KC Royals: Hot bat should put Maikel Garcia in third base fight

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

There is much to unpack about how the KC Royals beat Cleveland Tuesday afternoon. Just for starters, and after losing a three-run lead in the sixth inning before tying the game in the eighth, Kansas City sent 10 to the plate and scored six runs in the ninth. Manager Matt Quatraro deployed 18 position players, 11 of whom collected hits, and nine pitchers, seven of whom gave up no runs.

Fresh off suffering lip and tooth injuries in a weekend fall, reliever Aroldis Chapman made his Royals debut and struck out two in a scoreless inning. Striving to reclaim his big league roster spot after missing last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, Richard Lovelady pitched well for the second time in as many outings, but Jordan Lyles and Max Castillo combined to give up all six Guardian runs. And roster longshots Jose Briceno, Robbie Glendinning, and Logan Porter had two hits apiece.

There was more, but one performance stood out above all others.

Infielder Maikel Garcia, who may have the best shot among the minor leaguers in camp at winning a spot on the Royals' Opening Day roster, went 2-for-3 with a home run and four RBIs to boost his early Cactus League slash to .667/.667/1.167. He's now 4-for-6 and has a stolen base for good measure.

And although a concededly small sample size underlies that line, how Garcia is hitting, has hit, and can hit, should render third base more of a position battle than it may presently be.

Maikel Garcia ought to be a strong candidate to play third for the KC Royals.

Uncertainty and instability have dominated the Royal hot corner ever since the club traded Mike Moustakas to Milwaukee in 2018. His shoes are yet to be filled, although Hunter Dozier appeared to be in line for a long stay at third when, playing the position 100 times out of the 139 games he appeared in, he tied for the major league lead in triples, hit 26 homers, drove in 84 runs, and slashed .279/.348/.522 in 2019.

But his glove gave the Royals pause and his bat went cold (.226 over the last three seasons), and third base hasn't been his primary position since that superb 2019 campaign.

Nevertheless, and via a decision presumably grounded in their preference to have Bobby Witt Jr. play shortstop and the need to give Dozier another chance to justify the questionable four-year, $25 million contract they gave him before the 2021 season, the Royals have made it clear Dozier is once again their presumptive starting third baseman.

The decision should not be considered final, and Garcia, KC's fifth-best prospect per MLB Pipeline, is the main reason why.

He's simply too good not to be in the mix.

Recall his bat didn't become hot just this spring, so his status as a potential rival of Dozier for the third base job isn't based on just six at-bats. He earned his way to Triple-A Omaha last year after hitting .291 with a .369 OBP and 27 stolen bases in 78 Double-A games, then stole 12 more bases and slashed .274/.341/.463 at Omaha. He even hit seven homers for the Storm Chasers in 40 games after hitting four in 78 at Northwest Arkansas. In nine games for the Royals, he went 7-for-22.

Garcia is also good defensively, which explains why he's primarily a shortstop and hasn't played third. But a shortstop with Garcia's athleticism is capable of sliding over to the hot corner.

Kansas City has others who might challenge Dozier, including Nate Eaton and non-roster invitees Matt Duffy, Matt Beaty and Jonathan Camargo. But Eaton may be a better choice for a Whit Merrifield-type infield-outfield utility role, and Duffy, Beaty and Camargo, who are all versatile, likely aren't everyday players.

If the Royals remain as deeply committed to playing Witt at shortstop as they seem to be, they need to seriously consider Garcia at third; perhaps his three early Cactus League appearances there reflect that approach. He won't hit .667 much longer, but he's good enough to be in the running for the job, especially when Dozier's track record over the last three seasons doesn't provide a lot of hope that his bat will improve much, if at all.

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