Mailbag: Where does Gathright fit?

Mailbag: Where does Gathright fit into plans?

Staff writer Dick Kaegel is on leave for a short while, but he will be helping associate reporter Kevin Druley select and answer your e-mails while he is away. It remains our pleasure at MLB.com to answer your queries, so please continue sending questions to royalsmailbag@yahoo.com. Remember to include your name and hometown.

Do you consider the recently acquired Joey Gathright as a legitimate part of the Royals' future in center field, considering all of the outfield prospects in the Minor Leagues (Billy Butler, Chris Lubanski, Mitch Maier, etc.), not to mention David DeJesus already in Kansas City?
-- Adam S., Imperial, Neb.

Yes. Gathright was coveted for his speed not only on the basepaths but in patrolling the spacious outfield gaps at Kauffman Stadium. He already has a considerable edge in that department over the three prospects you mentioned.

Right now, Butler projects as a big bat with no real position. He'll likely be a strong designated hitter candidate. Maier has shown good signs of progression, but he is not as far along as Butler or third baseman Alex Gordon.

Lubanski, meanwhile, has struggled at Double-A Wichita thus far in 2006. His strikeouts are up and his power numbers are down. He still has a ways to go.

Gathright also has been streaky at the plate this season, hovering around the .200 mark. But the Royals are going to be patient with him, especially since they know that speed and defense don't take days off. If DeJesus continues his torrid stretch since coming off the disabled list, it will be hard to justify vacating the leadoff spot for Gathright. But the Royals plan to make that change gradually, anyway, and they will address it when the time comes.

I was wondering what you thought about the possibility of the Royals picking up Tony Batista after Minnesota released him. His bat still seems to have some pop left. It seems like a low-risk gamble for the Royals.
-- Matt M., Winooski, Vt.

With Mark Teahen already in place at third base and Matt Stairs penciled in most nights at designated hitter, the Royals have no apparent need for the aging Batista, whose defense is suspect. He would only muddle up an already healthy rotation of players looking for playing time when Teahen and Stairs are not in the lineup.

Signing Batista, 32, is not the kind of direction the Royals want to head in right now. It is important for them to evaluate their core of young talent as the season plays out. They can only do that by allotting playing time.

Other players of Batista's ilk -- All-Stars several years ago who have struggled lately -- could be released in the weeks to come. But don't look for the Royals to make a push for them.

How is Bobby Madritsch's rehab going? Any chance we will see him this year?
-- Cheryl J., Bellingham, Wash.

Madritsch, a left-handed pitcher claimed off waivers from Seattle in October, began the season on the 60-day disabled list following shoulder surgery. Though there has been no official timetable set for his return -- it was estimated to be sometime around midseason -- Madritsch would still need to prove he has healed with an effective stint in the Minors.

If he fails to do that by sometime in early September, he likely will not be called up. His future with the club would then be up in the air, as he is not signed past this season.

With Mike MacDougal and Zack Greinke on rehab assignments and due to return sometime this season (I hope) and the recent improvements of the pitching staff, who do the Royals want back more desperately, and who will be ready for the big leagues first?
-- Drew S., Lawrence, Kan.

MacDougal is the answer on both counts, which was cemented by his reinstatement from the 60-day disabled list on Thursday. Although Ambiorix Burgos has shown improvement lately in the closer's role with saves in six of his last eight opportunities, the Royals definitely are excited to have MacDougal's late-inning experience back.

General manager Dayton Moore has stressed several times the importance of having Greinke in the presence of his peers in Wichita. If Greinke continues to do well there, it will be tough for the Royals not to call him up come September. Until then, though, the plan is for him to remain in the Minors, rediscovering his mechanics and coping with the personal issues that he has battled through since the beginning of the year.

Where is Luke Hochevar? Are the Royals having trouble signing him?
-- Kevin K., Overland Park, Kan.

The Royals and Hochevar's agent, Scott Boras, are continuing contract negotiations. According to senior director of scouting Deric Ladnier in a recent interview with WHB radio, Hochevar is keeping in shape by throwing five-inning simulated games.

You'll probably recall that Hochevar sat out all of 2005 after being selected No. 40 overall by the Dodgers. If contract talks continue past the end of the season and nothing is agreed upon until, say, late November, the Arizona Fall League or winter ball are options before he comes to Spring Training.

As the trading deadline approaches, who is most likely to be traded, and at what positions are the Royals most likely to upgrade?
-- Steve D., Independence, Mo.

Generally, Moore has said the team is not actively shopping players and will assess a potential deal based on how much it helps the team.

When do you think Gordon and Justin Huber should be called up? They both have shown they can hit in the Minor Leagues. Wouldn't it be smart to get them some looks at better pitching?
-- Jake H., Winona, Minn.

This question and your rationale recur often. Huber's promotion should come before Gordon's, as he has had a few stints with the Royals already, including one in May. Gordon must first show his ability to excel at the next level, which is Triple-A.

If either spends time with the Royals this season, though, it will be in September. They can only get better in that span. Remember, even having them up during a tough season adds to their service time, which affects such things as arbitration.

Many years ago I saw Bob Hamelin play in Omaha and then go on to win the Rookie of the Year (1994). What happened to him?
-- Brian M., Okinawa, Japan

Hamelin, now 38, has been out of baseball for almost eight years. He's managed to keep an extraordinarily low profile since his last game on Sept. 27, 1998, with the Brewers.

Kevin Druley is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.