Royals Opening Day outlook

Royals Opening Day outlook

Even though Spring Training results usually amount to zilch when the real season begins, victories were relatively important to the Royals this year. After all, they lost 106 times last season and a winning Cactus League record going into 2006 was a welcome bonus.

In addition, with manager Buddy Bell running a tight ship, the fundamentals that too often broke down last year got a needed overhaul.

Runs poured across the plate and the team was hitting well over .300 as the final countdown ticked away. Pitchers were issuing the fewest walks in the American League and runs allowed were among the lowest, too.

Doug Mientkiewicz, after two subpar years, was blasting away and led the club in RBIs for most of the spring. Angel Berroa, Mark Teahen and Reggie Sanders were other big-production regulars.

1. David DeJesus, CF:
A good spray hitter, DeJesus is a rock-solid fielder as well. With more stolen bases, he'll be the complete package.

2. Mark Grudzielanek, 2B:
He fills two big gaps. A master at the double play, he'll provide improved defense. He's also an unselfish No. 2 hitter, giving himself up to move a runner.

3. Mike Sweeney, DH:
Hurt during much of Spring Training, Sweeney will most often DH to protect him from further injuries. When he's on, he's one of the AL's best right-handed sluggers.

4. Reggie Sanders, RF:
At 38, Sanders still has power and base-stealing thrust. He'll give Sweeney some protection because when Sanders is hot, he's hot.

5. Doug Mientkiewicz, 1B:
All spring, Mientkiewicz showed the left-handed punch that made him a feared hitter for the Twins for so many years. He should also save many errors by digging out throws.

6. Emil Brown, LF:
Shifting to the opposite corner, Brown's erratic defense might improve. Last year he led the club in RBIs and runs scored and banged 17 homers.

7. Mark Teahen, 3B:
Not expected to start last season with K.C., he did and put together a good rookie year. A .303 average in the final month of '05 will carry over, the club hopes.

8. Angel Berroa, SS:
Berroa also had a hot last month in '05: .324, with 21 RBIs. Both he and Teahen should reap the benefits of Mientkiewicz's glove at first base. Berroa is a spectacular, albeit inconsistent, fielder.

9. John Buck, C:
Continuing to improve on his defense and game-calling, Buck now must add some offense to his equation. He was another fast finisher, batting .321 to close out last season.

1. Scott Elarton RHP:
Elarton has the reputation as a tough competitor. Whether he can jump from an Indians middle-of-the-roader to staff leader remains to be seen.

2. Joe Mays, RHP:
This is the second season for Mays after Tommy John elbow surgery, meaning his endurance should be up. His pitches need to be down for him to be effective.

3. Jeremy Affeldt, LHP:
His stuff always has included a wicked fastball and sharp-dropping curve. As a starter again, he's adding a cut fastball in an effort to throw more strikes.

4. Denny Bautista, RHP:
Bautista couldn't throw a pitch without movement even if he wanted. His pitches sink and dart. He's scaling back his near-100-mph speed for better command.

5. Runelvys Hernandez, RHP:
Out of shape and overweight, Hernandez is being sent to Triple-A Omaha for a couple of starts to improve his stamina. Hopefully, he'll be ready to start April 14.

Closer Mike MacDougal is out with a muscle strain below his right shoulder and could be out another month. Ambiorix Burgos is picking up that role, leaving lefty Andrew Sisco as the surviving setup man. Mike Wood and Elmer Dessens and lefty Jimmy Gobble are the main men in the middle.

Starting pitchers Hernandez (lack of stamina), Mark Redman (left knee surgery) and Zack Greinke (personal matters) aren't ready. Hernandez could be back by April 14 and Redman by May 1, but there's no date set for Greinke. MacDougal, the closer, might beat his projected early May return from his shoulder strain. Pitcher Bobby Madritsch (arm surgery) is on the 60-day disabled list.

Can the pitching rotation stand up without three starters who were counted on to contribute? If it can, the return of Hernandez, Redman and Greinke might not be so crucial after all. There could be starters all over the place. "We could end up in a great mess," pitching coach Bob McClure said with obvious satisfaction.


"I'm not predicting we're going to make the playoffs, but we can give some teams some trouble and that's part of a process of building a winning franchise again." - Mientkiewicz

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.