also a part of that organization for this weekend down here,” Fahy said. “I think it gives them a little extra excitement.”

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