CHICAGO, IL: Dayan Viciedo #24 of the Chicago White Sox runs towards first base as first baseman Eric Hosmer #35 of the Kansas City Royals leaps off the bag to catch the throw during the second inning at U. S. Cellular Field in Chicago. Viciedo was safe at first base and given an infield single. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
Perhaps as soon as Thursday afternoon, Eric Hosmer's probably going to see some outfield action for the Royals. To what end exactly, though?
Quick Review: The Kansas City Royals have a lot of good young players. Or rather, they have a lot of young players who might be good. Might be really good. But they have one young player who is already really good.
Yeah. Just one.*
* Not including relief pitchers, who don't really count because they're not really players.
Hosmer opened last season in triple-A, and batted .429 with power for a month, at which point the Royals bowed to inevitability and convention and promoted him to the majors; at the same time, they bowed to inevitability and moved Billy Butler to the Designated Hitter slot where he's essentially always belonged.
Hosmer played well, especially in the second half of the season, and finished third in Rookie of the Year balloting. Somehow he's still only 22 years old, and ranks as perhaps the Royals' best young hitter since ... Well, probably since Carlos Beltrán. The list of candidates, though, is both short and impressive: George Brett, Clint Hurdle, Johnny Damon, Alex Gordon, and Beltrán.*
* And before you snicker about Clint Hurdle, check his numbers at 22 and look at this.
Okay, enough reviewing. Nobody likes a pedant except the pedant. Here's the thing, from Bob Dutton:
That won’t be a mistake in the box score from the Royals’ game today against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Surprise Stadium if it shows first baseman Eric Hosmer playing right field.
"We’re going to put him in there in the back end of the game," manager Ned Yost said prior to the game. "I’m going to try to get him in the right field, or the outfield, three times this spring. I just want him to have some experience out there.
Here's the thinking. In interleague games in National League stadia, Yost won't be allowed to deploy his Designated Hitter, which leaves no natural spot in the lineup for Billy Butler, one of the club's three best hitters (along with Hosmer and Alex Gordon).
Just to be clear, we're talking about nine games: three in Pittsburgh, three in St. Louis, and three in Houston.
Hosmer bats left-handed. I might be wrong, but I think you would not want to bench any decent right-handed hitters with left-handed pitchers starting for the National League team; that is, you might as well leave Jeff Francoeur in right field and give Butler -- who generally pounds lefties -- the start at first base, while keeping Hosmer in reserve for a key spot in the late innings.
But sure, flexibility's great. I do have just a couple of questions, though ...
Does playing a few innings in right field in a game in March really help anyone? The Royals' first DH-less game isn't until the 8th of June. Whatever Hosmer learns now, won't he have forgotten by then? Also, won't he need a lot more practice in right field, if practice will help at all?
I don't know, but this sort of feels like a manager who's just sort of fooling around, or trying to show everyone he's doing his job. Here's more from Dutton:
"If we get to a situation where we want to do that," Yost said. "I want him to have had some outfield time. Spring training is the best time to do that.
"We’re going to play Gordie (left fielder Alex Gordon) some at first, too, just for those kinds of situations. We’re trying to make sure that we’re covered. We’re trying to look down the road and see all of the scenarios that could happen."
I love it when managers make this part of their job -- which is actually the easiest part -- sound really hard. All those scenarios, don't you know.
The problem with playing Eric Hosmer in the outfield in a few games this summer is that there's really no good time to practice for it. Even if Hosmer were to start a dozen games there in March -- which he's not going to do, not even close -- is that a dozen games in March simply isn't enough to prepare one for (say) six games in June and July.
Now, some players are so athletic they don't need any real practice, and Hosmer might be on of those players. But if the manager loses in the field what he gains at the plate -- and by the way, Billy Butler's a terrible first baseman -- it's really not worth all the various machinations. As I used to say far too often when Bob Boone managed the Royals, it's really hard to outsmart the game.