Wednesday, March 5, 2008

2008 Kansas City Royals First Baseman

Spring training is a time for baseball fans to be optimistic about their team. Sometimes the optimism can be misplaced, but Royals’ fans have legitimate reasons to be excited about the team. I don’t think any reasonable Royals fan believes Kansas City has a chance to win the AL Central in 2008. Cleveland and Detroit are two of the best teams in Major League Baseball and the Royals are not strong enough to over take either of them. But the Royals are finally starting to put together a core of players that can be the foundation of a contending team. The key question heading into 2008 is will Dayton Moore and Trey Hillman continue to be patient and allow the young players to play through their mistakes as they improve. My fear is they will sacrifice building for the future in an attempt to make a run at a .500 record in 2008. I would love for the Royals to win 80 games in 2008 but not at the expense of continuing to build for 2009 and beyond. The everyday first baseman will be an indication of whether the Royals are going to stay the course in building for the future.

Before discussing the Royals’ best options at first base, I want to emphatically state that Ross Gload should not be the Royals first baseman in 2008. Ross Gload should not even be in the discussion about who will start at first base for the Royals in 2008. By all accounts Gload is a nice guy, good teammate, and popular with the fans. He has been a decent player throughout his career but he has never established himself as anything more than a solid bench player. Ross Gload can be a valuable player to the Royals as their backup first baseman and late inning defensive replacement. But Gload should not be taking away at bats from younger players that have a chance to be a part of a contending team. If Ross Gload gets 400 at bats this season it will mean that Hillman and Moore are more interested in winning a few more games in 2008 and not going all out to build a contending team.

The best choice for the Royals would be to play Billy Butler at first base until he either learns the position or proves he will never be able to master it. Butler is going to be a huge run producer at the plate and one of the priorities for the Royals should be finding a position for him. Maybe Butler will always be a defensive liability and will have an Edgar Martinez type of career. But before deciding that Butler is going to be nothing but a DH the Royals should give him a chance to play in the field and first base is the logical choice.

Ryan Shealy is another option at first base. The Royals should not give up on Shealy and he should be given a chance in 2008. If Butler is going to DH Shealy would be an excellent choice to man first base. I became impressed with Shealy when the Omaha Royals played here in Salt Lake City last summer. In an empty AAA stadium, I watched him work hard in batting practice and pregame fielding drills. His was focused on getting himself back in shape and sharpening his skills to get back to the Major Leagues. I have seen many minor leaguers in the position Shealy was in and not all of them were as committed as he was. A player with this attitude and work ethic has a chance to succeed in the Major Leagues.

Mark Teahen could move to first base to free up an outfield spot for Joey Gathright. The Joey Gathright situation is a topic for another entry but if Gathright continues his torrid spring Teahen moving to first base could be an option. Another option relating to Gathright would be to move Teahen to third base and Alex Gordon first base. Interesting things can happen if Gathright makes the team.

Whether it is Butler, Shealy, Teahen or Gordon, the Royals have solid choices to fill the first base position in 2008 and beyond. I am looking forward to seeing if Butler can handle the position and if Shealy can bounce back from his injury plagued 2007 season. Hopefully the Royals will continue to go forward with young players and not take a step backward with Ross Gload.

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