Royals outfielder Brian Goodwin doesn’t blink when he explains why he decided to take some big chances this spring training. He simply walks you through his reasoning with the unflinching and steely-eyed demeanor of a poker player.
Goodwin, a former first-round draft pick, has turned 28 and is with his second major-league franchise. The Royals appeared to have left the door open for him, among a group of several candidates, to claim the right-field job.
With that setting, Goodwin came into camp with his mind made up to tinker, testing out things he’d never done before. He disregarded statistics and the results he got in games and focused on picking the brains of those around him, whether it was teammate Whit Merrifield, hitting coach Terry Bradshaw or Hall of Famer George Brett.
“Everything I was doing was kind of brand new, kind of trying it out and putting it to the test just to see,” Goodwin said. “Because at this point in my career I’m trying to leave no stone unturned.”
At the plate, Goodwin openly admits he changed more things at the plate than you’d normally see a player “mess around” with in the short window spring training provides — such as adding a leg kick into his swing mechanics.
While Goodwin made these changes, his batting average dropped to .094 going into Sunday’s game against the San Francisco Giants. He’d had just three hits in 32 at-bats. Many times, he’d worked himself into favorable counts only to miss his pitch. His home run on Saturday marked his first extra-base hit of the spring.
Power-hitting outfielder Jorge Soler seems solidified as part of the everyday lineup. Soler may ultimately get most of his playing time as the designated hitter, but he may be called upon to play right field depending on what the Royals staff and front office decides.
“We’re still trying to determine what we’re going to do in the outfield,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We know what we’re going to do in center. We know what we’re going to do in left. It’s just still trying to solidify right field.”
What made this backdrop the moment for Goodwin to gamble with his shot at a potential everyday job?
“I almost got to the point where I almost forgot who I was,” Goodwin said. “So getting back to my size again, getting quick, working with the speed coach, I’m motivated and I’m excited again about getting to the field and seeing what else — how far can I take this. Whether it be positive or negative, I had the enthusiasm to want to try and see for myself. I just got here and tried to put it all together, see what I could do and push the limits on everything.”
During the offseason Goodwin devoted himself to getting back to the player he’d been earlier in his career when his game included speed, stolen bases and dynamic plays in the field.
In recent years, he’d been bogged down physically and mentally. Starting with a 2014 shoulder injury, he felt that twinge of hesitation in the back of his mind in situations where he used to track down balls with reckless abandon in the outfield.
As injuries piled up to his legs and lower body, Goodwin put on weight and started to take away aspects of his game that had made him a coveted prospect — one of Baseball America’s Top 100 in 2012 and the “Best Athlete” designation in the Washington Nationals farm system.
”You wake up one day and you’re like, ‘Wooh. The game has changed a little bit for me,’” Goodwin said.
Last summer’s trade from the Nationals to the Royals provided the catalyst for Goodwin’s renewed enthusiasm. He saw the change in organizations as “a chance to start over.”
Despite the dreadful spring training statistics, Goodwin claims he’s begun to find what’s comfortable for him. He said he feels like he’s getting close to where he was in 2016.
That year, Goodwin batted .278 with a .347 on-base percentage and a .436 slugging percentage (14 home runs, 25 doubles) and 15 stolen bases in 119 Triple-A games with the Nationals. That same season, he batted .286 with a .318 on-base and .429 slugging with four doubles and five RBI in his first 22 major-league games.
“You see them commercials now like If people ain’t doubting what you’re saying then you ain’t dreaming big enough,” Goodwin said. “So I’ve got to risk it all.
“Some people might not agrees with it. Some people might not like it. Some people might not be for it. Some people might love it. When it happens and you’re successful with it, that’s when everybody is going to be like, ‘OK. Now, I see what he was trying to do.’”