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Royals showcasing aggressive approach

Royals showcasing aggressive approach

Royals showcasing aggressive approach
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- No secret about it: The Royals plan to be runnin' wild this season. And they're not reluctant at all to show off that strategy to scouts from opposing teams during Cactus League play.

Let the other clubs start thinking about it and begin to get edgy. Let the scouts talk. That's manager Ned Yost's philosophy.

"I rather have 'em go back and say, 'Look out, these guys are running the bases like mad men,'" Yost said.

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Runnin' wild might be a stretch. Creating havoc by taking a calculated risk might be better phraseology. Suffice to say, the Royals are going to try to run a single into a double or take an extra base on a hit or steal a base whenever they can without being reckless.

"My goal coming out of Spring Training and, we'll see, is to be the best baserunning team in baseball. And we're focusing on it every day," Yost said.

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Spring Training is the place to start, because this is when players should learn the extent of their running capabilities. If they try to go from first to third on a hit and get thrown out by 20 feet, so what? Because the games don't count, the out doesn't really matter and they've learned something about themselves to carry into the season. And if they make it, they've also learned something.

That's what Doug Sisson, the Royals' new first-base and baserunning coach, is preaching.

"The best thing a player can hear is, 'We want you to be aggressive, and it's OK to make an aggressive mistake. It's not OK to make a passive mistake. If you think you can make a play, try to make the play and that's where you find out whether you can or can't,'" Sisson said.

Sisson was brought into the Kansas City organization in 2008 as the Minor League field coordinator and, as he remembers it: "I got an edict: We don't run the bases well, we're not aggressive, we go station-to-station. Fix it."

He did such a good job of it that Yost added him to the Major League staff this year.

One challenge for a teacher, of course, is to get the attention of the students. What Sisson did is make baserunning the first drill of the day, instead of the last. So the players figured, hey, this must be important.

"They paid attention to it and they listened. And the second thing we did was give them the freedom to be aggressive -- if you think you can make a play, try to make the play," Sisson said. "Baserunning starts with the crack of the bat. When the ball leaves the bat, you're a baserunner and you're trying to help the Kansas City Royals win a baseball game. The way to do that is to run as hard as you can until the outfield stops you, until the defense stops you."

The Royals have run into outs, but they've also stretched singles into doubles as the Spring Training shakedown continues.

"We do something different every day, because it's just not one drill," Yost said. "You've got to know all aspects of baserunning. You've got to know how to run the bases, how to make turns, when to go from first to third, how not to get doubled off on a line drive, how to get a walking lead, how to get a shuffle lead. All this stuff you've got to know and you've got to practice it. It's got to be part of your game."

The players are responding.

"Working on something small every day is certainly putting in our minds when we get out in game situations -- it's just about reactions," left fielder Alex Gordon said. "It's definitely going to help us score runs and move guys over and things like that."

Gordon noted that the Angels and Twins are teams that are adept at putting pressure on the defense with their baserunning.

"I think you can see in the last couple of days we're just creating havoc on the basepaths, just making the other teams have to make plays and it's been working out for us," he said, referring to decisive victories over the Angels and Dodgers.

Part of the running game, of course, is stealing bases, and that's an element that helps keep an opponent on edge.

Mention that, and Yost goes on a roll.

"We'll be a better basestealing team than we were," Yost said. "We had guys last year that could run. But we have [Mike] Aviles, who could steal 25, 30 bases a year; [Lorenzo] Cain can steal 25 bases a year; [Alcides] Escobar can steal 40 a year; [Chris] Getz can steal 40 a year; [Jeff] Francoeur can steal 15; Melky [Cabrera] can ... ."

Whoa, that's already way more than the 115 bags the Royals swiped in 2010, ranking sixth in the American League. (The range ran from Tampa Bay's 172 to Toronto's 58.)

Heck, even big Billy Butler has stolen a base this spring.

Sisson developed his baserunning expertise during two-plus decades of coaching and managing in pro and college ball.

"When I was managing, I loved to play against a guy that did everything by the book, station-to-station and you knew every move he was going to make," Sisson said. "When the guy came in that was a loose cannon, that you never knew what he was going to do in any given situation and his team just put constant pressure on you -- you'd be exhausted at the end of a four-game series. We just want to exhaust people."

That's the concept that Yost wants to bring to the Royals.

"Our guys have been real aggressive and have really been pushing the envelope. Yeah, we're getting some guys thrown out and we've had guys caught stealing," he said. "But, right now, unless you understand your threshold and what your capabilities are, you'll never know unless you get thrown out, unless you stay aggressive in those situations."

By taking chances, Yost believes the Royals will prosper in the long run. He's confident that they'll run themselves into a big inning more often than they'll run themselves out of one.

"Sisson said this," Yost said, "and he's right: 'I'd rather be 100-for-120 going from first to third than 10-for-12.' So it's not always playing the game safe. You have to play the game with aggression to win the game."

The Royals, with a young and very athletic team, will do their best to keep their opponents on edge. And they're trying to build that reputation here in Spring Training.

"We want to be that team that nobody wants to play," Sisson said. "We want to make people uncomfortable."

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

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