Royals second base job is wide open

Royals 2nd Base

MARCH 2017 – There was no competition for the second base job in 2016, but it was still a big question mark in spring training for the Royals.

The Royals owed Omar Infante a lot of money and are still paying him this year. There was hope he could regain his glory days after hitting a puny .220 in 2015 and left off the World Series roster with an injury.

But with Infante struggling with a .239 average and no power, the Royals released him on June 21 last season, even though he still had 1 ½ years left on his contract.

This year the Royals have four candidates for the starting second base job, but none has a great deal of big league experience playing there.

They are Cheslor Cuthbert, Whit Merrifield, Christian Colon and Raul Mondesi.

Cuthbert has played primary third base much of his career. He filled in favorably last year at third after Mike Moustakas had a season-ending knee injury. Cuthbert hit .274 with 12 home runs and 28 doubles.

He is also out of minor league options, so he would have to clear waivers, which is unlikely, if the Royals want to send him to Triple-A Omaha.

Is he agile enough and possess enough range to be a regular second base? The Royals want to find out. They sent him to the instructional league last October for a two-week crash course at second base.

“He’s athletic and has good hands,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He can do this. He’s worked very hard at that position.”

Spring training is the time to find out if Cuthbert can adequately handle the position.

“It is different,” Cuthbert said. “The angles are different. The throws are different. But I can do it. It just takes more work.

“At third, it’s just mostly reaction. At second, you have to move around more.”

Merrifield can play all over the diamond, a deluxe utility player, but he wants the everyday second base job.

He hit .283 in 81 games as a rookie, including 55 starts at second base.

“It’s one I would like to win,” Merrifield said. “I put myself in a good position physically and mentally this offseason to compete and hopefully win the job. We have some good players. Whoever wins the job is going to earn it.

“There’s competition. You’ve got a chance to compete for a starting job in the major leagues. Let’s strap it on and go.”

Colon will always be embedded in Royals’ lore with his 2014-15 postseason RBIs. But while he has been given opportunities in the past to take a starting job, he has come up short. Colon hit .231 in 54 games last season and also spent some time with Omaha, where he had a .273 average in 19 games.

Colon, the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft, is 27 and, like Cuthbert, out of minor league options. This could be his last chance to prove he was worthy of such a high draft pick. He worked out with Alex Gordon in the offseason and reported to camp in peak physical condition.

He said he has not reached his potential yet.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “There’s still a lot to learn and hopefully still a lot of games to be played. Just keep learning as I go into my prime and I feel confident.

“I’ve been a utility and when I get an opportunity I go in there and try to do the best. We’ll see what happens.”

The Royals believe Mondesi has star potential in the majors.

He was gifted the second base late last July, but his bat was not ready. Mondesi hit .185 in 47 games with only six extra-base hits. He struck out an alarmingly 48 times in 135 at-bats.

Mondesi has the athletic skill to play the position. He is only 21 and shortstop is his natural position. He and Whitfield have minor league options left, which factors against them.

Mondesi has the highest ceiling of them all, but he likely needs to spend some more time in the Pacific Coast League to hone his offensive skills.

Mondesi could be the shortstop of the future with Alcides Escobar eligible for free agency after this season instead of the second baseman for 2016.

“We’re looking for someone who can field ground balls and turn double plays, and get hits,” Yost said. “That’s it. That is what we want.”

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Article by Alan Eskew

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