Royals hoping to win starting jobs next year will keep playing together this winter

Raul Mondesi is expected to play this winter in the Dominican Republic.
Raul Mondesi is expected to play this winter in the Dominican Republic.

There are few things the Royals know definitively right now.

It’s too early to determine whether they will remain in the hunt to sign any of their free agents or if they will “gut the team … and play for draft picks,” as general manager Dayton Moore told The Star two weeks ago.

It’s too early to know how they will attempt to retain some semblance of order within the franchise if that exodus of cornerstone players begins in a few weeks.

But as everything shakes out on the front end, one thing will remain certain: The internal options they plan to include in next year’s lineup will continue to prepare for higher-profile roles by playing winter league baseball this offseason.

Like last year, shortstop Raul Mondesi and outfielder Jorge Bonifacio are expected to join the Tigres de Licey in their native Dominican Republic league. Third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert, who is from Nicaragua, is also on the list to play there.

“You just want them to just keep playing, keep getting at-bats, stay healthy of course,” Moore said in a scheduled news conference Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium. “That experience will obviously serve them well as they continue to grow as players.”

Licey will have to do some maneuvering to get Cuthbert back on the roster because the team gave his international spot to Colombian Jhonatan Solano, a catcher in the Washington Nationals’ organization, early last week.

Cuthbert plans to start with Licey sometime in November. Mondesi and Bonifacio have yet to appear on the weekly roster but should also report within the month.

Until then, the Royals will be able to monitor the injury-plagued Hunter Dozier at third base in the Mexican league. Through six games with the Naranjeros de Hermosillo, he has hit 7 for 25 with two home runs and six RBIs

Center fielder Billy Burns plays in that league for the Charros de Jalisco. He went 10 for 27 and stole five bases in the same span.

“Winter ball, I believe, is very important,” Moore said. “I’ve always been a big advocate of it. I want our position players to play and keep playing. Guys that really love to play baseball don’t want to stop playing. Maybe take a week to 10 days or two weeks off, but then they can’t wait to get back to playing again.”

▪ Catcher Cam Gallagher and Kevin Lenik, a right-handed pitcher the Royals signed to a minor-league contract in June, are already playing for Licey.

Gallagher went 1 for 6 with an RBI in two games.

Lenik made a relief appearance in the season opener Friday but had to be removed from the game when he took a line drive to the face.

His eye was swollen shut in a picture he posted the next day on Twitter with the words, “They said dont rub it they said.”

Licey did not provide an update on Lenik’s condition on its own Twitter account, but Lenik told a follower from his account that he “will be okay.”

▪ After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the league there decided to play an abbreviated schedule and grant players permission to join teams abroad until the season begins in January.

Royals third-base prospect Emmanuel Rivera, who last year played for his hometown Indios de Mayaguez and was chosen the league’s rookie of the year, will likely not return to game action until then.

Rivera told the Royals when he missed a ceremony for the minor-league players of the year at the end of the season that he would remain on the island for the foreseeable future. The Star has failed in attempts to reach Rivera because of poor cellphone service in his homeland.

KC Royals general manager Dayton Moore spoke Wednesday about the offseason challenges that face the club after a disappointing season.

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