Royals' outfield duo takes home Gold Gloves

November 8th, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- In the expansive Kauffman Stadium, two Royals outfielders were golden in 2021.

Left fielder Andrew Benintendi and center fielder Michael A. Taylor both won their first career Gold Gloves at their respective positions in the American League, Major League Baseball announced on Sunday night on ESPN.

This is the first time the Royals have had two Gold Glove Award winners since 2018, when catcher Salvador Perez and left fielder Alex Gordon both won, and it is the first time in franchise history with multiple winners in the outfield.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Taylor said Monday on a Zoom with local reporters. “There’s so many great defenders out there, and to be recognized as one of the best this year, it’s an honor and just a great feeling. I worked really hard on my defense, and it paid off a little bit this year.”

Perez -- a five-time Gold Glove winner -- and second baseman Whit Merrifield were also Gold Glove finalists this season. Shortstop Nicky Lopez had an elite season both defensively and offensively, but he was left off the finalists list. Managers and six coaches from each MLB team voted for the award, for a total of seven votes per team -- they cannot vote for their own players and can only vote for players in their own league.

Both Taylor and Benintendi were newcomers to the Royals this season, acquired with the front office’s faith they could manage the large outfield in Kansas City, and both made their mark.

“Honestly some of my favorite times in the outfield was when there’s a ball in the left-center gap, and me and Mike would go get it,” Benintendi said. “He’d pick it up, and I’d get to watch his throw from the outfield. Whether it be a dart to third or second base, that thing explodes out of his hand, so honestly, those are what sticks out the most to me.”

Taylor, who had been a finalist for a National League Gold Glove in center field before, stood out defensively all year. He led all Major League center fielders with 19 defensive runs saved and a 13.3 utility zone rating, according to FanGraphs. He also led center fielders with 15 outs above average, per Statcast. His career-best 11 outfield assists were the most by a Royals center fielder since Melky Cabrera had 13 in 2011, and Taylor became the first Royals player to win a Gold Glove while playing more games in center field than anywhere else since Amos Otis in 1974 (before Gold Gloves were awarded to specific outfield positions).

Part of Taylor’s strength was his ability to stay on the field the whole season, and he learned quickly how to combat the differences that playing in Kauffman’s outfield brought.

“It can definitely be taxing,” Taylor said. “You have to cover a lot more ground. … Just trying to manage that workload was important to me. In the middle of the summer, I stopped a good bit of my work on the field, trying to save my legs as much as I can and pick my spots.”

The 30-year-old outfielder’s defense is a big reason why the Royals signed him to a two-year contract extension late in the season. Now that Taylor knows he’s returning, his offseason program is dedicated to building on 2021, and he said he’s “all in” on strength and conditioning coach Ryan Stoneberg’s training plan.

Benintendi had a tall task in front of him when he took over left field in Kansas City this season after perennial Gold Glove winner Gordon retired. In 2020, Gordon matched Frank White’s franchise record by winning his eighth Gold Glove, as well as the second AL Platinum Glove of his career.

But Benintendi -- acquired last winter in a trade from the Red Sox -- fit right in, making it five consecutive years that a Royals left fielder has won a Gold Glove. Despite a stint on the injured list with a fractured rib, the 27-year-old played 1,116 innings in left field this season, the most in the AL, and posted a .987 fielding percentage, with three errors in 234 chances. He and Toronto’s Lourdes Gurriel Jr. each had seven defensive runs saved to top the AL.

“It’s nice to try and fill [Gordon’s] shoes in some kind of way,” Benintendi said. “Obviously a long way to go, but to keep it there in left field at Kauffman, there is pride, especially with how much we focus on defense throughout the year and in Spring Training. It’s a big field, so defense is a priority there. To share it with Alex Gordon, a guy who’s been there doing it for such a long time, it means a lot.”

Benintendi’s six outfield assists ranked second among AL left fielders, with three of those coming during a four-game stretch against the Astros in August -- including a walk-off assist on Aug. 18, when Benintendi threw out the potential game-tying run at home plate to seal the Royals’ win.

With Benintendi in his third year of arbitration this winter, both of Kansas City’s Gold Glovers will return in 2022. And all of its finalists -- plus Lopez -- will be back anchoring the defense.

“It doesn’t stop at Benny,” Taylor said. “I know Whit didn’t win it or Salvy or Nicky, but there’s a long list of guys that in my book are Gold Glovers. They make my job easier. You can’t win this award alone. When I’m making a throw to the plate or making a throw to second base, I have Gold Glovers receiving those balls and applying those tags.”

Taylor and Merrifield were also acknowledged as the top defenders at their positions, regardless of league, by Sports Info Solutions’ annual Fielding Bible Awards.