by John Viril—
The Royals tinkered with 1B Eric Hosmer in right field during Thursday’s 8-3 victory over the Reds. While many might dismiss this as an insignificant spring training experiment, I see it as a clue to the club’s current thinking. In short, the brain trust is more concerned than they are letting on about Jeff Francoeur repeating last season’s dismal performance.
The front office would likely deny such an assertion. They would probably insist playing Hosmer in right field is exploring options to keep Billy Butler’s bat in the lineup for interleague games.
Francoeur has shown a strong platoon split throughout his career. The right handed hitting Francoeur mashes lefties and barely hits replacement level vs. right handers (.702 OPS vs RHP compared to .820 vs. LHP). Even if Francoeur struggles once again, he is still likely to be useful against left-handed pitching. The left-handed hitting Hosmer would be a viable platoon candidate for Francoeur, if the first baseman can handle RF.
Presumably, manager Ned Yost would then play DH Billy Butler at first base and use a left-handed bench player at DH. Current left-handed bench bats include reserve outfielder Jarrod Dyson, utility infielder Elliot Johnson and catcher George Kottaras—if he wins his battle with Brett Hayes for the backup catcher role. Other possibilities include playing Johnson or Miguel Tejada at first, and leaving Billy Butler’s below-average glove on the bench while he remains at DH.
Hosmer is a former high-school pitcher and possesses a right field kind of arm. The only real doubt about his ability to handle a corner outfield position involves his range. However, Hosmer has shown better-than-expected speed for a first baseman. Hosmer has stolen 27 bases in 33 attempts. He should be able to cover adequate ground with practice. Eric Hosmer in right field would be a cheap solution to the Royals biggest offensive concern.
Thursday’s Hosmer in right field experiment follows rumors from early March that the Royals were searching for outfield depth. These clues suggest that GM Dayton Moore is looking for an internal solution to a potential right field problem. This behavior fits with a “win-now” philosophy and is further proof that the team is moving away from the “development” mode.