In the opening days of camp, Royals manager Ned Yost has repeated a familiar, noncommittal chorus.
“I don’t know,” Yost said, sitting inside his office on Saturday morning.
The refrain comes out when Yost is asked about his starting rotation, when he is asked about his final bullpen spots, when he is asked about the looming battle at second base between Omar Infante and Christian Colon.
Two days into spring training, Yost has been loathe to answer any question that might involve speculation or projection. The goal, Yost said, is to keep an open mind in the early weeks of camp. But as the Royals’ position players prepared to officially report on Monday, Yost remained hopeful that Infante, his former starter at second base, will rebound from a dreadful offensive performance in 2015.
“Do I think Omar is going to bounce back? Yes, I do,” Yost said. “But I’m going to have an open mind with Colon. I’m going to have an open mind in the outfield, with (Jarrod) Dyson, with (Paulo) Orlando, with (Brett) Eiber, with (Reymond) Fuentes. I can’t set my mind right now. It’s not fair to anybody in there.”
The battle between Infante and Colon at second base is positioned as one of the few pressing questions that must be answered as the Royals prepare for the regular season over the next six weeks.
Infante, 34, is coming off a season in which his offensive production flatlined. He batted .220 with two homers and 23 doubles in 124 games. He lost the starting job to Ben Zobrist, who turned around and signed with the Cubs this offseason. Among players with at least 450 plate appearances, Infante’s .234 on-base percentage was the lowest in the majors.
Colon, meanwhile, projects as the club’s utility infielder — unless he can surpass Infante at second. A former first-round pick in 2010, Colon, 26, is entering his sixth full season in the organization. His time in the majors has been short — just 64 regular-season games — but his impact has straddled the line between minimal and historic. He scored the winning run during the Wild Card game victory over the A’s in 2014. He delivered the game-winning RBI in Game 5 of the World Series last November. He is hoping to have a more consistent role in 2016.
Yost has yet to tip his hand, but as his club went through its second full day of camp, he sounded hope that Infante’s performance will improve after November surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow.
“Omar is a quiet guy,” Yost said. “Omar is a gamer, too. Omar is not going to pronounce the fact that, ‘Hey, my elbow is hurting’. Maybe it was affecting his swing. I don’t know. He got it taken care of. It was to the point where he needed to get it addressed, and he addressed it.”
While Infante’s offense suffered in 2015, Yost said he was still pleased with his defense performance. According to advanced metrics and the view of scouts, Infante still grades out as an above-average fielder. He can be a useful player — if his bat awakens.
“What he did defensively last year, I thought, was just a little under spectacular,” Yost said. “He just struggled so bad offensively. But the year before, he had his career year in RBIs and was a really nice offensive player for us. You combine those two things, when it’s right, it’s a pretty good player at second base.”
For the moment, Yost is set on allowing the competition to develop naturally. Infante will have an opportunity to reclaim his spot, Yost said, but Colon will also get a serious look.
“You [have] Christian Colon, who is very solid in all aspects of his game, and he’s a winner,” Yost said. “He does things. Nothing is flashy. But he’s very solid. He’s a winning-type player.”