Monday, February 18, 2008

Three-way Battle Behind the Plate

This is the first of a position-by-position look at the 2008 Kansas City Royals, as they begin full-squad Spring Training workouts on Tuesday in Surprise, AZ.

For John Buck, the 2007 season must have been frustrating, to say the least. It began with a very promising start -- as he batted .310/.410/.630, with eight home runs through May 23 -- but it ended with four sub-par months, which saw his final numbers plummet to a disappointing .222/.308/.429. He managed to hit 18 home runs to lead the team, but only four of those came during his final 60 games. In August, his picture was next to the word slumping in the dictionary, as he was 9-for-58 (.155), and five of those hits came in two games, which meant he was 4-for-50 (.080) in the other 19 games.

With the departure of 2007 backup catcher Jason LaRue, Kansas City once again signed a free agent catcher to provide competition behind the plate for Buck. Miguel Olivo, who hit .237 with 16 home runs and a career-best 60 RBI in 122 games for the Florida Marlins last year, will push Buck for the starting job. LaRue, who batted a dismal .148 last season, signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals (I'm snickering as I write that...).

Despite Buck's declining numbers to end 2007, he enters Spring Training as the starter, a position that was reinforced by new manager Trey Hillman prior to the start of official workouts.

Olivo signed with Kansas City with the understanding that he'd have a good shot at stealing the starting spot away from Buck. But Hillman stated that the job was Buck's to lose, and that he needs to maintain a certain level of productivity in order to keep his job, as it should be with any position.

However, Buck and Olivo are not set in stone on the roster yet, as six-year Minor League veteran Matt Tupman will get an opportunity to make an impression following a strong winter showing in the Dominican Winter Baseball League. Playing for Tigres del Licey, Tupman batted .293 with 12 RBI during the regular season, and earned the chance to start for his team in the Caribbean Series. He helped his team win the series with a 5-1 record by batting .353.

Tupman will likely open the season on the Royals' roster, as Olivo is facing a five-game suspension for his part in an altercation as a member of the Marlins late last season.

Competition is always good, and depth at catcher is something the Royals haven't had in recent years. Kansas City certainly doesn't have anything close to an All-Star behind the dish, but the combination of two of these three should be solid enough in 2008.

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