SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — General manager Dayton Moore can finally see the Kansas City Royals turning the corner.
With pitchers and catchers reporting Monday, Moore said he is “very excited” about this spring training. Moore signed free agent outfielders Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera, and left-handed pitcher Jeff Francis, but he’s more encouraged by the influx of homegrown talent.
First baseman Eric Hosmer, the third pick in the 2008 draft, and third baseman Mike Moustakas, the second pick in the 2007 draft, top a list of promising prospects in camp.
“Three, four years ago we were way below sea level,” Moore said of the Royals’ talent level. “Now we’re at sea level. We’ve got to continue to get better and add to it.”
Hosmer, 21, is considered the top hitting prospect in the organization. In 137 games last year with Class A Wilmington and Class AA Northwest Arkansas, he hit .338 with 20 home runs, 43 doubles and 86 RBIs.
Moustakas, 22, hit 36 home runs, which tied for the minor league lead, with Northwest Arkansas and Class AAA Omaha. His 124 RBIs and 77 extra-base hits ranked second in the minors.
Could Moustakas break camp as the Royals’ starting third baseman?
“He’s only had a real small sample (52 games) at Triple-A,” Moore said. “I don’t want to put limitations on our players. There is a big difference between Triple-A and the majors.”
Don’t be surprised, however, if Moustakas and Hosmer end the season as the Royals’ corner infielders.
“You don’t want to get in a hurry and rush guys,” Moore said. “When they arrive, we want them to be able to help us win. It’s a young group. I’m very encouraged.”
The Royals have had but one winning season since 1994 and have not made the playoffs since the 1985 World Series team.
Moore said of the 65 players invited to spring training, the Royals have the youngest team in the majors. He said only the Cleveland Indians have a younger 40-man big league roster.
Billy Butler led the Royals last season with a .318 average and his locker is strategically placed close to Hosmer and Moustakas.
“He’s an established hitter in this league and I’m going to try to pick his brain as much as possible, see how he goes about his days here, how he gets his work in,” Hosmer said. “I’m just going to try to learn as much as possible from these guys.”
Despite his lofty minor league numbers, Hosmer’s chances of making the team in March are slim. He wants to be in the majors before the curtain drops on the 2011 season.
“Absolutely, that’s always the goal,” Hosmer said. “Hopefully, sooner than later.”
Butler, who is 24 and has already played three-plus years in the majors, signed a four-year $30 million contract extension last month to remain with the Royals.
“We’ve got a lot of optimism, a lot of talent, a lot of draft picks and a lot of expectations with things in the future,” Butler said. “We’ve got a lot of talent at the younger levels. Ultimately, we have a lot of young talent that we have to see how it translates on the field.
“I’m not too old myself, so I kind of pay attention to it and look at what’s coming. I’m real excited. I think the pitching side has a lot coming, too. We just have a lot coming together.”
All 33 pitchers and seven catchers reported to camp on time. After checking in, catcher Jason Kendall, who is rehabbing from shoulder surgery, went to Los Angeles to be examined. He hopes to get clearance to begin a throwing program Wednesday.
Several position players, including infielder Mike Aviles, left fielder Alex Gordon and newly acquired outfielder Lorenzo Cain, hit on a field in an informal drill.
One pitcher who isn’t here is Zack Greinke, the 2009 Cy Young winner. The Royals acquired shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and right-handed pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress from the Brewers in exchange for Greinke, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and cash considerations back in December.