Bloomquist confident he can start

Bloomquist confident he can start

KANSAS CITY -- So the question, quite naturally, comes up: Now that Willie Bloomquist is here, can he be Mr. Everyday Player?

Because Bloomquist spent six straight years as Mr. Utility Player for the Seattle Mariners, that's a logical question and he knows it. He knows there will be skepticism about his ability to become the Royals' starting second baseman.

"As a player, the one thing I've learned is that the minute you lose your confidence, that's the minute you're going to go downhill," he said. "So, for me, I'm confident that I can do that."

There is no doubt in Bloomquist's mind.

Royals manager Trey Hillman made it quite clear that he's not granting the job to Bloomquist over Alberto Callaspo or Esteban German or anyone else.

Here's what Hillman had to say about Bloomquist's chances:

"When you put everyone's evaluations together, from our scouts to our coaches who have had experience watching him day in and day out or from the other side of the field, I think sometimes guys just need the right situation or the right chemistry of the club that they're on to go from being a utility guy to an everyday player.

"I'm not saying this is going to happen with Willie in Kansas City, but this is certainly something that with all of the opinions put together and with the character we want on the field, in the dugout and in the clubhouse, I think it's certainly a possibility with him."

Bloomquist did everything but pitch and catch for the Mariners. As often happens in baseball, he got himself pigeonholed -- in the backup slot.

"There were times that I'd play a month or so at a time when somebody got hurt or something," Bloomquist said, "but if I got told once, I got told a hundred times there: 'It's a double-edged sword for you. The fact that you can play so many positions is your biggest asset, but it's also your worst enemy in that we don't want to put you at one position, because there isn't anybody else that does what you can do and play everywhere. We need your versatility and what you can do.'"

For inspiration, he has to look no further than new teammate Mike Aviles. Pegged as a probable backup-type player in the Minor Leagues, Aviles emerged last season to perform so well as the regular shortstop that he was named Royals Player of the Year.

Bloomquist's fielding log shows that he played 111 games at shortstop, 107 at third base, 94 in center field, 86 at second base, 50 in left field, 31 at first base and 30 in right field. He also was designated hitter 20 times. Sometimes he played more than one position in a game.

"I'm not a guy who comes and complains about my role on a team," Bloomquist said. "I understand a team needs that, and you can accept that, but you don't have to be really happy with it."

So the 31-year-old veteran was not all torn up about ending his career-long stay in the Seattle organization. Oh, he loved it, he had fun, he was grateful, but he was ready for a change.

In his first full season -- 2003 -- Bloomquist watched the Royals make a run for the American League Central title and then fade in subsequent years.

"Playing against them, you see improvement," he said. "And seeing a couple of the acquisitions they made this offseason, you see they're going in the right direction, and it's going to be an exciting team.

"From a team standpoint, that was exciting, but from kind of a selfish individual standpoint, I saw it as a good opportunity to play more than I ever have and, hopefully, if I can do the things I do, I can eventually become a starter or win a job."

Hillman has seen Bloomquist some and has taken note of the scouting reports.

"I hear he's a very good fielder at second base with plus-lateral range," Hillman said. "He turns the double play just fine. He plays short just fine, but it's not his No. 1 infield position.

Hot Stove

"In the outfield, our reports are that he actually moves better in center than he does on the corners, but he has the ability to play all three outfield positions."

At bat, Bloomquist has little power. Last year in 165 at-bats, he had exactly one extra-base hit, a double. He also posted his best average, .279, and best on-base percentage, .377, by drawing a career-high 25 walks.

"My record speaks for itself as far as power numbers. I really don't have a ton of them yet, although I think I'll develop more. I can't have much less," he said with a chuckle.

That's six homers, six triples and 46 doubles in 1,255 at-bats (.263, 98 RBIs). That won't put him on baseball's Muscle Beach.

But Hillman can see some pluses.

"He knows how to draw a walk, knows how to run when he gets on the bases," he said. "Pretty good awareness of the strike zone, both with fastball and secondary pitches. Not afraid to work the count. Situationally aware. As far as want you want in a headsy player, from all reports, this guy is the full package."

And, with Joey Gathright gone, Bloomquist brings some needed speed and baserunning savvy.

"I love to run, man," Bloomquist said. "To me, that's the game within the game -- stealing bases and running the bases. That, to me, is what I take the most pride in, being able to run the bases well."

It's a given that he'll be able to outrun his principal second-base rival, Callaspo. Now he'll have to prove he's the better overall performer as well.

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