Royals banking on Morales, Rios to fuel power-starved lineup
SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) Dayton Moore knows perfectly well how rare it was for a team as starved for power as the Kansas City Royals were last season to make the playoffs, let alone the World Series.
He also knows that it would be nearly impossible to replicate the feat.
So after the Royals were finally ousted by the San Francisco Giants in a dramatic Game 7, and the book was finally closed on their first postseason appearance in nearly three decades, the general manager started the grueling task of retooling. And not surprisingly, he began by identifying a couple of players who could provide some pop to the middle of the Kansas City lineup.
One was Kendrys Morales, who would take over for departed free agent Billy Butler. The other was Alex Rios, who will handle right field in place of light-hitting Nori Aoki.
''I feel like we're more complete now in a lot of ways,'' Moore said.
Of course, the small-market Royals are not throwing away their winning formula from last season. Success will still be predicated on daring baserunning, speedy defense and a shutdown bullpen.
Rather, Moore hopes that the big bats simply augment the rest of a lineup that finished last in the majors last season with only 95 home runs.
Morales once hit 34 homers in a season with the Angels, and had back-to-back 20-homer seasons a couple years ago. And despite getting a late start on last season that threw his timing off and limited him to 98 games, he still managed to send nine out of the ballpark.
That's the same number of homers that Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer had all year.
As an added bonus, Morales is a switch-hitter. In an era of shifts and platoons and advanced metrics, the Royals don't need to worry about sitting him depending on the pitcher.
''We got the pitching and speed and defense, but to put two power bats like that in our lineup, especially Kendrys from both sides, I think that will help us out, especially in late innings, when you want to turn to the tough righty or lefty in the bullpen,'' Hosmer said. ''When he's in the middle of the order right there, that's a big help for us.''
Rios is the quintessential case of risk-reward. The two-time All-Star has had some big years, eclipsing 20 home runs three times, but he's also had some downright baffling ones. Last year he hit .280 for Texas, but only had four home runs as he dealt with a series of injuries.
He insisted that he will be healthy this season, and fully expects his power to return.
''I played through the second half of the season with two injuries, actually. I had a bad ankle and my thumb was swollen up and I had to get surgery,'' Rios said. ''I believe it did affect me. I didn't want to use it as an excuse, but I really believe it affected my performance during the second half. I believe if I was healthy, I could have done better.''
Morales and Rios will both have their work cut out for them trying to pop balls over the fence at spacious Kauffman Stadium. After all, there's a reason the franchise record for home runs in a season is still just 36, set by Steve Balboni in 1985. And why no Royals player has even hit 30 homers in a season since Jermaine Dye had 33 in 2000.
''You know what, in my career I've been able to hit for power - gap-to-gap power - and I think this is the right ballpark to do this type of thing,'' Rios said. ''I think this is a ballpark that all of us as offensive players can take advantage of because of how the gaps are.''
The Royals have no shortage of players capable of lining doubles into the gap, though. What they need is for someone - Morales and Rios, perhaps - to send some balls over the wall.
NOTES: The Royals' intrasquad game scheduled for Monday was rained out. Pitchers and hitters worked in the cage instead. ... Manager Ned Yost said LF Alex Gordon is still hitting soft toss as he rehabs from right wrist surgery in December. ... RHP Ryan Madson had his side session Monday scratched due to stiffness in his back. Madson has not pitched in the majors since 2011.