Matheny raves about Taylor, 2021 season

December 3rd, 2020

KANSAS CITY -- Royals manager Mike Matheny is expecting big things out of recently signed outfielder , specifically the type of player Taylor was in 2017, when he hit 19 home runs, stole 17 bases and posted an .806 OPS.

"I've seen him when he's been really good," Matheny told "I've seen the skill set. He can display power, and the power-speed combo you just don't see that much in today's game.

"You hope he can find the key to it all again, with a new environment. The message might be the same, but sometimes it helps coming from a different voice. I have a lot of confidence in our hitting instructors. I know our analytics people are already at work with this."

Matheny reiterated what general manager Dayton Moore said earlier this week, that Taylor will get the first crack at the starting job in center field.

"Yes, that's how we're approaching it," Matheny said. "It's something we tell all our people, too, that this is an opportunity. Go take it. Run with it.

"You've also got Edward [Olivares] out there. You've got . You've got , who I know wants to be included in that conversation. You have , [who was non-tendered but is expected to re-sign]. And I know that wants to be included as well."

For now, the Royals will eventually enter Spring Training with the possible scenario of having in left field, Taylor in center and Merrifield in right. Matheny raves about Merrifield as a right fielder.

"I do like him there, absolutely," Matheny said. "But I also like his versatility to play all three outfield positions, and I know he likes second base as well. It's such an advantage to have a player like Whit on your team who can move around anywhere."

Matheny also is adamant that he will enter Spring Training with the view that is his second baseman. Matheny still is in somewhat disbelief that Lopez didn't win an American League Gold Glove Award.

"I didn't think there was a better defender at second base in the league," Matheny said, "and I think the analytics backed that up. We talk a lot about being strong up the middle, and you can't get much better than [Adalberto Mondesi] and Nicky at short and second. We saw it so many times, how Nicky changed the game defensively. That's so important for a young pitching staff, to have that confidence in the players behind you.

"And yes, Nicky knows he needs to have better at-bats. That's a given. That will be his emphasis."

For now, too, is Matheny's choice at first base. Dozier finished the 2020 season there, but the non-tender of means Dozier could find himself back at third base, where his career with the Royals began.

"We told Hunter in the last week of the season to be prepared for anything in terms of a position," Matheny said, "and he was great with that. It was, 'How can I help this team?'

"But I do like him at first base. I have been certainly guilty in the past of undervaluing defense at first base, and I won't make that mistake again. Having great defense there has such an effect on everyone else in the infield, the chances they can take with throws, and then the confidence a pitching staff has that you can get outs when you're supposed to."

If Dozier winds up back at third, then and again would be in a battle for first base, at least until Nick Pratto, who is ranked the club's No. 12 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is ready in a year or two.

"Nick Pratto is the real deal," Matheny said. "When you watch him in the field, he could play defensively there in the big leagues right now. Very smooth, and his bat keeps getting better."

In regards to the rotation, an early projection of the rotation would be , , , and .

There has been no serious talk about moving Duffy to the bullpen.

"Yes, 100 percent, Danny is in our rotation," Matheny said. "That's the only conversation we've had with him. We need him to be a horse."

As for rookie right-hander , he will be viewed as a potential starter as well.

"After what we saw," Matheny said, "how can you not view him as a starter?"

Moore has often stated through the years that the Royals need to enter every Spring Training with eight or nine viable starting options. That is why the Royals have told right-hander , who finished the season by performing well in the bullpen, to get stretched out as a potential starter prior to camp.

But Junis' future seems destined as a potential late-inning reliever, something club officials have pondered for some time, considering his potent slider has proven extremely effective one time through the order.

As for the bullpen, much depends on if the Royals can re-sign .

Without Holland, the Royals would turn to , , and perhaps to potentially close out games.

"And I wouldn't rule out someone like ," Matheny said. "If you're talking just stuff, there are options. And you never know what young guy will come around. I tell you what, don't rule out someone like a , either. If he can get his mechanics back, get his velo back, his command, he's someone we see who could be a factor.

"And from what I saw in the Fall League, we've got a lot of young guys who could make big steps."