Every spring training spawns the same story lines — a position battle, an underperforming player with renewed vigor, a consensus to leave the previous season in the past.
But for the Royals, this particular spring training is unlike any in the last six years.
As they stepped onto the back fields here for their first full-squad workout of the season Monday, there was no clear front-runner for the job at first base, vacated by Eric Hosmer. Mike Moustaskas’ replacement at third base was undetermined. Center field, manned for just as long by Lorenzo Cain, had its own vacancy sign staked in the ground.
As the Royals begin the grueling process of overhauling a farm system that has wilted since Hosmer, Moustakas and catcher Salvador Perez were merely minor-league prospects with high ceilings, the team finds itself at a crossroads on the major-league level.
“The opportunity is abundant, that’s for sure,” manager Ned Yost said.
So the Royals have put Cheslor Cuthbert, Ramon Torres and non-roster invitee Cody Asche at third base for reps. They will try out Hunter Dozier, a third baseman and converted outfielder, at first base alongside Frank Schwindel and Ryan O’Hearn.
And they will give outfielders Billy Burns and Paulo Orlando a chance to compete for the starting center field job.
“Obviously there were some rock-solid players the Royals had at those positions,” Burns said. “This year I think there’s a little more opportunity there, and I’m excited for that.”
With so little set in stone, it’s not trite to state that about a dozen players have something to prove. Among them are Jorge Soler and Jorge Bonifacio, currently set to share right field and designated hitter duties.
“(I will) try to work hard out there, do the little things, things that help you to win the spot on that roster,” Bonifacio said.
The new-look Royals will spend the next five weeks ironing out the details and working through plots they haven’t had to analyze in a considerable while.
“I’m not thinking about the options on my contract. I’m thinking about having a good year,” Soler said. “I worked hard and this year things are going to go much better than last year.”