Walk this way: Royals glad Santana chose KC

February 23rd, 2021

The Royals welcomed the rest of their club to Spring Training on Monday with position players reporting to the club’s complex in Surprise, Ariz. All but one player -- one who is dealing with visa issues -- was cleared to participate in the first full-squad workout, kickstarting the 2021 season full of potential for Kansas City.

Here are four takeaways from Monday and the past week at Royals camp:

Royals relish Santana addition
Danny Duffy didn’t ask for anything in return when he gave Carlos Santana his No. 41 when the Royals signed the first baseman to a two-year deal this winter.

“No man, just give me 30 bombs and a huge on-base percentage and play his position, be a good teammate,” Duffy said Saturday. “I know he’s a good dude.”

Santana’s on-base skills -- a key target for the Royals this offseason -- have been a theme this week among players when asked about their newest teammates. The 34-year-old has a career .366 on-base percentage and led the American Leagues in walks last year with 47. Only three Royals hitters walked more than 47 times in the 162 games the Royals played in 2019. Kansas City is counting on Santana to be a middle-of-the-order bat and a spark for the offense that finally found its footing at the end of last season.

And it’s safe to say the Royals aren’t mad about having him on their team instead of facing him with Cleveland:

Duffy: “He’s a tough out. I feel like I just learned how to get him out last year after nine seasons. And here we are, now he’s on my team. He’s a really good hitter.”

Right-hander Brady Singer: “I faced Santana I don’t know how many times. ... I’m happy he’s on our team. Guy’s been hitting for a long time, and he’s good. To have him in this locker room, it’s exciting.”

Catcher Salvador Perez: “That guy’s good, man. He takes like 120 walks every year. His on-base percentage is high. He’s going to get on base for us, for [Jorge] Soler, for me. That was a great pick.”

Veterans and young core strike a balance
Speaking of Santana, Royals manager Mike Matheny spoke to the veteran slugger after Monday’s workout and was already pleased with what he heard.

“He was just talking about three different guys and goes, ‘I feel like I want to help this guy do this,’” Matheny said. “First day in this uniform, and he’s talking about, 'How can I go make people better?'”

The Royals have a young core in camp and on their roster this year that has the organization excited about what’s to come in the next few years. But the veteran players already on the roster and those added this offseason bring an intriguing balance of what the Kansas City is trying to do in 2021.

“It’s exciting, man,” Duffy said. “We got some new faces in here, we got some familiar faces in here. It feels like a reunion on my end of the locker. And it’s really exciting. I think we got some dudes that got a lot left in the tank, and I think we got some kids that are just getting going that are really, really good.

”The experienced players can not only help the Royals compete on the field, but also help groom the young players for the future. Singer mentioned Wade Davis and Mike Minor -- with 21 years of Major League experience between the two -- late last week as resources he can turn to for help in his second year in the Majors.

That value isn’t lost on Matheny.

“It was fun bringing it up in the meeting this morning with the guys,” Matheny said. “I put a lot of pressure on leadership because I believe it’s a force multiplier. I think it takes your talent and helps get it to another level that it wouldn’t normally get on its own. When you're talking about leadership in that clubhouse and pointing out through the room -- if you’ve got a ring, raise your hand. There’s a bunch of guys in there who have been on the big stage and have raised the big trophy and a couple guys just short, too.

"Those experiences, you can’t really put a value on them. They’re so important. When you have guys who have been there that want to make other people better and to help them get to that spot, it just increases the learning curve of how to become that player.”

Lynch is legit
After pitching prospect Daniel Lynch’s first few bullpen sessions in Arizona, Matheny said the left-hander looks “completely different” this spring. Matheny noticed an “edge” to Lynch, with more confidence oozing from the 24-year-old looking to compete for a spot in the Opening Day rotation.

Perez noticed it as well. Lynch was the first name out of Perez’s mouth when asked which pitchers have impressed him so far this spring.

“Not too many people throw 100 mph, especially lefties,” Perez said. “Lynch is one of those guys. He’s getting close. He has a chance to make the team. He throws super good, and I like his attitude on the mound.

“I’ve seen some really good arms. We’re going to have a lot of help in the big leagues. They’ll be ready, they like to compete, they’re aggressive.”

Lynch did not see the Majors in 2020 but could make his debut early this season. Ranked No. 29 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list, Lynch’s changeup was a major focus of his work at the alternate training site last summer, and he became comfortable throwing it against hitters on both sides of the plate. He also got better at repeating his delivery, which in turn helped with his command and control, and walked away as one of the more impressive standouts at the Royals’ camp last summer.

Have you heard the buzz?
All week players have talked about “the buzz” -- the vibe they’ve felt coming into camp this year. Matheny has noted it. There’s an excitement brewing around Royals camp with the return of baseball, and it’s not just because of the green grass and sunny skies that have greeted them in Arizona.

“I think the one thing that describes it is momentum,” Matheny said. “We finished the season with some things that we thought we were doing much better than we did the beginning of the year, and then you see the organization, our ownership group and [general manager] Dayton [Moore] take some bold steps right from the beginning. Say we’re here, we believe in your guys. And then another addition and right down to the end making a trade for [Andrew] Benintendi. It’s just reinforcing some of that momentum that we felt.”

The Royals believe this is the year they can make the turn from rebuilding to competing in their division, and the players have sensed that from the end of 2020 when they went 12-6 to end the season, all offseason and into camp.

“We got a taste of some success last year in spurts, and the record obviously didn’t end up the way we wanted it to, but we had some good strategies there. And I think dudes are really understanding who they are in the big leagues and just getting started on that. This is a really fun time.”