Royals hope youth gets them off to a running start With Gaetti, Joyner gone, K.C. will be on the move

April 01, 1996|By La Velle E. Neal III | La Velle E. Neal III,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Here's all you need to know about the 1996 Kansas City Royals offense: Johnny Damon, who batted leadoff in his inaugural season of 1995, is expected to bat third in the order this season.

Damon, 22, has 47 games of major-league experience. And he is known for speed and hitting for average. He has little power.

But this is not a typical lineup. Damon's legs fit in with the rest of the speedsters on this club. These Royals expect to go-go-go and pressure teams with speed, not frighten them with power.

"It really isn't a matter of hitting home runs, because we are going to be in scoring position," Royals manager Bob Boone said. "We have to have solid at-bats because we are going to be in scoring position.

"The order works pretty good when you have the speed we have and bunch them together."

The Royals were last in the American League in runs (629) and home runs (119) -- and their top two offensive players from 1995 in Gary Gaetti (.261, 35 homers, 96 RBIs) and Wally Joyner (.310, 12, 83) are gone.

But they were second in stolen bases with 120 -- and may be even greedier this season. They traded Joyner to the San Diego Padres for Bip Roberts, a talented leadoff hitter when healthy. Jose Offerman, who arrived from the Los Angeles Dodgers, has a dark fielding past but can hit and run.

Add those two to Damon, Tom Goodwin (50 steals in 1995) and Michael Tucker, and there are five players who run well. It gives Boone, who likes to keep opponents on their toes, a lot to work with.

nTC "It will be very interesting to see how teams will play us," Boone said. "We can do things to cause pitchers to change, infielders to change."

For instance, Goodwin consistently bunted to the right side of the infield, drawing the first baseman, and then outrunning the pitcher to first base. And coming off his first full big-league season, Goodwin "is a better player now than he was at this time last season," Boone said.

The Royals will send runners often. They love the double steal. And Boone has made his team work on bunting and moving runners over.

By the way, Tucker, who hit four homers in 62 games last season, will bat cleanup. Tucker is chuckling about it: He hit leadoff last year in the season opener.

"I see it more as an opportunity to help the team out," Tucker said. "We have a lot of speed up front, and it is a good opportunity to get things going early."

Boone's emphasis on speed, in a way, takes pressure off the power hitters. One is Bob Hamelin, the 1994 American League Rookie of the Year who hit just .168 with seven homers and was sent to the minors twice. The other is designated hitter Joe Vitiello, who hit seven homers in 53 games as a rookie last season.

Hamelin hit nearly .300 in spring training but did not hit a homer. He said he wouldn't mind hitting 18 to 22 homers this season if he drives in 100-plus runs.

"We've got a real good offensive team," Hamelin said. "That's fine, because the homers don't mean anything. That is the name of the game -- driving them in."

The Royals' fondness for speed comes at the expense of defense. A solid infield of Gaetti, shortstop Greg Gagne, second baseman Chico Lind and Joyner is gone. And they are searching for run producers to replace Gaetti and Joyner.

"The big difference is that you don't have Gaetti and you don't have Joyner but you may have a better offense," Boone said.

Pub Date: 4/01/96

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