Ka’aihue, Butler likely to split Royals first base-DH roles

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Kila Ka’aihue has been waiting a long time for this opportunity after spending most of the past nine seasons in the minors with the Kansas City Royals.

Ka’aihue, who has put up some big power numbers in the minors, has an excellent opportunity to break spring training on the big league roster for the first time as the first baseman or designated hitter.

In the past two years, veterans Mike Jacobs and Jose Guillen have blocked Ka’aihue’s path to Kansas City as the designated hitter, while Billy Butler was the primary first baseman.

Guillen was designated for assignment and eventually traded to the San Francisco Giants last August, just a few days after Ka’aihue was called up from Triple-A Omaha, where he hit .319 with 24 home runs and 78 RBI in 94 games. Jacobs spent only 2009 with the Royals.

Ka’aihue and Butler will likely share the first base-DH roles when the season starts March 31. It is a window of opportunity for Ka’aihue.

“I would think so,” Ka’aihue said. “Hopefully I’m on the big league team, but that is yet to be determined. I’m still trying to earn my way on. I’ve never been on a scholarship.”

Ka’aihue finished last year strong, hitting .333 with three home runs, two doubles, one triple, six walks and eight RBI in his final nine games. He is hitting .375 with two home runs and five RBI in six spring-training games.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever arrived,” Ka’aihue said. “It’s a little different after that August and September when I was trying to do too much. I don’t think I’m trying to take that approach. The previous springs I’ve done OK. I have the attitude just let it happen.”

Ka’aihue, who turns 27 on March 29, was a 2002 14th-round draft pick of the Royals out of a Honolulu high school. He turned down a Nebraska scholarship to sign with the Royals.

Ka’aihue had a breakout season in 2008, when he hit 38 home runs and made his major-league debut.

“I see him as a guy that’s a real strong on-base guy, can take a walk and with tremendous pop,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He’s a guy who puts the ball in play. He’s a guy who can hit it a long way. He’s rare because he’s got a great eye and a big on-base percentage, take his walks, but has huge power. You don’t see that a lot with those types of guys.”

Ka’aihue led the Pacific Coast League, 2009, and the California League, 2005, in walks. He has drawn more than 100 walks the past three years.

“It’s not something I set out to do,” Ka’aihue said. “It’s something that happens. It’s not a goal.”

Ka’aihue is a selective hitter.

“I don’t just swing at something I don’t think I can hit hard,” Ka’aihue said. “If I don’t think I can hit a double or better before two strikes, I’m not swinging. I’m looking for a pitch to drive. I’m not just trying to slap a single to the opposite field. When I’m up there, I’m trying to score myself and everybody else. That’s my philosophy.”

Notes: SS Alcides Escobar was scratched from the Royals’ lineup Sunday after a bug bite caused an infection and swelling in his right arm. He is expected to be out a few days. Lance Zawadzki replaced Escobar and went 2-for-3 with a home run and double against the Chicago White Sox.

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