Who's Up First?
For the Royals, it will be one Carlos (Beltran) or the other
Of this, Royals manager Tony Muser is certain: Kansas City's
leadoff hitter this season will be named Carlos. But with 10 days
left in spring training, Muser still hadn't decided which Carlos
it would be--centerfielder Beltran or second baseman Febles.
"I don't think we have a prototypical leadoff hitter," Muser said
last Thursday. "Right now, Febles looks like the most likely to
develop that way." That's a switch from Muser's opinion at the
beginning of camp, when he indicated that Beltran, the American
League Rookie of the Year in 1999, would replace the traded
Johnny Damon at the top of the Royals' order.
Whoever gets the job will have large shoes to fill. K.C. had the
league's fifth most potent offense last season thanks largely to
Damon. Among full-time American League leadoff hitters, only the
Angels' Darin Erstad had a better on-base percentage than Damon,
and none scored as large a proportion of his team's runs as did
Febles, who regularly hit leadoff in the minors and has done so
most of this spring, is better suited to the role. He walks more,
strikes out less and has a better career on-base percentage (.344
to .327) than Beltran. Further, Febles has taken to the job,
hitting .327 and reaching base in 12 of 15 games through Sunday.
"This has been my goal," he says. "I always expected I'd be a
leadoff hitter in the major leagues."
Beltran primarily batted first his rookie year, hitting .302 in
the leadoff spot. While he could still get the job again if
Febles falters, he says he would be happy to hit second. After a
hideous second big league season in which he batted .247 with
only seven home runs, spent two months on the disabled list with
a bruised right knee and was suspended by the Royals for 18 days
for refusing a rehab assignment, he'll have his hands full
proving he's not the next Bob Hamelin, even without the pressure
of hitting leadoff. "Last year was not good," Beltran says, "but
I learned that I have to work hard every day, that I can't get
down if I get in a slump."
For the first time Beltran spent the winter working out daily
with a personal trainer. Joined by Royals lefthander Jose Rosado
and former major leaguer Carlos Baerga during the sessions near
his home in Puerto Rico, Beltran concentrated on outfield and
hitting drills and a weight room regimen. "I used to go to the
gym, but it was easy to be lazy, because I was by myself,"
Beltran says. "[The trainer] made me work hard. I can feel the
The Royals can see a difference too. Febles, Beltran's teammate
in the minors for four years, says he has never seen the other
Carlos in better shape, and Beltran has been Kansas City's best
hitter this spring (.340 with four homers). He has also shown
improvement in his weakest area: hitting breaking pitches. He's
no longer so preoccupied with them that he lets hittable
fastballs go by. "Carlos is also more open to things we'd like
him to work on," says Muser. "He's also talking more baseball
with other players and starting to earn more respect from his
All of them realize that wherever they hit, the Carloses could
make or break the lineup. "If they don't have good years, then
[first baseman Mike] Sweeney and [leftfielder Mark] Quinn and I
can't have good years," says rightfielder Jermaine Dye, who led
K.C. with 33 homers and drove in 118 runs last season. "That's a
lot of pressure on them."
Getting Better, And Just in Time
Rangers' Young Starters
Rangers lefthander Doug Davis watched Texas spend lavishly on
free agents this winter and figured he wouldn't be around to meet
all his new teammates. "I thought the team would trade me or Ryan
[Glynn] and some prospects for a third starter," says Davis, 25,
who last week nailed down the fifth spot in the rotation. "So I'm
happy to be here."
Davis wasn't alone in his thinking: Most of baseball was waiting
for the Rangers to augment their fearsome lineup with a quality
starter or two. But they didn't--they made a run at
Mike Hampton but lost out to the Rockies, and they thought they
had David Cone until he went to Boston. Now Texas's postseason
hopes may ride on the unseasoned Davis and righthander Glynn, 26,
who will be the No. 4 starter. "If anyone should be excited about
this season, it's those two," Rangers manager Johnny Oates says.
"They're in an ideal situation for a young pitcher: They're on a
team that will score runs and play good defense."
Davis and Glynn together made 29 starts in 2000 and, despite
lackluster numbers (12-13 combined, and each had an ERA of more
than 5.00), showed glimpses of effectiveness. Davis, who made 17
relief appearances in addition to his 13 starts, threw Texas's
only nine-inning complete game; Glynn held the Dodgers hitless in
the first five innings of one start.
Their performances this spring have been encouraging too. Davis
held the Yankees hitless in a five-inning stint last Friday,
dropping his ERA to 1.35. In three starts against major league
clubs Glynn had allowed only one run in nine innings, though he
had a disastrous 10-run, four-inning outing in a minor league
Neither pitcher has overpowering stuff, and their fastballs only
occasionally break 90 mph. Davis, a 10th-round draft pick in
1996, has been a better pitcher since adding a cut fastball
midway through last season. Because his four-seam fastball tails
over the plate, Davis was pounded by lefthanded hitters when he
tried to nip the outside corner. The cutter allows him to stay
away from lefties and to bore in on the hands of righties. Glynn,
the Rangers' fourth-round pick in '95, survives with a
herky-jerky delivery. By slowing his motion this spring, he has
improved his command.
"This spring has been a natural progression for both of them,"
Oates says of the two young starters, who will follow righthander
Rick Helling and lefthanders Kenny Rogers and Darren Oliver in
the rotation. "It's up to us now to support them and let them
develop as major league pitchers."
What's Not To Like?
"The pitching in our division is as strong as any in baseball,"
says Dodgers first baseman Eric Karros, "which is just
great--now that we have the unbalanced schedule." Karros's
sarcasm aside, the return to a schedule dominated by
intradivisional games for the first time since 1978 in the
American League and '92 in the National League has met with near
unanimous support from managers and players, including Karros,
who says, "Now you'll find out who the best team in your
division is, head to head. And we [the Dodgers] get a few more
games in Colorado, which is always good for a hitter."
Players, especially on West Coast teams, are happiest that the
unbalanced schedule will reduce travel and increase the number of
games played in their own time zones. For players and fans, there
may be a feast of late-season showdowns between teams fighting
for division titles: Seventy-six of the last 94 games on the
schedule are intradivisional.
There are drawbacks to the arrangement. Because teams are
scheduled for only one trip into some cities, rainouts could
create travel headaches if those games need to be made up on off
days that require a return trip. In addition, teams in weak
divisions may have an advantage in the wild-card race over teams
in tough divisions. The Astros in the National League Central,
for example, will play the Brewers and Cubs a total of 13 times
in September, while the Mets in the East will face the Braves'
and Marlins' deep pitching staffs 11 times.
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Verducci and Stephen Cannella, go to cnnsi.com/baseball.