Heading into the 2014 season, one of the perceived weaknesses with the Royals was that they did not have a true leadoff hitter. Alex Gordon had done an admirable job getting on base atop the Royals lineup, but was not a traditional leadoff hitter and was better suited hitting in the middle of the order. Nori Aoki was acquired to fill that void, but has not performed to expectations this season. As it turns out, the Royals may have had their leadoff hitter on the roster the entire time in Lorenzo Cain.
Given a chance to hit leadoff due to Aoki’s groin injury, Cain has made the most of his chances. Thus far in the 2014 season, Cain has produced a .315/.351/.479 batting line in 73 at bats as the Royals leadoff hitter. With Gordon’s lack of speed as a concern leading off for the Royals, Cain has fit the job description there as well, stealing five bases in six attempts.
Now, even though Aoki is back and healthy, the leadoff spot appears to belong to Lorenzo Cain. It certainly makes sense that Cain, who has been one of the Royals most consistent hitters this season, would have moved up in the lineup. Given that Aoki was not exactly setting the world afire this season, a change atop the lineup was also more than overdue. The injury, coupled with Cain’s production, made the choice that much easier.
It also appears that Cain is finally going to be an every day player for the Royals. Instead of being part of a three player shuffle with Aoki and Jarrod Dyson, Ned Yost indicated that the third outfield slot will be filled by one of Aoki, Dyson or Raul Ibanez, depending on who he feels would be most productive that day (hint – the answer to this question is not Ibanez).
“We look at Dyson’s speed and defense, Nori’s an offensive player who can produce consistent offense when he’s going right, and Raul’s a power guy,” Yost said. “So, you look at matchups every day and decide do you want power, speed or offense, and go from there.”
Now, it seems that Lorenzo Cain, much like Gordon, will be a constant in the lineup. Quite frankly, it is about time. When healthy, few outfielders provide the same blend of offensive capability and defensive acumen that Cain has. Even though he is still likely to be shuttled between center and right, particularly if Dyson is in the lineup, Cain has been an asset in both positions.
The Royals thought that they found their leadoff hitter when they acquired Nori Aoki. Turns out, they had that position filled all along with Lorenzo Cain.