'It creates focus': Royals debut new infield drill

February 22nd, 2024

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Royals infield coach José Alguacil is hiding three baseballs in his glove, so the players standing in front of him and the machine he’s working with don’t catch what color the balls are. Two are dyed pink, one is blue.

Which color shoots out of the ground-ball machine dictates how the player fields it.

On Thursday, blue means they are backhanding it with their glove. Pink means they’re forehanding it.

“It’s going to help them track the ball from the point of contact,” Alguacil said. “It creates focus from the players, and they’re going to be aggressive. I’m trying to increase that range. There’s a little hesitation, but that’s good.

"It’s a drill, but then we go to reality and what we want it to be in the game. I want these guys to be ready. There’s a lot that this one involves: Reaction, quickness, all that kind of stuff.”

Alguacil is entering his second year coaching the Royals’ infield, which showed massive growth in 2023. became one of the American League’s best shortstops after committing 19 errors his rookie season. He and second baseman grew into a solid double-play duo up the middle, and Massey saw his defensive metrics improve over the course of the season.

Third baseman had played just 10 games at third base before he came up in May to play the hot corner, and not only did he stick there, but he excelled there. His 13 Outs Above Average led AL third basemen and ranked second in all of baseball.

“[Alguacil] is the reason,” Garcia said. “He was there to help me get used to third [base], a new position for me. I appreciated him a lot last year. He is the reason I was good over there.”

Always trying to think of new ways to challenge the players in their work, Alguacil knew he wanted to bring some new drills into Spring Training this year to help his players increase their range, reaction and first-step quickness. He came up with the one involving different-colored baseballs at the end of last year, but refrained from introducing it during the regular season so as not to mess with routines.

Spring Training gives him a unique opportunity to try new drills while players aren’t so focused on a regular season game each night, so he brought the box of dyed baseballs with him to Arizona.

“He broke this one out literally three days ago,” Massey said. “It’s interesting. You start thinking about ways we can get better, and this one helps us get a better jump on the ball, your brain picks up.”

The purpose of the drill is to help increase a player’s reaction time from the ball’s contact point on the bat. If he gets a good read, he’ll be quicker and cleaner to field it and make the out. Several infielders are working on their first-step action with Alguacil, and this drill helps that, too. For example, Garcia has had to learn to not charge balls as much as when he was at shortstop because grounders typically come in harder at third.

As players get comfortable with it, Alguacil plans on moving the machine closer to them, so the reaction time will have to be quicker.

“Never done that before,” Witt said. “It was good. Just to get your reactions going and make it harder out here than it is in the game, so when the game starts, it’s even easier. This one gets your mind thinking, too.”

And it’s fun. The Royals feed off Alguacil’s energy and typically make some sort of competition out of their work to increase the intensity. There are ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ for good plays. There are some jabs taken, too.

“Take notes, boys,” first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino said after a particularly good pick. And when his turn was over: “Class is now over.”

Alguacil loves it -- just because it’s challenging doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.

“It’s a game,” Alguacil said. “I don’t try to make this work. I want them to have fun, and you saw everybody came through today. I’ll come up with more stuff. This field is like a playground.”

Worth noting

• The Royals debuted their 2024 jerseys on Thursday during their workout, complete with the new QuikTrip patch on the arm sleeve.

• Right-hander Michael Wacha was scratched from his live BP session Thursday after dealing with some sickness overnight. He met with Royals doctors, and the team doesn’t expect him to miss much time. Outfielder Hunter Renfroe missed a day with illness earlier this week.