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Inbox: Who will lead the Royals in steals?

Beat reporter Jeffrey Flanagan answers questions from fans
February 6, 2019

KANSAS CITY -- Once again, another great week of questions from you Royals fans.So let's get straight to this week's Royals Inbox:

KANSAS CITY -- Once again, another great week of questions from you Royals fans.
So let's get straight to this week's Royals Inbox:

With all apologies to the Major League stolen base leader from last year, Whit Merrifield, I'm going to say Billy Hamilton will lead the team in steals, followed by Adalberto Mondesi, Merrifield and then Terrance Gore. Club officials have talked about the possibility of the team stealing 200-250 bags this season. There is a belief that Hunter Dozier is capable of 15-20 steals as well because he is deceptively fast. And if Brett Phillips makes the team and can get on base at a reasonable rate, he's another candidate to steal 20 or more.
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Gore will be the wild card -- they plan to give him plenty of opportunities as a late-inning pinch-running weapon. In theory, if he gets 80 or so opportunities, he could steal 50 bases because in many situations he's capable of stealing second and third base (that is his mentality). In any event, you're going to see a lot of running, whether it is stealing bases, hit and runs or just taking the extra base. This will be a motion team.

Merrifield is that rare talent that could hit anywhere from Nos. 1-6 because he can be a table setter and a run producer. But right now, manager Ned Yost likes the idea of Merrifield hitting leadoff. With Merrifield and Mondesi up top, it gives the Royals' lineup a quick-strike threat to open games.

Kyle Zimmer told me last fall and again last week there will be no limitations. I do expect him to start out competing for a bullpen job, though.

Well, I don't have a "favorite" so to speak. But I think an under-the-radar prospect that Royals fans should pay attention to is outfielder Nick Heath. He is very fast, a tremendous defender, and he showed in the Arizona Fall League that his bat is progressing. Heath, 25, led the AFL in stolen bases with 13 and hit .338 there with a .427 on-base percentage. He is coming on fast.

That question came up a lot at FanFest. Players and club officials are keenly aware that the team needs to get off to a better start this season. There is some suspicion, of course, that the late-season success occurred because the pressure was off. You can't flip a switch and say you're going to start the season hot, but it's going to be a focus.

Really good question. Brian Goodwin is a solid Major League player and he will be of valuable service to the Royals this season. If they stick to their theme of defense and speed, Phillips has a great chance to play regularly. But if Phillips, who has Minor League options, has a really bad spring offensively, the Royals wouldn't hesitate to use Goodwin or Jorge Bonifacio or Jorge Soler in right field. Soler has shown flashes of great defense as well, so that's a factor. That right-field spot will be a position battle to watch closely in camp.

I have heard a million theories. But the one that makes the most sense to me is that more and more, teams simply want to stay young. Is that the analytical departments reminding their clubs of the law of diminishing returns for older players? Perhaps.

I thought Yost and his staff handled Mondesi's playing time quite well last season. As you know, Mondesi has battled injuries throughout his career and the Royals simply wanted him to make it through a season injury-free. Mondesi started 26 games in September -- that's certainly not babying him. I wouldn't be surprised if Mondesi got 140-150 starts in 2019.

If the two Rule 5 Draft guys --  Sam McWilliams and Chris Ellis -- make the team, they'll have a similar path as Brad Keller did last year -- start in the bullpen and then determine if they are rotation candidates.

I get this question a lot. I do think there's a chance Richard Lovelady (the team's No. 13 prospect) can force the Royals' hand this spring. He doesn't have to go on the 40-man roster until next fall but it was interesting that general manager Dayton Moore dropped his name at FanFest when I asked him who the next Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera or Wade Davis might be.

The Royals know they need to find out if Dozier is their third baseman of the future. But there will be a lot of mixing and matching, as Yost loves to say. You'll see Chris Owings at third sometimes, Dozier at first against tough lefties, and so on. Down the road, I could see Merrifield going to left field or center, maybe as soon as 2020 when Alex Gordon and Hamilton's deals are both up. There's your opening at second base for Nicky Lopez.

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