KC Royals manager Ned Yost insisted that the team’s plan to experiment with Alex Gordon in center field this spring was just about toying with versatility. Yet, Lorenzo Cain only managed to play 72 games in center in 2016.
One of the more curious stories to come out of the first week of spring training in Surprise, Arizona was the news that the Kansas City Royals would allow left field defensive zen master Alex Gordon to log some time in center field. According to Yost, Gordon had asked about the possibility for years and he chose this season to give it a whirl—presumably out of an impish desire to develop his club’s versatility.
Don’t let Yost’s casual characterization fool you. He’s indulging in the age-old baseball wisdom that the man in charge must ALWAYS pretend nothing could possibly be wrong. He’s not at all worried.
It’s just an experiment. It means nothing.
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You “experiment” with a player’s versatility when they’re young and you still haven’t explored their full skill set. You generally don’t do it with 33-year-old four-time Gold Glove winners at left field unless you have a good reason. That good reason is most likely concerns about Lorenzo Cain‘s ability to stay in the lineup while patrolling center field.
Last season, Lorenzo Cain played a mere 101 games. He missed most of July with a pulled hamstring. After he returned, Yost played Cain in right field and moved Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson to center in order to reduce stress on Cain’s hamstring. Cain then missed all but one game in September due to a broken hand as the KC Royals fell out of the race.
Keeping Cain Healthy Is A Big Key To 2017 Success
With Cain in the lineup, the Kansas City Royals went 59-42. Without Lorenzo Cain in the lineup, KC fell to 21-39.
Clearly, being able to write Lorenzo Cain’s name on the lineup card most days is one key to the KC Royals success in 2017. Except this season, Yost can’t just swap him with speedy right fielders Orlando and Dyson. General manager Dayton Moore traded Dyson to the Mariners for rotation candidate Nate Karns. Meanwhile, Paulo Orlando figures to become a reserve behind heavy hitting Jorge Soler (who isn’t a candidate to play center).
What is Yost to do if Cain suffers a similar leg injury in 2017, and needs to play a corner outfield spot to stay in the lineup? THAT’S what the Alex Gordon in center experiment is all about. Yost wants to know if Gordon’s outstanding ability to read the ball off the bat and take good routes will allow him to play center. Then, Yost could put Cain in left and keep his best bats in the lineup. Or, better yet, move him to designated hitter and put Brandon Moss in an outfield corner.
As the old saw goes, actions speak louder than words. Ned Yost is concerned about 31-year-old Lorenzo Cain’s ability to avoid injury in center field. He’s using spring training to explore his options just in case Cain’s legs wear down.