Last year, the Royals combined for 78 steals to tie with the Chicago White Sox for 10th in the A.L. Third baseman Alex Gordon was Kansas City's top threat to swipe a base, finishing his rookie season with 14 stolen bases in 18 attempts.
As a team, Kansas City's total last year was actually an increase over the previous three seasons. During 2006, the Royals tied for eighth in the A.L. with 65 stolen bases, while the 2005 Royals established a franchise-record low total of only 53, and they had 67 thefts during 2004. So it's been four years since Kansas City has reached triple-digits for stolen bases, something that has been accomplished 32 times in the organization's 39-year history.
First-year Royals manager Trey Hillman isn't going to stand for another meager season running the bases, and if Kansas City's first six Cactus League games are an indication, the Royals will be doing everything they can to become more aggressive on the basepaths once again.
Through those six games, the Royals have stolen 12 bases, with outfielder Joey Gathright leading the way with an MLB-best six steals in six attempts.
Gathright, long considered one of the game's fastest players, has struggled to steal bases at the Major League level. In four seasons with Tampa Bay (2004-06) and Kansas City (2006-present), Gathright has stolen 57 bases in 80 attempts, despite the fact that he was 196-for-256 in six Minor League seasons.
Gathright recently stated that he'd like to steal 30 bases for the Royals in 2008, a goal which seems very attainable if he can continue swiping bases like he has during Spring Training.
Kansas City hasn't had a legitimate threat on the basepaths since Carlos Beltran was traded during the 2004 season. Beltran had just 14 steals for the Royals that season, but he stole a team-leading 41 bases in 2003, when Kansas City finished 3rd in the A.L. with 120 steals.
In addition to Gathright and Gordon, left fielder Mark Teahen (13), infielder Esteban German (11), and center fielder David DeJesus (10) all reached double-digit steal totals in 2007. Teahen is considered one of the Royals' top baserunners, and has the potential to reach 20+ steals.
Due to the Royals' lack of power -- KC ranked last in the A.L. in home runs and slugging percentage in 2007 -- the team is going to have to figure out other ways to manufacture runs in 2008. Hillman would like to see his team be more aggressive running the bases, as well as more adept at advancing runners via sacrifice hits.
With Gathright, Gordon, and Teahen leading the way, an exciting Kansas City team might steal its way into the hearts of Royals fans in 2008.
Joey Gathright Photo Credit: Charlie Riedel/AP