4 Kansas City Royals For a franchise coming off its worst season ever, a .500 record is a lot to hope for

March 31, 2003

Stretched out alongside a pool in Surprise, Ariz., one afternoon
this spring, Mike MacDougal, the 26-year-old Kansas City closer
with all of 24 1/3 career innings, flipped on his cellphone.
When he saw that the phone was out of service--it had been all
week--MacDougal cursed and, with the same right arm that has
uncorked 103-mph fastballs, threw the phone into the air as high
as he could. It landed on a nearby lawn just as the sprinkler
system, as if on cue, activated. Within seconds MacDougal's phone
was soaked, and permanently out of service. "Oh, well," the
mellow Floridian said with a shrug. "I bought a new one anyway."

Everyone on the Royals' pitching staff this year should have
MacDougal's happy-go-lucky temperament. General manager Allard
Baird decided that throwing a markedly inexperienced staff to the
wolves was the right move for an organization coming off its
first 100-loss season. "We're in a rebuilding mode," says Baird.
"We're giving every opportunity to our younger pitchers." Gone
from a staff that had the second-highest ERA (5.21) in the league
last year are 17-game winner Paul Byrd (a free agent who signed
with the Braves) and nine-game winner Jeff Suppan (released by
the Royals and picked up by the Pirates), the only K.C. pitchers
who had more than four victories in 2002. Also departed is closer
Roberto Hernandez (26 saves; signed with the Braves as a free
agent), the one bright spot in a bullpen that had an AL-high 5.29
ERA. "There are going to be bumps," says Baird, "but I like what
we have."

Three starters--Runelvys Hernandez, Jeremy Affeldt and Miguel
Asencio--are all under 25, have combined for 11 career wins and
made their major league debuts in 2002 after undistinguished work
in the minors. No. 4 starter Chris George, a 23-year-old
lefthander, split time between Kansas City and Triple A Omaha
over the past two seasons. "We hope they're going to be able to
do the job so we can build something special around them," says
first baseman Mike Sweeney. "If not, it's going to be a long
year."

The pitchers with the biggest upside are MacDougal and Affeldt, a
23-year-old righthander who possesses a fluttering sinker and a
nasty slider. Affeldt credits the departed Byrd for helping him
mature as a person and a player last year. Besides attending
church together every week, Affeldt and Byrd sat side by side in
the dugout during every game when neither was starting. "Paul
would break down every hitter," Affeldt says. "He'd constantly
ask what I thought the batters were expecting. It changed my
perspective."

How fast Affeldt and the other young arms develop could determine
how much longer Sweeney, a three-time All-Star and fan favorite,
wears a Royals uniform. Sweeney signed a five-year, $55 million
contract extension last March, but included in the deal is a
clause that allows him to become a free agent after the 2004
season if the Royals don't finish .500 or better this year or
next. Lately Sweeney has become increasingly disgruntled with the
club, citing owner David Glass's desire to reduce the payroll
from last season by some $10 million, to $37 million (it's at
about $41 million now), the departure of Byrd and the likelihood
that centerfielder Carlos Beltran, who rejected a three-year, $25
million offer in December, will be traded. (Beltran, 25, is
eligible for free agency after the 2004 season.) "Tearing up this
team is against what [Glass] told me when I signed my extension,"
Sweeney says. "Mr. Glass said he would build this team around me
and increase payroll, but now they're going the opposite way."

Sweeney finished second in the AL in batting last season (.340).
Help in the order comes from Beltran (if he remains with the
team), a 30-30 threat; third baseman Joe Randa, who has driven in
at least 80 runs in four straight seasons; and leftfielder Raul
Ibanez, who, since adjusting his stance on the advice of former
Royals third baseman Kevin Seitzer in May 2001, has hit .290 with
37 home runs and 156 RBIs in 231 games.

Yet no matter how many runs the Royals put on the board, the
pitching staff will probably give up more. "I'm realistic," says
Affeldt. "I know that on any other team, I'm probably a bullpen
guy. But this is the reality here, and we think we're all up for
it." --A.C.

COLOR PHOTO: STEVE MOORE WALLBANGERS Playing behind a young pitching staff, Ibanez and the Royals will often find victory to be beyond their reach.
COLOR PHOTO: JED JACOBSOHN/GETTY IMAGES SWEENEY

IN FACT
Carlos Beltran, who drove in 105 runs last year, became the first
player to lead the franchise in RBIs in consecutive seasons since
John Mayberry in 1975 and '76.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Royals

"This is a bad team, but maybe not as bad as people think....
Mike MacDougal has power and guts, and they're thinking of
making him their closer, but that's just stupid. He's too young
and too wild. He's an eight-innings, seven-walks kind of guy,
but he is electric.... Runelvys Hernandez is another
keeper--good command, a power arm and a slick breaking ball.
Miguel Asencio has a chance to be the best of the bunch. His
ball has life from the time it leaves his hands.... I love Angel
Berroa. His hands are so sure and his footwork is so good. But
he'll never be in the Jeter-Tejada class, because he'll probably
hit between .260 and .280.... Mike Sweeney is a lethal hitter,
but his defense is terrible. He makes poor decisions, his
footwork is crummy and he has no instincts.... Joe Randa needs
to be on a team that has a chance to win. He'd be a solid role
player on the Yankees or Giants. He does everything well,
nothing great, and he's a professional hitter.... Carlos Beltran
never used to play hard. Now he does, and the numbers are proof.
He has a remarkably quick bat and great athleticism. Is he
Andruw Jones or Torii Hunter in center? No, but he's in the
second group."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2002 statistics

BATTING ORDER

RF Tucker
3B Randa
CF Beltran
1B Sweeney
LF Ibanez
DH Harvey
C Mayne
2B Febles
SS Berroa

MICHAEL TUCKER

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 152 .248 12 56 23

JOE RANDA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 161 .282 11 80 2

CARLOS BELTRAN

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 13 .273 29 105 35

MIKE SWEENEY

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 31 .340 24 86 9

RAUL IBANEZ

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 50 .294 24 103 5

BRENT MAYNE

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 271 .236 4 30 4

CARLOS FEBLES

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 237 .245 4 26 16

ANGEL BERROA* (R)

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 240 .215 8 35 6

BENCH

DEE BROWN*

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 292 .275 17 75 10

DESI RELAFORD[#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 313 .267 6 43 10

DESIGNATED HITTER

KEN HARVEY*(R)

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 150 .277 20 75 8

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Runelvys Hernandez 84 4 4 6.2 1.36 4.36
LH Jeremy Affeldt 198 3 4 4.7 1.57 4.64
RH Miguel Asencio 218 4 7 5.3 1.62 5.11
LH Chris George(R) 234 0 4 4.6 1.65 5.60
LH Darrell May 216 4 10 5.5 1.48 5.35

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Mike MacDougal*(R) 127 3 5 0 2.02 5.60
RH Ryan Bukvich 253 1 0 0 1.80 6.12
RH Kris Wilson 229 2 0 0 1.82 8.20

[#]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings
pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Triple A stats

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 157)

2002 RECORD 62--100
fourth in AL Central

MANAGER

Tony Pena
second season with Kansas City

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)