Notes: Versatile Huber in good shape

Notes: Versatile Huber in good shape

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Justin Huber brought three gloves to Royals camp -- a first baseman's mitt, a fielder's glove and a catcher's mitt. Yes, even a catcher's mitt.

"It's floating around here somewhere," Huber said.

Huber, once a catcher in the New York Mets organization, is here as an outfielder and first baseman.

"I think I'll be doing a bit of both, really," he said.

A 25-year-old Australian, Huber hasn't caught since the day before the Royals obtained him from the Mets on July 30, 2004, in exchange for infielder Jose Bautista. He was hurt in his last game, underwent knee surgery and didn't play for the Royals until 2005 at Double-A Wichita. By then he had moved to first base.

Last year, for Triple-A Omaha, he appeared in 41 games as an outfielder and 31 games as a first baseman. He also spent a lot of time battling a recurring hamstring pull, a calf injury and a virus which also cost him a few games.

"When I played, I was happy with the way I played, but injuries put a damper on things. You can't make the team when you're on the bench or on the training table," he said.

Huber, who led the Texas League with a .343 average in 2005, batted .278 last year for Omaha and pounded 18 home runs with 68 RBIs in 77 games, a good production pace.

Just where he might fit with the 2008 Royals isn't certain. But he's rounded himself into sound shape with an accelerated conditioning program at a prominent facility in Melbourne. That came after his November trip to Taipei where he batted .381 for Australia in the World Cup.

He didn't get a chance to face his current Royals teammates, pitchers Matt Wright and Neal Musser, because Australia did not play champion Team USA. The Aussies finished seventh but that didn't keep Huber from having a bit of fun when the top three teams were honored at the closing ceremonies.

There was just a small crowd in the stands so Huber and two teammates decided to liven things up. They rustled up an Australian flag and impetuously joined the 1-2-3 teams, USA, Cuba and Japan -- on the field.

"We gate-crashed the closing ceremonies," he said.

A Banny day: Pitcher Brian Bannister, who'd missed three days because of a scratched eye and illness, had his first crack at throwing live batting practice on Thursday.

Musser, slowed by a sore back, probably will throw off the mound on Sunday or Monday.

Non-roster catcher Kiel Thibault was reassigned to the Minor League camp to continue rehabilitation from tendinitis in his right shoulder. Catcher Jeff Howell has been reassigned to the mini-camp under way on the Minor League side. That leaves 61 players on the Major League side, including infielder Alberto Callaspo, who is due on Friday.

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Slide right on in: The Royals held sliding practice, skidding over some pads laid on the field.

"We try to discourage headfirst sliding, although it is allowed," manager Trey Hillman said. "We try to discourage it from first to second when there's a ground ball on the infield because you've never seen a guy break up a double play sliding headfirst.

"You can't ever slide headfirst at first base. I don't want any slides at first base unless it brings the first baseman off the bag. And we don't ever want any headfirst slides at home plate for the obvious reason: the guys got all the gear on and there's too big a chance for injury."

A reporter told Hillman that Ryan Shealy, apparently not the most graceful slider, gave himself a 2 out of 10 in the drill.

"Did he go that high?" Hillman deadpanned. "I'm not sure I would have gone that high."

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