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10/27/2003 3:22 PM ET
Guiel had 'right' stuff for KC in 2003
Outfielder became solid contributor in right field
By Robert Falkoff / MLB.com
Aaron Guiel made vital contributions at the plate and in the outfield for the Royals in 2003. (Jim Mone/AP)
KANSAS CITY -- When Spring Training ended late last March, Aaron Guiel was on the outside looking in. The Royals' hopes in right field basically revolved around Michael Tucker, Brandon Berger and Dee Brown.
But two months into the 2003 season, Guiel was called up from Triple-A Omaha and went on to make the most of that Major League opportunity. Berger and Brown fell by the wayside, Tucker suffered a broken leg in early August and Guiel became the man in right field. He finished with a .277 batting average and hit 15 homers in 354 at-bats. The solid production by Guiel helped Kansas City compete for an American League Central title until the last week of the regular season.
What does it all mean for the left-handed-hitting Guiel? It means the journeyman minor leaguer, who is finally seeing a decade of hard work pay off, will report to Arizona in February knowing the starting right-field job is his to lose.
"Hopefully, next year can be even better for our ballclub," Guiel said. "I know there are going to be some changes. We're going to lose some guys and gain some guys. But I think what this year did was instill a lot of confidence in our clubhouse with some guys who had never experienced winning before.
"(Manager) Tony Peña was telling us from Day 1 that we could win. Once we started to have some success, you could see everybody buying into it."
Guiel's power numbers were particularly impressive in the second half of the season. He had 13 homers in his final 272 at-bats. The Royals were a creditable 32-29 when Guiel worked out of the leadoff spot and his defense both from a fielding and throwing standpoint did not cause problems.
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Guiel knows he'll have to keep producing to fend off the competition in 2004. Tucker had a lot to do with Kansas City's early success. The Royals were three games up in the AL Central when Tucker fouled a ball off his tibia and suffered a broken bone on Aug. 4 that sidelined him until the final few days of the season.
Tucker is an impending free agent. Whether he gets a contract offer from the Royals to his liking could depend on how the financial pie is sliced regarding other free agents. Rondell White, also an impending free agent, is another outfielder who could affect what happens in right. If the Royals were to sign both Raul Ibañez and White, the possibility would exist for White to play left and Ibañez to shift over for some right-field duty.
Brown and Berger are still on the Kansas City periphery and the Royals may want to go outside the organization to augment their corner outfield inventory.
But for now, any right-field scenario not involving Guiel appears moot if Guiel builds on his 2003 accomplishments.
"Aaron Guiel has earned the opportunity," Royals general manager Allard Baird said. "We'll see how it plays out. You're constantly trying to improve the ballclub. But I think you have to credit the player for what he has done and how he has done it. He comes into Spring Training, based off this season, with the opportunity not to lose the job."
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