Royals have 3 big questions as spring begins

Team looking for answers about Duffy, Moustakas, Finnegan

Royals have 3 big questions as spring begins

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Snow covers the fields of Kansas City, but it is all sunny and green at the Royals' Spring Training complex.

And that means baseball has returned. Pitchers and catchers reported to camp on Thursday, though there was to be no workout, voluntary or not. The official first workout will be Friday.

Manager Ned Yost said he will spend Thursday meeting with coaches, as well as meeting with Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, to "go over rules."

Several Royals players trickled into the complex ahead of the reporting date, including Yordano Ventura, Jason Vargas, Luke Hochevar, Wade Davis, Greg Holland, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Alex Rios, among many others.

"Just about everybody," Yost said.

A lot of eyes were on Gordon, who is recovering from wrist surgery last December. He has rid himself of the bulky cast he was wearing at last month's FanFest.

"I've got a lighter one I wear only when I work out and when I sleep," Gordon said.

Gordon is expected to be examined by team physicians early next week to determine if he can be a full participant in the team's workouts. He could miss the first week of Spring Training games as the club and its medical team bring Gordon back slowly.

But Gordon reiterated to MLB.com on Wednesday that there was a "zero percent" chance he would miss Opening Day. He and most of his teammates stretched and went through drills on a crisp but pleasant morning in the desert.

Yost is raring to go.

"I can't wait to get started," Yost said. "We've got some new faces, new challenges. But the core of the team is the same, and we'll be hungry to defend our title."

This camp will be an opportunity for the Royals to get a close-up look at newcomer Edinson Volquez, the right-handed free agent that general manager Dayton Moore signed during the offseason, in essence, to replace ace James Shields.

Outlook: Volquez, SP, KC

But we'll also get a look at reclamation projects such as Joe Blanton and Ryan Madson, as well as right-hander Kris Medlen, who is coming off his second Tommy John surgery. Medlen, though, is expected to be brought along very slowly, so it's unsure how much we'll see of Medlen on the mound, if at all.

We'll also get a look at a few of the Royals' prized prospects, such as right-hander Miguel Almonte and left-hander Sean Manaea, both of whom figure into the Royals' future fairly soon. Another top prospect, Kyle Zimmer, continues to recover from shoulder surgery and isn't expected to be back on the mound for weeks.

But for most of the pitchers, it will be full go on Friday and the familiar sound of fastballs smacking into the leather of catchers' mitts should be prevalent here.

With that in mind, our Spring Training preview series continues with three questions that need to be answered in camp:

1. Will Danny Duffy look like the Danny Duffy prior to last September?
The Royals simply don't have enough starting pitching depth to get by without Duffy, who had Tommy John surgery two seasons ago, and then experienced shoulder tightness last September that derailed his best season yet. Duffy was cruising along with a 2.42 ERA heading into September when he left a game at Yankee Stadium because of the injury after throwing one pitch. He gutted out two more starts later in September, but he didn't look himself, and he was basically a non-factor in the posteason, making just three relief appearances.

The Royals are crossing their fingers that a healthy and strong Duffy shows up for Spring Training -- they need him. When healthy, Duffy has dominating stuff (mid-90s fastball, sharp-breaking slider). We'll see this spring if he is 100 percent.

2. Will Moustakas learn to go the other way against the shift?
Moustakas has fooled Royals fans the past two springs: He hit .406 last year in the Cactus League and posted similar numbers the spring before. Then both regular seasons came about, and Moose disappointed each time. The lesson learned is not to be fooled by his numbers in the desert.

But one thing Moustakas has to work on this spring is how to beat the shift, which paralyzed him throughout the regular season in 2014 (.212 average, .271 OBP), at least until he began hitting over the shift in the postseason, setting a club record with five dingers. It is imperative, though, that Moose makes attempts to drive the ball to the left side to find open spaces, and occasionally bunt down the third-base line for easy hits. Eventually, if he is able to do both, he could force opponents to employ normal defensive positioning. The mission this spring: Go the other way, Moose.

Outlook: Moustakas, 3B, KC

3. What will the Royals do with rookie left-hander Brandon Finnegan?
This likely will be the most interesting story of the spring (if Duffy is healthy), at least starting out. Finnegan was phenomenal last September (1.29 ERA) in his debut after being the Royals' top Draft pick out of TCU in June. Though he had a few hiccups in the postseason, he didn't back down against the Giants.

Top Prospects: Finnegan, KC

The question is: Are the Royals better off with Finnegan in the bullpen with the big league team in 2015 or with him in the Minors, stretching out as a starter? The Royals are in win-now mode, so there are numerous votes within the organization to add him to an already dominant bullpen where he would add great value as the top situational lefty. We'll see.

Jeffrey Flanagan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jflanagankc. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.