MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Royals reload with veteran Volquez leading way

Additions of Morales, Rios, Young add to new look of defending AL champs

Royals reload with veteran Volquez leading way

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It is fitting that the Royals train in Surprise, on the far west side of greater Phoenix. Once again, the reigning American League champions are positioned to be one of baseball's surprise teams -- even after coming within a titanic performance by the Giants' Madison Bumgarner of winning the World Series five months ago.

Numbers-crunching Internet sites project the Royals finishing below .500, out of AL Central contention. Some insiders agree with the analytics crowd, citing the departures of staff ace James Shields, right fielder Nori Aoki and designated hitter Billy Butler.

Chris Young, a Princeton man who can hold his own intellectually with the folks evaluating numbers, apparently has his own projections. The 6-foot-10 former basketball star, on the heels of a strong season with the Mariners, came to a free-agent agreement with Royals general manager Dayton Moore in part because he burns to experience the full run of October.

Starter Edinson Volquez also was drawn as a free agent to Kansas City by the Royals' talent-filled roster and October success. The outfield has no equal defensively, the infield is on the rise, and Salvador Perez is the game's premier young catcher.

Volquez's spring debut in Royals blue against the Angels on Sunday was spotty -- three runs, one earned, three hits and one strikeout in two innings. The first time out in Spring Training for veterans is about finding a rhythm and getting a feel for game conditions, not results. It was the start of what Volquez envisions as a strong relationship with Perez.

"Salvy is one of the best," Volquez said. "He's in control of the game. We're on the same page; everything he called, I threw it. I had a great catcher in Pittsburgh, too -- Russell Martin. When I came to the free-agent market, I saw what [the Royals] did in the World Series and thought, 'Why not?'"

In their first meeting since the Royals swept the Angels in the 2014 AL Division Series, center fielder Lorenzo Cain made a running stab of Kole Calhoun's leadoff fly ball -- a reminder of the spectacular defense that left the AL West champions so frustrated in October. Jarrod Dyson robbed Drew Butera in left-center in the second.

"I felt great," said Volquez, who worked out some kinks in his delivery last year. "It's a nice start."

He may not be Shields' equal, but Volquez last season was in Shields' class. At 31, he's two years younger than Shields.

Volquez was 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA, working 192 2/3 innings in 31 starts and one relief effort. He was ninth in the NL in allowing opponents a .235 batting average.

Shields went 14-8, 3.21 in 34 outings covering 227 innings for the Royals. Shields averaged 6.68 innings per start, Volquez 6.15.

Shields has worked at least 200 innings eight straight seasons. Volquez's career high is 196 innings, in 2008, when he was 17-6, an NL All-Star for the Reds.

Keeping their payroll at $110 million, ninth in the AL, the Royals signed Volquez for two years and $20 million and Young for $675,000 with incentives that could take it beyond $5 million. The Padres committed $75 million across four years to Shields.

Young, Moore on one-year deal

Young, 35, knows it's rare for any rotation to stay healthy through the 162-game grind. As fallback options go, few are as good, as proven and as mentally tough as the intensely competitive Dallas native.

"We felt we really needed to add some depth to the rotation," Moore said. "He gives us that. But as of right now, he'll be on the team out of the 'pen."

An NL All-Star in 2007 for the Padres, Young shut out the Cardinals across 6 2/3 innings on four hits in the 2006 NL Division Series, striking out nine.

Determined to revive his injury-stalled career last season, Young came out of the chute in near-peak form for the Mariners. He finished 12-9, 3.65 in 165 innings after taking a 3.17 ERA into September, fatiguing down the stretch.

Young held right-handed hitters to a .199 batting average, third lowest in the AL, and was the sixth-toughest pitcher to hit (.195) with runners in scoring position.

"I broke in with Chris in Texas," the Angels' C.J. Wilson said. "He's extremely smart. He knows what he's doing out there."

Acquired to replace Aoki and Butler, Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales are coming off down years but have the tools and resumes to thrive. Morales had his best years with the Angels.

"Kendrys can be a building block for them, hitting in the middle of the order and giving them production," Angels manager Mike Scisocia said of the man who finished fifth in the 2009 AL Most Valuable Player Award balloting.

Rios is rebounding from an unusually unproductive 2014 with the Rangers. The graceful right fielder has three homers and seven RBIs in four Cactus League games.

Lyle Spencer is a national reporter and columnist for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @LyleMSpencer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.