Kingsale in running for job

Orioles: Eugene Kingsale has always impressed team officials with his speed, but now he hopes to show his hitting is improved enough to earn a spot on the major-league roster.

March 11, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

VIERA, Fla. -- Eugene Kingsale says he just wants to do the little things that help the Orioles win. Should he graduate to bigger things, he could help his own cause tremendously.

There's an opening on the club's roster for a spare outfielder. And there's Kingsale, hoping to avoid another stop at Triple-A Rochester but braced for whatever fate awaits him.

He still has another minor-league option remaining, a fact that didn't present itself until late November. He also has ground to make up because the Orioles already have Rich Amaral in place with another year left on his contract. And he faces competition from other sources, like Derrick May and Billy Ashley, who bring more power and experience.

"They're all here working hard. I know they want a spot up here. I think it's going to be very tough, but I'm working hard, too," he said.

"I'm not going to be mad if I don't get a spot. It's not going to be my decision, it's going to be the skipper's decision. Whatever they decide, I think it'll be the right one. Hopefully, everything turns out good for any one of us."

Make no mistake, though, Kingsale wants to be the chosen one. And he wants to prove it by taking advantage of every opportunity he receives this spring, whether it's a start when Brady Anderson stays behind on a road trip or a mid-game insertion in center field.

"Every time they put me out there, I'm very excited," said Kingsale, 23, who became the first Aruban player to appear in the majors in 1996. "I'm just happy to be here. This is what I dream about. Every time I go out there, I try to be the best I can be and hopefully open up some eyes and see what their decision's going to be."

It became a little more complicated when Kingsale tore through the Arizona Fall League. Playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions, who were managed by Eddie Murray, Kingsale batted .347 with two homers and nine RBIs in 27 games. He also exhibited better defensive instincts than during his 28 games with the Orioles last season, though he still tends to get a late jump on some fly balls and occasionally takes an alternate route to get there.

Coming off a season when he batted a combined .266 at Double-A Bowie and Rochester, his numbers in Arizona were astounding. Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations, watched Kingsale and returned home raving about the skinny speedster.

"I think it was my confidence," Kingsale said. "I went out there with a lot of emotion. I went out there ready to play and tried to prove myself to the scouts out there. I wanted to show them I could play really well. I was doing the things that I wanted to do and it turned out well for me."

He's still trying to impress as spring training reaches its halfway point. Kingsale is 2-for-8 with three RBIs and three runs scored this spring. Both hits were doubles, and all of his offensive production came in Monday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Vero Beach.

Kingsale also scored the winning run in Thursday's game against the St. Louis Cardinals in Fort Lauderdale after being inserted as a pinch-runner for Calvin Pickering. It was another conquest for a player who missed most of the 1996 and 1997 seasons because of injuries. A player who is beginning to show some polish. A player who, on occasion, will shine.

"I've seen consistent improvement every year," Thrift said. "I think the most improvement has probably been maturation, physically and in his development, his strength and flexibility. The program in Arizona really helped, and he was starting to come on good toward the end of last season.

"He's learning all the time how to utilize what he has."

The lessons, like Kingsale, cover a lot of ground.

"I'm working on everything," he said. "I'm going to try to improve on every little thing. Keep working on some old stuff, some new stuff and keep getting better and learn from the older guys and the coaches. Whatever they tell me to do, I do."

Unlike many players, baseball instruction didn't come to Kingsale at an early age. He's been trying to make up for lost time ever since while slowly filling out a reed-thin frame.

The switch-hitting Kingsale always had the wheels. Now, he's driving the ball.

Having gone 1,027 professional at-bats without a home run, Kingsale slammed five of them in the minors last season. "When Eugene stays back off his front foot and uses his hands, he can drive the ball," said manager Mike Hargrove. "He gets in trouble, as do all hitters, when he gets out on his front foot."

Trouble for Kingsale could come in another form -- the option that the Orioles didn't know existed until shortly before the winter meetings. Kingsale could view it as his ticket to Rochester, but he prefers placing his focus elsewhere. He can't compete if he believes the fight is over.

"I'm not really thinking about that," he said. "A few years ago I had two or three options left and I still came here and worked hard and did my best. And I'm here now with the same attitude."

And the same confidence that reared its head in Arizona.

"It's nothing I didn't expect," he said. "Everything's going well. I've been working hard. Hopefully I'll keep doing what I'm doing."

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