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Archive for Wednesday, January 22, 1992

CAN ROYALS WIN WITH MCRAE FIRST IN BATTING ORDER?

January 22, 1992

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— Of the new-look Royals we know many things, now that skipper Hal McRae has had his say with spring training only a month or so away.

"This is a club capable of winning 90 ball games, which puts you in the hunt," McRae told a media gathering here Tuesday.

That prediction didn't surprise me because with new faces Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies, Wally Joyner and Keith Miller in the lineup the Royals have more overall firepower than last year.

Still, that's also the kind of optimism you expect from managers in the Hot Stove League.

Then McRae did surprise me when he all but admitted he doesn't have a leadoff hitter or a second baseman by revealing that son Brian will bat No. 1 and incumbent Terry Shumpert will return to second base.

HOW CAN you win 90 games doing that?

Granted young McRae can chase fly balls with the best of them, but he hit only .261 last season and his on-base percentage was below .300. Brian McRae is NOT a leadoff man, and never will be. True, says his father.

"He's never going to be your ideal leadoff hitter," Hal McRae said. "He likes to swing the bat. He's a run producer."

Then why put him in the leadoff spot?

"He has to bat first because he's developing," the KC skipper explained, "and he'll develop faster at the top of the order than on the back side. He's not ready to bat on the back side."

Essentially, what McRae is saying is that his son will see more fastballs as a leadoff hitter than he will batting seventh where he probably belongs and that Brian feasts on fastballs.

If you thought Hal McRae's job was to win games, not to develop young players, then I'm in your corner. If McRae doesn't have a leadoff hitter, it's general manager Herk Robinson's job to find him one.

SAME WITH second base where Shumpert has McRae's endorsement because, even though he hit only .217 last year, he's the best fielding second baseman on the roster.

McRae has seen the reports and he has listened to the scouts, and no doubt has decided that neither Jefferies nor Miller can play second base on artificial turf. Shumpert made 16 errors last season, but he has some range and he can turn the double play.

Normally, a player who hits as poorly as Shumpert would bat ninth, but shortstop David Howard, another sound defender, has an even weaker stick.

"It's tough to find outstanding middle infielders," McRae pointed out. "Everybody looks at hitting, but that doesn't win ball games. You're not gonna win if your middle infielders aren't good fielders."

When the Royals dealt Bret Saberhagen to the Mets for Jefferies, Miller and McReynolds, the morning line had McReynolds replacing Danny Tartabull in right, Miller taking over for Shumpert at second and Jefferies learning to play left field.

ONE OUT OF three McReynolds in right isn't bad, I guess. Jefferies is now ticketed for third base and Miller for left field where he would likely platoon with either Kirk Gibson or Jim Eisenreich or Chris Gwynn or you name him.

Jefferies won't make anyone forget Brooks Robinson at third base, but McRae ostensibly figures that's the position where Jefferies will hurt the club the least.

McRae also made it clear George Brett will remain the designated hitter.

Is there any chance Brett, who'll be 39 in May, will be platooned with a right-handed DH? That question caused McRae to pause for a moment. Then he answered, without elaboration, "I couldn't say."

Hmmm.

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