One of the questions the Royals are going to have to answer is the role of Luke Hochevar. The Royals will have to decide soon if Hochevar will begin the year with Kansas City or at AAA Omaha. If Hochevar does begin the year in Kansas City, the Royals must determine if it is best for his development to open the season in the bullpen or as part of the starting rotation.
Many Royals fans believe that Hochevar is ready to pitch in the Major Leagues and some fans are hoping that he is part of the starting rotation when the season begins. These fans are basing their opinion on Hochevar's performance during his September 2007 call up and his brief action during the 2008 spring training. The Royals will be making a mistake to decide to keep Hochevar in the Major Leagues based on 12.2 innings in 2007 and 4 innings so far this spring. Hochevar has yet to demonstrate he is capable of being a consistent starting pitcher. Until he has proven this, he should be assigned to AAA Omaha.
Hochevar's performance at AAA Omaha last season can best be described as a mixed bag. Some of his statistical performance was average: 6.83 K/9, 3.26 BB/9, 2.10 K/BB 2.10 but his 5.12 ERA and 1.71 HR/9 was poor. He did pitch 12 innings for Kansas City in September and recorded a 2.13 ERA but it is important to note that he did not pitch more than 3.1 innings in any of his Royals appearances and almost never faced the same hitter twice in the same game. Given the small sample size and the nature of the appearances, Hochevar's 2007 Major League numbers are not useful in evaluating whether he is ready to pitch for the Royals in 2008.
I saw Hochevar pitch for the Omaha Royals last July in Salt Lake. Even though he was the winning pitcher I was unimpressed. His box score line was okay, 6 IP, 2 earned runs, 8 hits, 4 strikeouts and 2 walks. Even though his numbers were average, Hochevar was very lucky. The Bees hit line drive after line drive that were either hit directly at an infielder or ran down in the outfield. Salt Lake stole four bases and all of them were the result of Hochevar doing a lousy job holding the runners. The 4th inning of the game raised a big red flag to me. With two outs the runner on second base steals third, arriving at the bag before Hochevar's pitch was in the catcher's mitt. The Omaha pitching coach visits the mound in what I assume was an effort to get Hochevar to do a better job of holding runners. On the next pitch, Hochevar drills the Salt Lake hitter in the middle of the back. I viewed this as immature and bush league. Perhaps Hochevar has grown up since last July, but the Royals need to be completely sure before entrusting him with a Major League job.
I am not convinced that Hochevar will ever be a top of the rotation Major League pitcher. Even if he does fulfill the expectation that goes with being a first round draft choice, 2008 will not be the year. I would rather see guys like Tomko and DeLaRosa eat innings this year and allow Hochevar more time to develop and mature. Hopefully a year from now the Royals and their fans will have an idea of how good of a pitcher Hochevar will be.