Royals manager Ned Yost can set his body clock by spring training’s familiar rhythms. He’s elated to unpack his bags, eager for the exhibition games to begin and impatient for the regular-season to arrive. The pattern rarely changes.
It has this year. The schedule is different, with the Cactus League opener against Surprise Stadium partner Texas on Saturday at 2 p.m., a week earlier than usual exhibition season openers. The World Baseball Championship next month has altered baseball’s preseason timetable.
That’s one of the reasons Yost is finding he’s enjoying the ramp up to the games more than in most years.
“I’m not like dying to get to the games,” Yost said. “It’s really been different for me. It’s the first time I’m ready for the games to start but not dying for them to start.”
Yost works all the practice fields at the training complex, taking in the action before migrating to the next. He’s liked what he’s seen from veterans and prospects and curious about some of the experimenting that’s happening, like Hunter Dozier at first base.
The Royals used their first-round draft pick in 2013 on Dozier, who played shortstop at Stephen F. Austin and had been primarily a third baseman and outfielder in the Royals organization. He made his major-league debut last season, appearing in eight games and hitting .211.
Dozier played a handful of games at first base last season at Class AAA Omaha.
“I didn’t get a lot of work there,” Dozier said. “The last few days I’ve been playing there a lot, so it’s getting more and more comfortable. But it’s still a very new position to me. I have a lot to learn.”
Like positioning, getting back to the bag on balls hit to the right side, fielding bunts and when to call off a second baseman on a grounder.
At least he has a model to emulate in Eric Hosmer, a three-time Gold Glove winner.
“Anything that guy says, I definitely do because he’s a Gold Glover,” Dozier said. “He’s the best one to learn from.”
Position experimentation and versatility is something of a spring theme. Yost said Whit Merrifield. Cheslor Cuthbert, Brandon Moss among others could see some action at first base.
“We’re taking this early part of spring training to move guys around some,” Yost said.
Another possible move: infielder Christian Colon to the outfield.
“We could see that,” Yost said. “It increases his value if he can do it and we want to get a feel for it down here. Nothing counts. We can take advantage of putting guys in positions and see if you can use it later.”
The WBC also is a factor. The Royals will lose a few players from camp, including their top catchers, Salvador Perez and Drew Butera to the tournament.
“Do I want my players to go play in the WBC? Nah,” Yost said. “I’d rather have them here. But it’s a cool thing to go play in the WBC. It’s great to play for your country. I’d want to if I was a player.”
In less than two weeks, players will leave for their national team assignments. In all, 12 Royals, including six from the 40-man roster will be leaving camp for their nations: Hosmer and Danny Duffy to the U.S. team, Perez and Alcides Escobar to Venezuela, Butera to Italy, Joakim Soria to Mexico. Also, Peter Moylan will pitch for Australia.
Spring training will carry on, spread over 36 days once the games begin, with a handful of spilt-squad days, a March 8 exhibition against Venezuela, and the wrap-up, a two-game series against the Rangers in Arlington, Texas, on March 31 and April 1 before the season opener two days later at Minnesota.
Competition begins on Saturday, and even the player with the longest service time, pitcher Chris Young at more than 10 years, gets pumped for an exhibition opener.
“It’s exciting, another season, another opportunity to put on a major-league uniform and compete against the best players in the world,” Young said. “It’s an honor to that.”