On the fourth day of the Cactus League, Ned Yost tinkered. He reconfigured the defensive alignment of both his infield and outfield, part of a monthlong process designed to crystallize the team’s opening day roster.
“This is where you do all your experimenting,” he said. “Down here, now.”
So Nori Aoki took Lorenzo Cain’s place in center field. Cain took Aoki’s place in right. Danny Valencia started at second base. The unit held up during a 5-3 victory over Chicago at Cubs Park. Mike Moustakas powered the offense once again, swatting home runs in his first two at-bats. Eric Hosmer also doubled twice, singled in his third at-bat and scored twice.
The offensive production from the regulars pleased Yost. But this early in the spring, there is little to be gleaned from their hitting. The more long-ranging evaluation occurred on the defensive side.
As the season approaches, the Royals will have a numbers crunch at the end of their roster. After accounting for their starting position players and a backup catcher, only three spots are available. The team may break camp without a backup middle infielder.
In turn, they must maximize value from the players on the squad. So Valencia, who has played only third base during four big-league seasons, is working out at second. Moustakas also takes grounders at that position during drills, and Yost indicated he may appear in a game there during the Cactus League action.
Valencia looked solid in limited action. He helped turn a crisp double play started by shortstop Pedro Ciriaco (who is at risk to be lost on waivers at the end of camp) in the third inning. Yost called it “a good turn.”
“A little bit foreign territory for him there,” Yost said. “He hasn’t really played much second. But he’s been working hard there, and he looks like he’s going to be serviceable there.”
Aoki is less of a mystery in center field. The team is confident in his ability. While Jarrod Dyson is likely to make the club as insurance for Cain, Yost also likes to utilize Dyson as a late-game, pinch-running weapon on the bases. If Aoki is capable in center, Yost could slide Justin Maxwell into right, and hope to capitalize on his power potential.
“We’ll move those guys around,” Yost said.
“I know Cain can play all three positions. I know Dyson can play all three. I know Maxwell can play all three.”
On the pitching side, the Royals continued to show well. Wade Davis and Yordano Ventura, two competitors for the fifth spot in the rotation, each threw two scoreless innings.
Davis saw his command improve after hitting a batter and walking another in the first. He said he was happy about “holding back a little bit, and being able to control everything.”
That approach clashed with the one taken by the hard-throwing Ventura. Scouts seated behind home plate clocked his fastball touching 100 mph. Even this early in the spring, that’s to be expected from Ventura, pitching coach Dave Eiland said.
“You tell a guy like that to dial it down like that, and it might be counter-productive,” he said. “And then he might hurt himself, because he might change something.”