The Kansas City Royals open spring training Feb. 18, when pitchers and catchers report to their complex in Surprise, Ariz. The full squad is due on Feb. 22.
The first game will be March 2 against the Rangers at Surprise Stadium. The regular season begins against the New York Mets at Kauffman Stadium on April 3, when the franchise will raise its second World Series championship flag.
Before the Royals report to spring training, The Star is looking at five key questions heading into the 2016 season.
1. Who emerges at second base and right field?
The Royals have a paucity of significant question marks in their every-day lineup, with second baseman Ben Zobrist and right fielder Alex Rios sitting as the only key departures from the 2015 postseason roster. For now, the club is poised to fill those spots with internal candidates.
At second base, former starter Omar Infante will have an opportunity to regain his spot after an oblique strain and lackluster offensive performance caused him to miss the 2015 playoffs. Infante is entering the third year of a four-year deal, and he will make $7.75 million this season. He is coming off a season in which his production sagged to career lows; he batted just .220 with a .234 on-base percentage and .552 OPS.
The Royals appear determined to give Infante, 33, an opportunity to be worth the money invested in him. But club officials have also signaled that infielder Christian Colon, the unlikely hero of Game 5 of the World Series, will also get an extended look in spring training.
Before coming up with the go-ahead RBI in the series-clinching Game 5, Colon shuffled between Kansas City and Class AAA Omaha in 2015, batting .290 with a .356 on-base percentage in 119 plate appearances over 43 games with the big-league club. A former first-round pick, Colon will turn 27 in May and could offer an offensive upgrade if Infante falters again. Colon also offers versatility, possessing the ability to play shorstop and third base.
Then there is top prospect Raul A. Mondesi, who made his major-league debut in the World Series. Mondesi, 20, won’t turn 21 until July and still projects as the long-term successor to Alcides Escobar at shortstop. But Mondesi did start 18 games at second base for Class AA Northwest Arkansas last season, adding versatility to his talent package. Mondesi is expected to begin the season in the minors, but his high-ceiling talent and production could expedite his arrival to Kansas City.
For the moment, the picture in right field is slightly clearer — with its own set of questions. Club officials have stated repeatedly that outfielder Jarrod Dyson will get an opportunity to see regular time in right field, with his defense and base-running fitting the franchise’s profile. Manager Ned Yost has talked of a platoon consisting of the left-handed hitting Dyson and the right-handed hitting Paulo Orlando, who made his debut in 2015 and was on the World Series roster. Other questions remain, though: Will the Royals carry four or five outfielders? Will the club be motivated to rest center fielder Lorenzo Cain by giving him more starts in right field? Could an under-the-radar player such as Travis Snider, who signed a minor-league deal this month, play his way into a possible platoon scenario? And finally, could former first-round pick Bubba Starling make a push for a possible call-up in the late summer months?
As spring training approaches, the Royals have plenty of options to fill the final outfield spot, but the assortment of moving pieces could offer intrigue in Arizona.