Young Royals open against contending Angels

Judging strictly by the spring training stats, the Kansas City

Royals are the team to beat in the American League.

The long-woeful Royals had a better record – 20-10-1 – than

anyone in the exhibition season and scored more runs – 230 – than

any other team in the Cactus League.

But they’re also the franchise that has just one winning season

in the past 17 years and will launch the year against the Los

Angeles Angels on Thursday with five rookies, including four in the

bullpen, and an opening day starter who’s never experienced a

winning season.

Nevertheless, manager Ned Yost cannot help but be


”We as a club swang the bats really, really well,” Yost said

Wednesday as workers, bundled against the cold, scurried around

getting Kauffman Stadium ready for the first pitch.

”We were very consistent defensively all spring long,” said

Yost, the former Milwaukee manager who took over during last season

when Trey Hillman was fired. ”We had one bad game, and it was a

stinker. I’ve never been to a spring training like that where we

were that consistent over the entire course of the spring.”

The Royals’ payroll of $38.5 million is the lowest in the majors

and one reason they’re not expected to finish much better than last

again in the AL Central. In place of 2009 Cy Young winner Zack

Greinke, who was traded to Milwaukee, the Royals will open their

season with right-hander Luke Hochevar. The right-hander was 6-6

last year with a 4.81 ERA.

The Angels will spend the season celebrating their 50th

anniversary. They were 80-82 last year, their first losing season

since 2003. Manager Mike Scioscia will open the season with

right-hander Jered Weaver, the majors’ 2010 strikeout leader who

was 13-12 last year with a 3.01 ERA.

Weaver’s 233 strikeouts made him the first Angels pitcher since

Nolan Ryan in 1977 to lead the league.

”That guy knows how to pitch. He hits his spots and he’s

deceptive,” Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said.

At 18-13, and boosted by newcomer Vernon Wells in the outfield,

the veteran-laden Angels had an encouraging camp of their own.

”We feel good,” said outfielder Bobby Abreu, one of several

Angels hitters who put together a solid spring. ”We feel that we

have a good team put together. We have some pretty good starting

pitchers and some guys in the bullpen that can do the job with no

problem. We’ve got offense, we’ve got defense, and a group of solid

players who know how to play the game. We’ve got speed and power

together, so we just have to play our game.”

Definitely not encouraging was the soreness in the left foot of

first baseman Kendrys Morales. The Angels’ cleanup hitter broke his

left ankle last May 29 when he jumped on home plate after a

game-winning grand slam. He’ll be back in California getting the

foot evaluated when the Angels mark their first half-century and

begin pursuit of their sixth division title in eight years.

”There’s no doubt that Morales was a big part of the lineup

last year,” Abreu said. ”I don’t think it’s that easy to replace

a guy like Kendrys because he’s a good player offensively and

defensively at first base and he has outstanding potential. But we

have to do it this year without him, too, and wait for him whenever

he comes back. But we still have a strong lineup.”

Hunter, who was moved from center to right field last season to

accommodate the promotion of Peter Bourjos, is happy to be opening

on the road.

”When you open up at home, you have ticket situations and

requests for certain (media) things,” he said. ”But on the road,

you can just relax. So it’s going to be a lot more relaxing opening

on the road.”

One of the more interesting aspects of the 2011 Royals will be

youth. Between the rotation and All-Star reliever Joakim Soria will

be four bullpen rookies, Nate Adcock, Aaron Crow, Jeremy Jeffress

and left-hander Tim Collins.

A fifth rookie, outfielder Jarrod Dyson, also made the club.

Back in Triple-A Omaha, in the meantime, are several other

promising youngsters who may well be called upon to make their big

league debut before the season is up.

When his young team got their first look at Kauffman Stadium,

Yost could see the anticipation in their eyes.

”You definitely saw the excitement. It was real evident when we

got here last night,” he said. ”They walked in the clubhouse,

then went out to see the field. It’s a pretty special time. They’ve

worked their whole life for this opportunity and it’s finally here.

It’s a very, very exciting time.”