Mailbag: Who has been a surprise?

Mailbag: Who has been a surprise?

Who could be a surprise at Spring Training this year?
-- Jonathon L., Adrian, Mo.

Perhaps surprise isn't the proper term but, based on the first three weeks of work, pitcher Luke Hochevar has shot to forefront. Despite being a No. 1 Draft choice, he was considered to be a long shot to make the club. You'd figure he'd start the season at Triple-A Omaha in the rotation. But he could very well make the Kansas City roster as a reliever if not a starter.

I have heard that the fences at Kauffman Stadium will be moved in 2 feet, 9 inches this year. This seems so small a difference, why was it done?
-- David R., Shawnee, Kan.

A 33-inch change was in the original plans to allow room for the seating areas being installed around the outfield. However, after some re-engineering, that difference was eliminated. So the distances from home plate to the bullpen fences and walls will remain the same.

According to club vice president Dean Taylor, the distances will be marked a bit differently on the walls. The markings down each line will remain at 330 feet but, in a change, the distances for the true alleys will be at 390 feet in left-center and right-center. Also there will be a marking to dead center field, 410 feet.

FYI, there will be less space behind home plate because the back screen is being moved out a few feet to accommodate another row in the Crown Club. There will be just 44 feet, 8 inches behind the plate, meaning fewer foul popups will be caught and that catchers John Buck and Miguel Olivo will have a shorter distance to chase errant pitches.

I've really enjoyed watching the stadium renovations come along this winter. However, I'm curious to know why the Crown will be added to the new scoreboard next year rather than this year.
-- Drew, Kansas City, Kan.

The construction emphasis has been on completing the new video display board, a real whopper, to enhance the fans' enjoyment of the game. The Crown will be an important signature for the stadium but the working parts are the first priority. The crowning touch will be added in time for the 2009 season.

How much of a look will a guy like Justin Huber get this year, especially since he is out of options?
-- Zach H., Overland Park, Kan.

Huber will get a good look. He's hit well at this early stage of Spring Training although he's been blindsided by the flu the last few days. On Friday, he belted two doubles against the Padres. Huber can hit, as he's proven at every stop in his career. A former catcher who's played first base, he's considered an outfielder in this camp because of the crowd at first. But with Joey Gathright, Esteban German and Alberto Callaspo figured to get the outfield-infield bench jobs, there's hardly room for anyone else. Those three also are out of options, by the way.

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Why not sign Sammy Sosa? He could DH, add some pop to the lineup and it would give Billy Butler some time at first.
-- Scott A., Folsom, Pa.

Never say never, but I can't imagine any scenario in which the Royals would sign Sosa. The Royals certainly could use some power but who knows how much more Sosa has left at age 39. And don't forget, the Royals have to decide if they want to give Butler any time at first base this season

Has there been any thought to playing Alex Gordon at first -- he looked great there last year -- and moving Mark Teahen back to third? That would open up another outfield spot for Gathright, German or Mitch Maier.
-- Clint F., Surprise, Ariz.

There's so much commotion going on around first base with Butler, Ross Gload, Ryan Shealy and Teahen that manager Trey Hillman is keeping Gordon anchored at third base. There's no doubt Gordon could do a fine job at first base and Teahen has already proven to be excellent at third base. You couldn't go wrong with either one at either spot. That's just not going to happen anytime soon with so many viable options at first base this spring. Let's see how this Butler et al situation shakes out.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.