Gordon primed to improve on breakout season

Gordon primed to improve on breakout season

KANSAS CITY -- There's no doubt that the Royals' Alex Gordon will miss Melky Cabrera roaming beside him in center field and hitting just behind (or just ahead) of him in the batting order. But Gordon saw the wisdom in the deal that sent Cabrera to the San Francisco Giants for starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez.

"We knew we had depth in the outfield and it was kind of the same way with the Giants. They had some pitching they could give up, and they needed some outfield help," Gordon said. "So it was a good trade for both teams. I've seen Sanchez in Spring Training a couple times, and he's got some great stuff, so we get a top starter out of it."

In fact, general manager Dayton Moore's moves for 2012 get a thumb's up from Gordon.

"It's been great -- strengthening our bullpen a little bit more with [Jonathan] Broxton. He's a two-time All-Star with some veteran leadership," he said. "And Sanchez has incredible stuff. We're really sad, we're really going to miss Melky -- he was a big part of our team last year, but it is what it is. What we needed was some starting pitching so it's good to see what [Moore] has been doing."

It was good for Moore to see what Gordon was doing last summer for the Royals, too. He had a breakout, breakthrough season, going at a breakneck pace until manager Ned Yost put him on the bench for the last six games of the season, giving September callups Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson some playing time.

Gordon was one of just five Major Leaguers last season with a .300 average, 45 doubles and 20 home runs. By hitting .303 with 45 two-baggers and 23 blasts, he put himself in an exclusive club with Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, Boston's Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury and the New York Yankees' Robinson Cano. The only Royals who have done it before were Hal McRae in 1982, Mike Sweeney in 2001 and Billy Butler in 2009.

Gordon also scored 101 runs, swiped 17 bases and notched a Major League-high 20 outfield assists. He was named the Royals' Player of the Year and won an American League Gold Glove for defensive excellence in left field.

Can he top that in 2012?

"We'll see. Just go in with the same mindset. Play hard every day and whatever happens in the game happens and we'll see at the end of the day what the results are," he said.

He'll have a different center fielder beside him, presumably Cain, who won the Frank White Award as the year's best defensive player in the Minor League system. Cain will fall under the guidance of outfield coach Doug Sisson, who gets credit for helping the Royals' 2011 outfield pile up 51 assists and discourage opponents' daring on the bases.

"Sisson is going to put him right to work. That's what Doug was all about," Gordon said. "Every day we were out there throwing to the bases and stuff like that and it helped us. So Cain, Mitch Maier, [Jarrod] Dyson are all going to be in the mix so we still have a solid outfield even though Melky's gone."

A bit uncertain is where Gordon will bat in the 2012 order, because last season Yost had him first 89 times, third 51 times and fourth nine times. Cabrera usually was in the No. 2 slot.

"I like first," Gordon said. "At first it was a little uncomfortable just because I hadn't done it but I got used to it and toward the end of the year I really felt comfortable in the one-hole. So anywhere that Ned wants to put me -- I know a couple times he's come up to me and said, 'You're batting three, is that OK?' or 'You're batting four, is that OK?' and the same with the leadoff spot. I've been OK with all of it and wherever he wants me it's best for the team and that's where I'll be."

Gordon's winter has included a couple of charitable events. Along with teammate Aaron Crow, he helped distribute goods to low-income families at the Johnson County Christmas Bureau's annual Holiday Shop at Olathe, Kan. After that, Gordon and his wife, Jamie, were hosts for a Playing for Pink Casino Night at Lincoln, Neb., that raised funds for the American Cancer Society and to send the Nebraska Diamond Dawgs boys team to a Cooperstown, N.Y., tournament in 2012.

"It was a great turnout. It was the first year of doing it and we really didn't know what to expect but we had guys like Billy [Butler], [Luke] Hochevar, [Jeff] Francoeur, [Kevin] Seitzer -- those kind of guys came and helped us out," he said. "My wife did a lot of work and you could see with the turnout and how it played out that it was well-prepared with good results. We reached the goal [$100,000], so they're going to go to Cooperstown, and we also raised money for the fight against breast cancer, so it was a good thing all around."

Now Gordon can look forward to a season in which the fast-maturing Royals are supposed to be markedly better. At least, that seemed to be the indication during September when the Royals had a 15-10 record and average home attendance jumped to 26,532 for the last 11 games from the previous 20,465.

Kansas City was getting excited.

"The thing that I noticed the most is that when I went out in the city, people came up to me and said, 'It looks like you guys are having fun,' and that means a lot," Gordon said. "I've never heard that before, and that's probably why people came out and watched us."

Being five games over .500 for the month didn't hurt, either.

"We were having fun -- and winning," Gordon said.

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