10/17/2003 1:08 PM ET
Berroa finds a home at shortstop
By Robert Falkoff / MLB.com
Angel Berroa is a contender for the American League Rookie of the Year award. (Tony Dejak/AP)
Relaford gets second chance
Who's on first for Royals?
KANSAS CITY -- The Royals certainly don't have to worry about the shortstop position for the foreseeable future. In a season that included a lot of bright spots, Rookie of the Year candidate Angel Berroa was the shiniest success story.
Nobody knew quite what to expect when Berroa reported to Spring Training last February, cast as the everyday shortstop. He was coming off an injury-plagued year at Triple-A Omaha in which he hit just .215. But Berroa blossomed right before the eyes of Royals officials. He worked his way up the batting order and finished with a .288 batting average, 17 home runs and 73 RBIs. After a spate of early errors, Berroa settled down in the field, and showed the range and arm strength that continually excited Kansas City fans.
Prior to 2003, Mike Sweeney and Carlos Beltran were the Royals' feature attractions. Now you have to put Berroa in that category, too.
"I think about all the work that young man [Berroa] put in during the winter and in Spring Training," said general manager Allard Baird. "I look at what [bench coach] Bob Schaefer did with him in the field and what [hitting coach] Jeff Pentland did with him in the batter's box. But the bottom line is that you have to tip your hat to the kid, because he made himself a better player."
One of Berroa's most admirable qualities was his durability. At a demanding position, he wound up playing in 158 of the 162 games.
"One of my concerns was that [getting into September] was very foreign to a lot of our young players," said Baird. "They hadn't played during that month before. Not that they couldn't handle the intensity of going for a division championship, but I was worried that, stamina-wise, it would be difficult. Angel really shoved it into another gear and became a big part of the team performance, not only offensively but defensively."
The only concern for the Royals regarding the shortstop position revolves around who will be Berroa's backup. Veteran Mendy Lopez, a sure-handed glove man, could conceivably fill that role if the Royals re-sign him. Kansas City might also want to explore backup infield options in the free agent or six-year free agent markets. But the overwhelming majority of the playing time at shortstop will go to Berroa, who seems headed for a stellar career if he stays healthy.
What Derek Jeter means to the Yankees, what Nomar Garciaparra means to Boston, what Miguel Tejada has meant to Oakland ... that's what Berroa could mean to the Royals as he attempts to build on his highly successful rookie season.
"This kid is special," said manager Tony Pena. "He did everything he could to help our ballclub. We couldn't have done the things we did without Angel Berroa."