Spring Tinkering


Spending 46 days in the hot Arizona sun serves many purposes. Some veterans see it as a completely unnecessary burden. They complain that it’s too long, too boring, and just want to start the season. Wiser players use it as an opportunity to work out any cobwebs before April starts. Perhaps they can speed up their timetable of a slow start and hit the ground running by Opening Day. Meanwhile, younger players are fighting for their baseball lives. This is their chance to improve their standing with the organization and take a step forward – perhaps even land on the 40 man roster.

For the Manager and Front Office, it’s arguably the busiest time of the year – and the most crucial. Along with the trade deadline at the end of July, which some teams won’t really participate, this is when your team is created. Sometimes, it’s a surprise need that has to be quickly filled. We saw that in the past couple weeks when Salvador Perez went down with an injury before the ink on his new contract had dried. Unforeseen events like this send the front office staff scrambling like roaches with the light switch. For the most part, it is known who will be on the Opening Day 25 man roster, but the hardest decisions lie at the bottom of that list. Who will be the fourth outfielder? Who will be the fifth starter?

The other thing that Spring Training allows managers to do is to tinker. By this, I simply mean to try things that they wouldn’t normally do during the regular season. If there is a strategy that you have in mind and are curious to see if it is legitimate, spring training is the time to test it out. This is the time to see if your power hitter can bunt. This is the time to see if your catcher can steal a base. This is the time to see if your middle infielders are capable of swapping positions.

And, apparently, this is the time to see if your franchise first-baseman can play in the outfield.

That’s right, Eric Hosmer played three innings in Right Field on Friday in Surprise, Arizona.

The Royals floated the idea on Friday afternoon, stating that they’d like to get Hosmer some work in the outfield in the next couple of weeks.

“I’m going to try to get (Hosmer) in right field, or the outfield, three times this spring,” manager Ned Yost said. “I just want him to have some experience out there…I don’t want to throw him out there cold turkey (in the regular season).”

The plan is that when KC travels to Pittsburgh for its first road Interleague Game on June 8th, the Royals can bolster their offense by keeping Billy Butler and Hosmer in the lineup together. Last year, the two platooned at First Base, which relegated one of their key bats to the pine. Yost feels that if Hosmer can hold his own in the outfield, then Butler can play first base and the 3-4 spots in the lineup will be preserved.

It’s a good plan, and here’s why. During last year’s nine Interleague games in National League parks, Butler was in the lineup just twice. He played while Eric sat on 6/19 in St. Louis 6/28 in San Diego. The Royals lost both of those games. In fact, the Royals were just 2-7 during those nine road games – hinting that something needs to change. While at home, the Royals could have both players in the lineup at the same time with the benefit of the DH. The results weren’t much better though, the Royals winning just 3 of 9.

So why make this move? You can’t blame all of those losses on these two guys. The Royals stunk it up during Interleague Play. Something has got to give. When your two best hitters play the same position, losing the DH makes things difficult. So, by shifting the more athletic of the two (Hosmer) to the outfield, you keep both bats in the lineup and improve your chance to score runs. Yes, there is a possibility of a defensive liability for those games, but Yost likes his odds of being able to out-score that liability. The two combine for a .292 batting average & a .350 on base percentage . Their stats last year were almost mirror images of each other. If I could have them both in the lineup at the same time, I would.

Has Hosmer ever played in the outfield professionally? No. Is he an incredibly talented athlete with an ability to learn quickly & still perform at a high level? Yes. Might he embarrass or hurt himself in the process? Possibly…

Hosmer seemed to be chomping at the bit for a fly ball on Friday & finally got one – a lazy foul ball along the Right Field line. He had no issues at all and made the catch. He is totally behind the idea and wants to help out. He called the experience, “fun” and “cool”, saying that he had played some outfield during the summers in High School. I think that you could put Hosmer at Short Stop and he’d play it with a big smile on his face.

“Whatever Skip tells me to do, I’m going to do to the best of my ability.”

That’s exactly the attitude that Hosmer needs to have with a tinker like this. If Ned Yost wants to try something out, this is the time to do it. If it’s not a good idea, we’ll never see it during the regular season. Sometimes though, ideas hatched during Spring Training turn out to produce great big awesome results down the line.

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