MLB

After biding time, Cain gets chance for Royals

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SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP)

Lorenzo Cain was forced to play a waiting game last season with the Kansas City Royals.

He'll be pushed into the starting lineup this spring.

The team signed free agent Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur prior to last season, and they joined a struggling Alex Gordon in the outfield. Cain was told that he would start the year in the Pacific Coast League, but he'd be called up to join the Royals.

''They all played well,'' Cain said. ''Three great outfielders and they all put up numbers, so what can you do?''

Gordon batted .303 with 45 doubles and 23 homers, while Cabrera bounced back from a subpar season to hit .305 with 44 doubles and 18 homers. Francoeur batted .285 with 47 doubles and 20 homers, making them the most productive outfield in the majors.

Meanwhile, Cain kept plugging along at Triple-A Omaha.

''You just would have never dreamed or guessed that the three outfielders we had would put together phenomenal years and stay healthy all year,'' Royals manager Ned Yost said. ''You couldn't foresee what was going to happen to Lorenzo last year, that he wouldn't get an opportunity to play at the big league level until the last six games of the year. I would have never guessed that.''

It's not as if Cain was struggling, either. He hit .312 with 16 homers and 81 RBIs while helping Omaha win the league championship.

''He didn't complain. He didn't cry,'' Yost said at the team's spring training complex in Arizona, where the Royals went through their first full-squad workout over the weekend.

''He just continued to work and wait for his opportunity and his opportunity is here now,'' Yost said. ''He's been waiting his whole professional career for this opportunity.''

He finally got it this past offseason.

General manager Dayton Moore traded Cabrera to San Francisco for left-hander Jonathan Sanchez and minor league pitcher Ryan Verdugo, trying to bolster a ragged pitching staff.

He also was trying to open up a spot for Cain.

''I wouldn't call it frustrating, but of course it's not where I wanted to be,'' Cain said of his time in Omaha. ''Hey, I've got my opportunity this year, so we'll see what happens.''

Cain expects to start in center field when the Royals open the season April 6.

''That's the plan,'' he said. ''My time is now, but nothing is guaranteed.''

Cain will certainly have his work cut out for him. He'll be replacing a solid defensive outfielder in Cabrera who also managed 201 hits last season, becoming only the sixth player in franchise history to reach the plateau - and the first since 2000.

''I'm not Melky. I'm Lorenzo,'' Cain said. ''He had a breakout season last year. That is tough to follow, but at the same time I feel like I can go out there and hold my own.

''I'm going to try to put up numbers,'' he added. ''I'm going to try to improve in all the aspects of my game. I've got to take advantage of this opportunity and go from there.''

Cain arrived in Kansas City in the trade that sent Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers. He had hit .306 in 43 games for the Brewers in 2010, and believes that he would have had a spot in their outfield last year had he not been sent to Kansas City.

''I was looking at myself as the center fielder when I was with Milwaukee,'' Cain said. ''I'm over here now. Last year happened. I did what I had to do. Now I've got to continue to improve on that and go into this year and continue to have success.''

Yost praised Cain for being ''very athletic,'' and went so far as to call him ''an upgrade in center field.'' Cain was selected as the top defensive player in the Royals' farm system last year.

''He's not going to be as experienced a hitter as Melky is, but he can hit,'' Yost said. ''He's got power. He's got a knack of putting the ball in play. He's quick to make adjustments. I think he's going to do just fine.''

Notes: LHP Jose Mijares reported to camp Sunday after missing five workouts because of visa issues in his native Venezuela. Mijares threw off a mound Sunday. ... OF Paulo Orlando returned to camp after having sports hernia surgery Friday in Philadelphia. He will be out four to six weeks. ... C Manny Pina left for Kansas City, where he will have surgery on his right knee Monday. He's expected to miss the rest of spring training.

Tagged: Brewers, Giants, Melky Cabrera, Royals, Lorenzo Cain

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