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Kennedy open to working in Royals' bullpen

Veteran starter willing to help ballclub anyway he can in 2019
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- One of the solutions to fixing the Royals' troubled bullpen heading into 2019 could be to convert some of the starters from the club's suddenly deep rotation to a relief role.

In fact, general manager Dayton Moore said last month the transition may even include veterans such as Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy.

KANSAS CITY -- One of the solutions to fixing the Royals' troubled bullpen heading into 2019 could be to convert some of the starters from the club's suddenly deep rotation to a relief role.

In fact, general manager Dayton Moore said last month the transition may even include veterans such as Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy.

"We'll see," Moore said. "I don't think we would script it out that way [moving Duffy and Kennedy to the bullpen]. We wouldn't go into Spring Training and pull the rip cord and abandon them as starters. But if somebody beats them out and they're more effective in that middle- or late-inning role, or as a closer, we'll see."

Kennedy, 33, told MLB.com this week he would be open-minded to such a move.

"There's got to be a transition at some point in your career," Kennedy said. "We saw [Jason Hammel] do it this year. CY [Chris Young] did it for us and did it well, going back and forth. Where ever I fit, where ever they want me. I feel I can still start, but where you are in your career and where you are in terms of team needs, that's the important part, and that's how I approach it.

Video: KC@DET: Kennedy tosses 7 strong in win over Tigers

"You see it in the playoffs all the time. Starters go into the bullpen when the team needs them. I think any of us would be open-minded to it. I mean, I love being a starter, but it's about what helps the team."

Kennedy has had an up-and-down stay with the Royals. He was solid in 2016, the first year of a five-year, $70 million deal, when he posted a 3.68 ERA over 195 2/3 innings. But he fell off to a 5.38 ERA in '17 and a 4.66 ERA last season, though he finished strong with a 2.88 ERA over his final four starts.

Moving to the bullpen might be even more desirable for Kennedy if it involved a prominent role there.

"Sure, if they said, 'You've been a starter, but now we want you to be our closer,'" Kennedy said. "That's a little different than saying, 'Hey, we want you to be our long reliever.'

"We saw [Wade Davis] do it. He was a good starter at times, but he went to that late-inning role and dominated right away. Hoch [Luke Hochevar] was the same way. Someone like Danny [Duffy], he did it before, and he can dominate as a starter or as a reliever. Kel [Kelvin Herrera] was a starter in the Minors and he was dominant as a reliever."

One constant in all of those transitions Kennedy mentioned was each pitcher was able to increase his velocity by two or three mph by going full-tilt for an inning or two.

Kennedy, whose four-seam fastball usually sits around 91-93 mph, believes that might be the case for him -- he thinks he can hit 95-96 in short stints.

"I know every once in a while I can do it," Kennedy said, smiling. "Maybe I can amp it up a little."

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

Kansas City Royals, Ian Kennedy

Reviewing 10 biggest trades in Royals history

MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- One of the indisputable facts about baseball is that no general manager in Major League history has a perfect record when it comes to trades.

General managers make great trades and poor ones because, after all, they are human, and so are their scouts that recommend the deals, and the players involved in those deals.

KANSAS CITY -- One of the indisputable facts about baseball is that no general manager in Major League history has a perfect record when it comes to trades.

General managers make great trades and poor ones because, after all, they are human, and so are their scouts that recommend the deals, and the players involved in those deals.

And perhaps no transaction in baseball spurs more fan and media discussion than the trade.

With that backdrop, let's take a look at the most impactful trades -- in either direction -- in Royals history.

1. Myers for Shields, Davis
Acquired from Rays: RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis, INF Eliot Johnson
Dealt by Royals: OF Wil Myers, 3B Patrick Leonard, LHP Mike Montgomery, RHP Jake Odorizzi
Date: Dec. 9, 2012

Video: Pair of Royals teams win World Series 30 years apart

Analysis: This one ranks at the top because it helped catapult the Royals to their first winning season in 10 years in 2013, then back-to-back World Series appearances and their first World Series championship in 30 years in 2015. While fans and bloggers howled at the loss of prospect Myers at the time, general manager Dayton Moore concluded his rebuild needed acceleration. Shields threw well over 200 innings in each of his two seasons with the Royals, and more importantly, he changed the culture in the clubhouse to a winning mentality. Davis, of course, became one of the most dominant closers, in the short term, in club history.

2. Greinke for Cain, Escobar
Acquired from Brewers: CF Lorenzo Cain, SS Alcides Escobar, RHP Jeremy Jeffress, RHP Odorizzi.
Dealt by Royals: RHP Zack Greinke, SS Yuniesky Betancourt, cash.
Date: Dec. 19, 2010

Video: WS2015 Gm5: Cain sets Royals' postseason steals mark

Analysis: Moore had two issues that offseason: Greinke wanted to be traded to a contender, and the Royals needed to get more athletic defensively. It was a trade that benefited both teams. Greinke led the Brewers to the postseason in 2011, and Cain and Escobar shored up the Royals' defense, which was instrumental in the back-to-back World Series runs. Odorizzi became a big part of the Shields-Davis trade with the Rays as well.

Video: WS2015 Gm1: Escobar leads off with inside-the-parker

3. Saberhagen for McReynolds, Jefferies, Miller
Acquired from Mets: OF Kevin McReynolds, INF Gregg Jefferies, INF Keith Miller.
Dealt by Royals: RHP Bret Saberhagen, INF Bill Pecota.
Date: Dec. 11, 1991

Analysis: Perhaps no trade stunned the fan base more than this one. Saberhagen was a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner and a World Series MVP. But general manager Herk Robinson, sensing the team, which had not made the playoffs since 1985, was drifting further away from contention, pulled the trigger on the controversial deal. Angry letters poured into the local newspaper, talk-show hosts screamed and billboards popped up around Kansas City denouncing the deal. Worse yet, McReynolds' career had faded by the time he got to the Royals, Miller was a gutsy but less-than-impactful player, and Jefferies, the key acquisition in the deal, was traded to the Cardinals after one season because of a perceived questionable attitude. Ouch.

Video: Bret Saberhagen remembers his start in Game 7 of '85

4. McRae for Nelson, Scheinblum
Acquired from Reds: OF Hal McRae, RHP Wayne Simpson.
Dealt by Royals: RHP Roger Nelson, OF Richie Scheinblum.
Date: Nov. 30, 1972

Analysis: If George Brett became the heart of the Royals' glory-year teams, McRae was unquestionably the soul. McRae's hard-nosed style of play -- just go to youtube.com and watch his take-out slides -- became the Royals' persona of that era. McRae later became a Royals Hall of Famer and its manager in the early 1990s.

5. Cone for Hearn
Acquired from Mets: C Ed Hearn, RHP Rick Anderson, RHP Mauro Gozzo.
Dealt by Royals: RHP David Cone, OF Chris Jelic.
Date: March 27, 1987

Video: BOS@KC: Cone joins Royals' booth to discuss analytics

Analysis: This was sort of a precursor to the Saberhagen trade as the Royals dealt an arm they developed, and got virtually nothing in return. To be fair, the end of Hearn's career was sad and unfortunate. After catching for the World Series champion Mets in 1986, Hearn only played 13 games for the Royals over the next two seasons as injuries and a kidney disease ended his playing days. Kansas City made another regrettable Cone trade (after he signed back with the club as a free agent) in 1995, the year after he won an AL Cy Young Award with the Royals. Cone then was dealt to the Blue Jays for two Minor Leaguers and utility man Chris Stynes. Ouch again.

6. Mayberry for York
Acquired from Astros: 1B John Mayberry, INF David Grangaard.
Dealt by Royals: LHP Lance Clemons, RHP Jim York.
Date: Dec. 2, 1971

Analysis: The Royals made numerous incredible trades back in the 1970s, acquiring pivotal pieces such as Amos Otis, Freddie Patek, Cookie Rojas, etc. Another one of those steals was Mayberry, another Royals Hall of Famer who hit 143 home runs in six seasons with Kansas City, and ge posted a remarkable .374 on-base percentage that certainly would have played big in today's game.

7. Zobrist for Manaea
Acquired from Athletics: Super utility man Ben Zobrist.
Dealt by Royals: RHP Aaron Brooks, LHP Sean Manaea.
Date: July 28, 2015

Video: WS2015 Gm4: Royals rally for three in 8th, go ahead

Analysis: Zobrist quickly became a fan favorite in Kansas City, and he was hugely instrumental in the World Series' title run in 2015. Zobrist immediately took over in left field for the injured Alex Gordon (who came back in September), then he took over for the injured and ineffective Omar Infante at second base late in the season. There were no memorable signature hits for Zobrist with the Royals, but any time the team launched a decisive rally that season, he always seemed to be in the middle of it. The Royals gave up a budding star in Manaea, but hey, flags fly forever.

8. Cueto for Finnegan
Acquired from Reds: RHP Johnny Cueto.
Dealt by Royals: LHPs Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed, John Lamb
Date: July 26, 2015

Analysis: Cueto certainly registered high on the goofy scale at times with the Royals, but he came up huge in the postseason. He two-hit the Astros over eight innings in Game 5 of the AL Division Series to help the Royals advance to the AL Championship Series. Then, Cueto two-hit the Mets in Game 2 of the World Series in a 7-1 win. Finnegan, a first-round pick who pitched in the 2014 World Series for the Royals, hasn't quite panned out with the Reds, while Reed has secured a spot in the rotation.

Video: WS2015 Gm2: Cueto allows two hits in complete game

9. Montgomery for Van Snider
Acquired from Reds: RHP Jeff Montgomery.
Dealt by Royals: Outfielder Van Snider
Date: Feb. 15, 1988

Analysis: We have to give a little love to Monty, now a Royals analyst on FOX Sports Kansas City. This under-the-radar deal produced another Royals Hall of Famer. Montgomery is the club's all-time saves leader with 304.

10. Beltran for Teahen, Buck (three-team deal)
Acquired from Astros, A's: 3B Mark Teahen and RHP from the A's, C John Buck from Astros.
Dealt by Royals: OF Carlos Beltran (Houston sent RHP Octavio Dotel to Oakland).
Date: June 24, 2004

Video: NYY@KC: Beltran discusses early years in Kansas City

Analysis: Could easily have put the Jermaine Dye or Johnny Damon trades in 2001 here, or the infamous Cecil Fielder trade in 1983 (he was a Royals Minor Leaguer then), but we'll stick with Beltran, who could be headed for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Both Teahen and Buck were serviceable players, but hardly enough return for a potential future Hall of Famer.

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

Kansas City Royals

Moore: Royals could get creative with 'pen in '19

MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- Just how Royals manager Ned Yost uses his bullpen in 2019 could be quite different than what fans are accustomed to seeing.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore told MLB.com this week he doesn't anticipate that the team will get locked into definitive bullpen roles, especially coming out of Spring Training, and that the Royals will utilize creativity with the relief corps.

KANSAS CITY -- Just how Royals manager Ned Yost uses his bullpen in 2019 could be quite different than what fans are accustomed to seeing.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore told MLB.com this week he doesn't anticipate that the team will get locked into definitive bullpen roles, especially coming out of Spring Training, and that the Royals will utilize creativity with the relief corps.

And that means, Moore said, that even Wily Peralta, who was 14-for-14 in save opportunities in 2018 and who recently re-signed with the Royals, isn't a lock as the team's closer.

Video: Flanagan discusses Peralta returning to Royals

"I wouldn't sit here and say that Wily Peralta is definitely going to be our closer," Moore said. "I think when you're a team with where we are, we're still finding out a lot about our players, and I don't think it makes sense to go ahead and anoint roles for our pitchers or our players at this point. There are some guys [whose roles] are very obvious, and Wily did an excellent job for us last year.

"But as you know, the most important thing is to make sure that we use our pitchers in a very efficient way to get 27 outs. We need to use our pitchers in a creative and efficient way to get 27 outs and win baseball games.

"The bullpen roles will take care of themselves. And Ned does an excellent job of letting that organically resolve itself, if you will."

Still, Moore knows the overall quality of the bullpen needs to improve. The team's 2018 bullpen ERA of 5.04 was the worst in the American League and 29th in MLB. Of course, that number is a bit skewed, having been bloated by relievers who are now gone, such as Justin Grimm (13.50), Blaine Boyer (12.05) and Brandon Maurer (7.76).

But Moore is on the lookout to improve next year's bullpen with the limited resources he will have. The payroll now is a little more than $80 million, and he indicated the target payroll for 2019 is somewhere around $90 million.

Video: Royals GM Dayton Moore on activity in trade market

Moore said he will look for improvement internally first.

"We will monitor the trade market and the free-agent market for creative ways to add to our bullpen," Moore said. "But we like our internal options a great deal. We have some depth with young starters, fully realizing that some of those young starter candidates can at times work probably very effectively out of the bullpen, at least potentially, if need be.

"Scott Barlow is a good name. He has pitched really well in Japan. [Richard] Lovelady is a good name. I don't know what the roles will be, but I do know we have enough quality arms between Jorge Lopez and Heath Fillmyer and Glenn Sparkman and Richard Lovelady and Scott Barlow and Trevor Oaks and Eric Skoglund, and I'm maybe missing one or two. We feel like those guys can possibly go in the bullpen if necessary."

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

Kansas City Royals

Decision time: Which prospects make 40-man?

MLB.com @JonathanMayo

It's decision time for all 30 Major League organizations.

By Tuesday, all teams will have decided who deserves a spot on their 40-man rosters. Those Minor Leaguers who are eligible but not put on the roster will be exposed to be taken by the other 29 teams in the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, on Thursday. Dec. 13.

It's decision time for all 30 Major League organizations.

By Tuesday, all teams will have decided who deserves a spot on their 40-man rosters. Those Minor Leaguers who are eligible but not put on the roster will be exposed to be taken by the other 29 teams in the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, on Thursday. Dec. 13.

Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years or older have to be protected within four seasons. Clubs pay $100,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. If that player doesn't stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $50,000.

For this year, that means an international or high school Draft pick signed in 2014 -- assuming he was 18 or younger as of June 5 of that year -- has to be protected. A college player taken in the 2015 Draft is in the same position.

There are just eight players on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list who need to be protected or become exposed to the Rule 5 Draft.

16. Mitch Keller, RHP, PIT
25. Dylan Cease, RHP, CWS
33. Jesus Sanchez, OF, TB
35. Chris Paddack,RHP, SD
39. Keibert Ruiz, C, LAD
64. Adonis Medina, RHP, PHI
67. Franklin Perez, RHP, DET
69. Michael Chavis, 3B, BOS

Last year, there were eight Top 100 players who needed to be protected. In 2016, there were 12, and in '15, there were 11. And every one of those 31 players were added to 40-man rosters.

There are obviously many more Minor Leaguers under consideration. There are 149 prospects on organizational Top 30 lists hoping to get added to a 40-man roster. That's down from last year, when there were 153, 85 of whom (55.6%) were protected. In 2016, there were 144 total, and 58% of them (84) were protected. In 2015, 75 of 156 (48%) Top 30 prospects landed on rosters.

Here's a list of all 30 teams' Top 30 prospects who needed to be protected to avoid being exposed to the Rule 5 Draft, along with non-Top 30 prospects who were given coveted roster spots:

* Indicates that a player has been added to his team's 40-man roster.

Arizona Diamondbacks (5)
7. Marcus Wilson, OF
11. Taylor Clarke, RHP
20. Kevin Cron, 1B
22. Alex Young, LHP
23. Cody Reed, LHP

Atlanta Braves (6)
20. Huascar Ynoa, RHP
21. Patrick Weigel, RHP
22. Travis Demeritte, OF
27. Alex Jackson, C
28. Josh Graham, RHP
29. Jacob Webb, RHP

Baltimore Orioles (2)
6. Dillon Tate, RHP
29. Luis Gonzalez, LHP

Boston Red Sox (7)
1. Michael Chavis, SS
7. Darwinzon Hernandez, LHP
10. Josh Ockimey, 1B
15. Travis Lakins, RHP
21. Jhonathan Diaz, LHP
23. Roldani Baldwin, C
27. Roniel Raudes, RHP

Chicago Cubs (4)
8. Justin Steele, LHP
17. Trevor Clifton, RHP
25. Earling Moreno, RHP
28. Jason Vosler, SS

Chicago White Sox (4)
3. Dylan Cease, RHP
19. Kodi Medeiros, LHP
20. Jordan Stephens, RHP
26. Spencer Adams, RHP

Cincinnati Reds (2)
13. Jimmy Herget, RHP
22. Michael Beltre, OF

Cleveland Indians 4)
7. Bobby Bradley, 1B
8. Sam Hentges, LHP
20. Oscar Gonzales, OF
29. Tyler Krieger, SS

Colorado Rockies (7)
9. Sam Hilliard, OF
10. Ryan Castellani, RHP
17. Justin Lawrence, RHP
19. Breiling Eusebio, LHP
23. Roberto Ramos, 1B
25. Brian Mundell, 1B
27. Dom Nunez, C

Detroit Tigers (4)
3. Franklin Perez, RHP
19. Jose Azocar, OF
24. Tyler Alexander, LHP
29. Derek Hill, CF
More »

Houston Astros (5)
12. Rogelio Armenteros, RHP
15. Garrett Stubbs, C
17. Riley Ferrell, RHP
23. Jonathan Arauz, SS
24. Trent Thornton, RHP

Kansas City Royals (6)
11. Josh Staumont, RHP
20. Scott Blewett, RHP
23. Elvis Luciano, RHP
28. D.J. Burt, SS
29. Foster Griffin, LHP
30. Ofreidy Gomez, RHP

Los Angeles Angels (4)
10. Luis Rengifo, IF
15. Leonardo Rivas, SS
18. Luis Pena, RHP
28. Joe Gatto, RHP

Los Angeles Dodgers (7)
2. Keibert Ruiz, C
10. Yadier Alvarez, RHP
13. Edwin Rios, 1B
19. Drew Jackson, SS
21. Matt Beaty, 1B/3B
24. Cristian Santana, SS
29. Andrew Sopko, RHP

Miami Marlins (7)
2. Monte Harrison, CF
6. Jorge Guzman, RHP
9. Isan Diaz, SS
17. Jordan Yamamoto, RHP
18. Christopher Torres, SS
26. Brayan Hernandez, CF
30. McKenzie Mills, LHP

Milwaukee Brewers (5)
10. Jake Gatewood, 1B
13. Trey Supak, RHP
15. Troy Stokes Jr., CF
17. Cody Ponce, RHP
28. Carlos Herrera, RHP

Minnesota Twins (5)
4. Nick Gordon, SS
13. LaMonte Wade, OF
15. Luis Arraez, 2B
16. Lewin Diaz, RF
22. Tyler Jay, LHP

New York Mets (4)
19. Luis Carpio, SS
21. David Thompson, 3B
25. Ali Sanchez, C
27. Patrick Mazeika, C

New York Yankees (1)
21. Erik Swanson, RHP

Oakland A's (5)
9. James Kaprielian, RHP
12. Richie Martin, SS
15. Grant Holmes, RHP
27. James Naile, RHP
30. Skye Bolt, CF

Philadelphia Phillies (5)
3. Adonis Medina, RHP
12. Daniel Brito, SS
11. Arquimedes Gamboa, SS
16. Jose Gomez, SS
27. Tom Eshelman, RHP

Pittsburgh Pirates (6)
1. Mitch Keller, RHP
5. Cole Tucker, SS
13. Jason Martin, CF
19. Gage Hinsz, RHP
24. Brandon Waddell, LHP
28. Domingo Robles, LHP

San Diego Padres (5)
5. Chris Paddack, RHP
12. Anderson Espinoza, RHP
25. Austin Allen, C
28. Edward Olivares, OF
29. Pedro Avila, RHP
More »

San Francisco Giants (7)
8. Sandro Fabian, OF
11. Logan Webb, RHP
18. Juan De Paula, RHP
19. Melvin Adon, RHP
23. Jordan Johnson, RHP
28. C.J. Hinojosa, SS/2B
30. Sam Coonrod, RHP

Seattle Mariners (11)
*5. Braden Bishop, OF
14. Art Warren, RHP
18. Rob Whalen, RHP
20. Ian Miller, OF
23. Anthony Jimenez, OF
24. Luis Liberato, OF
26. Ronald Rosario, OF
27. Chuck Taylor, OF
28. Anthony Misiewicz, LHP
29. Darin Gillies, RHP
30. Joseph Rosa, 2B
More »

St. Louis Cardinals (6)
4. Ryan Helsley, RHP
11. Max Schrock, 2B
13. Genesis Cabrera, LHP
14. Junior Fernandez, RHP
20. Ramon Urias, INF
23. Wadye Ynfante, OF
More »

Tampa Bay Rays (3)
4. Jesus Sanchez
17. Joe McCarthy, OF/1B
29. Ian Gibaut, RHP

Texas Rangers (4)
6. Taylor Hearn, LHP
17. Pedro Gonzalez, OF
22. Scott Heineman, OF
30. Edgar Arredondo, RHP

Toronto Blue Jays (3)
11. Hector Perez, RHP
24. Forrest Wall, OF
27. Jordan Romano, RHP

Washington Nationals (5)
13. Telmito Agustin, OF
17. James Bourque, RHP
24. Tomas Alastre, RHP
25. Jose Marmolejos, 1B/OF
29. Drew Ward, 3B/1B

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

30 ROY candidates for 2019 -- 1 for each team

MLB.com

On Monday, Shohei Ohtani and Ronald Acuna Jr. were named Rookie of the Year in the American and National Leagues, respectively. But they were far from the only first-year players to make an impact in the big leagues in 2018.

It would be difficult to find a team in the history of the modern game who went through an entire season without needing to use its farm system. Sometimes, jobs are given to rookies on Opening Day, as was the case with Ohtani and the Angels. Other times, a player has to wait to be called up to make an impact, just like Acuna did with the Braves.

On Monday, Shohei Ohtani and Ronald Acuna Jr. were named Rookie of the Year in the American and National Leagues, respectively. But they were far from the only first-year players to make an impact in the big leagues in 2018.

It would be difficult to find a team in the history of the modern game who went through an entire season without needing to use its farm system. Sometimes, jobs are given to rookies on Opening Day, as was the case with Ohtani and the Angels. Other times, a player has to wait to be called up to make an impact, just like Acuna did with the Braves.

In 2018, both prospects entered the season as Rookie of the Year contenders, if not front-runners, in each league. But sometimes Rookies of the Year come on unexpectedly. With that in mind, here is a potential ROY candidate from each organization.

AL East

Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B
There's a strong case to made that Guerrero, MLB Pipeline's No. 1 overall prospect, should have reached the Majors last season, even with the Blue Jays' struggles. But he didn't and ultimately finished with an absurd .381/.437/.636 line and 20 home runs while reaching Triple-A at age 19. His bat is 100 percent ready for the highest level, and once there, Guerrero is a candidate to run away with top rookie honors in the AL, regardless of when he arrives.

Video: EAST@WEST: Guerrero Jr. doubles, advances on error

Orioles: Yusniel Diaz, OF
The Orioles' key acquisition in the deadline deal that sent Manny Machado to Hollywood, Diaz is yet to tap into his above-average raw power but has a good idea of what he's doing at the plate, as evidenced by his .285/.392/.449 slash line and 11-homer last season in Double-A. Some other internal options may get first crack in either right or left field as the Orioles rebuild, but Diaz should become an everyday guy for them before long.

Rays: Brandon Lowe, 2B
Lowe struggled initially upon reaching the Majors, going 0-for-19 following his debut on Aug. 5. After that, however, he slashed .273/.357/.527 with six homers in 37 games to finish the year with a career-high 28 home runs between Double-A, Triple-A and MLB. He also finished with 129 at-bats, leaving him two ABs short of exhausting his rookie eligibility. Like so many young Rays players, Lowe has the defensive versatility that could make him a near regular for Tampa Bay in 2019.

Red Sox: Michael Chavis, 3B
The defending World Series champions have a depleted farm system and few opportunities at the big league level. One of the better power-hitting prospects in the upper Minors, Chavis could contribute if Rafael Devers struggles again or the need for a right-handed-hitting first baseman arises.

Yankees: Justus Sheffield, LHP
The Yankees' greatest need is starting pitching, and Sheffield should crack the Opening Day rotation. His fastball, slider and changeup all can be three plus pitches, so it won't be a shock if he's New York's second-best starter after Luis Severino.

Video: Mayo gives some 2019 AL Rookie of the Year contenders

AL Central

Indians: Yu Chang, SS
Though he continues to face an uphill battle towards carving out a spot in Cleveland's infield, Chang, a member of the Tribe's 40-man roster, saw increased reps at third base during the regular season and regular time there in the Arizona Fall League, suggesting the hot corner could be his path of least resistance. He has the hitting ability and raw power to profile there, as well as the defensive versatility to handle a utility role.

Royals: Nicky Lopez, SS/2B
Lopez is blocked at the moment by Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi, but he's also sound in all phases of the game and has nothing left to prove in Triple-A. He should open the season in nothing less than a utility role and should claim at least semi-regular at-bats.

Tigers: Christin Stewart, OF
He's hit at least 25 homers in each of his three full seasons of pro ball and hit a pair of homers in 60 big league at-bats this past September. Stewart has improved his overall approach, drawing a lot more walks, while still hitting balls out of the park, something that should continue with a full-time gig in Detroit next season.

Twins: Stephen Gonsalves, RHP
The left-hander didn't fare well during his first taste of the big leagues in 2018, but he had a fantastic year, mostly in Triple-A, finishing second in the system in ERA and fifth in strikeouts, while keeping hitters to a combined .184 BAA. Gonsalves' upside might be limited, but he's ready to be a mid-rotation starter.

White Sox: Eloy Jimenez, OF
If anyone can challenge Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero for the title of best offensive prospect in baseball, it's Jimenez. Ready last summer but kept in the Minors for service-time considerations, he'll be the foundation the White Sox build their lineup around.

Watch: Jimenez crushes 12th homer for Charlotte

AL West

Athletics: Jesus Luzardo, LHP
Luzardo nearly reached the Majors in 2018 in what was his first full pro campaign as well as his first fully healthy, unimpeded season since his Tommy John surgery in mid-2016. Altogether, the left-hander (in his age-20 season) compiled a 2.88 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 129 strikeouts and 30 walks in 109 1/3 innings while ascending from Class A Advanced to Triple-A. The A's will be without many of the starting pitchers that were lost due to injuries last season, so expect Luzardo to receive an earnest look during spring training.

Angels: Griffin Canning, RHP
The UCLA product projected as an advanced college arm and lived up to that advanced billing, racing all the way to Triple-A in his first full season. His four-pitch mix with excellent command allowed him to miss bats all the way up the ladder and is why he is just about ready to hit the Angels' rotation.

Astros: Kyle Tucker, OF
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2015 Draft, Tucker has recorded back-to-back 20-20 seasons in the upper Minors. His Triple-A line (.332/.400/.590) is much more representative of his upside than the numbers from his big league debut (.141/.236/.203).

Watch: Tucker crushes game-tying homer

Mariners: Wyatt Mills, RHP
Viewed by scouts as a potential fast-riser when the Mariners took him in the third round of the 2017 Draft, Mills, 23, was just that in his first full season as he reached Double-A and followed it with an impressive turn in the Arizona Fall League. With right-handed delivery and profile that resembles Steve Cisheck's as well as comparable stuff, Mills has all the ingredients needed to become an impactful bullpen piece in 2019.

Rangers: Yohander Mendez, LHP
Mendez's prospect luster has dimmed a bit over the last two years, yet that won't prevent him from fitting in the middle of the Rangers' rotation. He still has a quality changeup but needs to refine his command and breaking ball.

NL East

Braves: Touki Tousssaint, RHP
The Braves have scores of young pitchers who could contend for Rookie of the Year honors next season. Toussaint gets the nod because of the pure stuff that helped him lead the system in ERA and strikeouts and because of how well his big league debut went, earning him a spot on the postseason roster.

Video: Mayo on potential 2019 NL Rookie of Year candidates

Marlins: Victor Mesa, OF
While there currently are quite a few unknowns with Mesa, whom Miami signed for $5.5 million on Oct. 22, the consensus is that the 22-year-old outfielder shouldn't require all too much seasoning in the Minor Leagues after his success in Cuba's Serie Nacional. His plus defense in center field gives him a high floor in the big leagues, and any offensive contributions that surpass expectations could make him a ROY candidate.

Phillies: Ranger Suarez, LHP
Suarez made four uneven appearances with Philadelphia in 2018, reaching the big leagues before he turned 23, and he's the kind of smart left-hander who will learn and make adjustments. He's moved very quickly since starting the 2017 season in A ball and should fit nicely into the back end of the young Phillies rotation.

Nationals: Victor Robles, OF
Robles has taken second chair to teenage superstar Juan Soto in the Nationals' long-term outfield outlook with good reason. Yet, the future remains incredibly bright for the now 21-year-old center fielder, who hit .288/.348/.525 with three homers and three steals over 21 games with the Nats after a right elbow injury cost him much of the Minor League season. That Robles is the club's projected Opening Day center fielder at the moment makes him a preseason ROY favorite in the NL.

Watch: Robles triples on four-hit night

Mets: Peter Alonso, 1B
New Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen has said he isn't opposed to having Alonso start the year in New York, and for good reason. All the first baseman did in 2018 is tie for the Minor League lead in homers, while leading it outright in RBIs. More power was on display in the AFL, and he has nothing left to prove in the Minors.

NL Central

Brewers: Keston Hiura, 2B
The best hitter from the 2017 Draft class raked his way up to Double-A in his first full season, ultimately hitting .293/.357/.464 with 52 extra-base hits including 13 homers, and has been equally impressive in the Arizona Fall League, seemingly leaving him on the cusp of entering the Majors in'19. His knack for squaring up the baseball with authority to all fields is a truly special trait -- one that could make him a key Brewers run producer for a long time.

Cardinals: Dakota Hudson, RHP
Aside from some command issues (18 BB in 27 1/3 IP), Hudson was effective in relief for the big league club in 2018. It's a crowded rotation in St. Louis, so a relief gig might be his best full-time entry for the time being where his extreme ground-ball rate (2.03 GO/AO in his Minor League career) would play well.

Cubs: Duane Underwood, RHP
Underwood still needs some polish but was more aggressive and consistent in 2018 than he had been in years past. With a 92-97 mph fastball and a curveball that shows flashes of becoming a plus pitch, he could contribute in the bullpen and possibly the rotation.

Pirates: Mitch Keller, RHP
The Pirates often are cautious with their young pitching prospects, but look for Keller to push them hard in 2019. After struggling upon first reaching Triple-A at age 22, the right-hander then had a 2.86 ERA in August. Room will have to be made in Pittsburgh's rotation, but Keller will be ready to jump through it once the door is opened.

Watch: Keller records 10th K

Reds: Nick Senzel, INF
A finger injury, not to mention a bout with vertigo, greatly shortened his 2018 season, and that likely kept the No. 2 pick in the 2016 Draft from getting called up this past season. He's played several positions and was working on the outfield at instructs this fall to make sure there's a spot for his advanced bat in the big league lineup in 2019.

NL West

D-backs: Taylor Widener, RHP
Widener has made a very successful transition from reliever to starter and has put his 2015 elbow surgery in his rear-view mirror with two successful, and healthy, seasons in 2017 and 2018. This last year was his first with the D-backs and he led the system in ERA and strikeouts, while holding Southern League hitters to a .197 batting average against.

Dodgers: Alex Verdugo, OF
One of the best pure hitters in the Minors, Verdugo also offers developing power, a strong arm and the ability to play anywhere in the outfield. The only thing holding him back from being a slam-dunk Rookie of the Year candidate is a clear opening in the crowded Dodgers lineup.

Giants: Chris Shaw, OF
The best power hitter in the Giants system, Shaw made his first big league home run a tape-measure shot: 468 feet off a Seunghwan Oh slider. As of now, he looks like the frontrunner to start in left field for San Francisco.

Padres: Luis Urias, 2B/SS
Urias reached the Majors late in August and showed that he can do a little bit of everything before a groin injury prematurely ended his season after just 12 games. Assuming he's on the Padres' Opening Day roster, the 21-year-old could have an early advantage in the ROY based his ability to hit near the top of an order and make everyday contributions on both sides of the ball.

Rockies: Brendan Rodgers, SS
With DJ LeMahieu set to depart as a free agent, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 Draft is ready to replace him at second base. He has more offensive potential than most middle infielders and the versatility to play anywhere in the infield that he's needed.

Watch: Rodger hammers a solo blast

Kennedy pitches in at homeless shelter in KC

Veteran passes out pre-Thanksgiving meals for third straight year at City Union Mission
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- On Tuesday, for the third straight November, Royals right-hander Ian Kennedy went to the City Union Mission to help distribute a pre-Thanksgiving Day meal for the homeless.

Kennedy helped serve nearly 200 meals to poverty-stricken and homeless men and women.

KANSAS CITY -- On Tuesday, for the third straight November, Royals right-hander Ian Kennedy went to the City Union Mission to help distribute a pre-Thanksgiving Day meal for the homeless.

Kennedy helped serve nearly 200 meals to poverty-stricken and homeless men and women.

"Personally, I really look forward to coming here every year, just meeting the City [Union] Mission people and some of the guys here," Kennedy said. "Today, they've been asking me where my kids are, because I usually bring one or two of my kids. Hopefully I will keep doing this when I retire one day."

Those receiving meals gave a hearty applause to Kennedy for his dedication after the pre-meal prayer. But Kennedy said he gets as much satisfaction out of the day as anyone else.

"I just enjoy the spirit of these people," Kennedy said. "They're mostly just grinding through life. They've had a tough go of it. Some guys are just as happy as can be, and are optimistic, but you pray over all of them. Some guys are more open to talk about it, some aren't. Some like talking baseball. Some say they'd like to hit off me. I said, 'Well, a lot of people would.'"

Kennedy's efforts aren't limited to one day per year: he spends at least one day per month at various Mission Centers across the Kansas City area.

"The Mission has become part of our monthly routine, especially the Family Center," Kennedy said. "[My wife] Allison will bring crafts for whatever holiday is near for the Family Center. It's always fun and we look forward to it."

Since 1924, the City Union Mission has provided warm beds, nutritious food and a safe place for thousands of homeless men, women and children in the Kansas City area. The ministry relies solely on support from individuals, churches, foundations, organizations and businesses.

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

Kansas City Royals, Ian Kennedy

Heath scores pair of runs, goes 2-for-5 in AFL

MLB.com

Here's a team-by-team breakdown of how all 30 teams' prospects fared in Arizona Fall League action on Thursday:

• Gameday: Mesa 11, Surprise 10 | Peoria 2, Scottsdale 1 | Glendale 4, Salt River 2

Here's a team-by-team breakdown of how all 30 teams' prospects fared in Arizona Fall League action on Thursday:

• Gameday: Mesa 11, Surprise 10 | Peoria 2, Scottsdale 1 | Glendale 4, Salt River 2

AL East

Blue Jays (Surprise)
Blue Jays No. 22 prospect Santiago Espinal was 1-for-4 with a two-run single. Shawn Morimando started and lasted three innings, allowing five runs (three earned) on seven hits with a strikeout and a walk.

Orioles (Glendale)
Martin Cervenka went 2-for-4 and scored a run, and Jay Flaa pitched one clean inning, only allowing a walk.

Rays (Peoria)
Rays No. 7 prospect Ronaldo Hernandez hit a walk-off single to give Peoria a 2-1, come-from-behind victory. Matt Krook pitched three shutout innings in relief, striking out five while scattering two hits. No. 9 prospect Lucius Fox was 0-for-3 with a walk.

Red Sox (Mesa)
Third baseman Bobby Dalbec, the Red Sox's No. 6 prospect, crushed a two-run homer, his third this fall season, going 1-for-5.

Yankees (Glendale)
Yankees No. 2 prospect Estevan Florial reached base three times, going 1-for-2 with two walks and a run scored. Steven Sensley provided the game-winning hit for Glendale with his two-run triple in the bottom of the eighth. 

AL Central

Indians (Glendale)
Connor Marabell collect an RBI triple in the top of the first inning, scored a run and finished 1-for-4. Indians No. 6 prospect Yu Chang went 1-for-4. On the mound, Rob Kamisky threw 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief before Dalbert Siri threw two-thirds of an inning to get the win.

Royals (Surprise)
Royals No. 2 prospect Khalil Lee went 1-for-5, and Nick Heath went 2-for-5, each scoring a pair of runs.

Tigers (Mesa)
Tigers No. 8 prospect Daz Cameron had multiple hits for the fourth time in his last five games, going 3-for-5, including a double and an RBI single. Jake Rogers (No. 12) hit a walk-off single to give Mesa the 11-10 victory. Daniel Pinero was 0-for-3 with a pair of walks and two runs, and No. 14 prospect Gregory Soto made the start, allowing two runs on two hits as he struck out six in four innings.

Twins (Salt River)
Griffin Jax started for the Rafters and gave up two runs over four innings. Hector Lujan pitched an 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief, and Adam Bray threw one scoreless frame.

White Sox (Glendale)
White Sox No. 9 prospect Luis Alexander Basabe scored a run and finished 1-for-5 for the Desert Dogs. Zach Thompson secured the win with his scoreless ninth-inning relief.

AL West

A's (Mesa)
A's No. 30 prospect Skye Bolt had a perfect day at the plate, hitting two doubles and walking three times as he plated two runs and scored three. Sam Sheehan pitched a perfect seventh, and Calvin Coker was charged with five unearned runs in the eighth.

Angels (Mesa)
David Mackinnon hit a two-run double as part of a 2-for-5 day, and Brett Hanewich allowed an unearned run on two hits in his inning of relief. Ryan Clark earned his first win of the fall despite allowing two runs in the ninth.

Astros (Scottsdale)
Astros No. 2 prospect Forrest Whitley was stellar in his five-inning start, allowing only one hit while striking out nine. Drew Ferguson went 2-for-4 with a double, while Erasmo Pinales took his second loss of the fall after allowing two runs in 1 1/3 innings. More »

Mariners (Peoria)
David McKay earned his second win of the fall after striking out two in a scoreless ninth inning. Chris Mariscal was 1-for-3 with a walk, and Joe DeCarlo and No. 20 prospect Ian Miller were a combined 0-for-4.

Rangers (Surprise)
Charles Leblanc was 2-for-5 and hit a game-tying two-run single in the ninth, but Joe Barlow took the loss after allowing the walk-off single in the bottom of the frame. Joe Kuzia also didn't fare well, allowing five runs in two-thirds of an inning.

NL East

Braves (Peoria)
Braves No. 6 prospect Cristian Pache was 1-for-3 with a walk and his third stolen base, and also recorded an outfield assist when he doubled a runner off of first base in the first inning. No. 23 prospect Izzy Wilson was 0-for-1 after entering as a pinch-hitter. Braxton Davidson was 0-for-3 with a walk and scored a run.

Marlins (Salt River)
It was a quiet day for Miami prospects as Marlins No. 12 prospect Brian Miller went 1-for-4, and Chad Smith took the loss, allowing two runs on three hits in two-thirds of an inning.

Phillies (Scottsdale)
Austin Listi was 3-for-4 with an RBI double to extend his hitting streak to four games. Darick Hall was 0-for-3 with a walk, and Luke Williams was 0-for-4.

Nationals (Salt River)
Nationals No. 2 prospect Carter Kieboom went 0-for-3 with a walk. Ben Braymer worked a scoreless inning of relief, striking out one and allowing one hit. Daniel Johnson (No. 7) finished the day 0-for-4

Mets (Scottsdale)
Top Mets prospect Andrew Gimenez and No. 11 prospect Desmond Lindsay combined to go 0-for-6.

NL Central

Brewers (Peoria)
After entering the game as a defensive sub, Weston Wilson walked and tied the game with an RBI single as part of Peoria's game-winning rally in the ninth inning. That helped starter Bubba Derby, who allowed one run in five strong frames but was on track for the loss. Brewers No. 1 prospect Keston Hiura and No. 19 prospect Trent Grisham both went 0-for-3.

Cardinals (Surprise)
Cardinals No. 27 prospect Conner Greene helped steady the ship after the Surprise pitching staff coughed up 10 early runs, as he got four groundouts and a strikeout as part of two perfect innings out of the bullpen. Lane Thomas started Surprise's late rally with a two-run single in the eighth, while Andy Young doubled, walked and scored two runs. Jeremy Martinez was 1-for-4 with a run.

Cubs (Mesa)
Cubs No. 6 prospect Nico Hoerner led Mesa hitters with three RBIs, as he doubled twice and hit a two-run single to hit safely in his fourth consecutive game. DJ Wilson (No. 16) added a double and a run, and Trent Giambrone (No. 29) walked twice. Manuel Rondon pitched a perfect fifth inning. More »

Pirates (Surprise)
Pirates No. 16 prospect Will Craig mashed his sixth homer of the fall, a three-run shot, to cap a five-run rally in the eighth. Bryan Reynolds (No. 8) was 0-for-3 with a walk, and Cole Tucker (No. 5) didn't hit after entering as a pinch-runner in the ninth. Geoff Hartlieb walked two in 1 1/3 scoreless innings.

Reds (Scottsdale)
Mark Kolozsvary hit his second double of the fall and was 1-for-4, while No. 23 propsect Alfredo Rodriguez was 1-for-3.

NL West

D-backs (Salt River)
The D-backs' No. 3 prospect, Jazz Chisholm, reached base three times, tallying two hits and a walk, and scored a run from the leadoff spot in the Rafters' lineup. D-back's No. 5 prospect Daulton Varsho finished 0-for-2, then was substiutted out. Pavin Smith (No. 4) finished the day 0-for-3 with a walk, and Drew Ellis went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts

Giants (Scottsdale)
Chase Johnson tossed his eighth consecutive scoreless appearance, allowing one hit in two innings, while striking out four. Giants No. 28 prospect CJ Hinojosa was 0-for-3 with a walk.

Padres (Peoria)
Padres No. 23 prospect Hudson Potts was 0-for-2.

Dodgers (Glendale)
Dodgers No. 20 prospect Errol Robinson and Cody Thomas each had 1-for-4 performances. Jared Walker finished 1-for-3 with a walk.

Rockies (Salt River)
Josh Fuentes launched a two-run home run, his only hit of the day (1-for-4), to put the Rafters ahead 2-0 in the top of the first inning. Rockies No. 9 prospect Sam Hilliard went 0-for-4.

Q&A with Royals outfield prospect Heath

Lefty hitter flashes speed at Double-A Northwest Arkansas
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- Royals general manager Dayton Moore and his staff always have been on the lookout for speed and athleticism.

And that's what attracted them to 24-year-old Nick Heath, a left-handed-hitting burner, who was selected in the 16th round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of Northwestern State (La.). Heath can play all outfield positions, but he excels as a center fielder.

KANSAS CITY -- Royals general manager Dayton Moore and his staff always have been on the lookout for speed and athleticism.

And that's what attracted them to 24-year-old Nick Heath, a left-handed-hitting burner, who was selected in the 16th round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of Northwestern State (La.). Heath can play all outfield positions, but he excels as a center fielder.

Heath has a .350 on-base percentage through three professional seasons and he has swiped 100 bags. After he dominated at Class A Advanced Wilmington (.397 on-base percentage, 29 steals) in 54 games last season, he was promoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas.

MLB.com caught up with Heath in a recent phone interview:

MLB.com: Clearly you inherited your speed gene from your mother, Kimberly, who ran the 100-meter hurdles at the 1988 Olympic Trials (14.04 seconds) for Team USA. At what point in your life did you finally feel brave enough to race her?

Heath: "I was about 14 years old, my freshman year in high school. I used to go on these little two-mile jogs around the neighborhood. One day, she told me she wanted to join me. So, we get done with the two-mile jog and I'm just kind of cooling off about a block from our house. So I ask my mom, 'How far do you think we are from the house.' And she said, 'I don't know, maybe about 40-50 yards.' And I said, 'You want to race now?' And she said, 'I don't want to embarrass you.' And I said, 'You're not going to embarrass me.' So she said, 'Let's go.' She counted it off and we started running. After about five steps, she was a blur. [Laughing] I mean, I really had to make up the ground, but I beat her. And she said, 'That's the last time I'm ever going to race you.'"

MLB.com: Did you get grounded?

Heath: "[Laughs]. Nah. But she likes to say now that I just got lucky, that she wasn't prepared. But when she was racing back in the day, she was unbelievable. I hear so many people back home talk about how she ran in high school and college, and was just incredible. I learned so much from her. You can call me a mama's boy, but I owe her so much. She's the best."

MLB.com: You got some great experience and had some success in the Arizona Fall League (.339 average, 11 steals in 17 games). Were you working on anything specifically?

Heath: "I'm trying to be a little more aggressive at the plate, less timid. I'm trying not to be as selective as I have been in the past. I think right now, my biggest thing is attacking the fastball early in the count when I know guys aren't going to try to slip me anything. Just learning what pitchers do, how defenses play me. It's all helping."

MLB.com: You also got your first taste of Double-A this season. Tell us about that:

Heath: "When I first got there, I was kind of tearing it up. I wanted to show those guys what I was capable of, that I belonged there, that I can play with them. It opened my eyes to what I'm capable of doing. It gave me more confidence, a little more swagger at the plate. I'm anxious for 2019."

MLB.com: You have some Kansas ties, spent time in Junction City, right?

Heath: "I did, but I grew up in Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. I was born in Decatur, Georgia. I think we moved to Kansas when I was about eight or nine. My mom moved to Kansas and we lived with my grandparents for a little while."

MLB.com: Were you a Royals fan once you got to Kansas?

Heath: "No, I was definitely a Braves fan. I remember watching the games with my dad [Harvey] as a kid. My big thing was watching Andruw Jones. I loved watching him. My dad would always say, 'Watch him. Watch how he plays.' Andruw Jones was absolutely amazing. Growing up, I watched a lot of him and a lot of Chipper [Jones]. When I got a little older, I watched a lot of [Jeff] Francoeur. It was awesome watching all those guys."

MLB.com: Did you go to any games at Kauffman Stadium?

Heath: "No, I actually didn't go to my first Royals game until after they drafted me. But you know, I was just a huge Atlanta fan. I loved the Falcons, I loved the Braves, I loved the Hawks, even though they haven't been good for a while."

MLB.com: Any players in today's game you model yourself after?

Video: Nick Heath discusses his speed at the Fall League

Heath: "Well, that's a funny story. Someone asked me that a couple of weeks ago, and the first name that came to mind was Kevin Pillar. And then the next name was Kevin Kiermaier. But like the day after that conversation, our manager talked to us in the clubhouse and said there was going to be a Major Leaguer playing with us today [in the AFL], so just treat him like the rest of us and don't overwhelm him with questions. I didn't think much of it at the time. So, we all go out to the outfield before the game and I kind of have my head down, and I see a guy out there and I introduce myself, and he says his name is Kevin. I said, 'Kevin what?' And he was like, 'Pillar.' And I thought, 'You got to be kidding me. You got to be joking.' He was there just getting loose before he went on that tour in Japan. Of course, all I did was try to pick his brain and ask him a million questions. He was really nice.

"Hitting hasn't really been my strong point so I've always taken a lot of pride with my defense. So it was unbelievable that I got to practice with him, shag with him. I just kept asking questions and then I said, 'Am I annoying you?' And he said I wasn't."

MLB.com: You mentioned your hitting. What will be the key moving forward?

Heath: "I think what they want me to do the most is just use my speed. Get on base, cause havoc, create a lot of distress. Whether it's walking or bunting, or hitting through the shift, whatever. Just get on base and use that speed."

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

Kansas City Royals

Whit, MLB All-Stars host youth clinic in Japan

MLB.com @alysonfooter

TOKYO -- Major League Baseball's ongoing commitment to its youth outreach programs, coupled with its desire to continue to grow the game globally, has been a running theme throughout the current Japan All-Star Series.

While much of the focus of the tournament is directed toward the on-field play between the Major League All-Stars and Samurai Japan, the youth element is always present, as was the case Saturday at the Tokyo Dome, hours before Game 2 of the six-game tournament.

View Full Game Coverage

TOKYO -- Major League Baseball's ongoing commitment to its youth outreach programs, coupled with its desire to continue to grow the game globally, has been a running theme throughout the current Japan All-Star Series.

While much of the focus of the tournament is directed toward the on-field play between the Major League All-Stars and Samurai Japan, the youth element is always present, as was the case Saturday at the Tokyo Dome, hours before Game 2 of the six-game tournament.

View Full Game Coverage

Twenty-six middle-school kids, ages 13 to 14, were invited onto the field to participate in a baseball clinic with several members of the Major League All-Star team.

A foursome of Whit Merrifield, Rhys Hoskins, Enrique Hernandez and Ronald Acuna Jr. held a station-by-station tutorial in the outfield area of the Dome, an exercise designed to help the kids further develop their basic baseball skills.

Video: MLB stars run clinic, spend time with young players

"Their fundamentals were really impressive," Merrifield said. "It's not even close to where I was at that age. It was quite impressive, and hopefully, they can keep the desire to get better and continue to improve and play on this field someday."

The event was hosted by the U.S. Embassy, in conjunction with a campaign titled "Go For the Gold," which pairs participating countries in the Olympics with schools in various cities in Japan, the host country of the 2020 Summer Olympics.

The United States was paired with Setagaya, an area outside of Tokyo, and it has focused on both sports and educational-related activities, all of which will be held in advance of, and leading up to, the 2020 Games.

Saturday's clinic on the field at the Tokyo Dome was just one activity planned around the "Go For Gold" initiative. Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky's visit to Setagaya three months ago, when she held a clinic for young Japanese swimmers at a pool in the city, was another.

At the baseball clinic, the young ballplayers were given an up-close view of the four Major Leaguers, who presented their tutorials with help from interpreters who were positioned at each station.

Hoskins, explaining to the kids that he plays both the infield and the outfield for the Phillies, asked them specifically which positions they played, and he offered his expertise in ensuring their approach is the most efficient and accurate as their play in the field.

"These kids are a lot more fundamentally sound than I was [when I was a kid]," Hoskins said. "It's quite obvious that the passion they have for baseball is quite high. That's really cool to see at such a young age."

At the end of the clinic, the players presented the players with gifts, as is customary in Japan when people from different nations meet in a gesture of goodwill.

"I was a kid with big dreams once, and I know how much it means for kids to be here and it's something that they'll never forget," Hernandez said. "I wish we had some more time with them, so we could do a little more with them. You can tell they had a lot of fun. At the end of the day, this is why we play. The kids are our future, and we know how big this is for them."

The clinic was actually the second event of the day for the foursome. The afternoon began with a visit to the MLB Cafe, an officially licensed restaurant located adjacent to the Tokyo Dome.

The venue offers the general experience one would find in a typical upscale sports bar -- libations, food and large-screen televisions to watch games. It's fair to say the restaurant, which opened three years ago, had never actually hosted an actual Major League player. That changed on Saturday, when the four players filed into the main room for a meet-and-greet with the lunchtime crowd.

The event included a question-and-answer session, in addition to the opportunity to meet the players through a raffle.

Each player pulled names out of a box, lottery style, and the winners were gifted with a variety of baseballs and jerseys, autographed by the players.

Video: Hoskins, Hernandez on what it's like to play in Japan

"The fans have been amazing so far," Hernandez said to the crowd. "Japan has always been a place that I have wanted to come visit. I get to experience this amazing culture that you have here. Playing at the Tokyo Dome has been great."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Watch Merrifield explore Tokyo sights, food

The Japan All-Star Series gives Major League baseball players the opportunity to take the field and compete against some of the best players Japan has to offer -- but it also gives them a chance to visit Japan and take in its local culture.

Over the weekend, Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins and Royals utility man Whit Merrifield, both part of the MLB contingent of players taking part in the Series, hit the town together for a few hours. What resulted was basically a short travel film, as they indulged in authentic Japanese street food, took in the sights and posed for some photos in kimonos -- just as some of their MLB colleagues did earlier in the trip

Salvy earns second Silver Slugger Award

MLB.com @castrovince

The list of 2018 American League and National League Silver Slugger Award winners announced on Thursday night on MLB Network includes quite a few past recipients of the offense-based honor. Most notably, Mike Trout won for the sixth time, Jose Altuve for the fifth, and Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado for the fourth apiece.

But the list also includes the first two-time winner … within the same season. J.D. Martinez's selection as both a designated hitter and an outfielder makes him the first player in the 39-year history of the award, which is presented annually by Louisville Slugger, to win two Silver Sluggers in the same year.

The list of 2018 American League and National League Silver Slugger Award winners announced on Thursday night on MLB Network includes quite a few past recipients of the offense-based honor. Most notably, Mike Trout won for the sixth time, Jose Altuve for the fifth, and Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado for the fourth apiece.

But the list also includes the first two-time winner … within the same season. J.D. Martinez's selection as both a designated hitter and an outfielder makes him the first player in the 39-year history of the award, which is presented annually by Louisville Slugger, to win two Silver Sluggers in the same year.

• All-time Silver Slugger Award winners

MLB managers and coaches fill in their blank Silver Slugger ballots at the conclusion of the regular season and are not allowed to vote for players on their own team. It's not unusual for players to receive votes at multiple positions, though that usually works to the detriment of a player's chances of winning. Martinez's exceptional year, in which he spent 62 percent of his time at DH and the other 38 in the corner outfield for the World Series champion Red Sox, created an exception all its own.

Here is the full list of winners for 2018:

Video: Perez wins his second career Silver Slugger Award

CATCHER
AL winner: Salvador Perez, Royals (second Silver Slugger Award)

Perez, who also won a Silver Slugger in 2016, was the only AL catcher to notch enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, and he repeated the career highs he set in 2017 with 27 homers and 80 RBIs. The Indians' Yan Gomes led AL catchers in OPS (.762) but in 107 fewer at-bats than Perez (.713 OPS).

Video: J.T. Realmuto wins Silver Slugger at catcher

NL winner: J.T. Realmuto, Marlins (first)

A much-discussed trade candidate of late, Realmuto led all qualifying catchers with his career-best .825 OPS while hitting 21 homers, 30 doubles and three triples.

Video: Jose Abreu wins second career Silver Slugger Award

FIRST BASE
AL winner: Jose Abreu, White Sox (second)

In a down year for productivity for AL first basemen, Abreu recaptured the award he last won in his rookie season of 2014. He had a .265/.325/.473 slash with 22 homers, 36 doubles and 78 RBIs.

Video: Goldschmidt takes home fourth Silver Slugger Award

NL winner: Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs (fourth)

A four-time Silver Slugger, Goldschmidt took an un-Goldschmidt-like .198 batting average into play on May 23 but wound up with a very-Goldschmidt-like .290/.389/.533 slash with 33 homers, 35 doubles and five triples by season's end. His .922 OPS was 25 points higher than any other qualifying first baseman in the Majors.

Video: Jose Altuve wins 5th career Silver Slugger Award

SECOND BASE
AL winner: Jose Altuve, Astros (fifth)

Beset by injury, Altuve endured a significant step down from his 2017 MVP numbers but will take home hardware anyway. He led all full-time AL second basemen in batting average (.316) and OPS (.837).

Video: Javier Baez wins Silver Slugger Award at second

NL winner: Javier Baez, Cubs (first)

Baez had the potential to invite the same positional vote split as Martinez because he made 75 starts at second and 52 at short (with another 18 at third). Wherever he played, he was one of the most productive players in the league, with an RBI total (111) that trailed only that of Martinez and the A's Khris Davis. Additionally, his .290 average, .326 on-base percentage, .554 slugging percentage, 34 homers, 40 doubles, nine triples and 21 steals were all career bests.

Video: Lindor gets his second career Silver Slugger Award

SHORTSTOP
AL winner: Francisco Lindor, Indians (second)

Lindor continued to assert himself in a field of electric AL shortstops with his second Silver Slugger Award in as many seasons. He tied for the Major League lead in runs (129) and became the first shortstop in MLB history with at least 35 homers (he hit 38), 40 doubles (he hit 42) and 20 stolen bases (he swiped 25) in a single season.

Video: Story earns first career Silver Slugger Award

NL winner: Trevor Story, Rockies (first)

Story made shortstop history of his own. With 37 homers, 42 doubles and 27 steals (all career bests), he became the first shortstop with a 40-double, 30-homer, 25-steal season. He drove in 108 runs, and his .914 OPS was the best of any qualified shortstop in the bigs.

Video: Ramirez wins second career Silver Slugger award

THIRD BASE
AL winner: Jose Ramirez, Indians (second)

Ramirez leads all MLB players in extra-base hits over the last two seasons (172) and, appropriately, has been named a Silver Slugger winner both years. He finished fourth among all AL players in slugging (.552), OPS (.939), RBIs (105), runs (110), total bases (319) and homers (39). He and Lindor are the first Indians teammates to win back-to-back Silver Sluggers since Roberto Alomar and Manny Ramirez in 1999-2000.

Video: Arenado wins fourth career Silver Slugger Award

NL winner: Nolan Arenado, Rockies (fourth)

If Arenado were only busy collecting his six straight Gold Gloves, he'd be an impactful player. But he's mixed in four straight Silver Slugger seasons, too. For the third time in the last four years, he led the NL in homers (38), and his .935 OPS and 111 RBIs were the best among NL third basemen.

OUTFIELD
AL winners: Mookie Betts, Red Sox (second); Mike Trout, Angels (sixth); J.D. Martinez, Red Sox (second, third)

Aaron Judge's second-half wrist injury opened the door for Martinez, who had 219 at-bats as an outfielder vs. 350 as a DH, to command a higher vote tally here. Martinez previously won a Silver Slugger with the Tigers in 2015 (as an outfielder). His overall numbers were what earned him his votes in 2018, but it's worth noting that his numbers as an outfielder (.384/.450/.680 slash) were actually even better than his numbers as a DH (.297/.373/.597).

Video: J.D. Martinez wins second career Silver Slugger award

Martinez is not the first player to receive votes at multiple positions in the same season. In fact, it happened a few times this year. Ramirez got votes at second base and third base in AL, while Baez got votes at second base at shortstop in the NL. They ended up winning at third and second, respectively. Meanwhile, Oakland's Davis got votes in the outfield and at DH in the AL but didn't win at either spot.

Betts and Trout, meanwhile, were no-brainers.

Video: Mike Trout wins his sixth career Silver Slugger Award

Trout, who has now collected a Silver Slugger in six of the seven seasons in which he's qualified for the batting title, led all qualified hitters in the Majors in OPS (1.088), and Betts was second (1.078). Trout's OPS and OPS+ (199) were both the best of his Cooperstown-worthy career.

Video: Mookie Betts sets records on way to Silver Slugger

Betts' .346 average was the best in the Majors by 16 points, and he tied Lindor for the Major League lead in runs (129). Betts, who also won a Silver Slugger in 2016, joined Ramirez in becoming baseball's first 30-homer, 30-steal players since 2012.

NL winners: Christian Yelich, Brewers (second); David Peralta, D-backs (first); Nick Markakis, Braves (first)

Yelich already won the NL Hank Aaron Award and now adds his second Silver Slugger. Yelich led the NL in average (.326), slugging (.598), OPS (1.000) and total bases (343), hit for the cycle against the Reds twice (becoming the first to do so against the same team), and finished two homers and one RBI shy of the first NL Triple Crown in 81 years.

So he was an easy selection, whereas Peralta and Markakis (both first-time winners) had a lot of competition for this honor.

Video: Peralta wins first career Silver Slugger Award

Peralta hit a career-high 30 homers, and his .868 OPS ranked fourth among NL qualifiers in the outfield.

Video: Nick Markakis takes Silver Slugger Award in outfield

Markakis had a power surge in his age-34 season, with his highest slugging (.440) and homer total (14) since 2012 and his highest doubles total (43) since 2010.

Video: J.D. first ever to win 2 Silver Sluggers in 1 season

DESIGNATED HITTER
AL winner: J.D. Martinez, Red Sox (second, third)

As noted, Martinez saw the bulk of his playing time here (93 of his 150 games). Overall, he led the Majors in RBIs (130) and total bases (358) while finishing second in homers (43). His .330 average was nearly 40 points higher than his career norm, and his .402 OBP was nearly 50 points higher.

Video: German Marquez wins Silver Slugger Award at pitcher

PITCHER
NL winner: German Marquez, Rockies (first)

Pitchers are obviously graded on a steep curve here. In a year in which pitchers, as a whole, posted an ugly slash line, Marquez hit .300/.300/.350 in 65 plate appearances (his .650 OPS was the highest of any pitcher with at least 35 plate appearances). His homer off a position player (Daniel Descalso) -- a true role reversal if ever there was one -- likely stuck in the minds of voters.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Q&A with Royals No. 21 prospect Hicklen

Outfielder's back-and-forth season culminated in championship win with Class A Lexington
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Outfielder Brewer Hicklen, the Royals' No. 21 prospect, endured one of the strangest years of his young athletic life in 2018 -- and that's actually saying something, considering his college career. But come next Spring Training, Hicklen -- along with the rest of the Class A Lexington Legends -- will be rewarded with a championship ring.

The path to get there wasn't exactly traditional.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Outfielder Brewer Hicklen, the Royals' No. 21 prospect, endured one of the strangest years of his young athletic life in 2018 -- and that's actually saying something, considering his college career. But come next Spring Training, Hicklen -- along with the rest of the Class A Lexington Legends -- will be rewarded with a championship ring.

The path to get there wasn't exactly traditional.

MLB.com sat down with Hicklen, 22, a second-round pick in the 2017 Draft, at the team's recent instructional league.

MLB.com: What a crazy season -- you got held back out of Spring Training because of a numbers game, then you were finally sent to Lexington, then you were promoted to Class A Advanced Wilmington, then you were demoted to Lexington, then you won a championship. Take us through that.

Hicklen: It was a roller coaster, no doubt. Held back here, then to Lexington, then up to Wilmington for a month then back to Lexington to ride along for the championship.

Being held back, that was honestly the first time in my life that I'd been told, "No," and had a door shut in my face. Like all of us in the system, coming through high school and college, we were the best athletes growing up. And that's what happened here -- just all these good athletes ahead of me. But that's life. It gave me a chance to take a step back and realize God still had his hand on me. I needed to make the most of my opportunity after that. It's all about how you respond.

MLB.com: How did you handle it emotionally?

Hicklen: I'm not going to lie -- I struggled for about a week because I was so depressed. I was having a hard time. Then when I got to Lexington, first 20 at-bats, I think I struck out 13 times. I was pressing, trying to do too much. I needed to trust the work I had put in. But the three months after that, it was just good competitive baseball. That's all you can ask for.

MLB.com: Looked like you kind of scuffled at Wilmington, hitting .211 in 22 games.

Hicklen: When I got promoted to Wilmington in the middle of July, I hit a wall up there, too. Swing didn't feel good, but that's baseball. It doesn't always feel good. I had to make some adjustments. I figur