Opinion

Ask Rustin: Assessing the competition at second base, the World Baseball Classic and Alex Gordon as classic rock

jsleezer@kcstar.com

The World Baseball Classic is here, and on some level, it’s probably normal if you don’t care. Many of the best American players are not playing. The tournament comes at an odd time. The eligibility rules depend on the individual country, and because of that, we have essentially ended up with a collection of American Junior Varsity teams representing other countries like Israel and Italy.

But here are three (very) quick reasons why I love the WBC:

1. Cody Decker.

If you are from Kansas City, you might know Decker as the gregarious minor-league slugger who spent last spring with the Royals. He didn’t make the team, and was eventually traded during the first half of the season. In eight professional seasons, he has clubbed 173 minor-league homers and recorded just 12 major-league plate appearances. He may never play in the big leagues again, though Decker certainly believes he will. He is an actor and a comedian and filmmaker on the side, but he won’t let the baseball dream die. And on Team Israel, he is the closest thing to a star. And, yes, Team Israel is very, very fun.

A team made up of American Jews (and some players with Jewish ancestry) is 3-0 in the tournament and headed to the second round. And Decker is out front, offering daily bits of comedic gold. Such as this one from this great piece by Yahoo’s Jeff Passan.

"On this team," Decker said, "I can say the most random Seinfeld reference and everyone laughs and quotes the next line. It’s the only baseball team in the world that can do that."

2. Eric Hosmer

The Royals’ first baseman won a state title in high school. He’s won championships in the minor leagues. He’s won a World Series. But he’s never won a World Baseball Classic, of course — in three WBCs, the United States team has never finished in the top three. Hosmer would like to change that, he says, so he agreed to play this year. The presence of Hosmer and Danny Duffy, who will start against Canada in the first round, make Team USA worth keeping an eye on.

Eric Hosmer wants to add to his championship collection at the WBC 

3. This one moment in Surprise

The Royals played an exhibition game against Venezuela on Wednesday at Surprise Stadium. It was a quiet afternoon. The stands weren’t too crowded. It was a standard day at spring training. But there was one moment before the game. They played the Venezuelan national anthem, and a team of All-Stars — Miguel Cabrera, Salvador Perez, Jose Altuve and Carlos Gonzalez — stood at attention, all wearing their country’s colors. It was a moment of pride, Alcides Escobar would say.

Royals' Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar join Venezuela National Team for WBC 

It was just a few minutes, of course. But it was a good reminder. Baseball is a global game, and its diversity is among the things that make it great. We know this, of course. We know where players are from. We know their journeys to the big leagues. But sometimes it’s nice to have a reminder, if only for a moment.

Let’s get onto the mailbag. The music pick of the week is Arcade Fire’s "Keep the Car Running", from the album Neon Bible, which turned 10 years old this month.

Sometimes you will hear baseball teams talk about a spring training competition — and yeah, it’s not really one. Remember Omar Infante and Christian Colon battling for the second base job last year? That’s a good example.

Sometimes clubs do it to motivate players. Sometimes it’s a courtesy to a young player or a veteran. But in this case, Royals manager Ned Yost says there is no favorite in the second base competition. And for the most part, I believe him.

Barring injury, I still think the most likely scenario is this: Whit Merrifield, Christian Colon and Cheslor Cuthbert will all be on the roster when the season begins. All could see some time at the position. The club will continue to evaluate.

Colon and Cuthbert are out of options, and the Royals prefer to keep inventory high. Merrifield’s versatility is difficult to keep off the roster. If that’s the case, the Royals’ four-man bench would be Paulo Orlando, Drew Butera and the two guys that are not starting at second base — even if the "starter" isn’t really playing every day. Does that make sense?

And here’s the thing about Raul Mondesi: He has been a breakout performer during the first weeks of camp; Yost says he looks like a different player. But he has two things going against him. The first one is that Colon and Cuthbert don’t have options, and that gives those guys a bit of lead. The second is this: Mondesi is still developing at the plate and needs at-bats. Unless he’s going to play every single day at second base, it might make more sense for him to be at Class AAA Omaha.

In other words: Not only does Mondesi have to prove that he’s more valuable than those other guys at second, he also has to prove he’s more valuable to a degree that he should play every day. That could be a high bar.

Maybe.

The club has discussed using Alex Gordon in right field and Jorge Soler in left field in parks where right field is bigger and would require greater range. That, of course, would not be Kauffman Stadium, where the dimensions are the same in left and right field.

For now, the option has just been discussed. It may not happen. But Gordon and Soler are both seeing time in left field and right field this spring. Gordon is also set to play some center, but that’s just kind of some spring training fun.

The Royals have been encouraged by Soler’s defensive performance thus far. He also has a strong arm that can play well in right field. But they are looking at ways to protect him in bigger parks.

Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Gritty. Somewhat underrated. Frontman has a fantasy of playing Centerfield.

I was kind of skeptical of their new album, because 1. It’s been forever (six years) since they put something out, and 2. "Helplessness Blues" was such a seminal record for that time. I just wasn’t sure if that folky indie sound would still feel relevant in 2017.

But the first single is pretty solid, and it goes some interesting places, and I’m excited to hear the rest of the record. I will say: It still feels very 2011 to me. On the subject of 2011, the upcoming New Pornographers album, "Whiteout Conditions" is also worth a mention. It sounds the same as ever. And that’s good. It’s out April 7.

But while we’re here, these are my favorite three albums of 2017 thus far.

3. Run the Jewels 3

Best tracks: "Down"; "Call Ticketron"

2. The Japandroids’ Near to the Wild Heart of Life

Best tracks: "North South East West"; "No Known Drink or Drug"

1. The Menzingers’ After the Party

Best tracks: "Midwestern States"; "Thick as Thieves"

And finally, some reader picks:

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