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Yost pondering who will bat leadoff for Royals

Merrifield is most likely contender, but Gordon is an option
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

PEORIA, Ariz. -- For years, the Royals were unable to find a prototypical leadoff hitter.

The Royals tried Alex Gordon, who at one-time was an on-base machine, but obviously lacked as a basestealing threat. Then they tried Alcides Escobar, who could run, but has been almost legendary for not drawing walks (15 last year in over 600 plate appearances).

PEORIA, Ariz. -- For years, the Royals were unable to find a prototypical leadoff hitter.

The Royals tried Alex Gordon, who at one-time was an on-base machine, but obviously lacked as a basestealing threat. Then they tried Alcides Escobar, who could run, but has been almost legendary for not drawing walks (15 last year in over 600 plate appearances).

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The Royals seemingly found their leadoff man last year with second baseman Whit Merrifield, who hit .288 with 19 home runs and led the American League in stolen bases with 34.

"Absolutely [Merrifield] was the guy," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

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But will Yost return Merrifield to the leadoff spot in 2018? He's not saying yet.

Normally during the offseason, Yost scribbles out numerous batting orders to ponder. He didn't do much of that this offseason, mainly because of all the departing free agents and the uncertainty of what his lineup would even look like.

But Yost did hint that his analytics department may not prefer Merrifield in the top spot.

"You go back and look through it in an analytical mindset, and I'm trying," Yost said, "but the analytics people like on-base people at the top. If you look over the last few years, those guys have been Alex Gordon and Jorge Soler. So I don't know."

It seems unlikely that Yost would insert Soler, who has middle-of-the-order power, into the leadoff role. Gordon could be another matter.

Gordon has a career .340 on-base percentage, a number that dropped dramatically last season when his OBP was .293. Gordon was dropped all the way to the No. 9 spot in 2017.

Video: Alex Gordon on struggling last year, starting fresh

"The reason we moved him down last year because he wasn't even getting on base anymore," Yost said. "But his strength normally has been on-base percentage."

Merrifield still seems like the logical choice to lead off because of his versatility.

"I know I can steal a base," Merrifield said. "I know I can do some damage there. And I can handle the bat.

"I have a passion for the hit-and-run. I love when they put the hit-and-run on, especially when I get a pitch I can hit. Now, the sliders in the dirt are a little tougher. But I love the hit-and-run."

Naturally, Merrifield said he will be glad to hit anywhere in the lineup, just as long as he's in it. But he did take pride in securing the leadoff spot for the team.

And he's fully aware of his one potential flaw.

"I don't walk that much and I know that," he said. "But if I get a fastball over the plate early in the at-bat, I want to do some damage with it. I want to attack everything in the zone.

"Pitchers were pitching me aggressively, so the walks weren't coming. You start taking pitches just for the sake of taking pitches, and suddenly it's 0-2. But I think the walks will come as time goes on. "

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

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