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Waters remain muddy as Royals search for answers

The Royals hoped going into 2012 that competition for most of their positions had come to an end. They hoped now they could focus on developing the players they had in place, growing into a competitive franchise. They hoped this was “Our Time.”

But over the last month, the exact opposite has occurred.

Granted, the Royals have played just 11 games, roughly the equivalent of one game in an NFL season. That’s hardly time to panic.

But what the team hoped would occur (or had occurred) has not come to pass. The waters that they hoped had been calmed have only been muddied.

I am tempted to say that nothing good has happened for the Royals this spring. That might not quite be true, but let’s take a look at the list of things that have taken place:

The Royals hoped the corner-position holdovers from last year would own their respective positions for the next half-decade. Instead Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Jeff Francoeur and Mike Moustakas have all started very slowly. What the team hoped would be answers continue to look like questions.

The Royals hoped Lorenzo Cain would grab the centerfield job by the throat. He did that during spring training, but then struggled in a handful of games before going down to an injury. The shuffle of Jarrod Dyson, Mitch Maier and Jason Bourgeois keeps that position in flux.

Shortstop is settled, but the team is waiting for Alcides Escobar to rise from passable to elite. He hasn’t made that jump yet.

Second base and catcher are more tricky.

Catcher seemed settled with Salvador Perez. But without him, the team has two guys – Humberto Quintero and Bryan Pena – who were supposed to be merely placeholders for the rightful owner. But rather than struggle, they’ve actually both thrived in their role.

Ironically, both catchers have posted incredibly similar offensive stats. Each stands at .368 with three doubles and a single strikeout.

So when Perez returns, the team will be faced with the difficult choice of who to keep as a backup catcher.

At second, the Royals would have liked for Johnny Giavotella to claim the job outright. He didn’t do that in the spring. So plan B would be for Yuniesky Betancourt and Chris Getz to hold the job until Giavotella shows he’s the long-term answer.

Best case scenario, both Getz and Betancourt fail, opening the door clearly for Giavotella. But that’s not happening. Getz has been just good enough at the plate and field to keep his hat in the ring. Betancourt’s limited range and strikeouts are offset by his occasional pop and versatility (read “he’s equally bad at second, short and third”).

As is often said about quarterbacks, when you have three second basemen, you actually have none.

As for the pitching, the bullpen has been shaky. Luke Hochevar had a flashback to the one-inning speed bumps that plagued him last season. And just when the team hoped to find out if Felipe Paulino is for real or not, he went missing.

As I mentioned, I am tempted to say nothing good has happened for the Royals. But that’s not quite true.

Danny Duffy appears to actually be able to pitch beyond the fourth inning on a regular basis.

And Moustakas doesn’t look nearly as lost as he did last season.

The season is truly still young. There is plenty of time for these youngsters to get it going. But the waters remain murky for the time being. Answers will come, but they haven’t come as quickly as hoped.

And sadly, the answers may not be what we’d hoped for.

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