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During the off-season Royals manager Bob Boone would often jog
along the quiet, tree-lined streets near his home in Villa Park,
Calif. Just as he would begin to work up a sweat, his thoughts
would invariably wander 1,400 miles away to Kauffman Stadium and
his team's prospects for 1996. "I'd just keep running more and
more miles because I couldn't figure it out," Boone says. "I'd
be thinking to myself, We could be real good or we could be real

Few teams underwent as radical a transformation over the
off-season as Kansas City. In an effort to slash the payroll to
under $20 million, Royals management unloaded several name
players--including Wally Joyner, Gary Gaetti and Greg
Gagne--from a squad that finished second in the AL Central. Yet
even with the dire cost-cutting moves, Boone has reason to be
optimistic. With one of the game's best starting pitchers in
Kevin Appier, a top-notch closer in Jeff Montgomery and a slew
of talented prospects, his team may surprise this year.

The Royals will count heavily on Appier, who started last season
on an 11-2 tear. The righthander is playing under a one-year,
$5.05 million deal, so if the team falters and his contract
isn't extended this spring, Appier may find himself shopped to
the highest bidder by midseason. As for Montgomery, the club
thought enough of the star closer (218 career saves) to re-sign
him in the off-season to a two-year, $4.75 million deal.

The decision to trade first baseman Joyner (to the Padres for
second baseman Bip Roberts) and to allow shortstop Gagne and
third baseman Gaetti to become free agents gutted the Royals
lineup. Joyner, Gagne and Gaetti accounted for close to 40% of
K.C.'s run production last season and 45% of the team's home run
output. Even with that trio, the Royals finished dead last in
the league in runs (629), home runs (119), RBIs (578) and
slugging percentage (.396).

Stepping into this huge power void are young sluggers Bob
Hamelin and Joe Vitiello. Hamelin, the 1994 AL Rookie of the
Year, is hoping to rebound from a miserable '95 campaign in
which he hit just .168 with seven home runs, feuded openly with
management about his weight and was twice sent down to the
minors. Hamelin worked out four days a week with Kevin Barr, the
team's strength-and-conditioning coach, over the winter and has
proclaimed himself in shape for the season. "Last year I lost
patience and started swinging at bad pitches," Hamelin says.
"This year I've been working out, I feel stronger, and I'm ready
to have a big year."

Hamelin will most likely share first base and designated-hitting
duties with Vitiello, the club's first-round draft pick in 1991.
Vitiello hit seven homers in just 130 at bats last year after
being called up from Triple A Omaha in late July, and the Kansas
City brass feel that over a full season the righthanded hitter
will be able to stroke 20-25 dingers.

If Hamelin and Vitiello can provide some much-needed muscle, the
Royals may be able to push a few more runs across the plate this
year. And with Roberts and speedy outfielders Tom Goodwin (50
steals in '95) and Johnny Damon at the top of the order, Kansas
City should be able to run with any club.

Whether the Royals will be able to field the ball is another
matter. Shortstop Jose Offerman, who was acquired in a December
trade with the Dodgers, committed 35 errors last season, 15 more
than any other shortstop in the majors. The rest of the starting
infield--Hamelin, Roberts, catcher Mike Macfarlane and third
baseman Keith Lockhart--is hardly known for its defensive skills.

At least the Royals were willing to spend money on pitching. In
addition to re-signing Montgomery, Kansas City inked No. 2
starter Mark Gubicza to a two-year, $3.2 million contract and
added free agent Tim Belcher with a one-year, $975,000 deal.
Lefthanders Tom Browning, Chris Haney and Jason Jacome will
battle for the two remaining starting spots.

With so many questions facing the Royals in '96, it's easy to
see why Boone was distracted as he jogged through the
off-season. The key, he says, is to be patient with his young
players in hopes that the team can develop into a playoff
contender come August and September. After all, as any runner
would know, a 162-game baseball season is not a sprint. It's a


COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Despite a cost-cutting spree, K.C. paid up for the valuable Montgomery. [Jeff Montgomery in game]


1995 Team Statistics (AL rank in parentheses)

Batting Average .260 (12)
Home Runs 119 (14)
ERA 4.49 (4)
Fielding Pct. .984 (3)

Rapid-fire Arms

Royals manager Bob Boone sent a starting pitcher to the mound on
three days' rest 39 times last season, the most such starts by
any major league club since 1986. The 1985 Reds, though, under
pitching coach Jim Kaat, were the last team to start pitchers on
three days' rest in more than half of its games (87).

Most Starts on Three Days' Rest in 1995

Team Starts W-L

Royals 39 19-20
Pirates 35 15-20
Mariners 22 10-12
Twins 12 2-10
Rangers 12 5-7

Pitcher Starts Team W-L

Mark Gubicza, Royals 11 6-5
Kevin Appier, Royals 10 7-3
Tom Gordon, Royals 10 4-6
Esteban Loaiza, Pirates 8 6-2
Denny Neagle, Pirates 8 5-3


The phrase "too good to be true" might best sum up the story of
Royals outfielder Johnny Damon. Blessed with otherworldly
skills, track-star speed and clean-cut good looks, the
22-year-old Damon seemed to have stepped off the pages of some
dime-store novel when he broke into the majors last August. In
his major league debut, against the Mariners on Aug. 12, he went
3 for 5, including a triple, a run scored and an RBI. In just 47
games last season with Kansas City, Damon batted .282 with 19
extra base hits, 32 runs scored, 23 RBIs and seven stolen bases.
The six-foot, 175-pound lefthanded hitter is hardly a secret in
the Royals organization: In each of his four minor league
seasons, Damon was named the top prospect of his league (Texas
League MVP in '95, Carolina League MVP in '94, Midwest League
MVP in '93 and Gulf Coast League MVP in '92). Kansas City is
counting on Damon--whom some have compared to a young Pete
Rose--to start in right and bat third this year.



2B Bip Roberts[**] .304, 2, 25, 20
CF Tom Goodwin .288, 4, 28, 50
RF Johnny Damon .282, 3, 23, 7
DH Joe Vitiello .254, 7, 21, 0
LF Michael Tucker .260, 4, 17, 2
1B Bob Hamelin .168, 7, 25, 0
C Mike Macfarlane[**] .225, 15, 51, 2
3B Keith Lockhart .321, 6, 33, 8
SS Jose Offerman[**] .287, 4, 33, 2


IF David Howard .243, 0, 19, 6
OF Jon Nunnally .244, 14, 42, 6


RH Kevin Appier 15-10, 3.89
RH Mark Gubicza 12-14, 3.75
RH Tim Belcher[**] 10-12, 4.52
LH Chris Haney 3-4, 3.65
LH Jason Jacome 4-6, 5.36*


RH Jeff Montgomery 31, 3.43
RH Hipolito Pichardo 1, 4.36
LH Mike Magnante 0, 4.23
RH Rusty Meacham 2, 4.98

*American League statistics
[**] New acquisition (R) Rookie