SURPRISE, Ariz. —An intense hype and scrutiny surround the Royals' much-acclaimed pitching prospects this spring as they work their way, many for the first time, through big-league camp.
Even club officials scramble for a look when Mike Montgomery or John Lamb throw a bullpen session or live batting practice. The same holds true for Aaron Crow, Chris Dwyer, Danny Duffy, Everett Teaford and Will Smith.
And that's just for starters.
"There are so many of them," pitching coach Bob McClure declared, "with so much better stuff than I'm used to watching. Now how much it takes to get them from there to here, I don't know.
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"It depends on their head. Can they handle the mental aspect? They have the physical talent.... doggone it, it's pretty darn good out here. It's fun to watch."
Luke Hochevar is no stranger to any of this. He was the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, after an All-America career at Tennessee, and is now the early favorite to start on opening day against the Los Angeles Angels at Kauffman Stadium.
And Hochevar, as much as anyone in camp, can testify hype means little until you show something in the big leagues, which is the challenge he faces this season after an injury-shortened 2010 aborted the promise of a possible breakthrough.
"I really felt like I turned a corner last year," he said, "that things really started to click. I hit a comfort level not just in pitching in the big leagues but just being in the big leagues.
"I was more comfortable in facing hitters, in my delivery, in handling different situations. It was just like everything kind of came together. I felt I was picking up momentum going into the season, and then came the injury."
That injury was beyond maddening — a strained right elbow suffered, from all indications, by overswinging in a rare round of batting practice in mid-May at Fenway Park in Boston.
The Royals were about to enter interleague play, which meant the pitchers required some batting practice — and most spent the time trying to crush the ball over the famed Green Monster.
"That," Hochevar concedes, "was a bad idea."
It led to two-and-a-half months on the disabled list before a September return that consisted of five rusty appearances, which did little but prove to Hochevar and the Royals that his elbow was sound.
Still, that was no small thing.
"I just wanted to make sure we ended the year with him healthy," manager Ned Yost said, "so we could start fresh (this spring) and continue his forward progress. And he did. He wasn't sharp, but he was able to throw all of his stuff.'
The December trade that sent former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke to Milwaukee turned Hochevar into a logical successor as the staff leader, which prompts an inevitable question:
Is he ready?
"That's on him," McClure hedged. "We'll see. Guys are either ready or they're not. We can talk until the cows come home, but you've got to do it out on the field.
"I'll say this: Before he got hurt, you could see where he was getting ready to pop. You could just see it. I really thought he was going to pop through last year. He was keeping damage to a minimum. He was just becoming a better pitcher."
Hochevar, now 27, welcomes the challenge.
"I'm excited about it," he said. "Whether I'm the No. 1 or the No. 3 or the No. 5, it doesn't matter. I've got to go out every fifth day and win a ballgame. My goal this year is pitch deep into every ballgame, log innings and try to win as many games as possible.
"We have a young group of arms coming up, guys with a lot of talent, and there's really no telling how good we can be — even this year."
Yes, Hochevar is tracking the kids, too.
"Shoot, yeah," he said. "Every time one of those guys jumps up on the mound, I want to see it. And they're darned good. They are! Darned good.
"You see a lot of guys with stuff, but their command and composure on the mound — the way they carry themselves around the clubhouse — it's impressive. Obviously, they're talented. You don't get hyped like they do if you're not, but talent only takes you so far."
That's experience talking.