Royals hope youth yields edge through condensed spring camp
By Dave Skretta AP Sports Writer
Dayton Moore has spent more than three decades in baseball, first with the juggernaut Atlanta Braves of the 1990s and the last 16 in charge of the Kansas City Royals, leading them to two World Series and a long-awaited championship.
He still sounds like a giddy schoolboy when spring training begins.
Which is altogether appropriate: The Royals begin camp Monday at their base in Surprise, Arizona, with one of the youngest rosters in baseball, led by a bunch of 20-something arms and with even more youth coming up through the system.
“There’s nothing like that first day, those first couple days, when players come together,” said Moore, who s now president of baseball operations after passing along the general manager title late last season to longtime understudy J.J. Piccolo,
“They haven’t seen each other all winter and really, the little boy is alive in them,” Moore said. “We all come together, we all share the expectations and the dreams for a great season, regardless what your record was the previous season, regardless of what the predictions were. These guys are Major League Baseball players. They’ve reached the tope of their profession, and the key now is how do we stay focused on the things that are important?”
It could be a whole lot easier for Moore and the Royals than the rest of the teams around the league.
Everyone is scrambling after the second-longest labor stoppage in baseball history, trying to swing trades or to sign free agents. That’s where the focus of Moore and Picollo are sure to be focused the first week of camp, rather than out on the practice fields, where manager Mike Matheny will be keeping a keen eye on everybody.
Yet the lockout just might have given the Royals an unexpected advantage.
Out on those practice fields, the Royals will have almost their entire roster back from a team that went 74-88 but was coming on hard at the end of last season. That means they won’t be trying to implement key pieces in the rotation or the lineup during a condensed spring training, with Cactus League games already set to begin Friday.
And those players are overwhelmingly young, full of energy and exuberance, and those limber bodies might not need quite the typical two-month wakeup of spring camp to get ready for the April 7 start of the season.
“We’ll make the best of it, the fact that we have younger players that have done so much work this offseason,” Moore acknowledged. “When you’re young and your body is alive and you sleep well at night, and you’re relatively carefree in life at this stage of where you are, our guys maybe have a chance to adapt a little quicker than others.”
The rotation alone features 20-something starters Brady Singer, Kris Bubic and Daniel Lynch along with Brad Keller, Carlos Hernandez and Jackson Kowar. Then there’s the young fielders, including prized prospects Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez, all of whom could elbow their way onto the opening day roster.
Yes, there are still plenty of veterans — hello, Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield — but even they probably feel a bit like kids again with the 21-year-old Witt running around the left side of the infield and the 23-year-old Pratto at first base.
“We’re still going to be really careful,” Matheny said. “That’s kind of the overarching theme, and we still need to see these guys. They tell us where they are, but we need to still see it to make sure the pictures match up with the words.”
Just about everyone has been working out in Arizona during the lockout, and everyone on the 40-man roster along with 21 non-roster invitees planned to arrive Sunday. So the hope, Matheny said, is that the Royals can hit the ground running.
After all, they have just four days of workouts before playing the Texas Rangers in their first spring training game.
“You can tell they’re so excited,” Matheny said. “You had that uncertainty hanging out all the time, like, ‘I think this is going to work out well, but stranger things in our world have happened.’ Whenever you have a little bit of something that you love threatened, you realize how much you love it. There’s a bit of that as well.”