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2 people shot in JC December 22, 2014

Royals have high hopes as new year dawns

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — First baseman Eric Hosmer stood in one corner of the ballroom. Over near the door stood second baseman Johnny Giavotella, while Lorenzo Cain patrolled the room the way he plans to do the vast center field at Kauffman Stadium.

The trio of 20-something Kansas City Royals converged on a suburban convention center Wednesday for the team’s annual awards luncheon, but nobody wanted to talk too much about last season.

No, those youngsters already have their sights set squarely on the future.

“Everyone in this clubhouse, everyone in this front office has had a goal the last three or four years, and that’s to build from within the farm system and bring guys up, and that time’s up now,” said Hosmer, who led a phalanx of Royals prospects who made their big league debuts last season.

“We feel now is the time to make a playoff push,” Hosmer said.

The Royals’ record last season wasn’t much different from years past. They finished well out of contention in the AL Central, losing at least 90 games for the third straight year.

But how they got there was different entirely.

Rather than putting together a patchwork lineup of past-their-prime players and no-hope rookies, the plan concocted by general manager Dayton Moore several years ago reached fruition. By the time the season ended, there were nights where every position player had yet to reach the age of 30.

“I think our fans are excited about our young players,” Moore said. “Everybody wants to identify with young players and embrace those young players at the major league level, and that’s the exciting part, the innocence about the game that we all love.”

There were certainly growing pains last season.

Guys made critical errors in key games, missed signs or failed to hit the cutoff man. More than once someone was thrown out stealing who shouldn’t have been trying, and there were times it seemed as if manager Ned Yost was at his wit’s end trying to rein in a precocious group of ballplayers.

“I let them go last year,” Yost said. “We had to let them play, let them experience the game. Don’t hold back and let them make mistakes. That’s the greatest experience you can have.”

Now, though, that free pass has been used up.

It’s time for the team to take the next step and start producing wins.

“We’re going to have ups and we’re going to have downs,” Yost said. “The key thing for me, and what excites me, is we have the ability to persevere through tough times, because there’s going to be tough times. And to have the ability to keep your head through good times, because there’s going to be real good times, too.

“When you think of the talent we have on this club, and the positions filled with young, talented players, the pitching staff and the improvements we made, it’s exciting.”

The Royals’ lineup in spring training will be the same one they trotted out toward the end of last season: Hosmer at first base, Giavotella at second, Alcides Escobar at shortstop and Mike Moustakas at third base. Salvador Perez will be behind the plate and Billy Butler is the designated hitter.

Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur will man the corner outfield spots. The only significant change is in center, where Cain will take over for Melky Cabrera, who was traded to the San Francisco Giants.

The Royals got front-line starter Jonathan Sanchez in return, bolstering a pitching staff that should be vastly improved. Bruce Chen is back after reaching free agency, while former Dodgers All-Star Jonathan Broxton was brought in to bolster a young, talented bullpen.

“We have good players, good, young players,” Gordon said. “It was fun to see those guys come up and play the way they did. Hopefully fans saw that we’re having fun and playing hard.”

The Royals may be finished assembling this year’s team, unless something blows them away, but that doesn’t mean the work stops. Gordon is controlled for another two years, but the discussions have begun on a long-term deal, and the former No. 2 pick overall said he’d like to stay in Kansas City.

“I was drafted by this team. They’ve showed me unbelievable support even when I wasn’t playing well,” he said. “Hopefully I can stay here. I want to stay here. It’s close to home.”

If the Royals can start winning games, it may make the negotiations that much easier.

“We feel like we’re close,” Gordon said. “We could sit here and say, ‘We’re going to win the division or we’re going to win the wild card.’ But we haven’t done it in the five years I’ve been here, so you have to prove it on the field. You have to put in the work.”

With spring training just six weeks away, the Royals are ready to start.

III

The Royals Caravan will not be stopping in Jefferson City this year.

The team has four different Caravan trips scheduled over the next few days, with most being in west and southwest Missouri.

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