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Gotay looks like KC's go-to guy
By BOB DUTTON The Kansas City Star
SURPRISE, Ariz. — Circumstances, improved defense and a hot bat have the Royals re-evaluating their plan to have second baseman Ruben Gotay open the season at Class AAA Omaha, Neb.
Even before veteran Tony Graffanino rolled his ankle, club officials found it increasingly tough to overlook Gotay's production as they contemplated a lineup that even they acknowledge will struggle to score runs.
Now, it seems all but certain that Gotay will be at second base when the season opens April 4 in Detroit.
“It looks like it's going to be Gotay,” Royals general manager Allard Baird said. “I think it's going to be tough for Graf to be ready to play every day by opening day.”
Gotay, 22, entered the week as the Cactus League leader in slugging percentage and total bases and tied for the lead in hits and homers.
Sure, spring numbers are often mightily inaccurate indicators, but Gotay batted .270 last season in 44 games against big-league pitchers after his Aug. 3 promotion from Class AA Wichita.
“Gotay can hit,” Royals manager Tony Peña said. “We've always known he could hit.”
The questions center on Gotay's defense: his lack of range, his suspect arm and his flaws in the turning the pivot on double plays.
Gotay shrugs it all off.
“In this business,” he said, “it doesn't matter how well you're doing, people are always going to find something you're doing wrong. I know that every day I need to learn something. I need to work on my defense.
“But I know I've been doing well, and I'm going to get a lot better.”
The Royals, however, wanted those lessons learned in the minors. Until Gotay's bat forced the re-evaluation.
Graffanino's latest injury virtually closed the discussion.
“It's still early,” Baird said, “and I don't want to go down a path before I have to. I'm just keeping all of our options available. Right now, a lot hinges on Graf.”
The Royals limited Graffanino's throwing early in camp as a precaution as he worked to strengthen his right shoulder after undergoing surgery in August to repair a torn rotator cuff.
Graffanino then rolled his left ankle last Wednesday — in only his second game at second base — while fielding a routine grounder. Graffanino insists he'll be ready for the regular season, but he isn't expected to return to the lineup, even on a limited basis, before this weekend.
“Graf says he feels good,” Baird said, “but does that mean he's going to be ready opening day? I'm concerned that he's not healthy, and we're about to start the season.”
Some club officials advocated shifting Graffanino to utility duty, his usual role, even before his ankle injury. That view argued that a combination of Gotay as the starter and Graffanino in reserve offered more than the projected pairing of Graffanino and veteran minor-leaguer Chris Clapinski.
That argument is now moot.
Clapinski is sidelined by an elbow injury and isn't expected back anytime soon. That leaves Denny Hocking as the club's top utility candidate if Graffanino starts at second base.
“I heard a lot of things about who is the second baseman,” Gotay said, “but I don't pay any attention. I'm trying to do my best to make the team. That's all I can do. Everything else is not up to me. It's out of my control.”
The concerns about his defense are diminishing, too.
“He's done a great job,” Baird said. “Believe me, I'm not being negative on him. He's working on his defense. He's throwing the ball extremely well. He's much better on the pivot. And he's swinging the bat.”
Another endorsement comes from former Royal Frank White, an eight-time Gold Glove winner at second base who managed Gotay last season at Wichita.
“I have all the confidence that he can do the job,” White said. “I know there are a lot of questions about his range and ability to turn the double play, but he's still a developing player. You just have to keep him on his routine and keep him working on the little things.
“In today's game, second base is viewed more as an offensive position. Therefore, making the routine play is probably more important than a player's overall range. You just need to be able to hit. And he can hit.”
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