Royals placing emphasis back on speed and defense heading into 2019 campaign

Whit Merrifield, Cam Gallagher, Hunter Dozier, Ryan O'Hearn and Salvador Perez (left to right) are among the players in attendance for the Royals' annual FanFest this weekend.
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sometimes uneventful is a good thing.

“This has been a great winter for me,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said Friday at the Royals’ FanFest. “It all started with the progress we made at the end of last year. I felt good about where we ended. It was just a great winter.”

Two years ago at FanFest, team members and staff had just returned from pitcher Yordano Ventura’s funeral after he was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic.

“It feels like yesterday. I still miss him dearly,” pitcher Danny Duffy said.

Last year, the question was whether Yost would be ready to manage after a near-fatal fall from a deer stand on his ranch outside Atlanta. He fell 20 feet when the strap that held the deer stand to the tree came loose. If he hadn’t had his cell phone with him, he probably would have bled to death.

“I knew I was hurt, but I didn’t know how much,” Yost said recently. “I sat there for five minutes and tried to move, but I couldn’t. My legs felt they weighed 15,000 pounds. My pelvis was split in two. There was no moving. Even if I could have crawled, there was no getting up on the four-wheeler. If I didn’t have my cel lphone, that would have been it.”

What followed was a long recovery period. Even though he walked around FanFest in 2018, it wasn’t until late in the season that he walked without pain.

There’s still plenty of uncertainty this year.

The Royals have chosen a different path in rebuilding than some other teams. Instead of completely imploding everything and stocking draft picks, the Royals have tried to go against the prevailing trend in baseball to be competitive while the next group of stars develops in the minor leagues.

That system worked a few years ago when the likes of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Duffy grew and won together in the minor leagues. This time, the Royals are choosing to build a track team when the rest of baseball is devaluing the element of speed.

The Royals have built a virtual sprint-relay team. They brought back Terrance Gore, who was a part of their 2014 and 2015 championship teams as a pinch runner. They also signed free agent Billy Hamilton, whose trademark is speed and defense.

“Speed and defense are really important for us at Kauffman Stadium,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “We’re going to take advantage of that. We like that style of play and our fans like that style of play. Plus it gives us an advantage, because a lot of teams aren’t built that way.”

Yost is excited about the start of the season.

“I was so enthused with the progress we made in the last half of last season,” he said.